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'Survivor' had to call off a challenge for the 1st time ever: 'Real fear'

Water challenges are nothing new on the long-running CBS series, but this challenge proved different.
Go for the Gusto
The tribes got all they could handle and then some during the immunity challenge on Wednesday's episode of "Survivor."Robert Voets / CBS
/ Source: TODAY

It took 42 seasons, but “Survivor” featured a first on Wednesday’s episode when host Jeff Probst had to stop a challenge.

During the immunity challenge, the Taku, Ika and Vati tribes had to retrieve a ladder off the ocean floor used to reach a key that would unlock sandbags that they would throw at a set of targets.

From the outset, it appeared this challenge would push the castaways, due to the force of the waves.

“This challenge is much more difficult today, simply due to the amount of turbulence in the water,” Probst said as the three tribes competed.

While Taku excelled, thanks mostly to a Herculean effort by Jonathan, Ika and Vati struggled in the water.

“It is one of the most turbulent days ever seen on ‘Survivor,’” Probst said as the three tribes continued.

The water was punishing.
The water was punishing.YouTube

“The ocean is continuing to pull players away. We’ve rarely seen anything like this,” he added.

Taku won the challenge, securing immunity and the reward, and avoiding a trip to tribal council. The other two tribes continued, struggling to finish as the strong waves affected their performance.

“It’s getting more difficult with every minute that passes,” Probst said.

Slow-motion shots captured the water pounding the castaways in the water. Eventually, Probst ordered both tribes to bring their ladders onto shore.

Go for the Gusto
The castaways started on a pontoon, but wound up back on shore after Jeff Probst cut the challenge short.Robert Voets / CBS

“Due to no lack of effort on your part, this is not getting any easier,” he said. “We’re going to retrieve your keys and give them to you and we’ll continue the challenge from here.”

“Never done this in the history of ‘Survivor,’” he added.

The tribes then used the ladder to retrieve sandbags atop a platform, which they used to toss onto rings. Ika won, sending Vati to tribal council.

Probst said the challenge had a unique feel to it.

Go for the Gusto
"I'm not exaggerating when I say that every five minutes it was gaining in intensity," Probst told Entertainment Weekly about the ocean's swells.Robert Voets / CBS

“It reminded me of being a kid in Wichita, Kansas, when a tornado was brewing,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “All your neighbors are racing to get their kids' bikes in the garage because you can actually feel the tornado coming before you see it.”

Probst, who said the Ika and Vati tribes were in the water for 22 minutes, assured fans that no one’s safety was compromised.

“We have safety swimmers at every challenge. Their only job is to watch the players, and if anyone is ever in real danger, they can get to them immediately,” he said.

Go for the Gusto
Jonathan (in front, with the ladder) was a beast in the challenge that vexed the other two tribes.Robert Voets / CBS

The severity of the swells, though, should not be underestimated.

“If you’ve never been in those conditions in the ocean, it’s hard to adequately describe the feeling,” Probst said. “But it can quickly become a panic situation because you are struggling to get a breath that doesn’t include a mouthful of saltwater. 

“You’re trying to keep your head above water, but the swells consume you. Your fight-or-flight reflex kicks in and it can feel overwhelming. In other words, for the players struggling, there was nothing fun about it. That was real effort, real exhaustion, real fear.”