Thursday, September 24, 2015

Survivor Second Chances - Episode 1 - Downward-Facing Chances

That's what second chances is about.  Did you learn from your mistakes the first time?  Did you correct them?  - Peih-Gee Law

The only thing worse than getting your torch snuffed on Survivor is being the first one out of an all-returning players' season.  Especially one as hotly anticipated as this season, Survivor: Second Chances aka Survivor: Cambodia aka the one the fans got wrong by not voting in Shane Powers.  You could avoid the ignominy two ways, your tribe could win the first immunity challenge or you could not be "that guy" the one who sabotages his own game by doing something dumb.  And one of those dumb things is giving the producers a sound bite like this one: "My mistake last time was my lack of awareness and overconfidence."  Or this one: "Somebody might do something real stupid later in the game." 

But first (sorry, still channeling Big Brother) let's look at the start of the episode.  Jeff lays it on pretty thick and yet it's not undeserved.  Having once made a small mistake on a game show (I mispronounced the Ganges river), I know how you can be haunted by falling short of your goals and not winning the prize you had hoped for.  I can only imagine if the prize was $1M.  And so a season with all returning also-rans, especially for those who came tantalizingly close to winning, it is not an exaggeration to say that there is a lot on the line.  Someone will get a demon off their back and nineteen others will have a new regret to pile on top of their old one.

The first castaway with a voice-over/confessional, and the first shown in the actual credits, Kelly Wiglesworth, from the very first Survivor.  She's fifteen years older than when she first played Survivor.  Then she was a young, naive outdoorsy girl who thought she was playing a survival-based game and had no idea about the social aspect of the game.  She famously lost by one vote by her former ally Sue Hawk who voted for the snake, Richard Hatch, over the rat at the final tribal council.  Kelly is the only returning member from Borneo and was given the chance to replay the very first Survivor challenge, Quest for Fire.

Next spotlighted was Andrew Savage from Pearl Islands.  He was one of the former players considered most deserving of a second chance as his original boot came after an unexpected, unfortunate twist.  You could feel the pain a dozen years of regret have built up in him and you can sense that he's not back for a good time but to erase the past.  Spencer Bledsoe, the young superfan from Cagayan, is just a year away from his first unsuccessful outing and he's come better prepared and, he promises, more humble than the first time.

Next up is Kimmi "don't wave your finger in my face" Kappenberg from Australia.  Forever associated with Alicia's flying digit and her love of chickens, Kimmi is older and wiser but seems less haunted by her first outing and less desperate to win.  Kelley Wentworth from San Juan Del Sur is eager to get back in and fight for the title, this time without the weight of her father dragging her down.  Fellow Blood v. Water castaway Ciera Eastin tells us she wants to be known for more than voting her mother out.

Tasha Fox, another Cagayan castaway, went far but not far enough.  More a victim of ultimate Survivor Tony's great gameplay than any failing on her part, she's promised to bring a little villainy to her game this time out.  Possibly as tortured by his loss as Andrew Savage is Jeff Varner from the Australian Outback.  Unlike Kimmi, Jeff had a real chance to win this game, but an impetuous decision to jump off and out of a challenge due to the lure of a taste of smooth, creamy peanut butter sent him packing.

Golden boy, Adonis, Mr. Perfect, whatever you call him Joe Anglim is back from last season's World's Apart where he showed that there really is something about being too good to be true.  He is a walking billboard that screams challenge THREAT and no one will give him a pass to the final four.  He's setting his expectations low, hoping to last long enough for the family visits.  "Chaos" Kass McQuillen, the third and final "Brains" tribemate from Cagayan, claims she's learned her lesson and that she needs to tone down her evil image.  Not her actual villainy, just the image.

Speaking of someone returning with a bad reputation, we next hear from Abi-Maria Gomes, from the Phillipines, who claims to be more self-aware and promises not to threaten anyone with death this time out.  Good guy Jeremy Collins from San Juan Del Sur is back for redemption which in his case means not getting too comfortable and being blindsided by your alliance.  He's here without his wife and with an awareness that you can't let your guard down.

With the introductions out of the way, the game starts.  First up is gathering supplies for camp and then heading over to the beach to set up.  It immediately becomes clear that there are two ways to play the game and two categories of players.  There are those who worry about setting up the camp, gathering wood, getting fire, building a shelter and there are those who start scrambling and building alliances.  Some refer to this as old school versus new school, even though the very first scrambler was from the very first season of Survivor.

We split the castaways into two tribes, Bayon and Ta Keo, that only true Survivor nerds will remember by next season.  It's an interesting draw.  Ta Keo had Shirin Oskool, Spencer, Abi-Maria, Jeff, Peih-Gee Law, Vytas Baskauskas, Terry Dietz, Woo Hwang, and both Kelly and Kelley.   Bayon has Joe, Jeremy, Stephen Fishbach, Ciera, Tasha, Kimmi, Kass, Keith Nale, Monica Padilla and Andrew.    More early confessionals from Bayon, so of course they'll be the ones going to tribal.

Woo from Cagayan gets the next confessional, and he still doesn't mention that taking Tony to the finals was the worst decision of his life and the one that has hung over his head ever since.  He's just too chill.  Terry from Panama is more self-aware of his short-comings in his confessional, telling us that his wife mentioned working on his social game this time out.  Since he's ten years older, and competing against Joe and Woo, he better not rely on beasting all the comps to get to the end.

Whoever had 20 minutes in the pool for how long it would take before Abi-Maria started drama won the bet.  She can't find her bag and she's looked everywhere and it's nowhere and where the hell is her bag.  Just beause she knows that her downfall int he past was her temper, it's not going to keep her from tracking down the bag thief if it's the last thing she does.

We get a confessional from Keith "Stick to the plan" Nale who promises to be a better strategist but with just as much spitting as his last time out.  He and fellow San Juan Del Sur castaway Jeremy agree to put the past behind them and work together and Jeremy also pulls in Tasha, Andrew and Joe.  And then he goes and makes mistake #1, telling the camera "It will be so dumb to mess this up."

I feel sorry for Andrew's two daughters who were embarrassed on national TV when their dad outed their mad crushes on the dreamy Joe.  But Joe is thrilled that anyone may want to keep him in the game despite his physical talents.  On the other end of the scale is poor Steven "knowingest know-it-all" Fishbach who was runner-up in Tocatins.  He's the nerdy, physically inept, non-threat who cannot bend let alone break a tree branch and who has to find a balance between being too savvy a gameplayer and too weak a physical competitor.

Older brother of Survivor winner Aras Baskauskas, Vytas is back hoping to be less of a target than he was his first time out.  His plan is to get in good with the women and, being a yoga instructor, he thinks giving one-on-one lessons with the ladies is the way to go.  On the other beach, Joe is also leading a yoga session for his tribemates.  Our first lesson of the season, you can charm more women by looking like Joe and not touching them than looking like Vytas and manhandling them.

Shirin from World's Apart is of the play fast camp and is immediately pulling in people, strategizing with Spencer and Jeff to target Vytas.  It's a great first target.  He's physically fit, but his loss will not spell doom for your team.  He's a weasly game-player who can't be trusted, so you wouldn't want him going deep in the game.  His pelvic thrusts are the stuff of nightmares and he's scoring a ten on the the creepiness chart.  And it's always best to get out an easy target everyone can rally around rather than risk aiming at and missing someone who will come back against you.  Jeff tells us that he was a bit rattled by the speed of the Shirin train approaching him and he quickly realized that the game had started and he had to start playing just as fast.  And in the smartest thing I've heard yet, he says that he knows that in every conversation about strategy the answer is always yes.  You are a quick learner, little grasshopper.

"Old school, new school?  What do I do?"
We has some drama after Abi-Maria found her bag in fellow hyphenate Peih-Gee's bag, but rather than having an enormous blow up, Abi-Maria managed to do her version of being calm, cool and collected (or collective in honor of Rodney).  While Ta Keo alternately strategizes and bickers, Bayon is building fire thanks to "he who can do no wrong" Joe.  The castaways look around to do a roll call and see Stephen off by himself searching for the immunity idol.  He's worried that his reputation as the game savvy nerd may make him an early target and so he's looking for help and quickly.  But by taking himself out of the camp to go look for the idol, he only brought more negative attention onto himself.  Not something his fellow know-it-all would say was good strategy.  Stephen then tries to show what he can offer his team physically by trying to break a tree branch and after a few minutes it's tree 1, Fishbach 0. Perhaps he should have practiced weaving palm fronds. 

Before going to the immunity challenge, we see Jeff Varner (the king of confessionals) and Peih-Gee hanging out together and strategizing.  They both saw that it came down to Vytas (who Shirin was targeting, hard) versus Abi-Maria (who was butting heads with Peih-Gee).  The choice could also be broken down to old school (the hardworking. fit people who build shelters like Terry) versus new school (the wily overactive strategists like Spencer).  Often when you see someone caught in the middle it's foreshadowing that their indecisiveness ends up costing them the game and so I was worried for my fave Jeff after this scene.

Heading to the immunity challenge, Kelley had out-Fishbached Stephen by managing to disguise her search for the hidden immunity idol while successfully gathering supplies for camp.  Along the way, she discovered the clue as to the location of the idol.  This year's twist, announced before the start of the season, was that the idols would be hidden at the challenges, making the decision whether to go for it and how to be subtle about it adding intrigue.  At the challenge, this added a new level of intrigue and excitement as we were not only watching who would get to the end first but whether Keley would be able to grab and hide the idol without anyone noticing. In fact, once we saw that the challenge was between Kelly and Joe, the question was not who would win but whether there would be a window of opportunity for Kelley to make her move. The first time Kelley was close to the idol, she failed to grab it, but as the race to win became a nailbiter, and her fellow tribemates were glued to the stick reaching for the elusive key, she quickly grabbed and hid the idol.  Nice move!

Though Keith and his poor torch handling skills put Ta Keo behind going to the last phase of the competition, Joe ended up with a better pole than Kelly - longer and stronger (the stuff just writes itself sometimes) - and he pulled out the win for Bayon.  And so we never had to discover whether Fishbach's trip away from camp was going to cost him not just his future on the show but his dignity and reputation.

Jeff Probst had a shocker for the losing tribe. They would immediately go to tribal, no going back to the beach to scramble and plot.  Immediately was more an approximation as it was pitch black by the time the tribe got to tribal council, but it was still pretty clear they had not had time to put a firm plan together.  This made for an interesting tribal where looks, head nods, veiled and not-so-veiled comments served as all the strategizing they were allowed.  

It took no time for it to become apparent that it was going to be either Abi-Maria or Vytas.  Personally, I was hoping for Abi-Maria because I get tired of typing the hyphen every single time.  Also, she was a huge, hard to swallow pill her first time out.  But I respect great gameplay and she is not the ultimate threat that Vytas is.  His likable brother has bonds with some of the castaways, he's a manipulator, and he's a potential challenge threat.  There will be plenty of opportunities for Abi-Maria to go off the deep end and get into another fight about absolutely nothing (although I do wonder why Peih hyphen Gee had her bag and didn't say anything when she knew it was missing).  But blindsiding Vytas and getting that smug guy to do the ultimate walk of shame is a pretty attractive offer.  So with a vote of 6-4, Vytas was sent packing.

Shirin has surprised me most so far.  I thought she was the least socially-aware castaway her season and with her reputation, her millions, and her personality, I did not think she'd build bonds so quickly.  But she seems to have a great ally in fellow nerd superfan Spencer, much better than her last alliance with Max "who doesn't love to hear me talk" Dawson.  I was also keen on seeing Jeff Varner adapt so quickly to the new age of Survivor.  On Ta Keo, I'm worried about Stephen and think he needs to quickly get together with the women and target some of the alpha males.  The bromance between Andrew and Joe in particular needs to be broken up sooner rather than later.

With all the excitement built up and all the hype, I'd say this was a great first episode.  Even if there was none of this:

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