For the second installment of my Survivor Rewind series, I continued on to season 3 of Survivor, Survivor: Africa. This was another really enjoyable season, with a large emphasis on the location and the unique characters they cast for the season. In the end, I was actually much more satisfied with the way this season shook out, compared to season 2, and they ended up crowning a really deserved winner. Without any further ado, here are my thoughts on Survivor: Africa:
- While I ended up thoroughly enjoying this season, I was not too optimistic about it being entertaining from the get-go. From the beginning, when the sixteen contestants were dropped off in the middle of the African wilderness, it was clear that both the Boran and Samburu tribes were plagued with dysfunction and maladaptive players. While I took an immediate liking to Lex, Ethan, and Big Tom on Boran, a lot of their other players proved to be either weak/sickly (Diane, Jessie) or traitorous (Clarence). The situation with Clarence eating food with Diane, while she was almost passed out, proved intensely uncomfortable to watch, and it created dissent and division in the tribe from the beginning, which took away the emphasis from the good players they had. With all of the problems they started with, it was tough to watch the trials of the Boran tribe until they managed to get their weaker players out. Boran wasn’t the only tribe with incredible dysfunction however, as Samburu almost immediately divided along age lines, with four older members of the tribe forming an alliance apart from the four younger tribe members who stuck together. Each faction had so many problems, first the older folks were led by Frank, who proved to be bossy and incredibly bad with the social aspects of the game, dividing the tribe from day one with his militaristic leadership. Then there was Linda, who was awkward and erratic, and couldn’t blend in with the younger tribe members with any ease. The divisions in this tribe became so entrenched that when it came time for them to vote someone out, they split 4-4 and had to go to a secondary tie-breaker, which ended up being trivia questions. I said it while reviewing season 2, and I’ll reiterate it now, the early tie-breaking rules of Survivor were just horrible, and resulted in some huge vote-offs that shouldn’t have happened with any ease under modern rules. Carl ended up getting voted out third in the game because of a bad trivia answer, and while I’m not thrilled with how that played out, it definitely widened the hurt feelings and division within their tribe. By the next day, Samburu became one of the most dysfunctional tribe I’ve seen on this show, and it was at times cringeworthy to watch.
- One of the more interesting moments of the season came when there were twelve contestants left. Tree mail summoned the tribe to nominate three of their own, half of their current tribes, to go on a mysterious adventure. Unbeknownst to them, this was going to be the first tribe swap on Survivor, something that is a tradition today. It was really entertaining to watch this happen, since it was unprecedented and totally unexpected from those who went out, as Lex, Tom, and Kelly left the relatively friendly Boran camp, and joined the Samburu tribe, who were apparently much lazier and more entitled than those living at Boran. The switch was a culture shock for these three, but they used it to their advantage, gathering intel on the problems at that camp, and gaining allies to use later on. On the other hand, a divided contingent of Samburu headed to Boran, with Frank and Teresa leaving a bad situation to have a fresh start at Boran, while Silas ended up isolated and totally out of luck. Silas ended up talking his way into being the first voted out post-swap, as he balked at the chance to save himself by continuing to gun for Frank and Teresa even after the tribes had changed. Silas had some promise in this game as a strong competitor, but his leadership and decision making left a lot to be desired. With Silas and Lindsey voted out post switch, the tribes went into the merge with a 6-4 ratio of original Boran to Samburu, proving that early tribe divisiveness can be the undoing of an entire tribe.
- After the merge, the season really started rocking, and became quite a spectacle. The tribe got rid of Clarence first, who unfortunately could never get his way into graces after his early social blunder. After that, the game got kind of tricky, but in a fun way. Besides Clarence, one other unknown voter cast a vote for Lex, and paranoia got the best of him soon after. He went around the tribe searching for the culprit, and ultimately decided it was Kelly who backstabbed him, when really it was Teresa who did so. This set off a lot of tension and strategy, as Kelly, who had previously spoken of disliking Lex as a person despite their alliance, was forced to side with the minority original Samburu tribe in going after Lex. It could have been an unbelievably dire blunder for one of the power players in the game, Lex, if it wasn’t for his new Samburu alliance with Brandon. Brandon could not get past his differences with Frank, and ultimately decided to swing his allegiance with Lex in hopes to go all the way to the end. Kelly ended up getting voted out in a surprise 5-4 decision, as an original on each tribe flipped on the other, and ultimately both paid the consequences. Ethan couldn’t get over Brandon’s ease of flipping, and his support of Lex over the original Boran alliance, and masterminded his ouster at final eight, leaving Big Tom, Lex, Ethan, and Kim Johnson in the driver’s seat to coast to the final four, making good on their early alliance.
- Another really cool aspect of the season that really started to come to play in the on-air show after the merger was the emphasis on the culture and the landscape of Africa. From day one, it was clear that the Survivors were put into a rough atmosphere, surrounded by very dangerous animals, and without a large amount of fresh water or food resources. One of the early challenges saw them drinking the blood of a cow mixed with milk, something that I personally found quite disgusting, but was apparently a symbolic experience for tribes in Kenya. After the merge, we got to see the individuals who won reward get to go on incredible journeys into Africa, immersing themselves either in the culture or in the vast wilderness they were living in. Ethan won a pair of goats at final nine, and selected Lex to go with him to a local village to sell it and barter off anything else they could garner for necessities or luxury items. This was really fun to watch, as Ethan and Lex comically struggled with the bumpy desert drive, handling the goats, and overcoming some language barriers to sell the goats. They enjoyed an interesting, yet expensive plate of fries in a little hut, and got to bond with some of the locals when bartering. At final six, Lex won the reward challenge and took Big Tom with him on an incredible safari experience, where they got to enjoy a nice resort stay, a trip into the wilderness to watch the migration of the wildebeest, and a balloon ride over the Shaba National Reserve. If CBS was trying to sell people on the beauty of Africa, this reward definitely did the trick. It was fun to watch two of my favorite players from the season get to have this breathtaking experience, as a viewer I was really happy to see it all too, even from my couch. Lex then wins another reward, getting to deliver medical supplies to a rural Kenyan hospital, in the middle of an area ravaged by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This was probably the most touching moment of the season, showing that not only is Survivor an entertainment show, but a show that is attempting to promote social consciousness and humanitarianism, traits which must’ve helped sustain the show’s cultural prominence and popularity. Whether it be through these experiences, or seeing the struggles of the cast in their habitat (Kim Powers being viscerally shaken up by seeing a nearby lion stands out as one of the more intense examples), this season of Survivor did an unbelievably great job of incorporating Africa into the game and the show, making the viewing of this season a multi-faceted entertainment experience, compared to the modern show which is almost exclusively about the game play, ignoring culture and survival unless those factors bleed into the game play. I like these early versions of Survivor a lot because of the emphasis the producers placed on culture and survival.
- The final four was relatively predictable, but it was a very deserved group. From day one, Lex, Ethan, and Tom formed a bond that seemed to transcend the show, a friendship and brotherhood that seemed destined to carry them throughout the season. Sure they had some ups and downs as the season progressed, mainly involving issues arising with Lex’s loyalty, but they stuck together through it all, went on rewards together, and didn’t betray their promises. When Kim won the last two individual immunities, the big three had to turn on each other and vote their allies out. With Kim turning on Tom towards the end, Ethan and Lex followed suit and casted their votes to eliminate Tom at final four. Then it was Kim’s choice at final three who to sit with in the finals. It was an emotional decision for her, since she developed strong bonds with both of them, but in the end she brought Ethan to the end, voting out Lex, who was very dominant in the individual challenges post-merge. While it was a tough decision, and while hindsight is 20/20, it seems obvious to me that Kim made the wrong decision taking Ethan to the final tribal council with her. I’m not saying there was much of a chance for Kim, I think Lex would have beaten her heads up too, but even just looking at the votes against, there were so many people on the jury who were able and willing on occasions to vote Lex out, compared to Ethan who was universally loved and had zero votes cast against in the entire season. It’s hard to imagine what she was thinking when she made the decision that Lex would get more votes than Ethan, but I guess it’s sort of a moot point to dwell on because, realistically, she would lose to either one of them, and she made the decision she was comfortable with in the midst of the fray. In the end, the jury rewarded the right player the title of Sole Survivor, in my opinion. While Kim Powers was moved by Kim Johnson’s personal answer to her question, and Brandon was ticked that Ethan insulted him the rest of the jury recognized that Ethan played a strong, loyal game, and outplayed, outwitted and outlasted everyone with his dynamic social game. Ethan was able to keep a strong alliance ‘til the end, and successfully made bonds outside his alliance, in a way none of the other top three were able to. With any combination of Ethan and Lex, Kim, or Big Tom, I think Ethan would have beaten all of them heads up, simply because he was the most likeable of all of them. Ethan was just that dominating of a figure throughout the game, he may not have had the rustic charm of Tom, or the fierce competitiveness of Lex, but he played a far more complete game than either of them did. He’s a very deserving winner, and likely is one of the best Survivor winners of all time.
There’s no doubt about it for me, Survivor: Africa was a grower, but turned out to be a terrific, fun, exciting season of the show. The season unraveled in a pleasing way, as all of the kooky, uninteresting, or deceitful people basically got cats aside early, and as they did, the tenor and mood of the season improved dramatically, and the game play became incredibly enjoyable. As an example, I think the show would have been far less satisfying if Brandon had sided with Kim Powers, Teresa, Kelly and Frank to vote out Lex, because the narrative would have ended up being that that the dysfunctional Samburu tribe, full of whiners, social rejects, and traitors ended up getting the upper hand. I’m glad that, in my opinion, the good guys got through to the end, and a deserving, likeable winner was crowned in the end. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by Survivor: Africa, it was a great season to watch, and I’m glad I got to add this season to my ever-expanding Survivor viewing experience. Next up for me will be season 4, Survivor: Marquesas, and seeing the brief snip-it from the reunion show about the setting and the small twist of not providing food or fire for the cast, I’m pretty excited about getting into this season. Survivor: Africa made for a fun viewing experience, I enjoyed watching and I’ve enjoying writing about it. If you’re a big Survivor fan and haven’t seen the season, I definitely would recommend going back and watching it.