Airdate: December 20, 2001
Boot: Frank Garrison
Quote: “I can bid better with a little drink in me.” – Tom Buchanan
Rating: 6 + Tier A (5) = 11
Watching an episode of Survivor from 2001 is a pretty jarring experience 19 years later. You’ll see disturbing things you would never see on TV these days, such as:
- Good ol’ boy Big Tom taking pleasure in bathing the ladies, and everyone laughing it off
- A giddy Big Tom celebrating that he gets an extra share of ham because he pooled money with a “Jew boy”
- Frank lamenting the liberal stranglehold on American media…on CBS
- An extended, poignant solo scene of Frank staring in awe at a beautiful Kenyan sunset
Holy crap, that last one is shocking enough to make you wanna slap your mama. That’s right, even T-Bird was condoning violence against women. How did this show not fall victim to a change.org petition?
I’m not even going to get into the scene where Kim Johnson goes on an extended rant about why she hates midgets.
For all my biases towards old-school Survivor, this episode does suffer from a fairly common flaw you’d see in early seasons. Once an alliance was firmly in power, the dynamics were fairly transparent and predictable. Now, that’s probably preferable to the more recent trend of sacrificing story for suspense, but let’s be fair here: from the get-go, a large part of the appeal of Survivor was waiting to see whose torch would be snuffed each week. When the show was brand new and a national phenomenon, we could handle these stretches in which the question was merely if Kim Powers or Teresa Cooper were higher in the pecking order. However, the show still needed to create some level of tension, and the brewing narrative of Lex (temporarily) working outside the Boran alliance becomes pretty repetitive. I don’t blame the producers; it was the best weapon with which they could work. But combined with environment-inspired fatigue, the monotony made for some sluggish episodes towards the end of both The Australian Outback and Africa.
But on the flip side…this show was a lot of fun back then! And one of the greatest examples of that can be found right here in this episode, with a joyful auction packed with classic quotes, impassioned bidding wars, and not a single advantage to ruin an entertaining diversion from the game.
Minus Big Tom taking advantage of Ethan’s religious dietary restrictions.
Tom’s spirited shout of “He’s a Jew!” is rightly regarded as one of the most hysterical moments in Survivor history, but the whole auction is delightful. I’m sure I’ll say this about every auction from the show’s first decade, but it’s so baffling to me that Jeff Probst has determined the auction is “broken” when the show used to delight in the food porn of a young female contestant slowly consuming a dessert, as Kim P. does here. Kim J. holds her own auction for fried chicken and potatoes, and Big Tom gets a bargain beer when he undercuts the starting bid by 3,000 shillings.
This episode contains another long-lost Survivor staple, the storytelling challenge. Frank nearly pulls off a victory, but Lex comes through instead, and Frank does himself no favors the next morning. Brilliantly preceded by a confessional in which he softly discusses how much he appreciates “mingling” with his fellow contestants, Frank enters into a tirade about gun control that irritates literally everyone, including his pal Teresa.
Thankfully Big Tom was able to cut the tension with a joke about date rape.
As shocking as the tribe swap was in episode 5, perhaps the biggest twist in Africa arrives at the end of this episode. An emotional Teresa is, predictably, warm and tender in casting her vote against Frank–“Thank you so much for your friendship”–but the biggest sweetheart of the episode proves to be the gruff ex-Army officer, whose final words pay loving tribute to his wife and daughter for allowing him to embark on this adventure. “I give you my word of honor that down the road, I will make all your dreams come true. As your husband, as your father, and as your friend, I love you and I miss you. Thank you.”