Throughout its nearly two-decade long run, Survivor has produced some unforgettable moments of television; season five was devoid of such moments. Survivor: Thailand fell flat on many fronts and could have derailed the entire series had it not been such a hit in its first couple seasons.
The first and most damning strike on this season is that its most memorable scene, infamously and tragically, is the grinding incident that draws unfortunate parallels to the sexual harassment debacle that has embroiled the current season. When Ghandia Johnson accused Ted Rogers of rubbing up against her at night, the fallout was one that portrayed Ghandia in a negative light and brought an air of humor to a very serious issue. These were the only African-American contestants in a cast that only contained three minorities. The other was Shii Ann Huang, the first Asian contestant on Survivor and to date, the only Thailand player to return for another season. This season was painfully boring at times, as a dominant Chuay Gahn tribe systematically eliminated a diminished Sook Jai in the latter portion of the game. Even a fake merge failed miserably even the numbers. When Brian Heidik won, it came as a surprise to precisely no one.
Proponents of Thailand will point to its hilarity; specifically, the juxtaposition of a cast of primarily southerners building a society in a habitat far different from their own. They will mention contestants like Robb Zbacnik, who famously brought a skateboard as his luxury item, and Helen Glover, one of the most badass “older” women to play – next to Janet Carbin – as reasons why this season is worth watching. But compared to the current era of Survivor, which is predicated on fluid alliances and shock and awe gameplay, Thailand moves at a snail’s pace. For fans who have only seen recent seasons of Survivor, going back and watching Thailand would be like flipping from a boxing match to National Geographic.
The fifth iteration of the show is also lacking in defining moments. The first season is important because it effectively set the structure for how the show would operate moving forward. Australia had the first medical evacuation. Africa had the first tribe swap. Marquesas had the first fracture of a majority alliance. Thailand had…
Thirty-nine seasons in, fans have come to accept that not every at-bat can be a home run. Currently, most viewers are down on Island of the Idols, which has its detractors for a litany of reasons. It’s worth considering how Thailand would be perceived if it aired today. Odds are it would be universally denounced, mainly for the way in which the grind-gate scandal was handled, but also, to a lesser degree, because the cast as a whole was not very likable. Though Survivor clearly still has its shortcomings, Thailand is an interesting case study as to just how far the show has evolved, both in its diverse casting and in the way it addresses sexual harassment. Survivor can always do better, but it’s also worth noting it has been done a whole lot worse.
Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. EST on CBS.