Survivor Vanuatu: Episode Seven
Anger, Threats, Tears... and Coffee
By David Mumpower
October 28, 2004

Have I mentioned I'm a mechanical bull operator?

Another Thursday, another Survivor. For those of you who have been watching the baseball playoffs...well, you have not missed a thing this season. I'll quickly recap. There are a lot of ugly people this time out. The ugmos vastly outnumber the future Maxim/GQ models. The cosmetically challenged have an intense dislike for all things pretty. Anything beautiful has to be broken immediately. It's like Survivor's answer to Fight Club.

The ugly people used to be split into the women, Yasur, and the men, Lopevi. Producer/godhead Burnett was not interested in letting tribal alliances become so interwoven that the rest of the season would be dull, so he split up the X and Y chromosomes a bit. Two of the particularly hideous men, a troglodyte named Rory and a Ned Beatty-in-training named Bubba were shipped off to the ladies. Simultaneously, a younger woman named Julie and an old biddy named Twila were transferred to the men-folk's side of the island.

Bubba was immediately voted off for being the dumbest strategist this side of Tony LaRussa while African-American Rory cried, 'Black rage!' in an apparent homage to Dwight Ewell's character in Chasing Amy. What's a Nubian?

At Lopevi, Julie immediately tried to whore herself out in order to advance in the voting. To her surprise, a lifetime military man inappropriately named Lea (but correctly nicknamed Sarge) decided that he was looking for a classic model instead of a new hot rod. He offered an alliance to the crone, Twila, and in the process announced the intention that the planned final four would be a hatemonger named Chris, a one-legged dude named Chad, Granny Clampett and himself.

On the other side of the island, the women have been waged in a seemingly eternal battle for supremacy between the girls and the women. This generation gap war claimed its first victim in the form of a sheep farmer named Dolly. Once she was gone, all hope for the season was lost, but we have boldly continued with the re-caps. The most recent victim was a former beauty queen named Lisa. Her crime was having the audacity to not swear fealty to Playboy playmate, Ami.

The barista/pin-up queen is the power player at Yasur at the moment. Ami's strongest allies at the moment appear to be Eliza, the world's most annoying chick, and Leann, a contestant so nondescript that nobody in her own tribe could pick her out of a police lineup. Also there is Scout, an aging hippy who acts like she has done more hemp than Ricky Williams and Woody Harrelson combined. Scout formed a natural bond with Twila but she has lost her only real ally unless she survives past the inevitable merge.

The most notable remaining contestant is John K., an athletic guy who has proven to have more than his fair share of intellectual acumen. Almost instantly identified as a threat to Team Ugmo, John has done an impressive job in surviving until this point. If he is unable to continue that streak, Puppet Master Chris, the man pulling Sarge's strings, appears likely to go a long way this season.

Also, the Cardinals were swept in the World Series and Kim is really fucking bitter about it. If they had won just one game, she could have gotten out of participating in tonight's column. Pujols giveth and Pujols taketh away.

Okay, that should pretty much cover it, so let's move on to tonight's festivities.

Perhaps sensing the growing threat of John's survival, Chris fans the flames of hatred at the start of the episode. He points out to his companions how little work John is doing. The others do not appear to need the notification as Chad is grumbling to the camera about it as well. The irony here is that John is doing the smart thing here. Since he realizes there is at best a 50/50 chance he stays if the tribe loses an immunity challenge, his saving his energy for the battles is exceptional strategy. Of course, it also bears noting that Chris pointing out his failings to the others is also sound play. Playing contestants against one another is a hidden key to this game. As dull as this season has been, there is simply no disputing the fact that the players have taken a professional tone to the proceedings and kept their eye on the prize. Exciting season? No. Well played? Absolutely.

As if innately recognizing that the game is afoot on the other side of the island, Rory attempts a similar maneuver at Yasur. His strategy is to capitalize upon his strong labor by threatening not to work if the women do not guarantee his survival. The tactic smacks of desperation but since it's the last card in his deck, it's an understandable move. Ami, however, handles the situation perfectly. Rather than beg him to change his mind, her reply is awe-inspiring in its brutality. 'I don't want you to do anything. Sit on your butt and have a good time.' In two sentences, Rory's options are reduced to one: begging. And he isn't very good at that. When pressed about his loyalties to the men, his reply is eloquent. '' And the Survivey for Best Stammerer goes to...

The Reward Challenge this week is exceptional. The simple goal is to take coconut shells filled with pineapple juice from one side of the beach to the other. The trick is that there is an obstacle course cruelly stuck in the middle of it. The contestants must navigate the twists and turns without spilling their cargo. Yasur takes an interesting tack as they have acid junkie Scout dump her shell immediately rather than slowly work the course. This forethought allows Leann to catch Julie in the final leg. All she must do is carefully walk the full carafe of pineapple juice back to her teammates. But she falls! Fortunately, she had planned for this contingency by putting her seemingly useless shell on top of the carafe. This prevents her from spilling the contents and sinking her team's hopes. She goes from goat to victor in the span of a split second. The ladies win their first challenge in what seems like 86 years.

The prize is another run-of-the-mill cross-marketing attempt from Team Survivor. The Home Cafe is set up for the winners. It contains family photos of all the Yasur members, so they ooh and ah appropriately. The money comes from Home Cafe and Folgers. They have set up a coffee bar so that the survivors can drink caffeine while reading letters from their loved ones. As far as corporate tie-ins go, it's only moderately more subtle than the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl or Stadium. The only humorous note we take from this is that the professional barista, Ami, quenches her thirst with a nice glass juice. Folgers does not seem to be getting their money's worth out of this promotion.

The rest of the segment is emotional. Tears flow everywhere. Scout's partner, Annie, sends her some gorgeous photographs. Ami's father informs her that her 'little buddy is watching over her'. She explains that her younger brother was killed in a car wreck seven years before. This is her father's way of reminding Ami that she is not alone; a guardian angel is on the island with her. Even the lone male in the contingent, Rory, weeps freely as he reads the correspondence from his wife. Thinking on his feet, the Lopevi transplant capitalizes on this opportunity to bond with the person he has correctly deduced as the power player of the group, Ami. Despite the professed intention to hold a women's group together, Ami's actions offer Rory hope that her alliance might not be so impossible after all.

Speaking of transplants, the ladies of Lopevi have put two and two together and realized both of them have been guaranteed a spot in the final four. Julie, clearly not a math major, boldly professes that since she and Twila have figured this out, they can now easily conquer the men. Unless they can alter the immutable laws of science, two is never going to outnumber four. But that does not stop Julie from shamelessly flirting with Twila in order to further wrap the woman around her finger. There are porn stars who are not this shamelessly skanky.

Tree Mail contains a sack of marbles and a sling shot. We have seen nothing of the challenge, yet we are ready to declare the men the easy winners here. John breathes a visible sigh of relief at this news.

Alas, embracing their inner Bart Simpson proves trickier than expected for the guys. Once the immunity challenge begins, the possession of a penis does not in any capacity aid slingshot proficiency. Men across the world shake their heads in disgust at the 'men' of Lopevi. They somehow manage to lose 20-17. Of course, the person who single-handedly destroys them is also a guy. Rory is a Survivor possessed in this challenge and thereby saves himself from near-certain elimination. As punishment for their performance, the members of Lopevi are hereby required to turn in their penises.

Still heady from his victory, Rory gets a huge ego from his success. He immediately starts making thinly veiled threats about Ami in his confessional. Yeah, Rory, sure. Good luck with that.

It's time to play 'It's anyone but John'. Theoretically, it's possible that the men could keep him in exchange for eliminating one of the women. The reality is that such a maneuver would be the smart play. Unbeknownst to the men, Ami's group has sworn to stick together as a unit in order to become the first Survivor set of women to do so. Reducing the men's ranks by one only makes sense from the perspective that later in the game, John is a physical threat. There will be plenty of opportunities to execute him before then, though.

Mastermind Chris considers all of his options. He talks to Chad about who should go. He proffers John as the obvious choice for elimination. To his surprise (and frustration?), Chad has surmised the numbers crunch of boys vs. the girls. He wants to keep John and get rid of one of the women. John does not have the luxury of thinking long-term as he recognizes he's the most likely victim. He points out that one-legged Chad is exactly the sort of contestant who remains below radar until the end; moreover, Chad would win the popular vote because his accomplishment would be so impressive. This strikes a chord with Chris, who appears genuinely uncertain of his best point of attack. In the end, the Occam's Razor strategy wins out. John staved off the inevitable for an impressive period of time but since day one, his elimination was always viewed as requisite. In the process, the guys just slit their own throats. There are now six women and four men as we face a likely merge. If neither Twila nor Julie flips, the next month of shows are going to be quite dull. So much for all the great strategy to date.