We’re down to two. Is it Africa or Pearl Islands? Which season doesn’t stand above the rest? Without further ado, it’s…
2. Africa (season 3) Rating: 8.75/10
I have rarely watched it. It was one of only five seasons that I don’t have on tape. Approximately seven years between the initial airing and when I was able to re-watch it. With the exception of two episodes from the middle of the season which are EXTREMELY fuzzy and are only clear when the tape is on Fast Forward. So I don’t really count that.
I think the reason why Africa has suddenly been given a boost in the ratings is because of the domino effect. What I mean by that is when somebody well respected in the Survivor community bashes on a particular season, then it’s no longer cool to like that season to fit in the forums and overall water cooler talk about Survivor. Fiji is a prime example of this. Then when somebody at the top of the community changes their opinion about the season, then everyone drastically changes their minds as well and follows suit.
Obviously I don’t cave into this because Africa, Thailand, and Fiji made my top eight. So why did Africa go from one of the most hated to suddenly marked as most underrated in a matter of a couple years?
Believe it or not, I think several factors went into a turnaround by critics in regards to Africa.
a) Ethan got cancer. It’s tough for anyone to bash a season when its winner is within sights of being an arm’s length away from death. Although by this logic, Murder In Small Town X should have had a green light for a second season. >_> If only they re-worked the show a little and gave it another chance.
By the way, if you saw Murder In Small Town X when it first aired (I think I was nine,) then give yourself a pat on the back. You are officially branded as a reality television geek.
b) After several years of mactors littering the Survivor casts, it’s nice to think about a season where there was relatively few of them, and the few who were there were toast well before the climax of the game. You’re not getting much mactor macterial with a retired school teacher, a middle-aged goat farmer, and a tattoo and piercing enthusiast in the finale.
Fun Fact: The only Survivor to visit my town is Big Tom.
Other Fun Fact: This is by far my sister’s favourite season because the people all seemed ‘real’ and the fact that Ethan won.
Things I didn’t like about Africa:
1) The undeserved hate it received for several years.
2) Brandon not switching. I was a fan of former Samburu, and when Lex was in their sights, all that needed to happen was for Samburu + Kelly to stick together and they’d have the game. Perhaps the most unlikely combination of an alliance in Survivor history. Africa would have been given credit as the first season where the people on the bottom formed a coup and took down the people on top. Instead, thanks to Brandon’s not-so-brilliant move, Africa wouldn’t establish that feat and we would have to wait until Marquesas to get that honour. Plus I wanted Lex gone over Kelly at that point. After ten years, seeing Brandon cast that vote for Kelly still makes me roll my eyes whenever I see it. So close, Samburu. So close.
3) Lex doing well. I and others in my household weren’t big Lex fans, so to see him skate by so easily to day 38 wasn’t my first choice for how far he gets in the game. I admire how strong of a player he is, but my opinion through watching him play in Africa and seeing him play in All-Stars didn’t change at all.
4) I guess we could’ve had ONE water challenge. Although you could say the challenge of avoiding elephant dung in the oasis is a challenge in itself. Did you see that part of the episode? That pile was HUGE. Gillian would orgasm.
5) Kim Johnson — playing for the win or playing for someone else to win? It’s a storyline simultaneously of frustration and intrigue. But mostly frustration. Teresa goes to her in the final stages of the game and says ‘hey, if you flop, you have a much better chance of winning. Lex, Ethan, and Tom won’t take you. You’ll be fourth. Come with me and you’ll be in Final Three or even Final Two.’
How does the extra from a Sisqo music video respond? She declines the offer, and ACKNOWLEDGES she’ll be fourth and she’ll be okay with that. Jan Gentry and virtually half the cast in Redemption Island has done that. Sure, it’s interesting where someone will draw their line in the sand for a million bucks, but you don’t want 1/16th of your cast saying they’re okay with not being number one.
And what happens? Kim Johnson wins the last two immunities and sure enough, realizes she loses no matter which of Lex, Ethan, or Tom that she’s up against. So not only was she at the bottom of the totem pole, but even with pulling out her only two challenge wins of the season she still ends up in a lose-lose situation.
Congratulations Kim, you turned down the possibility of the first dominant all-female alliance in Survivor history that would’ve been a shoe-in for spots in All Stars.
6) Teresa is awesome. Watch Africa and I’m sure you’ll agree she is one of the top five, or at the very least, one of the top ten most underrated players of all-time. I think whoever disagrees is likely sexist. The reason why it’s a negative is because we will never hear from Teresa in Survivor again despite probably being the best female strategist besides Tina from the first three seasons.
7) Clarence’s incident with the chicken laying an egg isn’t higher on The Funny 115 as a result of people complaining about it. C’mon, it’s one of the funniest moments in Survivor history!
8) Fallen Comrades. I don’t think I have to say anything more if you already know about the incident. One of the biggest production fails in Survivor’s 22-season run. Unlike terrible twists, this was a challenge that was unfair because it wasn’t set up properly in the first place. It favoured Kim, but could’ve been what prevented Lex or Tom to becoming a millionaire. Did the person in charge of the question simply go through eleven of the other twelve names for who potentially had pierced ears and said ‘you know what, that should be good enough. Imma go lie down.’
I have a feeling the person in charge of that was fired.
BURNETT: I said I wanted you to find out who had pierced ears!
INTERN: Oh, I thought you said mirrored ears. My bad.
BURNETT: I wish I could fire you publicly, love. Sort of an extravagant moment. I would call you up to some top suite with a camera crew and do some preamble while everyone waits for me to say ‘YOU’RE FIRED!’…. This gives me an idea.
9) Silas being in power. I don’t care if the storyline was around for only two and a half episodes. That’s more than enough of Chip being the top dog.
10) The first twist. It was so innocent. I can only imagine how they discussed this at a production meeting in ’01.
INTERN: Okay guys, hear me out…Get ready. Deep breaths. I am going to say something that will blow your mind.
(Producers inhale….then exhale.)
INTERN: What if, and I mean WHAT IF, on day 13, we get each tribe to choose three people to meet Probst. Once they get here, now get ready for this…WE SWITCH THEM! WE ROYALLY SWITCH THE GAME UP ON THEIR ASSES!
PROBST: Are you crazy?! The game needs to be pure. If you want this twist, then you’re not a true fan of Survivor.
BURNETT: Bloody brilliant, mate! Let’s do that.
PROBST: Okay, but let’s not do anything beyond that. It’s just nuts. SWITCHING people for two rounds before the merge? If this doesn’t work out, I’m going to tell everyone it was all your idea Burnett and I wasn’t too happy with it.
BURNETT: We’ve signed Colby over to you. You have full custody.
PROBST: Didn’t I say I love this twist?
***FIVE YEARS LATER***
Production Meeting in ’06:
NEW PRODUCER: Hey, do you guys mind if I pitched an idea for season twelve?
EVERYONE ELSE: ……
BURNETT: Sure, why not, love.
NEW PRODUCER: I suggest we all take a deep breathe before I announce what I have to say.
EVERYONE ELSE: …………..
(NEW PRODUCER looks around at everyone with anxious smiles. PROBST is trying to create a swan out of origami. BURNETT is doodling a paramilitary soldier on a legal note pad. STANLEY is doing a crossword puzzle. OSCAR and KEVIN are playing paper football in accounting. ANGELA is making the Lil face at them.)
NEW PRODUCER: Alright, looks like you’re all ears.
BURNETT (mumbled): Not pierced, I hope, love.
NEW PRODUCER: Uhhh, right. Okay, day one…we do the same start as we did in Borneo!
(No one looks up.)
NEW PRODUCER: And we split them into four tribes!
PROBST: Already been done. Casaya. Viveros. Bayoneta. La Mina. Keep going.
NEW PRODUCER: We have this item hidden where the person who finds it can skip all tasks and go directly to the pit stop.
PRODUCER: That’s the fast forward. Already been done.
NEW PRODUCEER: Or the hidden item makes the person invulnerable until the final three.
PROBST: Been there. We’re doing that again. Worked out well last season. Four tribes, idol, that’ll make for a boring season.
NEW PRODUCER: We expand the cast to twenty people.
PROBST: We did that in Palau.
NEW PRODUCER: We have a place where each round one of the players is sent to and spends several days, get this…ALONE. Nothing there on the island except the idol.
PROBST: We did that all last season. Good luck getting people to tune in if that’s all you got. If you’re not expanding your mind, then you’re not a real Survivor fan.
NEW PRODUCER: We dissolve the four tribes into two completely re-shuffled tribes for an early switch.
PROBST: Done that too. Look guys, I made a swan!
(Everyone looks up, smiles, and claps.)
NEW PRODUCER (talking over the clapping): We give them the opportunity to mutiny too!
PROBST: Never done that before. Intriguing.
NEW PRODUCER: We delay the merge until there’s only six eliminations left too.
PROBST (yelling over the claps and KEVIN examining the swan): We’ve never done that before either. Now you’re thinking like a good producer.
NEW PRODUCER: We have not one but two double Tribal Councils!
PROBST (yelling louder): YES! You’re on a roll.
NEW PRODUCER: AND THE IDOL ALLOWS THE PERSON HOLDING IT TO GET TO DAY THIRTY-NINE!
PROBST (without acknowledging KEVIN is throwing the origami at his head): I THOUGHT YOU SAID IT’S ONLY GOOD UNTIL YOU HIT FINAL THREE?!
NEW PRODUCER: THAT’S THE BEST PART! BECAUSE WE’RE GOING TO EXPAND THE JURY TO NINE PEOPLE AND….
PROBST: YOU’RE DOING GREAT! SPILL!!!!
NEW PRODUCER: WE HAVE A FINAL THREE ON DAY 39 AND ALL THREE GET TO MAKE THEIR CASE IN FRONT OF THE JURY FOR A MILLION BUCKS!
PROBST: YESSSSSSS!!!!!!! WE’VE GOT A MILDLY INTERESTING SURVIVOR SEASON!!!!!!!!!
(PROBST completes Robgasm.)
BURNETT (looks up): Eh, guess it’ll work.
NEW PRODUCER: Did I mention the four tribes are divided by race?
Never has a slope been so slippery. I would go to their production meeting in ’10, but it’s truly depressing to write about.
Things I liked about Africa:
1) As I mentioned earlier, Big Tom visited my town. It’s not everyday you find out a Survivor contestant acknowledges a town in British Columbia outside of Vancouver and Victoria. If I said was there to get Big Tom’s autograph though, I’d be lying. It’d be like saying that I caught a Ken Griffey Jr. foul ball at the Kingdome when really it landed two rows in front of me. Just not the same.
If I did get his autograph, I’m sure this is how it would’ve happened:
LOGAN: Guys, I just got Big Tom’s autograph!
FRIEND: Uhhhh, sure you did. There’s just an X signed on here. You really need to do better than that, Logan.
Okay, okay. That’s just offensive. Here’s how it actually would’ve happened:
LOGAN: Guys, I just got Big Tom’s autograph!
FRIEND: No way. All I see here is ‘Keep Hope Alive — MLK’ accompanied by the entire IMDb cast list of Dennis Haysbert’s rebound TV show The Unit. Yep. Holy crap, how did you squeeze the lighting and sound crews on here too?!
LOGAN: Curse you, Big Tom!
2) Final Two as opposed to Final Three.
3) The first season to have a twist is very mild by today’s Survivor standards. In addition, the tribal swap happened at the appropriate time pre-merge. In a 16 person season, the switch should always be two-thirds into the pre-merge phase. Good on you, Africa.
4) The locale is AMAZING. Survivor hadn’t been to a better Survivor locale before, and hasn’t been to a more unique and epic one since. You don’t need bikinis or the façade of a resort to cover up you won’t have any water challenges for that season.
5) Survivor means Survivor. No other season has it where you force two players to stay up all night to watch for wild animals entering your camp/fence. No other season makes you take pills for 6 months-2 years straight because of the harshness of the conditions. It’s not a case of being given a full set of tools by Lenscrafters to create the best dang shelter ever, scoring flint by the end of the first three days, already awarded rice with the additional opportunity to catch fish. Not to mention they didn’t have a reward nearly every round that involved getting hammocks, chairs, a ton of food, and equipment to catch additional food. The temperatures probably haven’t reached as high as they did in Africa/Kenya on a consistent basis.
6) The above survival aspect didn’t interfere with the strategy. It co-existed extremely well.
7) The season with the best tiebreaker format. Past votes, and if past votes are tied, then the tied contestants go to a survival trivia quiz. I find it ludicrous that Survivor wished to abandon this format.
Ever since season five, the format is that if there’s a deadlock before the Final Four, then the persons involved in the deadlock are safe and whoever else possesses immunity, then the remaining players draw rocks. If it goes to Final Four, however, then it’s fire making. Part of me wants a pre-Final Four deadlock to occur while Survivor continues with their ridiculously dumb Redemption Island twist so the tiebreaker format will be amended once Redemption Island is given the axe.
8) The first, and perhaps the only, time where Survivor contestants throw a challenge at the correct time. You do it AFTER a switch, and you oust the one guy who will plot against everyone in your tribe as well as being the biggest physical threat. For some reason future Survivor contestants would interpret it as ‘Just get rid of the dang big guy when he annoys the crap out of you’. Ninety-nine percent of the time, you should never be in a situation where throwing a challenge is even an option. Although the person who should’ve never gone along with throwing the challenge was Clarence. He bumped himself up to the top of the pecking order once Silas was removed. It’s the difference between making jury and not making jury, good sir.
10) Clarence ate ALL the beans. Probably one of the best season premieres ever. Clarence’s road in the game was one of the funniest storylines. He was like a little kid getting his hand caught in the beet jar. Big Tom’s strategy of shooting Clarence a warning shot after every round should’ve screamed to Clarence that Boran isn’t the place for him, but miraculously, these warning shots didn’t affect Boran having control at all. Nowadays, I’m sure a player doing what Big Tom did would be suicide. You don’t make somebody you want on your side, even on a temporary basis, to make him sweat through every Tribal Council. But because Big Tom gets away with it, it adds to the hilarity of Clarence’s road in the game. He eats a huge percentage of the tribe’s rations without permission then he whines about wanting to eat a chicken THAT’S LAYING EGGS. Clarence’s charm is the only reason why he gets to round seven, otherwise the tribe would’ve thrown the challenge in episode five to get rid of him instead of Chip.
11) Silas Chip’s downfall. He goes from being well-liked, to being the loveable guy who chose the young guns to oust Carl, then he switches to being the original Coach by getting everyone to take a knee and asking the people he screwed over to help him win the game. He follows it up with being switched and his only two enemies in the game asking the three Boran members to throw a challenge and oust Silas. All in the first five episodes of the season. It’s hilarious to think how close Brandon, Lindsay, Kim P, and Silas were to being the Final Four of this game. Of course, this would’ve only happened if there wasn’t a switch and they didn’t lose the last two immunities. I’m sure it doesn’t take a genius on Boran in a 5-5 situation to realize Silas or Lindsay got some votes thrown their way.
One of the best pre-merge stories ever.
12) Frank Garrison. Ninety-nine percent of people with the beliefs of Frank would annoy the crap out of me. But I think Frank’s journey in Africa is one of the most well-rounded in Survivor history. He carries the same type of aura that Sean Rector did in Marquesas. You keep going back-and-forth between hating the guy’s guts for the things he says, but then he gives hilarious and great confessionals, and being endearing to those around him.
Part of me wants to see Frank in the present era of Survivor where mactors are in abundance. He only had to spend time with four or five of them in Africa. Just play your mind through what it would be like for having at least the majority of both tribes to be mactors. Why, Frank would quit or ask to be voted out after three days.
The scene with the elephant and the other scene with the Wagner family reunion invitation was one of the greatest moments ever. Only to be topped by my FAVOURITE ALL-TIME SURVIVOR MOMENT….
BRANDON: I’ve never had a threesome.
EVERYONE ELSE: Wooooooooooo.
ETHAN: I’ve never given a reach around to a spider monkey.
EVERYONE ELSE: Woooooooo.
TERESA: I’ve never NOT had sex on an airplane.
EVERYONE ELSE: Woooooooooooo.
FRANK: I’ve never broken the honour of a handshake.
(Amanda Kimmel clap commences.)
13) Ethan Zorn. Wait, what’d Gumbel say? I heard Wayne Brady made him look like Malcolm X.
14) Frank and Brandon together. Whether it be running obstacles together, sharing intimate time together at the movies, or being voted into the jury house back-to-back, you know it’s always a good time with F ‘n’ B.
15) Kim Johnson being in a Sisqo music video and Big Tom cramming a feather into his butt like a third grader stuffs a basketball down his pants in gym class only graces our television screen for 1.3 seconds of the season.
BIG TOM: He can’t eat it because he’s crazy! No wait, it’s because he’s a Jew!
PROBST (laughing): Wait, Big Tom, did you say something that myself and everyone else here actually understood for once?
BIG TOM: Ree ree roo fire at will roo whatdaya think I want with Rupert and Jenna roo ree roo hyena licking a behind roo ree roo yodel roo ree ree roo there’s a tick on Lindsay’s hiney and I hit it with my goat farm hand ree rooo reeee rooo yoo don’t be stupid, stupid roo reeeeee rooo ulllllllll yooooooo if you can live with it I can live with it ree roo reeeeeeee I ain’t done diddily.
PROBST: Crap, he’s gone back into 150-200% Zbaknik-Backwoods hick-speak.
17) The best individual rewards. Ever. Virtually every reward of the past ten seasons are boring as crap. If you go back and watch Africa, the quality of rewards absolutely skyrockets and would topple the past ten to fifteen rewards combined.
Being in a hot air balloon and seeing wildebeast chases? Big Tom getting drunk? The lion hunts down a wildebeast is a classic. The lamest individual reward of all, the Out of Africa viewing, ends up with the most unlikely pair at that point and perhaps in the entire history of Survivor. We also get an exceptional day of Ethan, Lex, and (R.I.P.) Goat and Ethan being in solitary confinement. Then to top it all off Lex and Probst spend a day handing out essential supplies for kids in a village.
Oh, and three days after Lex and the producers do an act of goodwill by handing out supplies to an extremely poor area…Lex wins an extravagant new SUV. I’ve always thought that was a humorous dichotomy to have during the show. Going from handing out bare essentials to a gas-guzzling top-of-the-line SUV being handed out.
18) The rogue vote by Teresa against Lex so she could keep her word to Clarence when he goes out the door. It was anonymous. Lex assumed it was Kelly, and nine times out of ten, this terrible act of judgment should cost you the game, and most likely in the very same round. If you look at what needed to happen for the move to not backfire on Lex, it’s pretty impressive he lasts as long as he did. The best part about it is that he only finds out who did it until Teresa had zero options left in the game. She framed it by coming clean, but really it was to get herself past day 36 in the game. As I said before, Teresa is one of the most underrated devious Survivor players out there. Although Lex’s poor judgment in who he can trust wouldn’t make him pay the price in Africa (Anderson Cooper from season one of The Mole just flashed in my mind when I typed that), he would have to wait 2 ½ years for his next act of poor judgment to be announced for the world to see and bear its consequences in All Stars. Nothing like a storyline that runs multiple seasons.
19) Freakin’ hilarious season all around. I didn’t even make any Mother Africa references yet. Maybe the whole cast had a really good sense of humour and that nobody took the game personally, but the only change I could make for hilarity without using a hugely popular character is perhaps switch out Doctor Carl for Brandon Bellinger or Judd or Jamie Newton. Then we’d be in a great position for a clear cut most underrated season of all-time.
20) Nobody in the cast bugs me. When the biggest complaint is Lex for a first time, you know things aren’t bad at all. It wouldn’t be until All Stars when Lex and Big Tom would turn into being annoying and frustrating as opposed to loveable or villainous or a fan favourite.
21) You’re in a gigantic field. Few trees. Virtually no water. Desert climate. A couple hills. And that’s it. Yet Africa ends up with perhaps the greatest challenge catalogue for a season without water. Production definitely put their creative juices together and came up with some neat and inspired challenges.
“Hey guys, you remember the guy who drove us in here on your first day, right?”
“Charlie, please puncture this cow so we can all drink the blood from it.”
“We found this boulder that was used as a prop in The Flintstones. How about Kim Johnson gets trampled by it and you roll it uphill, downhill, and around checkpoints? That shouldn’t be too exhausting.”
“Here’s this big cart we found from The Oregon Trail. Take it up this steep rock face. Did I mention it’s uneven and if you hang onto the bar, you’ll get more points for the moves you’ll do than a Chinese Olympian on the parallel bars? Good luck!”
Add that with creating a hut, memorizing objects that production would’ve picked up around camp, transporting goats, Hacky Sack catapult, debut of the Arm Torture challenge, and the beloved Hand On Hard Idol, and you’ve got a REALLY good challenge catalogue. Frankly, the challenges are of top notch quality that the absence of water challenges isn’t noticeable as you progress through the season. Unlike Nicaragua and Redemption Island where their shared tiny pool screams ‘We want water challenges and this kid’s pool is the best place for them to swim in’ or you’re left watching them count 1-100, do a tiny puzzle, and do more balancing endurance challenges than actual endurance challenges. Plus they have to dig deep or something like that. And a bunch of puzzles over and over again.
22) Ethan wins. In the entire twenty-two seasons of Survivor, I can’t think of a winner that was less devious, conniving, or as well-liked as Ethan Zohn. Sometimes seeing the nice guy win Survivor is what can turn a good season into a great season, and Ethan definitely fits that criteria. If Lex or Kim Johnson win, I’m sure Africa ends up being a lot less glamorous.
Just look at the two winners that came before Ethan: Richard Hatch, who was one of the most hated winners ever at the time that he won for his straight up conniving game, and Tina, who is probably one of the greatest early Survivor era manipulators ever. Then we transition away from those two into Ethan? There probably hasn’t been a more drastic leap in winners other than perhaps Fabio to Boston Rob.
Or what about the few winners after Ethan? You’ve got Vecepia and Brian who are extremely well-rounded and drama-free players who can rally from just about anything handed to them, and Jenna, who immunity’s her way to take the title. Then you follow up with Sandra and Amber.
In the game of Survivor, a player like Ethan should never ever win. Especially when he doesn’t win the final immunity challenge in the first place! That’s what makes Ethan such a good winner. So Kim, although you doomed Teresa, at least you recognized your lose-lose situation and thought Ethan would do more with the million than Lex. Arguably, Kim Johnson could be credited with the best decision made in the history of Survivor.
I think that about covers it for Africa. This is the first day where it’s not nasty weather here in quite some time, so I was more than able to put in the proper time and refinement for this Africa entry.
P.S. Do you think Survivor wasn’t convinced it would go anywhere for much longer considering this season is called ‘Survivor Africa’. I mean, would they go to the Amazon and say ‘Survivor South America’? And yet here we are, just shy of the 10 year anniversary of Africa’s season premiere.