Tony’s best bet to stay at this point is to get a challenge victory, but it will be in an absolutely brutal contest. Usually when I go out on location I am able to take part in one challenge rehearsal, but on my trip for Game Changers I was fortunate enough to take part in this second one as well. At least, I thought I was fortunate until I did the damn thing. Scott Porter (of Friday Night Lights fame) — who was out on location doing some pre-game press stuff for CBS — and I jumped into this challenge at the last minute. I was pumped! I was excited! And then the challenge began.
Let me just say something — Survivor challenges are always hard. I had to dive down 13 feet to unhook a boat in Panama for All-Stars, I had to do the most brutal dig of my life in Gabon (the same one that almost killed G.C.), I had to push a massive waterlogged crate from out in the ocean back to shore in the Philippines. None of them came even close to the snake from hell. This is easily the most difficult challenge I’ve ever done.
I actually usually do pretty well in Survivor challenges. I’m certainly no Ozzy, but I’m vaguely athletic, have decent endurance, and care way too much about winning, which helps. But I have one Achilles heal: When it comes right down to it, I am a weakling. No upper body strength, no lower body strength, no strength at all. A strong breeze has been known to knock me on my ass from time to time. So when I swam out to that cage, climbed up, jumped in, and untied the knots, it was all good in the hood. But then it came time to get the snake out of the cage. And then it was not all good. In fact, it was very bad.
Now, I’m no dummy. I knew this would not be an opportunity for me to excel or shine, so the Survivor thing to do in that situation is simple: limit your exposure. For that reason, I sagely positioned myself near the back of the 400-pound snake, right by the tail. I figured that way I might stand a chance — a chance — of Jeff Probst not falling down in a fit of laughter from his comfortable perch on the beach.
But even my strategic decision to assume a fall-back position (unlike Varner who was nakedly exposed in his terribleness) could not save me. I can safely say I did absolutely nothing whatsoever to help my team of otherwise twentysomething studs (and I include the women in that category, who also kicked my ass). That’s okay, I figured. I’ll be better once we get out of the cage. WRONG! The next stage was to get the snake across the balance beam, so guess which loser fell off the beam twice and had to go back to the beginning? This guy!
Surely I could redeem myself by tossing rings onto those poles that spelled out immunity? Nope! To be fair, this was actually the most frustrating part of the challenge and one in which everyone struggled mightily. I can’t tell you exactly how long it took to spell out the word IMMUNITY, but I honestly think it was about 30 minutes. It took FOREVER, and nine times out of 10, the ring would catch, the paddle would tilt down, and then the ring would fall off at the last second. I actually thought it was a design flaw and complained to the producers halfway through. (Granted, I complain to Survivor producers about a lot of things, so there may have been a bit of a boy-who-cried-wolf situation going on here.)
Anyway, we won the challenge (no thanks to me, and you can see it for yourself here), but I bring all this up just to illustrate how absolutely brutal this one was and also to show how Malcolm was able to catch up to J.T. on the ring toss. In the same way any challenge with a puzzle always comes down to the puzzle no matter how many physical stages there were, this really was all about the ring toss. And while Michaela was pissed she didn’t get a chance to throw, the fact is that Malcolm got his squad back in the game with his throwing, even if he ultimately came up short. Can’t fault him for the Mana loss.
We head back to the Mana camp, where Sandra and Tony are trying their best to rally troops. Sandra wants to bring over some more people so they can split votes to ensure Tony or Aubry go home, while Tony and Caleb are trying to appeal to Michaela’s sense of wanting to keep the strongest players around. Caleb’s problem, however, is that he makes his pitch to Michaela about only keeping the strongest people around right in front of Varner — the same guy who just stank in the challenge almost as much as I did!