For 15 years and 31 seasons Survivor has been a staple of reality television. It is known for pushing people to their limits both physically and mentally. This week's episode was no exception and may have had the most surprising, scary, and sad moment in the series' history.
During the reward challenge portion of the episode, each tribe had to run through an obstacle course and then dig through sandpits for bags with large balls. This portion of the challenge alone took over 45 minutes! By the time each of the three teams had found their bags (in the scorching heat, remember!) you could tell fatigue and dehydration had set in. Everyone was panting, and lying down hoping for a moment of relief.
Jeff Probst has long been telling fans that this season we would see just how prepared they are in the way of medical assistance. Usually we see a jammed finger, or short-term exhaustion in a series, if we see anything from the medical staff at all.
What happened in this episode is absolutely shocking!
After the Brain tribe had won the challenge, their teammate, Debbie, lay down quickly and asked her teammates to shade her from the sun. Her team called over a medic, who began pouring water all over her face and chest in hopes of bringing down her body temperature. Debbie had pushed herself so far that heat exhaustion had set in!
Meanwhile, around this intense moment the other two tribes, Beauty and Brawn, are attempting to finish their challenge, fighting for second and third places. At this time it was very obvious that all the Survivors were feeling the exhaustion and heat from the sun.
Fans of Big Brother may recognize Caleb from Season 16, in 2014, where he made it to the Final Four. When you see Caleb, you can tell he's easily one of the most fit guys out there on this season of Survivor, so it was a huge surprise to see him go down with heat exhaustion after winning the final part of this challenge for his tribe.
Caleb wandered over to the shade of a small bush before falling into the sand on his back. He was obviously having trouble breathing, and he was quickly given water by his team.
If two people going down in a single challenge wasn't enough, a third castaway felt the heat and could no longer stand. Cydney went down after her team came in last in the challenge. She had been holding in her pain until the very end in hopes of winning the challenge for her tribe.
Cydney also received the same water treatment as Debbie and Caleb, and as she lay crying in the sand Jeff asked her how she was feeling and if she wanted to stay in the game. She was adamant about remaining, and it was very sweet to watch an otherwise rough Kyle being very attentive, sitting with her and making sure she received water.
During the commotion of Cydney and Caleb, Debbie was able to sit back up and rejoin her teammates, and luckily seemed to make a quick recovery!
The same could not be said for Caleb who was having a hard time breathing, and as we watched his temperature fluctuate on the portable scanner you could see the panic ensuing in the entire medical staff. Jeff Probst even yelled out for anyone on the crew that could help to grab a lighting reflector and bring it over to fan Caleb with!
When you look at this scene, it's overwhelming to realize that this many people are behind the scenes at Survivor keeping it running! The cameras and editing always do such a great job of never letting us see behind the curtain, so rarely have viewers seen cameramen or crew in a shot!
Cydney was recovering quickly, just as Debbie had, but unfortunately the same could not be said for Caleb. He received oxygen as well as an infusion of saline to re-hydrate his body. As well as stacks of ice along his arms and chest to bring his temperature down.
In the end the medical team deemed Caleb too serious to remain on the island, and despite Caleb's objections to Jeff when he was told he was out of the game, they called in a helicopter to evacuate him. They believed he needed more serious assistance than what they could offer on the beach. In the few moments that followed, there were some very touching moments with his tribe, but mostly with Jeff as he called Caleb a warrior, and expressed his gratitude for Caleb being a part of the game.
As his team squeezed in between medical personnel to say goodbye, it was extremely emotional. These five are nine days into this forty day game, and they're saying goodbye to someone who had been physically fine just hours before. The Beauty tribe had gotten along extremely well together from the start, and they were on a roll in challenges. They were tight and none of the drama of the game had come between the castaways yet, they genuinely were a very tight group!
After the helicopter flew away, and before the show went to the commercial break, the screen read:
"Caleb has fully recovered, is 100% healthy... and hopes to play again."
Seeing Caleb like this, on oxygen and evacuated onto a helicopter, put the game into perspective, not only for his tribe but for the viewers too.
Caleb was one of the most fit guys to ever play this extreme game and yet he's one of the few that has needed to be evacuated. Anything can change, and it can happen in the blink of an eye.
In 31 seasons of Survivor we have rarely seen medical staff, so to see them needed for three different people after one challenge was really very scary! Also, very few people have ever been pulled from the game, so it's always unfortunate when it does happen. It's no exception with Caleb. He was a kind man, an active player, and had real potential to go far with his alliance and tribe mates.
We'll miss you Caleb, and we're also hoping you'll play again!