Shannon flames out after homophobia flares at epic Tribal Council

What’s wrong with these people? I’ve never seen a group of Survivor contestants play so recklessly, stupidly, and weirdly before. But since it came with a great challenge and an epic Tribal Council that surprised even the normally unflappable Jeff Probst, and also dumped one of my least-favorite contestants, it was all pretty awesome.

On Survivor Nicaragua‘s fogie tribe, Holly started going crazy, taking snails away from ER doctor Jill, who told us Holly’s “mental state is not good.” That was confirmed when Holly stole Dan’s shoes, filled them with sand, and dumping them in the ocean because she needed to “try to find a way to release my anger.” (That is a clear violation of the cast member’s contract: page 2, letter B, part 1, rule vi. However, that rule may have been eliminated in recent seasons, since Russell obviously did the same thing.)

On the fetus tribe, NaOnka has picked up the crazypants torch, imagining that someone has taken one of her socks and stealing Jud/Fabio’s to compensate–and going off on him before he could even say anything about her theft of his property. Also, I’m pretty sure she hates absolutely everyone, although it almost seems like a reflex because she also paired her hatred with respect. After calling Kelly B. a “charity case” and insisting that “if that leg falls off” Kelly will be voted out, NaOnka witnessed Kelly kick ass in the challenge, and told us, “I don’t like her, but she’s just awesome.”

Meanwhile, NaOnka and Sash bonded over being minorities; Sash told her he’s half black and wants to “bring as many minorities as possible” to the end, so they decided to align with Brenda. Brenda seems to be at the center of everything: “I have half the people on my side without doing anything,” she said. She’s also aligned with Chase, who struggled with who to be loyal to. Tangent: After last week’s column with actual behind-the-scenes insight, Jeff Probst’s Entertainment Weekly column reverts this week to recapping the episode (sigh) and more of his unfortunate sexism (ugh) as he addresses Chase: “You don’t ‘trust’ Brenda because God sent her to you, you trust Brenda for the same reason every guy would trust Brenda — she’s hot. Just say it.” It goes downhill from there.

Although the glut of over-the-top characters is still a bit overwhelming, I do love Jud/Fabio. He’s hilarious and it’s not like he’s acting ridiculous for attention; it just seems to be him. After someone commented about never spending this much time without a shower or brushing their teeth, he said, “I have!” Later he put on a fishing mask and tried to blow on the fire for some reason, leaping backwards repeatedly when the flames got too close. He’s like a puppy.

At the challenge, a dive through mud, a dig through hay, and a ball toss that even the wrinkliest of old people could handle, the fogies played the Medallion of Power (which is more fun to say if you imagine it being spoken by a cartoon god, echo and all) once they learned that it essentially cut out one quarter of the challenge. One quarter! Yes, they didn’t have to find and toss one of four balls, so that’s just 75 percent of the challenge. That’s a little much, don’t you think? However, without it, the fogies would have had no chance.

At some point during the challenge, though, Probst tried to insist that “the older tribe lost their advantage; we are now even,” and while it looked like the fetuses were going to win, they started fumbling the ball, and the fogies finally pulled ahead and won. The old people are in trouble next time the fetuses play the Medallion, because if they can barely win with a 25 percent advantage, well, they’re screwed.

The old people won immunity and took fishing gear over a tarp, a good call, and then quickly deciphered the immunity idol clue they received and started hunting for it. (So much for them being harder to find.) It was actually Jill who got the last part–a tree and a man was “tree male,” hence “tree mail,” and she told Marty while Dan was standing there, which she said was to “gain Marty’s trust by sharing that with him.” It worked; Marty found it and told her, “do not forget, we got it.” Jill’s smart and I think she may be my favorite player right now.

The fetuses, meanwhile, had to decide who to get rid of. An alliance of Alina, Shannon, Chase, and some others were gunning for NaOnka, because she causes drama, but after Kelly pointed out that it “seems like you’re being a little emotional,” and suggested going after Brenda, they targeted her. But that gave Chase pause, because last week he bonded and allied himself with both Shannon and Brenda.

Cue Tribal Council and, as Jeff Probst said, “21 seasons of Survivor, never had an opening question open that much whoop-ass on a tribe.” While I’ve only observed the very first Tribal Council in person, they usually take a while to get to any material that the editors will use. Probst asks good but softer questions at first, and the tribe eventually opens up over the 45 minutes or hour. (And sometimes it takes an hour to get them to open up.) But here, he just asked Shannon about how hard the experience had been, and Shannon went off, exposing alliances and eventually trying to out a tribemate.

I actually think Shannon asking Sash if he’s gay is kind of funny by itself, perhaps because I was wondering the same thing. (And Sash’s defense, well, didn’t quite resolve the issue.) The real problem is that Shannon’s question didn’t come as part of a casual conversation they were having at camp. Instead, he used it as a weapon, replying to a comment by hurling that back, as if outing Sash would discredit him and turn the tribe against the gay instead of the ass. Oh, and then Shannon unleashed more ignorance, a homophobic rant that left pretty much everyone looking stunned. Here’s how it went down:

Sash: “You’re pretty much digging your own grave.”
Shannon: “I’m going to get this out of the way right now: Are you gay?”
Sash: “Pfft.” [long, dramatic pause] “I’m sure I’ve had a lot more beautiful girlfriends than you have, buddy.”
Shannon: “You probably haven’t, my brother. But good luck. Yeah, trust me, you haven’t.”
Sash: “I’m 100 percent. I’d like to see you try to work your magic in New York.”
Shannon: “New York’s full of a bunch of a gay people.”
Probst: “New York is full of gay people?”
Shannon: “They’ve got a lot them, Jeff. More than they do in Louisiana.”

He sounded quite disgusted as he said this, although it’s good to know Shannon is personally aware of the number of gay people in at least two of the 50 states, and since they don’t count us in the Census, we’ll have to take his word for it. Although he’s probably right in terms of sheer numbers, and perhaps even in percentages, he wasn’t trying to be accurate, he was being a judgmental dick. (Shannon isn’t really fond of my criticism of him, alas, so he’s not going to have a very happy day today since viewers don’t seem to be very happy with him, either.)

While Shannon’s rant was disturbing, CBS and SEG deserve credit for airing it, even though airing it kind of discredits CBS’ ongoing bullshit about what “offensive” comments they won’t air on Big Brother.

Ugliness aside, Tribal Council was also interesting because Chase confessed his dual alliances, and NaOnka, never one to let someone seem crazier than her, unleashed her dislike of Jud along with some completely bizarre facial expressions and body movements. What Tribal didn’t really address is what Chase brought up, telling Shannon, “nobody here trusts you, bud.” That’s not entirely true, since it wasn’t a unanimous vote, but it was basically everyone except clueless Jud (who seemed to be unaware that he could change his vote once Tribal started) and Alina (who I can’t quite read). When Sash voted, he said, “You should have known to messed with the biggest bachelor in New York.” Sigh.

But there was clearly some shift, and Chase’s comment made it sound like that was pre-Tribal. Maybe one of the Brenda alliance convinced someone else, or perhaps someone actually swung as a result of Shannon’s meltdown. At the very least, it’s more than happened the entire season of Big Brother, and for that, I’m very grateful.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.