• An early look at the ups and downs of Survivor's controversial new season.
Logistics: CBS, 7 p.m. (Central) Thursdays
Verdict thus far: &&&
The gimmick • I'll refrain from saying "I told you so" in light of Cowboy cracking racial jokes in episode two. If any further proof was needed that the racial tribe concept was nothing more than a publicity stunt, it came in episode three as the tribes were completely reconfigured. And what's up with these tribe names that either are or sound like "iTunes," "Puka" and "Man Hickey"?
The location • Remember when it was all about the dire circumstances of the location — killer scorpions, contaminated water, man-eating monkeys — breathlessly detailed by host Jeff Probst at the beginning of the first episode of a season? If Cook Islands even merited a mention this time, I don't remember it. It's just another sandy beach that's more or less interchangeable with those that preceded it. The best locales have been the Outback and whichever island it was that had the relics of war — sunken ships and rusty artillery next to the driftwood. At this late stage, it's time to make the location matter again. Survivor: Death Valley or Survivor: Denver International Airport might be a welcome change of pace.
The game • Viewers must rely on the basic game to restore faith in the face of Mark Burnett trying ever so hard to make his show jump the shark, and it delivers. In classic clueless fashion in episode two, the alpha males of the Latino tribe, J.P. and Ozzy, decide to throw the immunity challenge in order to vote out rocker Billy, who "sits around doing nothing," yadda yadda yadda. Billy is roused just enough to attempt to mount an insurrection, and, oh, how I was pulling for him to make it happen despite his idiocy. The only thing more fun than Probst telling the tribe members during tribal council how stupid they are for throwing a challenge with a tribe of only five was Billy's mid-tribal catfight confession that "I'm in love!" with a chick from another tribe with whom he has spent no more time than it took to ride in on the boat before being tossed overboard at the beginning of the game (in episode three, she basically says he's crazy to think a love connection was made). Probst's jaw-dropping reaction spoke for all of America — or those who were still watching, at least.