Erik Reichenbach was a contestant on CBS' Survivor twice, first in Micronesia and the most recent season, in both instances coming in fifth out of twenty contestants, indicating pretty good game play on his part.
However, in the first outing at age 22 his exit was precipitated by what is widely regarded as the most foolish move in the series history. He had won three Immunity challenges in a row and was assured a spot in the final four, but was convinced by Natalie, one of the four women who remained his competitors, that he stood a better shot with the jury if he acted as a gentleman and gave his immunity necklace to her. Amazingly, he did so and without a shred of guilt the four women voted him out, including Natalie, who could have thrown a pity vote in the direction of one of the other contestants and he still would have been sent packing, but she didn't have the class to do so.
Okay, he was young and immature. Naïve might be an understatement. However, in spite of that or perhaps because of it he was invited back to this season's battle between Fans and Favorites, where his previous descent into ridicule in the annals of Survivor lore was brought up over and over again.
This time, five years older, he was determined to show that he learned from his grievous error, and, as in the previous contest, his athletic prowess helped his team win many challenges and he won an important come from behind individual Immunity Idol late in the game.
Though youthful and tall and arguably as attractive as any of the male contestants in the show, the producers chose to spotlight Malcolm, Reynold and Eddie as heartthrobs, while Erik was placed in the background, albeit visibly seen as a strong competitor during the reward and immunity challenges.
To my mind, his less flashy countenance was a good strategy, as adverse attention was cast upon Malcolm and Reynold, who both appeared cocky with their boastful assertions that the game was theirs to have. In Malcolm's case he was fortunate to be on the Favorites team, which won most of the early challenges and so very few of them were voted off. In the instance of Reynold and his cohort Eddie their tribe mates on the Fan team chose to knock off their girlfriends. That, plus a medical evacuation of Shamar and the melt down of Brandon kept them in the game with things working in their favor until the merge.
Meanwhile Erik was playing both sides, appearing to join the boy alliance of Malcolm, Eddie and Reynold, wherein he voted against his alliance to oust the self-appointed Survivor guru Phillip, but later voted to rid the game of Malcolm and later Andrea.
By keeping under the radar he felt assured enough to give up challenges for the exchange of food and/or personal comfort even when it was down to six and the target could have easily shifted to him. However, it was Brenda who was ruthlessly blindsided by her friend Dawn, who had assured her of sisterly love when Brenda dove into the water to retrieve Dawn's dental retainer which had driven the older woman to hysterics. Perhaps shocked at the turnabout and magnified by his weakened state due to hunger, Erik suddenly became dizzy.
He sat down with his colleagues around him and TV host Jeff Probst was summoned to ask how he was. Erik clearly seemed out of sorts and the medical team came to his side. His blood pressure was taken and at 100/70 was considered low, which though not average is far from life-threatening. He was given an IV of a saline solution to provide nutrients and hydrate him, and suddenly he was removed from the game.
Though it's difficult to state what prompted the decision and whether Erik had any part in it, it was also not clear how much time elapsed during the treatment period. Editing may have made it appear only a few minutes, but it didn't seem from their conversation that there had been a huge amount of time spent to see if the IV might have kicked in and, after a bit of rest, he would have been okay, especially with a night's sleep.
Instead, he was dismissed from the game, taken into an ambulance, yet only a couple of days later appeared cheerful and fit as he made his entranceway as the most recent member of the jury.
So my question is whether the production chiefs made the right call or were they were overly concerned to the extent that they spoiled the chances of someone who might well have made it to the final three and, considering those who were already on the jury, was popular with many of them.
I say this in particular because not once in the aftermath show, during which interviews are conducted with the contestants, was the subject brought up. There was no explanation, no defense of what had taken place, no indication of the gravity of Erik's situation, even as he seemed so well in such a short time after the incident.
Instead, the producers filled time with long-ago contestant Rudy Boesch, who embarrassed himself and the Navy Seals he represents, not to mention the CBS network, with homophobic references to Survivor I victor Richard Hatch, twice referring to him as a "queer." I'm sure this was the 85-year-old Boesch's old school upbringing talking and he probably wasn't being venal, but was this discourse and an interview with a young girl about her crush on Malcolm more significant than illuminating the audience about what had recently happened to Erik at the outset of the final two-hour episode?
No doubt Erik will be brought back in a future season, but this year's winner Cochran, who coasted for most of the season and won two Immunity idols due to easier reward challenge wins that gave him advantages in the tougher immunity contests, got another very lucky break. Indeed, the imperious Harvard graduate had condescendingly dismissed the talented graphic artist Erik as an "ice cream scooper," which had been his occupation during college five years earlier. Now, with Erik out of the picture during the last two extremely pivotal challenges, neither of which were particularly physical, he emerged as the unlikely winner sitting next to Dawn and Sherri, respectively disliked and disrespected, with Cochran garnering a lesser of three evils unanimous vote.
Michael Russnow's website is www.ramproductionsinternational.com