How do you keep a show that is in its 22nd season fresh? Change the rules. This year on Survivor: Redemption Island, when you are voted off, you don't go home in defeat or to chill at Ponderosa in luxury. This time, you leave your tribe and head over to Redemption Island where you wait until the next person is voted off. As you think about what went wrong and stew about whoever caused your downfall, you think how you'd like to have a second chance and what you would do differently. If you're very lucky, you'll get to find out.
Because each week, the next voted-off contestant will also go to Redemption Island and the two castoffs will duel to see who remains, and who is out for good. Later in the game, the sole survivor of these duels returns to see if they can capture the ultimate title of Sole Survivor.
We meet the eighteen castaways vying for the million dollars, the usual array of attractive people. They are profiled here and here. Two are extremely familiar faces to Survivor fans: one who personifies evil, the duplicitous Russell Hantz, and one who is the epitome of the redemption story, villain turned hero, Rob Mariano.
If you've ever watched Survivor before, you know how the first episode will go. The contestants are transported in some interesting way, they sit quietly sizing each other up while we, the viewer, do the same. We'll meet a few people early on -- usually those with an interesting character arc and those going out soon. Truly, one of the few flaws of the editing is how they telegraph who is going home from that first episode by giving them more than their share of face time (I'm looking at you Francesca). Yet, if you're a diehard fan like me, you still get goosebumps upon hearing the great dimpled one, Jeff Probst, launching the start of the show as he once again announces 39 days, 18 people, ONE Survivor.
We're back to Nicaragua and, to be honest, I've never watched Survivor for the scenery. If you want that, there might be a Travel Channel show on the country that will show you "the land of lakes and volcanoes." What I want is the deception and duplicitiousness. I want the mindgames. I want the faux friendships and soon-to-be-broken alliances. I want the backstabbing and, a new entry tonight -- frontstabbing. I got all of that and more in just this first episode.
The sixteen contestants who exited their helicopter transport looking all nicely-scrubbed and fully in possession of the faculties for the last time were introduced rather quickly to the twist du season, the addition of Boston Rob and Evil Russell to the game. They were treated like rock stars at first, cheering and clapping and huge smiles -- well, at least for Rob. Their response to seeing Russell was a bit more muted. Like seeing your ex or that creepy high school coach. It took little time for their fans to target them for early elimination. And that makes sense, because if you bring Russell to the end you know he's going to...lose. Oh, right, he's 0-for-2. His mom wouldn't vote to give him $1 million. Why then do you want to get rid of him?
They each are randomly assigned to one of the two existing teams, neither of which I can spell right now and I'm not interested enough to pause my DVR. Especially when I can use the handy orange team v. purple team! Moving on, we see Francesca, an attorney, commit an early and potentially fatal rookie mistake. She drew unnecessary attention to herself. She was the first to utter what everyone else thought: "they're sizing us up like we're prey."
Jeff the impish one immediately called her out. Francesca had already begun to dig herself a hole, but she forgot the cardinal rule of holes -- when you're in one, stop digging. So what did she do? She plunged her verbal shovel deeper into the sand: "They're troublemakers. They're two of the most famous troublemakers in Survivor history. I don't think they're here just to help us out."
Okay, so if you've watched any Survivor, or any reality TV show, or if you have two brain cells to rub together, you know she's in a pile of trouble. But, maybe all is not lost. Sure, she's given the producers a lot to work with in her first minute, but she'll retreat and regroup and save herself. She's a lawyer, for heaven's sake.
Jeff explains the new twist -- Redemption Island -- and how you should be careful who you vote off because they may come back. So how does Francesca take this piece of information? Does she keep her thoughts to herself as she should have when she saw Rob and Russell? Will she stanch the flow of blood before it's too late? She knows how important words are and how they can be used against you, so she'd never say to the camera: "The good part is, if I get voted out I can get back into the game. But the possibility of getting voted out is so not a reality to me...."
You could fast forward at this point or switch over to watch the singers on American Idol having meltdowns when asked to memorize the lyrics to songs that even Osama Bin Laden in his Afghan cave is familiar with. You know Francesca has a fork stuck in her side.
But it's Survivor and you want to see exactly how things turn so bad for someone seemingly so smart.
First, though, we hop over to the purple team and watch Russell salivating over the raw meat there. He has it all planned and they're powerless to stop this runaway train. Meanwhile, music from How the West Was Won plays (or Bonanza or some other we're manly men show) in the background as we watch the busy bees building their shelter.
On the orange team, someone actually asks "Boston" Rob, he of the "pahk your cah in Hahvahd Yahd" accent and Red Sox baseball cap, if he's from Boston. That guy must be a Mensa member, for sure! Natalie, the "professional dancer" is crushing hard on Boston Rob. Watch your back, Natalie. Amber may look cute and sweet but she'll cut a bitch who goes after her man.
We are reintroduced to former federal agent Phillip (loved the "boing" sound effect the producers gave us here) who thinks his disclosing his prior profession is this big reveal. Francesca thinks it's a hoot. What won't be a hoot is when Phillip the delusional is still in the tribe and you're off to Redemption Island.
Also on the orange team is the not aerodynamic Kristina (how she stays upright is beyond my comprehension of physics) who is crafty enough to start snooping around for the hidden immunity idol, yet not wise enough to do it without absolutely everyone in the camp noticing. Nevertheless, she finds it! Maybe she got one of the producer's clues that were meant for Russell.
Did I mention that Phillip is insufferable? But thanks to the nonstop face time, he can't be long for the show. He makes an alliance with the girls, the makes an alliance with Rob, he tells Kristina he's against Rob, then tells her how important his integrity is to him.
Russell presents Stephanie with an offer she can't refuse, be the next girl he takes along to the end. She doesn't trust him, wisely, but she's all into staying on his good side and using him. I like that. Meanwhile, others on the tribe are totally onto their plan, and both of them are in their crosshairs. But will that last. For two seasons, people have known that Russell was dangerous and yet they let him sneak through.
Kristina is targetting Rob. She pulls Francesca and Phillip into her masterplan. But within seconds of being part of this new alliance, Phillip shows that he has fewer people skills than Ted Kaczynski, berating, insulting and aggravating his new partners in crime. Francesca realizes she's going down a dangerous path with her new psycho alliance, but she does nothing to save herself. Recognizing a problem is not the same as fixing it, just fyi.
So Kristina wants to get rid of Rob now, Francesca suggests doing something smart like getting rid of the weakest player, Natalie, so they have strength in challenges. But Kristina cannot get Rob out of her mind, he just bugs her for some reason and that is enough for her to make a decision that would spell the end of her tribe in all future challenges. I wonder what law school she goes to -- one that stresses impulsivity and irrational thinking? Yale? Meanwhile, Kristina is on Rob's list, too, recognizing that she is nothing but trouble -- he figures she probably already has the idol. Ding ding ding!!
Does anyone else think that Phillip practiced his confessionals in front of a mirror? He is way to posed for this to be natural.
Did you know that fire represents life? Jeff, you should have told us that before.
Tribal council. So this is how things can unravel so fast. Jeff asks an innocent question -- Francesca, what do you think of Redemption Island? The correct response? I like puppies. The wrong answer: "If Rob got voted out tonight, which he won't, but if he..." Phillip immediately reacts. "I have a problem with that statement she just made." Okay, fine stop there. Oh, wait, there's more? "Francesca and Kristina asked me to cast my vote for Rob."
And then all hell broke loose and the six tribe members watched the three eat each other alive. Now Phillip wants to vote out Francesca...and he says it out loud. But he'll stop now. He's done enough damage. He wouldn't possibly let slip that...Kristina has the hidden immunity idol. Everyone, guess what Kristina has!! My favorite line? Phillip tells Jeff "I have nothing more to say." Perhaps you should have thought of that about three minutes earlier.
Boston Rob tries a sneaky ploy, asking Kristina to give him her immunity idol, when she proves herself smart enough not to fall for that, he then signals the rest of the tribe that their earlier agreed upon split the vote idea is still on. Very sneaky, very smart, Rob.
So votes are cast and not surprisingly it is Francesca, who sealed her fate back on the orange mat soon after she landed in Nicaragua, who is the first sent to Redemption Island. She should have plenty of time to replay the events of the last two days and then grab something hard to hit herself in the head with.