Survivor: Redemption Island (week one)

Survivor: Redemption IslandHot damn! Survivor’s back — and it doesn’t look to suck this time!

I’ve come to discover that I am not a fan of the show Survivor. I’ve learned this because it seems like my favorite seasons are always the ones with the best players, and the first season I couldn’t finish watching was the first one that came along with no good players whatsoever. I am, however, an enormous fan of the game Survivor… and given what I’ve seen in just this first episode? Yeah. It’s time to buckle the hell up.

To address the elephant in the room: hello, Mr. Elephant. I was sold on the Redemption Island twist the moment Probst explained how it would work. It takes a while for new players to gain their bearings, even good players, and this will allow such players to recover after making a mistake. This will increase the chances of more good players (or almost-good players who simply haven’t worked things out yet) to make it further in the game. Some people have mentioned that it adds an extra layer of complexity when deciding who to vote out, but I think that ends up getting watered down a bit. That complexity is always there in the endgame, as who you vote for and why can come back to bite you on the jury. Good players were already playing that way. But it’s still early yet; we’ll see how it goes.

It always takes me a few episodes to sort through all the skinny white chicks in each season, but a few players jumped out at me immediately.

First and second, of course, were Rob and Russell. For all my bellyaching about it in the past, I really am glad to see them back. These guys are both fantastic players and I really hope I get to see them clash again. I hope even more that they learned something from their last outing… but I’m not holding my breath there.

I did notice that he is “Rob” in this game, and not “Boston Rob”. I wonder if he feels he’s outgrown the nickname.

Rob’s tribe is Ometepe, the orange tribe. The first Ometepe I noticed was Francesca, the kindly bald black lady. I liked her immediately, because she doesn’t seem to have any of the overbearing sass that typically permeates black chicks on this show. If that sounds racist to you, take it up with the casting crew, because they’re the ones who keep picking them. Francesca also seems to have a pretty good head on her shoulders, though how well this translates into playing the game, I can’t say.

Next is Kristina. The first thing Kristina did at camp was root through their supplies looking for a hidden immunity clue. The first thing Rob did was notice what she was doing and call her out on it. Which is a huge step up from his last season, where he famously said “I wouldn’t even know what to do with an idol if I had one.” After Rob went back to constructing the shelter, Kristina started tearing apart the beach looking for the hidden idol — and then finds it. Which is pretty insane! You go, girl! She confided in Francesca the existence of said idol, putting the two of them in a solid position.

Then we have Phillip, the ex-federal agent. I imagine the reason he is an ex-federal agent has something to do with how he never stops running his mouth and is utterly incapable of keeping a secret. If this dude’s security clearance was anything over “water cooler” our great nation would have been in serious trouble keeping him on the payroll.

The purple tribe is Zapatera, and that’s where Russell landed. Pretty much everyone on Zapatera agreed he needed to be voted out first, which was refreshing to see. He gave a little speech about how he’s “not here to sabotage anyone, he’s just here to win”, which of course is stupid, because anyone paying even the slightest bit of attention knows that sabotage is how Russell wins.

There is little Stephanie, though, who Russell has selected to be his lady-in-waiting for this season. She agreed to his terms, but had the most amazing deer-in-headlights look on her face afterwards. I would love nothing more than to see this little pixie-faced bratz doll grow up quick enough to slash Russell at the knees, but it’s too early yet to give her that much credit.

Then there’s Ralph, the self-proclaimed dumbass redneck. Ralph is the very definition of hill-folk: big bushy beard, more twang in his speech than should be legal, wearing overalls without a shirt. Ralph asked if a dumbass has ever won this game before, and I wasn’t sure one had, but then I remembered I didn’t actually watch Fabio’s finish at the end of Nicaragua. So I guess there’s hope for the big lug, yet!

The immunity challenge was the standard obstacle course/puzzle affair. Ometepe lost an enormous amount of ground in the first leg, which involved pushing huge stone blocks along a track. By the time all their blocks were in place Zapatera had already clicked half of their Tetris puzzle in place. Rob put his supervillain-esque skill at puzzles to good use, and would have overtaken the other tribe if their detriment hadn’t been so enormous.

The rest of the episode revolved around Kristina and Francesca, and who they could bring in with them. They unwisely chose Phillip, perhaps because of his “honesty and integrity” speech. At tribal council, Phillip proved said integrity by selling the two women out and betraying their confidence about Kristina’s idol. The poisonous look on Kristina’s face as she was forced to reveal the idol even as she realized it couldn’t possibly save her was priceless. Priceless.

As big and fat as Phillip’s mouth was, he never once pronounced Francesca’s name right.

Rob made Kristina an offer: give me the idol, and you’re safe tonight. Kristina didn’t take him up on it, so Rob shrugged it off. It was a moot point anyway; Rob had already guessed she had an idol and had told his alliance as such… but there’s no way Kristina could have known that.

As he voted Francesca out of the game, Rob quipped about how good it was to play with amateurs. He has a point, but he needs to watch his back. Francesca’s not really out of the game… not yet. And she’s not likely to make a mistake like that twice. Good players learn fast in Survivor. I hope Rob knows at least that much about the game.

Who’s gonna win? Impossible to say, especially since most players on Zapatera have yet to even edge their way into the camera’s line of sight. I think Rob has what it takes to go all the way; I know he’s a good player, and he has a lot of information that his opponents really didn’t count on having this early. That seems like a safe place to park my prediction for now.

The more interesting question, to me, is: can Russell win? On one hand, if I’m a player this season, I don’t want Russell anywhere where he’s a position to vote against me. He is a cutthroat player, and sometimes he cuts throats for no reason other than, hey, look! A throat! When Russell jukes one direction, the game bleeds. That’s a fact.

The flip side of that, though, is that if I’m a player this season and I think I can make it to the end, I want Russell there next to me more than I want a magic lamp filled with pure, uncut heroin. If Russell plays the way he has to in order to make top three, there’s no possibility he will ever win. And if he doesn’t play that way? He’ll never make top three.

Wow. That’s more game-level analysis in one episode than I think I did in the whole time I watched Nicaragua. Should be fun times!

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