Season twenty-one. Let’s get on with it, then.
The very first thing I noticed when watching this episode was a dude named Jud complaining about monkeys. Which, as a Survivor junkie of some renown, made me smile because I fondly remember in Survivor: Guatemala where a dude named Judd spent all his time complaining about monkeys.
There are four other immediate parallels to Guatemala that I noted. First, of course, is the location in Central America. Things like climate, terrain and wildlife don’t often affect the game of Survivor very much, but I’ve definitely seen this locale before. Second, the NFL has entered the game in the shape of Jimmy Johnson, retired coach, who was instantly recognized by everyone. (Which is only slightly different from Gary Hogeboom in Guatemala, retired quarterback, whom only one player recognized.) Third, there is some major star power in play here. Everyone on Jimmy Johnson’s tribe is talking about whether the old coach is asset, a curse or a threat… similar to Stephanie and Bobby Jon were treated in Guatemala.
Fourth, I’m not exactly blown away by the calibur of these players. Guatamela was one of those “gaggle of idiots” seasons, and while I do fondly remember Judd yelling at monkeys and espousing the virtues of White Castle cheeseburgers, there’s not much else to recommend it.
So this young chick Brenda finds a Medallion of Power up in a tree, and brings it back to her tribe… which turns out to be a bunch of kids all under the age of thirty. The opposing tribe is comprised of people all over the age of forty. Which means there is nobody in the game currently in their thirties. I… don’t know why that’s amusing.
Brenda had the choice to keep the Medallion or trade it for flint and fishing gear. She made the right choice and took the gear. Even not knowing the specifics of the Medallion, it is clearly a game token. And game tokens in Survivor are always temporary. You simply do not take a temporary advantage when you can have something solid like fire and fish. Every tribe who has ever chosen pillows over rice has learned that lesson the hard way.
So Probst throws the kids yellow buffs and calls them “La Flor”, then throws grandma and grandpa some blue buffs and calls them “Espada”… which is stupid because everyone, including Probst himself, is just going to call them “younger tribe” and “older tribe”. At least, until episode four or five when they all get reshuffled. The younger tribe walks off with their fishing gear, the older tribe walks off with their gaudy trinket, and the game gets started for real.
Immediately on the older tribe, these ladies Wendy and Holly form an alliance. This is the most slapdash, out-of-breath alliance I’d ever seen formed. Literally, it was all like:
Holly: I sense I can trust you!
Wendy: I totally trust you too!
Holly: Great. Good. You and me, then, all the way.
Wendy: All the way! Absolutely.
So there you have it, folks, our final two already solidified within the first six hours of the game.
Meanwhile, on the beach, someone else was doing something important. I wasn’t really impressed with the sob story Jane gave in her first confessional, about her dead husband and how hard farm work is etc., but I was pretty much floored by the way she started fire with some reading glasses. That is hardcore, and this old gal is here to play. Later, she admits she had practiced the technique for two months after reading an article written by Probst himself, where he voices his astonishment that anyone would come out onto Survivor without knowing how to make fire. Jane is a Survivor fan who is playing the game, and she did her homework before coming out. You go, girl.
The bombshell on the other tribe was Kelly and her fake leg. Which… uh… dude? Chad beat you to it by about ten seasons. And he waited until after he kicked ass in a running challenge before doing it, so as to be certain there would be no “can he perform?” doubts running around.
Kelly (Same Kelly? I think there are two. Not sure which is which yet.) and this other chick, Alina, find a clue to the hidden idol but can’t figure out what it means. This is one aspect of the game where wearing a Brazilian string bikini doesn’t do a player any favors, because rather than hide the clue on their person they are forced to bury it under a tree. I’m hoping someone else finds it and uses it to vote them off, so they will feel as stupid as they looked.
Pre-immunity, both tribes did what they had to do to get fired up. The older tribe got a pep talk from a real live Superbowl-winning NFL coach, and the younger tribe did this creepy “hoo! hah!” chant. The majesty of the Medallion of Power is thus revealed: a tribe may play it at a challenge to get an advantage in that challenge, but if they do so it switches hands to the other tribe.
So let’s talk about game tokens for a bit. Maybe I haven’t thought this through very well, but I don’t think I’m a fan of this one. I can see how it’ll be more useful in some challenges than others; in this episode, it would have given one tribe an extra bucket of water so they’d get their puzzle pieces sooner. However, it’s the puzzle, and not the water buckets, that was the difficult part of this challenge — so it’d have been possible to play the medallion and still lose. However, even if you played it and then won, you’re still handing that boon over to your enemy. So, assuming a tribe only plays it when they know it will win the challenge for them, it’s still kind of a zero-sum action.
Let’s look at this logically. Every season, one tribe is stronger than the other. This is just how the game works. So who does this medallion really benefit? If the weaker tribe has it, and they play it, they lose the next challenge no matter what. If they have it and decide to sit on it, as the old folks did here, they’ll probably still lose, because they’re still the weaker tribe. If the stronger tribe has it, though, they can just sit on it and continue to dominate like they would have anyway. If the Medallion of Power was designed to help balance a strong tribe with a weak one, it clearly doesn’t work.
It’s still too early to really make a call about this medallion, but I’m not sure it’s going to switch the game up the way Exile Island or the Hidden Immunity Idol did.
The old fogeys decided to keep their medallion, then lost the challenge. At tribal council it was down to Jimmy Johnson and the huge, NFL-coach-shaped target on his back… and Wendy, who was considered the weakest player. Wendy was afraid she hadn’t connected with anyone on her tribe, and that was the reason she was getting voted out. She decided to rectify that problem at council by chatting it up about everything. Did you know she was 48 years old? And that people love behind her friend? And that’s she’s strong physically and fun to be around? And that she brings a lot to the tribe? And that she doesn’t have any blisters on her feet?
Shit… no blisters? Tribe MVP right there.
If Wendy had kept her mouth shut, Coach Jimmy would have gone home. I’m pretty confident of that. Good job digging your own grave there, toots.
Who’s gonna win? It’s impossible to make a determination from episode one, but I will say this: out of twenty players only one said anything about the game state in a confessional. That was Brenda. Everybody is talking about how nice it is to get to know people, or how they don’t take orders from anyone, or who’s the strongest/weakest/dumbest, etc. etc. etc. Nobody is playing frickin’ Survivor. But Brenda, I saw a very small spark in her that shows she might have a clue. She was smart enough to look up to find the medallion, she was smart enough to give that medallion up for fishing gear, and she seemed to be the first to recognize that there is a game here, and if she starts playing it before everyone else she might actually have a shot at winning it.