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On ‘Survivor: China’ there’s no clucking around

After seven years, they make the same mistakes and seem just as unprepared as those who participated during the first season. Is this human nature? Stupidity? Or just ‘Survivor’? By Andy Dehnart
/ Source: contributor

Despite being set in China, the 15th season of “Survivor” looked and felt a lot like the 14 seasons that have come before it.

That’s one of : It changes locations, adds new twists, but the fundamental game and resulting television program don’t change.

Neither, it seems, do the contestants. After seven years, they make the same mistakes and seem just as unprepared as those who participated during the first season. Is this human nature? Stupidity? Or just ‘Survivor’?

With not enough time to really get to know each other, or to form significant alliances, the contestants have to make decisions about who to vote off based upon first impressions, stupid decisions, or both. And in China, the first tribe to visit Tribal Council had a lot of options, as did the other tribe.

Leslie, the Christian talk-show host, began her time on “Survivor: China” by leaving a ceremony at a Buddhist temple that host Jeff Probst explained was not a religious ritual. Instead, he said, “the people of this land want you to feel welcome.” While she professed to be “not a religious person,” she said her “relationship with Jesus Christ” prevented her from participating in the ceremony, which “felt like worship.”

Perhaps she should be commended for doing what she thought was right. But leaving seemed unnecessary considering the nature of the ceremony, and standing out so early and so obviously by refusing to participate in a group activity is generally not the smartest move. Jeff asked her if she was worried that this would affect her game play. “I’m just going to play the game and be me,” she said, as if the game hadn’t already started.

Completely unpreparedShe wasn’t the only one who was unprepared for the mental and physical challenge that “Survivor: China” offered. Moments later, Jeff Probst told the group that because “the leaving behind of your worldly possessions” is a central principle in Buddhism, he sent them to live in the wild for 39 days wearing the clothes on their backs, from leather boots to stiletto heels. Who even packs heels to go on “Survivor”?

Jaime, a 22-year-old student, immediately exclaimed, “I don’t have on a bra!” Jeff told her that would “either make you very popular or a big liability,” or perhaps both. She wasn’t alone in being exposed; many of the men were wearing jeans, which they shed due to the heat and thus spent most of the first episode in their underwear.

Neither denim nor boxer briefs were the best attire for the wet, rainy nights that the 16 cast members spent huddled together, shivering, under poorly constructed shelters, if they can even be called shelters. Few of the cast seemed prepared to handle the elements. Peih-Gee told us, “It is hard out here, more so than I ever imagined.” But her tribe, Zhan Hu, spent much of their time laughing and dancing, not working to build a proper shelter or otherwise help to ease their difficulties.

In a , WWE wrestler Ashley said she tried to prepare for the show in advance by sitting in the rain, but even having done that, she wasn’t ready. She spent a day curled into a ball on the ground, dry heaving.

Because she was clearly and obviously unwell, she didn’t need to give her tribe another reason to vote for her, but that’s exactly what she did. After Zhan Hu lost the immunity challenge, they went to Tribal Council, where Ashley admitted that she worked the least around camp because of her illness, arguing, “I don’t think I should be judged on that.” What should they judge her on? She didn’t say.

Ashley handed her tribe enough evidence to vote her out, but she only earned two votes. Luckily for her, an alliance that she wasn’t part of voted instead for one of her critics: Chicken (who along with Dave, voted for Ashley).

Peih-Gee, who told us that she was emotionally overwhelmed to be in China, did her best to irritate the others and get sent home first. No one in the history of “Survivor” has become a successful leader — or even a well-liked tribemate — by being demanding and bossy, yet that’s what she did, although she did try to apologize at Tribal Council.

Who’s in charge?Leadership challenged many of the contestants, not just Peih-Gee.

Aaron, a member of the winning tribe, Fei Long, said, “I see myself as a leader, but I try to do it as subtly as possible.”

That would have been good advice for Zhan Hu tribe member Dave, who, along with Peih-Gee, raised his hand at Tribal Council when Jeff asked for a show of hands from those who wanted to lead the tribe.

Then again, doing something was better than doing nothing. Jeff asked that question after Chicken said, “I guess somebody’s going to have to (step up) before we come together.” That was the continuation of Chicken’s apparent strategy: completely avoid any and all responsibility.

As annoying and frustrating as it was to watch on television, it must have been even more obnoxious in person. During their three days together, his tribemates would ask him for his advice or opinion, and he just steadfastly refused to give it, deferring to them not because he appreciated their opinion, but because he didn’t want to give his own. Was he being stubborn? Or was this a lame attempt at strategy, trying to avoid being the person who others could blame?

Either way, his behavior didn’t work, as he received five out of his tribe’s eight votes. He stood out intentionally and obviously, and that’s the last thing one should do at the start of “Survivor.” Yet after spending three days being crotchety and obstinate, he seemed genuinely shocked to be leaving. “Damn!” he exclaimed before Jeff Probst snuffed out his torch.

That’s probably the same thing many “Survivor” fans said from their couches, as yet again, someone made the same old mistakes.

is a writer and teacher who publishes reality blurred, a daily summary of reality TV news.