Survivor Guatemala: Recap
By David Mumpower and Kim Hollis
December 12, 2005
Survivor has had one of those seasons. The show started off strong with a grueling marathon through the jungle, indicating that the producers weren't fooling around. There were a couple of fantastic surprises with regards to casting. Two of the previous season's most notorious failures, Bobby Jon and Stephenie, were given a new lease on life. But the real coup was Gary Hogeboom. The former NFL quarterback denied his vocation when savvy competitors sussed it out; however, viewers were in on the joke. Survivor has always been a contest predicated upon understanding the big picture while maintaining perspective about the day-to-day minutiae required to make it through another Tribal Council. The idea to take a professional football player and put him in a situation that requires his competitive nature to combine with the strategic mind of a quarterback was nothing short of genius. Gary Hogeboom has been sorely missed in the weeks since he was eliminated.
For the most part during the course of the season, voting has actually been intelligent and well thought-out. Early on in the show, the weakest players were voted out, which isn't always the case in Survivor. Often times in past seasons, strong Survivors have been eliminated far too early, leaving their team at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to challenges. This time around, though, players were smart enough to realize that the challenges this season were going to be exceedingly difficult if the first couple were any indication of what was going to come. As a result, they (rightly) got rid of the weakest links, but when the appropriate time came to make the shift to vote out strong threats, the group seemed to instinctually understand that the moment had arrived. Beginning with Bobby Jon, who was the first to be voted onto the jury, the merged tribe of Xhakum eliminated alpha male after alpha male until finally arriving this past week at Cindy, who was simply voted off for her stupidity in blathering about winning a car. In fact, Salon has summarized the ignorance of Cindy's actions better than we ever could in this op-ed piece.
Next, we'll evaluate the final four players from the one we think is least likely to win to the favorite for the million dollars.
She's that Survivor that seems to make it to the end every year. Everyone views her as rather worthless in challenges, and she's just sort of propped along to the end because no one really sees her as a true threat. She's also a little bit different from that typical player, though, because she's just innocuous enough that she can say things to other competitors. Lydia has been planting seeds of doubt in her competitor's minds since before the merge, but they don't ever remember her as "stirring the pot" (which is in fact exactly what she is doing, and doing well). Frankly, she's played about as well as she possibly could, but is unlikely to win a vote if she gets to the final two. Still, Lydia's perceived weakness does make her a decent possibility to make that final vote, since her competitors might see her as the best person to carry along with them to the end.
Similar to the Outcasts from a few years ago, Steph is the only non-All-Star to be eliminated from competition once, yet still be eligible for a million dollars. However, while last season she was America's Sweetheart, this time around, the bloom is definitely off the rose. We don't know if she listened to the press about how she was everyone's favorite loser or if being perennially whipped on national television has changed her attitude and perspective, but she aligned herself with a pair of weasels in Judd and Jamie. She then betrayed them when they outlived their usefulness. But even worse is the fact that she has whined incessantly throughout the season, with her worst moment being a gripe session about people's anger at her for winning too many rewards. At one point, she famously sat out a Reward Challenge in exchange for a meal, then trashed a starving competitor for having the audacity to be hungry in her presence. In hindsight, Stephenie's big mistake was accepting game strategy advice from prior Survivor Queen Ami Cusack. Her only hope is to face off in the final against Lydia, praying that the people she betrayed don't hold it against her. As the biggest physical threat, she's more likely to be first off.
If we were picking the winner, she is the one who would make us happy. After all, she aligned herself with Gary Hogeboom (our favorite) and she has never betrayed a fellow player. Additionally, she's had a clever approach to the game, realizing that all she has to do is survive one single vote every three days. Once she gets through one, she can consider what strategy to employ for next time. As a result, she was a good fly-under-the-radar player for a significant period of time before recognizing the appropriate moment to start stirring the waters. By using Lydia as her mouthpiece, Danni was able to successfully implant doubt in the minds of Judd, Steph and Rafe. Danni is the epitome of dark horse candidate and we salute her play, even if she is perhaps a little too bland to truly love.
We're still on the fence about Rafe. He's projected himself as being a really nice, smart kid who would never deceive others or injure their character in some fashion. We just can't shake the fact that he's got chunks of people hanging in his basement. At this point, there's no disputing that he's in the driver's seat with regards to his Survivor gameplay, though. He hasn't betrayed anyone in a way that he would trace back to him as the instigator, and most of his fellow players seem to genuinely like him. Frankly, Rafe is a lot like Lydia, but with a perception that he's done more. In addition to the fact that he is close to Dannie, Steph and Lydia, he also has been surprisingly dominant in challenges, which gives him a fair chance at moving further simply through sheer determination. The only knock against him is that if he is one of the final three and doesn't win the Immunity Challenge, his competitor might not want to take him to the endgame due to the fact that he really does seem likeliest to win the vote. He has all the essential elements needed to earn a million bucks – it just remains to be seen whether he can put it all together.
Now that 60 Minutes is over (note to CBS: it's okay to pre-empt this show sometimes) and the season finale has finally started, it's celebration time at camp Xhakum. Danni is requesting a song, and her Long Distance Dedication of choice is One Shining Moment. Her favorite college basketball team, the Kansas Jayhawks, has made the NCAA Final Four twice in the past four years without winning the championship. And so she has taken it upon her creepily narrow shoulders to pick up the slack and win one for the fans. Somehow, we doubt Bill Self sees a correlation between the two.
The concept of Tree Mail lifts Lydia's spirits high enough that she needs the Whizzinator. She sprints up the hill to tell her friends the great news! They get to appreciate Mayan history? She interprets this message to mean that a massive celebration feast is about to begin, but Rafe takes this opportunity to point out the fact that the word "celebrate" isn't mentioned anywhere in the brochure. Why you gotta buzz kill, Rafe? Let the tiny woman have her moment!
It turns out that Lydia isn't quite right, and Rafe isn't quite right, but we do know for certain that if Judd had been there, he would have been wrong. Five Mayans show up and perform an ancient sacrificial ceremony involving wood, honey and a live chicken. They must have seen Major League and Cerrano's problem with the curve ball. This ritual honors one of their gods, and Stephenie, who fancies herself goddess of the area, is bitter that she isn't given the honey and chicken for her own use. They've only been doing this ceremony for thousands of years, Steph. Obviously, you take priority.
Probst ahoy! The first Immunity Challenge of the evening is a giant maze that would make Albus Dumbledore proud. It's long and complicated and requires the Survivors to find six separate stations containing eight puzzle pieces and maybe a Goblet of Fire. Once finished, they have to put the puzzle together to reveal an ancient Mayan icon. The good news for Steph is that her phyical prowess puts her in a dead heat with Rafe to win the competition. The bad news for Steph is that puzzle-solving is required. Really, we don't have to say much more than this. You've seen Stephanie try to come up with a solution to a puzzle. It's like chimpanzees trying to solve the mystery of cold-fusion. We're just waiting for her to fling some poo at Rafe. Securing the Immunity Idol guarantees Rafe a spot in the final three, with the only question being whether he will stick to his long-standing alliance with Stephenie or view her as too great a threat to take along.
After a little strategic discussion, Stephenie and Lydia decide that their word for the day is Sacrilege. They head over to the area where the Mayans had made their sacrifice earlier. Their mission is to study the burned chicken and determine if it is edible. Disgusting as it is (both for the fact that they are spitting on a group's religion and for the likely bacteria involved), they go ahead and have a little dinner. (We have to give Rafe credit here. He didn't eat the chicken because it felt disrespectful.) The avian flu cropped up right after this episode was filmed. Coincidence? We think not. The Macaw Spirit is angry!
Lo and behold, shortly after the feast, a monsoon arrives. The Survivors have obviously unleashed some bad juju, and are probably soon going to be the target of some vengeful bird demons. And just wait until the San Diego Chicken hears about this.
Tribal Council arrives, and Probst asks, "You ate the chicken?"
After a little more chicken discussion (this blasphemy comes with 17 herbs and spices), Stephenie casually admits that she has backstabbed most of the people on the jury. She's so flip in this confession that we wonder if she understands precisely how damaging it is to her candidacy. Don't worry, though. The people whom she's knifed definitely notice.
When the votes are tallied, we're somewhat surprised to see that Lydia is eliminated, thereby earning Rafe a little more respect from us. He seemed to vote based on who he thought least deserved to make it further, and in the process stayed to true both to his promise to take Danni to the final three and his alliance with Steph. He should now have the loyalty of both remaining competitors. The lesson to be learned from Lydia: never eat the sacred chicken!
Back at camp, hey, it's tribute time! And what's our rule when it comes to tributes? Hit the fast forward button like there's no tomorrow!
Ten minutes later, it's another Probst sighting as the final Immunity Challenge is at hand. Combining balance, patience and endurance, the contest involves balancing oneself on a mini-see-saw. For the first hour, the contestants are allowed to use two ropes for leverage, and at the one hour mark, they're forced to drop one of those ropes. Thirty minutes later (if it lasts that long), they drop the other one. At the one-hour mark when the Survivors let loose of the first rope, it's obvious who will win. Steph winds up doing her best Tarzan before eventually supporting herself against the wooden support beam. Rafe saves himself in the same way, but only barely, and his stubby legs don't support his weight enough. Eighteen-foot tall Danni simply slouches back and glances around nonchalantly. At the one hour 30 minute mark, Probst tells the contestants to let go of the rope and not touch the beam with their hands again. Five minutes later, Rafe has a Rudy moment, losing focus long enough to grab the beam for support. His elimination means that one of the women will win immunity.
Clever editing shows Steph rubbing her back, trying to use her hat to prevent chafing, and attempting to rub feeling back into her legs. Danni seems to be debating whether or not to wear the Kansas City hat at the final Tribal Council. Is it gaudy, or does it nicely offset her eyes? It's important for pageant contestants to look their best when their name is called for the Finals. We keep waiting for Steph to make an offer, but her competitive drive works against her here. She wants to win, and she wants to do it on her terms. Steph's stubbornness costs her immunity as she plummets butt-first to the ground. While we're admittedly hyper-critical of the show and its frequent foibles, we are pleased to admit that for the second straight season, the end of the final Immunity Challenge brings out the best in people. Rather than celebrate her victory, Danni walks over to Stephenie and says, "You're the toughest woman I know." Rafe joins the love fest by announcing that he has freed Danni from any promise she might have made to him about taking him to the final. The fact that he is so genuine has us quite regretful of our earlier comment about his potential serial killer nature. Our bad.
This concludes part one of the final Survivor recap. Be sure to return Wednesday at 4 p.m. to see how it all ends.