Survivor: South Pacific (week one)

I’ll add an image here later. Peanut’s on my computer right now looking at porn. Sorry!

Welcome to Survivor: South Pacific. They had to call it that because Survivor: They’re In Samoa Again just isn’t as catchy.

So, Ozzy and Coach. That’s a thing that happened.

My contempt for Coach is well documented in my Tocantins and Heroes vs. Villains write-ups. If you need to relive the experience, go back and read those. (I accidentally typed “revile” in that sentence at first. I almost left it.) If they had to fill their deluded warrior-psycho quota for the season, why not bring Phillip back? I miss the ol’ bastard already!

Ozzy is a Challenge Monster from back before I started blogging the seasons. His first game was Cook Islands, where he put his Adonis-like physique to work winning immunities for his four-man underdog alliance. This was the first season with three finalists; Ozzy sat alongside Yul, the brilliant chessmaster (and one of my favorite players ever) and Becky, a coattails-riding non-entity. Yul narrowly won the prize, but it would not have been upsetting for Ozzy to have won instead. When the numbers look that bad, brawn is just as important as brains.

Ozzy came back to prove he had no brains in Fans vs. Favorites where he allied himself with no one in particular, mistook a plain stick for a hidden immunity idol, and simply could not stack up alongside the other Challenge Monsters to bullrush the endgame. I concluded that Ozzy’s one trick was to win challenges — if he couldn’t do that, his only shot at the finals was to latch on to a powerful strategist.

I have no expectations that either of these players have learned anything at all from their previous outings. Coach will trust the wrong people for the wrong reasons and get cut as soon as he is no longer useful to them. Ozzy will go far if he lands with a good strategist, but otherwise will get dumped in the mid-game, just after the merge.

Anyway, neither of those dudes is the most fun personality this season. At first glance, we look to have a great cast!

The blue tribe is Upolu; that’s where Coach landed. Over here we have Christine who, right there on the beach, referred to Coach and Ozzy as “temporary players”. Girl has quite the sack! We also have Rick the rancher and his biblically incredible moustache, Stacey the token sassy black woman, and Brandon. Brandon is this season’s Jesus freak, but he has an interesting legacy: he’s Russel Hantz’s nephew.

I tried to pay very close attention to Brandon. I have no idea how he stacks up to Russell. His personality is very different, and he was very quick to identify why his uncle has never been able to get his hands on the check. Unfortunately, he has the name “Hantz” tattooed on his back in a few places, so he has to play the whole game with his shirt on or risk revealing his terrible secret. What I’m looking for here is some combination of Russell’s wit and ruthlessness, tempered with a bit of shut the fuck up. If it turns out these traits run in the Hantz family, Brandon might go a good ways.

The red tribe is Savaii. Here Ozzy joins Jim the pot-dealing poker champ, Dawn the supermom and a retired gay NYPD detective who wants to be called Papa Bear. We’ve also got Semhar the poet and John Cochran, Survivor superfan.

I liked John at first, because I identified with him. He is a pasty white stick figure, maybe 90 pounds soaking wet. He’s a hardcore Survivor trivia nut, and he absolutely insisted Probst call him by his last name. After all, Probst calls all the toughest players by their last names: Donaldson, Penner, Mariano… and that’s a legacy he’d like to join. Thus did John become Cochran. Quite the performance! Nerd-boy steps off the boat, flops his dick out, demands special treatment from the 23-season veteran host, and promises to be awesome.

We’ll come back to Cochran later.

The first challenge was for reward: food and fire. The contestants were Ozzy and Coach. The challenge had three stages. First, they had to climb a pole and retrieve a turtle. Ozzy did this so quickly I don’t even think he knew there was a pole there. Second, they had to dig under a log. Ozzy moved so much sand at once you might mistake him for being part bulldozer. And finally, they had to solve the Towers of Hanoi.

The Towers of Hanoi is a pretty simple physical puzzle. It can usually be solved systematically; once you get the method down, actually making the moves doesn’t take a lot of time. (Usually the puzzle challenges you to solve it in the fewest possible moves, but that wasn’t true here.) Not only did neither of these potatoheads get the method down, neither of them understood the rules of the puzzle. Before too long Ozzy’s lead had crumbled and both figureheads were totally lost. The tribes began calling out moves. Ozzy listened to his tribe, and Coach didn’t, thereby securing the win.

Things look bad for Coach right out of the gate, and I began to get excited that he might be ejected first. Unfortunately he was able to very quickly divert his bad karma towards Christine, who stepped onto the beach and instantly set out on a hidden idol hunt.

I hate Coach with a frigid disdain that resists polite metaphor, but I am able to give a man credit where it is due; he did two very smart things I didn’t think he had in him.

First, he gathered his tribe ’round and explained that while rewards were nice, immunity is what the game is about. This is something that has always struck me as common sense, but I can’t remember a player ever putting quite that fine a point on it. Tribes tend to take challenges as they come, nearly never looking beyond the one on their plate. If Upolu actually puts their focus exclusively on immunity at the expense of a strong showing at reward, it could make for a very interesting tribal game.

And second, he took the initiative in setting up his own day one, five-man alliance. It’s Coach, Brandon, Cowboy Rick, an older lady named Sophie, and a young dude named Albert. This alliance will almost certainly fail (Rick thinks Coach is a poser, and Sophie might get fidgety as the only lady-type around), but at least he hasn’t positioned himself as a low vote in someone else’s alliance this go-round.

All in all, Upolu is a pretty copacetic tribe. Savaii is a little more… disjointed.

On day two, Dawn the Supermom drops a pot of boiling water into the fire, thereby ruining both, and has a mental breakdown. Through a veil of tears she feeds Ozzy this whole “oh my god what am I doing here” tirade. Ozzy gives her some token comfort, but it’s pretty obvious he and the rest of Savaii are just dumbfounded. A woman who cracks in the face of absolutely nothing has no business playing Survivor. What a horrible player to have on your tribe.

And then we have Cochran. To anyone over the years who has asked me why I’ve never tried out for Survivor, well, Cochran is the reason. He proves straight away that there is a huge difference between knowing everything about the game’s history and actually playing the game. It takes this scrawny punk half the episode just to work up the courage to take his shirt off and get in the water. Cochran seems to have spent the same countless hours I have memorizing tribe names and challenge strategies, analyzing plays and criticizing game twists. He’s also clearly devoted as much time as I have to learning how to build a fire or run a balance beam. (Read: zero.) The game’s harder when you’re not on your couch, isn’t it guy?

The first immunity challenge is exactly the kind of thing that would kick my ass, too: a balls-out obstacle course, including a ten-foot wall climb, followed by basketball. Semhar the poet insists she’s got game, so Savaii puts her on basketball duty. This proves to be a huge mistake, as by the time she gets to the net she’s absolutely exhausted and begs Probst to tap out. This leaves Savaii with two shooters to Upolu’s three; that’s a clear win for the blue tribe. They celebrate their unity by chanting “U! PO! LU! U! PO! LU!”

This is a tribe what has their shit together.

I did make careful note that Savaii fielded Ozzy on the wall and digging and basketball portions of the challenge. He is still a Challenge Monster.

Upolu wins their immunity, their fire, and the skinny on this season’s hidden idol twist: now the clues are hidden at camp. I guess enough players have found the idol without any clues that the producers figured, shit, may as well make that the baseline.

Back at Savaii, Semhar makes her little “sorry I blew the first challenge!” speech. Instead of just apologizing graciously, though, she accuses Poker Jim of making faces at her. This enables Jim to clarify his position (which is, “I would have rather won the challenge, thanks”) and then apologize to Semhar for upsetting her, showing his tribe he’s the bigger man. So instead of demonizing Jim, Semhar just looked like a petty loser.

Savaii’s got their pick of weaklings to vote off: Dawn can’t boil rice without breaking down, Semhar sucks at challenges, and Cochran sucks at everything else. When it became clear the vote was down to Cochran or Semhar, though, at least Semhar did some scrambling on her own behalf. All Cochran did was whine a lot to Papa Bear about how awful it’s going to feel getting voted off first, after dreaming about playing for so long.

Again, I know in my heart of hearts I am not cut out to play Survivor. That said, if I were playing, and a superstar veteran player were looking to take me out, I like to think I would do something about it. In fact, I know exactly how I would have played it. Being the trivia nut I am, I know Challenge Monster’s only path to the finals is to be the ally of a good strategist. I would have pulled Ozzy aside and said, “Remember Yul? He’s my favorite player ever. I’m as smart as Yul. I can do in this game what you cannot.”

Nevermind that it’s not the truth; it’s day three. Nobody knows the truth about anything. But it might sneak me by that one vote, and after that a lot can happen. Savaii could go on an immunity streak. Dawn might melt down some more. Papa Bear might break a hip. One more day in the game could mean thirty more days in the game. Hell, if nothing else, I’d show Ozzy I had the heart to fight for my place in the running.

In the end, though, Savaii picked the puny boy over the proven challenge loser. Semhar’s point about having enough guts to stick her neck out was valid, but sticking your neck out also means accepting the consequences for failure. Enjoy Redemption Island, honey. Maybe write a poem about it.

Who’s gonna win? My favorite from Savaii right now is Jim. He’s an absolute bastard in his confessionals, a great liar, and he’s made some keen observations about other players. What’s more, his little spat with Semhar showed that he knows when to back down from an argument. This is something similar past players like Jean-Robert and Marty were totally impotent to do.

On Upolu, and I can’t believe I’m goddamn saying this, I’m liking Coach. He looks like he’s got the beginnings of the same personality cult Rob enjoyed last season. His tribe’s stronger, too, so he might cinch the numers advantage if he can keep them together. All he needs is the ruthlessness to get rid of some of the naysayers — and he’s got a Hantz on his side.

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