Dawson’s cheek kiss and the Survivor episode of tragic departures

After the high of last week’s episode of Survivor, I was somewhat brought down to earth by this episode. There were strong challenges, and the welcome return of the reward challenge, but there were some significantly annoying choices on behalf of the production, primarily involving the tribe reorganization and the way Jeff Probst handled Dana’s exit.

But then Dawson slid up against Jeff Probst and kissed him on the cheek, after staring at him with what can only be described as adoring and/or lustful and/or creepy eyes. That’s the kind of unscripted moment Survivor continues to deliver.

For more insight on that moment, listen to Dawson’s day-after interview, in which she explains, “I traveled through time.” Interestingly, she wrote on Twitter that that she actually “wanted to shove him in my mouth.” For his part, Probst said “it was both fun and funny.”

Before we got to that moment, though, Malcolm and Denise’s tribe had its last day, and after after getting tree mail (Tangent: I didn’t realize until last night how the show had been effectively ignored tree mail for some time.) searched frantically for the hidden immunity idol, leading to all sorts of comic moments as they spent time playing with the rice container and failing to recognize that its lid had the idol. “I feel like a fucking idiot,” Malcolm said, but then he realized what they’d been missing, pried off the idol, and hurled a machete through the air in celebration. (This is just a guess, but he probably would have felt like more of a fucking idiot had the machete impaled someone on its way down.)

At the reward challenge–what are those again?–Denise and Malcolm learned they’d be split up randomly, meaning one tribe would get the guy with muscles and a sculpted happy trail, and the other would get a tiny sex therapist.

I understand the general problem with a two-person tribe, the least of which is that challenges can only involve two people from each team. And it’s possible the tribes were going to divide to two tribes by this point anyway. But leaving it up to chance seems like a cop-out, as does splitting them up, especially because that, historically, we’ve seen new tribe members become instant, easy targets. Denise said, “I’ve got a new family,” but in all likelihood, she would become Cousin Oliver.

That did not yet happen to Malcolm or Denise, and I’m glad, because I really want to see them continue to play this game. Perhaps, as my friend John suggested, that’s because neither tribe was in Tribal Council mode: they haven’t yet had to play the game, basically, so they weren’t yet overly concerned about protecting their own or attacking the fresh meat. It also seems like Malcolm and Denise were both viewed with respect by their new tribes.

Malcolm acknowledged that he could be “the odd guy, let’s get rid of him,” but instead found that he was the “stud football player from the rival school,” not that he has a high opinion of himself or anything. But the tribe members were throwing themselves at him: Pete spilled all about their alliances and hidden immunity idol, judging that Malcolm was “probably not as stupid” as Mike Skupin, while RC planned to find a way back into the tribe by “flirt[ing] with Malcolm,” and by “flirt,” she meant press herself against him for no reason.

Meanwhile, over at Jonathan Penner’s tribe, he hilariously explained that it was “freezing, and I’m a big fat guy.” Dana wasn’t handling it well, and became quite ill, and not just because of Penner’s attempts to help her (“take everything off.. you get naked under that blanket. We’ll warm you up.”).

Jeff Probst came out to their camp, which is never a good sign, though it gave Dawson an opportunity to foreshadow her future mounting of him: “Typically I’d jump up and down and maybe jump on him, but it wasn’t good timing.”

Probst saw a swaddled person and asked, “Is that Dana in there?” He took her aside and medical checked her out, and the medic offered a really sophisticated diagnosis: “her tummy is irritated.” He said she could last–i.e., not die–for another 12 hours if she wanted to stay in the game. She did not.

All of this gave way to some not-very-smooth hosting on Jeff Probst’s part. I appreciate what he was trying to do, which was give us more information, but it didn’t sit well. “Give me some way to relate to it,” he said to Dana, who was on the ground, her face pressed into the dirt in pain. We don’t need to hear it, Jeff: We can see it.

Then, Jeff called the tribe over for a proper good-bye, delaying medical treatment (“you’re going to have relief in just moments”) so he could get his farewell scene (“let’s finish this adventure on your terms”). Over her crumpled body, Jonathan Penner then talked about his removal from the game and how it made him empathetic.

Again, I see what Probst was doing: this is amazing story, especially in a season with medically evacuated returnees. But show, don’t tell.

In the aftermath of Dana’s departure, the editors had more time to find footage of Carter looking like a moron, even pairing it with Katie saying, “I feel like an idiot.” Katie also said, “My best ally just got taken away.” Also, who is Katie?

Before her encounter with Jeff Probst, Dawson was having fun playing with Jeff Kent, who she knows is a former baseball player, and was using that to screw with him. “I enjoy getting into his mind,” she said, adding that he was like a “little mouse that doesn’t know it’s in the corner, and I’m playing with it–and I’m going to snack on it!” Okay then.

All hilarious and entertaining, but a good strategy? Clearly not. Dawson made for great TV–and not in the “love to hate” way, either–so it’s too bad she’s not sticking around. Ditto for Dana. Yet we still have Carter. That’s the tragedy of letting reality dictate your television show.

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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.