6:57pm PT by Daniel Fienberg
'Survivor: Kaoh Rong' Merge Brings New Alliances and Gross Infections
[The following article contains spoilers for the Wednesday, March 30 episode of Survivor: Kaoh Rong.]
In childhood, I was always partial to the escalating joke construction that began with "What's gross?" and followed with a string of "What's grosser than that?" toppers, progressing from "A dead baby in a garbage can" and culminating with "He comes back for seconds."
Survivor: Kaoh Rong staged one of those jokes on Wednesday night in an episode I was truly glad to have watched on a computer-sized screen in SD, rather than on my large TV in HD.
Of course, the season worked backwards, joke-wise. Jenny's earworm in the premiere was, as I've said before, the grossest and most disturbing moment in Survivor history and nothing will ever top that. It's the "He comes back for seconds" of the Survivor season.
Wednesday's Survivor was a progressive joke structure on its own. The episode began with early-morning footage of Neal pointing to a presumably nasty sore somewhere that we barely saw. Then, at the immunity challenge, Jeff Probst instigated conversation about various people's infections and we got a brief glimpse at the pus-filled wound dubbed Mount Saint Neal, while also spotting the healing sores on the inside of Tai's thighs (say that 10 times fast) and not-hugely-savory sore inside Aubry's leg. The audience may have emitted a Summer Roberts-style "Ew" or two, but it wasn't bad.
But then Wednesday's episode culminated with Probst and Doctor Rupert coming out to perform examinations. Here, with an eager Rupert and an admiring Jeff leading the way, the camera guy made sure that he was getting close-ups on everything. Whatever the appropriate length of time to stare at the glistening, gaping crater of Mount Saint Neal is, we exceeded it. Rupert also spend a long time squeezing and poking the thing inside Aubry's thigh, a protuberance that resembled nothing so much as the main character in the Pixar short Lava.
Tai's thighs were actually healing well. Scot's leg thing was infected, but it wasn't deemed troublesome, yet. Aubry was given the choice between lancing and antibiotics and she chose antibiotics, which I'm not sure I necessarily remembered was a Survivor option.
Neal? He had problems. After showing off Mount Saint Neal, he then turned around to point out the awful, blackening thing on his back, which easily topped the episode's list of grossest things. But if House has taught us anything, it's that the thing that looks nastiest is rarely the thing most likely to mess you up. Doctor Rupert was fine with the Kuato from Total Recall taking up residence on Neal's back, but he wasn't happy with the potential that an infection from Mount Saint Neal would spread into his joints and impact him permanently.
Neal wasn't given any choices and was pulled from the game, in tears. Sharing Neal's tears was Aubry, who didn't get to hug Neal long enough for him to transmit his idol to her. It was a reasonably sure thing that Aubry was going to be voted out at the upcoming tribal and there was a good chance that Neal was going to throw away his idol protect himself, since we got no indication that the Brains alliance knew both that the Beauty group was going with Brawn or that they were targeting Aubry. Of course, at tribal council, anything could have happened and Scot or Jason could have blown the plan and things might have changed.
We'll never know. Farewell Neal and your idol.
Way to upstage the merge, Survivor.
It was a good merge episode, full of strategy and alliance realignment and the potential for momentum-turning flips and idol-driven shocks. For at least one week, Nick got to look like the mastermind, luring the Brains into thinking he was with him, getting drunk Jason and Scot to spill strategy and the information about both non-Neal idols and letting himself think he was directing Michele. In turn, this episode eliminated any perception of Debbie as a mastermind, as she overplayed her hand with almost everybody, particularly a hilarious bit of attempted Godfathering with Tai.
But mostly ...
Lots of gross things happen to people playing Survivor.
Some Bottom Lines ...
Bottom Line, I. Probst asking about people's well-being at the immunity felt very much like as close as we're going to get to a mea culpa for Survivor nearly killing three players earlier in the season. I don't know when it's the game's responsibility to notice that players are talking amongst themselves about infections and to step in. Was there a point at which Neal could have just gotten Mount Saint Neal looked at, taken an antibiotic and been both healthy and remained in the game? Does he take the blame for not mentioning the wound earlier? Do the producers deserve the blame for not stepping in? When are producers supposed to step in? Would Neal have been OK if he'd been on the same tribe as Peter post-shuffle and if he'd had an in-game doctor to help? I don't know the answers here. As we saw tonight, gross stuff is a way of life in Survivor. Do the doctors step on on "gross"? Do they wait for "grosser than gross"? Or does it have to reach a medically critical tipping point? Does somebody have to basically admit, "I can't do it anymore"? And if Neal wasn't willing to admit that on his own, why is it the game's responsibility to step in if what's wrong with him isn't life-threatening? Like if Neal says, "I can deal with a potential permanent limp for my chance at the million," why can't the doctors say, "Well, you aren't going to die, so OK." And would Neal really say that in a Top 11 situation? I'm not sure I would, especially a minority position in a Top 11 situation. But at a Top 5 or a Top 3? Sure, I'd take a limp for a million bucks. I guess.
Bottom Line, II. Was Nick's presumptive play the correct one here? Knowing what individual immunity challenges look like usually, are you playing smart to team with strong people and pick off weak players? Or are you smarter thinking that going as long as possible with Debbie, Aubry and Joe is good for business? Or would it be wise to think that Scot and Jason, while probably strong, really aren't well designed for the kind of endurance/balance/concentration tasks that immunity usually hinges on? To me, Nick and Tai, the last two players standing in this week's immunity, are also the players best suited for future immunities. I wouldn't count on Scot or Jason winning anything. So are they both goats? Nobody's giving Scot the million because Scot made many millions. Nobody's giving Jason a million, because Jason's gross. Or are a lot of these players actually fairly limited and Nick may have the best available mixture of strength and brains? It may be that. I still want him to make it a long way and for Michele to blindside him.
Bottom Line, III. We came into the Merge with Beauty and Brains each sporting four players and Brawn only with three, but somehow Scot, Cydney and Jason were never really targets, even as a short-term minority. They were never any less than cocky. I don't acknowledge Jason's nonsense about swaying Beauty because, "They're at the dance with us and we're just shoving geeks in lockers right now." That's because Jason sucks. But it might have been nice if Michele would have bucked that conventional wisdom.
Bottom Line, IV. Jeff Probst's love of saying "balls" is the stuff of Survivor legend, but tonight's immunity was just pure trolling, with the players balancing balls on discs. His best moments were definitely "Tai's balls banging into each other, never good" and "His balls dancing all over the place."
Bottom Line, V. Poor Debbie. Started awful. Seemed to get awesome. Went back to awful this week. Just going around to one person after another and announcing "We're in an alliance" isn't good strategy and the morning thing with Tai was especially bad. He kept not committing and she kept saying, "You're with us" and he kept not committing. We'll see in the weeks to come if Debbie, such a fan of going on offense, is capable of going on defense.
Bottom Line, VI. Do we know who brought the shamrock Care Bear?
That's it for this week ...