Last night’s Survivor was the scariest moment I’ve ever seen on reality TV…and Lord knows I’ve seen way more of it than I’d like to ever admit publicly! But shit got real last night when a brutal challenge led to three cast members passing out from heat stroke, heat exhaustion and dehydration. As a result, one cast member, Caleb Reynolds (formerly of Big Brother), lost consciousness, hyperventilated and had to be evacuated via helicopter to the nearest hospital.
The challenge was an obstacle course of sorts that required digging in the sand to retrieve three bags of balls that would later be used in a skee-ball-esque carnival game. However, this season’s location is Kaoh Rong, Cambodia, and temperatures during filming often went over 100 degrees. Some are reporting that while filming this particular challenge, the temp reached a scorching 118 degrees! The contestants are already super dehydrated, and we can only imagine how hot the actual sand was. In sum: how could production not have expected this!?
Although Caleb was evacuated – his body temperature hit over 110 degrees, which is a near fatal situation – two others went down for the count as well. After the Brains tribe won, Debbie collapsed and needed medical attention. Shortly after, Brawns castaway Cydney collapsed in tears side by side to the nearly comatose Caleb, causing host Jeff Probst to exclaim: “Everyone on the crew is essential! Umbrellas, coolers, water — find a spot to help!”
With three emergency situations happening at once, it was pandemonium – a jaw on the floor, gasp-worthy spectacle to behold. Crew members rushed to carry coolers of water, ice and shade over to the struggling cast. Those sitting on the sidelines watching the horror were given bottles of water – a huge Survivor no-no that has never occurred in the history of the show. While Survivor fans, myself included, love to see these brave souls pushed to their limits – and sure, that includes suffering in some form or another – watching people nearly die on TV is borderline insane.
While watching, I couldn’t tear my eyes away, but afterwards, as I sat and really contemplated what I had just seen, I felt kind of terrible. Dirty, even. For the first time ever, in 32 seasons, I felt like the show had actually fucked up by putting their cast in severe danger. Sure, the cast members sign their lives away (literally) when they sign that contract, but the show should really take some responsibility here. The goal isn’t to try to kill these people – it’s to produce an electric story of people giving it their all, learning about themselves and having the adventure of a lifetime. We all thought Russell Swan’s evacuation from the Samoa season was horrific enough, but this quadrupled the intensity. You can see the actual fear on the faces of the crew and medical team.
When I woke up today, I wanted Probst to explain their decisions. Knowing that production runs tests of every single challenge (by a group of individuals known on-site as “The Dream Team”), I wanted to know every detail of how that trial-run went. I wanted to know if Probst regrets having the dig circle be so large, or if they buried the balls too deep in the sand. Was there anything that production regretted having experienced this? This challenge, on that day, in that heat, seemed completely irresponsible and completely preventable.
In his weekly Q&A with Entertainment Weekly’s Dalton Ross, Probst said it was “the most frightened I’ve been in all my time on Survivor.” While Probst commends the medical team on the show – and seriously, they saved lives – he sort of skirted around the issue of why this even happened in the first place. The show had Caleb in a helicopter only 22 minutes after his collapse, which really is an amazing feat considering the remote location of filming, but the why aspect continues to haunt me. They could have postponed this challenge given the record high temperature. They could have swapped it out for a water challenge instead. They could have called the challenge off once they saw that Debbie had collapsed. The Brawn and Beauty tribes were digging in the sand for nearly an hour, so there were multiple signs of catastrophe all over that scene. But they continued forward. And someone almost died because of it. That makes me extremely uncomfortable as a viewer – as if we’re watching animals being mistreated at a zoo. It felt wrong on every level.
Survivor thwarted tragedy last night…but barely. And we, as viewers, should be holding their feet to the fire…
…but a hypothetical, make believe fire….not a real one that someone falls into and burns his flesh off. We’ve crossed that bridge already.
Despite my uneasy feelings about what went down last night, you know I can’t quit you, Probst. I’m a ride or die fan here…
…just try not to kill someone. K? K.