But even this new strategy isn't enough to liven up the show, says Ken Tucker
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Silas Gaither
Credit: Silas Gaither: Robert Voets/CBS

The tribes are forced to trade members

Last night, ”Survivor: Africa” became the most un-American program on television.

How? At the exact moment when President Bush was addressing the nation while standing in front of a banner reading ”United We Stand,” ”Survivor” was busy dividing: Samburu’s Frank, Silas, and Theresa were shipped over to team Boran, in forced exchange for Lex, Tom, and Kelly.

It was an ironic contrast — CBS too scared to air its broadcast of a Presidential address lest it lose even more millions of viewers to ”Friends,” even as ”Survivor”’s Ethan was moaning that ”my two closest FRIENDS on the team were gone.”

This was the switcheroo CBS had been desperately promoting all week: ”Don’t miss the first 15 minutes.” Translation: Please, please, please, Nielsen-box families — tune away from the first half of ”Friends”! And the President, talking about national security? Well, catch it on the local news at 11.

Still, think about it: ”Survivor” producer Mark Burnett masterminded this tribal transfiguration a long while ago — he had no idea the country would be where it is now — so looking at it from his point of view, he’s admitting that this edition of ”Survivor” was strangling on its signature strategies. The famous ”alliances” had become predictable; the back-biting mundane. (Last night’s best bite was the one a tick took out of Lindsay’s rear end, the sight of which, as the insect was removed, provoked creepy, goatish glee in middle-aged Tom.)

I’ll be sorry to see Lindsay go. She’s a staggeringly poor strategist further enhanced by breathtaking self-absorption, which makes her woe-is-me sobbing an amusing sight. Last night, these qualities inspired the best line of the night, from Brandon: ”It’s so great that I’m gay, because I could not put up with a crying woman now.”

Ultimately, thick-headed pretty-boy Silas was booted out in a resounding 5 to 1 vote, and host Jeff Probst, who began the evening in a fetching little white cowboy hat, intimated that the newly reconfigured teams should not assume there’ll be the traditional ”team merge.” This could be a red herring, conceived by his boss Burnett to rattle the contestants and keep us tuning in. And at this point, it would take a sea of red herrings, flooding the East African plain where the game is set, to make the show exciting.

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