Survivor recap: The Race Is On
In a "crazy" episode, Phillip accuses Steve of covert racism after another incident involving rice
Last time I checked, Gary Busey was not black. I point this out because I have called Busey crazy approximately 3,638 times while recapping Celebrity Apprentice this season. I didn’t do this to be mean, but partly to counter Donald Trump’s constant claims that Gary was “brilliant” and a “genius” and partly because, well, Gary Busey is crazy. Sometimes crazy is just crazy.
Which brings us to Phillip. Also crazy. I don’t mean in the clinical sense, necessarily, but in the loony, kooky, wacky, zany way. He must be completely unbearable to live with, but for us viewers he’s been a godsend. When the season started slowing down with Krista and Stephanie being voted out, there was Phillip to offer us a little drama with the “crispy rice” incident. And now Phillip was at it again, turning another disagreement over rice — what is it with this guy and rice, anyway? — into an accusation of racism against Steve. Of course, he then followed that accusation by dropping the N-word twice himself and claiming, “I’m like a lot of black men. We’re prepared to self-destruct at any moment. ‘Cause that’s what happens to a lot of black men. They do self-destruct.” (Any other dangerous stereotypes or generalizations we can make? Do they also wear pink saggy underwear with a feather attached to their head?)
It was an explosive scene. And yet all I can focus on is his parting line to Steve: “Wing Chun kung fu expert here.” I love that because it was so out of nowhere. It’s like, when in doubt, throw in a little kung fu. Oh, you won’t let us store our rice in your tin? Okay, well, guess what? KUNG FU! You say you need to talk to Ralph before deciding? I see, but did I mention…KUNG FU?! So now you think I’m crazy? Hmmm, you could be right. But then again, you may also want to consider the possibility of tossing on a little Carl Douglas because I’m talkin’ about…KUNG FU FIGHTING!!!
The only thing that could have made Phillip’s parting line any sweeter is if instead of Wing Chun he had busted out some Drunken Monkey style. Or at least Black Tiger kung fu — that certainly would have been more apt with the whole black/white discussion. (Five Petal Plum Blossom Qigong could have also worked in conjunction with his pink underwear.) But that’s just quibbling. So grab some white rice — wait, is that racist? Should I make it Uncle Ben’s instead? Wait, is that racist? Damn, this is hard — and let’s take the latest Survivor episode from the very top.
Things start off at Redemption Island with Matt having a little one-on-one with his BFF, God. Turns out being voted off twice has soured Fabio 2.0 on the game of Survivor. “You know how much I want out of this game,” Matt says to the sky. “I want nothing to do with it.” Well, there’s the spirit. “But if you want me to stay in it, God, I will. I will fight.” Honestly, Matt, if God is invested in the outcome of a reality television show, we all have bigger problems than you feeling a bit lonely on a tropical beach.
NEXT: Tower of Redemption Power
Matt has no right to feel lonely, especially when he has not one but two cohabitants to keep him company now that he has been joined by Mike and David. Are we headed for a three-person duel? “Can you have a duel with three people?” asks Matt. No, but seeing as how Redemption Island is not an island at all, why should we get hung up on technicalities?
Back at Murlonio, Steve has decided he doesn’t want to quit after all. “I wasn’t ready to go yet,” says the football player who told everyone he was ready to go. Steve also tells us how he takes his hat off to Phil for surviving so long. (Had he said “hood” instead of “hat,” we could have had a major problem on our hands considering the events set to take place a bit later.)
As for Phillip, he is busy meditating on top of a rock and talking about his grandfather, Jessum Harry. He seems like a superhero — master of his domain and completely at peace and one with nature. But every superhero has their kryptonite, and Phillip’s is rice. Doesn’t seem to matter if it is crispy or not; rice just sets this guy off. His anger this time is directed at Julie, who is taking seven and a half shell scoops of rice instead of the usual two that the Ometepes are taking. Why the two groups have chosen to segregate their rice is beyond me, but it certainly does fit in with the theme of tonight’s episode. Rob calls Phillip “the rice police,” and immediately visions of a guy in a police motorcycle helmet and pink saggy underwear making YMCA gestures with his arms come to mind. They are disturbing visions. May I never have them again.
But before you can say macho, macho man, we are off to Redemption Island to watch the duel/trial between Matt, Mike, and David. Matt is sad to see his former tribemates and tells Probst, “I never knew that strangers could hurt me so deeply.” And they never knew a stranger could be so gullible. The challenge is to use 150 wooden tiles to build an eight-foot-high house of cards. First two to make it are still alive. Loser is officially out and becomes the first member of the jury.
Challenges like this prove that there can be great drama in simplicity. Usually these stacking height-based contests offer a few edge-of-your-seat moments where a huge structure comes crumbling down just shy of the completion point. That didn’t happen here, but it was still super tense watching Mike — his fingers quivering — trying to place one last tile without toppling his entire tower. He finally got it, with Matt second, sending the self-proclaimed puzzle master, David, off to the jury house. David is a guy who came into the game claiming that he was always the smartest person in a room. But guess what? There are no rooms on Survivor! Whether throwing challenges or not, his record on puzzles was pretty damn poor. He even got bested by the ultimate jock, Grant, in one. And as far as strategy goes, let’s not forget that it was David who first proposed the idea of Zapatera throwing a challenge to get rid of Russell. And how did exactly did that turn out for them?
NEXT: Can’t we all just get along?
And now is when things get awkward. It all starts harmlessly enough. Grant and Rob are singing their new “Rice Wars” jingle, completely unaware of the foreshadowing they are now providing. After Andrea finds maggots in the Ometepe rice container, they decide to take it all out and put it on a blanket to separate the good rice from the bad. But where should they put the good rice? After Steve refuses Andrea’s request to put it in the Zapatera tin, Phillip comes over and presses the issue. Once again, Steve says nope, setting the Rice Police up to make an arresting statement: “You know what, I asked. Unless you walk with that can, the first opportunity I get to take that can and hide it, I will.” This causes Steve to call Phillip a lunatic. “That’s your perception,” responds Phillip. “Anytime somebody of my color gets up in one of your faces, then you feel like I’m a lunatic. I’m crazy.”
I’m not going to provide the complete play-by-play, but suffice it to say that before all is said and done, Phillip gives the finger, drops the N-word twice, and the words “kung fu” once. The last time I remember being this uncomfortable during an accusation of improper behavior was back when Ghandia accused Ted of “grinding” back in Survivor: Thailand. What makes me most uncomfortable of all, however, is the fact that I even remember the names Ted and Ghandia.
Let’s get away from this madness and go to the immunity challenge. It’s a puzzle challenge in three parts. Part 1: Spin around in a circle to get a top off that you will then use to make a puzzle. Part 2: If you are among the first six finishers, then go do another puzzle. Part 3: Watch Boston Rob, the best puzzle competitor in Survivor history, put the immunity necklace around his neck after demolishing the competition. And sure enough, that’s exactly what happens.
Don’t look now, but it seems Russell Hantz is pulling a Kirk Cameron! And a Fred Savage! And a Jodie Foster! And a Lindsay Lohan! And a Charlie Schlatter! Hold on…who the hell is Charlie Schlatter?!? That’s right, Russell has pulled the oldest Hollywood trick in the book — the old body switch! You know it. You love it. It turned Kirk Cameron into Dudley Moore (a trade-up, if you ask me), Fred Savage into Judge Reinhold (that one’s a wash), Jodie Foster into Barbara Harris (trade-down), Lindsay Lohan into Jamie Lee Curtis (BIG trade-up, with a lifetime supply of Activia as a bonus), and Charlie Schlatter into George Burns (probably a trade-up, although we need more intel on this Schlatter fella before we can pass final judgment). Now it appears that Russell has taken possession of Julie’s body because there she goes pulling the most Hantzian of moves in burying Phillip’s bathing suit. All that is missing is the post-burial bragging: “Don’t you know who I am? I am Julie Wolfe! I’m the greatest of all time! You don’t bury me. I bury you!”
NEXT: Ralph makes spelling exciting — again
Phillip gets back, sees his shorts missing, and immediately starts interrogating people because he is, after all, a “chief of counterintelligence” — although not in the way that he thinks he is. We all know a Zapatera member is going home, so the only real drama at Tribal Council is how this whole racial thing is going to play out under the watchful eye of Dr. Sigmund Probst. I have to say I was very impressed by how Probst handled this situation. He could have easily fanned the flames, trying to incite some bad blood in the hopes of making good TV. But he didn’t. After Phillip explained why Steve calling him crazy was the equivalent of calling him the N-word, Probst asked for clarification. Phillip talked about growing up African-American and watching his father be called boy back in 1968. He talked about how a white person cannot know what it is like to walk in his shoes.
Probst took in what he said, the experiences he’d had in the past, and why he might construe Steve’s words in the way he did. And he also asked Phillip to consider that while he may have legitimate reasons for being sensitive to certain name-calling, he can’t automatically assume that was Steve’s intent with the comment. Race is such a tricky issue. You want to respect a person’s history and outlook while avoiding unfair assumptions being made about others due to past experiences that didn’t involve them. Again, I think Probst was in a really tricky spot and did a swell job of allowing the situation to be addressed (and ultimately defused) without allowing it to get to ugly levels. And as a bonus, he even got Julie to admit to burying Phillip’s bathing suit! Speaking of Julie, she was the one sent to Redemption Island (with all the Zapatera crowd voting for Phil — or “Phile,” as Ralph spelled it).
“Guess you’re never gonna find your shorts,” Julie said to Phillip on the way out. Meaning we are now going to be subjected to even more pink saggy undies. Gee, thanks, Julie. And thank you as well for being the star of the exclusive deleted scene in the video player below. (You can also see my pregame interview with the ousted David.) And thank you to Jeff Probst for giving us his take on the episode in his weekly Friday Q&A session. And for more Survivor news and views, follow me on Twitter @EWDaltonRoss. Before you hit the message boards to discuss all the insanity, a plea: Please keep it clean. Discussions of race can occasionally get ugly. We ask everyone to be respectful of others and their opinions. The posters on this message board are the best in the business. Let’s keep it that way. Thanks, and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy!