The first few episodes post-merge are always problematic for Survivor. Season after season, the dominant tribe methodically picks off the hapless minority tribe, which usually creates a massive, suspense-free void up until the final episode, or thereabouts. Except for Survivor: Africa, where Boran stupidly handed away their advantage by booting Kelly, only to be superceded in their complete lack of mental acuity by Samburu, who couldn't count to four and realize they had either Tom or Lex on the ropes. After which, of course, the predictable routing resumed. But nobody watched that season anyway, so the point stands.
Surprisingly, this season featured another opportunity for a dominant tribe to finally get their comeuppance. Well, okay, as long you overlook the fact that the "dominant" pureblooded Rotu Four are actually outnumbered by the five Rotu/Maraamu half-breeds. Still, their swagger and taunting (not to mention fifty minutes of Mark Burnett-abetted editing) might lead you to believe the Rotu Four were actually running the show, and the rest are just doomed underdogs. Maybe, just maybe, could Paschal and Neleh be the first contestants ever to actually rub two neurons together, and accept a tribe-shifting alliance that gives them power? Well, that's giving them a little too much credit, since Sean, Vee and Kathy saw this immediately, and it takes these two the better part of three days to catch a clue. We'll see what unfolds.
Most of which would appear to be the fabric of Sean's shorts, as a discussion of Rob's boot (and the exciting prospect for all remainining of unpaid jury duty) is quickly snuffed as Sean delights the tribe with the musical and aromatic talents of his ass. To announce bedtime, he pumps out a jaunty version of "Taps," which doubles as a requiem for poor, forehead-tattooed Rob. Sadly, the other contestants have little appreciation for creative instrumentation, and, nit-picking about the smell of Sean's sonatas, embark on a half-hour long diatribe about why they want to boot him.
Paschal, suddenly realizing he's actually on the show, decides this is a good opportunity to get more camera time, and slips out to sleep by the fire. Perhaps he did not think this through very carefully, because he knew good and well that massive wind was breaking across the campsite. The swirling vapors breathe life to the fire, as Paschal cowers on the ground, desperately trying to cover his nose and mouth. It is a long, long night. Eventually, though, Soliantu awake to find that Sean's farts have flattened two nearby trees. Oh, the humanity!
Seeing an opportunity to take advantage of a contestant's... uh... "talents," Burnett immediately comes up with a brilliant plan for the reward challenge, straight out of Peanuts. And by Peanuts, we mean, of course, the rich peanutty, chocolatey goodness of Snickers bars. Mmmm, mmmm, Snickers. Don't let hunger happen to you.
Huh? Where were we? Oh yeah, the Product Placement Challenge. Wherein the mighty forces of Sean's gaseous bowels are harnessed to lift brightly-colored kites high into the air. Jeff Probst primes the pump by feeding everyone a rock-hard chunk of sweet, delicious Snickers. The only problem with this plan is, for it to work properly, Sean has to be facing away from his kite, which interferes with manipulating it. So, basically, everybody stands around, waiting for their kites to fly themselves. Robert tries thumping Vee in the head, but does not achieve significant lift. Paschal holds his at arms length, as if he were a falconer, exhorting the kite to fly free. Only Kathy (who, we'll note, seemed to boast a prodigious set of lungs while belching her approval for the sugar-laden items at the post-SOS challenge feast) appears capable of propeling her kite skyward. Meanwhile, the guys just... can't... get it up. And soon, Kathy's won. Again. Holy smokes!
As she gets whisked away for an underwater adventure that translates remarkably underwhelmingly to the TV screen, this provides a prime opportunity for the Rotu Four to impress upon Paschal and Neleh that despite what they promised Rob, Sean and Vee, they'll be dispatching Sean at their earliest convenience. "Oh yeah, and... we keep telling Kathy she's safe, but she and Vee are toast, too. So you can trust us enough to do this, right?"
Paschal and Neleh decide this is a pretty good deal. Sure, they're numbers five and six in the pecking order, but at least they're not somewhere between fifth and first on the other side, right? Meanwhile, Sean and Kathy are busy, off plotting on their own. Either that or Kathy, still smarting from her unrequited affections for Rob, has taken a shine to Sean's thigh for other, more prurient, reasons. It's hard to say, really, what with all the editing.
Anyway, with respect to being courted by Sean, Vee, and Kathy, Paschal will have none of it. "I spend my days putting African-American men in prison," he laments. "How could I face my friends at the country club if I helped a colored fella like Sean get to the finals? Why, they'd take away my parking spot!" Okay, maybe that part was cut. But he did get a chance to channel the wayward spirit of Jerri Manthey, meeting Neleh's protests with a simple, "This game isn't fair."
Luckily, this revelation strikes him just in time for the immunity challenge. This one bears a striking resemblance both to previous trivia quizzes and to tried-and-true cutthroat challenges, such as the plate-breaking one at which Colby cheated, and Big Tom's sole IC win (its bastard cousin, breaking small pots). But hey, this time around, they get to wave machetes around, and there are brightly-colored coconuts involved, in shades so distantly removed from the natural world, they haven't even been considered yet for new M&Ms shells. The machetes get to hack ropes holding up the coconuts, in exchange for answering questions correctly.
Despite receiving a tree mail exhorting them to play nice, the masterminds in the Rotu Four take this opportunity to broadcast, with particular glee, their planned order of ousting for the non-Rotu 4 players. After hacking away at Sean, Vee and Kathy, the Four (okay, Zoe and John) gleefully remove Paschal from the challenge. Slowly, Neleh begins to suspect that John's promises of final six, a lifetime pass to Disneyland, a deed for the Brooklyn Bridge, and a pony, may not all come true. At least not all at once. And she really wanted that pony.
Anyway, as Tammy prances around the camp in her stylish immunity necklace, Zoe (who seemed more strategic when she refrained from opening her mouth) openly ribs Robert that she briefly thought about chopping Robert's cords instead of booting that loser Paschal from the game, but then thought better of it. "Dammit!" she bellows. "Did I just say what I thought, and think the part I wanted to say again? I'll tell ya, this talking stuff is overrated." And with that, Zoe disappears from the show for the rest of the episode.
This is a lot for the sharp-as-tacks minds of Paschal and Neleh to contemplate. John, Zoe, Tammy and Robert say they like them, but they always pick Paschal and Neleh last when they choose up sides in dodgeball, and getting held upside down in a flushing toilet wasn't really as much fun as they'd said it would be, at least not the last ten times or so. Then there's the desperate, hangdog looks Sean, Vee, and Kathy keep shooting their way, along with the encyclopedia-sized list of reasons to join their alliance, which they keep stuffing in Paschal's backpack. What are the new Rodger and Lis to do? Naturally, they head to water and coat themselves in mud.
"Maybe if I cover myself with mud, I can channel the spirit of Rudy. Or at least fashion myself a stylish bikini."
Apparently, this means Paschal and Neleh are willing to get down and dirty. Eeewww, no, not in that sense. Seems that, in addition to noticing the cameras for the first time, Paschal has come to the realization that this "survivor" deal may also be some kind of competition. This concept is further drummed into his head by Jeff Probst at tribal council, when Pappy's asked, "So, you know these four are just using you as a pawn to vote the others out, since they're down 4-5, right? Are you sure you're okay with that?" Through the magic of editing, we don't see Paschal's decision, at least until Probst reads the votes, and... John is gone!
So Paschal and Neleh have indeed seized control by crossing their original tribe, something not seen before in Survivor. As, uh, did Zoe, although that wasn't actually shown on TV. Surely a minor detail, since she and Kathy are supposedly on the outs, and such. Nothing to see here, move along.
And finally, we're left with John, staring into the camera, and mumbling some final words. Poor, poor John. He played his Richard Hatch cards to the fullest, complete with confident final four confessionals, unnecessary nudity, and excessive alliance-mongering. Somewhere, somehow, something went horribly, horribly wrong. Clearly, this ninth-place finish may interfere with his plans to follow in Rich's footsteps, appearing in ads for Rhode Island casinos and having multiple days in court. And as the realization of this lost dream gradually engulfs him, we understand why Neleh called him "Johnny Baby." Oh. Dear. God.
Ah well, at least we can still look forward to an "unpredictable" Pagonging IV next week.