No, seriously. This was a very special "Survivor," in which fire, that totem of all castaway shows, reared up and took a casualty, and reality came to Reality TV with a hot kiss of vengeance. Mike, fisherman, pig-killer and all-around tough guy, earned his second straight Parental Guidance Warning by taking a faceful of smoke, passing out and landing hands-first in civilization's oldest friend.
There would be no immunity challenge. This time, Darwin needed no help from the tribe.
Week 6 needed the drama. For 40 minutes, with "Survivor" watchers having tuned in for blood, the most savage thing we saw was Jerri's sex drive, not so neatly sublimated into a raw and anguished craving for chocolate. Chocolate in bars, chocolate in mint-filled patties, chocolate poured over "some hot guy's bod" in a very vocal fantasy that would have been titillating were it not for the sight of Jerri's lupine countenance. (Colby's response: "I may be a lot of things, but I ain't no Hershey bar.") Before our eyes, Queen Jerri turned into a Dorian Gray of all-purpose hunger as Ogakor squabbled over fried green tomatoes and fish with flies on it.
Amber's no gem
The reward challenge? Jerri and Nick barking orders from lifeguard chairs to blindfolded teammates charged with a variety of inane tasks. It ended in hidden tears, as Amber big surprise blanked out in the clutch and stumbled around while Kucha walked away with the product-placement picnic.
Grab Amber! Grab Amber! Would it be the vacant one, punished for her lapse by tribemates who would have eaten Probst-burgers if they could decide who got to cook? Would it be Jerri, who's starting to get on Tina's nerves, or Tina, who's really starting to get on mine? Colby was turning cranky, and Kucha, growing fat on chicken-feed popcorn, was ripe for a surprise unraveling. Doritos and Mountain Dew could have made for a dangerous catalyst.
But the tribe formerly known as the Catty People turned all gooey at the sight of Mike and his Promethean paws. Elisabeth wept, Jeff was about to puke like a rookie cop at a crime scene, and even Alicia managed to look concerned at her rival for head alpha male. Maybe it was the raw tragedy of it all, maybe it was the sight of Mike screaming for drugs like a woman in labor. ("Shots drugs pain I can take it I'll take whatever you give me!") Maybe it was just that they'd gotten really excited about the prospect of heading into the Week 7 merger with a 6-to-4 advantage over their scraggly opponents.
OK. It probably hurt. A lot. But for the thoroughly jaded and a weekly reviewing gig will do it to you, trust me the real thrill of The Incident was watching Mike melt, watching the lepered change his spots. He'd been cleverly set up by the CBS editors, talking all episode about the thrill of the game. He even gave up a money line, heavy on the irony "I'm a changed man already after 16 days. If I last another 16 days who knows what's gonna happen to me."
He didn't, and when he went down in flames, Ahnold turned into Debra Winger, with plenty of help, one presumes, from a big green anesthesia spliff. "Koochaa!" he wailed. "Brave beautiful people who I have grown to love so much...I can't see Rodger..."
The tinkly music played, the fallen hero went out horizontal, like in the bad action movies, and the helicopter took him away, over the trees, taking all hopes of a Tribal Council with it. And at the end, Kucha prayed solemnly over the fish Mike caught.
And then CBS ruined it all by showing us Mike's very chipper parting words, hands below the camera. And right on time for a new and exciting episode of "CSI."
This may have been reality, but TV's best lead-in still had a job to do.