Survivor Africa: Monty Brinton
Ken Tucker
December 21, 2001 AT 05:00 AM EST

Frank leaves as the show finally gets interesting

Thursday night’s ”Survivor” was the most enjoyable ”Africa” episode to date, but… why, exactly? After all, vexing Lex won the Immunity Challenge yet again, and Frank, who’d acquired a certain stoic charm, was voted off.

There wasn’t a reward challenge, but rather a food auction, with the contestants bidding on items like an ice cream sundae and a plate of pancakes and ham. The latter inspired a joint bid by Tom (who last week had made homophobic remarks about the departing Brandon) and Ethan, and when they won the food, Tom exulted, ”He’s a Jew — he won’t eat the ham!” Oh, dear; Ethan graciously dismissed the remark as the joshing of a? well, let’s tag Tom with a label, since he likes them so much: a Southern bigot.

So why was the episode so much fun to watch? Because, except for Lex, we’re now down to the most interesting ”characters” in this reality show. Tom’s remark even inspired a hilarious apology: The big Southerner mumbled sheepishly, ”I’m a Caucasian — I don’t mean anything.”

The lug gets away with murder; in an earlier scene, there was a communal shower, in which Tom poured buckets of water on the competitors to rinse them off, and the old coot took peeks at their privates as he did so. It’s interesting to realize that, roughly a month into the game, the ”Survivor” experience would naturally lower everyone’s standards of modesty, and everyone got a good chuckle out of Tom’s goaty behavior.

The food auction, though it’s been done before on ”Survivor,” is engrossing — you get caught up in the contestants’ yearning for rich food. And that’s what’s happening in general: As the contestants dwindle, you can’t help but get caught up in the quick switches of alliances combined with a growing familiarity with all the personalities involved.

When Teresa voted to oust Frank, she burst into tears and squeezed his shoulder when she returned from the voting spot; on one level, it was a stupid move — what if Frank had ”survived”? He would have known Teresa had voted against him. On the other hand, it was a touching moment in a show that can so often be merely heartless, and one felt for Teresa’s pain. That’s entertainment and something more.

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