Medical Evacuation Brings Drama to 'Survivor: Kaoh Rong' in 'Signed, Sealed and Delivered'

Wednesday's 'Survivor' offered harrowing drama and showcased production missteps.
Robert Voets/CBS
Medical evacuation on 'Survivor: Koah Rong'
[The following article contains spoilers for the Wednesday, March 9 episode of Survivor: Kaoh Rong.]
 
Wednesday night's Survivor made for anxious, gripping, uncomfortable TV. I was holding my breath for chunks of the first half of the episode and then swearing at my screen for the second half.
 
And that's good programming. There have been whole seasons that I wasn't as invested in as I was invested in this episode and the spirit with which I'll now be rooting against several players for the remainder of the spring should see me through to May.
 
But what happened on Wednesday's episode was dreadful for Survivor as a franchise, undermining an awful lot of what's often so great about the show and really painting production in the worst possible light. I'm sure I'll recover my enthusiasm and probably what happened on Survivor tonight isn't close to as debilitating as what The Amazing Race has done to itself this season, but it was sure ugly.
 
 
Put simply, two people went home on Wednesday and Survivor production was to blame for both evictions. I'm not going to be sanctimonious and say that what went down was some unholy outrage or anything. But it wasn't pretty. And it was still good TV. And that's tough to watch.
 
Let's start with poor Caleb, who had gone a long way to rehabilitate his image after the Beastmode Cowboy excess of Big Brother left some viewers incredulous they could find themselves rooting for the same guy out in the tropics of Cambodia.
 
On one level, Caleb was felled by coming into Survivor with virtually no body fat, lacking the small cushion that even ultra strong competitors are often smart to add before departure. But the human body is a weird thing and you can never be sure whose biology will thrive under deprivation and who will wilt. Caleb wilted, but not under casual circumstances.
 
A reward challenge in broad daylight, with no shade or water elements or even grass to deflect the sun and its reflection was already just a bad idea, but this was a spectacularly arduous task under any circumstances, with lots of obstacles and pushing around sand which I can only assume was also overheated. Had this been the first time anybody mentioned the heat this season, maybe production could see this was unavoidable, but players have been complaining non-stop, experiencing dehydration, severe sunburn and other conditions since the premiere. Knowing that, it was bad challenge design and bad planning and questionable preparation, since as the contestants struggled to find bags of balls buried in the sand, one player after another started complaining and there was just no way they were mobilized enough to handle what became an increasingly foreseeable crisis. 
 
First Debbie, aware enough of her own body, went down with heat stroke and medical was called in, but the Brains tribe had already finished the task and they had moved on to recovery. Everybody could concentrate on Debbie, both her own tribe and production. They weren't continuing to exert themselves on and on and on just for the opportunity to get some salt and pepper. Reminder: This was not a challenge about immunity. It was just about making securing some flavor for already minimal rations.
 
Caleb, taking the whole climax of the task on himself, pushed himself too far, carried Beauty to second and then went and passed out. Fixing Debbie wasn't that hard. It just required shade and pouring cold water on her to lower her body temperature, but with Caleb it was much worse. He was being covered in ice, being hooked to an IV and breathing with an oxygen mask. 
 
It was terrifying and as he was going in and out of consciousness, and then Cydney collapsed and was crying. 
 
Survivor is not equipped for three players going down on a single challenge and they were pouring water on Cydney and keeping her in the shade and all of that, but the medics had to perform triage and Caleb looked worse so he was getting the majority of the attention. The show should be thanking its lucky stars that Caleb was, indeed, the only player who needed to be choppered out. Anything could have happened as Cydney was being under-supervised and every member of the Survivor production staff was scurrying around on camera in a truly unprecedented sight.
 
Caleb, thankfully, has fully recovered and his chances of returning to Survivor in a future season are roughly 100 percent. His friendship with Tai was one of the season's most charming aspects and Tai's sadness at his friend's departure was so genuine. Assuming Tai doesn't win, I'd bring both of them back together in a future season. Survivor: Buddies Edition featuring best pairs from Survivor past? Or something.
 
One pair we won't be seeing in the future? Alecia and... anybody.
 
I said it after the premiere and I'll say it again: If you devise tribes based on arbitrary superficial criteria, but then you fail to accurately define that criteria even by any internal standards, you're putting the outlier players at a risk that makes the game fundamentally unfair for them. At Tribal Council, Jeff Probst proved that the producers had no way of justifying what Alecia was doing on a Brawn tribe. 
 
"You're on the Brawn tribe because you don't take any lip from anybody," Probst told her. 
 
No. You see, "Brawn" means something as a word. Alecia wasn't on the Spunky tribe or the Moxie tribe or the Adrenaline Junkies tribe. If she'd been on any of those tribes, I absolutely would have understood. 
 
Instead, she was put on a tribe with a bounty hunter, a body building champion, a former NBA player and that woman who beat cancer and the bug in her ear. Alecia didn't belong and from the very first day, it was made clear to her that she didn't belong and honestly her tribemates did her no favors in keeping her around in those first two tribals. She only belonged less and less each week.
 
So Brawn is out digging in the sand and Alecia is literally standing around yelling encouragement and kicking the sand around, because that's all she can do. Of course Scot Pollard is going to get condescending with her. He's a jock, a meathead. I'm not sure what she is, but not that. She wasn't able to compete with her teammates and they all had attributes that she didn't possess. She was set up to fail, she failed and then she was treated horribly by Jason and Scot, who we can now aggressively root against until the season ends. To be clear: I understand why they were annoyed with her, but they couldn't have treated her worse, so I'll support Alecia in this circumstance all the way. She failed because Survivor failed her, but Scot and Jason failed because they failed as people. And why do I suspect that we didn't even see the worst of it? Scot and Jason unloaded on her on the beach and Jeff offered them the chance to just do tribal council immediately and be done with it and Alecia refused the offer because that would be quitting. And good for her! But man, can you imagine how awful Scott and Jason probably were to her back at camp that afternoon and evening? We didn't see a second of it, but it couldn't have been good. 
 
 
I would bet we'll see Alecia again in a future season as well.
 
Survivor let both Caleb and Alecia down this week.
 
We watch Survivor because we like the strategy and competition and we also generally like a little fighting against the elements, but this episode was a reminder that even if we think we want things harder on the players, we don't want anybody dying for our entertainment. The show has always made adjustments to keep the conditions from getting so harsh that they hurt the other sides of the game and you can bet that lessons learned in this episode were implemented in the Second Chances season that followed. 
 
On to the Bottom Lines...
 
Bottom Line, I. Jeff Probst didn't apologize for the task and I doubt there was consideration to breaking the "Once you get evacuated you can't return" policy, but should there have been? I wonder. This was a player pushing too hard, but given that three people went down, it was the show pushing too hard. A little acknowledgement would have been nice. On the other hand, I liked the way Jeff treated Caleb, knowing that he never would voluntarily quit, coaching him through the realization that this was not free will and that he was being pulled from the game by the medic. I suspect Caleb's psyche needed that. 
 
Bottom Line, II. Three weeks ago, I was rooting against Debbie. Now she may be my favorite. Pushing yourself too far is admirable in its own way, but Debbie's awareness of what was happening to her and her determination not to disappoint her daughters was also powerful. Go Debbie.
 
Bottom Line, III. Why was Alecia doing that darned puzzle again anyway? We know she can't do puzzles. She knows she can't do puzzles. What the heck? 
 
Bottom Line, IV. Did Scot seriously say to Alecia, "You're trying to tell an NBA champion how to be a teammate"? Scot Pollard was on the 2008 Celtics. They did, indeed, win the NBA title. Go Celtics! Pollard played 22 games that season, starting zero. He played under eight minutes per game and averaged under two points and two rebounds per game. He didn't play in the postseason at all. Not a single second. Under normal circumstances I would never denigrate his contribution to a team I root for winning a title, but when that championship is being used to denigrate somebody else, it becomes necessary to observe exactly what Scot Pollard's contribution was to an NBA champion.
 
Maybe next week will be less harrowing...
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