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Survivor: The Australian Outback’s hunger games include the beef jerky scandal

This spring, I’m recapping Survivor’s second season week by week, roughly 20 years after each episode premiered. Today, Survivor: The Australian Outback, episode 2, “Suspicion,” which originally aired Thursday, Feb. 1, 2001.

This episode could have been titled “The One That Beat Friends in the Ratings,” because CBS put Survivor up against NBC’s Friends, and won.

This episode also could have been titled “The Hunger Games,” because nearly everything involves food, from Jerri establishing her villainy by accusing Kel, without evidence, of eating beef jerky, to the immunity challenge, which an eating challenge that pushed Kimmi to her vegetarian limits.

Nearly all of the camp footage we see is about food, starting with Mike Skupin declaring himself “a student of nutrition” and thinking “it was odd” that his tribe was annoyed that he woke them up with a pot of rice that he wrecked by overcooking it after not consulting anyone.

Without mentioning Richard Hatch’s name, he adopts Hatch’s strategy of trying to become the tribe’s provider. So, too, does Kel, though his tribe wants to just relax in the “family whirlpool,” as Marilyn describes it.

Watching them lounge in the swirling, shallow waters of the river, I flashed forward to next season, Survivor Africa, when the contestants will literally have a shithole as a water source.

As they relax, several tribe members—Colby, Keith, Mitchell—talk about how there are just no fish and this is futile. The camera then dips underwater and pans over to show us a bunch of fish. It’s a brilliant moment and the first instance of camera operator sassiness that I can recall.

Colby is so dismissive of Kel’s efforts he delivers this amazing quip: “The guy couldn’t fish a rubber ducky out of a bathtub.”

The reward challenge takes place at a cliff, where the tribe members have to jump off and swim to a crate, one at a time, before swimming through some small rapids to a beach. (This challenge had press on location covering it.)

I so appreciate how both this and episode one’s immunity challenge have incorporated the landscape, rather than just clearing out a space and building an obstacle course there, which is why so often happens in modern Survivor.

We learn that Rodger cannot swim—or at least, just learned how to swim immediately before coming onto the show. He did not look thrilled, but also made it with no problem. (The editing is, again, very choppy.) This news about his lack of swimming ability also added additional horror for me to the episode-one immunity challenge moment where Rodger’s foot became entangled in netting in the water.

While Jeff Probst starts the challenge with both tribes placed on their mats—and remains mercifully silent the whole time—the conclusion is once again less organized, letting the spontaneous celebration mark the victory rather than Probst’s screaming. Probst is just kind of there, among the tribes, and says, almost casually, “Yeah, you guys are on a hot streak. Two in a row.”

Back at camp, the conversation is about who is going to be sent home—Kel—though it is not framed as strategizing. Instead, it’s simply accusatory. Jerri says she caught Kel eating something that looked like beef jerky. She’s recounting this; the cameras did not capture it.

Tina Wesson, who was virtually ignored during the season premiere, tells the camera, “if he had beef jerky I’d kill him.” And then Tina looks in Kel’s bag! I think this is the very first occasion in Survivor history when someone does that—yet is not captured on camera. Where are the camera operators?! Do they have too few around?

Marilyn is not happy about what everyone is doing to “Cal,” which is how she says Kel’s name.

I felt bad for Kel, because he tells us he knows it’s “important for me to assimilate,” but he’s also clearly not a type-A personality like so many on his tribe, and seems introverted and quiet.

CBS News reported that Las Vegas oddsmakers bet that Kel would win the $1 million, which is remarkable considering what a nothing character he ends up being.

Also remarkable: How obsessed the world was with this scandal. There was even a theory that Kel was not disappearing to go eat beef jerky, he was actually off masturbating, a story that even ABC News covered. Kel said that wasn’t true. In another interview, he revealed that producers search contestants before the game starts, so there could be no contraband.

Anyway, Kel overhears everyone in the shelter talking about him, and comes back to gently confront them. He insists he was just eating grass; Jerri says, in the most condescending way possible, “we appreciate the information.” They all refuse to apologize to him.

Marilyn is shook. “It was totally inappropriate. It was wrong,” she says, of both the accusations and the bag search. Yet she joins her tribe in voting him off.

It’s fascinating that the tribe has a unanimous vote, meaning they are likely talking and strategizing together, and we’re not getting to see any of that.

Ogakor loses its first challenge at the franchise’s second-ever eating challenge, which is a Wheel of Fortune-style wheel containing various types of food. Rodger gets a candy bar; Kimmi gets cow brains; “Mad Dog has just taken out her teeth,” as Probst announced before Marilyn’s turn.

Kimmi established her vegetarianism earlier, and predicts failure. “I can’t do it and I’m disappointing six people,” she says. “I have no excuse for not being voted off the island.”

I remembered Kimmi refusing to eat a brain, but totally forgot that she became her tribe’s hero and won their first immunity.

She does completely opt out of the challenge at first. “I can’t. I can’t eat a brain,” she says when the wheel lands on a whole cow brain. That puts her tribe down by one, but there’s a tie because Tina pukes up some tripe.

The tie means each tribe picks someone from the other tribe to go head-to-head, and Probst presents their challenge: a long worm.

“I can eat a worm!” Kimmi yells, jumping up and down, so excited. And she does: so fast that she leaves Tina in tears, and prevents Kucha from starting a losing streak.

The most jaw-dropping moment of the episode is Tina basically volunteering to vote herself off. “I’m the one who screwed up,” Tina told Jeff Probst. “I should be the one to go.” Yes, at her very first Tribal Council, Tina Wesson said she should be voted out. Of course, with the whole tribe voting unanimously, perhaps Tina was just putting on a (brilliant) performance, taking responsibility when she knew she was safe. Tina seems like someone we should keep our eye on.

All of my Survivor: The Australian Outback episode recaps

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.

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