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Survivor: One World, Episode 4 – ‘Bum Puzzled’ and Mind-Blown

At around 5:15 p.m. yesterday, I retreated from Twitter because I didn’t want to see any of the Survivor spoilers that had started to spring up, but before I disappeared to get a burger I saw one from Emilee Fitzpatrick, of The Real World Cancun, that read “is survivor real right now lmfao.” From someone who was on a reality show that involved fire extinguishers being launched from balconies and heralded the rise of Challenge: Battle of the Exes contestant Jasmine (a nimble and angry tornado of a person who destroys every vase or ceramic doodad in her path), this is saying something.

“Bum-Puzzled” is the kind of Survivor installment that will haunt your mind as no piece of trashy television should. I’m afraid that one day, in the dusky evening of my life, I will be on a rocking chair at Shady Pines knitting a cowl-necked thing and I will think, “Hey, remember when you saw that crazy episode of Survivor? And there was that guy named Colton who tricked a whole team of people into doing everything he said, like he was a little island despot reclining in a folding chair, and was so hateful to poor people and black people and Leif the little person? And remember how everyone else on his tribe was afraid of him because he was a bully, so even when he suggested that his team go to Tribal Council after winning immunity just because he wanted to vote off Bill the stand-up comic, they agreed with him? Wasn’t that the weirdest shit you ever saw?” And then maybe I’ll die before I get the chance to have another thought, which would be kind of disappointing, but I can live with it. It might be the only episode of Survivor I would say that about, but then again, I’ve only seen nine seasons.

The men returned to Manono in a celebratory mood after blindsiding Matt last episode. As Troy and Tarzan jawed about which of the remaining Misfit Alliance outliers to vote off next, Leif retired into a box, drawing the lid over himself. It looked like he was getting into a coffin, which is a great image for the editors to have sneaked in there, dubbed with a chilling rattle noise, as he would later be said to have dug his own grave. Poetry. Cut away to the Salani gals smacking snails with rocks to eat for breakfast because they can’t figure out how to use their fishing gear — which is totally fine! They’re totally fine with it! Jonas approaches and suggests to the women that they give their fishing net to Manono, receiving in exchange half the catch so that they could supplement their diet of shell bugs. The women decline, which leads to Troyzan wondering if Salani are a bunch of “emotional creatures who can’t think straight.” I don’t know if he meant this in a sexist/histrionics way, or if he was just referring to the fact that they’d been begging for embers and so had already proved that they were shameless.

Salani, fortified by snails, won the reward challenge by hurling coconuts at a board of targets. It can’t have helped that Tarzan cheered teammate and fellow Misfit Alliance member Jonas on by repeatedly saying, “OK, Jason! Jason, baby!” The women choose a tarp from their three reward options (the others: doughnuts and coffee, or a mattress and pillows). Hopefully this means that they’ll give up begging for embers and get less cold, because that was a pathetic chapter in their history.

Back at Manono, the men are making excuses for their loss, but Bill gives Salani credit for a fair win — to make even teams, he’d sat out the rewards challenge and had gotten a pretty good vantage point. Bill is not so heavily bro-handed in this episode as he was in the past, and starts to seem like an interesting character; maybe because of this, Leif confesses to Bill that Colton wants him out, and in exchange Bill tells Leif he’ll let him know if he finds the idol. Mike, who knows he’s a target, spies on them and reports back to Colton that Leif is sneaking around outside of his alliance. Colton, from a reclining position, evil head lolling on a pillow of country-club chin, replies that “that little munchkin [Leif] is about to get kicked back to Oz.” Hold. The. Phone. Sometimes people open their mouths on television and you just see a cloud of smell come out instead of words. I rewound four times to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating because even when reality cast members reveal their secret horrible sides, it’s never this, well, horrible. But then it was! It really happened! And it didn’t stop! “Annoying little Oompa Loompa!”

Colton summons Leif to rant about how he’s dug his grave and is officially on the outs with his alliance, and Leif — who confoundingly refuses to defend himself — admits that he “put the biggest ultimate foot in [his] mouth.” No, Leif. By the end of this episode you’ll be the only member of Manono still able to swallow un escargot because your bouche is sans pied.

Manono slaughters Salani at the immunity challenge — another embarrassing show for the women, who struggle with their puzzles so much that they crib off the men’s finished pieces and still totally choke. Jeff comments that “that barely qualified as a challenge” — weirdly, however, he didn’t stop them from cheating — and Alicia giggles in response, drawing criticism from her teammates, who so far have not snarked about her bondage-style bikini top (but there’s still time for that). It seems that Alicia might oust original target Christina as the tribal council sacrifice, but then something strange happens over at Manono. Colton, still consumed by a disturbingly strong distaste for Bill, somehow convinces the members of his tribe to give the immunity idol to Salani and go to tribal council themselves. This has never happened in all of Survivor history, because it’s totally stupid, especially because Bill isn’t particularly weak or disruptive — he just gets on Colton’s nerves because, we later learn, Colton explicitly hates stand-up comics/anybody who doesn’t have a “real job” (and non-explicitly might be racist and hate poor people). The Manono lemmings all fall under Colton’s trance, Tarzan leaping onto the bandwagon with gusto and spouting off about betrayal being unacceptable and then getting confused and braying to the entire tribe that Leif just had to go. Unfortunately, this wasn’t quite right, because Bill was actually the one that they’d agreed, in their group trance, had to go. Yeah, Jason! Win this for us, Jason! Come on, Jonathan, or whatever your name is!

Long-suffering host Probst was, well, bum-puzzled to see the men at tribal council. Was this the dumbest move ever in the game? Are you guys kidding? These questions are rhetorical, but the men justify themselves, and no, thank you, they don’t need directions to the gas station, they know exactly where they’re going. Finally Jeff turns his laser eyes on Colton and asks why Colton’s got such a problem with Bill. This is what I’m thinking about at Shady Pines: Colton has a problem with Bill because Bill sleeps on people’s sofas, because he doesn’t have a “real job,” because Bill isn’t the kind of person Colton chooses to associate with in his private-school sexually-tolerant-but-otherwise-hateful enclave in Alabama. Bill chimes in with an extremely generous and even assessment of the situation: Perhaps it’s not a racial thing, but a difference in their backgrounds that irks Colton so — because Bill was poor, and has a different outlook, and chases his dreams. Colton leaps to mention that he has plenty of black friends — plenty! — and when Jeff asks him to name one, Colton offers up … his housekeeper, who is of course like “a member of the family.” A paid member, corrects Probst. Colton reads this slightly askew and asserts that yes, they do pay her, of course — as if he thought that Jeff were asking if he had a slave, and that Colton was simply clarifying. Yikes.

Jeff asks Colton, as neutrally as possible but with a fire in his eyes like he’s going to go back to his hotel and drink a thousand cocktails and rethink his entire career, if Colton has ever been judged for being gay. This is the obvious question, since Colton has seemed to preemptively segregate himself from his macho-dude tribe from the beginning, and it seems natural to assume that this is because he thinks that they might be prejudiced against him. Colton’s response is a totally illogical stream of classist garbage: He hangs out with educated people who would never judge someone based on their sexual preferences, while avoiding those stupid and narrow-minded poor people who live in trailers and “things.” As everyone winces, passionate Tarzan raises his hand and then swings down from a tree with Jane to demand an end to the racial talk because somewhere in his confused mind he knows that he is being filmed and that his entire tribe is somehow accountable for the horrible massacre of the dialogue of this tribal council. The president is black, he cries. Everything is hopelessly off-course, but without a chance to pick their jaws up off the ground and send each other psychic messages to blindside Colton while they still can, Bill is sent packing. The world is so cruel.

Jeff closes by saying that this tribal council would “go down as one of the craziest in the history of this game.” Maybe that’s why this recap is fifty thousand words long: If Survivor had a dramaturge, he or she would have answered the question of, “Why this production, why now?” with the most pessimistic portrait of whatever now a person could ever think of. I don’t believe that this gender-segregated season is portraying some kind of slice of how the American male or American female is, but it — perhaps accidentally — challenges a lot of the assumptions we’ve made about the nature of bullying in the past couple of years. Colton, the obvious outsider, was initially a person who seemed as though he were defensively and preemptively segregating himself from his tribe because he feared that his teammates would dislike him for his sexual preferences — it now seems more likely that he’s afraid of people who are different from him, and just finds that he has more in common with the women. Colton is a typical bully: power-hungry, eye-rolling, rage-happy, and completely sure that he’s right to be so mean. It’s amazing that he’s such a strong force, so effectively manipulative, when he loafs around camp doing nothing and doesn’t even pretend to be polite. The fact that a group of grown men fear his power, that none of them pause to realize that they could expend four minutes behind a hut to snatch the power back, is really fascinating to consider. Why? They’re on an island! There are no ranks, no social structures, no currency, and no actual relationships involved. There is no logic to Colton’s empowerment. Either this is the dumbest bunch of Survivor contestants ever culled, or we’re watching an evil mastermind the likes of which makes Puck look like a great loogie-hawking presidential candidate. If Colton sticks around much longer, the things that spew from his volcanic mind will bury the Independent State of Samoa in hot racist lava, and Colton’s face will be the last thing every Survivor fan sees before they die.