"I am the monarch of all I survey;
My right there is none to dispute;
From the center all around to the sea,
I am lord of the fowl and the brute.
O Solitude! Where are the charms,
That sages have seen in thy face?
Better dwell in the midst of alarms,
Than reign in this horrible place."
-William Cowper, 1782.
Survivor is back. Jeff Probst and a group of mismatched castaways, sadly not those of Oceanic Flight 815, have been marooned on the tropical isle of Samoa, to scratch, scheme, plot, and compete for our amusement. Better they than me. Excess seems to be the keynote, as they have given us 20 contestants this time out, most of them named "Russell," a Survivor record, though whether this will mean double evictions or a longer stretch on the air, I do not know yet. I don't ever remember watching the show and thinking, "They need more castaways." More often, it was, "They need therapy."
We had a Russell on Big Brother all summer, on whom I had a tremendous crush. (Russell, call me. A great shag is waiting for you on my shag carpet.) Survivor, obviously trying to curry my favor (they tremble at my displeasure), has given us two Russells this time out, just to decrease clarity: a hot black Russell, for now known as "Black Russell," and a pudgy, psychotic white jerk to be known as "Psycho Russell." Next season, it will be "All Russells, All the Time." If your name isn't Russell, don't even bother applying, and that goes for women as well.
Always going for the scenic in settings as well as in contestants, they opened with some truly breathtaking shots of the rugged, lush beauty of Samoa, and I speak as a beautiful, rugged lush myself, particularly a waterfall that looks to drop a mile. Our contestants were first seen paddling into land in outrigger canoes. Well it's an improvement over the season where they just had them all jump overboard and swim in or drown.
They don't bother to introduce all 20 survivors at the beginning, but we got first impressions of a few. First off, "Shambo" (Her name is Shannon, but she calls herself Shambo because she admires Rambo! I already hate her, and we're not even to the opening titles yet.), a hyper-butch female ex-marine in a ridiculous mullet, who makes Clint Eastwood look effeminate. If she's not a lesbian, it's only because she terrifies real lesbians. At 45, she is "unmarried," and rides a Harley. I wonder if she rides it in a parade each June. Far from diminutive, she has taken off 70 pounds to do the show. That must be one big Harley!
No one has come out as the token gay contestant yet, so Shambo may well be it. Although the official bio for 38-year-old Dave, or "Fitness Russell," an unmarried "Fitness Instructor," has no references to women in it (Unlike Ben's and Eric's, both of which include bragging about their "womanizing"), and he has been a "Flight attendant," and has a degree in "Opera." Maybe he's the world's only straight, single, 38-year-old former-flight-attendant-turned fitness instructor with a degree in opera. Maybe.
Shambo is deep into self-delusion right off the bat. "People have gravitated to me my entire life. It's like 'Oh my God. This chick rocks. We love her.'" Shambo, kids giving you their lunch money so you won't eat them isn't popularity; and no one has ever called you a "chick" in your whole life.
Continuing the butch women theme, we also met Betsy, or "Ms. Russell," an older policewoman who is clearly nobody's fool. She knows better than to trust what people tell her, and she doesn't wear a mullet, so I already like her a lot more than Shambo.
And we met Psycho Russell, an "Oil Company Owner" from Texas, who doesn't need the million dollar prize, as he's already wealthy. Psycho Russell has been heavily hyped in the show's promotions as "The Biggest Villain in Survivor History." The odd things people choose to brag about. He's a pugnacious little bulldog, with a strong body, a large belly, and in the subcutaneous shorts he was wearing, a bulging "package." Psycho Russell was very upfront that he was there not to win the money, but to Sadistically torture everyone else, and behave as deliberately vilely as he can manage. I believe that he owns an oil company, as he makes J. R. Ewing look like Mother Theresa. As we will see, he starts right off living down to his hype. We're supposed to hate him, and by the time we saw him burning Jaison's socks, I did. (Jaison is a tremendously hot black law student, who pronounces his name either "Jaison" or "Russell.")
We met Ben, or "White Trash Russell," a Missouri bar manager who bragged: "I've shot and killed and cleaned about everything you're allowed to in Missouri, and probably a few things you're not. And I think a lot of these people are probably candy-asses." Oh, he's a charmer. Do you have to shoot people to get them to wash in Missouri? I've carefully avoided ever going there, and now that seems like a very wise move. Who isn't charmed by people who kill for fun?
They were already divided into tribes, the purple tribe, Galu, and the yellow tribe, Foa Foa, or as I will be calling them, Zsa Zsa. Jeff had them vote for a leader (No one in their right mind takes a leadership role voluntarily on Survivor; it's always a death wish.), without knowing anything about anyone beyond their appearances, which led to some hilariously stereotyped descriptions:
"Better-looking Lenex Lewis:" Black Russell, a handsome lawyer with dreadlocks and enormous pecs.
"Tall, nicely-dressed, Yale-type black man." This was Betsy's description of Jaison.
Black Russell was chosen as leader for Galu, and Mick, or "Dr. Russell," a McDreamy doctor (He's an anesthesiologist. Appropriate, because he's a knock-out!), was chosen to be the leader of Zsa Zsa. They then had to select tribe members for specific roles in the first challenge.
When asked to choose his tribe's smartest member, Black Russell chose Shambo. Russell darling, how did you get through law school? A middle-aged woman in a mullet is not "smart." Said Shambo of her intelligence: "I am smart in the ways of life [I guess "The Ways of Life" do not include fashion sense in hairstyles], but as far as book smart: dear God, please help me here." Oh great, illiterate and religious. Since the 'Smart" person had to finish the challenge by assembling a puzzle, it was no surprise that Black Russell's inexplicable choice of this idiot resulted in Galu losing the first contest of the season, although Shambo did manage to complete the puzzle by the time the episode aired.
Reward Challenge: This had four legs. The best swimmer had to swim out and retrieve a key. The strongest used the key to unlock bundles of extremely heavy logs to carry over and use as steps. The most agile had to walk up the steps and maneuver a key through a rope maze while walking a balance beam, and then the smartest had to use that key to unlock puzzle pieces to assemble a Samoan idol. In the old days on Survivor, challenges were simpler, and had some unity. Both on last season's Survivor: Tocantins, and now this one, they seem to be tossing random challenge elements together at will. Unity is a distant memory.
Jaison proved himself a hell of a swimmer. His body looks not unlike that of a black Michael Phelps, and he gave Zsa Zsa a strong early lead, with Psycho Russell's powerful strength at log-toting (something that, judging from that aggressive bulge in his pants, he has a lot of experience at) cementing that lead.
Mike, or "Chef Russell," a 62 year old "Private Chef," who should really rethink sitting about on camera shirtless, as his repulsive hairy breasts flopping halfway down his over-ample gut makes for a most unappetizing sight (The CBS website says he lost 30 pounds to do the show. My Goddess, he must have been gigantic!), told us, "Jaison, he surprised the s*%t out of me. Afro-Americans aren't known to be swimmers." Elderly fat white guys are, however, known to be racially insensitive. Was "Afro-Americans" supposed to take the bigotry out of his stereotyping? (Of course, my ghost writer and amanuensis, Little Dougie, is also an elderly, out-of-shape white guy, but he is well-known to love black men, as frequently as possible.)
Yasmin, or "Ebony Russell," a slim black woman, almost made up the lost time on the balance beam-rope maze, but Shambo still blew the puzzle assembling, and Zsa Zsa won fire. Since the other team was given fire after the next challenge, it hardly seemed worth all the effort.
At camp, Ben declared himself a "hillbilly," and took over dictating how to build their shelter. I guess "Hillbilly" is considered expert credentials for shanty shack assembling. "Leader" Mick was more than happy to let Ben paint the target on himself.
But the editors were more concerned with establishing the villainy of Psycho Russell. "I didn't come here to work. I came here to play ... My strategy is to be able to have a secret alliance with each one of these dumb girls ... I like to call it my dumb-ass girl alliance." (Does this cretin have a true friend in the world? The CBS website says he's married - poor woman - and has four kids, to whom he is teaching his appalling personal values.) He immediately trotted off with each female member of Zsa Zsa, proposing alliances, including Betsy, who is neither a "girl," nor dumb. In fairness to Psycho Russell, he referred to Betsy not as a girl, but as an "old lady." At 112, I'm an old lady. Betsy is 48. She's in the prime of life.
Nobody's fool just yet, Betsy told us, "I just have a feeling that I don't trust Russell, because he came to me too quickly in the game." She's right that players who start making alliances the first day are never to be trusted. Often players who play that hard right from the start set off alarm bells, and get voted out quickly, but given how heavily CBS has been hyping Russell, he's not going away anytime soon.
Over at Galu, an immediate conflict was established between Shambo and John, or "Space Russell," a "Rocket Scientist," something Shambo is not, over how to build their shelter. John wanted, quite reasonably, to figure out what they're doing so they do it right the first time. You know, using planning to do it intelligently. John: "In my life experience, a little bit of planning has taught me don't always be so quick to start spinning the wheels... This isn't your typical construction job... You can't ...deliver over-budget, because guess what? Your budget is coconuts."
But thinking about things doesn't sit well with all-action/no-brains Shambo. "Oh my God, these guys are f*&$#ing killing me. John is very much all-talk, no business. I think he's an engineer or somethin'. He's too technical... All he's doing is runnin' his mouth." No, what he's doing is called "Thinking." Shambo, you should try it sometime. Translated, she's saying that figuring out the best way to do something is a waste of time. Shambo is very Bush Administration. Knowing what you are doing before you do it is for wimps!
Shambo: "I think we should just act, and quit friggin' thinkin'." (Shambo is not big on pronouncing all the letters in a word. Pronouncing final Gs is for pussies!) Shambo, you have to start thinking before you can stop. No wonder we still haven't captured Osama.
We got more of the "wisdom" of Miss I'm-Not-Book-Smart: "It's crazy, because I have to constantly remind myself this is not the Marine Corp... [black] Russell as the leader; I'm struggling with it. He's not being assertive. He's not leading right now. In my opinion, he needs to open a can of Whup-Ass and lay some laws down. That's what I would have done. That would be my game plan." How unfortunate that she wasn't elected leader. Opening cans of "Whup-Ass" (You can get fresher Whup-Ass these days in vacuum-sealed plastic pouches) and laying down laws is precisely the sort of leadership that gets you voted out. How I look forward already to the day when Jeff Probst says, "Shambo, the tribe has spoken."
By the way, you recall that earlier Shambo said, "People have gravitated to me my entire life." When she gave the "Whup-Ass" monologue, she was sitting alone on the beach, while the entire rest of the tribe frolicked together in the water. Everyone avoiding her is apparently her idea of "Gravitating" to her.
Then back to Zsa Zsa, where in the night, Psycho Russell was telling the whole tribe about his horrific experiences living in New Orleans, and losing his home to Hurricane Katrina, while laughing and bragging to us that it's all a load of bull. He also told them he was a fireman, which sounds somewhat more heroic than "Oil Company Owner & Swine." He even tossed in losing his fictional doggie in the flood. There is little that is more reprehensible than exploiting the very real tragedies of others for your own petty kicks. The worst of it is his smug self-satisfaction at being an utter douchebag. Mrs. Psycho Russell, are his millions really worth being married to this piece of excrement?
"Student" Marisa (Which she insists is pronounced "Mareesa"), a member of the "Dumb-Ass Girl Alliance," on Russell's bull: "He's really been scrambling with everyone, and, um, he's been trying to get everyone's sympathy [she's starting to see through him. Good. Keep going, Marisa.] about Katrina, which is probably very true [Doh! So close. On what do you base your "probably very true" misconclusion?] ... and I'm starting to feel that he's pretty slimy." Good. Go with that.
"Pretty slimy" is an understatement. While the others slept, Psycho Russell got up, snuck out. Emptied out all the canteens, so there was no water to wake up to, and then, for no discernible reason beyond pure evil cussedness, he burned Jaison's socks in the fire. Somewhere, in an undisclosed location, even Dick Cheney is saying, "This guy is nuts, and not in a good way either."
Psycho Russell: "I plan on making it as miserable as possible for everybody... I'm really a multi-millionaire, own an oil company in Houston. I'm not here for the money. I'm only here to show people how easy it is to win this game." By endearing yourself to your tribemates by dumping out their water and burning their socks? It's a social game. You win by forming alliances, not by making yourself hated. This man is the Bush Administration personified. How long will it take for his tribe to get wise to his evil and get rid of this jerk? It took America eight years to rid ourselves of an evil Texas oil man.
When the Zsa Zsa tribe found the empty canteens, no one suspected Psycho Russell, even though he was the one grinning with joy while everyone else was upset. Clueless.
There is one ray of hope. Psycho Russell said, "Right now, I am running the whole show." Traditionally, whenever anyone, either on Survivor or Big Brother, says that they are running the show, they quickly find themselves gone. Smug overconfidence is always a ticket home.
Immunity Challenge: Ben decided to show just how devoid of class this self-labelled hillbilly really is. While Black Russell was answering Jeff Probst's question about his tribemates, Ben interrupted with the "witticism": "Jeff, I've never read that book: Things Losers Say." The whole Zsa Zsa tribe thought that was hilarious. Laugh now, geniuses, because you are the tribe who lost this particular challenge.
Eric, or "Belligerent Russell," another proudly womanizing bartender, as though Ben wasn't enough, decided he could be even crasser than Ben, "Can we start this, Jeff? Because I'm ready to open some cans of Whup-Ass." Is the Whup-Ass cannery paying for all this product placement?
The challenge was another multi-part competition involving an obstacle course, dragging a heavy crate, and assembling a puzzle. I complained at length during the last Survivor that puzzle-solving is not good TV viewing, and I stand by that judgment. Where are the getting-wet-and-covered-in-mud athletic competitions?
You know, Psycho Russell is horrible and evil, but that little pug (He's about 5'6") is hung, and insists on wearing these extremely tight shorts that prove it.
Galu took an early lead and never lost it. One has to give Psycho Russell credit. He's strong as a bull, and what little progress Zsa Zsa did make was due almost entirely to his prodigious shows of strength, but to no avail. No wonder Ben is an expert on "Things Losers Say." He was among the losers.
Old Mike (put a shirt on, Mike!), knowing how the first person voted out is usually the oldest player, instantly began trying to talk everyone into voting out one of the tribe bimbettes, and Ashley, a vacuous blond who gives her profession as "Spa Sales," was his designated target.
Mike gave this buck-up speech: "It's only like the first quarter in a seven game series." I'm no sports fan, but didn't he just swirl football and baseball together in that weirdly mixed metaphor? "I am not the physically weakest," said Mike, with the editors instantly cutting to a revolting shot of him seated shirtless, with his enormous belly hanging down over his crotch. With his easily-3-inches-in-diameter navel hanging down where it does, that man could screw himself in the belly button, unless he's hung like a Ken doll.
One almost suspects that Psycho Russell was glad to have lost immunity, as it gave him his first opportunity to destroy someone. Combine Dallas with Lost and you have Survivor: Samoa.
Marisa made a huge, fatal error. She expressed her doubts about Psycho Russell's working everyone in the tribe, which he is, to Russell, so he instantly went to work on assassinating her with the rest of Tribe Zsa Zsa. He was calling himself "The Puppet Master" (the title CBS gave this episode), and he seems to be justified, because everyone was taking him at face value. It's not that great a face, frankly. Now Jaison, his face is beautiful!
Ben showed his hillbilly-who-kills-for-pleasure class again by responding to Psycho Russell's suggestion that they vote out Marisa with, "Good, 'cause I can't stand that bitch." On his CBS website bio, Ben brags about dating multiple women, and claims to never have been turned down. Well one can see why with charm like that.
Only Betsy was resisting Russell's evil, mentioning to others that she didn't trust him. But being unable to articulate reasons for not trusting him, she got nowhere. At least she wasn't dumb enough to say it to him. Maybe Officer Betsy should investigate The Case of Jaison's Missing Socks. It was the Psycho in the library with the lead pipe. But they all have no Clue.
Tribal Council: Ah the intellects on display. Ashley's answer to a Probst probe: "It's whatever. It is what it is." Look for that one in the next edition of Bartlett's. Ashley is untroubled by Thought.
Psycho Russell's answer to Jeff's question that such a nothing answer might deserve immediate expulsion: "I don't know how to answer that question." Well honesty is obviously not an option.
Old Mike spoke this pearl: "I think tonight we all realized that this is a dog-eat-dog game, and we're all wearing Milkbone underwear." So that explains that prominent bulge in Russell's shorts. Over at Galu, they all wear Whup-Ass underwear.
For sheer inability to construct a sentence, you can't bottom Marisa. Asked by Jeff who she thought was the weakest link (Jeff, The Weakest Link has been off the air for years!), she answered: "So, um, I'm not - the weakest link is not - I mean - I'm just saying..." Say something, woman!
Psycho Russell on Marisa: "She has a very strong mind. She knows what she's talking about. She knows how to say it." You'd think that the obvious fallacy of "She knows how to say it" would tip everyone off to the fact that everything Russell is saying is a lie. Nope.
Marisa: "I would hate to go home right now. But if I did something to put a mark on my back, well then that was really dumb of me, and I need to fix it. And I can guarantee you it won't happen again." Indeed she can, because she was then voted out, 7 to 3. (Ashley picked up the three votes.)
Sorry to interrupt. Kanye West here. This is bullcrap, man! Beyonce should have been voted off the island. Her video was wack! These Tribal Councils are full of - Hey! that's my bottle of Hennessy's! Lay off! Who are you guys? What "Security"? Let go of me. Lemme go! This is bull, man...
Sorry about that. I'll beef up security on this blog.
Jeff Probst: "Hopefully, tonight's vote solved some of the dysfunction, otherwise, you're going to be seeing a lot of me at Tribal Council." Sorry Jeff, the "dysfunction" is still sitting there, bald and smug.
The preview of next week showed the survivors playing what looked like full-contact rugby in a mud pit. Now that's more like it!
Till then, Cheers darlings.
To read more of Tallulah Morehead, go to The Morehead the Merrier.
Follow Tallulah Morehead on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@DouglasMcEwan