Davecruser_survivor_china_240Survivor: China, which CBS should be calling "The Muddiest Survivor Ever" returned on Thursday (Sept. 27) with an episode that asked if it’s better to be led by a WWE Diva or a former male model. What would Sun-Tzu say?

Pre-Credit sequence. There are monkeys in the trees and rain in the sky as Thursday’s episode begins. True to his word, Dave is beginning to take control over at Zhan Hu. After taking on a leadership role the night before, the former male model is forcing his will upon the losing tribe, particular when it comes to setting up a fire pit, which is a pretty moot point given the downpour. Braless wonder Jamie and Ethan Zohn-lite Eric already look concerned.

The devilish Lazy Slug strategy. In contrast to the disorder over at Zhan Hu, Fei Long is a well-oiled machine, everybody cutting down bamboo, moving rocks and generally being productive. Everybody’s being productive except for Jean-Robert, who rubs in his laziness with a deafening snore. After a meeting to call out Jean-Robert for his sloth, the self-described bad boy of poker says that it’s all a strategy. If everybody hates his initial refusal to work, he figures they’ll be overjoyed when he turns his attitude around and becomes a team player.

Pandas, pandas everywhere, but not a panda to eat. Are any of these stock footage pandas anywhere near our castaways? I’m skeptical. Rather than seeking out pandas, Dave sets a realistic goal — making a fire pit — as the day’s objective. Although Jamie advocates making a "baby fire" so that everybody can have a handful of rice, Dave insists on building a BBQ pit instead, splashing Jamie with mud to make his point. Ashley whines that she’d actually do something if she had food in her freakishly ripped belly. "How many fires have you built, sweetheart," says Dave to the scantily clad WWE diva.

Wanna get drrrty? It’s Reward Challenge time. Want to know what they’re playing for? Fishing gear, plus a fishing boat. In the midst of a downpour, the teams have to do whatever’s necessary to move large orbs through the mud and into a corner. It’s a lot of messy grappling and pixilated butts-n-bosoms. You have to applaud Amanda’s willingness to fight through the blurry semi-nudity to score first for Fei Long, though Jean-Robert greets her achievement with, "Put your top back on, Amanda" ("My mom is going to kill me!" she says). The next heat gives us a chance to see Ashley in action, though her tactic of pulling off Jean-Robert’s pants is harmful for both the eyes of the viewers at home, as well as her team, since it leaves James an unimpeded path to a second goal and another Fei Long win.

The twist. Fei Long, as the winner, gets to kidnap one member of the opposing tribe. They choose Jamie, who receives an extra bonus (beyond just the chance to eat a handful of rice and escape from Ashley’s implants) — a scroll that she gets to open in private.

It’s like K-Ville without the gratuitous gumbo references. Zhan Hu is underwater. While they were off losing their latest challenge, the deluge overtook the Zhan Hu camp, leaving everything beneath a food of water (except for Dave’s fire pit). "It’s like a natural disaster hit our camp," Ashley observes. There are dead frogs everywhere. Or maybe a cameraman stepped on a frog and filmed it. But won’t somebody tell us how the pandas are? What? They’re 2000 miles away in a nature preserve? Whew.

Little Miss Sunshine. We discover that Fei Long chose Jamie as their kidnap victim because she Zhan Hu’s "spot of sunshine" and that in her absence, the other tribe will fall apart. The Sunshine Kid quickly sneaks away and discovers that her mystery tube contains a message and another tube containing a clue to a hidden Immunity Idol. She has to leave the unopened clue with one player after her sequestering is over. In the meantime, she has plenty of time to observe her rivals, particularly when Jean-Robert and Aaron have what petite snark muffin Courtney describes as a "bitch fight" ("We were all just like ‘In front of the spy? Really?’").

Can’t we agree that you’re both tools? A different bitch fight is happening at Zhan Hu where Dave is ordering Ashley around, despite the fact that Ashley very clearly can’t process more than one piece of information at once. Dave, you see, is one of those guys who figures that when life gives you mud, you make mudulade, or at least mortar and he’s trying to do a little structure engineering. Although she’s dedicating more time to confusion than labor, Ashley announces, "I believe that Dave’s going to shoot himself in the foot. He’s not a good leader."

God isn’t in nature. He’s trapped in a book. Leslie has been sick for several days, but even without WebMD, she’s done a little self-diagnosis — she’s ill because she’s missing her Bible. "I know that if I could read it and just spend some time with God, it would be great." It’s darned hard to find God in a place of natural wonders and beauty, isn’t it? Sigh. Jamie sees Leslie’s weakness and decides by giving her the clue to the Idol, it will eventually undermine Fei Long. "I feel like the Lord really gave me a gift" is Leslie’s response, making this the first time anybody has ever confused Jamie with a deity. Leslie, figuring she can use the clue to make an alliance, goes to Todd, who she describes as "witty." Todd giggles maniacally and says, "I can’t believe she told me! I’m in shock," He figures if Leslie can’t find God and leaves the game, he’ll be alone with the clue.

Immunity is all about the rhythm method. The challenge requires the teams to use Chinese Puzzle Logs to both smash things and, more appropriately, solve puzzles. One thing I never again want to hear is Jeff Probst raving about somebody’s exceptional rhythm when it comes to wielding long, phallic poles. It’s another challenge that rewards Fei Long’s superior brute strength, particularly since Zhan Hu’s supposed leader Dave can barely hold his arms up. After the bashing is done, the puzzle temporarily stymies Fei Long and Zhan Hu takes the lead. It’s illusory. Zhan Hu runs into a dead end and Fei Long wins its third straight challenge. I’d still like the tribe selection process to be explained to me, because this isn’t fair.

Not-So-Super Dave. Zhan Hu returns beaten and Dave takes responsibility to both the camera and to his tribe. He blames his lost footing and his lost rhythm. He hopes his effort over the past six days will count for more than one poor challenge. Ashley worries she may be done, but she hopes an impassioned speech at Tribal Council can save her. Sherea, Jamie and Eric are suddenly an unlikely power core, capable of swinging the vote.

Why won’t anybody tell Sherea their favorite color? After an episode without any eye-rolling from Courtney, Ashley decides to pick up the slack at Tribal Council, guffawing at everything Dave says and taking him to task for his condescension. She isn’t wrong, but she gets no help from her leading defender, Sherea, who complains that she isn’t having fun and that she hasn’t learned the last names of anybody except for the lazy people who hang out with her. Ashley says to vote for Dave. Dave says to vote for Ashley.

Results. The votes go against Ashley, proving that it’s more important to be an annoying person who works hard than to be an annoying person who tells Sherea her last name.

Sad to see Ashley go? Pleased with Survivor thus far?

Posted by:Daniel Fienberg