Eyes on the Prize: Integration comes to 'Survivor'

Ceciliamansilla_cookislands_240 All of the critics who were disgusted by the idea of Survivor doing a season in which the teams were divided by race were forgetting one key fact: Mark Burnett doesn't stick with anything for very long. On Thursday (Sept. 28), less than three episodes into this latest "social experiment," Survivor reshuffled the teams into the usual random jumbles.

That means that the Great Race Experiment of Season 13 lasted only a week longer than the Great Gender and Age Experiment of Season 12. And what did it accomplish for the dynamic of the show? Without any racial slurs, obvious ignorance or blatant stereotyping, the twist resulted in the most diverse group in Survivor history, which doesn't inherently make for better TV. After spending years casting wonderfully dynamic white contestants and little else, Burnett has tribes that looks like America, but are they frustratingly full of nice, friendly, unremarkable contestants? I fear so.

How did Jeff Probst switch things up?
Integration doesn't come easy. Think of James Meredith at the University of Mississippi. Think of busing in Boston. Think of Vanilla Ice in rap. So it's no surprise that the process of mixing up the teams is woefully complicated. First, the men and women get into separate lines and everybody picks a tile from a bag. The two men (Brad and Jonathan) and two women (Parvati and Cecilia) who selected special tiles are chosen as team captains. Each captain has to select a person of the same gender, but from a different tribe, with the last person picked choosing the next person. That's how Jonathan's team ends up with Yul, Ozzy and Cowboy, Brad's team gets J.P., Nate and Adam, Parvati's team gets Jenny, Cristina, Rebecca and Stephannie, while Cecilia's team has Flicka, Sundra, Becky and Candice. Whew. Then, each captain takes a black egg. They're instructed to squish them hard and multi-colored goo spews everywhere. Blue goos merge and Red goos merge, so Parvati's team goes with Brad's in the new Raro tribe. Jonathan's team and Cecilia's team merge as the new Aitu. And, just like that, I have no idea who the heck is on what team anymore. Jeff stands to the side and looks smug. I imagine he feels like a modern day Thurgood Marshall.

Speaking of Jeff, did anybody see him on Rachael Ray this morning?
No? The dude's dimples are taking over his face. It's scary.

What's the dynamic in the new Raro clan?
Nate's just happy to be in the Raro camp, declaring "It's like they took us out of the ghetto and into Bel-Air." He doesn't continue with, "In West Philadelphia, born and raised. On the playground's where I spent most of my days" Anxious to facilitate the healing, Stephannie sits everybody down in a circle and asks them how they felt about the race-based tribes. It's the kind of thing we used to do in summer camp after Friday night dinner. The discussion is just as fruitful, since nobody has an opinion. The kids at my Jewish camp in Ontario used to be similarly ambivalent. Stephannie concludes that all wounds have been healed and says, "You really don't see color. You see the heart of the individual." And thank you for that, Mark Burnett.

What's the dynamic in the new Aitu camp?
Cecilia and Ozzy are eager to show everybody around and Flicka is happy to get away from all of the lame white folks, but really everybody just wants the opportunity to corner Candice about her new boyfriend Billy. Candice sensibly protests that Billy must have gotten the wrong idea somewhere and that she never professed her undying love for the dispatched castaway.

Parvatishallow_cookislands_240Does anybody in Raro seem to have a strategy?
Well, Parvati thinks that her key to success is flirting and anybody who witnessed her intriguing crab walk earlier must agree that that's a good decision on the model/boxer's part. Figuring she's already won Adam's heart, she begins hitting on Nate. At first it's just noticing that her pants are falling down, but when Nate comes back from scuba-diving with a gigantic octopus, she starts batting her eyelashes, gushing about the amount of meat he's providing and talking about how he could eat the whole thing himself. It's lewd, but effective.

Does anybody in Aitu has a strategy?
Becky and Candice come together immediately and determine that they should join with Jonathan and Yul in an alliance. The men agree and Jonathan suggests that they should bring in Flicka for a powerful fivesome. Flick is confused. Meanwhile, Yul is so confident in his pact with Becky that he tells her that he found the immunity idol.

What's the Immunity Challenge?
Remember the task from Survivor: Palau where the teams ran in circles with increasing amounts of weight and everybody first realized that Tom Westman was an unstoppable beast? It's the same thing, only nobody gets to show off much brute strength. Raro wins in no time at all. As part of their prize, they get to send one Aitu player to Exile Island. They pick Candice, meaning that Billy's Girlfriend can't be eliminated or vote a Tribal Council.

Uh-oh.
Yup. There goes the alliance. Suddenly, with Cao Boi advocating giving Becky the boot, Flicka becomes the swing vote.  But she's one of those hippie-dippie Survivor players who are all, "I came here to make friends and all of your talk of strategy and alliances makes my little brain hurt." She stares blankly as Cao Boi tells her which way to vote. She stares blankly as Jonathan tells her which way to vote. I want to believe that she, like Kellie Pickler, is really an evil genius. But I suspect she's just addled.

Strategic question:
Sundra is the only member of her tribe to end up in the new Aitu camp. Why does nobody mention voting her off? That would be quick and painless. Why is her presence as a swing vote never mentioned? Is that bad editing or bad in-tribe planning?

How do thing go at Tribal Council?
For reasons that are never explained, the undecided voters decide to go against Cecilia. Oh you sneaky Survivor editors with your misdirection!

Are you glad they've abandoned the race-based tribes? Have you found anybody to root for yet? And do you think Flicka's as dumb as a mule or as smart as fox?