Survivor: Samoa
Houdini Magic
By Kim Hollis and David Mumpower
October 31, 2009

Russell said he was gonna vote for Jaison. I can totally trust him, right?

Previously on Survivor, the show narrowly avoided its first body count. Or, as producer Mark Burnett probably sees it, they missed it by -that- much. Good Russell, the tribe leader of Galu, became dehydrated during a challenge and then the situation went from bad to worse as his heart rate and blood pressure precipitously declined. In interviews after the episode, the event has been described as "extreme dehydration", but it felt much more serious than that. With Good Russell's removal, no one else was voted out, something the members of Foa Foa misguidedly took as cause for optimism. They've lost five out of six immunity challenges and are forced to see the failed health of a competitor as a positive. The moral of the story? We don't expect members of the losing tribe to stop being losers simply because they weren't given the opportunity to finish losing last week (yes, we know they were ahead at the time the challenge was called off last week. But they would have choked. You know it. We know it. They know it).

Galu's discussions all focus on the aftermath of Good Russell's misfortune. Erik the bartender worries about the changing dynamic within his own alliance. The five men in the group had previously outnumbered the four women of Galu. With Good Russell's absence, there is no voting advantage for either gender. Dave, Brett and John join Erik in a debate about which of the ladies is closest to being a dude, and we think you see where we're going with this. Shambo is immediately chosen as the dudette most like a dude. They view this strategy as Bros Before Hos...except for Shambo, the Ho-Bro.

Day 16 at Foa Foa finds five remaining remembers of what once had been a ten member tribe. Given that a person gets voted off every three days and they already have lost five people (again, it's day 16), Foa Foa's performance to date is aptly summarized as an unmitigated disaster. That's what made their would-be smack talk at the previous tribal council so marvelously absurd. You don't see the Washington Generals calling out the Harlem Globetrotters for a reason. Most people are aware of their failings. Foa Foa thinks that they're doing great now that half their team is gone. If this were a horror film, Evil Loser Russell (we've updated his moniker to better fit his profile) would be happy that so many of his co-workers had been brutally slaughtered. Okay, bad example.

"It's five to eight now. It's pretty damn close." Who taught Evil Loser Russell math?

A funny segment occurs wherein the men of Galu prove that they too can manipulate a gullible woman. Debating the best way to earn Shambo's loyalty, they embark on a strategy to get her elected leader of the tribe. With Good Winner Russell gone, there is a power vacuum that needs filling. Their idea is to have a full tribe vote wherein it is obvious that all of the men support and trust Shambo. Moments later, all eight members are sitting in their hut and the men are holding up the appropriate signs to indicate that they all vote for Shambo.

Needless to say, the younger women of the tribe who are uncomfortable with their butch elder are shocked by this turn of events. Monica, who is in a blood feud with Shambo (of which Shambo is oblivious), hilariously states in a monologue that she doesn't understand how this happened. Shambo was supposed to have been voted out the previous evening. How is she now tribe leader? The law student gradually pieces together the fact that Probst's announcement that no one would be voted out in addition to Russell's removal probably saved her from being voted out.

Speaking of Shambo and oblivious, she savors the moment of her election and extends it by offering a victory speech. While the event lacks the pomp and circumstance of Obama's inauguration, the speech lasts about as long. She details legislative style, personal aspirations and the like, accidentally offering further torment to the women of the tribe who can't stand her and who can't figure out how she just became leader. The whole affair feels like a key sequence of political revolution from a Tom Clancy novel. The best part comes after the fact when the kingmakers discuss what a perfect choice this is because Shambo is so gullible and easily manipulated. The men of Galu missed their calling as political operatives.

Probst sighting!

This time, Jeff doesn't have to save anyone's life. After the prior challenge's unfortunate events, the athleticism has been dialed down this round. It's good ol' fashioned game of Memory. The only thing that will get dehydrated here is people's brains...which plays into Evil Loser Russell's game. Anyway, the one trick is that the items revealed are useful camp items such as netting, fishing gear and rope. A team can cede a point in favor of keeping the item they match, although this only happens once in the match.

A humorous moment occurs right at the start. Shambo elects to sit out the round along with Dave and Kelly. She is asked to name the person who will make the decisions on keeping items and she blithely states, "Erik." Dave all but slaps her and yells, "Idiot!" His somewhat more courteous reaction is to go, "No no. Brett. Brett! BRETT!!!" Shambo then corrects herself in a brilliant demonstration of obedience...err, leadership. The challenge itself is a blowout. Again. Galu wins the first round with Brett determining that they want to keep the fire-starting kit. After that, they pick the points and the result is never in doubt. They score first, they score second and the score is never closer than two points after that. In fact, at one point, Evil Loser Russell humorously states, "Dang, man, I'm confused already." Mental fatigue has become a huge issue for the frustrated Foa Foa tribe.

The final score is 7-4, meaning that Galu finds 8 out of 12 matches. They could have kept a couple more items if they hadn't generously given Foa Foa the benefit of the doubt in being more competitive. So much for that Foa Foa momentum they were hyping at the full player Tribal Council. After the challenge is over, all of the members of the winning tribe will get to ride on a yacht except for one that Shambo will pick to go visit the other tribe instead. She quickly chooses Laura, a choice that earns an icy reception from the woman as well as her allies, Monica and Kelly. At a later point on the yacht, Monica snidely indicates that Shambo shouldn't feel bad about her choice, a passive-aggressive way of indicating otherwise. In reality, this choice was simple for Shambo. There are eight members of her tribe. She wasn't going to choose any of the four who voted her leader nor was she going to pick herself. That left only the three women in the Shambo Haters club, so her choice was going to trigger their insecurity issues no matter which one she selected. Laura proves to be a much more intriguing visitor than the others would have been, though.

Here's something you may not have known about Laura. She went to a religious institution and majored in theology and women's ministry. She states that she won't be a pastor, because she feels that it is not the role of women to pastor to men. Yes, she is a fundamentalist who feels that women should be subservient to men. Fittingly, she confides this news to Evil Loser Russell. At this point, we would normally indicate that God has sent a loyal servant an emissary to help in their worthy cause. In this particular instance, we're inclined to think that Satan is pleased with the loathsome manner in which Evil Loser Russell has behaved and has sent him a minion as a showing of gratitude. Seriously, the woman hater has just been delivered the perfect woman for his purposes. This is such an unlikely series of events that we find ourselves wondering if the casting director chose both of these people in the hope of just this scenario unfolding. Evil Loser Russell and Laura finalize a secret alliance among the opposing tribe members. We'd be more worried about this if not for the fact that there was a super-secret four player alliance last season and we saw what a train wreck that was.

People enjoy their delicious meal on a yacht. Except Monica. This game is not unfolding the way it played out in Monica's head. Like, people aren't doing all the things she wants them to do and stuff. Mirroring her unhappiness on the yacht is Liz back at her camp. And she doesn't even have the consolation prize of a delicious meal. Liz is trying to start a fire, work on their shelter and, you know, do some work around camp. As she is attempting to be productive, everyone's new best friend, Laura, is talking to Natalie about being religious and the joys of being a Harley Davidson owner. Natalie takes this opportunity to detail various epiphanies she's had while reading various self-help books. Liz's fury is a solid seven on the Russell Crowe Rage scale. It's not enough for them to be ignoring all of her hints about helping; they have to incessantly chirp on about stuff that seems a bit too The Secret for Liz. We get the vibe that Liz doesn't have a season pass for Oprah. Of course, her problem here is that everyone in camp has fallen in love with Laura, which means they have that much less need for Liz after the merge, maybe even sooner.

Probst sighting!

We are back to a pair of challenges this week, the preferred choice of the Survivor recappers. These competitions make for good television and they also go a long way toward determining tribal behavior, depending on the result. Nothing demoralizes a tribe faster than getting blown out in a challenge. To wit, Probst (impressively) notices that Foa Foa's leader, Mick, has not worn his necklace to the challenge. When pressed as to why, Mick states that the tribe felt it was bad luck. That's right. The host of the show thought that its absence might indicate some challenge for authority and that Mick's leadership had been stripped. Instead, these motards are simply superstitious. Dear losers: it's not a necklace that is making you lose. It's that your opponents are outplaying you. This is why we have to laugh whenever we hear about what a great game Evil Loser Russell is playing. He tore down his troops from within and now the full effects that are on display for all to watch. What gamesmanship. He sunk his own boat and yet some people are complimenting his abilities as a sailor. It's hard not to laugh at the logic of that.

Today's immunity challenge is a competition between Foa Foa and Galu. Ergo, you know the result.

We'll play out the string and describe it anyway, though. Tribe members ride a boat out to sea far enough to reach some hooked buoys. Contestants must use fishing rods to retrieve them. Once they have all of the sets, they have to return to shore and put together a puzzle. The two tribes finish the first portion of the challenge at roughly the same pace with Foa Foa having a slight lead, surprisingly enough. The mental fatigue we mentioned above undoes them in the end, though. Mick, Liz and Jaison, the three people assigned the task of completing their puzzle, get absolutely smoked by their counterparts on Galu (Dave, Kelly and Brett). Every phase of this competition thus far has been a mismatch.

It's time to play It's Anyone But Liz, and we get started earlier than normal this week. Before the show cuts to commercial, Evil Loser Russell states that maybe they should vote off Jaison (they're voting off Liz), because he quit during the puzzle portion of the challenge. Jaison's attitude is indicative of the fact that he is a beaten man, making him a logical choice instead of Liz (who will be voted out after the next commercial break). When the show returns, Evil Loser Russell continues his discussion of whom he will vote off the show (Liz), stating that Jaison will never be his attorney. Given what we are certain are a slew of unlawful activities at Russell's evil underground compound complete with shark tank and gun turrets (how else could you possibly imagine his lair?), this is probably a relief to Jaison.

Not content to stop there, ELR (*not* Electric Light Russell) berates Mick for having an education at Oxford or Stanford or wherever yet losing a puzzle challenge where they had the lead. Mick, who somehow manages to get no camera time whatsoever despite being one of the most attractive men the show has ever cast (even Shambo, whose sexuality we question, calls him McDreamy) deflects from the matter. Then, he scurries off camera once more. We are about two votes away from the merge yet there are still half a dozen people on the show we couldn't pick out of a police lineup. Is this because they're going to have their story told much later in the game or any they simply too vanilla to show talking?

Another few minutes of ELR debating his options shows him telling Liz he wants to keep her around (he doesn't) and that she won't be going home (she will). Then, we cut to Tribal Council and wait for everyone to write Liz's name down. Before that happens, Probst, who has to be utterly sick of the sight of all members of Foa Foa, gives them another "pep talk". He describes their performance as one of the worst overall in the history of the game. And he's not being hyperbolic. Only two members of Galu have been eliminated thus far and one of those almost died on camera.

Before we get to the vote where Liz is voted off, she takes the opportunity to say that she trusts everyone else in her tribe (she shouldn't) and that she is looking forward to the merge (which will happen in her absence). ELR continues to promise that things will change any second now, making him sound a lot like Rob Marinelli during post-game press conferences after Detroit Lions games last year (they became the first NFL team to go 0-16 during a season).

After this, everyone lines up to vote off Liz. Shocker. Foa Foa is down to four players. Genuinely lousy ones at that. Hey Natalie, everyone else remaining is a dude. Women keep getting voted off by them. You may want to detect this pattern. It seems vaguely important.