James Miller: Robert Voets/CBS
Dalton Ross
March 23, 2005 AT 05:00 AM EST

”Survivor”: The chips are down for Ulong

After last week?s installment, which featured more twists than a Chubby Checker song, it was nice to get back to a plain-Jane Survivor: Palau episode. It felt just like old times: blatant product placement, Ulong choking at an immunity challenge, and Jeff Probst once again ignoring my fashion advice and donning a baseball cap. Actually, for a while I was wondering if we would ever even get to the episode. Just going over all those insane twists and turns led to the longest ”Previously on . . .” recap I?ve ever seen! Seriously, that thing lasted longer than Jonathan and Wanda?s stay on the island, which, granted, is not saying a whole hell of a lot.

It?s funny — you would think this one-sided affair of a season, with one tribe (Koror) completely dominating another (Ulong), would get boring after a while, but you know what? I love it. I love watching James keep missing the targets in the reward challenge after claiming that he’s fired off a lot of guns. I love watching Ibrehem just hang out and wade in the ocean during the immunity challenge. And I love watching James, a self-proclaimed knot expert, have his alleged masterpiece undone in a matter of seconds by a ”broken-down showgirl” (Coby?s words, not mine) on her last legs. I guess I?m just a coldhearted bastard who enjoys seeing people get pummeled. But apparently, I?m not the only one. Every week I keep predicting a merge or tribe shake-up, assuming there is no way Mark Burnett will let one team get completely destroyed, and each week he makes me look like a complete idiot. But the cagey producer has done a smart thing. Had they merged or switched things up, the Koror folks would have just picked off the Ulong people one by one. Granted, they are doing that now anyway, but at least there is still some suspense when we get to tribal council.

It?s also pretty freakin? funny to watch Koror have to sit out practically their entire tribe during challenges. (Ian was so bored watching the reward shoot-out that he started doing the wave in the background on the bench.) Speaking of that challenge, remind me not to piss off Stephenie whenever she shows up on ”Survivor: Live,” especially if she is packing a 50-caliber small class cannon. She scored four of her team?s eight hits to win them a box of Pringles. And speaking of Pringles, why did all of their on-air trivia questions center on Survivor‘s two arguably worst seasons — Africa and Thailand? Actually, there?s really no argument — they both sucked.

There was one part of the reward I hope challenge producer John Kirhoffer took note of: when the Ulong folk started asking each other those Survivor trivia questions. Truth be told, whenever they do trivia challenges about current players, like ”How many kids does so-and-so have?” it bores me to tears, but putting their knowledge of Survivor history to use would be pretty cool. (Hey, some 13-year-old girl pitched Kirhoffer a challenge idea and got it on the air, so why can?t I? Who knows? Maybe they even did this on All-Stars. I can?t remember — that whole season is one big Romber blur. Or, Romblur, as it were.)

What else to say about this episode? I thought the swimming-with-jellyfish scene was pretty cool, even if Bobby Jon and Stephenie did look a bit like Marlin and Dory in Finding Nemo. (You know the scene.) I also liked the way teams were forced to be not only offensive but defensive as well in the immunity challenge. (Even if I didn?t, I would say I did just so I could butter Kirhoffer up to get my challenge idea on the air.) And what of James? He seemed devious. He talked smack about people. And he kept wearing that ugly-ass tunic to tribal council that made him look like some sort of Polyphonic Spree reject. But evidently, people there liked him. Even Stephenie couldn?t bring herself to vote against him the first time. Which brings us to another question. Why does this woman keep changing her votes after ties? I understand last week, because she did the math and realized Angie was going either way and she could keep her vote against Bobby Jon under wraps. But here she was clearly outed as betraying Bobby Jon and voting against Ibrehem in the first go-round. At that point, why not stick to your guns in the do-over? (And she?s good with guns, remember?)

Since we?re discussing Stephenie and Bobby Jon, it?s a good time to pause for the cause and pay tribute to the unintentionally hilarious quote of the week, which comes from B.J. himself, who informed us that ”it will definitely be me and Stephenie all the way to the end.” Dude, do you know how to count? The score is Koror 8, Ulong 3. The end is nearer than you think. For both you and this week?s column.

What do you think? Did Stephanie botch her vote — twice? And will Ulong ever win?

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