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Survivor Australian Outback’s Great Barrier Reef reward broke the law

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 10, “Honeymoon or Not,” which originally aired Thursday, March 29, 2001.

Episode 9, “The First 24 Days,” was Survivor’s first recap episode, which I did not watch, because why start now?

“Checkmate,” Jerri Manthey says when Jeff Probst reveals that she’s been blindsided by her own alliance. “You guys got me.”

I appreciated her reaction because it indicates that Jerri appreciates other people playing the game, just as she’s been doing, even if it meant her elimination. While Richard Hatch obviously won $1 million having appeared to many viewers, in the year 2000, as a villain, he’s widely regarded as a master strategist who established the foundation for the game.

Jerri isn’t the same kind of player as Hatch, of course, and she was also voted out. But this re-watch has convicned me that she deserves more than the villain label that was attached to her—which is one I’ve used. When I interviewed Jerri before Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains, I called her “Survivor‘s original villain.”

Sure, Jerri was annoying, as her tribemates reminded us as they voted her out. But Richard Hatch was not exactly beloved by his tribe, with his nudity around camp and large ego.

Jerri’s attempts at alliance-building failed, while of course, Richard Hatch’s succeeded. But her fellow players saw how much she was playing.

In an earlier episode, when Jerri was trying to engineer a tie vote, Tina summed up Jerri’s game play (“She’s going to do whatever it takes to win”) and weakness (“She has to have her way, and I am so over it … She’s the most bossy, domineering person I’ve ever met”).

In this episode, it’s Colby who could be called bossy and domineering. The tribe was told to pair up for the reward challenge, and decided to do that with a random drawing. When Colby ends up paired with Jerri, he basically pouts. Then he threw her around the obstacle course in ways that made me uncomfortable. Still, they easily win both heats.

Colby and Jerri enjoying their reward feast at the Great Barrier Reef on Survivor: The Australian Outback
Colby and Jerri enjoying their reward feast at the Great Barrier Reef on Survivor: The Australian Outback

Having won two rewards, Jerri worries that it’ll affect her game, but also tells the camera, “I really could give a flying crap at this point.”

So off Colby and Jerri go to the Great Barrier Reef—specifically, Russell Island—which the producers really, really want us to think of as a romantic date in Jerri’s eyes, and they also want us to think Jerri is delusional.

Colby has other ideas: a “honeymoon without the sex” is “not what I was looking for,” he says. He wants a strategy-free, game-free vacation.

Two observations about the production:

  1. When Colby and Jerri are in the boat on the way to the island, there’s clearly a camera operator filming them in the boat, but when we see their boat from the helicopter, no camera crew is visible. But there are big piles of what looks like fabric and supplies on the bottom of the boat, which disappear when the editors switch back to a camera angle from inside the boat. I think the camera operator and sound engineer had to crouch down and cover themselves for that helicopter shot.
  2. When they arrive on the island and find snacks and drinks, we see this in a bizarre sped-up montage, like this is a Benny Hill chase scene. It’s bizarre and even more out of place than the bag of Doritos and the Polaroid iZone cameras.

While Colby and Jerri seem to have a lovely time, it’s Colby who says/jokes he’ll use his experience against his tribemates “if somebody pisses me off.”

What he actually does is some brilliant game play. It’s also illegal, and I don’t mean that it violated Survivor’s rules.

Colby’s Great Coral Reef gifts broke the law

On Survivor: The Australian Outback, Colby Donaldson distributes coral that he illegally took from The Great Barrier Reef
On Survivor: The Australian Outback, Colby Donaldson distributes coral that he illegally took from The Great Barrier Reef

Colby returns to the tribe with gifts: souvenir coral he took from the Great Barrier Reef.

“Everybody gets their own piece of coral,” he announces, and then starts handing it out like a Texan Santa Claus in the Australian Outback.

This is exceptional game play: While the rest of the tribe didn’t get to participate, beyond watching the helicopter take off and land, they seem genuinely thrilled that he thought of them and are excited for the souvenirs.

It was also very illegal: a violation of international and Australian law. Mark Burnett apologized in a statement:

”On behalf of myself, production and the survivors involved, we extend our sincerest apologies for this error. I remain steadfast in my commitment to environmental concerns and continue to put forth great effort in order to improve a situation whenever possible. Please know that this was an honest mistake which we deeply regret.”

Weirdly, a CBS.com slideshow says Colby “was fined $100,000 for the stunt.”

But I could find no other reference to that actually happening, and the AAP reported that “there is a maximum fine of $110,000 for illegal coral collection.” And The Washington Post, citing Reuters, reported that “Penalties include fines of up to $10,780 for individuals and about $55,000 for corporations.”

What CBS’s slideshow doesn’t mention is that it was also illegal for the show’s helicopters to fly over an area where birds were nesting. A Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority spokesperson told the AAP that “they flew a helicopter around sea bird rookeries … it is classified as a particularly sensitive area and the second one is the collecting of coral.”

The major concern, as the director of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority told the media, was the perception: “We’ve had a number of complaints from the public in relation to the impression created on the Survivor show, which was shown to 40 million Americans, that you could take coral from the beach, and then take it away from the reef,” Gregor Manson said.

As it turned out, half the Great Barrier Reef’s coral reefs have disappeared in the past 25 years, but because of climate change.

Riding high off of the reward and Ogakor’s majority in the merged tribe, Colby makes the case to Tina and Keith that they should get rid of Jerri, not a member of Kucha.

The plan was to get rid of Nick—who Keith tells us is “burned out” and ready to go. Nick is so burned out he wins individual immunity, defeating Jerri, Amber, and then Colby in what is really a terrific challenge that Survivor needs to bring back: head-to-head matchups on the water that are both physical and mental.

The first round had each player standing on a stump and holding a rope, and trying to pull the other person in the water; the second round consists of a floating beam that the two players try to knock each other off; and the third round is a combination of the two. Neither involves physical contact or brute strength, just balance and cleverness.

Although Nick taking out Colby is a great moment, my favorite moment is from the first round, when Rodger and Keith face off, and Rodger causes Keith to fall in the water. “I won one!” he exclaims.

I think I also like that challenge because everyone seems to be having fun, even though they’re also competing for immunity. There is one not-so-happy moment: When Tina faces off against Colby (a preview!) on the shaky, floating beam, Jerri shouts to Tina, “You gotta be careful. You know how he treats women.”

Checkmate.

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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