Survivor Panama - Exile Island Recap
An Emerging Plan
By David Mumpower and Kim Hollis
March 31, 2006

Don't hate me because my head is a perfect rectangle!

Previously on Survivor, George Mason upset Michigan State, North Carolina and UConn on its way to the Final Four while Livin' On a Prayer was chanted like a mantra by those in attendance at the games. Oh wait, that was something else. Survivor wasn't on the past couple of weeks. What we vaguely recall from last month is that the world's palest non-albino, Dan, saw fate flip him the bird. Casaya won a challenge and picked Sally to go to Exile Island, protecting her from Tribal Council. Forced to eat one of their own, the boys picked the former astronaut with the 24 inch waist. That's consecutive episodes where going to Exile Island, the presumed worst possible punishment this season, has led to enhanced positioning for a player. This would be like penalizing Barry Bonds by making him sleep with Jessica Alba for the next three months.

We begin the episode in the same way that every other episode has started this season. Courtney is whining a lot. This time, it's about how cold she is at night. For no particular reason, she does what she always does and randomly blames Shane. It's his fault because he's sleeping next to her. She curses his reluctance to cuddle (and who can blame him for that?) then she exclaims that he should stop stealing all the covers. A clever moment of editing shows that Shane is completely uncovered at the very moment she makes this accusation. It is in fact Courtney's buddy, Danielle, who is the cover hog. But hey, pesky facts never get in Courtney's way when she is venting about what a rat bastard Shane is. It's a shame that Celebrity Boxing is cancelled. A simultaneous knockout between these two would-be pugilists would get higher ratings than the Super Bowl.

Courtney's grudge is not the only inexplicable source of tension at camp, though. Aras still remembers that one time a week ago when Bruce called him a bad name: immature! Apparently, this was the first time in Aras' entire life when someone said something negative about his character. Words can hurt, Bruce! Aras sits by the campfire and mutters something along these lines as his nefarious foil twirls his moustache and laughs evilly. Okay, that's not quite what happens. Bruce patiently works at cleaning up his Zen rock garden, blissfully unaware that an innocuous comment he made days ago continued to fester in its recipient's head. You better keep Aras away from Courtney. Her constant stream of curse words would have him curled up in a fetal position crying his eyes out by the time Kindergarten reached nappy time.

Exile Island time! Sally sits alone and does nothing. What great television.

La Mina is still recovering from voting off a respected member of the He Man Woman Haters Club the previous evening. Sure, Dan is the world's whitest living scarecrow, but they had grown attached to the Thin Man. Now, they are facing a merger where the opposing group outnumbers them six to four and one of their "four" is a cooties-filled girl! Yuck! Terry remains unconcerned, though, as his plan has two tiers. The best case scenario is that they get more men to join their developing Brokeback Club with Shane and Bruce being possible targets. After all, Terry has dealt with both of them before. If that fails, Terry knows that he still has the proverbial ace up his sleeve. That pocket immunity idol is worth its weight in gold.

Tree mail! Team Y Chromosome learns that they are to find a special area of the beach. Said location will contain treats though these items are not to be used until further instructions are given. The Cub Scouts try to earn their Good at Finding Stuff in Plain Sight merit badge and accomplish just this when they notice items in a boat. Way to go, boys! You get rice krispie treats from mommy! No wait, you get to sail off to the other side of the island and live as the minority group for the next three days.

How welcome is the arrival of La Mina at Casaya's camp? When Team Selfish sees the infringing boat sailing toward their shores, their first thought is, "EAT THE RICE!!!" In one of the most pathetic displays of immaturity in Survivor history, several of the members swallow as much rice as they can consume in the ten minutes prior to the ship's landing. Fittingly, this move immediately blows up on Aras and Shane, the co-conspirators in the bratty behavior. The new arrivals bring with them a feast of plenty for all to share. We're certain that the delicacies included in this cornucopia of treats would have tasted significantly better than oh, say, rice, but the two men are way too full to find out for themselves. This unexpected sampling of Karma reminds us that My Name Is Earl is on soon, so things are looking up.

All of the pleasantries exchanged by the new mega-tribe are of course window dressing. The real subject of focus is a numbers game between two groups of people now stuck living together. We have three men who love each other and are having the bestest time ever! We have one woman who is stuck with them, but who is plenty smart enough to realize that's it's the tribal equivalent of Augusta National. Her type isn't welcome there. On the other side, Shane has just begged Courtney and Danielle to let him out of his promise sworn on his son's name. Despite this, he still acts as if his group is rock solid and cannot possibly be ripped asunder. We just wonder which group he's talking about since he hates everyone there except maybe (?) Aras. He'd love them all, though, if he just had a cigarette right now.

Cirie, Danielle and Courtney seem relatively tight although we readily acknowledge Cirie would stab them all in their sleep if it helped her cause any...and we respect her for it. So, the former members of La Mina have a secondary issue. They have to swing at least one if not two members of the former Casaya group while somehow stopping Sally from going with the girls. I'm certain Terry and co. are mentally cursing the Nineteenth Amendment all over again. Why do chicks get to vote??? They should be spoken for and told to make themselves look prettier, not allowed to think. Hmm, that might not be a bad scenario for Courtney, actually.

The editing in this episode is concise in its focus, though. The viewer is intended to believe that the swing vote after the merger is Bruce. On multiple occasions, he is demonstrated to have deep respect for Terry and a general disdain for all of the brats from Casaya. Were Bruce to work a deal with Terry's group, that could potentially be a deadlock of five to five if they do keep Sally in the fold. As such, it's imperative to both parties that Bruce be wooed appropriately. Casaya's plan is particularly transparent. After seething about him for days upon end, Aras suddenly begins to refer to Bruce as the revered village elder, the leader whom they rely upon to make key decisions. Aras lies so poorly we can't help but wonder if he's a previously unknown Menendez brother.

A scary segment reflects the importance of Bruce within the framework of the game. For no apparent reason, Bruce is helping Nick use a machete while they work on creating a new tent. The "help" is for Bruce to tug the machete's base after each stroke by Nick (quiet, perverts). As he grabs the fat part of the machete, Bruce helps to direct it to the right spot (stop giggling). During a most unfortunate moment, the rope they are cutting falls apart and the machete flies straight into Bruce's face. The end result is that Bruce winds up with a broken tooth and a split lip. We are not joking when we say that the situation could have been much more dangerous. Bruce could have easily been sporting the Tycho Brahe look or received a Friday the 13th-inspired Darwin Award. It was that close to reality television's first fatality. Instead, Bruce is left spitting blood while a group of onlookers watches with concern. Concern about themselves.

One of the most disgusting aspects of Survivor as a game is its driving nature of self-involvement. At the end of the day, thinking about others will not help a player win. It is the purest of Every Man for Himself competition. Bruce's bloody machete accident drives this point home. Courtney, Danielle and Cirie watch from the safety of their tent. Their initial concern is that Bruce is even talking to the former members of La Mina. After a moment, they realize he is bleeding but even at that point, little regard for his humanity is demonstrated.

The members of La Mina offer no better behavior. Nick's first reaction is genuine as he clearly realizes just how close he came to ending another person's life. During a camera confessional, though, he states that a lot of his concern stemmed from the fact that he feared attacking Bruce with a machete would hurt his candidacy in the game. We call this Matthew's Law. Terry is even worse. He keeps patting Bruce on the chest, ostensibly cheering him up about his condition. The "Stay in the game!" speech rings hollow, though. Terry is much more concerned about losing the leverage Bruce's vote would give his alliance than he is about the fact that Bruce is BLEEDING FROM THE MOUTH.

Oddly, the only person who handles it well is Bruce. He points to another bare spot in his mouth and says, "I once had a tooth knocked through my lip." Even Chuck Norris is impressed by Bruce's declaration.

After a commercial break wherein Survivor allows all of its viewers to email each other that someone almost died, we get the new tribe name. La Mina and Casaya are gone forever. The new group is Gitanos. Half-toothed Bruce explains that this "means gypsy in Spanish". He is also given the assignment of creating the artwork for the group banner. Anything to keep him away from the machetes for a while.

Negotiations ensue. The first conspirator is Austin, who goes to Aras with an offer. The idea is to broach the subject of Aras joining the men's men alliance. Simultaneously, he tries to assess how Aras envisions the game's current status. Rebuffed, Austin accepts that his team's task of flipping a counterpart is troublesome.

Soon afterward, Terry makes a heavy-handed offer to Shane. The fighter pilot awkwardly points out that if Shane and Cirie changed sides, they would be safe for two weeks. Shane looks at him like he's crazy and rightfully so. Shane does not have to change sides to have that happen and he has a better chance of going further without Terry's Gang of Three being involved. That's the only trio on the island who are genuinely tight. As such, they need to go. Undeterred, Terry then stalks Cirie on the beach, making the same offer. Cirie's polite to his face but she laughs at his offer in a camera monologue. What have we learned from this segment? Terry lacks tact.

"He's like a Dictionary salesman. It's like, I already have an encyclopedia collection and you want to sell me a dictionary." â€"Cirie, apparently not realizing that an encyclopedia and a dictionary are two different things.

Top Gun one ups his prior sloppy efforts at negotiations during a campfire discussion. He just turns to Shane and asks point blank, "Are you in?" Subtlety, Terry. Terry, subtlety. Somewhere, Boston Rob has got to be watching this and shaking his head with disgust. Alpha males are capable of strategy, Terry. We swear. Taken aback by the directness of the question, Shane incredulously looks around the group, as if wondering if Terry is aware there are people around. Finally, he responds with, "Am I in what?" When pressed further, he eventually states the obvious. There is no reason for him to turn his back on a superior situation to put himself in fifth or sixth place in an inferior one. Shane succinctly states that someone might flip, but it won't be him. Free advice for Terry: if you can come up with a box of cigarettes, he's totally your bitch.

Probst sighting! Where you been today, Jeffy? Normally, our host shows up for the merger. I guess this episode was filmed while negotiations were still ongoing for his contract extension. A humorous moment ensues when Jeff asks how the merger is going. Nick gleefully states it's been going great. Nick, honey, come on. So far, your group is outnumbered. They have been rebuffed in every attempt to get a player from the opposing group to switch to their side. And you personally have accidentally stabbed a guy in the face with a machete. What exactly would have happened if it were going poorly?

The first individual immunity challenge is all about willpower and strength. The goal is simple. The contestants must hang from a post for as long as possible. The last person holding on to the balance beam-like structures wins the competition. As you might expect, Cirie's performance is...mediocre. She can carry her own body weight for all of three minutes. Of course, Aras is not much better. The well cut yoga teacher only hangs on for 11 minutes before quitting. One by one, the former members of Casaya all give up, indicating that each of them is confident about the night's vote. Shane is the only one smart enough to attempt to negotiate for some food first, but Probst isn't having it.

After the boys of La Mina are the last three players remaining, Terry again proves that he lacks savvy. The long term strategy here should be obvious. He should make himself available for elimination at the next immunity challenge. At this point, he will inevitably receive the most votes, preventing his elimination from competition due to the fact that he has the secret immunity idol. The player who finishes with the second most votes will be the one actually voted off. Since the three allies in the boys club will vote as a block, they would effectively determine who is the next person executed. At this point, they would need only to attain Bruce's membership in the next three days in order to gain a majority on the island. So, what does Terry do? He holds on for dear life. Austin pleads with Terry to give up and let Nick or himself win. Inexplicably, this does not occur. Instead, Terry fights until he wins immunity, all but guaranteeing that one of Austin or Nick will be the next person voted off the island. Stupid stupid stupid.

Back from Tribal Council, the mood among the former La Mina group is grim and rightfully so. Editors can attempt to spin this any way they like but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that Austin or Nick is going home. The only good news we can offer the boys is that Casaya is showing the classic signs of arrogance. This is one of the cardinal sins of Survivor yet nobody ever seems to learn from the mistake. Shane orders a team meeting right in front of his outnumbered opponents, thereby ensuring he will be receiving their four votes that evening. During the discussion, all of the cocky Casaya members pat themselves on the back on what a great job they've done of staying loyal. Yes, Shane, it's been great all of those times when you've begged to be released from your sworn oath and debated quitting the game. You're a real man of nobility.

At this point, the only hope is that Bruce decides to vote with his buddy Terry rather than with his former tribe. We place the odds of this as roughly the same as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays winning the AL East. The only debate which really exists is whether it's Austin or Nick. To the former player's credit, he had sussed this out even before the challenge began. He put on what he later describes as an Academy Award-winning performance to convince the competition he's physically weaker than Nick. It seems to work, too. When the Casaya have their Team Ego meeting about who the biggest physical threat is, multiple members confess that they had considered Austin stronger until that challenge.

During Tribal Council, Austin confesses his strategy, earning some surprised looks from the Casaya folks. He only does this because he is so certain he will be the next person eliminated. Austin does not, however, get any votes from his peers. Instead, Shane gets four. We hope for a brief instant that Bruce has done the unexpected and flipped but alas, it's not to be. Nick receives six votes and a trip back home from Survivor: Exile Island. We hate to beat a dead horse but had Terry played as we had discussed, Shane would have been voted off tonight. This would have deadlocked the two factions at four members a piece with Bruce being the deciding vote. In the process, the best strategist on Casaya would have been eliminated, creating a power vacuum. Instead, it's now six to three, meaning Terry has basically no chance to make it to the final vote. Way to go, Top Gun!