In the introduction to the season, Jeff Probst is his usual understated self. "This will be the most grueling 39 days in Survivor history." And from what we've heard, for once Jeff is not being hyperbolic. While the producers must have known something when they cast an ER doctor, from what we've all heard, they should have added a priest and a medical examiner. We see glimpses of what's to come and it's not pretty and for a moment you wonder why the heck anyone would put themselves through this even for a million dollars. Before taxes, as Richard Hatch would tell you.
The premiere gets off to a rousing, if reminiscent, start as the eighteen castaways were given two minutes to take as many provisions - from live chickens to machetes - as they can. Just from the first shot of the boat, you can start to see the various personalities come through. Nick, my pre-game pick as the biggest jerk, reclines with his leg dangling over the edge like he's in a men's wear catalog in the "sporty" section. Peter Baggenstos the ER doc looks serious and supercilious as his confessional tells us it's not that he's arrogant, he's just smarter than everyone. And Debbie Warner comes up with the weird quote of the night telling us that "puzzles lay down for me like lovers." Now, does that mean that she's good at puzzles or that since no lover has ever laid down for her, she's actually bad at puzzles?
We meet some of the Brawn team. Scot Pollard, who looks like a bigger version of the Mountain from Game of Throne and sounds like Andre the Giant, tells us his claim to fame is pushing people around for money and he's not going to put up with failure. Kyle Jason Bounty Hunter is single-minded in moving aside everything that stands between him and the million dollars. So they're taking their tribe designation to heart.
The Beauty tribe intros start with poker player Anna Khait who says she's more than willing to use her attributes, both of them, to her advantage. And Nick Maiorano cribs from the old, don't hate me because I'm beautiful ads from the '80s while guaranteeing his victory. What I'd like Nick to win is a mirror and a book on learning to grasp reality.
|Beast Mode Cowby v. Feast Mode Chicken|
The scramble to gather provisions has the castaways quickly deciding what they need and how to get it onto their float before time runs out and so you see some go for the immediate gratification (bananas) while some plan for the long haul (fish traps). We have runaway chickens which leads to a great moment where Beauty tribe member Caleb Reynolds uses the head of fellow tribemate Michelle Fitzgerald to help him dive into the water. Objects small and large are launched overboard and we get a few near misses but somehow no one is seriously injured in the melee.
The tribes get to know each other and the Brawn tribe feels good about themselves and their chances. As long as there isn't a counting competition (I'm looking at you Scot "there are five of us" Polard) they should be golden. They have a bounty hunter, a former pro athlete, a pro body builder, a construction worker and a postal worker and Malibu Barbie. Two of these things are not like the others. Let's put a pin in this.
The Brains talk about how smart they are until Debbie decides to discuss the three hundred pound donkey in the room - what is the president doing on our tribe. Well, Debbie, Obama went to Harvard so that should entitle him to be on the Brains tribe and he is a lame duck so what else does he have to do with his summer. But, wait, no, it's not Obama (as the massive jaw should have alerted her), it's Peter the ER doctor who says he has to deal with this every damn day. You could grow out your hair a little or try a goatee, maybe pin those ears back, but yeah she is the one who says what everyone else was thinking. But there's more from Debbie. Not only does she blurt out the obvious, she decides to tell everyone her life story a la Coach and go on to boast about all her mad skills that will make her invaluable to her tribe. And by invaluable, I mean not at all having any value and a complete annoyance that they will vote off the first chance they get even if that means throwing a challenge rather than having to hear her go on about all the things she does so amazingly.
Neal Gottlieb - the first person to use the word "dandy" on broadcast TV in the last thirty years - knows just how to deal with know-it-alls like Debbie. Patronize her, let her do her thing, and watch as she implodes. It does no good to argue with her or even make little suggestions. She will do it her way until the bitter end.
It's hard to believe that Nick (of the Beauty tribe) has not only seen past episodes, he's blogged about Survivor. So why he would give the "nothing can go wrong" soundbite is beyond me. But he is full of bluster and confidence. Michelle has her eyes on Nick, but strategically is building a alliance with her fellow female tribemates. The women think the men will be easy to break up as the three of them could not be more different. Well, that's not entirely true. Both Tai Trang and Caleb Reynolds questions Tai's inclusion in the Beauty tribe, so they have that in common. While the girls try and figure out which of the guys they can bring over, the three guys are doing the same thing, trying to find their foothold among the girls. Eventually, the three girls (Michelle, Anna and Julia) decide to team up and maybe bring in Caleb who one of them recognized from Big Brother. What they realized about Caleb is that he is loyal to a fault and a great alliance member, so long as he doesn't fall in love with someone on the island.
Back at Brawn, Kyle is already over Blondie, aka Alecia. She's not doing anything around camp and she's doing that girly, giggle, I'm so dumb bit that is not at all cool as she claims not to remember how to lace the palm fronds. Everyone else is living up to their tribe name as they work to build the shelter, but she's looking for the best possible light for her time on camera. She's the first boot (just like I predicted in my blog, what a genius. Oh wait.). He locks up Scot in his alliance (with Jennifer Lanzetti) and their plan to get rid of Barbie seems solid. But Kyle, is hedging his bets and also joining up with Cydney Gillon who has her own alliance with Darnell. So everyone's playing Survivor.
Brains tribe has a generation gap, with "old folks" Joe and Debbie on one side and the other four far, far away in their own group. The four younger tribemates immediately target voting out Joe, dubbed most likely to be medevaced, and "Chatty Cathy who has done it all and is perfect at everything" Debbie next. Despite his grey hairs, Peter is safely ensconced in the younger four and he's fine with going after the ones who will slow them down.
While we know that everyone with half a brain is looking for a hidden immunity idol, the focus is on Tai Trang's obvious, unsubtle, and completely haphazard scorched-earth attempt at finding an idol. He decides that there are some trees planted on a path that look suspicious, so the gardener who loves all living things and cherishes trees, starts pulling up the trees, yanking them out of their home, like the giant in a fairy tale. Probably concerned about reaction from the pro-tree lobby, Tai tweeted today that he carefully, gently, and with great love replanted all the trees. Regardless, his efforts to look for an idol made him look sketchy to his teammates and moved him from being in the best position in the tribe to the bottom of the beautiful totem pole.
|The heat is braining my fries.|
While Aubry was dealing with the demons in her head, Jennifer was dealing with an actual creepy crawly thing in her head. The poor girl had a small bug that was building a small home in her ear and the combination of pain and the freakiness of having a living thing crawling around out of reach was almost too much. She got no sleep and, sadly, not much sympathy from her tribemates who probably thought it was all in her head until they actually saw the damn thing crawl out of her bloody ear. Finally, after the camera person spent enough time focused on her ear to get her oblivious tribemates to finally take a look, the guilty party came forward and was finally removed. Jennifer literally did a 180, feeling completely better the second the evil thing left her body.
It's time for the immunity challenge and the tribes get a moment to strategize about who should do what part of the challenge. Note that Alecia says she's not good at puzzles but Cydney tells her not to focus on what's she's not good at but be positive. Me, it'd trust someone when they tell me they're bad at something. Trickier is whether to trust someone when they tell you they're good at something. The Brawn tribe goes with Darnell who says he's positive, he should be the one to dive. LATER, Scot will tell us that he's an experienced snorkeler, but he fails to mention that - or the fact that at 6'11" he can get to the paddles faster than anyone else.
While all the divers go in head first, without their hands on their masks, only Darnell has the misfortune of his mask flying off the second he hits the water. He climbs back in the boat, unable to see in the murky water without the mask. Meanwhile, over on Brains, Aubry completely redeems herself by single-handedly gathering all the paddles for her tribe. She then takes over the puzzle duties along with Liz and the two of them smoke the puzzle, giving Brain the first win of the season - more than making up for Brains' poor showing back at Caramoan. Beauty tribe is cheating as the two they send to do the puzzle, lawyer Anna and college student Julia, could just have easily been on the Brains tribe. Brawn almost catches up, despite their initial setback, but in the end they lose by one piece.
Alecia had to sub out for the Brawn tribe after a few idle minutes staring at the puzzle while Jenny worked fast on her part, so you would think the blame for the loss would be spread equally between her and Darnell. But Alecia isn't worried, since she's not a puzzle master - which she told them in advance - so really it's their fault they lost, not hers. Regardless, both she and Darnell do an apology tour of the camp as they each realize that their challenge blunders make them easy targets and when there are so few players and so little to go on when deciding how to vote, blowing a challenge is as good a reason as any.
While it seemed the obvious choice was to vote off the skinny girl who sucks at puzzles, for some reason unknown to me and not shared with us the viewers, Scot instead wanted Darnell out. This despite the fact that as he was explaining to Alecia why he was saving her she waved huge red flags in his face repeatedly. But he was dead set on getting rid of Darnell. Cydney was as firm about saving Darnell and getting rid of Alecia, but she made the correct Survivor move of not fighting it when the majority in her tribe told her the vote was Darnell. She'd do what she could at tribal council, but if he was going, she wasn't going down with him.
At tribal, Kyle showed little concern for making enemies as he told "Darnell and Blondie" that neither lived up to his standards and one would be going home. Lost in this was the fact that the other one - either Darnell or Blondie - not only would not be going home, but would be heading back to the shelter with a huge chip on their shoulder. But Kyle was caught up in the hubris of having the numbers and did not think of the future. Speaking of hubris, Alecia explains that she should be saved because she's a mental giant. If mental giant is someone who "isn't a puzzle god" and can't figure out how to weave palm fronds, then she's right.
|So they kept the skinny girl who couldn't do the puzzle?|
Those of us who saw Caleb on Big Brother may wonder if he had a complete personality makeover. He came off tonight as sweet, sensible, hardworking and loyal - none of the over-the-top posturing we remember from the other CBS reality show.
The game was Tai Trang's to lose. He was the fun, personable, non-threatening guy that neither the men nor the women on his tribe would target. He could have coasted to merge and probably well beyond. But then he makes the most awkward stab at finding an immunity idol by leaving his five tribemates alone for over a half hour and literally uprooting trees. And he went from lovable to sketchy in about three seconds. And after he was caught red handed, he hand deep in the cookie jar and melted chocolate chips all over his face, he asked for five more minutes to finish off the rest of the cookies. He has a lot of ground to make up.
Debbie could not possibly have ever watched Survivor before if she thought coming in so aggressively, touting all her mad skills, and promising the world would make her popular. You don't come in and tell people you can make fire if you can't. make. fire. Better to set the bar low and exceed expectations that promise the world and deliver less.
Perfect contrast to Debbie is Neal, who keeps quiet about his accomplishments, is more a follower than a leader, and draws little attention to himself. There is no reason to be on anyone's radar early in the game, so you get along and you go along and you don't put a huge target on your back.
Want more Darnell?
Interview with Josh Wigler/Parade
Interview with Dalton Ross/EW
CBS day after interview