Survivor: Palau Episode Five

The Best and Worst Reward Ever

By David Mumpower and Kim Hollis

March 23, 2005

Okay, she's not exactly lady-like, but we dig her anyway.

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When last we left Survivor, Kim got voted off for being lazier than Beetle Bailey on Hammock Day. And it was about freakin’ time.

Also, a revelation was made about which season pass was higher on David and Kim’s TiVo. The answer was Lost, not Survivor. We guess we prefer fictional castaways to artificially created ones under the guise of realism. So, we must apologize for taking a week to track down a copy of the tape. But isn’t that Locke a great character?

Night 11 at Koror begins with an unspoken promise from CBS for a Spring Break Shark Attack. We get very excited for a moment before realizing the ship has sailed on that animals-eating-humans extravaganza. Team Burnett is getting tired of focusing on Ulong coming back from Tribal Council dejected and frustrated. Rather than show the fourth consecutive opening segment of this variety, they go a different way with the footage.

While vacationing on Palau, the girls, they go wild!

Jenn likes her some rock hard abs, and boy howdy, has she ever found a man who lets her play his washboard stomach. Gregg, who we are shocked to discover has been on the island 11 days now, finally makes his first meaningful contribution to the television season by letting Jenn drool all over him. She artfully giggles and pets him while an intense Coby looks on in scorn. You had Gregg pegged for a home teamer, didn’t you, big guy? Not everyone with abs of steel is gay, just the ones at the steel mill.

As Jenn and Gregg continue to cuddle, the other members of Koror uncomfortably look away while mentally wishing they had brought ear plugs as their comfort item. Grandpa Willard is so distracted by their raging hormones that he fails in his duties as fire protector. Our caveman ancestors look down upon the attorney and shake their heads in disgust.

Having shown a few moments of discomfort at the dominant tribe, we now cut over to the losers. It’s like showing a story about the Giambi steroids issue having an impact on the Yankees then showing Tampa Bay’s $25 million payroll players all flailing pathetically as they try to hit a curveball. There is suffering, there is torment, there is the horror of being Martha Stewart’s cellmate for several months and then there is this newfound level of strife discovered by Ulong.

Tonight’s anguish involves the tribe wandering hopelessly. Bobby Jon and James, who have done such a bang-up job so far in leading by example, take charge of their wimmen. The menfolk determine that it’s going to rain, so they should find the cave near camp in order to stay dry. The problem with this rationale is that they are not very good at directions after nightfall. The group wanders aimlessly for a while before team co-MVP Angie says that they should just go back to camp. To Bobby Jon and James, that’s loser talk and, since they are already feeling insecure about what huge losers they are, they have none of it. For her part, Stephenie seems interested in the dryness of the cave as well, so she turns on Angie a bit. In the end, though, they come to realize she is the voice of reason and accept the truth, returning to camp. The following morning, however, there is some unspoken but palpable resentment towards her for the fact that Ulong never made the caves. How dare you save them from pneumonia, Angie! Then, they would have had a legitimate excuse for wanting to quit.

Cutting back to Koror, the news continues to be grim for Willard. It’s clear that he has worn out his welcome with the tribe and they secretly long for the day that they can vote his ass off. Picture the scene in Airplane! where all the passengers line up to smack some sense into the hysterical woman. That but angrier.

Coincidentally enough, it’s time for a reward challenge. No, wait, it’s an immunity challenge with a reward for the winner. No, that’s not right either. Both tribes are going to Tribal Council no matter what. But at least the winning team gets a last meal before eating one of their own.

The contest involves the acquisition of six saki bottles submerged around a sunken warship. Team members must utilize a pulley to move one member out near the bottles. From there, contestants must dive beneath the surface and swim around until they find and release a bottle. As has been the case all season, this is an exceptionally well thought out challenge which sees the tribe mates forced to work together at first, followed by a testing of individual endurance.

Hunger pangs make the challenge surprisingly intense despite the fact that there is little to be gained with a victory from a game perspective. Ulong continues to fight with pride in the face of adversity. Stephenie and Jenn are the first two to attempt the task, and each returns with a bottle. The race continues to be a dead heat midway through the second leg as Angie impressively holds her own against Gregg. Her determination is the gold standard for this season. She actually gains an advantage when her tribe pulls her in faster than Gregg. When Ibrehem, the third member of Ulong, submerges, he has a massive lead. At this moment, however, we learn something about Ibrehem’s heart. After two unsuccessful attempts at swimming underwater, he comes up gasping for air. The shouts of scorn from his teammates convince him to try a third time, a miscalculation which exacerbates the situation. He quickly resurfaces again without a bottle and is demanded to return to shore. The time difference here is fatal to the group, and even Probst shakes his head in frustration as Ibrehem limps back to land. James and Stephenie make desperate attempts to regain the lost ground, but that proves impossible. Ibrehem’s failure wins the reward for Koror. A furious Steph returns to land and burns a hole in Ibrehem while Angie weeps with frustration. We reiterate that an Angie/Steph team would kick ass at the challenges.

Back from the commercial break, Koror is celebrating another victory. They’re like the New England Patriots at this point. “Yay, we won yet again. How thrilling. Do we have to go back to Disney Land? Cause that’s getting old.” So dramatic is their domination that Coby winds up being the voice of reason, indicating that it would be in poor taste for the tribe to whoop it up and have a good time eating while Ulong votes someone out. Putting an exclamation point on this assertion is Ian, who (badly) dances the hula in celebration of Koror’s dominance. Ian also sings and for just a second, we remember why we were so glad to see that freak from the first episode eliminated. And why we hate American Idol.

Ulong is not pulling any punches when they return. Everyone - and we do mean everyone - in the group takes a shot at him. Bobby Jon is reduced to ultimate loser-speak, “Everything happens for a reason.” At this point, the producers of the show make no attempt to pretend as if anyone other than Ibrehem for Ulong or Willard from Koror is likely to go at the two Tribal Challenges. That alone tells us that a swerve is in the offing.

Unexpected discovery of the night: Coby and Willard are buds.

The important aspect of tonight’s episode is that Gregg and Jenn, or “Ken and Barbie” as Coby describes them, are looking to work a deal. Gregg, speaking on behalf of Jenn, goes to the hairstylist and indicates that they are interesting in creating an alliance that will eliminate perceived threats Ian and Tom. Coby is thrilled to be invited to the Cool Kids' Table, so he can’t say yes fast enough. During this segment, it’s readily apparent that one of Gregg and Jenn (or maybe both?) are brilliant strategists who have done a great job at staying below radar while making plans. This duo suddenly looks like a Rob and Amber power couple rather than a Jeff and Kim pretender to the throne coupling.

At Koror’s first tribal council, we can’t help but marvel at the situation. We are two full weeks into a 39 day contest, and this group of people are lighting their torches for the first time. Also, it’s noteworthy to point out that they didn’t lose to get their first Tribal Council, but instead had it dictated to them by Burnett’s tweaking of the rules. Simply put, this is the most dominant tribe in the history of the show. Even if none of them wins (which would admittedly be a choke), they still will always be able to hang their hats on the fact that they have done something previously considered impossible.

The tribal council itself does not reveal much. Katie sucks up to Ian and Tom like a good little sycophant should. Coby flamboyantly declares himself too social and too friendly to succeed in the game. It’s nice to give yourself an easy out in anticipation of failure. Gregg again advances his ambition by pointing out the various alliances internal to the tribe. He targets Ian and Tom as the inseparable father/son duo (huge bonus points for the clever answer!), Coby and Janu as the socialites, and Caryn and Willard as the wise village elders. This leaves only Katie as someone he doesn’t show to have an alliance. He politely gives her an explanation for this, but there is also a hint of darkness to her being singled out. Deftly, Gregg reminds everyone that despite any moaning others might hear coming from their sleeping bag, he and Jenn are no different than any other duo in Koror. It is hard to say if any of his peers buy this, but if nothing else, we applaud the attempt.

Five minutes later, Willard becomes the first elimination from Koror, voted out 8-1. His vote goes to Katie, a woman who is looking more and more likely to be next Koror out.

“Stay strong. Stick to the plan. Finish them off.” Willard’s last words are sage. At this point, the best part of the best and worst reward challenge ever is unveiled. The Koror members switch sides of the tribal council area and watch Ulong enter the facility. At this point, the meal is revealed. Koror gets to eat stew, bread and root beer while Ulong continues to wallow in the depression of constant failure. These guys are struggling so much you would think they are running a Democratic presidential campaign.

Despite Coby’s earlier request, there is much rejoicing at the display of the food. Meanwhile, Ulong gets slapped around by Probst. Our pretty boy host notes that the group has brought everything they own in anticipation of a possible merge. Bobby Jon acknowledges that was the idea. An amused Probst relishes in their further suffering by announcing, “We’re not merging.” Stephenie shoots him the darkest look since Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. Careful, Jeff, she has a shovel at her feet and she might have seen Secret Window.

We can sum up the Tribal Council discussion in three simple words: “We hate Ibrehem.” The man defends himself by pointing out that his failure was only in one challenge and that he had been solid overall. There is validity to this, but it doesn’t seem likely to save him from certain doom.

But remember what we said earlier about a swerve coming?

It turns out that the better than best part of the reward challenge is that the winning tribe gets to pick one member of the opposing group to reward with immunity. After hearing for several minutes how much everyone is dying to vote Ibrehem off the island, the choice is clear for Koror if they want to kick Ulong while they are down. And they do! Ibrehem is awarded protection from elimination tonight (albeit in a closer than expected vote). The frustration in the other members of Ulong is as intense as has ever been seen on the show. With only four members left, everyone is forced to re-evaluate which of their remaining three counterparts deserves elimination. James is the obvious answer but lacking hours of planning and forethought, a more haphazard decision is likely.

Sure enough, James only receives one of the five votes, a source of tremendous relief to him. He all but shouts “WOOHOO!” when two of his teammates split the remaining four votes. Unexpectedly, those two selections are two of three respectable players in the tribe, Bobby Jon and Angie. A sick feeling grows in the pit of our stomach as the rules are explained for a tiebreaker. The two contestants up for elimination are not allowed to vote, meaning that only three people participate. We know how this is going to go, but we hold out hope for all of the seven seconds it takes to say “Angie” twice.

As the suicide girl hands a gift to Stephenie for the purposes of keepsake, we immediately grow angry, though we were guilty at first of what has happened here. In the end, Angie is a heavily tattooed and pierced young woman whose physical appearance belies a surprising strength of character. When her teammates had to panic and vote, they went back to the surface level and ignored her impressive determination and grit. She is one of the best immunity challenge contestants in the show’s history and showed exactly the sort of fire in her belly that the show has been so severely lacking most of the time. Burnet’s tweaking of the rules just accidentally got one of the most engaging contenders eliminated. It’s a variation on the same mistake that occurred in the Survivor: Pearl Islands season. Had there been no meddling, Ibrehem would have deservedly been executed. Instead, an injustice was done to a young woman who had earned a chance to compete much further in the game. This was an abomination.



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