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First Part of the Night: ''Idol,'' ''Survivor''

By RD Heldenfels Published: February 23, 2006

Pretty nasty little tactic on ''American Idol,'' wasn't it? I'm talking about the two-phased eliminations, where people were led to believe they were spared elimination, only to find that the small group on the block was not, in fact, the bottom two or three. No, only one was eliminated, then a second round was inflicted on them, and us.

Of course, as viewers we knew that some trickery was in the works -- that ''Idol'' would not have wiped out two women in the first half-hour when it could hold back one's fate until near the end of the show. (Which is already showing severe signs of padding. I didn't get home until about 8:15, and no one had yet been declared safe.) But it was the latest way of prolonging the agony for the singers.

Not that I felt much agony over the choices. In fact, I was surprised at how close the vote resembled my own feelings; Stevie and Becky were at the bottom of my women's ranking. Bobby was in the bottom two of my men's vote (along with David the crooner, spared elimination this time) and Patrick was not all that far ahead. No big shocker from the sometimes quirky ''Idol'' electorate.

Then I went to ''Survivor,'' although as I am writing this, I do have figure skating on. And have seen two skaters fall. Is there something in the ice in Italy.

As for ''Survivor,'' no big surprise there at the end, although there has been a degree of shock in the way the game is playing out overall. What looked at the beginning like a clearly superior tribe is instead struggling in the challenges, getting beaten by a bunch whose camp interaction has included a lot of dysfunction -- as well as letting us all know how important it was to one member to ''drop a deuce.''

So there was La Mina in tribal council again, and the smiling faces did little to obscure the crumbling within that crowd. Sure, it made sense to send Ruth Marie home. But it made sense to do that a week ago. Now apparent allies Dan and Terry are finding themselves at odds. Talk about honor has been obscured by worries about the merge. Even in this episode, Terry looked like the guy who least needed that extra immunity idol; as happy as he was to find it, he could be even happier if he has to use it soon.

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