8. Thailand (season 5) Rating: 7/10
“They’re going to hate me for saying this, but this final four of Brian, Clay, Helen, and Jan was the least likable final four ever.” Jeff Probst ranking the seasons in 2005.
“Some things never change. I didn’t like it then, I don’t like it now, and you’ll notice nobody from this season was invited back for Heroes vs. Villains.” – Jeff Probst ranking the first 19 seasons in 2010.
I think the influence from Jeff Probst’s constant hatred for this season makes anybody who disliked this season at all to hate it even more, and then others who are on the fence about the season are pressured to say they didn’t like it by a domino effect. Now that we’re in the 7s, and ultimately the top eight seasons in terms of ranking, all of these seasons hold some major memories for me that aren’t just “my mom hates stepheME” or “my sister doesn’t care for the camera whores”. Prior to Thailand, whenever I taped an episode of Survivor, they were almost always taped over with the following episode. When Thailand aired, I told my parents that I wanted to archive all of the episodes for once. I would keep this up until near the end of Nicaragua when the VCR broke and I was busy with university and some poker nights at the Sports Bar. Over sixteen seasons is a pretty good run. As you can probably figure out, since Thailand was the first season I archived, that is also the season I’ve rewatched the most. The funniest thing about the Thailand tapes is that the only episode I missed was Erin’s boot episode. So over five years later, TV Tropolis was finally re-airing Survivor Thailand. I looked it up in the schedule when episode eight was going to air, had my mom tape it while I was at school and was looking forward to watch it all day. If you’ve seen the Erin episode, you can imagine how hilarious it is that someone was excited and waited for over five years to get it on tape–maybe I intentionally taped over it after I saw it the first time when I was eleven. Wouldn’t be surprising. Anyways, enough of the anecdote. Let’s get on to the lists.
Issues I had with this season:
1) The h8erade being poured on this season by a huge percentage of Survivor fans. I always loved it, so it becomes an ongoing battle to try and defend the quality of this season. Not exactly the most fun thing to do.
2) A game our teacher made us play a few times to be dismissed a couple minutes early is used as a Survivor challenge. Thai 21 is about one step above Shuffleboard and Bowling in terms of being in the Survivor Challenge Pit of Lameness. It doesn’t translate to being terribly exciting on television. “If we take two we lose” is about as dramatic as the challenge ended up. Sorry production, but having players sit on benches except to casually stroll to grab one, two, or three flags shouldn’t be one of John Kirhoffer’s tasks to design.
3) Many of the challenges mid-to-late game aren’t physical at all as well. Counting fish, numerous puzzles, Thai 21, remember the numbers, and trivia crammed into one season hasn’t been the most thrilling of challenge rosters. There isn’t too many ’wow’ challenges in Thailand.
4) Sook Jai’s post-merge extinction is inevitable. Despite Jake leading a charge to try to shake things up, but screwing himself with some of his techniques in the process, makes for a clean sweep of Sook Jai.
5) Nobody takes up the offer of mutiny. Most fans probably don’t remember a mutiny was apart of Thailand. I’m sure for many that it only existed in the Cook Islands. If anyone in this season was a camera whore, I can guarantee you somebody would have mutinied. That’s a guarantee of an All-Star slot, which is a concept all but confirmed at this point in Survivor history. However, no real camera whores or risk takers existed in Thailand, so nobody mutinied. Luckily production was willing to try it out again in Cook Islands, and it resulted in some great entertainment. Most likely what they intended for to happen with its initial use in Thailand. Why didn’t you take it Shii Ann and Stephanie? Y’all were on the bottom of the totem pole. Should Jan have taken it? Who knows.
6) Erin’s boot episode. A very boring episode that was made of such fail. It started off with Soo Yee, and Helen’s recipes…but the recipe joke got a bit old after they were already bashing us over the head with it forty minutes later. The “us four are so close” boo-hoo fest was a bit much, too. We already have the loved ones episode for that. No need to mutate it and throw a new form of it into the episodes. The immunity challenge featured the worst endurance challenge of all-time. In fact, the challenge’s edit on television was longer than what took place during filming. If I recall, this is the only challenge in Survivor history to end up like that. You know what else? It’s the only challenge in the whole episode! Nine people left on the same beach with the boot from each tribe already known shouldn’t be limited to one challenge unless there’s some crazy events going on at camp. But other than the ’they piss in the cave’ and the aforementioned recipe bit, there’s no real conflict. I wonder if somebody who didn’t get into Survivor until the past few seasons would be able to get through this one. (If it weren’t for this episode, I would be ranking Thailand higher than eighth.)
7) The producers change the finale staple. Sure, I guess you can’t really consider it to be a staple when it’s only been the pattern for three out of four seasons, but I remember how outraged I was when they decided to go to a Challenge Medley and a new endurance challenge instead of Fallen Comrades and Hand Hard on Idol. I bet Brian doesn’t stand a chance at winning F4 immunity if it was Fallen Comrades like they’ve done every season up to Thailand. Clay or Helen would’ve won. But hey, the finale challenges aren’t even close to the worst final immunity challenges for a season of Survivor (I’m looking at you EI, Micronesia, Gabon, Nicaragua, and RI.)
8) Jan’s gameplay in the finale results in a not-so-thrilling finale. I remember from the reunion show where Jeff asks Jan why her and Helen didn’t team up on day 37 how Jan said it never came up but Helen quickly interjects saying she went to her but Jan didn’t want to do it. Jan really wasn’t fit for the endgame of Survivor, which makes for a simultaneously interesting and frustrating experience. Her forfeiting the final immunity is a prime example of that, too. In an endurance challenge on day 38 where winning gets you a million but losing gets you insta-voted out, you shouldn’t be in any condition to announce “I can’t” during the challenge. It should just be an epic slip of the coins falling into the pot. I think another reason why it was frustrating is because it seemed that Jan and Helen were too close to be voting for each other on day 37 and after the purple rock tiebreaker in Marquesas, everyone naturally assumed another tie would appear in Thailand. Who knew it would be six seasons after Marquesas for another F4 tie to take place. Speaking of which, we’ve now gone five seasons in a row without a F4 tie in present-day Survivor. And they know there ain’t no more purple rock. Guess new recruits really don’t like making fire.
Things I enjoyed about this season:
1) The cast. I know some people say it was the worst in the show’s history, but I was very pro-Chuay Gahn. To see them rally from being down 7-5 to being up 5-0 was neat to watch. Even Jake being apart of the last six in the game was good to see. Ted, Brian, Clay, Helen and Jan was a very likeable group of five for me.
2) Grindgate. Robb choking Clay. Sook Jai being beaten by a bunch of rules. Russell Hantz doesn’t need to have a foot in the attack zone when he first makes contact. Clay giving one of the best confessionals of all time that it’s even user Kimari’s quote on GameFAQs. The red berets being present for all of the conflict. Chuay Gahn earning their first immunity win. Robb’s alliance targeting early fan favourite Shii Ann is taken down at the end of the round. Episode three remains one of my favourite episodes of all time.
3) Mutiny option as opposed to a forced tribal switch. We’ve touched on this numerous times by now, but I love it when production leaves it in the hands of the contestants to embrace the twists or not. It seems much more fair that way.
4) First time production doesn’t divide the tribes themselves. They let the oldest man and the oldest woman take turns picking somebody to join their tribe (a.k.a. School Yard Pick.) Whenever I’ve hosted a ORG Survivor, I never have the tribes pre-determined. Again, I love it when production lets the players choose their own destiny. The only format that I think could have been better is if production didn’t choose who got to pick the tribes from the start. “We’re going to have the oldest man and the oldest woman…oh wow, that’s you Jake and you Jan! Production totally didn’t know how old each contestant was prior to the game. Well isn’t that something, eh?!”
5) The intro theme song is the best of the whole series. It’s one of the most unique and by far my favourite. The other intros I typically skip and head right into the episode.
6) Penny going home right after she sells out Jake the same way that Shii Ann sold out Penny and the rest of Sook Jai at the fake merge.
7) The fake merge itself. This was the first season where Survivor altered the merging day. Typically, the merge should always take place halfway through day 20 to mark the literal halfway point of the game. So of course the first time Survivor messes with it, will be the best results ever seen. Perhaps Gabon would be the only season to match Thailand in terms of the whole “Gotcha!” effect by the producers. I just picture the producers being like Genie pretending to be Aladdin near the end of Return of Jafar or the first baseman who pulls the hidden ball trick from Rookie of the Year. However, the delayed and fake merge quickly loses its effect as starting with Pearl Islands the idea of not merging on the proper day would be long forgotten and become just as much of a twist as the fake merge was in Thailand. It is also the only fake merge that has both tribes live on the same beach, which hasn’t been repeated ever since. I enjoyed the awkwardness following an immunity win knowing the people you defeated are living in the same quarters or if you lose knowing how happy the people in the same living quarters must feel. An underrated dynamic, if you ask me. And now with early merges becoming the norm, attempting this concept wouldn’t be too difficult considering they can fully merge at ten nowadays anyway.
8) The final immunity challenge is one of the most brutal. Compared to the other non-Hand Hard on Idol final immunities, Thailand’s is easily one of the best.
9) The FTC was entertaining and had some suspense to it because I was rooting for Brian and realized that ‘holy crap, Clay could actually win this thing’. In true Survivor fashion, it came down to a 4-3 vote. Also recall that there wasn’t any ridiculous Adventures of Jeff Probst scene as they did with some of the earlier seasons. No parachuting or riding on the subways or ending up on an episode of 24.
10) Jon Raymond is one of the best first boots ever. The reaction to what he thought was a hilarious practical joke with the water source is classic Survivor.
11) Robbbb’s character arc coming full circle in just six episodes.
12) Seeing as how the Spelling Bee just aired on TV, I think the idea of a spelling bee champion failing at spelling ‘road’ to win a car is great comedy.
13) Great confession givers throughout the season.
14) Not a whole lot to complain about given how many twists were thrown into this season of Survivor.
15) Robbbb entering the game of Survivor on a skateboard and Probst trying to trick them that there would be a division by gender.
Thailand and Redemption Island are almost identical. If any two seasons of Survivor can be compared as being the same, Thailand and RI would be it.
1. Purple tribe wins first two rounds.
2. Purple throws third round, but comes back to win fourth round.
3. Orange wins the rest of the challenges, and makes the purple tribe extinct after the merge.
4. The orange tribe has two strategists, two super loyal goats, and one person in between. The one strategist is first to go, the person who is in between is next to go, then the two goats go to the end. The strategist wins easily.
5. Challenges aren’t the greatest.
6. Thailand had the first ever delayed merge, while RI had the first ever rushed merge.
Why Thailand is Better Than RI Even Though They’re the Same:
1. Thailand didn’t waste a ton of time with strategy when it never really came into play. In RI, that’s all focused regardless of none essentially being present.
2. Challenges are even lamer in RI than they are in Thailand. The Thai challenges were inspired by the culture and history of the locale.
3. The goats in Thailand still had potential to beat Brian in Thailand. The goats in RI were so bad at the game of Survivor that they didn’t have a shred of ability to know how to handle jury questions. Rob never had a chance to lose the FTC.
4. The cast in Thailand was full of people who wanted to be there and all wanted to play. RI had a bunch of recruits where most of which hadn’t really seen the show and didn’t come off too likeable on-screen.
5. The winner for Thailand was playing for his first time. The winner for RI is one of the most recognized figures of reality television heading into the season, and was playing for his fourth time. When you’re rooting for the 4th time player in FTC, you know something is seriously wrong.
6. Thailand didn’t have a F3 or RI twist.
7. Thailand gave airtime to develop all of their characters in the season and made them all distinguishable with their own personalities. In RI, Rob had the highest ratio of airtime given to a player in the history of Survivor (yes that includes you Russell Hantz,) leaving the audience to assume the other people in RI had done nothing which we will never know if it was true or not. Also ensuring no other characters were developed outside of somebody who has had ten years of TV to build their own image and cement their placement in the minds of viewers.
That’s how you get to be one of the greater seasons of Survivor as opposed to being unwatchable television.