Hasta La Fuego (Episode 12-6)

This week, the La Mina tribe resumed its losing ways, falling to Casaya in a combination Reward/Immunity Challenge. Sally, as the last woman on La Mina, was the tribe’s obvious choice for elimination. But Casaya spared her when they sent her to Exile Island instead of Tribal Council. Dan, master of the fire at camp, was the weakest of the La Mina men, so the others chose him as the sixth person voted out of Survivor: Panama – Exile Island.

The night before the challenge, Casaya bickered about the fractured vote at the previous Tribal Council, which ultimately sent Bobby home. Most of the team lay in the shelter: Shane on one side, Danielle and Cirie cuddling with Aras in the middle, and Bruce next to them. Shane told Danielle she was stupid to have kept Bruce instead of Bobby. Bruce lay sleeping (or pretending to sleep) only feet away from Shane.

Danielle tried to convince Shane to save the argument for the morning, but he persisted. He said that he wanted out of his alliance with Danielle and Courtney, and asked that they let him out of a promise he’d made on his son’s name. Aras and Cirie listened in, but said nothing.

Courtney had spent the night on the beach, so Cirie eagerly filled her in on what Shane had said in the shelter. Danielle came over, and she and Courtney decided that Shane should be the next person voted out. Cirie solemnly consented to vote with them.

In an interview, Cirie let loose giggles she’d withheld from Danielle and Courtney when agreeing with their plan. She was ecstatic about the rift in the Casaya alliance, and proud of the quiet role she was playing in causing that rift. She knew that the more they turned against each other, the further she’d be able to advance in the game.

Later that morning, Shane approached Danielle and Courtney about terminating their alliance. Danielle was quick to agree, but Courtney wanted to give Shane a piece of her mind first. “You don’t even realize how mean you are,” she told him. When suffering nicotine withdrawal, Shane probably doesn’t realize where he is most of the time, let alone how mean he’s acting.

Aras talked with Shane about his actions, and Shane realized that he’d probably made a huge mistake by angering Courtney and Danielle. Still, he didn’t regret his decision. He called Danielle a “meatball,” and said he thought even less of Courtney. In Shane’s world, Courtney ranks sub-meatball.

Aras was secretly pleased at the dissolution of his alliance. Shane was a loose cannon, and Aras felt he’d be in a better position without Shane to worry about.

Unlike Casaya, the members of La Mina were still getting along. Sally knew she wouldn’t be able to break up the boys club, but she had other problems to worry about. Their camp was running perilously low on food, so they had resorted to catching minnows and eating them raw.

While fishing with Nick, Dan revealed that he’d been an astronaut, and not just an engineer at NASA. They told Austin when they returned to camp, and he shouted, “Dan Fuego is a stud!” Author Austin then confessed his own secret: “My real name is John Grisham.”

That afternoon, both tribes received Tree Mail summoning them to a challenge. As usual, the winners of the episode’s first challenge would get a reward and the opportunity to send one of the losers to Exile Island. However, the Reward Challenge was the episode’s only challenge, making it an Immunity Challenge, as well. The losers would face Tribal Council that night, leaving the exiled tribe member immune from the vote.

There were two parts to the challenge. First, three members of each tribe ran one at a time along a zig-zag path to retrieve four puzzle pieces–each skull-shaped, but non-identical. The pieces were large, heavy, and tied to frames about 100 meters from the starting mat.

As soon as a tribe had all four pieces on the mat, the two remaining tribe members would position them on a puzzle board. There were already nine pieces attached to the board, between which the skull pieces fit. However, the puzzle-solvers needed to figure out not only which skull pieces went in where, but also which way to rotate the pre-attached pieces so that those four new pieces fit. Once the first of the four new pieces was in place, the rotations of the other pieces would become more obvious, and it would be easy to complete the challenge.

Shane was the first member to fetch a puzzle piece for Casaya, but he struggled to untie the knots holding his piece in place. Aras and Danielle had an easier time, as did Shane when he untied the tribe’s fourth puzzle piece. But, by then, Shane’s early problems had allowed Terry, Austin, and Nick to give La Mina a substantial head start on assembling the puzzle.

La Mina watched their lead evaporate as Sally and Dan floundered with the puzzle. Bruce and Cirie (Courtney sat out of the challenge) quickly figured out where to put their first piece, and they finished their puzzle before Sally and Dan got a single piece into place.

Fully aware that Sally was slotted as next to go, Casaya sent her to Exile Island. They then took off for their reward, a barbecue in a nearby fishing village. Jeff Probst gave them hula hoops, soccer balls, and a piñata as gifts for the children in the village.

Casaya feasted on chicken, soup, and soda pop. And they danced and played games with the kids. But Shane got what he’d really desired from day one: a cigarette. As he sucked the thing down to its filter, he admitted, “This is probably a really bad decision.”

The resulting buzz was strong enough to make Shane realize that cigarettes are a real drug. Fifteen days of withdrawal-induced mood swings should’ve been clue enough.

Cirie enjoyed the food and watching the children play, but she said she might have preferred if Casaya had lost the challenge. The reward gave Shane an opportunity to apologize to Danielle, leaving Bruce as the only buffer between Cirie and elimination, should her tribe lose immunity a couple more times.

At La Mina, the mood was somber, as the boys club had to decide which of them would go home that night. Austin explained to Terry that Dan was physically too weak to last in the game. Terry told Nick and Austin that, despite his friendship with Dan, he knew what had to be done.

Terry told Dan his decision before Tribal Council. Dan felt that he and Sally had lost the challenge for La Mina, so he understood why he was selected to be voted out. He knew Terry had to act in his own self-interest, but Dan secretly hoped Terry would realign with him and vote for Austin, forcing a tie that would be settled with a challenge.

At Tribal Council, the men acknowledged that Sally was their original target, and that it was a smart strategic move by Casaya to send her to Exile Island. Dan told Jeff Probst that he knew he was going to be voted out, but that he would’ve preferred the vote be divided between him and Austin.

Out of respect for Dan, they proceeded with the vote. Dan cast the lone vote for Austin, while Nick, Austin, and Terry all voted for “Dan Fuego.” In his farewell confessional, Dan thanked his family for letting him go on another adventure.

Although Dan managed to stay on the ground for this adventure, his family provided the most out there “Febreze Survivor Family Moment” yet. His teenaged kids pointed at a machine on the coffee table and said, “The robot is moping without you!” Those kids get beat up at school every day.

Next week’s Survivor is a special clip show on Wednesday night, with footage of Casaya eating a snake. Poor Cirie; she thought sushi was weird. New episodes return in three weeks, when one of the Survivors is ferried away in a “medical emergency.” I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t involve Shane and a straitjacket.