Editor’s Note: This is a weekly guest post from the TV staff at Film.com. Check back here on Wednesdays for more Film.com stories about your favorite shows: Big Brother, The Amazing Race, Dancing with the Stars, Survivor, American Idol and America’s Next Top Model. .
By Susan Young
Back when Survivor spent its third season in Africa, host Jeff Probst said it was more like spending time in a zoo than being out in the wilderness.
“It’s a preserve and the animals are used to having people around all the time, so it wasn’t that big of a deal to them,” Probst says after his recent return from filming the latest version of Survivor in Gabon. “In Gabon, they told us in advance that this would be completely different. These animals were not used to seeing any body around and if you see an elephant, it’s a big deal because you just don’t know how they are going to react.”
Probst says that during one Survivor: Gabon interview, a giant elephant came within 50 yards of the film crew.
“It was thrilling and scary at the same time,” Probst says. “This elephant will stomp on you. There were moments in the filming when survivors interacted with the animals and it felt like being in a Spielberg movie.”
At one point, a 12-foot python slithered into the camp, and someone had the bright idea of using it as a prop for a promo shot with Probst. The crew tried to reassure Probst that they could stop the snake from squeezing him to death if it tried. Heck, the worst case scenario would be a nasty — but not fatal — bite.
“They put the snake around my neck and I was holding the head while it was moving and I kept reminding myself that this was not a, quote, trained L.A. snake, unquote, but one that just crawled out of the jungle,” Probst says. “I held him for about five minutes while I had flashbacks to another promo about three years ago doing the snake thing with a (so-called) trained snake. It bit the trainer, a full on clamp on the wrist. (On our shoot) we got some great still shots of me with the snake, but I wasn’t going to tempt things for too long.”
Last time Survivor went to Africa, they called it the most boring cycle ever.
OK, maybe that was just me. But with the dry plains instead of those subtropical jungles and beach shots, the series had all the tension of watching paint dry. What more can you say about a series that includes rolling boulders as a challenge? And the contestants? Sleeping pills on steroids.
When the high points include some Virginia farmer named Big Tom Buchanan dong the chicken dance to “chicken in a bread basket picking out dough” or some blah, blah, blah, blah do-si-do stuff, you know you’re in trouble.
Did you miss those golden moments? We’re here to share a few more with you:
10. The beans fiasco: Clarence Black decides to swipe a can of beans — ah, remember the good old days when the Survivors actually started out with food items? He fed some of the beans to Diane Ogden, and that resulted in her being the first booted off the continent. Clarence, deemed untrustworthy, got canned in the seventh round.
9. Reverse order: Before Clarence got voted off, he made some Survivor history by pooping on national television and then getting startled by a herd of elephants afterwards.
8. Big controversy: In the final episode, the contestants were quizzed on trivia regarding their fallen comrades. The producers didn’t know that the question, “Which female contestant has no piercings” actually had two correct answers. Kim Johnson responded with the official answer, Kelly Goldsmith, while Lex van den Berghe answered with the second correct tribe member, Lindsey Richter. Lex ended up finishing third.
7. Most honest clothing: Kelly, who wore a T-shirt that proclaimed “Shameless.”
6. Picture speaks louder than words: While our host Jeff Probst talks about how the tribes people would never hurt a cow, the camera cuts to a scene where a local shoots an arrow in a cow’s throat so the Survivors can drink the bovine’s blood in a challenge
5. Most memorable introduction: When Probst introduces a tribesman with the sentence, “You guys remember Charles from when we drank blood.”
4. Archie Bunker memorial scene: Yes, we’re back with Big Tom, the southern farmer guy. During a food auction, he gets teammate Ethan to go half-in with him to buy the mystery food. Turns out it’s a big ham-bacon-and-eggs breakfast, and Tom decides to go into a frenzy singing “He’s a Jew” and won’t eat the meat. Oh, very nice Tom.
3. Most disturbing dance : No, it wasn’t when the overall-clad Big Tom dancing the chicken dance. It was when he opted to stick a feather where the sun don’t shine and shake his bon-bon.
2. What were you thinkin?: In the finals, Kim J. ends up winning the last two immunity challenges. She can choose to go up against either good guy Ethan or spawn of Satan Lex. For some reason, she chooses to go into the final tribal council with Ethan. It was a million dollar error on her part.
1. All for the best: While bad for Kim J.’s personal fortunes, her decision to take Ethan Zohn into the finals with her resulted in one of the best uses of Survivor money ever. Ethan and his friends started a philanthropic organization, Grassroot Soccer, which provides African youth with the knowledge, life skills and support to deal with HIV-AIDS issues.
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(Image courtesy of CBS)