Survivor – Off to a good start

Long time no see, Survivor fans! Survivor: South Pacific (A.K.A. “We’re filming in Samoa again and can’t recycle “Redemption Island” as a title, so this was all we came up with) premiered last night, and I for one could not be happier to have my favorite reality show back in my life. I can’t wait for the lying, scheming and conniving to begin!

I think the hour and a half long premiere was a really strong first episode and I’m feeling optimistic about this season…but let’s start with the complaints.

If It’s Broke, FIX IT

We all know that the past couple seasons of Survivor haven’t been the series’ finest. The cast for Nicaragua was weak, the Redemption Island twist killed the drama of being voted out, and while Boston Rob’s total domination was interesting to watch it was also quite predictable. Survivor is in need of a fresh, exciting season and while I hope this is it, they certainly don’t seem to be paying attention to what fans want.

Coach and Ozzie as returning players? I wasn’t thrilled about that news. I didn’t want to see any veteran players return to the game this season, and Coach and Ozzie seemed like odd choices. Coach is a joke of a Survivor player, Ozzie’s been off the show’s radar for years, and they’d never played against each other before.

Furthermore, I wasn’t happy that we’ll still be working with Redemption Island this season. However, Probst has said that there will only be one-on-one duels this time (the four person duels with only one person going home last season were laaaame) and that will be an improvement.

So, I’m taking off my negativity hat and just hoping for the best this season. And based on the first episode, I think we’re in for a good season. There are a lot of colorful characters in this cast, and the first episode was far from being The Coach Show, which had been a concern for me. So let’s get to it!

Last Names

Brandon Hantz

I love watching the reactions of the new players when they see who’ll be returning. This group definitely seems eager to vote the veterans off, but unfortunately it won’t be that easy – both Coach and (especially) Ozzie are assets in challenges, which means they’re very important to keep around until merge time. The question is whether these people will be strong and smart enough to vote them off when the time comes. Obviously, everyone was hoping Ozzie would end up on their own tribe – he’s good at challenges, and we all know what Coach’s persona is.

Another casting twist this season, which I can’t say I was excited about, is that Russell’s nephew is playing the game. Little Hantz says he’s not going to tell anyone who he’s related to, but he doesn’t need to – he’s got two tattoos that will do it for him. Sorry, but I think it’ll just be too difficult to hide those from everyone. And if people find out he hid that information, their reactions will be even worse than if he’d been straight up about it. You had to love when the players were about to find out who’d be joining them and one girl leaned over to Little Hantz and said “I hope it’s not Russell…” “I know, that would suck,” he replied. Well, at least he’s staying in character for now. Maybe it’s not a stretch for Little Hantz to pretend he hates Russell, since at one point he compared his uncle to Hitler.

One person who’s not ashamed of his last name? Well, that would be uber-fan and uber-nerd John Cochran. Within minutes, he’d requested that Probst call him by his last name, since anyone who’s a crazy fan of the show knows that Probst does that with his favorite male players. And that’s when I knew I would love this kid.


To the left, to the left (the turtle, that is)

After Coach and Ozzie were assigned tribes (Upolu and Savaii, respectively), they were called upon to participate in a one-on-one reward challenge on behalf of their tribes. It was a puzzle, which didn’t seem to play to either guy’s strengths. Damn! Where’s Boston Rob when you need him? Both guys got tremendous help from their tribes with the puzzle, but Ozzie demonstrated a much stronger ability to follow basic instructions. Ozzie completed the puzzle first, winning flint and some potato-like things for his tribe.

I love seeing how tribes organize themselves when they arrive at camp for the first time. There are two approaches – buckle down and work or relax and get to know each other – and the most important thing, no matter what, is to go with the majority. You’re on a laid back tribe who’d rather hang out in the water, sleep on the ground, and build a shelter the next day? Do it. Play along. Bond, because that’s what everyone else is doing and you’ll look like a control freak if you shrill “I’m getting really nervous that we’re not going to HAVE THIS SHELTER BUILT BY SUNDOWN AND THE WORLD WILL END!” However, if the majority of your tribe wants to get right to it? Join them. Work your butt off. Otherwise, you look like the lazy bum who won’t pull his/her weight.

To quote Michael Bluth, “Her?”

Obviously, Ozzie’s tribe went the bonding route and got to know each other. Oh, hi, Semhar – what do you do? A poet and spoken word artist? “Say something,” “Papa Bear” immediately requested. Brilliant! Next time I meet someone who says “I’m a carpenter,” I’m going reply with “Build something.” Semhar strung a few words together and with that, Ozzie was smitten. I hope Semhar sticks around long enough to reconnect with Ozzie on Redemption Island, because there could be a showmance a brewin’. I mean, it’s not like Ozzie’s never gone there before. And Semhar knows how to maintain oral hygiene in the jungle, so there’s really nothing stopping them!

Team Ozzie decided to spend their first day relaxing in the ocean, which proved to be a challenge for poor Cochran. He was worried his translucent skin would tip off his tribemates on the fact that he’s a nerd. Oh, honey. I don’t think they needed to see you without a shirt on to make that call, but I understand your embarrassment. “It’s just gonna make me look like more of a pathetic twerp than I do with clothes on,” Cochran worried. “If this is the 90210 tribe, I’m definitely one of the zeroes.” But eventually Casper sucked it up and Baywatch ran his way into the water to join his tribe.

I like Cochran because I think he’s funny, but I’m worried he went too far in revealing just how much of a Survivor fanatic he is. Sure, you can admit that you’ve always liked the show, that you’ve seen all the seasons, that it’s always been your dream to play. You probably should not admit that you can recall every detail about every player, own a buff collection, and produced a Survivor newsletter in high school. I mean, if I went on Survivor (speaking of which, WHEN are y’all gonna start accepting Canadians?!) I wouldn’t be all like “Oh yeah, I totally run a television blog where I analyze minute details of the game every single week.” No. I’d tell them I do that for America’s Next Top Model, because that is the opposite of threatening.


After blowing the challenge, Coach got off to a rocky start with his tribe. I think his Survivor persona had more to do with that than the challenge loss, but it wasn’t a great way for him to start the game. Only Edna bothered to talk to him, and she’s actually one of my early favorites.

The vibe at Upolu is much different than the one at Savaii. Christine came out of the gate strong, cutting off one of Coach’s soliloquies to suggest that everyone say what they do for a living, and later going off on her own to look for the Hidden Immunity Idol. Although it’s great to find the HII, it can do more damage than good if you’re caught looking for it and everyone was on to Christine. Now she has a reputation that will be hard to shake.

One of the weirdest things was Little Hantz’s reaction to being on a tribe with Mikayla. Mikayla is the “lingerie football player” and she is incredibly hot. Little Hantz, however, had a problem with this – and it was so weird. Was Mikayla doing anything particularly provocative? Not that I could tell. She just looked like every other super-hot twenty-something woman who gets cast on this show. But Little Hantz was attracted to her, and that meant that she’s a skank. Or a “Delilah”, if you can follow his biblical references that may or may not be accurate. From what I could gather, Little Hantz is nineteen years old, married, a born again Christian, and thinks that if he’s tempted to stray from his marriage it’s the other woman’s fault, not his own. Yeah. I don’t think I’m going to care much for this kid.

Yeah, I won’t mind if he’s around for a while

Luckily for Coach, his first night at camp went much better than his first few moments as he was able to lay the groundwork for a five-person alliance. What I want to know is, where was everyone else while these five were staying up late and talking? Here’s a good rule – don’t go to sleep if the majority of your tribe is sitting by the fire bonding. Anyway, Coach was there with secret med student Sophie, Little Hantz, Rick who I’ve decided to call The Jolly Rancher, and Albert, the baseball/dating coach who I’ve nicknamed Hitch. I was surprised Coach didn’t try to bring Edna into this alliance, but maybe she’ll replace Little Hantz once he shows everyone why he’s got “Loco” tattooed on his neck.

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day

On day two, Dawn had a breakdown. Oh man, do I feel bad for this woman. She’s been applying for Survivor for ten years, so this is like a dream come true for her…and she’s blowing it. On the first day, I immediately noticed that she was too Type-A for her tribe. Bossy, controlling middle-aged people do not to well on tribes composed mainly of laid back twenty-somethings. That was bad enough, and then there was her breakdown.

If it’s any consolation Dawn, you don’t look 41

It started when she spilled the pot of water they’d been boiling. Not a big deal, right? Well, it is when you make it one. Then she fell and was all like “I’m OK! I’m OK! I know I’m over 40 but I’m totally OK!” Look, I get why she had a meltdown. She’s a huge fan of the show, her dream to be on came true, and with that comes a lot of pressure and expectations. When she first applied she would have been 31, the perfect age to hang around people like Ozzie. Now she’s 41 and it’s a whole new ballgame – she knows she’s the outsider on the tribe, and she panicked and got emotional. But you can’t show them that you’ve cracked! You say you have to go to the bathroom and you go into the woods and cry. You sob and say “I don’t know what I’m going to do! What did I get myself into? This sucks! I miss my family! Everyone here hates me! I’m going to be voted out first!” And then you take a deep breath and rejoin your tribe. If someone asks why you have tears in your eyes, say you stubbed your foot on a branch really hard.

What you don’t do is have a very public venting session with Ozzie. You don’t remind everyone that you’re 15 years older than them, incredibly emotional, and obviously the weakest link. You don’t grab a shovel and start digging your own grave.

This Challenge is Coconuts

Challenge time! The first immunity challenge was a good one too, since it required everyone to be very physical and forced a few individuals to step up to the plate. First, the tribes had to make their way through a pretty difficult obstacle course. Coach’s tribe had a small lead here, but where they really gained on Ozzie’s tribe was in the second stage. It was Ozzie vs. Rick The Jolly Rancher to dig up a machete and cut through a series of ropes, thus releasing a bag of coconuts. The Jolly Rancher blew through the ropes one swipe at a time, giving his tribe a bit of a lead.

Mikayla and Hitch kick some ass.

To finish the challenge, three members of each tribe had to throw the coconuts into a net until it was heavy enough to raise their tribe’s flag. After insisting she’d be able to do it, Semhar joined Ozzie and Keith to shoot for Savaii. For Upolu it was Coach, Mikayla and Albert/Hitch. Hitch and Mikayla really stood out as dominating in this challenge. Albert scaled that wall like it was nothing and then pulled up Little Hantz all on his own. And while I may think Mikayla’s occupation as a lingerie football player is kinda dumb, after watching her perform in that challenge there should be no question that she’s a strong athlete.

Despite Ozzie’s best efforts, the first immunity challenge went to Coach’s tribe – by a difference of only one coconut. It was hard not to point a finger at Semhar, since she’d missed so many and had recommended herself for that important task. When she told Probst she felt “sorta bad” about letting down her team, Jim just wasn’t having it. “I feel ‘sorta bad’ when I’m out of milk,” he told Probst, defending his eye rolling. While I totally agreed with Jim on this, I think he made a mistake in being so mouthy so early. Being able to bite your tongue is a good skill to have in Survivor, and it doesn’t look like it’s in his wheelhouse.

Idols and Idolizing

Upolu was sent back to their camp with the news that the clue for the Hidden Immunity Idol was somewhere, and pretty much everyone went looking for it. And someone found it! Only not really. Stacey literally had her hand in the tree where it was hidden, but didn’t see it.

At Savaii, there were three obvious targets for tribal council that night – Dawn, Semhar and Cochran. “Papa Bear” had aligned himself with Dawn since they were the two older members in the group, and I’m not sure how good of an idea that was. Sure, the longer Dawn sticks around the less likely it is that “Papa Bear” (ugh, I think I’ll just call him Mark) will be targeted. But is it really wise to tie yourself to someone whose days are numbered? Luckily for both Dawn and Mark, the focus quickly shifted to Semhar and Cochran.

Ozzie was pushing for Cochran, but with questionable motives. Was it because he was eying a hot girl alliance? Was it just because he was attracted to her? Did he legitimately think Cochran was a bigger detriment to the tribe? Whatever it was, Jim was suspicious. Since he and Semhar had had a disagreement though, he had his own reasons for wanting her out.

Personally, I was hoping Semhar would be sent packing. I won’t be putting Cochran high on my Survivor office pool list, but I think he’s funny and I want to see him stick around. He’s like a super nerdy hybrid of Rob Cesternino and Stephen Fishbach, and I dig it. Plus, I’d hate to see a Survivor super-fan be the first boot. You could just tell that Cochran was dying inside thinking about the possibility of going home first. “This is a nightmare,” he said, in a very Woody Allen way.

1 part Cesternino, 2 parts Fishbach, 1 part Woody Allen

At Tribal Council, it was not looking good for Cochran. He didn’t seem to drive home the argument that it had been Semhar, not him, who lost the challenge for them, and “I’ll get better” wasn’t a compelling reason to keep him. His most compelling argument was “You look at my glasses, you look at my sweater vest, you look at my pale skin, it’s easy to say ‘he’s one of the weakest people’, but I flew through that net portion like a hummingbird in this most recent challenge,” but I wasn’t sure it would be enough to convince people to keep him around.

Luckily for Cochran (and for viewers like me who think he’s funny), Semhar was voted out. Do you think that was Jim’s doing? It was a unanimous vote, so I’m guessing Ozzie didn’t want to ruffle too many feathers by insisting they keep his crush around. Do you think Cochran will be able to change his tribe’s impression of him or find an alliance to keep him safe?

As Semhar walked away, Ozzie said “I should’ve taught her how to make a fire.” Sounds like the poet might have a rough time on Redemption Island.

So, what did you guys think? Initial thoughts on this season? I can’t wait to hear what y’all have to say!

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