When “Crack In The Alliance” first aired back in August of 2000, Gervase’s eviction from the island came as a huge shock to millions of viewers. Not that Gervase, the island’s most unapologetically lazy inhabitant, didn’t have it coming to him—quite the opposite. But, as many of you have noted in the comments, his departure came after weeks of frenzied speculation that Gervase had, in fact, won the competition. The virulent rumor began when a hacker claimed he had worked his way into the official Survivor website. There, said hacker had seen X-ed out headshots of each of the tribe members except Gervase, suggesting that, against all odds, the Slacker of Pulau Tiga had vanquished his opponents.
This, of course, raises many questions—like why CBS would have basic graphics for their website stored away weeks and weeks in advance—but Survivor-obsessed Americans desperately wanted it to be true, embraced it with little skepticism. If Gervase, the guy coasting on his self-professed charm, was the victor, that meant the alliance had been defeated and Richard, the clear favorite from day one, had finally been outsmarted. Alas, it was all wishful thinking, and Gervase “Baby Daddy” Peterson was in fact sent home to be with his girlfriend and house teeming with bastard children.
Smug viewers, certain they’d cracked the code, were left gobsmacked, which may have been the point all along; in this piece, Time critic James Poniewozik suggests the “X” rumor was the handiwork of shrewd CBS executives trying to generate a little suspense to counteract the alliance’s methodical and totally predictable elimination of the remaining Pagong tribe members. In other words: It was an inside job, maaaaaan!
I tend to buy Poniewozik’s theory, because re-watching this episode without the benefit of a misleading rumor, and with the prognosticating skills honed after hundreds of hours of reality-TV viewing, I found it, well, a little boring. Please, please, allow me to explain before you accuse me of blasphemy. Nearly half the episode is devoted to Gervase and his backstory. No one gets that much airtime on a competition reality show unless they’re going home—it’s that simple.
Like so many episodes of Survivor, “Crack In The Alliance” begins the morning after the latest tribal council, at which blonde Energizer Bunny Jenna was given the heave-ho. As mournful panpipes play on the soundtrack, the two remaining Pagong-ites talk about the voting alliance. “I’m totally shocked that I’m still here,” Gervase admits, the first of many, many clues that he’s not long for this world. He also says he’s sure there’s an alliance, and lil’ Colleen agrees. Not surprisingly, Sean is the only one who’s still not certain about the existence of the alliance, but maybe we should cut him some slack. His mind is still reeling from the realization that this alphabetical voting strategy—which, as Colleen astutely points out, cleared the way for Jenna’s elimination—was the most dunderheaded tactic of all time. Peabrained Sean says he would have abandoned the strategy earlier, if only he’d known, but he’s a day late and about a million dollars short. The thing I don’t really get is how anyone could not know there’s an alliance. How many shots have we seen of Richard and Susan engaged in conspiratorial whispers, in plain sight of the rest of the tribe?
Miffed that he received two votes at the tribal council, Richard says he’s going to limit the number of fish he catches from now on. The other castaways “don’t appreciate” what he’s doing, and it’s time to make them suffer. (I just wish he’d gone the extra mile and said “No feesh for you!” and swatted away their grubby little paws around the camp fire.) Then Richard draws an insanely creepy analogy between the rays and his fellow contestants. “It’s a slow, more methodical game, but there are similarities,” he says. “I’ve been stalking them since before we got on the island.” I know Survivor is just a game, and that there’s a million bucks on the line, but the fact that Richard says this kind of shit without a trace of humor, self-consciousness, or remorse is downright chilling.
The biggest threat to Richard at this point is from within his own alliance. Kelly’s loyalties have already begun to shift, and now Susan seems to be turning on the doughy gay villain. In a confessional interview, she explains how she’s planning to outwit Richard. “My strategy all along has been to play the dumb redneck,” she says. “Hopefully in the end the old redneck will burn the city slicker.” Susan doesn’t trust Richard, but she’s “doing a good job making him think I trust him.” Then she chokes up speaking about her close friendship with Kelly, comparing her to the best friend she lost 20 years earlier. “I’m not burnin’ her,” Susan pledges. It makes me a little sad for Sue, mostly because the feelings don’t seem entirely mutual. “I really like Sue a lot,” Kelly says, careful not to make any promises about how she’ll vote down the line.
Then it’s back to Gervase who finds out that his girlfriend has just given birth to their son, Gunner. This prompts a long and, frankly, paternalistic conversation among the tribe members about Gervase’s personal life. Naturally, Rudy is horrified to learn that Gervase has sired four children but isn’t married. “I don’t agree with babies out of wedlock, that kind of garbage,” he says. ‘Half of the problem in the country today is no family life… [Kids] need family, they need someone to beat him on the head.” Forgive me for being humorless, my fellow Survivor fans, but I’m still not finding Rudy’s shtick funny or endearing. Then, on a water-gathering trip into the jungle, Kelly and Colleen dig in a little deeper, talking about the status of Gervase’s current relationship and the demise of his previous one. They’re not as judgmental as Rudy, but the preoccupation with Gervase’s family life is a little uncomfortable, no? I don’t know whether the editing, the producers, or Gervase himself, but it’s unfortunate that he reinforces so many negative stereotypes about black men. There, I said it.
Given all the chatter about Gervase’s personal life, it’s perfectly serendipitous when he wins the reward challenge—a race across a set of narrow bamboo poles—and gets two prizes: a slice of pizza flown in by helicopter, and a phone call home using a state-of-the-art satellite phone. First, about the pizza. I was expecting the slice to arrive courtesy of Domino’s or Pizza Hut or some other recognizable brand, but instead it came in a generic, unbranded cardboard box. This seems like a huge missed opportunity. Gervase generously offers each of the other castaways a bite of his pizza, and they all wait impatiently for their turn. After each bite, there are lots of audible “mmmmmmms” and “aaaaahhhhhs” and Kelly, for one, practically has an orgasm, her eyes rolling back in her head as she collapses on Gervase. I am not even exaggerating, people:
In short: you dropped the ball, Papa John’s.
Then it’s on to Gervase’s call home, which goes on for a conspicuously long amount of time. Gervase looks happy, but the call ends on a weird note, as he says to his adorable daughter, “Tell your mom I even miss her.” Ouch.
Going into the immunity challenge, there’s an intense amount of speculation about Kelly’s shifting allegiance. Susan and Richard once again voice their patronizing concern about her “flakiness,” and Colleen notes that it’s hard to talk to Kelly about voting because “you can see her being pulled back and forth.” Kelly herself admits to having many reservations about having joined the “dirty and conniving” alliance. “It’s not worth it to feel bad for the rest of your life,” she says. As for Richard, Kelly’s plan is to keep making him believe she’s on his side, and not to let him know that she “grew a conscience.” Kelly is like an undecided New Hampshire voter—decision has outsized importance because of its effect on the alliance, and everyone’s desperately trying to woo her.
The immunity challenge is pretty cool and, for once, vaguely has something to do with actual survival skills—in this case, building a fire. Each contestant has to gather tinder, light a torch, carry it back to shore without accidentally extinguishing it, start a fire, then wait for it to burn through a length of rope. The challenge takes place at sunset, so that Richard’s eventual triumph—and obnoxious celebratory dance—is swathed in that gorgeous “magic hour” lighting. (Meanwhile, poor Gervase’s torch blows out not once, but twice, another obvious sign that he is doomed.) It’s a pivotal victory for Richard, who easily might have been voted off otherwise. The other tribe members are visibly annoyed by the win.
In the last minutes before tribal council, there’s a desperate scurry to secure Kelly’s vote. Colleen and Gervase, certain that one of them will be the next to be eliminated, make protest T-shirts out of masking tape. In a perfect bit of unscripted foreshadowing, a massive thunderstorm erupts over the island just before the the castaways make their trek into the jungle. Jeff Probst—or shall I say “Probes-t”?—once again asks about the alliance, and once again Richard and Susan brush off the suggestion. Susan makes the interesting and self-serving argument that “America runs on alliances” (I thought it was Dunkin’ Donuts, but never mind), drawing parallels to political lobbyists and churches. It’s half retarded, half brilliant. Probst also asks Colleen about the alliance and, hilariously, she insists on being called “Sitting Duck.”
The votes are cast and it’s not terribly surprising when Gervase gets canned. (Personally, I wish it had been Sean, but you guys knew that already.) What is more surprising is that Kelly voted with the alliance, though her motives for doing so remain unclear.
Until next week, my pretties…
- Did Colleen call Sean a putz?
- Various interpretations of Gervase’s name: Jervase, Jervis, Gervis, Gervace.
- Oh, and you can watch this episode here.