Hey there, Survivor fans! I’d say I missed you, except weren’t we just here? It doesn’t seem like that long ago that Judd was pounding his chest in the jungle, complaining about howler monkeys. Riddle me this, Batman – why do Survivor seasons come before you can miss them, when it takes like two years to do a new Sopranos season? Eh, anyway. Survivor is back, and we’re back in Panama. I don’t remember which season was already in Panama, although I’m sure some of you do and that you’ll all be sure to tell me. I don’t particularly see how it matters – one tropical beach looks a lot like another tropical beach to me, so for all I care they could be on Fiji. Although I do wonder how Mark Burnette managed to run out of new exotic locations after just 12 or so seasons. Two words, Marky Mark – Survivor Antarctica. C’mon, you can’t make a sealskin bikini?
This season, though, things are going to be different. How different? Shockingly different! Twisty! Here’s the deal – there is some little island that Burnette and friends will call “Exile Island.” They’ve constructed some sort of large skull on it, presumably to either scare the survivors or so it can be found by Jeff Probst’s helicopter. Each week, at least one survivor will be banished to this little spit of land, where they’ll be cut off from what’s going on in their camp and forced to fend for themselves. The editors helpfully show footage of a bird of prey ripping the flesh off some small mammal to illustrate this point. However, there’s a silver lining to being exiled – on the island is a mystery that could help one person in the game. Probst calls it “a twist like never before, turning strategy on its head.” I must point out that while he’s saying this, we see the figure of a person looking down, seemingly searching for something. This suggests to me that they’ve continued last season’s twist of hiding an immunity idol somewhere in the vicinity, which would actually make this neither a mystery nor a “twist like never before.” Never before except last season, right Jeffy?
There is a more key difference this time, though – there will be four tribes, instead of two. That means four people per tribe, and Jeff wastes no time in explaining how they’ve been divvied up. He tells the new survivors (who just landed on the island, and are standing around staring at each other) that they’ve been divided by age and gender. Therefore, we have the Older Women – henceforth known, for the purposes of this recap, as the “OW” tribe – the Older Men (OM), the Younger Men (YM) and the Younger Women (YW). Anyone who’s watched this show before knows that tribes often vote out either the old and weak, or the young and strong and threatening, first. And that’s even before the politics of mixing genders comes into play. So this could be interesting.
However, it’s still a shock to the survivors, especially those who find themselves insulted by which tribe they’re in. “I thought I was younger,” wails Cirie, a nurse who’s on the OW tribe. In point of fact, several of the OWs seem to be in their 30’s.
You Call This Old?
That reminds me, I probably should introduce these folks, even though Probst and Co. didn’t see fit to. Y’all could google this stuff, of course, but I aim to please.
So, our Survivors are:
Austin: a 24-year-old author from High Point, N.C. Apparently he really wrote a book and got it published and everything.
Aras: a 24-year-old yoga instructor from Santa Monica.
Bobby: a 32-year-old attorney from Los Angeles. He grew up in South Central. Yikes.
Nick: 25, in financial sales, from Tempe, AZ. He “supplements his income as a waiter.” So what is that, trader/waiter?
Courtney: a 31-year-old “performance artist” from L.A. Her caption during the show says “fire dancer.” What the ….? Anyway, very arty. You’ll see.
Misty: a 24-year-old engineer from Dallas. Very busty in the opening shots.
Danielle: a 24-year-old medical sales rep from Pompano Beach, FL.
Sally: a 27-year-old social worker from Chicago.
Dan: a 52-year-old retired astronaut from Massachusetts.
Shane: 35, he owns an “entertainment marketing company” in L.A.
Terry: 46, an airline pilot and retired Navy fighter pilot, from Connecticut. How very Top Gun.
Bruce: 58, a karate instructor and high school art teacher, from Simi Valley, California.
Cirie: a 35-year-old registered nurse from South Carolina
Melinda: a 32-year-old singer from Tennessee. Sevierville, Tennessee, actually, which is right by Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, which tells me that she “sings” in country music variety show type things. Think Dollywood, people.
Tina: a 45-year-old lumberjack (or “lumber jill”) from Wisconsin. Her bio also calls her a “logging sports promoter.” Logging sports? Promoter? Someone has to promote things like log-tossing contests?
Ruth Marie: a 48-year-old “director of retail leasing” in Greenville, S.C. Does that mean … realtor? Beats me. But my college boyfriend lived in Greenville. Nice town.
Ok, that’s all of them. But I do want to point out an injustice here – at 32, Bobby is a YM, while at 32, Melinda is an OW. Can we say double-standard? Or do we just want to point out that at 31, Courtney is a YW, and decide Burnette’s just being arbitrary?
Couldn’t They Just Donate the Skulls to Science?
Anyway, back to the action. As the tribe divisions are explained, several people are unhappy. Austin says he’d rather be on a tribe with women. “I can’t help but flirt with any woman I come in contact with,” he says. Wow, because we women just LOVE indiscriminate flirting. It makes us feel so special. Yeah, he’ll probably last longer with the guys.
Bobby says he is the “charter member and president” of the YM tribe. In fact, he has made up tribe names himself: there’s the Young Beefcake bunch, the Loveboat tribe (that’s the old men), the Golden Girls (old women) and the Spice Girls (young women.) Pretty apropos so far.
When the mutterings calm down, Jeff explains the concept of exile. And then he announces the tribes are going to compete for reward right now. Each tribe will choose one person to run to the other end of the island, and go through a stack of skulls – skulls! It’s a theme. I’m hoping these are, like, papier mache skulls. They must crack open each skull – kids, don’t try this at home – to find an amulet. The first three people who run back with an amulet win fire – i.e. a flint – while the losers do not, and also have to leave someone behind in exile.
Danielle says she’s excited about the challenge, athletic stuff is her bag and she’s raring to go.
The runners will be: Ruth Marie (OW), Terry (OM), Danielle (YW) and Austin (YM). Austin trips and falls right out of the gate, but they all eventually make it to the pile of skulls and start smashing them like coconuts. The rest of the tribes wait nervously. The two men make it back first, followed eventually by Ruth Marie, the OW. That leaves the young women as the losers. Danielle volunteers to stay in exile, but luckily for her the others say no, and they “rock, paper scissors” to see who gets screwed. It’s Misty. She’ll stay on the island till the first immunity challenge.
Jeff now explains about the hidden immunity idol (ha! I was right), and adds that this time, whoever finds it can pull it out *after* a tribal council vote. I.e., if you’ve got it, and everyone votes you off, you can say “Neener neener, suckas!” and whip out some immunity. That does make it handier, especially for any player who gets blindsided at tribal council.
Jeff passes out maps to each team’s beach, and tells Misty she has a machete and water but that she’d need to boil it. “You also have a lot of time to think about why fate chose you,” he says. I’m thinking this is pretty mean of him, but then he says he already gave her the first clue to the idol’s location. Damned if I know what it is, but still.
Everyone else rows away while Misty sits on a rock. “I definitely feel vulnerable,” she says, explaining she didn’t expect to be at a disadvantage so early in the game. She’s taking that fate comment as the clue, though, and starts looking.
Wait, This Isn’t “Survivor: Akron”?
The older women arrive at their new camp to find a pot and a machete. Cirie is afraid they’ll have to clear out brush to make a shelter; apparently this terrifies her. It seems that Cirie is actually afraid of everything that moves, wild bug-and-animal-wise.
The women circle up and pray. Then they get to work, led by lumberjack Tina, who has them chopping trees, making fire, fetching water and so on. Tina, by the way, looks like an 80’s glam rocker with that hair. Ruth Marie says they’re making great progress and that Tina is so resourceful, she’s happy to step back and let Tina take the leadership role, and she’ll just be a worker bee. Isn’t it early for the “under the radar” strategy to be so baldly declared?
Cirie, meanwhile, is still afraid of bugs, afraid to pick up leaves, afraid to do anything. “Did anyone tell her what show she was going on?” Tina asks.
Who Needs a Roof When You’ve Got Balls?
Off on some other beach, the young men are playing ball with a stick and some coconuts. Aras says that perhaps they should start thinking about more important things, like fire and shelter. He makes them all do some weird New Agey thing of holding their hands over each other’s for a while, while he tells them they can do it! Nick says Aras is off the wall, that he’s all meditative and not very practical.
Austin says the group is hysterical – I think he means hysterically dysfunctional. He says the shelter they eventually manage to erect is pathetic, and they still don’t have fire.
“That is the sorriest shelter I think we could have come up with,” says one of the other guys. “We don’t want to peak the first night.”
A Shoutout To Our Turtle Mothers
At the younger women tribe, they’ve decided to walk, and walk, and find the perfect spot for their shelter. Various spots are dismissed for no reason at all other than that someone doesn’t get the perfect vibe from them. I’m thinking that someone is Courtney. Sally is getting frustrated, and just wants to build a damn shelter already.
Then Courtney finds a sea turtle on the shore. A dead sea turtle. For some reason, this sends her into paroxysms of bliss. She says the turtle is a symbol of a woman goddess (isn’t that redundant? Maybe I heard her wrong) and that its presence on their beach, the beach of the women, is a sign and an omen. I’m thinking if it’s an omen, she should pay more attention to the fact that it’s dead.
Sally rolls her eyes, says the whole turtle thing is stupid and that she isn’t capable of faking being all into it. Danielle says Courtney is over-dramatic and that they need to build the blasted shelter instead of swooning over dead sea turtles.
By “Recapper” I Mean “Fought Wild Bulls In Borneo”
Finally we check in with the old men. They’re cutting wood, building fire and rolling right along. Terry and Dan have a private chat, which Dan begins by promising Terry he’ll never lie to him. Hm, most of my relationships begin that way, too. Is Terry going to wind up crying and egging someone’s car? Or am I just projecting? Anyway, it turns out Dan wants to reveal that he didn’t just work at NASA, he was an astronaut. Why he was hiding that is beyond me. Who cares if he was an astronaut? I mean, I personally think it’s cool as hell, when I was a kid I wanted to be the first woman astronaut, till Sally Ride beat me to it, the bitch. But I don’t see how having been an astronaut would be a negative in Survivor. Anyway, Dan’s come to the right man, because Terry shares his own secret – he’s not just an airline pilot, he’s a retired fighter pilot. Why is THAT such a secret, either? You aren’t POWs here, boys. This isn’t ‘Nam. It’s ok to share.
Meanwhile, Shane is having his own problems. It appears that Shane is a three-pack-a-day smoker, and only quit when he was taken away from his cigarettes and dropped into Panama. It’s been 31 hours since his last smoke, and he’s jonesing big time. Now, I am sympathetic here. I’m a smoker myself, and I know the pain of the nic-fit. I don’t smoke around my mother, for example, and visits got rather snarly until I discovered the wonders of occasional Nicorette usage. Now I don’t go near my mom without it. So I feel for Shane. However – what kind of idiot wouldn’t quit well before going on Survivor? Is this his own way of going cold turkey? Fool. Shane says he’s got to get through the detox phase without lashing out as his tribe, but I’m here to tell you, I doubt he’ll manage it. Anyway, he’s in bad shape.
A Whole Lotta Immunity Goin’ On
Finally, we’re up to nightfall on night one. The YWs seem to be sleeping outside, suggesting that their turtle-worship left them with no time to build a shelter. Misty calls the first night her “worst nightmare.” She’s tired, hungry, and thirsty, and hopes her tribe is doing better so they’ll be strong for the immunity challenge.
Misty seems to have not bothered trying to find food or anything; she’s just looking for that immunity idol. If she doesn’t find it, she says, she’s going to make her tribe think she did, so as to hopefully not get voted out if they lose immunity at the challenge. Hm, interesting strategy.
Aaaannnnddd, it’s immunity challenge time. The four tribes gather, and Misty returns from exile. In response to Jeff’s questions, she cryptically says the island was lonely but had its advantages; that he told them where the idol was, and when asked if she spent time looking for it, says she spent enough. Eyebrows are raised. For those of you keeping score at home, Misty has managed to suggest she found the idol without actually saying so. Whether that will be at all relevant or not remains to be seen.
So, the challenge. They’ll all have to swim to a floating dock, climb a barrier, jump in the water, swim to a raft, unhook the raft underwater, row it to shore, solve a brainteaser puzzle and/or find the instructions to the puzzle in the sand, get a grappling hook, pull it and release a flag. First three to do so win immunity, and the three-parter idol mostly involves shrunken heads. Nice.
The challenge itself is a flurry of activity, in which the old men are the first to free their raft, the young men are lagging behind, and Cirie’s ample bosoms put the fuzzy-blob man to work. Why, if you knew you were large-breasted (and you know. Trust me.), would you go on Survivor with nothing more than a low-cut halter top? Get a support top, woman!
Anyway, the young women, young men, and old men all win immunity. That leaves the older women facing tribal council.
I Caught You a Delicious Bass
The OWs go back to camp, and Cirie is nervous. She feels vulnerable because she’s not very physically fit – or, really, fit at all. She doesn’t want to be the first person voted out, though.
Tina, meanwhile, goes off to sit alone. The other women think it’s weird. But she’s off by the beach thinking about her son, who was killed in a car wreck just a few months earlier. She doesn’t want the other women to know about it, so she’s decided to sort of commune with him on the beach.
That’s very sad, but you know the downside of keeping that sort of thing secret is, no one else gets a chance to be sympathetic or understanding. So while Tina’s off feeling sad, Cirie is maneuvering. She tells Ruth Marie that she already told Melinda, they can’t physically beat Tina. And Melinda thinks Tina is loud – we see an example of this as Tina loudly exults over happening upon a still-living-but-not-for-long fish on some rocks. She triumphantly brings it back to camp, and Melinda tells us there are a ton of reasons to keep Tina. Cirie, Melinda says, is the weak link.
But Cirie isn’t going without a fight. She scales the fish, telling us she’s helping to assure Ruth Marie and Melinda that they’ll be ok without Tina and all her outdoorsy skills.
We Don’t Really Want To Know How to Survive
The four women troop off to the first tribal council – in a cool torch-lit cave. Jeff starts asking questions, starting with Melinda, who pulls no punches. “I’m currently in Panamanian hell,” she says, explaining that it’s so hard physically, mentally and emotionally.
Cirie agrees, saying she never even slept outside before coming on Survivor. “For the people like me at home on the couch, stay on the couch,” she advises.
Tina is the only one who’s feeling good and confident. She loves the outdoors. Ruth Marie says that’s comforting, and that she’s let Tina lead. Cirie grudgingly admits that Tina has done a lot of work around the camp, finding water and starting fire, but says if she hadn’t, someone else would have. Tina says the other three aren’t pulling their weight as much as she’d like, but that she can’t force them to, she can only go work and hope they follow. Melinda counters that by saying they all are doing something, even if it’s not what Tina had in mind.
And, no one should be surprised at the vote – Tina’s the one to go. Well, not surprised if you were paying attention to the dynamic. Tina was the odd woman out, she didn’t get along with the other three as well as they did with each other. Strategically, one could argue that the slow, scared-of-everything Cirie should have gone home, but hey – it’s not “outwit” for nothing.
Tina, after the vote, tells the camera that her tribe made a huge mistake, and she hopes they do badly. She regrets nothing, because she was just herself.
There’s another exile twist that raises the stakes. Shane the smoker wants to quit, and there’s some big storm.
Believe me, I’m staying home on the couch. email@example.com