Last week, we witnessed the formation of Survivor’s very first voting alliance, and in “Pulling Your Own Weight,” we finally get to see it in action. But for me, the alliance isn’t the most intriguing aspect of this episode. Rather, it’s the “Battle of the Sexes” subplot that emerges over the hour—and that will come to a head next week.
The opening 10 minutes or so of each episode, when the focus is strictly on the dynamics among the tribe members, are to me always the most interesting minutes on the show. The challenges are fun and all, but on a reality show, even a competition one, it all comes down to personality. As “Pulling Your Own Weight” begins, the morale amongst the Pagong tribe members is low. They lost both challenges last week, and now their unofficial male leader Greg has fallen ill. Gretchen, who's so well-meaning it hurts, is shocked at the disarray at the camp, especially the Survivor flag that’s lying in the mud (isn't it a Federal offense to desecrate a flag?). Hell, Jenna is so depressed, she can’t even manage to sit upright during her interview:
Over at Tagi beach, the mood is less somber though hardly what you'd call cheerful. Everyone is annoyed with Dirk and Sean, who continue to do a whole lot o' nothin'. We’ve already established that Sean is an idiot, and in "Pulling Your Own Weight" it becomes clear(er) that Dirk is, too. The Virgin from Wisonsin spends most of his spare time reading the Bible (“The only reason I'd bring a Bible is if I needed toilet paper,” says Rudy) and fundamentally doesn’t understand the game at hand. “I came here to have a great time, grow in my faith in the Lord,” he says, having mistaken a Darwinist reality competition series set in a remote wilderness island for some kind of spiritual retreat. (I hate it when I do that.)
This week, instead of tapioca- hunting or nut-collecting, Tweedledee and Tweedledum choose to go fishing yet again—in both the literal and the more metaphorical (i.e. skipping out on work) sense. Rudy and Kelly are peeved, but it’s Susan who pipes up and chastises the boys for their pointless fishing expeditions, which she calls “a waste of time.” Here’s where I’m going to confess something: I kind of like Susan. I know I’ll probably change my mind in the weeks ahead, but I found myself charmed by the lady trucker from Wisconsin in this episode. With her grating accent, her can-do spirit, and her constant malapropisms, she’s a little like a non-partisan Sarah Palin, minus all the truly scary elements, i.e. no one’s pretending Susan should be taken seriously as a politician—at least not yet. (I suppose you could call her the Sarah Palin of reality TV, if Sarah Palin weren't already the Sarah Palin of reality TV.)
Susan is especially excited by the reward challenge: tribe members have to shoot fruit using spears, a blow gun, and a slingshot; the winner takes home all the fruit. (Personally, I thought this was a pretty clever challenge.) It turns out our gal Sue is a deadly spear-chucker (that’s not offensive if used literally, right?), and she’s psyched about the chance to “dog some guy on national TV.” The editing, which emphasizes Joel’s ineptitude, sets us up to expect Susan’s triumph, but in the end Joel edges her out by an inch and Pagong takes home the cornucopia. As a bonus, they also get three chickens. The animals are meant to lay eggs, but the tribe members, who quickly dub their livestock "Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner," have other ideas in mind. All it takes is one narrow victory and the band of Pagong elves are back to their merry ways, playfully spitting watermelon seeds at each other, content in the knowledge that they are no longer in danger of developing scurvy.
Speaking of the Pagong elves, Colleen and Greg have taken to sharing a nest together in the jungle, but both parties insist that they’re just friends. We see some grainy night vision footage where Greg and Colleen either kiss or lean in to talk to each other. It’s obvious how the producers want us to interpret it, but the abrupt editing is a dead giveaway: If Greg and Colleen actually had made out on camera, we’d certainly see it. Whatever the truth may be, I think Colleen and Greg would have made a fine couple, don’t you?
The immunity challenge becomes the second front in this episode’s Battle of the Sexes. Each team has to pick one member to row a boat and gradually pick up the rest of the tribe members. Kelly is Tagi's designated rower, because she's a professional whitewater guide; Pagong picks Gervase more or less by default, since he’s the only team member who can’t swim (though, truthfully, there wasn't much swimming involved in the challenge). Kelly is confident and excited to prove her meddle, but Gervase, for once, pulls off a victory. Kelly winds up in tears over the defeat. As a woman, I have to say I identify with Susan and Kelly's palpable disappointment. They're both industrious and tenacious, yet they both come up short against their male competitors; no doubt their frustration is magnified by the laziness of their male teammates.
Speaking of whom: Sean’s crowning achievement in this episode is taking his first dump in two weeks. That would be a huge accomplishment if Sean were a newly potty-trained toddler, but he is not. Dirk, meanwhile, is wasting away, causing much concern (read: evident delight) among his teammates. Dirk says he’s trying to conserve his energy, but surely his afternoon jogs on the beach aren't helping. No doubt aware of their vulnerability, Sean and Dirk pull a Ramona and decide to start pulling their own weight. Sadly, if inevitably, they return from the wilderness with one measly sprig of tapioca.
The most interesting moment at the tribal council is when Jeff Probst asks Richard about the alliances that have formed among the tribe: “Are these going to affect the vote?” This is the second time in as many weeks we’ve seen Probst messing with specific players at tribal council; last week, he called out Gervase for being a total wuss. Probst does it all very delicately, so that if you’re not in the alliance you might not suspect anything. Of course, Richard’s response is amazingly, chillingly evasive. “I think a bigger alliance is what all 6 of us have created. I don't think the smaller ones detract from how 6 of us feel together,” he says. It’s amazing Richard hasn’t run for office, isn’t it?
When the votes are tallied, it’s Dirk—with exactly 3 votes against him—who’s sent packing. I have to say I was a little surprised it wasn’t Sean; maybe the alliance figured, as worthless as he is, Sean still had some meat on his bones. (The elimination process is beginning to get little ghoulish right around now, isn’t it, with everyone sizing up each other’s withering physique?) I’m also intrigued by what might have happened if the alliance hadn’t formed—maybe a tie vote?
Sean is almost certainly more annoying, but I’m not exactly sad to see Dirk go. The guy was pretty boring—even for a virgin. His farewell, though, is a classic of the genre. He thanks the Lord for the “unbelievable blessing” of being cast on a reality show, then closes by earnestly saying, “I believe I kicked it as hard as I could.” Whether or not you agree depends on how you interpret “kick it.” If Dirk means “catch fish,” “find tapioca,” or “have sex with Kelly,” then he’s deluded; if he means “hang out in a hammock reading the Bible,” then he kicked it like crazy.
Go in peace, Dirk.
- More awesome malapropisms from Susan: She says Dirk looks like a “Nazi war prisoner camp," then misspells his name "Derk."
- Can anyone identify the song Greg was singing while dressed in what appeared to be an outfit from the Derelicte Fall/Winter 2000 collection? It sounded like a show tune, but maybe it was made up.
- I love how committed Jeff Probst is to the cheesy dialogue he’s given. This week, he sounds like a Shakespearean messenger. “I bring news of tomorrow's challenge!” he says, adding,“Make haste to Mantua!”
- I also love how the Tagi tribe members start out acting all high and mighty about the chickens Pagong won, and how quickly they change their tune after eating the “cartilaginous” eel. (Ew.)
- “It's all a nesting instinct. I nest like a mama bird. Or a papa bird. A bachelor bird, I guess.” –Greg
- A great moment of foreshadowing: Richard messing with a poisonous snake on the beach.
- Watch this episode here.