Mark Burnett is no dummy. When the "Survivor" producer sees a season of his long-running hit about to go south, he's not above stepping in to try to turn things around and keep viewers tuned in.
And drastic action was definitely needed on "Survivor: Nicaragua." The old vs. young competition just wasn't working, mainly because the old folks kept losing. Plus, celebrity contestant Jimmy Johnson was gone way too soon. (Dang, Coach, we still miss you!)
So producers mixed things up this week, randomly picking new captains and having them select new team members from the other tribe. The result was a more interesting show, with some cocky competitors taken down a peg. (We're looking at you, crazy-hair Marty!) And our three North Carolina contestants? Well, the switcheroo was a big gain for each.
Jane Bright, right, the Moore County dog groomer, was on the outs on the former Espada tribe. (The "old" tribe, meaning anyone 40 and over. CBS's definition, not mine!) Jane and teammate Holly had defied Espada mob boss Marty last week by voting to oust Dan (let's remember, folks, he can barely walk!) over Jimmy T. But Marty wanted Jimmy T. gone, and he got the rest of the tribe to agree. Marty says that by going against him, Jane and Holly "signed their own death certificate."
Marty's smugness is over the top as this week's episode begins. He says he doesn't want to get too cocky, then proceeds to ... get too cocky. He says he's in control and that it would take something "extraordinary, off the charts, completely whacked out to destroy his plans." Enter the extraordinary, whacked-out Jeff Probst, who tells the tribes they're getting an extreme makeover.
They draw for new captains -- Brenda on La Flor (the former "young" team) and Holly on Espada. Brenda must pick three members of Espada to move to La Flor. She takes Marty, Jill and our gal Jane. To even up the teams, Holly must select four people to move from La Flor to Espada -- Chase Rice, the former UNC football player, along with Alina, Benry and the evil NaOnka.
Our third North Carolinian, UNC med student Kelly Bruno, stays on La Flor. But since her arch-enemy NaOnka left for Espada, this shakeup can only be considered a boon for Kelly B.
The newly formed tribes immediately take part in a Reward Challenge that's a lot like that "Price is Right" game Plinko. Tribe members roll balls along a giant peg board. Two members from the opposing team have to catch the balls when they exit the board. For every ball dropped, the other tribe scores. The prize is two chickens and a rooster for the winning tribe. And Tar Heel farm girl Jane couldn't be happier. "Ring that neck on that chicken!" she shouts.
Too bad for her (but good for the chickens?) -- Espada wins.
At the Espada camp, firefighter Tyrone, who previously had been in the shadow of stronger personalities like Marty and Jimmy T., suddenly starts giving out orders to everyone. NaOnka and Alina don't like it one bit. Holly, meanwhile, tries to ingratiate herself with "the kids" -- Chase, Benry, Alina and NaOnka.
Over on the new La Flor, Jane is fitting in well. She notes that the younger people are like her. But she quickly warns them not to trust Marty and Jill, who she calls "tight as ticks." Marty tells his new teammates that he always wants to be honest with them -- that's why he wants them to know he already has an immunity idol. Brenda, for one, finds him arrogant. And stupid. "He's coming into our home, and he's already setting up like he's the king," she says.
NaOnka, so obnoxious and downright hateful in previous weeks, shows her vulnerable side once it starts to rain and rain. She's cold. She's tired. And she may leave the game. This leads to a nice scene with our boy Chase, left. With tears in his eyes, he tells NaOnka about the day his father died and how he saw a rainbow that let him know things would be fine. He wants NaOnka to look for the rainbow after all the rain and stay in the game. (OK, I'm just realizing as I type this that it sounds really corny. Trust me, it was kind of sweet -- until you remember how despicable NaOnka has been.)
The teams head to the Immunity Challenge and see two giant spinning wheels, again sort of like "The Price Is Right." (Did producers hit up a Bob Barker yard sale last weekend or what?) But these wheels have a bit of water torture thrown in, too. Three members of each tribe will be strapped to a wheel that will then rotate and submerge them briefly under water as it goes around. While under water, they're supposed to take as much water into their mouths as they can, then spit it out into a container. Once the container is full of water, a ball is released that other teammates will then throw at tiles to break them. Kelly B. is one of the underwater spinners for La Flor, while Jane throws the ball at the tiles. Their team wins, and Espada will be headed to Tribal Council.
Fresh from her pep talk with Chase, NaOnka, a schoolteacher, says, "I'm not a quitter, and I don't want my students to think I'm a quitter. ... But I think I'm done." (Let me break this down for you, NaOnka. That would, uh, make you a quitter.) Some teammates wonder if they should vote NaOnka out because she has already mentally checked out of the game.
Then there's Tyrone, who continues trying to be the team leader -- and making most of his teammates mad in the process. Everyone but Tyrone wants to kill and eat one of the chickens before Tribal Council. He thinks they should save it. It's put to a vote, and Tyrone loses. (Chase plays the role of poultry executioner.) Holly and Benry don't like that Tryone didn't help with the plucking and cooking, plus they think he took more chicken to eat than he should have.
At Tribal Council, there's talk of how Tyrone's leadership has sometimes led to "turf wars." NaOnka says "Survivor" is the hardest thing she's done since she got a divorce. The vote is clearly coming down to these two. Tryone and Yve vote for NaOnka, with Tryone noting that "this is a grown folks game." But everyone else (including that recent influx of young folks on the tribe) votes Tyrone out. (Meanwhile Dan -- who, let's remember, can barely walk -- is somehow still in the game?)
Next week: Now Dan thinks he might want to quit. Marty tries to impress folks with his chess abilities. And Probst promises yet another twist. (Looks like Mark Burnett's working overtime to keep this season on the rails.)
Coming soon: Check this blog later for a photo gallery from this week's show.