Latest batch of 'Survivor' contestants breaks the rules

by John Teti | 10/15/01 5:00am

Everyone in America watched at least some of "Survivor" and "Survivor: The Australian Outback" -- except, it seems, for the contestants on "Survivor: Africa."

Our new gang of 16 made many of the same mistakes that garnered tribal council votes on the first two editions of CBS's hit reality series.

Mail carrier Diane Ogden, 42, made the first error by showing up for the "Survivor" contestant auditions in the first place. The producers always throw one person in there that just is not cut out for the wilderness, and this time it was Diane.

Once she got to Africa, Diane continued in the wrong direction, literally, by putting herself in charge of the map. This is another trap laid by the producers. The map to the tribe's home is so roughly drawn that you can't help a few wrong turns.

But when the tribe gets lost, does everyone blame CBS's amateur cartographers? No, they blame the person with the map. It's an easy way to create tension in the first episode, and it comes at the expense of a hapless contestant who wanted to establish her leadership.

Rule No. 1: Don't take the map.

One of Dartmouth's own, Linda Spencer '78, is trying to survive the African savanna as well. We saw little of her in the first episode, but I was disappointed that she was already taking a path well-worn by Kimmi Kappenberg in the Australian edition of the show.

You might remember that Kimmi was the vocal vegetarian who became overtly disgusted when her tribemates ate meat. Her compatriots tired of the guilt trips and sent Kimmi on her way.

Linda was similarly displeased when fellow Samburu member Lindsey Richter made jokes about their tribe's name, which is of African origin.

"That is so disrespectful," Linda told the camera crew in one of the show's patented private interviews. "The Samburu people, y'know, civilization, ages and ages ago -- do you realize where you are? This is where it all started, folks!"

That's true, but I bet when Lindsey remarked that she should control her poorly-timed menstrual cycle with a "tamburu," she wasn't looking for a history lesson.

Rule No. 2: No matter how noble your cause, keep it to yourself.

An unusually traumatic moment on "Survivor: The Australian Outback" came when Michael Skupin was badly burned after falling into the campfire. So it was tense when Silas Gaither, another member of Samburu, held a smoldering pile of brush to his face.

Silas was trying to get a fire going after Kim Powers had cleverly disassembled the tribe's telescope to get a magnifying glass. Kim, whose motto is apparently, "Oh my Gahd, that RAHKS!" held the glass over a pile of brush to heat it.

Silas then picked up the brush and blew on it to encourage the flames. The ingenious "Survivor" editors tried hard to make this sequence look like a flashback to Michael Skupin's fateful mistake.

Silas' tribemates pleaded with him to be careful, but he coughed, wheezed and kept blowing. You wouldn't think I'd have to make a rule for this.

Rule No. 3: Don't squat over a fire with stray embers burning your eyes and smoke blowing into your face that makes you short of breath and liable to fall unconscious at any moment, especially if you are fatigued from a long day of hauling supplies to your camp. It is unsafe.

The biggest screw-up came from Clarence Black in the Boran tribe. It's pretty simple -- while most of the tribe was away, Clarence cracked open a can of beans and shared it with a barely lucid Diane.

So Clarence is not a master strategist. A more cunning player might have, say, waited until everybody was there before sharing the beans. I know, it's subtle, but nuances like this distinguish the champions from the losers.

Rule No. 4: Hungry? Everyone else is, too.

At least Clarence didn't have to endure a tongue-lashing from Boran's Frank Garrison, this edition's token military man. "Survivor" has had bossy jerks before, but Frank takes it to a new level.

"We are not at the mall sitting outside with a latte or something!" he growled when his tribemates took a short break from hiking for the frivolous purpose of preventing death.

Frank's strategy is to treat other contestants like dirty Commies. How else can you explain his bizarre response to an innocent question about which branch of the armed forces he served in?

(For the proper effect, imagine the following as spoken by someone doing a mediocre impression of Jack Nicholson in "A Few Good Men.")

"I was in the AMERICAN branch. Called freedom."

Frank thinks that the best way to curry favor is to act like a drill sergeant. Everybody loves a drill sergeant, right?

Rule No. 5: Everybody hates a drill sergeant.

In each of the two previous "Survivors," the person who fell down and ruined a tribe's chance to win the immunity challenge was voted off at Tribal Council. "Survivor: Africa" is no different.

The Boran tribe led the immunity challenge -- which involved dragging a cart to designated checkpoints -- from the beginning. Both teams had their share of tumbles, but Diane topped them all by utterly collapsing within sight of the finish line, thus allowing Samburu to scramble ahead and win immunity.

Rule No. 6: Don't fall down.

Rule No. 6a: If everyone else is falling down, don't collapse.

Diane suffered the shame of being the first person voted off, but expect Clarence to hit the road soon. Whereas Diane was useless, the bean-eater will be kept around for a bit because of his strength.

The players may not know how to follow the rules, but at least "Survivor" is back. That rahks.