Relax. Quietly return to your seats ladies and gentlemen. False alarm. Nobody died. It wasn’t even close. Bwana Jeff has had us all believing for over a week that we were going to be terrified out of our wits by this episode. Huh! I’ve been more scared by a four-year-old jumping out from behind a door and yelling “Boo!”
After the required rehash of last week’s ho-hum episode, we’re reminded of Russell H’s vendetta against Liz. The ominous announcer: “With only five FOA FOA left, Liz needs a miracle to save herself from Russell’s intentions.” Let’s just be honest people; Evil Russell’s antics are the only thing remotely entertaining about this season. And the producers know it. I’m just surprised they haven’t added a “breaking news” crawl across the bottom of the TV screen reporting his every gap-toothed pronouncement.
THE RAIN FALLS MAINLY ON THE TRIBE
How many ways can they show the contestants utterly miserable, cold and wet? One or two, as it turns out, but repeated over and over with different castaways. Mick is quivering with cold like a plate of jello; Shambo has found herself a hidey-hole in some thick greenery, and Jaison is even whinier than usual. “I’m so friggin’ cold right now. This ain’t right. It’s like we’re trying to battle Fate and Fate doesn’t want us to win.” He’s also blathering something about needing a cartoon character named Heart and his Magic Ring. I’m thinking about now Stanford Law School is seriously questioning the judgment of its Admissions Committee.
At GALU, John aptly notes that there wouldn’t be a problem if Chief Russell had picked the bloody tarp over the throw pillows. Surprisingly, that’s the only time this idiot decision is mentioned in an episode mainly devoted to showing the suffering inflicted by days and days of unrelenting torrential rain.
Perhaps wondering if the natives may be getting restless and thinking longingly of that tarp, Chief Russell struggles to get a fire going while everyone else huddles together for warmth. Bret observes that perhaps Russell is overdoing the whole martyr thing just a bit.
Meanwhile at FOA FOA, Evil Russell is lovin’ everyone else’s anguish: “Where they all from, New Yawk City? They all suckin’ each others’ thumbs. They lazy. That’s why we losin’ challenges. If you don’t throw up out there you ain’t doin’ your job. They wanta just sit there and suck their thumbs.” Thumb-sucking not shown. He hates the sunny days, “The weather’s been too nice. I wanna be somewhere I can’t take my family, where it’s miserable.”
With the augury of a double rainbow over the ocean, sunshine returns just in time for today’s challenge. Erik, who’s been huddled in some hole for twenty-six straight hours, takes credit for the relief: he’s spent his time in prayer to God and Samoa, not necessarily in that order. I’m pretty sure the whole problem is owed to that Scary Immunity Idol.
At the Challenge Beach: Once again, we’re economizing with a double Immunity/Reward challenge. The winner gets, according to Bwana Jeff, hot Piping pizza (rumored to be the favorite of plumbers everywhere). Alas, both tribes will have to go to Tribal Council to vote one of their own off the island, but the losing tribe will suffer the added indignity of watching the winners consume the Piping Pizza and the winners will get to observe the losers saying nasty things about one another.
The whole idea of today’s challenge has been stolen directly from American Gladiators, with one contestant from each tribe strapped into a giant rolling ball, in this case constructed with leftover materials from the Adirondack Twig Furniture Company. Two other tribe members, blindfolded and directed by the occupant of their ball, will have to push the ball down a path to a large box-puzzle where, still-blindfolded, they’ll have to maneuver a smaller ball through a maze.
There’s strategizing, and Dave wants to be one of the pushers for GALU. Chief Russell, even though he’s already confessed to feeling weak, overrules him and takes the position himself. I’m thinking this guy has let the whole, “I’m the Chief; I’m in Charge Here; I'm indispensable” thing cloud his judgment. He and Erik will be pushing Laura in the ball. For FOA, Evil Russell and Jaison will be driving with Liz in the sphere.
It’s apparent that Chief Russell isn’t holding his own; despite Laura’s shouted directions, he keeps going off course and having to rest. FOA reaches the puzzle table first, then GALU makes it to theirs. Both teams are maneuvering through the maze, when Chief Russell suddenly crumples face down into one of the corners of the box. At first GALU is shouting at him to get up, then Bwana Jeff realizes Russell isn’t responding. He shouts to the competitors to stop right where they are and summons the medical team. They begin to lift Russell but he collapses right to the ground and passes out again.
The Med Team, run by the capable Aussie Ramona, swings into action. They put an oxygen mask over Russell’s face, give him bottles of water, and repeatedly take his blood pressure. Almost as conscientious as the medics are the camera crew, who crowd right up to the body on the ground to ensure that we don’t miss a moment of this dramatic event. Time passes. Russell is awake, glassy-eyed and teary, claiming to be recovered. He’s allowed to sit up. His heart rate drops precipitously, from 97 to 68. He conks out again. Uh-Oh. It’s bye-bye to the game for the Chief.
Bwana Jeff makes an abrupt executive decision: the challenge is cancelled; nobody gets reward, and everyone still has to show up for Tribal Council. I’m thinking this a bit harsh after the trauma we’ve all just endured, but who am I to second-guess the Boss-Man?
After the tribes reluctantly leave to return to their respective camps, Russell’s still trying to talk his way into staying, “I’m just dehydrated. My family depends on me to be strong.” (Dehydrated? It’s been pouring rain for five days—all you had to do was look up, open your mouth, and swallow.) Bwana Jeff has encouraging words for Russell’s send-off: “You were in great shape. You were the leader of a tribe that was dominating. You were in no danger of leaving any time soon. You pushed your body until it said it was enough. There’s nothing about that that’s quitting.” Then Russell is loaded onto a stretcher and driven away in the Fisher-Price Safari-Mobile to the about-to-be-eaten-by-a-dinosaur theme music from Jurassic Park.
What they’re selling here—near tragedy in the South Pacific—I’m not buying. If they really thought Russell was in imminent danger, would they have allowed him to lie there on the ground for nearly an hour while they fiddled with stethoscopes and bottles of Evian water and dithered over whether he should stay in the game or not? Hell, no, they’d have a helicopter in there in the blink of an eye and e-vac him away to a hospital. Instead, in his “exit interview” at the end of the episode, he’s clearly still on the island, , wearing the same grubby clothes, sitting in the dunes chatting away about his experience. I don’t doubt that Russell actually passed out and had an erratic heart rate until they managed to get him rehydrated, but I don’t for a minute believe anyone ever thought he was about to “kick the bucket.” Note to producers: next time if you want a credible medical emergency, you should restage the thing with some of those ER electric paddles and Bwana Jeff screaming CLEAR!.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
Back at their respective camps, the castaways rue that they must attend Tribal Council, and make half-hearted efforts at strategizing. At FOA, Liz and Natalie chat and acknowledge that they’ll probably be voting for each other. Russell cautions Natalie that she’d better vote for Liz (who he’s now declared Russell-Enemy No. 1) or suffer the consequences. He assures her that Mick too is under his thumb and will vote as he’s told. Jaison thinks things are hopeless, that “this tribe will be done by Day 21.” Natalie’s more optimistic, believing that if they can make it to the merge, there’ll be individuals at FOA that will “flip.”
At GALU, the girls are talking. Laura thinks Shambo may be gunning for her; Monica is still angry that Shambo has already voted for her twice. Shambo makes a pitch to them to stay, claiming that for the first eight days, she was the only one who’s made fire and gathered wood.
I’m thinking this is the most clueless bunch of females since the movie Clueless. Don’t they realize they could band together and control the game—that if they don’t the guys are going to pick them off one by one like tin ducks on the shelf at the county fair?
And guess what? Erik, John, Brett and Dave are plotting to do just that. John’s worried about Natalie and Monica having some sort of Mother/Daughter Sister/Sister bond so he wants to get rid of Monica. None of them consider Shambo a threat, so they decide to use her in their little cabal. Hellooo: Shambo not a threat? What, you were home sick the two times she went to FOA FOA and thought it was a little slice of heaven on earth? You don’t think the second there’s a merge that Shambo is going to jump at the opportunity to dump the tribe that’s treated her like a leper and join her new friends in a power alliance? Still, they hold Shambo in such disdain (Erik declares that she’s on a “need to know” basis only), that when she comes calling to try to find out how they’re voting, they do a silly verbal dance with her, refusing to come right out and say they’re voting for Monica, but suggesting Shambo “stay consistent” with her previous votes. Shambo can hardly believe her good fortune.
As instructed, both FOA and GALU show up for Tribal Council. Bwana Jeff wants them to know “it’s a First, thirteen people at Tribal Council at one time.” He also insists on reiterating that Russell’s little episode at the challenge, was “the scariest moment I’ve ever had on the show. I’ve never been more afraid in my life.” But, despite the fact that Russell’s been banished to Ponderosa, Jeff wants everyone to be assured that he’s in “good hands, being monitored, doing fine.”
After eliciting comments from various castaways about how miserable they’ve been in the rain, the beneficent Bwana drops his bombshell: “Due to the unprecedented nature of today’s events, there will be no Tribal Council tonight. No one is going home.” Hmm, that may throw a grenade in the plotters’ oatmeal… Jeff notices it too: “I’m seeing mixed reactions. Some people are shocked.”
Evil Russell pretends to be happy: “That’s the best news I’ve had all day. I really believe the tables are about to turn.”
Erik isn’t about to let that challenge pass unanswered: “Every bead of sweat you ever put in, we’re bringing it right back to you!” Both tribes are ready to Bring It On.
Jeff hands the Chief Necklace to GALU and tells them to go home and find somebody new to wear it. The good news is that tonight no one will have to sleep under the Scary Immunity Idol.
Tune in next week for more exciting adventures of Evil Russell and some other random characters.