“Long Hard Days” is the episode in which Survivor officially morphed into an amateur production of Lord Of The Flies. Rat barbecues aside, up until now life on the island of Pulau Tiga never seemed entirely unbearable. Boring, sure, but hellish? Not quite. But “Long Hard Days” marks the show’s definitive tipping point. With just six contestants, very little food, and a whole lot of bugs remaining, this is where things got truly nasty.
Colleen was something of a late-bloomer on Survivor, the cute girl who, for the first half of the series, largely stayed on the sidelines, making goo-goo eyes at coconut-phone inventor/possible serial killer Greg. But once her Aryan bedmate got the boot, the real Colleen Haskell finally emerged, eventually assuming the role of audience proxy. Smart, funny, and cuter than a basket of kittens, Colleen is a reality producer’s dream, exactly the kind of sane-but-outspoken character a show needs to act as a safe harbor among the storm of crazies.
As the episode begins, the remaining contestants are miserable and desperate. Rich is weakened by hunger, Sean misses his family, and Colleen is slowly being eaten alive by insects. There are swarms of little flies feasting on the open wounds, and she’s barely been able to sleep because of the itching. (Not gonna lie: it’s horrific.) Making matters worse, she’s also the only Pagong member on the island—“the last of a dying breed,” as she puts it—and, she’s certain, the next up for elimination.
There is intense confusion about the state of the various alliances, and everyone’s scrambling to get a foothold. Colleen sums it up for us: “Rich and Sue are promising one thing to Sean, promising another thing to Kelly, Sue and Kelly are promising one thing to Rich, promising another thing to Sean, and then Rudy just sits back and watches it all happen.” With the million-dollar prize just around the corner, the tribe members are, according to Colleen, acting like a bunch of mice going after a chunk of cheese in a maze. “It’s not a fun game now,” she says. No kidding. There are moments in “Long Hard Days” when the remaining tribe members eye each other like slabs of meat and you can practically see cartoon bubbles of T-bone steaks floating above their heads. A few more weeks and no cameras, and there’s no doubt Richard would have stuck Colleen on a spit and roasted her over an open flame.
With the cannibalistic mood firmly established, it’s time for the reward challenge, a game of survival-skills trivia, with questions about poisonous mushrooms and the protein content of insects. The reward is a night on a luxurious yacht anchored off-shore, followed by a luxurious breakfast to which the winner will be allowed (but not required) to invite a single guest. Kelly and Sue are the first two eliminated, followed by Rudy and Colleen. Somehow, dim-witted Sean manages to eek out a win over Richard, though I’m inclined to think his training as a physician might have given him the edge in this competition.
At first, Sean promises to invite Kelly for breakfast, since he apparently owes her a meal (By the way, this totally confused me; didn’t Richard catch all the fish?), but as Jeff Probst arrives, Sean has a change of heart and asks Richard instead. (To be precise, he wusses out and asks Kelly if she really wants to come which, as the kids say, is pretty weak sauce.) His motives are transparent: Sean wants a chance to confer with the leader of the alliance to ensure he’s not the next voted off the island. Sean’s indelicate maneuvering is lost on no one. “He’s dumb. So dumb. Is he not?” Sue asks—rhetorically, I think—as Sean sails off to the yacht.
It’s Sean’s second night of decadence since he got to Pulau Tiga, and you have to admit, the guy is one lucky bastard. He takes a hot shower, gets a rubdown from a frisky masseuse who slaps his “bony ass,” and pops open a bottle of bubbly. Best of all, he gets a surprise visit from his dad, who’s posing as the yacht’s captain. “Holy Toledo!” Sean exclaims when he realizes what’s going on. The Kenniff men embrace in a big bear hug, and spend most of the night talking about how much they love each other. “Sean’s heart is twice as big as his body,” says his dad. “I don’t know why our bond is so strong.” As hard as I’ve been on Sean, I’ll be the first to admit his relationship with his dad is very endearing.
Back on the island, though, things are not so cute and cuddly. Kelly’s sublimated rage toward Sean is quickly bubbling to the surface. As Richard sails off to join Sean for a gluttonous breakfast, she issues a not-entirely-in-jest warning: “Tell Sean he’s got to deal with Wigglesworth when he gets back.” She’s also started hallucinating about Mexican food. Eating her umpteenth bowl of white rice, Kelly closes her eyes and mumbles to herself, “Mexican food… fajitas… chips and salsa… guacamole… enchiladas.” If Kelly were just hamming it up for the cameras, it would have been funny, but you get the sense that she’s barely retaining her sanity at this point.
After breakfast, Sean’s dad makes a brief visit to the island and hands out care packages to each of the remaining tribe members. They feast on Triscuits and Swedish Fish and news from home. It’s a small but vital morale boost that buoys their spirits just enough for the immunity challenge, which, if you ask me, is the most physically and psychologically torturous one yet. Seriously, this is like Japanese P.O.W. levels of awful. The contestants have to stand on a set of planks suspended over the water. Probst will gradually remove the planks until there’s only one narrow two-by-four remaining, and the last contestant left standing will have immunity. There’s no time limit; as Probst puts it, the challenge could take “15 minutes or 15 hours.”
In the end, it’s somewhere in between. After an hour, Probst removes the first plank, and Richard decides to play some obnoxious head games by shout-singing “99 Bottles Of Beer.” Richard’s only made it to 79 bottles of beer when Rudy, in his inimitable fashion, decides “Fuck this shit, I’m outta here” and dives head-first into the ocean. Then, in a moment of sublime poetic justice, Richard gets carried away around 65 bottles of beer and loses his balance. Two hours in, and only Kelly and Colleen remain (somehow I knew the ladies would be the last ones standing in this challenge). The women are standing back-to-back on a single narrow beam, and the dramatic tension is palpable. At 2 hours and 30 minutes, Colleen asks Kelly point-blank if she’s going to be the next voted off. “I don’t know, honey,” Kelly replies. (Honey? Really?) Meanwhile on shore, Sue, Rich, and Rudy are scheming away. Rich remarks on the irony of the situation: Colleen is convinced she’s going to be voted off when, in reality, the alliance is planning to eliminate Kelly. Sue asks what they’ll do if Kelly wins immunity, and they tentatively agree that Sean will be the next to go. After 2 hours and 54 minutes, wee Colleen loses her balance, and Kelly scores a pivotal victory.
Rewatching “Long Hard Days,” I found myself hoping that I’d somehow misremembered the actual outcome and that maybe, just maybe, Colleen would survive to see another three days on the island. Alas, my revisionist fantasies did not come true, and in an about-face, the alliance votes the Manic Pixie Dream Girl off Pulau Tiga “You screwed up. It wasn’t your turn. You were supposed to stay,” Richard says, almost mournfully, as he casts his vote for Colleen. I’m curious as to the change of heart. My theory is that, given Kelly’s obvious antipathy for Sean, the alliance figured it was a safer bet to eliminate her quasi-friend Colleen. As Colleen’s flame is extinguished, she shares some bumper-sticker-worthy parting words: “Play fair. Be nice. Okay?”
Colleen, you and your inventive island accessories will be sorely missed.
- After a bout of post-Survivor fame, including a starring role in Rob Schneider’s The Animal, a Blistex commercial, and a guest appearance on That ’70s Show, Colleen Haskell has basically vanished from the face of the Earth. I have spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to figure out what has become of her, and turned up nothing. While I’m not one to encourage digital stalking, if any of you Survivor junkies know anything, please share in the comments. Just don’t be too creepy about it.
- All I could think about when Sean’s dad was hugging everyone on the island is how bad they all must smell by now. I wonder if he was freaked out to see how dirty and skeletal everyone looked at this point.
- I love how Susan grills Sean’s dad about the news back home, showing off her knowledge of thinks like “the stock market,” “Russia,” and “college basketball.” She determines that, Mr. Kenniff is “just like Sean: loveable but a doof.”
- Also, isn’t it weird/sad that Richard’s care package from home consists of a printed-out email from a friend named Valerie? Doesn’t he have a son?
- In her confessional, Colleen accuses Kelly of being a double agent. I for one can’t decide if Kelly’s indecisive or extremely manipulative.
- Colleen: “Last night I was like this is going to be just like a game show. Then I was like, wait a minute we’re on a game show.”
- Watch some of this episode here.