There are few things more frightening than the prospect of an expanded, 90-minute episode of Survivor. Okay, the bloated, two-hour finale episode of Survivor: The Australian Outback easily tops that in overall fear factor, we suppose. And we'll allow that, in retrospect, the first installment of S6 wasn't nearly that bad. First, thanks to CBS's excellent marketing and sales department, the extra 30 minutes were 97% filled with commercials, and second, being the first episode, there wasn't much room to fill the remainder with scenes of the contestants crying. All in all, a pretty decent deal.
That is, of course, not to mention that this episode dealt with the big issue of "Can men and women compete equally on a level playing field?" Coming as it did from the Mark Burnett Production House of Artistic Excellence, that meant it approached this question by seizing the ancient stereotype that men are superior to women, wringing every last drop of video it could out of it, tossing it aside, then replacing it with hundreds of other equally ridiculous myths. Such as: "Women are incompetent at building things," "Women are squeamish around spiders," "Men are sex-obsessed, Neanderthal brutes," "Old (barely 50) men are bossy," "Non-white men are lazy (even if they're Asian-American!)," "Old (47-year-old) women can't hack it in the wild," and best of all, "Jeff Probst is a charming TV personality."
But don't take our word for it, let's stroll back through and see for ourselves, shall we?
We start off, as usual, with the 16 contestants trapped on a boat. Probst goes through his spiel about how forbidding the Amazon is, and how important the trees are (this is a narrative device known as "foreshadowing," because in a few minutes, most of the trees will have been hacked down by a bunch of people with machetes). Eventually, Probst stops talking, which causes the boat to stop (Probst Hot Air Power is high on the list of alternative energy sources government researchers are currently investigating). Seeing as that's as good a place is any, he drops a rope ladder down to the two canoes the boats have been towing, and starts sending the women down into the yellow one.
You'd think there would be looks of shock and yelps of "WTF?" when Probst sends the fifth woman to the yellow tribe, but these are largely absent (Dave is shown glowering, but he was doing that during Probst's speech, as well), but luckily, the sound editing department saw through this problem and added some very subtle 200 dB sound effects to drive this point home: the (yellow) Jaburu tribe will be all women.
Okay, so it's not entirely true that there was no reaction to this: The cameras did focus at that point on Ryan, who was staring, slack-jawed, at Probst, or possibly Heidi's chest. But judging from his post-boot interviews, that appears to be Ryan's natural state, and it was later revealed that it took rocket scientist Dave two full days to explain to Ryan that the women who were supposed to be on the tribe hadn't gotten held up at the store with the beer and the burgers, as that sneaky Rob had tried to tell him. "Okay," Ryan asked, "but what about Butch? Isn't she a lesbian?" Shaking his head, Dave explained again through gritted teeth, "No, that's his name. Okay, his real name is actually Wilbur, but haven't you noticed he has a mustache?"
Ryan, after thinking it over carefully for two hours, eventually counters with "Oh, I thought that was a political statement."
Apart from this, most of the early confessionals fall into one of two categories: chipper women confidently predicting they will beat the men, and chipper men openly wondering if there is a mercy rule in Survivor, like if the women lose the first seven challenges, or something.
Or at least that's what goes on until the women pull up to their camp several days after the men have reached theirs, built a shelter, a barbecue pit, eight couches, a plasma TV with a satellite dish, and a basement in which they're fermenting and distilling the manioc root the producers gave them (sadly, they are unable to fashion a remote control until about the fifth episode, meaning all this work is for naught). As the women disembark at Camp Jaburu, Christy reveals she's (cue more subtle "dramatic" musical overdubbing) deaf! Sure, she can tell what everyone is saying as long as they don't wear their buffs like bank robbers, or turn away from her while talking, but Heidi and Jenna are still broken up about this. "I mean seriously," Jenna whines, "What if we want to talk about shopping from like, 2 a.m. to 4:30 a.m., while we're wearing our beauty masks, and we still haven't gotten our fire lit or anything? What will we do then? There's just no way this is going to work."
The women of Jaburu are distracted from their efforts at building a hut by the hypnotic powers of Heidi's chest.
Meanwhile, back at the men's camp, we're introduced to Rob. As is traditional for Survivors named Rob (this is actually part of the game rules), he has no chance of winning, and is around solely for comic relief. And by "comic," we mean talking in a cocksure manner about his chances, and saying things that he thinks are hilarious, which ends up being funny mainly because he seems so convinced of his own greatness. Okay, well that and his adventures with machetes.
Naturally, being eight men armed with machetes in the middle of a rain forest, the Tambaqui tribe members are out in force, chopping down everything in sight. Because Survivor is all about helping developing countries with activities they're struggling to complete, such as deforestation of the Amazon. But mainly, we think we were shown this so that we could see Rob flailing away wildly at a sapling (while lamenting his missed career opportunity as a lumberjack), because it helps explain why his parents wouldn't let him have a machete back home.
We! Make! Holes in trees!
Around this time, four of the guys huddle around a stack of former rain forest, to test the important question: "Does kerosene burn?" As it turns out, it appears to do so quite well (and the other four guys are pissed off that they didn't get to participate in the experiment). In contrast, the women, always up for a challenge, content themselves with examining the flammability of damp twigs. Ever plucky, they keep at it for several hours. Which gives Heidi time to complain privately that Deena is too bossy, and way too concerned with frivolous things like fires and shelter.
By the second day, the routine of camp life has begun to set in. The men celebrate the completion of their shelter with a clanging of machetes (while Roger privately mutters that Daniel and Ryan are "useless"). And the women, well, they attend to important matters, such as squashing tarantulas and boiling lightly-soiled buffs. Bossy Deena again questions the logic of such behavior, when there's still a shelter to be built and food to be found. Apparently, however, she consoles herself by quietly revisiting her joy at being able to pee in front of other women, since no mention is made of the barely-started shelter for the remainder of the episode.
Because instead of shelter, the women have now moved on to more important activities, such as using their fishing lines to catch leaves. Or a "bait" fish, which is quickly sliced up to help catch a single fish that is even smaller. Which when cooked, sparks a fierce debate on whether the shards of fish more cloesly resemeble snot or vomit. Mmmm, them's good eats!
We would be remiss not to mention the "excitement" at Tambaqui camp about Rob's Magic 8-ball, which the young guys use exclusively to determine their prospects of scoring with the "hot chicks" at Jaburu. Sadly, as with all superstition, the "Magic" in the 8-ball appeared to have been off a bit, because there's no chance in hell that Rob, Ryan or Daniel would be hooking up, unless maybe it was with Julie Chen after the Early Show. (Keep hope alive, Ryan, keep hope alive!)
Eventually, after an hour of buildup, the immunity challenge arrives. We'd describe it, but it was essentially a regurgitation of several challenges from the Thailand edition: easy "obstacle course"-like stage, puzzle, repeat. It was only noteworthy in the sense that the two buff young guys on Tambaqui, Daniel and Ryan, apparently having dipped a bit too heavily into the tribe's stash of fermented, distilled manioc before the challenge, were repeatedly unable to perform the relatively simple task of walking the length of a short log without falling off. Not being rocket scientists themselves, they then attempted to scoot across while sitting, which in addition to looking substantially more painful, also did nothing for their balance. Perhaps cartwheels might have been more effective.
Anyway, after blowing a massive lead with their shenanigans, Tambaqui still manages to be tied going into the penultimate stage, completing a relatively simple jigsaw puzzle. A task they foolishly submit to the Rocket Scientist and the Designated Rob. Apparently there is some miscommunication, as the Rocket Scientist decides it might be clever to assemble the word-containg part of the puzzle on the ground first, so as to have to put it together again when he moves it onto the board. But hey, he is a Rocket Scientist, so he must know what he's doing, right? Just not as well as the women, who use this opportunity to finish the challenge, win immunity, and generally shriek and hug a lot. Then they go back to their shelterless, food-free camp and resume boiling their underwear.
"So you're saying if we boil our underwear in this water it will actually make them cleaner?"
As you might imagine, this doesn't sit too well with the guys, who had already built themselves a mantle and created small trophies for each of their challenge victories (and who have been critically under-informed about the underwear-boiling festivities at the women's camp). Daniel looks scornfully at the Ep1 IC trophy, moaning, "Well, what are we going to do with this one now?" Ryan looks at him slyly (in as much as Ryan can approximate the facial expression, "sly"), and yells, "Let's burn it!" Whoops of joy echo through the jungle as the young men dance around the flaming trophy, asking the Magic 8-ball if Heidi's top is likely to fall off at the next challenge: "It says 'All signs point to Yes'! Woo-hoo!"
Sometime around here, Dave calls a team meeting, and with his affected gravelly intonations, berates the attitude of his teammates, for being overconfident, untruthful, and so on. And on. And on. Hours into this filibuster, Alex eventually works up the gumption to tap Dave on the shoulder and remind him that, while this stalling tactic is fun and all, they're still technically required to attend tribal council before the sun rises in a few hours. After nervous, confused glances are exchanged all around, it's off to TC.
Okay, sure, there was a bunch of footage of Ryan running around, trying to convince everyone not to vote him off. But come on, this is Ryan here. (Keep hope alive, Ryan! Julie is dialing the phone right now!) The only really notable line of questioning done by Probst is the continuity-demonstrating sequence in which he encourages the guys to express their delight in the women, then chastises them for doing so. A bunch of votes are cast, and Ryan heads home, despite being sure that it was Roger who was leaving.
All in all, an auspicious debut, at least in the sense that there should be plenty of material to work with for this edition. Let the stupid times roll.