From the Santa Cruz Sentinal online.........
For those who haven't visited this papers website , Lex has been holding court since he returned from Africa. He sometimes has some pretty funny observations as only an insider can.
Lex sez: Something ain’t right in ‘Survivor’ land
Before I jump into this week’s "Survivor" dish-fest, I want to thank all y’all who sent in "where the hell was Lex" letters a couple weeks ago, as well as any of you who even noticed I was MIA for a week. It’s so nice to feel missed!
Some of you also wanted to know why I didn’t just have my wife Kelly stand in, as she so competently did several times last season (incidentally, if I wasn’t married to her, I might be concerned about the competition).
Kelly and I were actually both indisposed, in observance of Kelly-kah, an annual week-long celebration commemorating Kelly’s birthday.
Nope, I’m not kidding: one whole week!
All right, let’s talk "Survivor."
I’ll be honest — I’m having a really tough time thinking of anything interesting to write about this week’s episode, because, frankly, it was a colossal bore.
And the thing is, I don’t have a clue as to which essential ingredient is missing. But something ain’t right.
All I know is that I’m used to spending that hour every Thursday night on the edge of my couch. Yet throughout this season, I’ve thought nothing of getting up while the show is on to grab a snack or a beer from the fridge. They’re starting to lose me.
Another thing I’ve noticed: There’s a disingenuous vibe that permeates this cast of characters. I don’t think it’s because these folks are insincere. Maybe it’s because they’ve managed to become singularly focused on the game.
Nearly every contestant has been playing a game of every-man-for-himself from the get-go. It would be nice every once in awhile to get a deeper glimpse of the human side of these players, rather than just their game faces.
Maybe they were jaded by watching too many seasons of "Survivor" before playing their own game.
This week’s episode was all about family. In his classic salt-of-the-earth style, Clay introduced the theme of this week’s show with a simple statement, "Does anyone miss their families? This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done."
Damn straight, Clay. Being away from my wife and kids, completely out of touch with them for nearly two months, was brutal. The longing I felt for my family while I played that hard-core game in Africa was indescribably difficult.
The reward challenge this week began with the castaways getting a sneak peek at videos sent to the island by their loved ones.
Ever since my experience on "Survivor," I get teary-eyed every time they get to this part of the season. It takes me right back to the game.
After everyone had previewed their videos, Jeff Probst signaled the much-anticipated tribe merge and announced that every challenge from here on would be individual.
The winner of this week’s challenge (another Survivor-style obstacle course) won the privilege of viewing their family video in its entirety (what a wicked tease for the losers).
Brian won the challenge, but ironically he seemed to be the one person out there who didn’t really want to watch his video.
While everyone else was viewing sneak previews, he was the only one not visibly moved by the images of his family on-screen. Maybe he was wearing his game-face.
After winning the challenge, he and his tribe mates sat down to watch the rest of his video. "If my wife does anything embarrassing, I apologize," Brian announced. "She’s a little crazy."
Brian looked mortified as he watched his wife dancing on the TV screen. Was he afraid she’d do something inappropriate? Or was he bracing for the tour of his house, complete with baby grand piano and two new Cadillacs?
Pre-game wealth has proven to be the kiss of death for more than one Survivor in past seasons.
When Brian’s wife apologized about the house being a mess, he nervously barked back at the video, "Why don’t you clean it up?"
Definitely not the heartwarming, homesick gush-fest I was expecting.
The immunity challenge this week was a two-round thinking game involving Thai numbers. It tested memory, the ability to follow directions and good ol’ common sense.
The final round saw Ken, the NYC cop battling Louisiana crawdaddy Clay. Clay bulldozed through the challenge and left a shell-shocked Ken in the dust.
The rest of the episode droned on, and we were treated to stock scenes of post-merge, pre-tribal council life back at camp.
Some folks got grumpy and some schemed, while others scrambled, trying to orchestrate last-minute hail-Mary plays in the 11th hour.
Tribal council came and went with very little drama or suspense. All of us wanted to think there was a chance that one of those half-baked underdog plans would surprise us when Jeff tallied the votes, but we all knew what the outcome would be: NYC Ken became the ninth Survivor cast out of Thailand.
Unfortunately for us fans who love "Survivor’s" unpredictability, this season has been too easy to call. Now that we’re nearing the final stretch (only four more episodes to go) — a time when typically all bets are off, and it could be anyone’s game — it’s become more predictable than ever.
I think the puppet masters made a critical error in their decision to delay the merge. The delay only compounded this problem.
If the two tribes had merged earlier, the switch to individual reward and immunity challenges would’ve given every player (regardless of tribe) better odds of staying in the game.
The extra time spent together as one tribe would have increased the likelihood of new deals and alliances being struck by players from opposing tribes.
The result of this late merge is a game we’ve probably all figured out to the last episode. Sook Jai alumni are down to two; and, barring any miraculous immunity challenge victories, Penny will go next, followed closely by Jake.
Jan will probably be Chuay Gahn’s first sacrificial lamb, leaving us with Brian, Ted, Clay and Helen in the final four.
How long ago did we all make that call?
Lex van den Berghe is Santa Cruz’s own Survivor, reaching the finals in "Survivor-Africa." You’ll find him surfing the waves or playing with his band, Lucky Dog.