Survivor: Panama - Exile Island Recap
The Power of the Idol
By David Mumpower and Kim Hollis
April 21, 2006

A model *and* a writer. Ladies, you could do worse.

When we last left Survivor, Terry blundered in negotiations, Austin feigned weakness to advance further in the game, Nick got stuck with the bill, and Kim Hollis had one more internal organ than she does today. During her recuperation, we have watched with some interest as Terry has continued to demonstrate he could never make it in Congress. He appears to summarily reject the notion that there is strength in numbers, instead choosing to be a Spartan. His idea of politicking isn't any better. Terry seems to think he is a master of Jedi Mind Trick, attempting to dupe anyone from Cirie to Shane into suddenly switching sides simply because that would really help him out. A lot. We've seen some bad strategists in this game, but Terry really might take the cake.

Day 19 at Gitanos begins with Austin celebrating his survival at the previous tribal council. He had gleefully acknowledged the night before that he had intentionally tanked at the prior immunity challenge in order to show himself to be less of a physical threat. To our intense surprise, it worked. Nick wound up assassinated instead, leaving Courtney to spend this morning bitterly regretting their "group" decision. You have really got to hand it to the fire dancer. She can find a way to blame Shane for pretty much anything.

Sensing that a bunch of people moping is poor television, Team Burnett skips straight to tree mail. With the two former tribes divided straight down company lines, it's time for one of those challenges designed specifically to create tension among allies. The remaining contestants are randomly divided into teams of three with Austin, Terry and Shane comprising Group One, Bruce, Aras and Sally Group Two and Courtney, Danielle and Cirie Group Three. The various factions will take a group of coconuts and place them in a boat owned by one of the other two teams. This effectively reduces the physical strength of Group One since they are more likely to be the target of more coconuts than the other, less powerful trios.

After the coconuts in a group's boat are dispensed among opponents, the team rows out to be pick up a tribal flag. Once this is retrieved and they reach shore, they must unload the fruit they acquired from the other teams and carry the flag to the finish line. The idea is to create tension through the popularity contest of who gets the fewest coconuts. We just don't see it stirring up a lot ill feelings, though. "You put eight coconuts in my boat while I only put six in yours" doesn't seem like a Helen of Troy situation developing.

As expected, the reward challenge unfolds with the other two groups pummeling Group One's boat with coconuts. The trick is that all coconuts must be used, and this creates a humorous situation as Group Three, the frailest trio by far, winds up with coconuts remaining after the other boats have set sail. As punishment for their methodical coconut delivery system, they are forced to load their own boat with coconuts. Needless to say, Group Three isn't going to win. Gee, and Courtney and Cirie had been so strong in all of the prior challenges.

Groups One and Two wind up in a race to unload their coconuts with the less punished Group Two out in front by quite a bit. They almost screw up since they initially forget the flag, but Sally realizes their mistake. Bruce, Aras and her win the reward, a bed and breakfast trip at a remote location. They also get to pick the contestants from the other two groups who go to Exile Island. Aras chooses Austin and Danielle, thereby dramatically increasing the odds Danielle turns on him down the road.

The "reward" winds up being a disastrous outing for the most part. A torrential downpour of rain accompanies the trio to their B&B, which turns out being a canopy bed in the middle of the beach. As might be expected, the canopy provides little by way of insulation from the rugged weather conditions. The drenched bed is disgusting, but the group's morale is boosted the instant the food shows up. Our buddy Bruce describes it as a meal fit for a king. We like him too much to point out that a meal fit for a king would probably include umbrellas of some sort or at the very least serfs providing a human shield from the rain.

It's time for master negotiator Terry to try to surpass last week's performance. After choking in his strategy of keeping the hidden immunity idol rather than sharing it with Nick, thereby passing on the opportunity to eliminate Shane, he has pretty much guaranteed his allies are screwed. Not yet willing to acknowledge the colossal mistake, Terry tries to cut a deal with Shane. Apparently oblivious to the fact that this guy is the primary strategist for the other team, Terry bungles through another strategy session. He tries to determine whom Shane considers the final four to be.

To our surprise, Shane gives the fighter pilot an honest answer, saying, "I think it'll be me, Aras, Cirie and Courtney." Boy, we will pay good money to see Courtney and Shane's interaction after 36 days of clashes if it gets that far. Hell, they could get a sitcom pilot out of this. For no particular reason other than to be pissy, Terry offers a $20 bet that such a scenario will not unfold. Shane's body language clearly states, "Dude, do you have any interpersonal skills whatsoever?" Shane, the answer is no. Want a cigarette?

What is the annual Survivor screw-up? A person or group fresh from a huge reward meal always brags about how good the food was. Why do they do it? That's a mystery for the ages. All it does is alienate and infuriate potential allies.

Think the Bed and Breakfast's wet bed was bad? You should see what Austin and Danielle are experiencing. The Exile Island duo has the same stormy weather without the benefit of the canopy's protection or a hot meal. They are reduced to sticking wet blankets on their heads in order to (slightly) shield themselves from the rain. Exile Island proves once again that it is boring television and this time it includes the happy (?) bonus of needlessly torturing two of the contestants. Aras might get worse than a coconut in his boat when they return to the tribe.

One important note is made from both the reward challenge winners and the Exile Island castaways. None of the five people separated from their peers engages in much game strategy. Danielle and Austin would seem to be logical selections to form an alliance based on their shared horror of the day. We are also surprised that Sally, a woman with no more than nine days left in her stay on the island barring something unforeseen, makes no attempt at forming bonds with Aras and Bruce. Are the two groups that sedentary in their allegiances? We are forced to speculate yes. We have the makings of a very dull few episodes here.

As if preternaturally sensing our displeasure, Team Burnett makes a move. The editors choose this moment to show a discussion between Sally and Terry about his ownership of the idol. Sally, optimist that she is, immediately assumes this is good news for her. She seems to feel that if Terry wins the immunity challenge, he will give Austin or her one of the idols, thereby potentially leading to the unseating of a member of the majority alliance. It's a great strategy, Sally, and we think it would have been swell had Terry tried it last week. Unfortunately for you, Terry's idea of strategy is to launch missiles at stuff. Whatever blows up is probably the bad guy, right?

The immunity challenge is preceded by Probst taunting Austin and Danielle for looking so miserable. Jeebus, Jeff. Do you go to children's hospitals and kick the little crutches out from under the sick kids, too?

The immunity challenge is a series of competitions wherein the top performers move on to the next leg. The first task seems to unfairly punish Cirie as it requires the contestants to dig a hole in order to slide their body weight under a fence. She is going to have to dig a hole like three times the size of Courtney's! This challenge is weight biased! Aras is first under the fence, but he miscalculates how much junk he has in his trunk. The result is that he gets pinned at the groin (hey, we've all been there), preventing his advancement. To no one's surprise, Sally, Danielle and Courtney, the bulimia triplets, are the first ones through the fence. Terry and Shane follow soon afterward with Austin taking the final spot. To say that Aras is displeased with this turn of events would be like saying that Danielle and Austin were not singing in the rain at Exile Island.

Heat two is a good ol' fashioned brain teaser (look out, Terry!) followed by a sprint up some dirt. Unsurprisingly, Austin and Sally are the first two through. These guys would be running away with the game had they not gotten stuck with Terry on their team. They are brainiacs through and through. Terry proves us wrong by finishing the puzzle portion of the heat in third place with Shane, Danielle and Courtney following soon after. In the end, the former members of La Mina wind up finishing in the top three, thereby securing a spot in the next round.

This event is a bridge-crossing event, with the trick being that the contestants make their own bridge using two pieces of board. Since it's a balance event, Sally capitalizes on her advantage of grace and takes first place. Terry just edges Austin for the other spot in the final. The final competition is navigation through a crawlspace of wooden fencing. Sally simply isn't fast or physical enough to beat Terry in such a challenge though to her credit, she does keep it close until the end. Hey, would you look at that? Terry has won immunity. Shocker.

It's time to play It's Anyone But Austin. Please let it be someone other than Austin. We love Austin. Take Cirie or Courtney or Shane or Danielle. Those guys suck! Terry would be even better but for the second consecutive Tribal Council, he will have double super secret immunity, thereby making him the Survivor equivalent of a walking condom. It's going to be Austin, isn't it? Dammit.

Our boy Austin is not ready to give up just yet, though. He, Terry and Sally determine that Danielle might be willing to cut a deal. As long as they can get Bruce to switch sides as well, they will have a majority vote. The plan is to give Courtney the immunity idol in order to swing her allegiance while simultaneously hoping that Bruce just likes them better. No, it's not much to hang their hats on but Terry has lowered our expectations to the point that this strikes us as excellent his standards anyway.

The point of attack with Bruce is to tell him that Shane has said that our favorite player won't be in the final four. This is a decent angle to play, but if Bruce didn't flip last week, we fail to understand why he would change his mind now. The next several minutes show the various players of the power alliance discussing how the presence of the hidden immunity idol could create issues at Tribal Council. The key is that the person in their group with the most votes would be eliminated were the opposing player they voted off (almost certainly Austin) to produce it. Of course, longtime viewers of the show know that the intense discussion about such a scenario all but assures the fact that it will not happen. Our opinion is crystallized when Danielle is shown stating that she could change the whole game if she makes this play. It ain't happening.

"Courtney has not shown one bit of intelligence since we've been out here." - Aras

This quote makes us wonder if Terry knew Courtney's mom about 25 years ago.

Tribal Council is a bore. The discussion mainly centers upon how miserable the conditions were at Exile Island. There is more discussion made of the immunity idol, bringing a smug smirk out of Terry. The conversation then switches off to a debate about what would happen if someone flip-flopped at tonight's vote. Shane summarizes how unlikely this is, saying that even if it occurs, they would still win by a vote. What a dull episode with such a disgusting conclusion. Austin, the best overall player this season, becomes the first member of the jury with six votes versus only three for Aras. In a funny moment, our boy cleverly teases presentation of the hidden immunity idol before exiting stage left. Our hero.

Yes, we are going to find any number of ways to blame Terry for this. That dude is so tactless that he's making us enjoy Top Gun a little less.