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Hi, I’m Lucy, and I’m an Appalachian American.

Stop laughing. A friend of mine was once filling out a demographic survey in Cincinnati and under “ethnicity” they had as an option, “Appalachian.” It’s part of the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance, or it was. And I think I speak for all of us Appalachian Americans when I say, shame on Mark Burnett. Where’s our Appalachian tribe in this race-divided Survivor season? Because we’d have loved a chance to erase the Big Tom stigma, and show how we can wear shoes and speak in a way that most of America can understand.

Actually, I’m mad at Burnett anyway. I want to watch Survivor in my pajamas, with a glass of wine and some chocolate, and see people taking off their clothes for food and making outlandish tribal council comments. I watch Survivor to see fuzzy blobs and collapsing shelters and comeuppance for blowhards who try to run roughshod over other tribe members. I don’t want to have to sit here and worry about deep sociological implications of racial divisions. We all deal with racial issues every day, even if it’s just subconsciously. When I turn on Survivor I don’t want reality, I want escapism. Especially when I KNOW that’s all going by the wayside in a couple of weeks when the tribes merge. Poo on you, Mark Burnett. You’ve done made me mad. And you know how we Appalachians get when we’re mad.

Anyway, moving on. Um, welcome back to Survivor! This season we’re in the Cook Islands, which are located somewhere in the South Pacific. I did google them, and they appear to be right smack in the middle of nowhere. That isolation doesn’t seem to have deterred Survivor’s set builders, who seem to have decided upon a shipwreck theme – the tribal council area is a shipwreck, I’m pretty sure I saw one on the Exile Island (more on that later), and the survivors arrive on a masted sailing ship that looks like the Bounty. Or, how I imagine the Bounty would look.

Everyone Knows Chickens Can’t Swim

Aaaannnyway, so, our 20 survivors are cutting through the South Pacific, where they’ll be for the next 39 days, except those who get voted out. Apparently they’ve already been briefed on what to do, because with no explanation whatsoever, a bell rings and they all start racing around the boat – excuse me ship -- untying stuff. Finally Probst decides to let us in on what’s going on – the survivors have two minutes to salvage everything they can from the ship, and put it on their little tiny bamboo rafts. They can grab everything from firewood to lanterns to fish traps to live chickens. Yes. Chickens. One of which gets loose and flutters into the ocean. I’m surprised the PETA people aren’t squawking about this – everyone knows chickens aren’t saltwater creatures.

While this goes on, Probst describes the set-up this time, which everyone has already heard about – four teams, divided by race. Not a ratings stunt at all, of course. Just a “social experiment like never before.” Um, I think we have done this before, actually. It was called “the 19th century.”

There will be an Asian-American team, an African-American team, a Latino team, and a Caucasian team. Each one has about five members (it looks like to me) and gets its own island, where they’ll be “abandoned and left to fend for themselves,” says Probst. Yeah, except for the food challenges, the hovering cameramen, the medics, and so on. Apart from all that, though, they’re totally on their own.

And the tribes’ two minutes are up. “Get overboard!” Probst yells. I’m surprised he’s not dressed as a pirate. Everyone piles their booty on their little rafts, and I’m frankly surprised no one has capsized. They slowly paddle off.

Ozzy says when he saw things being divided along racial lines he immediately thought “this is going to be hard.” Apparently he thinks people of the same ethnicity might clash. He’s Latino, by the way.

Sundra, on the other hand, of the African-American tribe, doesn’t care. “When it comes to surviving, it’s a human effort,” not a racial one, she says.

Yul, an Asian-American, says he was “stunned” by the racial divisions. It’s great to have more minorities, he says, but he’s worried it will lead to cariacatures and stereotypes. And that’s before he even meets Cao Boi.

Parvati, who’s apparently just a white girl, asks, “Is that…. Kosher?”

I’m not at all worried about race right now. I’m worried how those chickens are going to survive the pounding surf.

Introductions, Spoken Slowly For Big Tom

I’m going to do Probst’s job for him now and introduce everyone. Divided by race. Because I’m all racial like that. Suck it, Probst.

Aitu – the Latino team:

Billy: 36, a heavy metal guitarist in New York.
Cecilia: 29, a technology risk consultant in California.
Cristina: 35, a police officer in Los Angeles.
J.P.: 30, a professional volleyball player in California
Ozzy: 25, a waiter in California.

The Aitu tribe paddles toward its island with Billy cracking jokes. “This is ass-backwards,” he says, noting that his parents got on a raft and paddled away from an island, to find a better life, and here he is paddling back to one. In response to another tribe member’s question, he says his parents paddled away from the Dominican Republic.

The Aitu members say they think they’ll do all right on the island. “We’re used to being in a tropical setting,” one of them says. Cecilia says this is an opportunity to represent the Latino community in a positive way and show how hard they work.

Or, how big they talk. And by “they” I mean “Billy.” Billy is announcing that they need to build a shelter, as directed by him. “Plus, I know how to make a toilet,” he says. I don’t even want to know where he’d pick up a skill like that. Nor what they’ll do if he’s wrong. Which is entirely possible, because it quickly becomes clear that Billy doesn’t actually know what he’s talking about. We see him “cutting” bamboo by breaking it off on larger trees. Ozzy says that immediately told him that Billy didn’t know what he’s doing. Ozzy stepped in to help. And JP says he didn’t want to judge Billy on his appearance, but that the Bill-man is out of shape.

Ozzy also climbs a coconut tree to knock down coconuts, reminding himself of Mowgli in the Jungle Book, and if you need more explanation than that, you have clearly been grievously deprived of the joy that IS the old Disney movie version of the Jungle Book. Go rent it, my children. And never trust a singing snake.

Puka – the Asian-American tribe:

Becky: 28, an attorney in Washington, D.C.
Brad: 29, a fashion director in Los Angeles.
Cao Boi: 42, who lists his profession as “prelate, Loyal Order of the Moose” and lives in Christiansburg, Virginia. My sister used to live there. Just FYI. It’s right by Virginia Tech, if that helps anyone.
Jenny: 36, a real estate agent in Illinois.
Yul: 31, a management consultant in California.

Speaking of big talkers, Cao Boi manages to annoy his tribe before they even land the raft. “I can’t believe a bunch of Asians who are so little weigh so much” he jokes. Someone else tells him to knock it off with the Asian jokes and the stereotypes. By the way, I have trouble believing that’s his real name. It just seems too convenient to have a name that looks Asian and is pronounced like “Cowboy.”

Anyway, Cao Boi says he came to America as a refugee after the Vietnam War. If he could survive that, he can survive Survivor, he says. He also says this is his second time as a boat person. Cao Boi says that Asians fly under the radar, that no one expects little Asians to be a real threat. His words, people, not mine.

Jenny notes that while she’s Filipina, there are also a couple of Koreans, and Cao Boi from Vietnam – in other words, there’s already a mix within this little five-person Asian community.

Yul already does not like Cao Boi. He thinks there’s a generational gap, since the other four are all younger than Cao Boi.

And Cao Boi isn’t arguing with that. He says he has never been accepted in the Asian community, because he doesn’t look educated and doesn’t have all the things that speak of success. “I don’t fit the stereotype,” he says. “I belong in a hippie community.” He thinks – and rightly so, I think – that this could prove dangerous for him on Survivor.

Hiki: the African-American tribe:

Nathan: 26, does retail sales in Los Angeles.
Rebecca: 34, a make-up artist in New York.
Sekou: 45, a jazz musician in Los Angeles.
Stephannie: 35, a nursing student in South Carolina.
Sundra: 31, an actress in Los Angeles.

Arriving on shore, the Hiki tribe puts their hands together and chants: “Represent, represent!” Stephannie, who may have the most annoying way to spell that name, says they do have to represent their culture. Rebecca says they have to show that “yes, black people do swim…. We don’t just run track.”

The tribe appears to have not only race in common, but none of them are real outdoor types. “We are just a bunch of city kids,” Sundra says. They set about building a shelter, but one of the women says if it were up to her, she’d just throw some palm branches down and be done with it. “That is so ghetto,” Nate laughs.

Apparently they’re also having some trouble with egos being stepped on. “Black people don’t like being told what to do,” Nate says, and they’re all headstrong people. But eventually they do get the shelter built – something Sekou takes some credit for. He says he helped them focus, and hopes it was a positive experience. We’ll see about that.

Raro: the Caucasian tribe:

Adam: 28, a copier salesman, whose bio says San Diego but grew up in Virginia.
Candice: 23, a pre-med student in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Jessica: 27, a “performance artist/rollergirl” from Chico, California.
Jonathan: 44, a writer/producer in Los Angeles .
Parvati: 23, a “boxer/waitress” – interesting slashie – in Los Angeles .

Adam says race doesn’t matter, the issue in Survivor is personalities. Which is true, but I do find it interesting that the Caucasian tribe is the only one that doesn’t talk about “representing” anything. Jonathan says it will be fascinating to see how this racial divide plays out, but that cultural similarities don’t necessarily make for a more cohesive tribe. “They are going to have to cut the throat of the guy next to them at some point,” he says.

Jessica also makes a list of who fills what typical Survivor demographic – they’ve got a jock, a sorority chick, the hippie chick (herself), etc.

Jessica outs Jonathan as a chicken thief – apparently he took one from another tribe, thus the Raro tribe has two chickens. They toast with coconut juice. But alas, they toast too soon. They’d stashed the chickens under a crate (with no ventilation – clearly these aren’t farm folks. Or even folks with a basic understanding of the respiratory system.) and Jessica – who I think is calling herself “Flicka,” for reasons I don’t understand – inexplicably lifts the crate, setting the chickens free. I don’t even think she did it out of some earthy-crunchy “Free the Chickens” motive, I think she’s just a bit of a dumbass. Anyway, a chicken chase ensues, which results exactly how you’d expect, given that these are the people who put chickens in a crate with no airholes – the chickens win. Viva la chicken!

Jonathan is not happy with this turn of events. “She screwed up my chickens,” he says, and then talks about hearing the chickens crowing freely in the forest, taunting him. Why am I getting a Judd/howler monkey vibe off this?

I Wanna Be a Cao Boi, Baby

It’s Day 2 at Hiki. The women find their water container, even though it’s full of parasites (supposedly) and scream excitedly. We learn that Rebecca and Sundra have bonded – they’re both young, they’re both originally from New York, etc. This has Stephannie feeling a bit left out, and she says she’s keeping an eye on them.

Sekou has decided they’ll make fire, and declares they will not give up on fire! Never! Or, not until he gets a wisp of smoke and declares he needs a break. “He is not one to stay focused at all,” says Stephannie, while Sekou collapses on the beach, exhausted.

We catch back up with Raro on night 2. Candice has decided she gets cold at night, which requires her to snuggle with Adam, as a windbreak. The other girls pile on, in what they cutesily and barfily call a “cuddle puddle.” Um, why didn’t y’all just build a roofie poofie? Probably because Adam likes it just fine the way it is – he says it doesn’t hurt to have hot girls around. “Romance is in the air,” Parvati declares, with no suggestion that she might realize that romance = bonding = alliance = she needs to vote these people out.

At Puka, it’s Day 3. Brad has a headache, and out of desperation – apparently – submits to the holistic ministrations of Cao Boi. Cao Boi declares Brad has “bad wind” in his head and does some sort of face and temple massage, which ends with Brad having a big bruise between his eyebrows. Cao Boi says that’s how he knows how much “bad wind” Brad had, and when it goes away, Brad will be cured. Of the headache, at least. Not of the head-hickey.

“What the hell happened to you?” ask the girls. Cao Boi says those not born in the old country have lost touch with folk remedies.

Apparently something worked. “I don’t have a headache anymore,” Brad admits. “But I do have a red dot on my forehead.”

Yul says he wrote Cao Boi off as a nut, but there are actually some nuggets of useful information in there.

Over at Aitu, there must not have been much drama yet, because we only cut to them when they discover the tree mail that announces their first challenge. The tribes will compete for fire and immunity.

It Never Pays to Steal a Chicken

And, it’s challenge time. All the tribes enter. Probst asks about the chickens, and Yul says his got stolen. Everyone points to Jonathan, who pretends he knows nothing about the matter of the chickens.

Anyway, the challenge is as thus: the tribes will race to assemble a boat. They’ll paddle out to retrieve fire with their torch. They come back, take the braces off the boat, and go solve some puzzles. Then they use the braces as ladder rungs, they all climb it, they win. The first three teams to win get immunity and fire, and the very first one gets kindling and kerosene and matches. The losing team goes to tribal council. There’s also a mysterious note, which Probst says he’ll explain later.

And they’re off! The tribes drag their boat pieces into the water and get to work. Aitu is running first, with Puka behind. Raro has trouble paddling and Hiki has trouble putting the boat together at all. As they get their fire and get back to the beach, Billy slows his team down a bit. Everyone works on their puzzles, but Puka gets it first, winning the kindling, and Aitu is second. Raro comes in third, leaving Hiki last. Sorry for the spotty play-by-play, but it’s not easy recreating the drama here.

Probst says that Hiki gets no fire and no immunity. But they do get – and here’s the note coming into play – to send someone from another tribe to Exile Island. Aw, man, not that twist again! That’s played out. Like last time, people sent to Exile Island will live in even more harsh conditions than those in camp. They’ll be there for two days, isolated from their tribes and unable to spend crucial time building alliances. But they do have a chance to find a hidden, personal immunity idol.

Told to pick someone, the men of Hiki do an odd thing – they step off, away from the women, and decide this by themselves. The women are clearly not happy with this behavior. The men decide that since Jonathan stole the chicken (although not from them), he should be exiled. He heads off to a boat, armed only with a clue as to where the idol is. Everyone else heads back to camp.

On Exile Island, Jonathan is not happy. He was shocked to be sent, and now he’s cold and miserable and homesick. He has a clue about the idol, but after digging a little bit, seems to give up.

Anyone Can Be Arrogant. It Takes a Real Man To Build a Fire

Obviously, Hiki is the scene of the action now, because they’re going to tribal council tonight. The women immediately peel off, talking together, eyeing the men, who are talking and eyeing the women. Clearly everyone knows there are two camps here – Sekou and Nate, versus Sundra and Rebecca. Stephannie is the swing vote. The men think it would the height of stupidity to get rid of one of them, big strong men as they are. The women, of course, want to boot Sekou. They think he knows he’s “on thin ice.” Rebecca says Sekou is the reason they’re having problems unifying as a tribe.

Sekou thinks he’s indispensable. “They can’t make fire, they can’t even build a hut,” he says. It’s always dangerous on Survivor to think you’re indispensable. Because everyone can learn to make a fire.

Sekou and Nate want to pull Stephannie to their side and get her to help vote out Sundra. Sekou tells her that the other two girls are tight, and they’ll vote her out. “Y’all vote me out, there ain’t gonna be no more fire,” he says. Wait, did he even make a fire at all? I thought he got smoke and went to rest?

Stephannie says she knows she’s a swing vote.

Tribal Council this season will be held on a shipwreck, apparently. Hiki troops in and Probst has them light their torches, then begins the questioning. Asked about leadership, Rebecca says Sekou stepped up to lead; Sekou says he didn’t really mean to run things, it just happened. Nate rambles about the “beautiful spirit” of the tribe. They say they didn’t expect the ethnic tribal divisions. Stephannie says the women are going to stick together, but that it’s odd to be the odd man out. Rebecca says in making her vote, she’s looking at where the tribe is weak.

And, the votes are cast. It’s two for Sundra, and three for Sekou. Big shocker there. He’s the first one out. Probst gives the remaining tribe members fire, and says he hopes they’re stronger if they voted out the weak link.

In his comments afterwards, Sekou is very nice and says they will be a strong team and he wishes them well.

Next week:

The Asian team, Puka, is getting tired of Cao Boi’s Asian jokes. And at Aitu, the Latinos, Billy is slacking so much the others are talking about throwing a challenge just to get rid of him. Bad move, Aitu! Don’t do it! It never works!