From time to time, the bivalve lifeforms that populate reality TV can spontaneously produce a pearl. This week, Survivor was one such show. From start to finish, this episode was chock full of the rich, enlightening cultural investigation for which PBS routinely takes home truckloads of Emmys. There was - and we can't even count this on one hand - a recapped shot of vomiting, a bloody finger, a woman urinating on the bloody finger, a toe with a gaping bloody gash in it, the severing of the piece of skin formerly covering that gash, and a finger with a gaping bloody gash in it. But wait, there's more! There's conflict aplenty, some brilliant strategizing, more shots of Sarah's cleavage, extensive coverage of Sean's laziness, and uh, the answer to this week's Puzzler: Are Maraamu the Dumbest. Tribe. Ever?
Early returns suggest they may be. In this case, the early return is from the previous episode's tribal council, in which they ousted hard-working Patricia, and kept sullen Sarah, who seems almost as immobile as the ventral upper half of her torso. But is Sarah happy with this outcome? Oh no, she's waving her leper-like arms around because Evil Oppressive Hunter dared insinuate she might need to work a little more. She's also upset because she wasn't asked to help. Of course, the last we saw of her, she was stalking off in a huff, refusing to help because the others weren't following her orders. But that was so three hours ago. Don't ask, Hunter, don't ask.
Then there's Sean, who is deeply offended that Hunter had asked him to fetch some water. See Sean's jam-packed day of sitting around was completely thrown off by this intrusive request, and the mental anguish this inflicted probably cost them a challenge or two. And Hunter's request, which couldn't have been less of an order if Beavis and Butt-Head's teacher Mr. Van Driessen had given it, appears to actually have been dripping with condescending bossiness. Don't tell, Hunter, don't tell. The food will fall out of the trees by itself if you just wait for it, Hunter.
As a counterpoint, we visit Rotu. Soon to be beset by Jobian trials and tribulations, which are foreshadowed by Neleh's accidentally burning the toes off her socks. Oops, good thing Uncle CBS gives you fresh ones if you burn them, eh? There isn't really much going on here, except the revelation that everybody loves bossy Kathy now, and she forces them all to kiss her, to prove it. Except Pappy Paschal, who is too busy racing around the camp, kissing anyone who can't outrun him.
And then there's John, who gets an extra-special bonding experience of his own. In his continuing quest to guarantee a final four spot, he staggers off in fins and mask, and attempts to set up another pig snare, this time under two feet of water, on top of a coral reef. Sadly, within two seconds of entering the water, he's managed to impale himself on the ubiquitous local sea urchins, about which the Survivors were warned extensively in their manuals.
Being a nurse, he thinks back to his training, and remembers that both lemon juice and urine can ease the sting's pain. Seeing as lemon trees don't grow within oh, about twenty feet of where he's standing, he selects the golden shower option. Everyone comes running at the first call for volunteers. Paschal races over first, and, suddenly remembering he left his browser hooked up to a water sports porn site back on the computer in his chambers, turns away in embarrassment. But urine luck, John! Kathy is right there to lend a helping hand, or at least to irrigate one. And oh, what a relief it is!
Getting to know you, getting to know all about you...
Back at Maraamu, the night's rain seems to have drowned out the bickering. But that all changes when Jeff Probst arrives, informing the hapless M's that if they want to exhaust themselves losing another reward challenge, they're going to have to build a raft out of bamboo first. The production assistants were too busy boozing it up on their cruise ship last night, so it just didn't get done. Sorry, those are the breaks. As Jeffy's boat putters away, the Maraamu look anxiously at the bamboo drifting aimlessly in the water. They know that if they give it the evil eye long enough, it will eventually start building itself into a raft.
But the Rotus actually seem to be having fun with building their raft. Hack off half of Robert's big toe, he's still giddy with delight, even when Kathy pees on it, "for cleansing purposes." Gabe, who we suspect may actually be either Rod or Todd Flanders, can barely contain his enthusiasm at the prospect of extra manual labor. Paschal kisses the cameramen, Jeff Probst, and the entire production crew. John ventures back into the water and is immediately eaten by a Great White shark. Hours later, he's coughed back up on the beach, missing several limbs, which he cheerfully passes off as "merely flesh wounds," and the whole tribe gathers around the campfire to sing "I've Got That Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down In My Heart."
Maraamu, meanwhile, seem unable to escape the iron grasp of Robert's voodoo doll. While Rotu are wiping the blood off of their newly-completed raft, Maraamu's languishes unbuilt, while Sean lounges around singing show tunes, and Vecepia gets to the end of her Bible for the third time today. Hunter takes this opportunity to whine to the camera about his tribemates. Apparently, he's a little peeved that they may not be functioning well as a group. Well, duh!
Eventually, apparently after getting the cameramen to finish it for them, in exchange for the promise of extra footage in the future of Sarah bending over, Maraamu and their raft miraculously end up at the reward challenge. This one involves racing the rafts in a criss-crossing course to pick up boxes. Naturally, Maraamu lose again. Okay, it was pretty close until Rotu surged imperceptibly ahead, and Sean gave up rowing, in disgust. But we're not blaming anyone, it was just bad luck that Sean threw in his oar. Rotu selects blankets and pillows for their reward, and giggle uncontrollably about the sleepover they'll be having tonight.
Back at camp, Maraamu have some tough questions to answer, such as "How the hell do we keep losing to that bunch of goobers?" An informal poll is taken, and it's almost unanimously agreed that the primary problem is that Hunter is trying too hard in the challenges, such that it just makes everyone else tired to watch him. They remind Hunter, "Don't ask us to work, don't tell us to work. It's clearly your fault we keep losing, you team-oriented bastard."
Jeff Probst approaches Mark Burnett, and tells him: "Okay boss, we've got a problem. One tribe is so deliriously happy, no matter what we do to them or how many body parts they lose, they still like it. On the other tribe, we had to call in medics three times today already, just to pick their noses for them. They say they're saving their strength for the challenges. I'm not pointing fingers here, especially not this one that I haven't washed yet, but one tribe keeps losing challenges. What can we do to even things up?" Burnett replies: "I know! A swimsuit competition!"
Eventually, they settle instead on the time-tested rolling-the-coconut-around-the-maze-table game, which was a favorite of Early Bronze Age societies, at least those that couldn't afford the Nintendo Gamecube. Probst looks on, grinning knowingly, as Maraamu leaps out to a seemingly insurmountable lead. "There's no way these idiots can possibly lose this one," he chuckles. But then, tragedy strikes, as one of the magnetized coconuts Rotu was supposed to use suddenly appears on Maraamu's table, and the unthinkable happens. Both the coconut itself and the hole through which it is supposed to drop have like charges, and they repel each other vigorously. At the same time, Rotu manage to work through the tranquilizer darts being shot into their backs by the production crew, and slowly, slowly guide their final coconut into the hole. Rotu wins again.
Later, Rob wanders around Maraamu's camp, talking to each person, and quoting passages from "The Godfather." Mark Burnett suggests to him that he hint broadly that, since as far as they can tell he's an Italian-American from the Northeast, he may know some guys who can take care of things, if they don't vote the way he wants them to. "Trust me on this one," Burnett says, "People love to see ethnic stereotypes." At tribal council, Probst asks them several questions, mostly variations on a common theme: "How come you guys are such a bunch of losers? Does it feel bad to lose so much? Are you aware that losing is not the best way to avoid getting kicked off the show?"
Demonstrating their comprehension of this line of questioning, they then proceed to vote off Hunter, citing declining ratings for their morning show, and pointing out that male viewers aged 18-25 have expressed a preference that the morning weather report instead be delivered by "a chick with really big hooters." Staring down his competition, Hunter swears they'll get their comeuppance, and he'll land on his feet at a new station, with bigger and better ratings, just the way that Johnny Fever did when he was fired from WKRP.