The Brawn tribe is seriously struggling — and one of its members essentially commits 'Survivor' suicide

By Dalton Ross
February 25, 2016 at 03:46 PM EST
Robert Voets/CBS
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The Fifth Amendment. Not as controversial as the Second Amendment, nor as celebrated as the Thirteenth Amendment. Perhaps it’s not the sexiest Amendment out there, as approximately 5,326 seasons of Law & Order (and The Practice, and The Good Wife, and every other legal drama) will attest under oath, which is why people on TV constantly waive the right to it while on the stand only to then end up putting themselves behind bars.

The Fifth Amendment is this: No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

The big part of that is the section that reads “nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” Basically, in layman terms, it amounts to this: the protection against self-incrimination. Which — because I feel I may need to break down this down even a bit further for “embryo”-loving Alecia — means that one need not open their yap unnecessarily to point out the various crimes they have committed. Sit there. Shut up. And you’re good to go.

Which brings us to one of the most bizarre scenes in Survivor history, as Jenny — in all of her Second Amendment-loving glory — brought a semi-automatic Uzi to Tribal Council, pointed it at herself, and fired away. At least metaphorically. Because there sat Jenny, seemingly the power player in deciding whether it would be Jason or Alecia going home, all of sudden revealing that the decision was “up in the air” and went “back and forth.” Uh-oh.

We’ve heard of loose lips sinking ships, but why would you want to go ahead and sink your own? It’s as if the Titanic purposefully charted out a course for that iceberg that caused Billy Zane to start acting like a total jerkface. And then not only did Jenny reveal she had wavered, but she proceeded to lamely attempt to lie and say it was all Alecia’s doing, only to then reverse course once again and admit she said to throw Jason on the chopping block. This was followed by her daring people to vote her out because she was one of the tribe’s strongest players. You know what? Dare accepted!

And then things just got plain freaky. The woman stood up on her post and bellowed out “Please trust the original alliance we had! Nothing has changed!”  At first I thought she would only come down if Probst could procure some peanut butter and chocolate, but alas she did come down, only to be voted out.

What a weird scene. And let’s tackle the second half of this equation before we move on: Jeff Probst. And to do so, let’s head all the way back to season 5, Survivor: Thailand. Not a lot of great things came out of Survivor; Thailand. There was the fake merge, there was the “Attack Zone” where Robb with two B’s choked Clay and forever changed the physicality of Survivor challenges, and there were the assorted drunken ramblings of Jan. But that was pretty much it. Except for one other thing, a newly emboldened host.

This is the point where Jeff Probst became more involved in the game. Some have complained that he has become too involved and too pointed with his questions and critiques, such as when many felt he pushed Janu to quit Survivor: Palau. While I have ribbed Probst about the Janu thing (I asked him on the Palau finale red carpet if he was going to somehow get her to quit the Reunion show as well), my viewpoint has always been this: Probst’s evolution as a host and his role in the game has been essential to the sustained success of the show. For one thing, it freed him up from being too robotic. Go back and watch those early seasons, and you’ll see what I mean. The guy was working on a leash, much like the talented Phil Keoghan has been forced to do under the all-controlling eye of Bertram van Munster on The Amazing Race.

Once Probst was allowed the freedom to assess and critique, he became a conduit for the viewer. Instead of us merely yelling at our TV screens, there was someone actually there to yell at them for us. Now, not everyone likes that. You may argue that Jeff Probst now has the power to affect the outcome of the game with his commentary and questions. And guess what? You would be right! But here’s why that is not a bad thing.

NEXT: The right and wrong ways to handle Jeff Probst at Tribal Council

Probst is an element in the game — a living, breathing, orange-capped element in the game that must be mastered like all the others. There are a million and one different ways to lose this game. You can lose Survivor because you stink at a particular challenge. You can lose because you gave someone a weird look or cut in front of him at the buffet line before the game even began back when you weren’t allowed to talk to other contestants. You can lose because someone was told you said something that you never said. You can lose because you flirt too much, or too little. Or you twisted your ankle. Or you’re too mean. Or too nice. Or you insist that Gremlins 2 is the most underrated sequel of all time (which it is).

The point is, there are tons of things that need to be mastered if you want to end up the sole Survivor, and mastering the art of handling Jeff Probst is one of them. Because that’s exactly what he is, another chess piece on the board that needs to be respected and accounted for at all times. How you answer Probst’s questions, comments, and observations plays a huge part. And from a strategic perspective, I love watching how players handle it.  And it is amazing how in season 32 contestants can still completely underestimate and botch this all-important element.

It’s not even that difficult either. The key is to give Jeff what he is looking for without revealing your own intentions. When he comes to you and is sniffing around for a side deal you may have made or an eye roll you inadvertently let out while someone else was talking, the answer is not to deny, deny, deny because Probst has one of the best B.S. meters in the business.

Nope, the proper course of action is to use humor as your weapon. Casually deflect his comment with a joke or misdirect the conversation into another area that you are comfortable talking about. Boston Rob was a master at this. As long as you give Probst something he can use, he’ll probably let it go and move on. Give him nothing and he’ll keep digging. Boston Rob never gave anything up at Tribal Council, but he was always entertaining enough that he was able to stay above the fray. It’s the fine art of answering the question without actually answering anything. I cannot emphasize that last sentence enough.

Handling Probst is often what separates the good players from the great ones. But now let’s circle it all back to what makes the Jenny thing so remarkable, and it is the fact that Probst was barely even digging! This wasn’t some sort of entrapment or the host overstepping his bounds. Go back and look at the statement from Jeff that prompted the inadvertent admission: “So, Jenny, six days in, there are a lot of ways Tribal could go tonight. You could be playing the long game, or alliances take over, or you could easily see three women and say ‘Look, let’s just take out one of the guys and we stick together.”

That is about innocuous as they come. He is doing nothing more than stating a basic Survivor fact. That’s it. And yet Jenny took those words and used them make a noose she then put around her neck. It was all so easily preventable. I’ll give you three examples right off the top of my head of how Jenny could have better answered Probst:

1. “Well, Jeff, the key thing in this game is trust. And once you find people you trust, your best move is to stay with them. It’s like what that great Survivor philosopher Keith said: Stick to the plan.”

2. “You know, Jeff, we’re down as a tribe. We’re hurting. And being here hurts. And it’s going to hurt even more for one person in particular. But for those of us still here after tonight, we’re going to turn this pain into our gain and unify and go out there and kick ass. A lot of ass. Tons of ass, Jeff.”

3. “Eye contact is on. I’m rollin’ down windows, pointin’ at thongs. And she’s poppin’ them buttons and yankin’ that blouse. Girl, let it all out. And that’s what she did. Baby ain’t no kid. 36Ds make a man skid. I’m puttin’ in work on the freeway pass ’cause she put ’em on the glass.”

I realize that last one merely consists of the lyrics to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Put ‘Em on the Glass,” but I actually do still consider it to be a better answer than what Jenny gave. (Also, a fun fact: I had to explain to my EW Morning Live radio cohost Jessica Shaw what the “’em” in question were that Sir-Mix-a-Lot was requesting to be put on the glass. How there was ever any mystery about that I will never know.)

So the only person Jenny can blame is herself. Take note, future Survivor players. And when in doubt, plead the Fifth. Okay, let’s go tribe by tribe to see what else went down in this latest episode of Survivor: Kaoh Rong.

NEXT: Enter the Bromance

BRAWN TRIBE

After almost being voted out, Alecia begins the episode by telling everyone she is going to “step it up.” And she gets right to it by working with Jenny to try and make a fire, but to no avail. “We almost got it, guys,” Alecia tells the others. “We had an embryo, and it went out.” Embryo? I mean, I guess it sounds kinda like ember. Alecia, you are just not doing me any favors at all when I sit here and try to defend your honor in the face of all the insults being hurled by your tribe’s resident walking and talking public service announcement against regrettable tattoos. I mean, you gotta give me something, woman!

But Alecia is not going to quit. Because two days later, we see her still trying. And trying. And trying. Five hours of elapsed time goes by, and she finally gets it. And just in time for Jason to come over at the very last second to take all the credit. What else do you expect from a guy named Kyle who tells everyone to call him Jason, even though Jason is his last name that sounds like a first name. (I certainly know a little something about that last point. Perhaps I should start ordering people to call me Ross.)

BEAUTY TRIBE

Tai is back on an idol hunt, but unlike last week, we see him actually searching at an opportune time while others are out in the water. However, little does Tai realize that there are more steps to finding this idol than there are in the Electric Slide. First he reaches into a hollowed-out hole in a tree and finds a note. That tells him to dig up something at the foot of the tree, but all that is there is a box with another note that tells him he must follow a map to get a key to open the box, which is way up on a palm tree. Once he retrieves that, he must pat his head while simultaneously rubbing his belly, which will summon the Cambodian God of Thunder, who will materialize in mist form and battle Tai in a game of Parcheesi, with the victor immediately gaining access to any and all idols not named after Tyler Perry. So yeah, a bit more complicated than usual.

Tai attempts to climb the tree, and gets pretty damn high, cutting his feet in the process — but not high enough. However, there is a consolation prize — it’s cuddlelicious Caleb! That’s right, it turns out Tai’s late-night snuggle bunny is none other than Beast Mode Cowboy. Say this for Caleb: His obsession with Amber on Big Brother may have been a bit much, but the guy seems completely open to people no matter what their sexual orientation may be. We saw that on Big Brother with Frankie, and we see it here with Tai, as well. “There is no such thing as homophobe in this guy right here,” says Caleb. “I like hanging out with him because he is one of a kind for sure.”

Good for him. And he didn’t even flinch (much) when Tai admitted to going in for a kiss while sharing some cooked fish. Now, I’m not convinced Beast Mode Cowboy has the strategic chops to win this game, but he is clearly a huge factor in physical challenges and appears to be pretty likeable in the social arena as well. If anything, he may be too nice and too trusting, but any doubts about how a Big Brother contestant would fare in the much harsher conditions of Survivor have now been answered by both Hayden and Caleb.

I’m not saying I would run out and start signing up talking-to-himself Steve and Twin Twist Liz/Julia for the full Survivor experience, but CBS has so far done a good job of picking which players to cross over. (And make no mistake, CBS is the one crossing these players over; Jeff Probst said so on my radio show the other week.)

NEXT: Orange you glad he wore orange?

BRAINS TRIBE

You know your tribe is a bit unstable when then dude who is an “ice cream entrepreneur” and almost burned half his leg off with kerosene seems like the most stable member. Of course, the wackiest ship in this navy has to be Debbie, who appears to be channeling some sort of mix between Wanda from Palau and Micronesia’s Kathy. Debbie is insistent that boiling water is for suckers and that she can continue to chug untreated water because “I have an immune system like a horse.”

Of course, equine immune systems are known to become compromised due to factors like age and stress, so I’m not exactly sure what Debbie is getting at here, unless she is just trying to distance herself from Peter’s suggestion that she has the immune system of one of her 40 cats. Equine immune systems are pretty close to canine immune systems, so perhaps she is indeed trying to throw him off the scent, and that is not a butt-sniffing reference, by the way. At least I don’t think it is. Honestly, I am so confused at this point I have no idea what I am even writing. Next thing you know I am going to be typing something even more absurd and ridiculous like “women with boobs should not be running.” Oh, while we’re on that, apparently fat people are not allowed to run either, which seems a bit like a missed opportunity to take control of one’s fitness regimen, but okay. Also, if women with boobs are not allowed to run, doesn’t that mean that, like, no women are allowed to run? Confusing.

But while others may be annoyed by Debbie’s antics, Peter sees another Phillip Sheppard situation in that Debbie could be the perfect person to bring to the end. Besides, natural alliance partner Liz is off having a meltdown of her own. “I hate being emotional,” she says while channeling the robotic spirit of the Spencertron 3000. “I hate allowing myself to not do the logical thing at every given point.” I’m sure she would confide in the paternal arms of father figure Joe, but he’s too busy using all the tribe’s kerosene to practice his awesome new firebeathing act so he and Juggler Debbie can’t take their Vaudeville Survivor Revue out on the road. (“This show is purrrrrrrrrfect!” raves Crookshanks from Cat Nap magazine.)

Okay, enough of this tomfoolery. Let’s head to the challenge. And what do we have here. #OrangeHatAlert!!!!  We are now 3-for-3 on Probst donning the orange Survivor baseball cap, which I have long promoted as the most righteous of all Survivor hats. So Probst is totally stylin’ as he tells the teams how they will have to race down a river to get a heavy log that they will then have to carry through a series of obstacles and put in a cradle before untying a ball they must use to hit two targets. At least I think that’s what he told them because 90 percent of my attention was still focused on the hat.

The first team to finish also receives “the ultimate survivor fishing kit” while second place gets a smaller kit that “will still get the job done,” according to Probst. Brains is forced to sit Debbie because her equine DNA is deemed too big of an advantage for the other tribes to overcome. Beauty sits Julia because nobody knows who Julia is.

Right from the get-go, Caleb races way out in front of everyone, and Beauty indeed gets through their obstacles first, with Brawn in second and Brains way behind.  But eventually we end up with one target hit for each team, with Beauty winning the first immunity and fishing kit…which seems a bit unnecessary seeing how Debbie has most likely informed her entire tribe that she can catch fish with her teeth. (What can’t this woman do? I mean, besides shut up.)

So it comes down to Brains and Brawn, and just as everyone suspected, the guy who made millions of dollars shooting balls at targets (Scot) loses to the ER doctor (Peter). That also means Brawn has now lost two very physical challenges, and this one did not even have a puzzle they can blame it on. Not a good look for them. No wonder Jason is worried about going down as the worst tribe in Survivor history (R.I.P. Ulong).

NEXT: Jenny commits inadvertent Survivor suicide

And we all know what happens next. Jason or Kyle or whatever the hell his name is once again goes off on Alecia: “Blondie — she’s a ditz and a half. A ditz. I’m sure she’s got a good heart and good intentions on stuff. She’s just dumb. She’s always confused. She’s like an ostrich. She’s a bird, but she can’t fly. She’s useless.” That’s more than a little demeaning…to ostriches. After all, those birds may be flightless, but they can get up to speeds of more than 40 mph. Show a little respect! And Alecia made you fire, dude. Give the woman her props, Dog the Bounty Hunter!

The belittling continues as Alecia goes Idol hunting, and this this time it happens in front of Jenny, who doesn’t like what she hears. Of course, this basic human goodness is what ultimately leads to Jenny’s downfall. She proposes a new female alliance but then goes back and changes her mind again, blaming the defection on her “low impulse control” and propensity to “chase shiny objects.”

Jenny is far from the first person to change her mind repeatedly before a Tribal Council, but she may be the first to openly admit that for no reason. And she pays the ultimate price for that revelation, as Alecia, Jason and Cydney vote her out. (Scot keeps his vote on Alecia, presumably to protect against a hidden immunity idol. Or maybe I’m giving him too much credit.)

So Brawn is now down to only four members. Just a terrible start for them with sunburns and earworms and losses all around. On the bright side, at least nobody is pooping right on the shoreline by their camp. We’ll see if they can rebound next week, but watching them lose two straight physical challenges like this does not bode well for their chances of success moving forward.

But let’s stay in the here and now for a minute because we’ve got some goodies for you. Goodies like an exclusive deleted scene from last night’s episode, as Liz talks about making a charcoal water filter while revealing all the mental and physical preparation she did for the game. And goodies like my episode Q&A with Jeff Probst. And goodies like our exit interview with Jenny, which should be up on Thursday afternoon. A plethora of goodies, ladies and gentlemen! And if you follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss you can score even more, such as the live Survivor Commercial Break Q&As I’m doing on Periscope. Make sure to check those out and ask away.

But you can weigh in right here on the episode. Did Brawn make the right choice to ditch Jenny instead of Alecia or Jason? Are you digging the Survivor version of Beast Mode Cowboy? And whom are you loving and loathing the most so far? Hit the message boards to share your two cents, and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy.

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