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''Survivor: Guatemala": The Muddy Empire

By RD Heldenfels Published: September 22, 2005

I was feeling pretty good about this season's ''Survivor,'' not least because Stephenie was back; her grittiness on the last ''Survivor'' made her one of my favorite contestants ever.

But tonight's mud-covered tug of war was one of the silliest challenges I've ever seen, and the reward challenge wasn't all that interesting either.

And where's the stuff we really love? You know, the recriminations over lost challenges. (Shouldnt' there have been more complaining about Rafe's performance?) The smirking between-me-and-millions-of viewers look that comes with confiding about strategy. (Blake has to be dogging it between challenges.) The scenes that help make some players stand out, both good and bad.

Tonight's episode felt fast, mainly because the challenges seemed to take up a lot of the airtime and energy, and that's a bad sign. If the challenges are the things we remember most, then the characters are not making much impact, and if they're not doing that on the air, the producers aren't getting much raw footage to massage into something entertaining.

And on a local note here in Northeast Ohio: Channel 19's weather graphics during ''Survivor'' were annoying enough on their own, looking mostly like a hype for the late news. But you'd think the station would at least design them well enough that viewers could read the subtitles of whispered conversations.

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