At University, as part of my English Lit and Creative Writing degree, I took a course called Televisual Narrative; that meant that we watched episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for an entire semester. One of my favorite episodes and one that we analyzed in depth was “The Zeppo”, from Season 3. In this particular episode, the writers eschew from the standard format and push Buffy and the main protagonists into the background, and instead focus on the overlooked and extraneous character of Xander and his less action-packed story. We get to see the world of Buffy from the perspective of a side-character while the stereotypical end-of-the-world storyline takes place around him.
A core group of characters has dominated the first four episodes of Survivor: Cambodia – Second Chance: Abi-Maria Gomes, Andrew Savage, Jeff Varner, Jeremy Collins, and Spencer Bledsoe. The majority of the narrative is told from their perspective. Everyone else has amounted to little more than background extras, hammock swingers, and idol holders. It’s both a fault in the editing and an unfortunate case of the same people attending tribal council week-to-week.
That’s why the latest episode was so refreshing. We finally got to see and hear from characters that up until now have sat on the sidelines and kept hush. Kimmi and Monica stepped out from the shadows and stole the spotlight in their very own “Zeppo” episode of Survivor.
Kimmi Kappenberg was a big pre-merge character back in the Australian Outback. On the harmonious Kucha tribe she stood out as loud and obnoxious – I mean, nobody else was asking where they could go to masturbate! But so far in Cambodia, Kimmi has been quiet and easy-going and significantly less horny. She has blended into the background with relative ease. Her emergence was long over-due.
It was a funny twist that Kimmi’s first substantial scene of the season was on the subject of rationing food. Back in Season 2, Kimmi was the victim of the infamous finger-wagging incident, after an argument broke out over whether or not the tribe should eat or save the chickens. In that scenario, Kimmi was the chicken defender, pleading her case to preserve the food source. This time, the shoe was on the other foot, as Kimmi scoffed at Monica’s suggestion that they should save some clams so that they didn’t deplete the ocean.
In her pre-season interviews, Kimmi hinted that she wanted to play like Gemma Teller Morrow from Sons of Anarchy; a badass mother who would do whatever it takes to get her way. We got our first taste of that last night when Monica threatened to break-up the Bayon “family.” Kimmi snapped into action, giving Monica a Long Island tongue lashing to the camera and her fellow tribe-mates. Kimmi wanted Monica gone, and so Monica went.
The question remains whether this was a smart long-term move or not. But as far as coming out episodes, this was a great showing for Kimmi “Clam Collector” Kappenberg and her potential.
Wooing The Tribe
Over on Angkor, Woo got his mini “Zeppo” episode. The Brazilian soap-opera has been on for so long that it was a little disconcerting to see Abi-Maria’s drama play second fiddle. It was like someone was messing with the dial and we were picking up two channels at once. The images were different, but you could still just about hear Abi yapping in the background.
Woo had a tremendous showing; effectively winning both challenges for the previously demoralized Angkor tribe and sharing an emotional story about his mother’s heart transplant. Abi was hilarious when trying to one-up his story in an attempt to elicit sympathy: “My grandma went through the same thing… except she died. And my pet goldfish Pedro – we had to flush him down the toilet. Also, tendon surgery is exactly the same as a heart transplant.”
I hope this is a continuous arc where Abi tries to out-do everybody’s stories. I want her to start telling Savage that her boyfriend Pete Yurkowski is hotter than his wife. “We met in the Philippines. He was voted out before me… but he waited for me.” “He was at Ponderosa, Abi. Everybody has to wait there until the season is done filming.” “No, no. He waited for me. It was like Romeo and Juliet.”
Balls to the Wall
Speaking of characters we haven’t heard much from… Keith! Or should that be characters who can’t hear much?
It was great to see Keith on the show, and even more awesome to see that he’s still a master of balls. Seriously, there is nothing this man cannot do with a ball. I want to take Keith to the fair because I bet you he could win me the goldfish and the inflatable Spongebob. I guarantee Wes Nale had a bedroom full of fairground toys when he was growing up, and yes, I’m jealous of that fact.
Keith also stumbled into a five-person alliance. I don’t know how far that will take him, but it’s good to see Keith included in the plans, and we are all aware how much he likes sticking to them.
The Fall and Fall of Magenta Monica
Monica’s story this episode was Drew Christy lite. Now, I’m not saying that Monica was operating on that same level of delusion – that is upper echelon delusion – but the episode made no attempt to disguise her impending elimination. She was set her up for a massive fall from the very first scene on Bayon. She was shown to be out of the loop, overconfident, poor at challenges, happy to go to tribal council, and thinking too far ahead.
There has been some criticism that Monica’s vote-off was too predictable. That is a fair criticism; the edit could have at least given us one Wiglesworth confessional just to make it seem possible that she could be voted out. But overall I have no problem with the predictability of the vote because for Monica, and Spencer and Wiglesworth, it was still a shock. There’s a satisfaction to be gained when you know what is coming. The entertainment value is in knowing that a player who believes they are totally safe is about to be blindsided.
Monica did not foresee this vote. Neither did the two former Ta Keo members; Spencer and Wiglesworth. The Cirie Fields inspired 3-2-1 vote orchestrated by Kimmi, Jeremy and Stephen was perhaps the most flawless vote-off so far this season. The editors making it transparent Monica was leaving did not diminish the vote.
Monica’s impact on this season was not significant. She was barely visible throughout the first two or three episodes, and her boot episode might be embarrassing to watch back. But she should cherish the fact that she not only got chosen to come back, but she got a Drew Christy style boot edit; this was pretty much Monica’s episode. While the usual protagonists were out fishing or making up sob stories, Monica’s downfall was the A-plot. It might not have been the result she wanted, but it’s a lot more than many players get.
Finally, we took a much-needed break from The Abi-Maria Show and got to see how the other half lived. The dynamics on the Bayon tribe are interesting and not as straight-forward and happy family as we were led to believe. Putting the side-characters into the limelight added some depth to the season and fleshed out the cast. Kimmi and Woo, in particular, benefited hugely from this episode. It still wasn’t perfect, characters like Ciera and Wiglesworth remain silent, but it was a step in the right direction. And let’s face it, you have to give the editors something to work with people!
It was also much funnier than previous episodes too: Stephen hitting the wrong target (Go Fish!), Keith unintentionally copping a feel of Wentworth’s booty, Abi’s pathetic attempts of one-upmanship, Kimmi doing her best Ricky from Trailer Parks Boys impression by mangling up common proverbs. Survivor is always much better when it has a lighter touch rather than pure misery and sensationalist drama. Hopefully, this trend can continue as we head towards the second half of Second Chance.