As Joel says goodbye, Bruce Fretts ponders the show's nagging questions

By Bruce Fretts
Updated July 06, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

The battle to be the final Survivor intensifies

Gervase was the one who said, ”Girls are the stupidest things on the planet next to cows,” but it was cocksure health club consultant Joel who got the boot from the Pagong women (joined by Greg, who’s sleeping with Colleen). If you have no clue what I’m talking about, you’ve obviously been stranded on a pop-culture desert island and haven’t seen ”Survivor.”

Other highlights from the latest installment of CBS’ tropical treat: Machiavellian corporate exec Richard committed his first tactical error (no, not walking around naked), retrieving the wrong item in a reward challenge and disqualifying his Tagi tribe; Pagong’s three chickens lost their heads — and one got devoured by a monitor lizard; and the five remaining members of each tribe merged, meaning you’ll no longer have to keep track of whether Kelly is a Pagong or a Tagi. Still, other questions linger….

Why didn’t anyone vote against Gervase? Aside from his sexist-pig remark, the YMCA hoops coach admitted he hasn’t done anything since he arrived on the island. He didn’t even participate in this week’s immunity challenge, standing on the sidelines and yelling ”Pick up the pace, baby!” as Joel unsuccessfully maneuvered through a Green Beret-designed obstacle course. He claims his invincibility lies in his charm and personality. They must’ve been left on the cutting-room floor.

Is Richard losing weight? Despite David Letterman’s jokes to the contrary, the chunky hunk appears to be slimming down. Maybe it’s the dog food in his diet. No one else could stomach more than a few bites (though single mom Jenna said it tasted like pate), but Richard wolfed it down.

What’s up with Gretchen’s handwriting? Casting her vote at the latest tribal council, she inexplicably wrote the ”J” backwards in ”Joel.” Methinks this teacher may need remedial penmanship lessons.

Does Rudy realize he’s being set up by Richard? The crusty Navy vet finally joined the unholy alliance headed up by his devious teammate. But Richard secretly confessed that he’s stringing the old guy along until the merger, when he expects Rudy to make a quick exit. That’s just rude.

Why is Sean the only one who’s disturbed by Richard’s public nudity? Even the elderly conservative Rudy shrugged off his homosexual comrade’s exhibitionism, but it unnerved the nipple-pierced neurologist. Guess he never sees his patients in the buff.

While we’re on the topic of nudity, how pissed are the producers of ”Survivor” that — unlike the minds behind CBS’ newest reality show, ”Big Brother” — they didn’t pick a stripper for their cast of castaways? Exotic dancer Jordan should be worth at least two ”Big” ratings points.