The tribe walks to treemail. Ethan tells us in a confessional that they were expecting it to be challenge time. As they arrive, Lex Loser yells that it's "sumpin' big!" and Kimj yells back, "Oh, I like big!" Lex Loser narrates that it was a completely different kind of treemail than usual, because it was an "instant reward." He tells the others that there's something for each of them in the treemail, and proclaims it "mail call." He distributes to the tribe Survivor logo-ed manila envelopes. Ethan shakes his to see if it jingles, and then hugs it. This reminds me of my cousins when they were little: they were sure they were getting a puppy for Christmas. There was a big box under the tree for a couple of days; they punched holes in it, and were still so sure that it was a puppy even after it the box never moved and no one ever fed the box. Finally they unwrapped it, and it turned out to be a birdbath. Teresa doesn't hug her envelope; she hugs Kimj instead.
As the others announce that they've received letters, Lex Loser brags, "I've got a whole mess of letters!" He tells us in a confessional that he had letters from his wife, his two sons -- even the shifty one -- and from his parents. He thinks it doesn't get any better than that. It gave him what he needed to get through the next few days, and "fed [his] body and [his] soul." Lex Loser cries. I try to pause the VCR to read his letter, but all I can make out is a lot of 6's.
Teresa tells us that the first note she grabbed was from her dad. He does a very dad-like thing in his letter (dated July 20, 2001) by writing the most basic stuff, and then promising a longer letter from her mother. His letter touched Teresa the most, because his health is bad and she worries that he might not be there when she gets home.
Tom reads his aloud: "Don't forget the pressure's on/ So if you feel like givin' up and bein' a puss/ Just remember that you have to be tough and uphold me reputation/ Now that I'm the big dog." Okay, I guess it wasn't a poem, but he read it like it was one. Beau may well have thought it was a poem, and who am I to dictate the line between poetry and prose? Tom jokes to Teresa, "Does that sound like a way to talk to your dad?"
Ethan is off by himself reading his letter while Africans wail in empathy. Ethan is excited because his loved ones put the ink on the paper and touched it and now he gets to touch it, too. He thinks it's "very nice."
Kimj cries and says the reward is "the best." Her husband wrote her a poem, and "he's not a poem writer." Like that's ever stopped anybody else on this show. Kimj shows the camera a piece of paper with a heart and arrow and "We love you Kippy" written on it. She tells us that even before she came on the show, her husband called her "Survivor Kippy." The poem, which she reads aloud, is as follows: "There once was a girl named Kippy Grant/ Who never said the words "I can't"/ Friends all say she's not like most dames/ It's hard to cover for Kippy's no-show/ For a mom and a wife who really loves living/ We're lucky indeed you're always so giving." While I won't draw the line between poetry and prose, I will allow myself to draw the line between poetry and crap. As Kimj reads the poem, the camera dramatically scans the landscape, and sad music plays in the background, but it's hard to do anything but laugh. Lex Loser is in the background staring, and the others are all listening, too, as she bares her husband's middling soul on national television. Ethan sweetly says what I refuse to say: "That's a great poem!" Teresa tells us that the experience would be nothing if she didn't have people to go back home and share it with. She says the reward brought "a calm and a reality" to her, now that the game is almost over. Teresa reads her letters, backlit, in front of a sunset. Sunset=bad. Backlit sunset=one-way ticket back to Jackson.