WELCOME TO S'MOA
As Captain Jack Sparrow would say: “Arrrrgh!” Yes, Survivor fans, there IS a new season, and it begins with a motley crew of twenty randomly-attired Americans rowing toward the shores of an island of Samoa. Will the invaders be as likely to engage in casual uncommitted sex as the young natives Margaret Mead found there in the 1920’s? Or will they turn on one another and create a new Lord of the Flies? Place your bets now.
Awaiting the castaways is host Jeff Probst, who, if the opening shots of him standing on a rock promontory in the ocean as waves crash all around and water-spouts shoot hundreds of feet into the air are to be believed, has risked life and limb to serve as Bwana for this 19th incarnation of Mark Burnett’s cash cow, err highly successful franchise.
Pulling their canoes onto the sand, the purple and yellow crews move dutifully to stand on their designated placemats. Bwana Probst tells the purple team their name is GALU. Since we aim to be educational as well as entertaining, we’ll tell you that means “to work” in Samoan. They Yellow guys are going to be called FOA FOA. Technically, in Samoan, a foafoa is a trumpet-shaped seashell. However, if you leave off one of the “foas”, the word translates roughly to : “head-breaking”. More about which later.
Bwana Jeff can hardly contain his glee as he announces the game will begin with a twist. Based only on appearances and first impressions, each tribe will cast secret ballots to choose a Chief. In Samoan society, he says, the Chief, called a Maitai, has awesomely mysterious powers and responsibilities. I hate to nitpick, but I’m pretty sure a maitai is one of those drinks they serve at beach bars, the chief ingredient of which is a paper umbrella. The Samoan word for Chief is ali′i. Perhaps he was thinking of maile which is what they call the Chief’s dog. Easy enough to get confused. But enough about Probst murdering the Samoan language. Let’s Play Survivor!
LET THE GAMES BEGIN
Having yet to learn one another’s names, each castaway must submit their ballot using a written version of charades. The ultimate winner for GALU is the dreadlocked Russell S., who is described as “a better looking Lennox Lewis”, among other things. Helming FOA FOA will be Mick, the doctor, who gets identified mainly by his red shirt and green jacket.
The Maitais have no time to bask in the glory of their newfound positions before they are called upon to perform their first duties: the first Challenge is at hand. Each chief has to choose four of his tribe members to participate, first the one he thinks might be the best swimmer, next the player he believes to be strongest, then the most agile, and finally the smartest.. Good luck with that. Russell’s four picks are John for swimming, Erik for strength, Yasmin for agility and mullet-coifed former Marine Shambo for smarts. Mick chooses Jaison for swimming, Russell H for strength, Marisa for agility and Liz for brains.
Jaison is delighted Mick went against the history of African Americans on Survivor who couldn’t swim their way out of a wading pool in picking him for the swim. Seems Jaison spent four years on the water polo team at Stanford and then made it to the US National Team. Liz, on the other hand is highly offended to be chosen for her smarts because she thinks that’s just reinforcing the stereotype of Asian students as brainy and hard-working. But she thinks Asians are considered sneaky and conniving, too, and she doesn’t want to be put in that category. Love to see her junior-high report cards. Bet she got all “Unsatisfactory” marks for “works well with others.” On the Galu side, Shambo is horrified that she was picked for the smart leg of the race, claiming she’s “street smart” but needs help in the book-learnin’ category.
The challenge will be for the swimmer to reach a buoy and retrieve a key; the strength guy then has to unlock a lock and carry two ridiculously heavy bundles of logs over to a balance beam, where the agile girls have to make their way across narrow beams extricating a key from a rope maze. The final competitor has to unlock a bag of puzzle pieces and assemble a statue. The reward will be flint, so that the team can have fire, and thus, a renewable water supply.
Jaison makes water polo players everywhere proud as he glides to the buoy. John might have been competitive, but he had apparently not heeded the admonitions of mothers everywhere to wear clean attractive underwear because he felt compelled to make the swim in denim jeans, which, when wet, act like a drag chute in the water. If I may, I’d like to offer some gratis advice to future Survivor contestants. Wear sturdy, non-transparent undies at all times. Sooner or later you’re going to be seen in same by millions of viewers on national TV.
Russell and Erik struggle with their logs, but finally manage to deposit them at the balance beam. Jasmin makes up lost time on the balance beam, partly because Marisa’s ample bosoms prove a hindrance to her movement. Guys everywhere are despising the technology that created pixellation. Liz, to her credit, opts not to try to disprove that Asians are smart and beats Shambo by a split-second in assembling her statue. FoaFoa wins reward.
HI-H0, HI-HO, IT’S OFF TO CAMP WE GO.
The GALU camp starts to build their shelter, from conveniently available bamboo poles. Russell begins by trying to assert his status as leader, announcing that “what we need to do here is just build a raft and lift it up.” About what you’d expect from a lawyer. In less time than it takes to hack off a palm frond, he’s lost any semblance of control and the project has devolved into childish squabbling, as John the rocket scientist demands that they actually Plan the design of the shelter and allow for such factors as wind, rain and water run-off. No one else on the tribe is in favor of anything involving the use of brain cells, and instead of working they all go for a swim in the Pacific. The exception is Shambo, who hates the water and thinks Russell should “just open a can of Whoop-Ass™ (available for purchase through Soldier of Fortune Magazine) and lay down some laws.” Shambo, whose real name is Shannon, also explains the origin of her nickname: it came from her Marine Corps days--her buddies thought she resembled Rambo. Oh, and she thinks everybody loves her, that she’s a total “people magnet.”
Leaving the Galuians floating about, let’s move on to FOA FOA, which, as we shall see, is where the real action for this episode takes place. Enter one Russell Hantz. On the initial canoe trip, one of the cast described him as “looking like a pit bull.” Mark those words, they may be the most prescient ever uttered on Survivor. How shall I describe Russell? His bio says he’s 36, but he looks at least a dozen years older. He has the build of a fire plug and isn’t much taller. Think Telly Savalas as the villain Blofeld in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”. The top of his head is completely bare; to compensate he has grown what might be pass for a beard if it did not so completely look as if were made of bits of hair swept up from the barber’s floor and glued haphazardly on to his chin.
Russell wastes no time once the tribe arrives at camp. Everyone sets to work on the shelter, but Russell tells us that “I didn’t come here to work. I came here to play.” One by one, he seeks out the females to enlist each of them in a “secret two-way alliance”. First is Ashley, then Natalie, then Marisa. Finally, he talks to Betsy. None of the women know that he has talked to the others. Russell is exultant. He chortles, “First I got the dumb short-haired blonde, then the dumb long-haired blonde, then the brunette. Then I got the old lady. I call it my dumb-ass girl alliance.”
As night falls, and everyone lies on the ground around the campfire hoping to find sleep, Russell captivates them as he recounts the horror of his experience during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. “I lived right by the levee. The storm was a Category 5; when it hit it broke the levee. The water was pouring in my house, all muddy. It was just me and my German Shepherd, Rocky. I tried to get out and couldn’t, so I grabbed my axe. Because as a fireman, one thing you learn is that if you go in something you have to be able to get out. The water was rushing in. I looked at Rocky, then I couldn’t see him. I couldn’t find him; he was just gone. I hated that: I’d had him seven years. I finally made it up to the roof and stayed there two days.”
What a heart-breaking story. Particularly since not a word of it was true. Russell brags (to the camera) that he’s not a fireman—he’s a multimillionaire oilman from Houston; he’s never been to New Orleans and he’s never owned a dog. Russell is ever-so-impressed with his own brilliance and chicanery: “I am the worst one to trust here. I should be the one they let go.” Amen to that. As to whether the others’ bought’ his story: that remains to be seen, but Marisa at least said she felt like it was “pretty slimy.” I’m thinking I’ll only be content when an entire pack of feral dogs emerges from the jungle and traps Russell high in a palm tree, where he has to stay until he meets a fate like the Wicked Witch of the West and a scorching tropical sun melts him into pools of fat around the base of the tree.
Later That Night. . .Everyone save Russell has fallen asleep. Not so our villain; he has work to do. Swigging from each as he goes, Russell proceeds to pour out the water from every canteen in camp. “I plan on weeding out the weak right off the bat, making it as miserable as possible for everybody. I’m not here for the money; I’m here to show people how easy it is to win this game.” And do evil deeds. Russell hasn’t finished for the night. Someone has been so unwise as to remove their socks before going to sleep. Russell gleefully toasts them over the campfire like marshmallows on a stick and finally totally incinerates them.
Morning Eris, goddess of discord, has arrived in the camp. The canteens are empty, so water must be boiled. Ben loses his temper at Marisa when she thinks the water should cool before they drink it, “Use a little common sense!” (Translation: if you don’t do what I tell you, you’re an idiot.) Jaison has blisters on his feet and searches everywhere for his missing socks. Russell tells the audience: “Right now I’m running the whole show. They don’t even know it.”
IMMUNITY IS UP FOR GRABS
The tribes assemble where Bwana Jeff is waiting for them with an immunity challenge. Loser, naturally, goes to Tribal Council and sends home one of their members, who shall be branded with the ignominy of first voted off Survivor Samoa. Winner gets to take home the scary Immunity Idol which looks suspiciously like it might have been a reject prop from the “X-Files.” Or made by the local Witch Doctor while he was high on Maitais.
In response to questioning by Jeff, Russell S. begins a lame speech about the courage and character of Team Galu. He’s interrupted by Bartender Ben of Foa (who’s boasted of being a redneck highly skilled in, and taking pleasure from, killing things): “I haven’t read that book—“Things Losers Say.” Besides, Ben’s ready to “get this show on the road; I wanna open me some cans of Whoop-Ass™.” Evidently, cans of Whoop-Ass™ are going to become essential for Survivor participants this season.
The challenge is pretty basic: six tribe members navigate over a series of three steep A-framed ramps, carrying ropes. They then untie the ropes and lash them to a heavy chest which must be pulled up a wooden track, where the remaining four of their number must disassemble the chest and use the pieces to put puzzle pieces in their proper places. It’s not easy to get over the obstacles and skin is lost by competitors skidding down the back sides of the ramps. GALU gets started on the puzzle first, with some organizing by Shambo, then FOA seems to take the lead. Suddenly, the FOA puzzle-solvers start acting like chickens with their heads cut off, and GALU wins immunity, which they promptly celebrate by getting into a circle and cheering “GALU is the house!” House of What? Anyway, they also get awarded a fire-starting flint, and as we know—“in this game, fire is life.”
BACK AT FOA FOA
Everyone has an opinion as to who should go home. Mike, who’s 62 and wears his five-hair goatee braided in a style not seen since the Ming Dynasty, thinks they should take out the weakest person and that that person is Ashley. He protests, to no one in particular, “I’m not the weakest one.”
Betsy is chatting with Marisa and tells her she shouldn’t trust Russell. When Marisa wants to know why, Betsy will only say it’s women’s intuition. So far, Betsy seems to be the only person with genuine concerns about Russell. She also seems cagey enough to keep him from discovering that. Can the “old lady” as Russell calls her, out-fox the fox?
Russell, checking on his various alliances, is having a talk with Marisa (his dumb brunette). “You gotta stay strong with me.” Marissa points out that she’s seen Russell confabbing individually with lots of other people and she’s wondering if she’s really his only alliance. “Are you crazy?” Is Russell’s reaction, claiming he’s just talking to those other folks about where they’re from and what they think and that sort of thing. “Just because I’m talking to somebody doesn’t mean I’m strategizing.” Marisa isn’t wholly convinced, and that makes Russell just flat-out furious. “Marissa is the dumbest player I’ve ever seen. I’M running this show. You come up to me and threaten me and you’re gone.” He then proceeds to make his case against Marisa with anyone who’ll listen. Ben, who hates Marisa, is only to happy to oblige: “I can’t stand that bitch.”
Before heading out, Russell gloats: “My tribe will believe anything I tell them. They’re stupid. Mick’s the leader of the tribe, but I’m running the camp. I’m the puppet-master.”
Bwana Jeff greets the tribe’s arrival wearing what appears to be a seventies-vintage polyester shirt the color of hospital walls. Go back to the khaki, Bwana; green is not your color. Everyone has to get a torch and light it in the fire, because, as we know, in this game, “Fire represents Life.”
Everyone is encouraged to share their feelings about sending someone home. Ashley observes that it’s sad, but that’s the way it is.” (Are we sure She’s not the rocket scientist?) Mike philosophizes that “It’s a dog-eat-dog game and we’re all wearing milk-bone underwear.” Google it (try the philosophy section). Liz, who was a big part of the puzzle debacle, opines that “We could have been more unified.”
Bwana Jeff pokes the stick at them. He asks Betsy, the policewoman, who she considers the weakest player. Betsy says Ashley. Ashley tries to defend herself, claiming she does cardio workouts at home all the time. Jeff asks Marissa who’s the weakest, and she rambles aimlessly about how everyone is weak in different ways. Ben blasts her for that: “Answer the question! It’s not that hard!” Russell offers that he likes everybody but Marisa. Marissa makes a feeble attempt at recovery, “If I did something to put a mark on my back that was dumb of me and I need to do something to fix it. I guarantee it won’t happen again.” Sorry, honey, you won’t get the chance. Master-manipulator Russell has pulled the strings—as he writes down Marisa’s name he warns ominously: “Play with fire and you’ll get burned.” Bwana Jeff tallies the votes. Ashley gets a couple, but the count for Marisa goes higher and Jeff says, “That’s six, that’s enough.” As Marisa rises from her seat to approach Jeff for the obligatory torch-snuffing, troglodyte Ben points a “finger-gun” at her back and mouths “Bang.” Ten to one his friends call him Bubba. I would speculate as to what Russell’s friends call him, but there isn’t a chance in Hell that he has any.
Tune in next week to for more exciting adventures, thrilling challenges, and malevolent plotting.