Revisiting Survivor: The Australian Outback — Episodes 7-10

I’m re-visiting Survivor: The Australian Outback to see how it holds up and how the show handled suddenly becoming the biggest show on television. I’m also using it as an introduction to the series for my children. To read more about this project, click here.

Was Jerri Manthey treated unfairly in the edit of Survivor: The Australian Outback? I suppose the simple answer would be “yes” because the very nature of reality show editing is unfair to those it captures. No edit will be an accurate reflection of the person it captures for the simple reasons that A) there’s thousands of hours of footage that needs to be condensed into 14-16 episodes and B) they have no interest in being an accurate source of truth. That’s not what Survivor is trying to do. They’re trying to create an engaging television show that tells a story of the contest being played.

So then the better question is “was Jerri Manthey unfairly branded a villain”? And that one is more difficult to parse. Without a doubt, there were elements of her story and the way she was treated by her castmates that boil down to sexism. Assertive women are frequently vilified for having the audacity to have their own opinions. In Jerri’s case, she also had to deal with refusing to coddle Keith’s fragile ego for sucking at making rice. So that’s certainly part of it. But it’s definitely not all of it.

The truth seems to be that she legitimately bothered the people she played with in The Australian Outback. Not all the time, and people would generally qualify their complaints with “I do like Jerri, but…” For awhile, it seemed like the majority of Tina’s screen time was dedicated to her trying to find nice ways to talk about being bothered by Jerri. She has a lack of tact and occasional grumpiness that’s at odds with the rest of the group, and it seems like everyone but Amber notices it. The tension created by Jerri is the life-line that Kucha (particularly Elisabeth) clings to after they lose the merge vote. Twice in these episodes, Jerri has a reward that takes her away from camp (one with Amber, one with Colby), and everyone remarks on how pleasant it is when she’s away. It seems like the only reason she leaves the game this early is because Colby decided it would feel good to do.

So it’s definitely true that some of her edit as a villain is unfair. It’s also true that what constituted a villain then is dramatically different than what constitutes a villain now. But regardless of whether it was fair or not, I can tell you this much: it WORKS. These episodes and this season as a whole are made DRAMATICALLY better with Jerri serving as an antagonist. Once Ogakor wins the head-to-head battle of the merge vote due to Jeff losing the old bullshit tiebreaker, there really isn’t much for the season to pursue strategically. It should have been a long Pagonging until we got any interesting game play. Instead, due to her antagonism and the villain edit assigned to her, the story of the downfall of Jerri is truly captivating. For two episodes (which they spread across three weeks by shoving a recap episode in between), the show was able to work its audience into a frenzy over the villain who. has. to. go. And unlike in the first season… she actually did! I remember being PSYCHED at this development 19 years ago and I can tell you it plays just as well for new viewers today.

As the great Jerri Manthey once said “when did this game start being fair?”

So all hail Jerri, whose “villainy” was perhaps the most significant ingredient to the success of this story. You were the star of the season and the entire franchise was made better for your contribution.

Strategy Talk

The choice of Jeff as Ogakor’s target was made too easy to even consider it much of a strategy. One way or another (Jeff says it was Kimmi, Kimmi insists it wasn’t), they knew he had a vote, and thus could lose a tiebreaker. Instead, the strategic masterstroke is credited to Colby for A) knowing they had to keep the target off of Jerri and Keith and B) trying to get the target put on him. That’s not nothing. Not too many people are willing to be a target on this show to this day (because it’s generally not a good idea). Ultimately, I think Kucha was able to identify Keith as the most likely Ogakor to have votes, but that was made moot once Tina stepped down to give him the first immunity. Kudos to Ogakor for keeping them off the Jerri scent for three days (and three days only).

Perhaps the more impressive strategy move from Colby is the one that resulted in a $100,000 fine: bringing his fellow castaways souvenirs from the Great Barrier Reef (which is a huge ecological no no). That’s the sort of thing the no one would care about in modern Survivor (maybe they’d even vote you out as a result). But it really felt like it worked on this group. It certainly raised a few eyebrows from Jerri.

Her facial reactions while Colby is buttering everyone up with coral are EVERY. THING.

Was voting out Jerri a strategic move? I suppose you could argue it was, as she was out to play the game and was the most likely candidate to flip on Colby, Tina, and Keith. But… flip to where? She had no inroads with Kucha and did not seem interested in making any. If you’re Colby, you should fear her and Amber trying to push you out of the final two, but the same is true of Rodger or Elisabeth, both of whom he chose to stay over her (and he mentions “deserves” to be there more than Jerri). I’m not sure she was a jury threat against anyone the way group dynamics were forming. By turning on her and Amber when they did, Colby, Tina, and Keith left themselves open for Amber teaming with Nick, Elisabeth, and Rodger. Colby talks with Keith that voting Jerri out would be a mistake in a game with a lot of money on the line. So… I think that was something they did because they just really wanted to and figured they could deal with the fallout. It’s not like Colby was above making decisions for personal reasons more than strategic ones.

About that… the two biggest shocker votes of the season, Mitchell and Jerri, both failed to show Colby even considering voting for the person he voted for. The most was in the Mitchell vote, where he gives an oblique comment of wanting to do what was best for the tribe. Which is weird, since I’ve read, many times, that a major problem with modern Survivor is that they like to blindside the audience (unlike old school Survivor which played it straight). It’s possible that surprising results have always been in the DNA of this show, but back in the day people weren’t live-blogging their predictions.

Challenge Talk

A couple of observations on the immunity challenges this round (which I can’t promise will be a staple): at the merge we got a classic stand on a pole challenge, with Keith, Tina, and Alicia going over 10 hours. I know some people long for a return to these type challenges, but I’m okay with them being a thing the show used to do. I’m not complaining, they were cool for the time. But ultimately, it’s all just a challenge over who will won’t quit, which becomes a repetitive way to generate drama. It might be more interesting when it’s both a battle of wills and a battle to maintain grip/balance/etc.

Stood there so long, you’d think they were trying to vote in Georgia.

The next immunity challenge was a bunch of bullshit that was clearly a mistake. The winner of the rope-a-square challenge was determined by one factor only: whose turn it was when the most squares were available. Congrats Keith!

The reward challenge that sent Colby and Jerri on their non-date was pretty cool, made so much worse by 2001 editing choices. Rather than show full head to head battles on their American Ninja Warrior-esque obstacle course, everything is close cuts and sped up editing that both felt incredibly dated (oh god, the music) and largely obscured the actual competition. At least we got to see Colby manhandling Jerri through the course, adding to the list of scenes of Colby being a cranky competitor (DAMMIT REID!). They bring back the sped up terrible music editing for a camp life scene too. It was a stark reminder that 2001 is still kinda 90s too.

This battle meant a lot to 2001 me.

The People

You start to see more of Tina in these episodes and the interactions she has with the former Kucha members start to lay the seeds of her victory. She’s the one Elisabeth, Rodger, and Alicia gravitate to as a potential saving grace. And she’s very good at making them feel heard without offering them anything. But by and large, she’s still not a feature character. But there should be a lot of air time opening up now that the star of the season has been voted out.

Elisabeth steps up here to be more than just the cute, sweet girl who loves Rodger. After Kucha loses the merge vote, she gets profiled as the plucky final girl who won’t say die and is finding the cracks in the Ogakor alliance. I’m guessing it’s here where she became America’s Sweetheart, leading to a career of saying stupid right-wing bullshit on TV. She or Rodger are the most significant Kucha members left once Jeff is voted out, with Nick having the lowest profile in the cast (other than being, ugh, “lazy” for not being a worker bee like the rest of Kucha, and, you know… systemic racism), and Alicia is largely boxed into a corner as the “strongest” player in the minority.

Colby also picks up steam here. He was certainly present throughout the whole season, but moving away from the losing environment of Ogakor and getting to interact with people besides those affected by the bickering of Jerri and Keith gives us a much better understanding that his charm extends past his chiseled chin and perfect teeth. He cracks jokes, bonds with Kucha, and most importantly, expresses annoyance with Jerri. Truly, the key to a good hero is a great villain.

But let’s not downplay the teeth and jaw.

I ended up watching the recap episode (by myself, wasn’t going to subject my family to that). The big takeaway from it is that another service Jerri provided this season was dispatching Kel, who was unspeakably dull. I’m not saying she did, but if it took framing an innocent man to ensure he didn’t last another episode, then Jerri performed a service.

Top episode – 210 “Honeymoon or Not?” Runner-up: 207 “The Merge”

Top character – Jerri (obviously) Runner-up: Colby

Top moment – The ouster of Jerri Runner-up: Ogakor wins the merge

Seeing Survivor Through Fresh Eyes

Reminder: A = 11-year-old son; C= 7-year-old son.

A couple of gripping, exciting moments for A in this trio of episodes (reminder: my kids did not watch the recap episode). He was on the edge of his seat for the merge vote, desperately hoping his Ogakor squad would win and sweating it out with every vote for Colby (he isn’t yet at the point where he’s counting up the votes as they go along). The Ogakor loyalties died right after that though, as he spent the next two episodes desperately hoping they’d vote out Jerri. Spending a few episodes telling the audience that someone is mean is a pretty effective way to get kids to believe it. He was very disappointed when she survived the Alicia voete, then ELATED when she was voted out next, especially since he was mostly just hoping they’d vote out Elisabeth instead of Rodger once Nick won immunity (especially since his mom said she didn’t like Elisabeth, for non-show related reasons). That was a jump-off-the-couch moment for him.

His survival-hack brainstorm this time was something about digging a hole in the sand, then surrounding it with rocks, so they could store their fish in it. I’m not sure I completely understood the particulars of his scheme, largely because I was mostly just amused at the glimpse into his brain and creativity.

A fave player: Colby (even though he “knows” he’ll be voted out because he’s too big a threat)

A top moment: When Jerri was voted out.


C struggled a bit with the transition from tribe-based competition to a single tribe of individuals competition. I think it was easier for him when he was cheering for a tribe (and a colour), since he doesn’t remember many of the players’ names and generally gravitates to only a handful of them. I also think seeing 10 people at once made him think that the game just got much longer, because he wasn’t thinking in terms of 5 + 5 = 10, but more that there was never that many people in one place at a time. He was proud of himself for predicting that they’d have to go to a new camp when the merge was being discussed.

One notable moment that speaks to her presence and his bias: when Jerri was voted out, C remarked “Colby voted for her?”, to which I clarified “so did Keith and Tina”. “WHO’S TINA?!?” (To which my wife shot me a look that basically said “SEE?!?!? WHO IS TINA INDEED!!!” as she’s clearly working through 19-year-old frustrations over who won this season).

Oh, and he wants to throw boomerangs.

C fave player: Rodger

C top moment: “The vacation reward”. He liked the helicopter ride and snorkeling.