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Survivor’s first loved ones reward challenge: IMing on an iMac

Survivor’s first loved ones reward challenge: IMing on an iMac
Tina Wesson sends an instant message to her family

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 13, “Enough is Enough,” which originally aired Thursday, April 19, 2001.

When the final five players arrived at the Outback Internet Cafe for Survivor’s very first reward challenge in which contestants’ loved ones competed, Jeff Probst says, “Thanks to technology, you’re about to chat online with your loved ones.” I thought for a moment: Holy shit, they’re going to talk to their family members on Zoom!

I forgot that webcams and video chat were not a thing in 2000, when this was filmed, but AOL Instant Messenger certainly was, so instead the players send a sentence or two, and then get a sentence or two back in return.

Tina Wesson sends an instant message to her family

In a weird coincidence, the Survivor: The Australian Outback final four chatted with their families at the Outback Internet Cafe via a blue, first-generation iMac, and there hasn’t been a colorful iMac since—until this week. Exactly 20 years and one day after that was broadcast on CBS, Apple announced a new iMac that comes in seven colors.

Although I originally watched this episode on a TV/VCR combo, my high school graduation present, I didn’t tape the episodes, and can’t remember noticing that the production exposed their own screen name (“SurvrII Outback”) along with the screen names of most of the family members (“OneDolphin1” was Tina’s family). Perhaps they were just created for this challenge alone, but I also wonder if anyone tried to contact either the cast members or the production.

This reward challenge doesn’t quite count as a full family member visit, since no one is on location, but it’s the first time the players get to interact, live, with their families. It’s also the first time family members actually competed, versus just being used as a reward. (Survivor: Borneo’s cast only got to watch video tapes, and it’s not until Survivor: Marquesas that all family members will show up on location.)

The competition is just five multiple-choice questions, which get IMed to the loved ones, who then IM their answer back. It’s a little anticlimactic, but also still great that they got to contribute.

In the years since this aired, the Survivor loved-ones visits eventually wore out their welcome for me, but this one was great, and also a terrific example of how less is more. Just watching the players and their loved ones text back and forth was emotional. And honestly, this episode got more out of the family “visit” than some of the recent seasons, where family members fly all the way to Fiji, only to be directed to love their family member to Jeff Probst’s satisfaction, and then they just go sit down and shut up.

Colby Donaldson has an emotional instant messenger chat with his mom during a Survivor: The Australian Outback reward challlenge
Colby Donaldson has an emotional instant messenger chat with his mom during a Survivor: The Australian Outback reward challenge.

The Internet cafe visit even has a marriage proposal from Keith, who jumps up and grabs Jeff Probst in his excitement. But there’s no love for Keith in Australia, where he’s driving everyone insane, especially Colby.

It seems that Jerri’s complaints about chef Keith’s cooking incompetence were pretty accurate. Despite the players running out of rice once, Keith is not rationing the rice. Also, Colby is going mad about Keith’s inconsistent statements about whether the brown rice needs more water or not. Keith may not do well with rice or the social game, but I will give him props for creating this when he got home.

Keith’s rice problems aren’t just redemption for Jerri, but a shift in the game. Colby says, “my game with Keith is done. It’s over.” This seems to acknowledge what was never explicitly stated: there’s a core alliance of Tina, Keith, and Colby at the center of the “union” formed earlier. Still, it’s apparently a shaky alliance, as Colby did not vote for Amber at last week’s Tribal Council.

“We’re not playing for ourselves now, we’re playing for those who are deserving to be here. Rodger and Elisabeth and Tina are all three deserving to be here,” Colby says.

Yet he votes with Tina and Keith to get rid of Rodger, who offered himself first because he wanted Elisabeth to get more prize money.

Just before Tribal Council, Elisabeth wonders if Keith has driven Colby nuts enough for Colby to vote for Keith. But while the episode spends time on how bored everyone is around camp—bored when they had backgammon, and coloring books!—it does not show nor suggest Elisabeth has approached Colby about this. It’s so curious how strategy has sometimes leapt to the foreground this season, and then in episodes like this vanishes nearly entirely.

We do here Colby talk about his decision-making, but in the confessional that gets played right before Tribal Council, I could only hear incredible foreshadowing for the final episodes. Colby says:

“The biggest struggle I deal with in the final few Tribal Councils is whether I want to sit beside someone who almost guarantees me a million bucks, or whether I want to sit besides someone who, if I don’t win the million bucks, I’ll still feel good about the other person winning. I don’t even have my answer about that. I did yesterday, but it changed this morning, and it changed again tonight.”

His answer this week: keep a person who guarantees him a million bucks (Keith) and dump a person who he’d likely lose to but really respects (Rodger). When will his answer change again?

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.


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