‘TOWFI Survivor’ casts off first tribe member

With a flurry of nervous introductions amid fears of snow flurries, the second season of “Take Our Word For It Survivor” kicked off Feb. 21 on WCFM 91.9 Williamstown.

The program, the brainchild of “Take Our Word For It” veterans Topher Goggin ’02 and Mark Robertson ’02, exists as a scaled-down version of the hit CBS reality television program. “TOWFI Survivor” generally follows the format and rules of the series, while attempting to preserve the tension and drama of the big-time configuration within the old-time limitations of college radio.

Premiering nearly two months after the tape date of Jan. 5, the show is set within the exotic borders of Adams, Mass. at the home of co-producer and broadcast talent Ben Chaffee ’02. The $500 grand prize for the victor has remained, but much of the action and production has been moved outdoors to the backyard and garage area of the Chaffee residence, a far cry from the cozy confines of last season’s Northside Motel setting.

Indeed, the inclement weather proved to be the star of the season’s first episode, the threat of imminent snowfall overshadowing the entire proceedings. With the obligatory contestant introductions consuming a rather large portion of the program, and the trip to Adams eating into the 30-45 minutes of real time represented by each week’s episode, the show slowed to a snail’s pace and offered a disappointing lack of action.

The first episode began with the initial meeting of the two tribes in the parking lot of Brooks House on the Williams campus. With moody clouds lurking in the sky, members of both the Arla and the Pencer tribes were forced to dress the part, bundling themselves beneath puffy North Face jackets and layered fleece. This first convention of the game show also served as the official introduction of the show’s contestants, who had been instructed after selection not to reveal their good fortune to the general public. As Goggin explained, the secrecy surrounding the 14 names – a departure from the practice of last season – was intended to ensure the integrity of the game.

“We were trying to avoid people knowing who they’re playing against,” Goggin said. “We know there’s no way we can get total strangers, but this way there’s nothing arranged ahead of time.”

As the contestants congregated, Goggin, the host, presented the tribes with their first group decision – a choice of bonus as they began their adventure. Cutting a Probst-esque figure with his wit and cruelty, Goggin presented two alternatives: an extra blanket, or a thermos of piping hot chocolate prepared by Take Our Word For It chef Dave Glick ’02. Either due to insecurity or good sense, both tribes quickly opted for the blanket. The hoped-for tribal conflict failed to materialize, and the hot chocolate quickly cooled off.

The trip to Adams went quickly, punctuated by the ponderous introductions of the contestants. All were pumped for information on their interest in “Survivor,” potential connections to other players, and most importantly, their strategy for the upcoming eight hours. “Strategy,” for the most part, seemed not to have crossed the minds of the group, whose apathetic plans mostly consisted of “laying back” or “feeling things out.” Pencer Tribe member Julia Karoly ’03 actually professed a dislike for Survivor-style tactics, optimistically saying, “No alliances and backstabbing and talking behind the back for me. . .I can win by just being myself and relying on instincts.”

For all their lack of sophistication, the contestants exhibited an exciting frankness, betraying a penchant for quotes that bodes well for future listening. The Arla introductions saw Pat “PayKo” McCurdy ’02 encouraging everyone to “give up swimming for binge drinking.”

Meanwhile, the Pencers, after being coerced by Jed Mularski ’02 to moo at helpless cows during the trip to Adams, quickly settled onto the porch of the Chaffee residence to record introductions. With their energy and intelligence seemingly sapped by the automobile antics, the introductions were uninspired affairs, with only Mularski, “the Urban Jedi,” offering anything in the way of trash talk.

The rest wasn’t pretty – Rachael Seltman ’05 admitted her “complete lack of talent,” an under-the-weather Shamus Brady ’04 controversially revealed that he’s “playing for his little cousin, who’s listening,” and Brooks Foehl ’88, thirsty employee of the Williams College Development Office, remarked that he “sort of felt like an outsider” due to his unusual status as “a grown-up.” On a related side note about Foehl, Brooks’ last name should be pronounced “Fail”; the full significance of this will assuredly be revealed at the appropriate time.

Also in tow were the ubiquitous Drew Newman ’04, betraying a heretofore-unseen and yet unsurprising lecherous streak, and Kate Leonard ’03, who apparently has a blankie named “Chee-chee.”

With so much airtime consumed by introductions, all that remained for the episode was a hasty Immunity Challenge – the Reward Challenge having been sacrificed to expediency – and Tribal Council, and those played out as expected. The Immunity Challenge consisted of a mini-relay race, with contestants zigzagging through cones while carrying oversized bags of dog food. Upon completion of the relay, the bag was to be cleanly emptied into a garbage can, burying a bacon-flavored chew toy contained within. Once that morsel was rescued, it was to traverse a tribal line in “Pass the Orange” fashion, where it was to be deposited in a metal bucket, with the fastest tribe gaining Immunity and possibly some lukewarm hot chocolate.

The athletic edge clearly rested with the Pencer Tribe, who boasted the speedy Brady, the skier Leonard and a pair of hockey players in Karoly and Foehl, whose beloved Williams JV hockey team no longer exists. On the other side, the Arla Tribe had only a runner in Terri O’Brian ’02 and a linebacker in James Kingsley ’02, with singers and dancers and the aquatic duo of PayKo and Adam Cole ’03 offering little, the swimmers being no good on land.

The real kicker, however, was the Luxury Item of Mularski – a genuine South American machete, with which the crazed Pencer tore open his bag of dog food as if he were a very hungry dog. A lead was opened up with this tack, as PayKo was lowered to using his teeth on the sack of Iams, and the Pencers wasted no time in punishing their opposition. The smoothness of Brady as he applied the finishing stroke only magnified the incompetence of the Arla Tribe, with Brandi Brown ’04 spilling dog food everywhere, and admitted physics geek Cole wiping out badly on the relay.

With victory resulting in immunity, the Pencer lot was momentarily out of danger, choosing to celebrate with a Karoly-led rendition of George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words” routine. Amazingly, there is a possibility that the obscenity-laced tirade could become the tribe’s official cheer, and we all pray that it will. In somewhat of a less celebratory mood was the Arla Tribe, whose post-game interviews with Goggin came out flat and uninspired, revealing few clues as to the feelings of the group.

The ensuing Tribal Council was
a similarly tepid affair, with Goggin doing his best to stir up some controversy within the Arla ranks, but accomplishing little to that end. A good portion of the lack of intrigue can certainly be ascribed to the awkwardness of the first council, with no personalities yet established or feuds to poke at. Adding that to the fact that the first voting is almost always arbitrary and unfair, the result is a formula for disinterest.

The unlucky castaway was Karina Davis ’05, a member of NBC and the BSU, and someone that “Survivor” listeners are simply not going to get a chance to know. She remained relatively quiet and unquotable throughout the episode, and seemed to be targeted by the tribe for her reticence.

Even the Arla members who did vote against her seemed unable to really pin down any defining characteristics of her play deserving of criticism. Kingsley, in his voting booth comments, only had this to offer – “Sorry, but you’re not adding much right now.”

With Davis out, all that remained was to symbolically erase her presence from the tribe. On television, Jeff Probst puts out the flame of your tiki torch, and you slowly walk down the path of shame to be airlifted back to civilization. In “Survivor: Ben’s House,” Goggin smashes the K-mart Christmas ornament that represents your life-force, and you are banished to the Chaffee living room, where a Playstation awaits. This was done with a minimum of fanfare, as Davis predicted bad things for her Tribe in her closing words – “I hope they do well. . .I don’t think they will.”

Next week promises to pick up the pace in a big way – a “scenes from the next” segment revealed that this will be a “food” episode, where contestants will have to eat disgusting things in order to gain immunity and rewards. Goggin was heard to threaten the Survivors with “Best Yet” dog jerky and “Fancy Feast” cat food, a meal that PayKo can really sink his teeth into.

What will become of this rag-tag group of backyard warriors? Tune in this Thursday at 9 p.m. to find out, only on WCFM 91.9 Williamstown, available on the internet at wcfm.williams.edu.