On ''Survivor,'' the new single tribe loses all its luxuries, then the new alliances reveal their weaknesses after an immunity-challenge twist

By Dalton Ross
April 13, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Survivor Fiji: Monty Brinton

”Survivor”: Another game-changing shakeup

Okay, before we get to last night’s Survivor, I have a statement to make. It’s not a grand statement. I’m not running for political office or joining as keyboardist in the newly reformed Human League. But I do want to respond to some chatter on last week’s message boards. A few people seemed annoyed that I have been continually dissing and dismissing the season of Survivor. ”Stop whining and go write about a show you do like,” they said. (By the way, that’s not an actual quote — I’m way too lazy to look the real thing up — but that was the gist.)

You know what? I can understand that: If you really dig something, it’s kind of a downer to then have to read some dude talking about how lame it is and, in turn, how lame you are for enjoying it. But I will also say this: I gotta call it like I see it. I’ve been writing weekly Survivor recaps for over five years. There have been seasons I loved (Amazon), seasons I loathed (Thailand), and seasons that were somewhere in between (Exile Island). When I critique the program, it is as a fan: as someone who loves the franchise and wants — and hopes for — the best. But that doesn’t mean the show gets a free pass. Nor do they expect one. I’ve met pretty much all of the Survivor producers, and they freely acknowledge that some seasons are far better than others. Sometimes they agree with what I write, and I’m sure sometimes they don’t. But the point is…actually I kind of got off track there. Not quite sure where I was going, but I’ll leave you with this: Unlike some critics who claim the show is tired and should be retired, I will never say stuff like that. Some of the best seasons (like Palau, Pearl Islands, and the second half of Cook Islands) aired far after the initial impact of Richard Hatch. I have no doubt the show can be great again. Unfortunately, there may not be much time, as I have a sneaky suspicion that Survivor will wrap for good next spring after a second all-star installment (because ratings are down and contracts will be up). Okay, on to the episode.

The previews last week made it seem as if the contestants were going to be attacked by a Sasquatch or something. They looked legitimately scared for their lives. Turns out they just had to learn to live without coffee. It really made you realize how pampered this cast has been. You knew when the episode went to great lengths to show how excited they were to be going back to Moto that all would not be completely well. They were smiling. They were celebrating. It was like those poor young wide-eyed saps in those old war or Western movies who would show off pictures or letters from their fiancée and talk about how they couldn’t wait to get home to her, yet would then go into battle and get their heads blown off. So forgive me for thinking that the contestants would be facing something worse than losing their fine china. Still, I had to give it up to my man Earl, who was fired up for the merge, knowing that this was when the real wheeling and dealing was gonna begin.

Things were shaping up to be a battle between two fearsome foursomes: Earl, Yau-Man, Michelle, and Cassandra versus Alex, Edgardo, Mookie, and Dreamz. People on both sides talked at length about wanting to send Boo home first, thereby alerting the viewer that Boo was going nowhere. Then the self-proclaimed Four Horsemen fell off their collective saddle. First Mookie went against Alex and Edgardo and told loose-lipped Dreamz about the hidden immunity idol (clips for next week indicate that that information will go straight to Cassandra and Earl). And then Dreamz was psyched out by Alex at tribal council into voting out Michelle out instead of Stacy, thereby leaving Mookie hanging out on his own.

I like Dreamz a lot. Has a lot of energy, seems completely likable — but he is simply not cut out to play this game. Don’t get me wrong, he could go far, but it will most likely have to be through other people’s doing, not his own. Yes, Stacy was from his original tribe, but Stacy also treated him like freakin’ dirt and is an ally of Alex and Edgardo, leaving him out in the cold. Dude is just too naive. (Look for Earl to try to exploit that and get him to flip.)

The other big moment was the immunity challenge, which was a team as opposed to individual competition. I’ve thought long and hard about this between sips of my Milwaukee’s Best, and here’s where I stand. I like the idea of going five on five and having an entire team win immunity. It throws everything into flux, and flux is almost always a good thing. I’m still torn about allowing only the losing team to vote at tribal council, however. Yes, it provided great drama to watch Dreamz and Mookie part ways at the voting stand, but shouldn’t the winners have been able to truly enjoy the spoils of victory by being allowed to exert their power in helping to shape the game? What if the winning team were the only people allowed to vote, and they got to vote one of the losers out? That would seem to make more sense and possibly provide even better drama. Oh well, maybe next season.

At least the haves-and-have-nots division is now a done deal. And I’m really looking forward to seeing the fallout from this week’s vote. It’s suddenly a whole new game — and, hopefully, a new show as well.