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Survivor’s first auction, and Jeff Probst’s first shaming on Survivor: The Australian Outback

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 11, “Let’s Make a Deal,” which originally aired Thursday, April 5, 2001.

The Survivor auction went away after Survivor: Worlds Apart because it became all about the advantages, according to Jeff Probst, who told EW, “I felt the Survivor auction was broken. It had become about one thing — getting an advantage.”

Instead of bidding on food or other lower-stakes items, people waited for advantages, and the whole thing became far less interesting. (Advantages ruining something on Survivor?! No way!)

I really wish the auction would make a return appearance, but after watching the very first one on this episode of Survivor: The Australian Outback, I can be more specific: I want this version of the auction to come back.

The very first auction in the show’s history was a good argument for returning to Survivor’s simpler times. All that was up for bid was food. No advantages, nothing else. It was—and get ready for this—just fun!

Jeff Probst with the very first Survivor auction item ever: four chips and salsa
Jeff Probst with the very first Survivor auction item ever: four chips and salsa

Each player had AU$500 to spend, and they were also all ravenous, desperate for food. That gave us mild competitiveness, as people bid against each other; collaboration, like when Elisabeth borrowed money from Tina to split a dinner plate; and a zonk, like the $200 Amber paid for a mystery item, which turned out to be a glass of river water.

Sure, it doesn’t have super-high stakes, but it matters to the players, and is thus fun to watch. Well, except for the part about plates of food sitting outside for long periods of time. I was cringing as Probst pulled out more and more hot food from underneath his podium. Still, none of the food looked as unappetizing as the “mountain of pizza” from Edge of Extinction.

It was a nice period of levity, even after they returned to camp and several ran for the latrine—including the camera operator, who took the same jog to show us a first-person perspective, including at their open-air toilet. (This was the era before the Survivor aqua-dump.) There was also some levity with Keith and Colby’s comedically edited hunt for grasshoppers.

But a majority of the episode was focused on the toll this experience was taking on the cast, though an unfortunate amount of attention was paid to Nick.

Was Nick exhausted, tired, and hungry? Yep. Did he sometimes rest? Absolutely. But the editing gave special attention to presenting him as lazy. We heard both Elisabeth and Tina both complain about Nick’s lack of work, though Elisabeth theorized, “maybe we’re the dumb ones,” thinking “Nick is converging his energy wisely” for challenges. We also saw Nick washing pans, so the footage actually contradicted the storyline.

Nick was the second Black man cast on Survivor, and the second to have an extended edit about his laziness around camp. The first was Gervase on Survivor Borneo—though he wasn’t alone, as the same thing happened to Ramona. Three of Survivor’s first four Black players, three similar storylines that all play into a historical stereotype.

Yet Nick wasn’t alone in being exhausted, tired, and hungry, nor in his resting instead of working. Later in the episode, Elisabeth said, “I’m just shaking and weak,” and added, “I couldn’t even walk up the hill to fish.” Guess who comforted her? Nick. Guess how many confessionals there were about Elisabeth being lazy and not helping around camp? Zero.

Jeff Probst visits camp with an offer

The immunity challenge was yet another challenge that should come back. (John Kirhoffer and company, please look back at these early seasons for some great challenge concepts that’d be easy to bring back or tweak.)

The players had to start fires in buckets—though they had matches for the hard part!—and then cause that fire to lift in the air by dumping water into a bucket on the other side of a fulcrum. That bucket had a hole in it, meaning they had to continually add water until there was enough weight to lift the fire high enough, where it would ignite a firecracker.

That’s such a perfect combination of ingenuity, strategy, and endurance. And while running to and from the river to fetch water was exhausting, no player had a significant advantage or disadvantage. Nick had an early lead but a bad fire, Keith didn’t keep pouring water in as his roaring fire lifted in the air, and Colby won with a slow but steady approach.

After the immunity challenge, Jeff Probst, wearing sunglasses, showed up at camp. He came bearing gifts, a bucket of rice in ziplock bags, and lots of shame.

“I come today because I’m concerned,” he said, citing the “true lethargy—a real lack of energy, especially with Elisabeth and Nick” at the immunity challenge.

Colby Donaldson shakes Jeff Probst's hand after handing over his luxury item, the Texas flag, which was being used as a roof for their shelter.
Colby Donaldson shakes Jeff Probst’s hand after handing over his luxury item, the Texas flag, which was being used as a roof for their shelter.

And then Jeff Probst stepped into a role that he’d play many times in the future: patronizing dad. “You had plenty of stuff,” he told them. “Here’s where we’re at. My role is a giver and taker. Nothing comes cheap.” He wanted something of “substantial value.”

Rodger offered their blankets, and Probst was dismissive. “You’re playing for $1 million,” he said. And then Probst made it clear what he wanted: “Shelter versus food. … Your tarps and your Texas flag.” That’s what he got, and he sat in the sand and watched them tear take down their shelter.

I remember this well—Probst taking the flag in exchange for rice—but my memory merged it with another event that is hinted at with the rising river water in this episode, but didn’t happen yet.

So the tribe ended up with 25 fishing hooks and four big bags of rice for their remaining 12 days. (This season is the only one that does not last for 39 days; it was extended to 42 days after the success of season one.) They also had to rebuild their shelter before the rain came.

At Tribal Council, the Ogakor alliance returned from its Jerri-dumping detour and continued to pick off Kucha. Interestingly, Amber got two votes from Kucha—but neither of those was Nick’s, because he voted for Keith, citing Keith’s “flat-out arrogance” for not bringing his bag to Tribal Council. But it was Nick who was sent to the jury, becoming the third of seven jury members.

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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