The 115 Funniest Things to Ever Happen on Survivor
#34. You guys want my chewed mint?
Marquesas - Episode 10
Out of all the moments on this countdown, this is the one that I can't believe ever actually happened. And I'm serious. If I was a person who had never watched Survivor before, and if I scanned this list for a moment that sounds like it was made up, this is the moment that I would pick. This is the one that sounds like it was made up. Because there's no way I would -ever- believe that Neleh and the chewed mint had actually taken place in real life.
No. Freaking. Way.
Don't believe me? Well why don't you join me for a little recap and we will stroll down memory lane together. Just watch this moment unfold from start to finish and tell me if it sounds like something someone would do in real life. Just be prepared to do a little cringing though. 'Cause this one is ugly.
One of the stars of the fourth season was a bubbly little Mormon girl named Neleh Dennis. She was a 21-year old student from BYU and, at the time, she was the youngest player ever to be cast on the show. She was also one of the sweetest people ever to be cast on the show, and her nicknames of "Swee' Pea" and "Pixie" were definitely well deserved.
Everybody seemed to love Neleh, with her positive nature, her ever-present smile and her gorgeous long flowing blonde hair, and it was no surprise at all that she turned into the "sweetheart" of the Marquesas season. You just couldn't find a bad thing to say about the bubbly little pixie who bounced around saying "oh my heck" all the time. She really was as cute and as innocent as they came.
"Jon is a snake butt little motherhecker."
Well... the problem with Neleh (and the thing that really doomed her in the end) was the fact that the other players never took her all that seriously. They thought she was too childlike. They thought she was too innocent. And most of all, they thought was she too naive. They really never thought of her as much of a player. And for the most part I had to agree with this. I thought Neleh was great as a character and I think she would be a really cool person to hang out with in real life. But as a player it was clear that no one was ever going to vote for her to win the game. She was always thought of more as a "mascot" than an actual player, and it's mainly because the other players didn't think she was on the same level as them. They thought she was just a little girl dressing up in her mommy's clothes. They didn't think she was cut out for a cutthroat social game that required strategy.
And the "mint" episode is a -perfect- example of why the other players felt she didn't belong.
Vecepia: Yes, I know.
By the tenth episode, Neleh had firmly established herself in the alliance in power, but she had also managed to pick up a lot of enemies along the way. Although it wasn't all her fault, it was more or less because people couldn't believe they were actually losing to this girl. This little 21-year old Mormon girl is beating me in the cutthroat game of Survivor? The girl who walks around with flowers in her hair and says "oh my heck" because her religion forbids her to swear? Um, I think not. That was the general consensus among the other players when they realized that Neleh had a chance to win this game. Once they realized they could lose to a goody-two-shoes Mormon pixie, I really think they started to get sort of pissed off.
So was this all Neleh's fault? Well not entirely. A lot of it was because the other players were sort of biased against her. But you can't say Neleh was entirely blameless either. She did a lot of irritating things to help build up a case against her during the game. Here are just a few:
1. Midway through the season, Neleh developed the reputation of being sort of a princess. She gave off the vibe that she was lazy and a bit spoiled, and the other players noticed that she rarely (if ever) did a lot of work. And on a hardworking tribe like Rotu, this sort of attitude was almost unforgivable. Once they labeled her as a princess, Neleh's fate in this game was basically sealed. No way the Rotus were ever going to lose to a Paris Hilton.
2. Neleh was a major part of the takeover coup in episode eight, when the "underdogs" turned on the Rotu Four and took the four power players out of the game for good. And this was infuriating to John and his group of pit bulls. No way were they supposed to be losing to these five dinks. Not like this. Especially when Neleh had publicly stated many times that she was perfectly happy finishing in fifth or sixth place. That sort of blind naivete (and abrupt reversal) really turned a lot of people against her. Because it meant that Neleh was either a liar, or she was a brilliant strategist who hid behind the guise of being a church girl. And the Rotus weren't pleased with either one of those two scenarios. Neleh was a marked woman every single minute after episode eight. Nobody really wanted her to win the game.
3. Neleh was so close to her older friend Paschal, and they had such a pure relationship, that Neleh was always protected by his vote. No way could the vote ever turn against Neleh because she was always protected by the single-most respected member of the tribe. And I think this really worked against her in the long run. I think people really started to resent her level of power. Not to mention that some of them (Sean, Kathy) actually felt like Neleh was playing the old guy. They started thinking Neleh was far more cunning and manipulative than I really think she ever was. And they actually started to fear her after a while.
4. Neleh's personality was adorable in the first half of the game because she loved everybody and was everybody's best friend. But in the second half of the game, this sort of attitude didn't fly quite as well. All the Rotus were mad, there was tension everywhere, and in the middle there's Neleh sitting there saying "But I still love you all. You're still all my best friends." Needless to say, I don't think the Rotus wanted to hear that. In fact she kept up this "I love you all, you guys are awesome!" vibe all the way up to the final jury, and I really think it cost her the win. She just never came off like a major hardcore Survivor player. She came off like somebody who got lucky, and the jury didn't want to lose to a girl who got extremely lucky. They wanted to lose to someone who played like a champion. And they weren't gonna lose to a 21-year old blonde Mormon girl who was forbidden to swear. Sorry, but no way. Homey just don't play that.
But in my opinion the worst Neleh moment (and the one that will make you literally cringe) was the incident with the chewed mint in episode ten. This was the incident that summed up everything she represented in the game (cute, sweet, naive) and it showed how unprepared she was for some of the social aspects of Survivor. Because Neleh had no idea how condescending she was being here. She literally had no idea how insulting it was to offer a half-chewed mint to her starving tribesmates.
Episode ten started with Paschal winning a reward challenge (and a night on a cruise ship) and taking Neleh along as his best friend. This was really no surprise, as Paschal and Neleh had been like father/daughter since the very first day of the game. So Paschal and Neleh spent the night on the boat, they got to take showers, they got to get clean, and it was one of the best rewards trips I think they have ever had on the show. Paschal and Neleh had a giant five-course dinner, they ate until their little tummies were stuffed, and they had a wonderful and amazing time overall.
Neleh enjoying a fancy meal
Neleh and Paschal can't believe their good luck
So Neleh and Paschal had a great time on the boat... and then they went back to camp, to describe it to everybody. And this is where the problems began.
The first problem Neleh faced was that she hadn't brought any food back for anybody else. The Soliantus had expected some sort of leftovers to be brought back to camp, and Paschal/Neleh had either forgotten or hadn't been able to smuggle anything out. So when Neleh started going on and on (and on and on) about the wonderful and amazing meal she had just eaten, people were understandably a bit tired of hearing about it. Here they are, starving, and Neleh is offering up a 2,000 word summary of the baked potato she just ate with butter.
It was hecking awesome, you guys. I mean, holy carp.
Then Neleh went on about her shower, and about how clean her hair was now. She showed off her new manicured nails (which, as the other players noticed, weren't being used to do any manual labor around camp most of the time - they were just far too pretty for that.)
Neleh smelling her shiny clean hair in front of everybody
And then Neleh started talking about food some more.
By this point the rest of the tribe was a little annoyed, and a more game-savvy player probably would have noticed. But Neleh hadn't caught on that people were starting to get tired of this conversation. She was just a little bit too young to be picking up on the signals. So she continued to talk about food until... abruptly... she realized that this might be offending people. And then she pulled off one of the most heinous breaches of etiquette I think I have ever seen another human being commit.
She offered them some food that came directly right out of her mouth.
"The only thing I have left to share is this mint that I shoved in my mouth really fast. So if everybody wants to take a little nibble..."
THE SOLIANTU TRIBE: *murmured "no thanks" and disbelieving grunts*
"No, you guys it's good. It's a little hard candy mint. I don't want it."
Neleh was of course trying to be very courteous. And I have no doubt that her intentions were very pure and very sweet (as always). But the problem was that she was being horribly insulting and condescending. And she didn't even realize it. I mean, this was the same thing as walking up to a poor family and offering them a shiny new penny. And I remember sitting there, saying to myself, "Did Neleh just offer them food out of her mouth? DID SHE JUST OFFER THEM PRE-CHEWED CANDY OUT OF HER MOUTH??"
Oh my heck, indeed.
Finding no takers, Neleh shoves the delicious mint back into her mouth
Like I said, I never could have made up this moment in a story because nobody would have believed it. No one would ever buy a storyline where a girl offers to share pre-chewed food that was already in her mouth. Well, unless she was a bird feeding her little babies. But other than that it just would have never happened. At least not from a human being who sort of understands how social relationships work. I mean, just look at the quote below from Sean. Sean summarizes "Chewed Mint-Gate" better than I ever could have hoped to:
"You're offering seven -starving- adults a piece of candy out of your mouth. Keep your mint candy, man. You know, that's like saying 'Anybody want this piece of doo doo?'"
Want to know why Neleh lost Survivor: Marquesas? All you have to do is re watch the chewed mint scene above. And I'm not saying this moment specifically cost her, I'm just saying this moment sums up why nobody else thought she was much of a player. Neleh may have done well in the game, and she may have gotten herself extremely far. But her ability to do and say the right thing around more aggressive players really came back to bite her in the butt.
Neleh's offer to share a chewed mint remains the single most amazing thing I think I have ever seen on Survivor. Like I said, you just couldn't make this scene up if you tried.
P.S. Would Richard Hatch, Tina Wesson, Ethan Zohn, Vecepia Towery, Brian Heidik, Sandra Diaz-Twine, Chris Daugherty, Tom Westman, Danni Boatwright or Aras Baskaukaukaukaukaukaukaukauskas have offered another player pre-chewed food out of their mouth? I think not. As for Jenna and Amber, well, let's just say the jury is still out... :)
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