Survivor: Amazon

Episode Nine: The Chain

By David Mumpower and Kim Hollis

This is one more smile than she did the entire run of the show.

We open at camp Jacaré with Obi Wan Rob taking aside young Matthew Skywalker and teaching him the ways of the Survivor Force. Having nebbish Rob as your spiritual advisor is like letting George Lucas write your script. Which tribe would Jar Jar Binks have been on at the start, anyway?

Rob offers Matthew the shocking revelation that some people find the prospect of being trapped on an island with a machete-stroking lunatic to be vaguely unsettling. The pearl of wisdom offered by our insecure and we assume virginal computer dude is that Matthew’s chances for survival would be greatly improved if he were to stop channeling Jason Voorhees. The fact that they even have to have this discussion might just make CBS actionable were the cast to form a class action suit.

Cue the Starsky and Hutch theme music, as Rob goes “undercover.”

The title of this week’s episode is The Chain, and the reason for this designation becomes apparent as psycho Matthew explains the concept to Ned Flanders, er, Butch. The idea is not unlike the game you played in third grade called “Pass It Down.” Rob is somehow the big kahuna at the top of this food chain who doles out his nuggets of information to Machete Man, who then follows up by dispensing these gems to Butch. By this time, the intended message of “the men are going to vote off all the women” has gotten garbled to the point that Butch has probably heard something along the lines of “sea men are known to boat off to Yemen.” But hey, nobody even remembers that Butch is playing the game at this point, anyway.

We cut back to Rob, demonstrating the charm that is winning over all of the ladies in the camp. He is pointing out his puppet mastery in excruciating detail. We’d like to offer some free advice to a man who has obviously never dated: women are not as turned on by tales of braggadocio and deceit as you might have been led to believe. “Ooh, an inveterate liar who backstabs people who trust him. How dreamy!” Hey, it works for Colin Farrell.

We’d like to take a moment to award special recognition to Rob for his bravery in proudly sporting the gay pirate look this week.

It’s time for tree mail, and Rob (who is everywhere this week) and Deena deduce that the reward must be coffee from such clever clues as “smell the aroma” and “Brazil’s most famous taste.” Way to go, guys!

When it’s revealed that the reward challenge will involve arrows, spears and blow darts, Matthew’s eyes light up like the glow of a thousand suns. While the rest of the tribe practices with the weapons, Heidi demonstrates that she is a more savvy player than you might think by waiting until every guy is looking in her direction when she loudly wonders if she has to put her whole mouth around the phallic-shaped object in order to achieve maximum blow. Rob faints off camera.

Since the rules prevent the contestants from actually using the weapons on each other, the challenge itself is deadly dull. Suffice it to say that Matthew throws the contest so people will see him as less homicidal than previously believed, and Alex wins and chooses Jenna to go have coffee and croissants with him at the Amazon Cafe (no, that’s not the same as a Starbucks at Barnes and Noble). While it might be questionable whether Alex is more attractive than Dave, it’s obvious that Jenna is hotter than Deena, so sparks definitely fly. Bonus points go to Mark Burnett for adding caffeine and sugar to the diets of people who have subsisted on rice and fish for weeks.

Speaking of Deena, we cut away from Coffee Talk to find her royal highness demanding that peasant Rob catch her some fish. She has abandoned all subtlety and no longer hides the fact that she considers herself the runaway candidate to win the whole shebang. Deena has taken to using the reward challenges to scout her opponents in the same way lions use the Serengeti to “study” zebras. She rolodexes the strongest performers so that she might inform her underlings in the chain as to how they are expected to vote. Today’s victim is challenge winner Alex. Sure, she has an alliance with Alex, but at this point, she has made enough under-the-table negotiations to qualify her for consideration as next president of the Teamsters.

When Alex and Jenna return to camp, they bring back cookies for all. There are enough cookies for each tribe member to have two apiece, so intellectual Fredo Rob inexplicably decides to risk his life by stealing Matthew and Butch’s cookies. Apparently, he figures the worst Butch can do is suspend him, forgetting that the worst thing Matthew can do would be enough to make even Hannibal Lecter flinch.

Butch and Matthew are fishing, and Butch gets his finger bitten by a piranha. Meanwhile, Rob eats their cookies.

Now that everyone is back at camp, Heidi tells Jenna about Deena’s plan to eliminate Alex despite the fact that Deena asked her to keep it secret. Even though Shawna is gone, the pretty girl alliance is steadfast and true. Jenna is infuriated, and discusses the situation with Alex, who quickly recognizes that he needs to get Rob on his side if he is to stay around for a few more days. We cut back to Rob, who gleefully notes that both Alex and Deena think they’re calling the shots. For the second season in a row, we seem to have a Robfather on our hands.

Later that evening, Heidi discovers the Kiss of the Spiderwoman, causing her knee to swell to the size of a third breast. Despite Rob making this comment, we’re sure he really loves her for her mind.

The immunity challenge clue arrives, and it seems to indicate that there may be eating involved. If you’re a fan of Fear Factor, it’s time for your favorite Survivor event of the season. The bug-eating competition that Joe Rogan has made a career of ripping off (sorry News Radio fans, it’s true) has again been pushed back to the later episodes. Since we were cooking dinner while this portion aired, we’re going to spare both you and ourselves the gory details. Suffice it to say that Christy gagged a lot, Heidi whined a lot, and we’re told Butch was there (he’s the one with the beard, right?). In the end, Deena smugly “allowed” Matthew to win by taking a dive (by which we mean not eating a disgusting, crawly, squirmy bug that, as Jeff Probst notes, “had its pinchers removed”).

Ignoring the generally silly nature of our commentary for just a moment, it is immediately apparent what a huge miscalculation throwing the challenge is. Had Deena paid more attention to both Heidi’s tone and her body language when the subject of Alex’s dismissal came up, she would have made more of an effort to prevent Matthew from winning and thus seal his fate. All remaining contestants save possibly Obi Wan Rob could have been sold on eliminating Kid Psycho. The strong bonds Jenna possesses with Alex and Heidi, on the other hand, was a missed warning sign that his elimination would be more difficult to swing.

Our thoughts are immediately confirmed when the group returns to camp and Deena smugly discusses her chances of elimination. She clearly believes she has all the power in the camp and takes Jenna aside to tell her that Alex is by far the biggest threat and that he definitely should be eliminated next. Her self-satisfied demeanor is far too apparent at this point and it is obvious to the audience that Deena has caused both Jenna and Alex to turn against her.

Because of this rift in the original alliance of Heidi, Jenna, Deena and Alex, Rob, that’s right, Rob, is back to being the center of attention because he will be a crucial swing vote if the girls decide to break rank with Deena. Since the viewer has been led to believe he controls the votes of his “chain,” those three will essentially pick between the two warring factions.

We go on to tribal council, where Jeff asks Heidi what’s up with her knee. She replies that she thinks she’ll be better in two days, and that she was worried about her performance, since this is an individual game and her two biggest assets are her athletic ability and her intelligence. Hilariously, Alex shakes his head at this moment, because he clearly considers Heidi’s assets to be primarily saline-filled. Matthew shows his clueless nature by commenting that it is nice to have immunity, but that he probably would have survived without it. Deena verifies some of our suspicions by saying that if her name comes up in the voting, it’s only because she didn’t swallow a bug.

In the end, Deena is stunned to see that her machinations have failed and that she is the next contestant to be voted off the island. Though the D.A. thought she was taking the game to another level, her miscalculations have taken her from being the landslide favorite to just another jury member (i.e. loser).