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 3, “The Killing Fields,” which originally aired Thursday, Feb. 15, 2001.
The title, the preview, and my memory of this episode all point to one thing: Michael Skupin stabbing a pig to death. The footage shocked me; I did not remember how graphic it was, and how much actual bloody stabbing was shown (though not the pig itself).
What also shocked me is how much of the rest of this episode is consumed with strategic conversation about the game. That is, of course, what most modern episodes of Survivor are filled with, but in season one, it was rare and brief.
Jerri, Mitchell, and Amber talk out loud about voting together, and creating a tie if Keith, Colby, and Tina voted together. Tina and Jerri both pursue Colby as an ally. Colby talks about “a backdoor move” to get rid of Jerri.
Tina acknowledges that “I am an outsider at this point.” And Keith says, “Tina and I aren’t going down without a fight.” (Well, one of you is going down.)
Keith has high praise for Jerri as a player of Survivor: “Jerri is perfect for this game. She will ride the team until it’s time to take the knife out and cut someone’s throat,” he says. And though the metaphor is violent, it describes exactly what good players need to do in this game.
I’m not actually sure Keith is complimenting Jerri here, especially since the editors followed that with him saying, “I didn’t come out here to be pushed around by a bartender, wannabe-actress, maybe it’s time to just shake her world up a little bit.”
Tina is similarly critical of Jerri being strategic (“She’s going to do whatever it takes to win”) but also of her personality (“She has to have her way, and I am so over it … She’s the most bossy, domineering person I’ve ever met”).
Although Keith and Tina seem critical of Jerri playing the game, Keith and Tina ultimately do prevail with their plan—which is also remarkable, because the olds are so often pushed out by the kids these days.
It’s also remarkable because Colby doesn’t seem thrilled by it. He’s even annoyed that there’s strategy talk. His response to Tina’s discussion of Jerri is regrettable, both in his sexism (“estrogen overload,” he says) and his grammar (“taking things too personal”).
“I don’t agree with the order in which the union is voting,” Colby says. Mitchell, he says, is “a huge asset and could really, really be an asset down the road.”
(While this episode has lots of game talk, the language has still not arrived. Players still refer to their “teams” or “the team,” and Colby refers to his alliance as a “union.”)
When Colby identified who the “union” was voting for, he didn’t actually say Mitchell, because we didn’t know who was targeted until the voting began. Apparently, the union didn’t know either. “On the way here,” Tina says while casting her vote for Mitchell, “a new scheme was developed.”
Was a time when the tribe was allowed to communicate between camp and Tribal Council? Now, while contestants are transported, they’re not permitted to talk.
Probst even read the votes in a modern way: Three votes for Keith, then three votes for Mitchell.
There was a tie vote at the final four in season one, so this is the second tie in the show’s history, but it’s the first deadlocked one.
With surprisingly little fanfare—I am continually surprised when things involving Jeff Probst involve little fanfare or shouting—Probst explained the (old) rules: deadlock are broken by tallying previous votes cast against a player at Tribal Council.
Mitchell has had one vote cast against him in the previous episodes, so he is sent home. And it was Keith who cast that vote! Keith was the only person not to vote for Maralyn in episode three, and his vote for Mitchell was that vote that saved Keith in episode four.
It’s a dramatic end to quite a thrilling arc, or at least what was one until the days when Survivor strategy will start requiring a chalkboard to map all of the permutations.
Michael Skupin gets his kill
Michael Skupin really, really wanted to kill something in this episode. He assembled his spear in episode three, but got nothing. But the blood lust doesn’t start with the pig.
Kucha won both challenges in this episode, and the reward challenge gives them three chickens (Henrietta, Ruby, and Polly) and a rooster (Rocky).
By the way, the look on the chickens’ faces at the start of the reward challenge was priceless. So was the challenge: an eight-piece slide puzzle. The puzzle had eight pieces! The biggest challenge, I think, was its size, because the pieces were several feet wide—and, of course, solving it as a group.
The trivia immunity challenge is one I’d like to see return, because of the way it requires each member of the tribe to contribute. That even brought out some early Jeff Probst snark, as he tells Alicia before the tie-breaking question, “You haven’t answered squat.”
With the reward chickens back at camp, Skupin wants to behead one before everyone else waks up. Nick successfully argues that everyone should, you know, decide that together.
But Mike tells the camera that he wants the chickens gone so what he perceives as his value will rise again. “Consume those chickens as quickly as possible so we’re back to being hungry again,” he says.
They do eat a chicken, and Kimmi leaves for the beheading, but when there’s a smash cut from chicken’s death to the cooked chicken being eaten around the fire, Kimmi is right there with everyone.
“Once you go dark meat, you never go back,” Nick jokes while eating chicken, and then looks back at Alicia, who pauses for a second before laughing.
Killing the chicken isn’t enough for Skupin, who wants to get a pig. There’s a brush fire approaching Ogakor’s camp, and it’s Colby who goes out pig hunting first, thinking that animals will be pushed toward their camp. But he comes up empty-handed—and so, too, does Jerri, who gets a piggy-back ride across the river but not an alliance with Colby.
I was not a vegetarian when I watched this episode, though I became one a few months later, after I ate this. But even today, 20 years later, the pig’s death doesn’t emotionally upset me in the way that it does Kimmi.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve learned how awful pigs’ lives are, subject to this kind of cruelty, so this Survivor pig probably lived a better life and died an easier death than the ones who are providing bacon on plates. Or perhaps it’s because Kimmi is a more empathetic, caring person than I am.
So while death of the pig doesn’t bother me, that scene is still really graphic. And I’m not just talking about the bloody stabbing, and the corpse hanging from a tree later.
Nick pointed out that there was a pig in the water, and Elisabeth shouted. Mike ran after it, cornering it with Nick’s help.
And that alone was pretty shocking, like this moment:
Before Skupin takes the thing into full Lord of the Flies territory by smearing the pig’s blood on his face, there’s a lot of this, with the actual pig just out of the frame:
“Lots of butchering going on in Kucha camp today,” Alicia says. Indeed.
“This is sick. I live with a sick tribe,” Kimmi says. Indeed.
Twenty years ago, when this episode first aired, there was apparently not a lot of actual news, so this became big news for quite some time.
In the United States, the Humane Society’s then-president, Wayne Pacelle, released a statement saying, “The fact is, this animal died and suffered for entertainment purposes masquerading as hunting and gathering.”
In Australia, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals investigated, and a new law was proposed after the series finished airing.
What I remember most, though, was the claim that the pig was planted by the crew—and drugged to make it easier for Skupin to stab it.
There was no supporting evidence for that, but it came from Tim The Yowie Man, an Australian writer, who told a newspaper:
“It was actually a drugged, very tiny baby pig let loose by the crew. They even had cameras waiting in the area where the pig scampered to—so the viewers wouldn’t miss a second! How set up is that!”
Reading that now, it sounds ridiculous, especially the second half. His only evidence is that a cameras were prepared for this? First, that’s literally what their job is: to film things!
But the episode itself challenges the idea that the camera crew was basically just waiting for the pig and Skupin to come on in. A camera operator runs after Skupin when he starts running, and catches up to him. There may be a second camera operator that joins—the person who was filming Nick, who initially spotted the pig. Also, the pig really gave chase; if it was drugged, it wasn’t like it just stumbled into the frame and then fell over.
Skupin later denied that the pig was drugged, and also said that it took two hours to actually hunt it; on screen, it’s just minutes, even seconds.
Interestingly, Australia’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals demanded the raw footage to figure out if they should charge Michael Skupin with violating Queensland’s Animal Protection Act.
But CBS denied that they’d even gotten a request: “We are not aware of any formal request for footage. We will cooperate fully…as we believe very strongly that there was no wrongdoing on the part of CBS or the producers,” CBS spokesman Gil Schwartz told E! News.
Is it impossible to imagine Mark Burnett, in season two of Survivor, orchestrating a moment like this? Nope. But also, what is on screen appears perfectly plausible, and very bloody.