And then there were 10 -- Bruce Fretts handicaps the likeliest winner

By Bruce Fretts
Updated March 05, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST

Survivor: The Australian Outback

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Michael leaves ”Survivor” because of burn injuries

Maybe it was karmic payback for killing that pig. Bloodthirsty software company president Michael played with fire and got burned on what can be described only as a Very Special Episode of CBS’ ”Survivor.”

Overcome with smoke inhalation while blowing on the Kuchas’ campfire, he collapsed into it and scorched his hands. Evacuated via helicopter, he became the first player to leave the show without getting voted out (due to Michael’s injury, this week’s immunity challenge and tribal council bonfire were canceled). This sets up an interesting situation. With the two tribes set to merge next week, each now enters at equal strength: five Kuchas and five Ogakors. It’s not too early to start speculating on which of the final 10 has the right stuff to become the ultimate Survivor:

JERRI The aspiring actress (did you see her sucking face with that skeevy guy in the ‘do rag on ”Blind Date”?) has alienated Colby with her erotic cravings for chocolate, warning that if she doesn’t get some soon, ”I might go psycho, and I’m not kidding.” You mean she hasn’t already? She’s also got Keith boiling. Her days are seemingly numbered, although she promises to ”cause a big ruckus going down.” We have no doubt.

COLBY The cowboy auto customizer threw a bucket of water on Jerri after her bossy directions to her blindfolded teammates helped lose the reward challenge (but is a picnic of Doritos and Mountain Dew really a reward?). Or maybe he overheard her sharing her fantasy about licking chocolate off his body. In any event, he’s becoming a loner, and that can’t help his chances.

ELISABETH The footwear designer is challenging Colleen for the title of America’s Sweetest Survivor. She seemed genuinely shaken up by Michael’s accident and even blew him kisses as he was taken away in a seemingly drug induced haze of love. Then again, being sweet didn’t win Colleen a million dollars — just a costarring role in a Rob Schneider movie.

JEFF The Internet projects manager tries a little too hard to sound vicious: ”We’re gonna eat ’em up and spit ’em out, and that’s the way Mike would want it,” he said of the Ogakors. Such ruthlessness worked for Richard, but it doesn’t seem likely to succeed with this savvier group of contestants.

KEITH The chef butted heads with Jerri over her fried green tomatoes and later said they ”sucked, and I knew they would.” Actually, Jerri had a good point that he’s often pessimistic. Who wants to keep such a sourpuss around?

ALICIA The personal trainer seems to have mellowed since Kimmi left, but she could come unglued again. She gobbled up a lot of the chicken feed that the Kuchas started cooking, and if her fears come true that she could grow ”eight nipples and lay eggs” as a result, she may be disqualified.

AMBER The administrative assistant has bonded with Jerri over their shared desire for food (thoughts of Peppermint Patties nearly made her orgasmic), but if Jerri goes down soon, that could leave Amber vulnerable. She might have an ally in Tina, however; the two were seen braiding each other’s hair.

TINA The nurse stepped in between squabbling Jerri and Keith, threatening to give them both a time out. Playing mediator could be good politics. With her maturity and levelheadedness, Tina seems like a good candidate to go all the way. But a lot of people said the same thing about Gretchen.

RODGER The farmer / teacher seems beloved by everyone in his tribe, especially Elisabeth. He led the Kuchas in a prayer after Michael was taken away. But is he physically able enough to withstand the challenges? Or if he stumbles, will his teammates give him the old heave ho?

NICK The Harvard law student is my pick to take it all. He hasn’t made any enemies, he’s physically fit, and he’s kept a low profile. Come to think of it, he’s the opposite of Richard Hatch — which might be just what it takes to win the sequel.

Who do you think will be the ultimate ”Survivor”?

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Survivor: The Australian Outback

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