Wow, what a way to kick off the season. First thing I noticed: the theme song is a mishmash of previous themes, just as it was in All-Stars. Second thing I noticed: Probst seems to be having a lot of fun with this group. He knows these people, and they know him. And we know them all as well. My big complaint about Survivor is usually that the tribal game is… well, not boring, but not… what’s a good word here? Pure. It’s not pure Survivor. The players are all feeling each other out, weeding out those who make bad decisions from those who make good ones. Alliances form, shift, shuffle and break apart. And we, the viewers, are at the mercy of the editing staff which, you’ll remember, I’m kind of on the outs with.
But not this season. The tricks are all out in the open. All the previous games are laying right there for everyone to see. Old alliances flare up immediately. Probst can, right away, right on the beach, ask for an opinion from any player he likes. That opinion doesn’t come at us in a vacuum. If Tom answers, the weight of Tom’s previous game, and the people he played with, and the people who have played since… I’m rambling. I know. I’m starstruck. I love these guys. It’s a family reunion, and it’s Game On right from the word go.
Third thing I noticed: these tribe names suck. They actually went with “Heroes” and “Villains”. Bleh. I guess they figured that’s what everyone was going to call them anyway, so why bother pretending? Right? It’s going to get confusing when they shuffle, though, and they’re going to have to shuffle. Look at the lineup here: Tom, Rupert, James, J.T. and Stephenie all on one tribe? Those five people together can win a land war against the standing army of most European countries. The Villains simply cannot compete, physically. Sandra’s wily but she is small. Tyson’s strong but he’s a blowhard. Russell’s mean but he is flabby. And Coach is… you know what? Screw Coach.
So here we are, first physical challenge of the game: a wrestling match in the sand. Courtney cries out, “Break her shoulder!” Two seconds later, Steph’s shoulder is dislocated. Medical comes out, pops it back into place with a gut-churning ka-rrnch. Her buff becomes a sling. Sandra grabs Sugar’s top and yanks it off, forcing her to carry a point home with her business all a-hangin’ out. A few minutes later there is a big pile of manliness tangled in the sand, and Rupert breaks a toe in two places. Medical comes back out, puts a little splint on it. The Heroes win flint and steel, but they paid dearly. The Villains are playing dirty. Both tribes arrive at their camps to find they’ve been supplied with fishing equipment.
Over on Hero Beach the obvious thing happens: people start splintering off into their comfort zones. Amanda and Cirie were unstoppable in their previous season; of course they’re allies. Tom and Steph waste no time banding together. J.T. and Tom, the previous winners, make a backroom alliance based on the idea that a winner would never be able to beat anyone but another winner in the finals. J.T. and James hit it off immediately, both being down-home hard-workin’ country boys. Colby and Candice spend an afternoon just trying to remember what seasons everyone has played on.
Hmm… let’s discuss Colby a bit. He really hasn’t played this game since Australia, you know. That’s a long time. His All-Stars career got cut short before he had to make any real moves, and based on his talk with Candice I seriously doubt he’s watched any Survivor these past ten years. He made it to the finals in 2001 but the game has changed considerably since then. Plus the first thing he does in this season is come into a challenge and get scored on by Coach. Geez, man. You might as well just lay down and die right there. At least he had enough smarts to spurn Sugar’s advances.
So I don’t have a lot of faith in Colby. Now let’s talk J.T. In my write-up for the Tocantins finale I praised J.T.’s sudden shift from “honest and up-front” to “I’ll sell out my best friend for a million bucks.” This guy is a villain through and through, all the way to his wonderful rotten core. He said as much in his confessional: everyone expects him to play it straight, so he’s going to writhe and manipulate as much as possible. I cannot wait to see how many throats he cuts before someone notices. I really hope he’s not eliminated due to winner’s bias.
Cirie, as always, is dangerous right out of the gate. Her first move in Fans vs. Favorites was to take out the most strategic player, and that seems to be her plan here too. However, everyone knows how poisonous she is. She’s got Amanda and James on her side for sure, and I hope that doesn’t cause a borderline-unfair voting bloc to form on the Heroes tribe.
Finally we have Tom. Tom wasted no time getting right back into his role of provider. One minute he’s talking to someone, the next he’s staring into the bush with a look on his face that says “I am going to eat that.” The man’s first action in the game to organize a posse to net a whole family of chickens. This man spent his entire season punching the ocean into submission. I was kind of not looking forward to mopey ol’ Rupert fighting Tom for the position, but with Rupert’s foot all mangled up maybe it won’t be a problem. Anyway, Tom is smart. He knows he has to eliminate Cirie, a sentiment he shares with his former tribemate, Steph. He needs to be careful, though. Steph played one game with him in Palau, but then came back for Guatamala and played a completely new game. Steph has, can and will play this game with teeth and nails. Other than her shoulder locking back into place she was remarkably quiet this episode. We’ll keep an eye on her.
At Camp Villain we’ve got my boy Russell and his swank hat. Russell’s entire schtick last season was that he knew he was playing the game with retards. He knew he was in a class of his own — and he was right. This time, though, he knows he’s playing with proven competitors. This is the big difference between Russell, who is a legitimate superstar Survivor player, and someone like Tyson or Coach who is just big-headed: Russ knows he’s in the big leagues. He acknowledges that things are stepped up. His first order of business, of course, is to promise the final two to as many people as he can get to listen. Of course no one trusts Russell… who in their right mind would? But at the same time who wants to be on his bad side? He’s signed a lot of death sentences.
Coach and Jerri are very possibly the two most despicable players I’ve ever seen, and apparently they’re already out there bumping uglies. Good. I hope they get voted off together. I hope they have lots of ugly children, and then the children get voted off as well. I have no use for either of these people. Moving on.
Boston Rob is still as awesome as ever. He managed to get a fire started without any flint — how many times has that happened in Survivor history? Twice? Once? It looks like he’s sectioned himself of with Sandra, who really has a very similar play style… with one major difference. In All-Stars Rob was out there calling all the shots. He was at the forefront of the game the entire time, daring everyone to vote him off. He was King Ego. Sandra, on the other hand, was overshadowed by the massive alpha male showdown happening on Pearl Islands. She’s every bit as cutthroat as Rob is (and perhaps moreso; she’s willing to sabotage her own camp to get what she wants) but might be able to escape notice for a while. She is a winner, though, and again, I hope that doesn’t count against her.
This post is getting long. Immunity challenge has two parts. Heroes blow through the first, then completely fall apart on the second, giving the Villains immunity. Sugar starts crying. Yes, that’s right. I remember her now. This girl cried about everything. She cried when she lost challenges, she cried when people voted for her, she cried when it was Tuesday. Her entire strategy was tears, tears, boobies, boobies, tears. Well, she made no friends on her tribe and absolutely no one was impressed by her tears or her boobies. The various alliances made some noise about breaking each other up, but come on — is anyone really going to vote out strong players like Amanda, Tom or Steph this early in the game? Sugar is the smallest, weakest, most annoying player. Well, not anymore. Sayonara, sweetie.
Rupert, of all people, had a bit of wisdom to impart after his team blew the immunity challenge: they had gotten cocky. The Heroes had walked in assuming victory was preordained, he observed, and that proved to be their downfall. Already the respective tribes are falling into their roles. Overcoming those roles might be crucial to how they evolve going forward.
Who’s gonna win? Absolutely no one on the Heroes tribe is going to see J.T. coming. He will smile to their face and put knives in all their backs, and they will thank him for the opportunity to bask in his glow. The only person out there who has played with him is on the other tribe, and that person trusts him completely. On the other hand, and I’m sure everyone knew this was coming, I just can’t leave Russell hanging. I rooted for him all last season, and I was right to do so. He’s already identified the uphill climb ahead of him. So here we have one of the most virtuous players ever talking about how he will have no problems compromising his integrity to win, and one of the dirtiest snakes being honest about his chances. These are both smart players and I hope I get the chance to watch them face off post-merge. I’m putting my hat on J.T. or Russell for now.