Survivor Vanuatu: Episode Five
Earthquakes and Shakeups
By David Mumpower
October 15, 2004

Travis used to wrestle in the WWE under the name Romeo Bliss. It's true, it's true.

When last we left Survivor, another pretty boy had been executed and the Legend of Da had won over all the women of Yasur. Also, the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals were both still alive in post-season play. Much has changed in the past week. Since most of it was bad for Braves fans (hey, it is October), Kim is off watching the Cardinals march toward the World Series. That means you’re stuck with me again this week. I can assure you that nobody is more depressed about this turn of events than me.

This episode quickly drives home the point about how dull this season has been. The Lopevi gentlemen are debating about…I swear…playing musical chairs with the campfire seating. Apparently, Ned Beatty-wannabe Bubba (his real name is Travis if you are like me and had forgotten) hogs the good spot at camp. One-legged Chad (doesn’t that sound like a Florida voting joke?) is chagrined by the fact that the tubby redneck refuses to move.

If I have this right (and I might not since I am so utterly apathetic to it), there is some sort of draft that strikes all the tribe members except Travis. Oddly, only Chad seems bothered enough by it to mention it to Sarge (Lea…who you really can’t blame for going by a much more macho nickname rather than his given moniker). This inane bickering comprises the first five percent of the episode. We have officially sunk as far as network television can go. God, I miss Da.

Sensing the audience’s inevitable displeasure and perhaps reading my mind, Team Burnett throws a tribal native in ceremonial dress into the mix. To the shock of the Lopevis, the islander does not speak English. Instead, he passionately expresses an obvious desire for one of the contestants to take his boomstick. A priceless confusion spreads across the men as geniuses like Chris and Lea look on in puzzlement while they try to decipher his words.

Eventually, the “tribesman”, whom I am convinced is a banker from El Segundo, gets frustrated with their indescribable stupidity. He breaks character and says, “CHIEF!” as he holds out his stick for one of them to take. Realizing that he has switched into a language they understand, the men immediately pick up on his request. Sarge, the closest thing the tribe has to a chief, strips down into more comfortable clothing and gets ready to board the actor…err, native’s boat. A ‘Hell no!’ moment follows as the islander decides he isn’t getting paid enough to put up with these motards. He shoves the stick in Sarge’s hands and makes his getaway. Smart dude.

Faced with the same situation, Yasur figures it out in about three seconds as Scout takes the stick. It’s not exactly Billy Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs, but still. Even the elements are disgusted by the incompetence of the men. An earthquake strikes, causing ash to shoot out of the sky. Effectively, the entire island spits on the men for their idiocy.

At the reward challenge, the sticks are explained. Rather than allow the next few days to play out in expected fashion, Burnett has moved in to shake things up. The dominant alliances in each tribe are to be split in a straightforward manner. The loser of a Paper, Rock, Scissors match-up between Sarge and Scout, the Stick-Bearers, picks the new tribe members. The winner of this game has by far the most power. That person chooses which of the two tribes (s)he will lead. Giving credit where it’s due, this is a clever way to make a dull season much more challenging for the contestants. It also returns hope to remaining pretty boy John, who was previously doomed.

Gee, who do you think wins a game of wit between Sarge and Scout? The hippy chick might be the only person on either side who can throw under Lea when it comes to the brains department. I’m guessing even Ricky Williams would be impressed by her lifetime Cannabis intake.

Scout’s decision-making in rebuilding the two tribes is best described as “Hey, I know you!” As soon as she remembers a person’s name, she excitedly directs them toward one of the two encampments. What should have been an epic power play to assemble a team of allies along with a couple of future victims is wasted on a career stoner.

Grateful Dead Superfan’s meddling results in Rory, Eliza, Bubba, Leann and Amy being on one new tribe. The other is comprised of Chad, Julie, Chris, Twila, and John. Sarge is then given the option to pick his new Lopevi tribe. He correctly picks the one with the most men. It helps that this group has Chris and does not have Rory on it. Lisa, the unpicked extra, is given the option to select her new tribe. She sagely aligns with the woman-dominant Yasur group.

If you are scoring at home, the most simplistic way to look at this is that the Yasur tribe trades Julie and Twila for the Lopevi tribe’s Rory and Bubba. From a strategy perspective, it crystallizes the divisions of men vs. women as the folks who recently swapped buffs are now the least likely to survive until the merge. Plus, the men got rid of problem child Rory, so they have to be thrilled with this turn of events.

Lost in all the strategy is the fact that the contestants are ostensibly there for a reward challenge. It’s a diving competition where the various members must descend further and further down into the sea. Their goal is to quickly retrieve markers then re-surface and allow the next contestant to perform the same feat. Almost immediately, the real challenge is revealed. Survivors start to finger their ears in a vain attempt to make their ears pop. Many of them beg off as their constitutions prevent them from deeper surfacing. Only Ami appears to be unbothered by the conditions. Ironically, the challenge comes down to her vs. the clumsy Chris with the surprising result of the He-Man Woman-Hater pulling off the upset. The prize is Pringles and beer at a spa location. For my money, the best part of Survivor is the shameless product placement.

The next segment is your run-of-the-mill Let’s Watch the New Folks Try to Make Friends and Save Their Asses next vote. Julie and Twila’s position is a bit easier since everything goes better with beer and Pringles (now available at your local supermarket!). The real winner, though, is the aforementioned John. He is no longer outcast for having the audacity to not look like Quasimodo. With vagina-bearers walking among the men, his penis suddenly offers value to the other Lopevi members. It’s like a microcosm of any Elk Club in America.

At Yasur, the situation is a bit more duplicitous. The women are outwardly hospitable and welcoming. When the time comes for Rory and Bubba to learn the secrets of the camp, though, Playmate Ami bristles at the thought of teaching them. In her words, “I’m sticking by the ladies. So, they really need to prove themselves. Otherwise, they are out of here.” In summation, the Internet rumors about Ami sound true.

The immunity challenge offers one of the single dumbest player mistakes in the show’s history. Bubba inexplicably tries to whisper strategy to Chris when the tribes meet. The problem is twofold. 1) He’s not very good at whispering. 2) There are a dozen tribe members within earshot of him as he says, “Chris, think about the merge.” People who shut their garage door then turn on the car’s ignition are less suicidal than Bubba. I don’t even have to watch the rest of the episode to know that if Yasur loses, Bubba is on a boat back to Blountville, Tennessee. He would also be subjected to a serious dress-down from Tina Wesson at the next meeting of the East Tennessee Survivor Contestants.

The challenge itself is the usual combination of foot race, item retrieval and boat race. Ami winds up manning the boat with Bubba on the final stage of the event. This is ironic because she was the one most visibly outraged by his audible gaffe right before the challenge began. Bubba has a chance to redeem himself, but Probst sums up his performance best. “Yasur, I’m not sure what went on out there. You lost a lot of time with the knot and that was some of the worst paddling I have ever seen. Someone is going to pay for it tonight at Tribal Council.”

Substitute “Someone” with “Bubba” and you know the rest of the episode. The producers don’t even bother to play the It’s Anyone but Bubba game. As Ami summarizes, “I’m annoyed as hell with Bubba right now. The second we arrive at our challenge, I see Bubba making signals to Chris.” Later, she adds, “He’s making plans with the other team. Can you see Michael Jordan whispering over to the other team what the next play is? Hell no!” Congratulations, security officer Travis. Your Survivor misplay is truly historic in its incompetence.