What would Survivor be without Master of Ceremonies Jeff Probst? Probst stands proudly at the helm of a speedboat, buzzing a chain of tiny Pacific islands smaller than your first apartment.
This is our introduction to Palau, setting for the tenth season of Survivor, described by Probst as a "paradise." The suggestion this is paradise is discouraging. Am I the only fan who wants to see players stranded on a hellhole?
Palau consists of hundreds of islands, coral reefs and unique sealife communities including sharks, manta rays and jellyfish. CBS offers an underwater look at a giant clam bigger than a Buick. I'm never eating seafood again.
What appears tranquil is merely the candy-coated shell masking Palau's unwitting role in World War II. Palau was the site of many land and sea battles and, as if we didn't believe it, we're shown the rusting ghost-shells of artillery cannons, armored vehicles and abandoned naval vessels, presumably from the World War II era.
(Here's to hoping that Burnett's minions did the impossible and found some Japanese soldiers bunkered down on Palau, unaware that the war is over.)
In a lyrical moment, Probst waxes poetic and calls Palau "an eerie mix of man's explosive past...and nature's power to reclaim."
That's a ponderous thought, and quite possibly the only one that will sustain us through 39 days of abrasive personalities arguing over who ate the last coconut and randy couples playing midnight sneaky under the grass shelter.
Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Survivors
In our first glimpse of the Survivor: Palau players (aside from CBS teasers and Web site profiles, of course), all 20 people are crammed in a boat, rowing toward the beach.
They're equipped only with what they're wearing and a canteen of water each.
Probst promises that all expectations about how Survivor begins will soon be wiped out. Going back on his promise, seconds later, Probst makes his grand, signature pronouncement, one he's made at the beginning of countless seasons:
"Thirty-nine days, 20 people--one Survivor!"
Is it a sign I've been watching too much reality television if this sends a shiver of excitement dancing down my spine?
For all you Survivor-philes, the contestants are shown in the following order during the theme: Jennifer, Bobby Jon, Ashlee, James, Jolanda, Jonathan, Stephenie, Tom, Angie, Ibrehem, Coby, Janu, Willard, Caryn, Ian, Wanda, Jeff, Katie, Gregg and Kim. (I'm very tired.)
The 20 continue rowing toward the beach, past the hull of a sunken battleship. I suggest rowing with a little more back in't. If God has already sunken the battleship, He may call out F-11 on his next turn and score a hit on their rowboat. Then, they would be completely screwed.
Probst moves to intercept the rowboat and meets the rowboat (at E-14), cutting off their path to the beach. Probst welcomes all 20 and points out the beach nearby as their new home for the duration of the game.
Probst also informs them that waiting on that beach are two machetes and two immunity necklaces--one for the first man to reach it, and one for the first woman. When he's done explaining, they are tasked with reaching those necklaces by any means necessary, whether that involves trying to swim for the beach or continuing to row.
The rowboat is still about one mile out from shore.
It's Not the Length of Immunity, It's How You Use It
Coby stands up, considering a dive into the water. You can't miss Coby because he's wearing a pink shirt. The others let him know how foolish his idea is by urging him to sit down.
It's difficult to make out what 19 different voices are saying when they're all talking at once, so it sounds like "[mumble mumble] paddle." This means, I suppose, "Hey, Greg Louganis--sit your ass down and grab an oar."
They persuade Coby to surrender the idea of swimming a mile and resume course for the beach.
The first contestant we hear from is James, the steelworker from Alabama: "Jeff is a son of a bitch, I can tell you that."
What an introduction! No one likes being called a "son of a bitch" on a first meeting, I can tell you that much. This was a hard-won lesson for me after my first meeting with my future father-in-law.
To the camera, Coby declares that everyone in the boat tried to gauge the distance to shore, wondering what the best time was to abandon ship and make a break for it.
It's hard to keep track of 20 people, especially when they're locked into a small space. As an example, I am trying to tell you about some of the braver souls on board who surrendered their oars and headed fore of the boat. In my notes, I can only identify them as "Pink Top," "Glasses Guy" and "Big Boobs."
(Note: "Fore" is a nautical term meaning "situated toward the bow" [or "the front"], for all you landlubbers. Never let it be said you can't learn anything from watching Star Trek.)
Having watched the episode, "Glasses Guy" is Ian, and "Big Boobs" is Stephenie, and I think "Pink Top" is Jennifer, but who knows.
Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Dumb
Wanda the English teacher stands up and belts out a sea shanty, to the bemusement of her fellow crew. Unless this is the first time you've ever seen Survivor, it's obvious that Wanda is sealing her fate.
This is not musical theater. By spontaneously bursting into song and dance during an ordeal of hardship, Wanda will not win the heart of the pirate king or make the flying car come back to life.
She will, however, serve to make herself stand out during the crucial first 48 hours of the game. If her tribe goes to Tribal Council, they'll remember the idiot who stood up to sing while they broke their backs on the oars, rowing her musical ass to shore.
She may be an English teacher, but she's an idiot. As my boss taught me in the only useful advice he's ever imparted: "The banana that separates from the bunch gets peeled."
As it turns out, Wanda will go back to diagramming sentences before the first 48 hours are up. More on that in a bit.
Rather than be entertained by her antics, Willard calls Wanda a "lunatic."
"Is she going to stop?" Coby asks.
"I've written a bunch of songs for Survivor," the chanteuse says, "and I'm all about it being one, big party!"
And as we all know, if there's one thing English teachers know, it's how to party.
Big Boobs and Other Guy Make a Break for It
Stephenie, the pharmaceutical representative, and Jonathan, the sales and marketing agent, decide they're going to swim for shore. It's still some distance out.
Stephenie makes a serviceable slice into the water, but laughably, Jonathan doesn't "open up," looking like an inverted "U" as he hits the water, close behind Stephenie.
After a few strokes, Stephenie seems to realize she's made a mistake. She asks if she can return to the boat. The others laugh. So I guess that's a passive-aggressive no.
Katie, another advertising executive, tells the camera that no one wanted to be the first out of the boat. "That's a gigantic target on your head!"
As the boat nears shore, the rest of the players abandon ship as if they've just spotted Pepe Le Pew on board.
Ian is first to the Survivor banner and claims his immunity necklace. Jolanda is second. After nearly missing the necklace with another woman close on her heels, she seizes it on her second pass.
Ian's scramble earns James' grudging respect: "That skinny boy is a fast little booger." As opposed to what? All those fast, fat boogers?
As the players mill around the beach, re-introducing themselves to one another and congratulating Ian and Jolanda, Willard wonders if they're going to be separated into two teams. Willard notices the Survivor banner makes no mention of tribe names.
As we're left to ponder that possibility and the possible implications, we're treated to a shot of Jonathan and Stephenie still trying to swim to shore.
To Build a Fire (or Not)
Caryn wastes no time in trying to organize teams to build a shelter and search for the water. Tattooed Angie, pink-shirted Coby, and older attorneys Willard and Caryn take the map and begin searching for water, while the others start building a shelter and attempt to make fire.
New York firefighter Tom comments that these activities aren't very organized, as everyone seems to be wandering off in different directions. Tom says this sort of behavior is something they'll need to be more conscientious of in the future.
Tom is tapped to build the fire. "Get me to do the fire?" he laughs. "That's a losing job, man."
I suppose whoever asked Tom doesn't realize that "fireman" means he puts 'em out, not makes 'em. Isn't fire the antithesis of everything that Tom has represented in his professional career (e.g. "no fire")? It's like asking Superman to find Kryptonite.
Who Loves Short Shorts? We Love Short Shorts!
Jolanda starts shouting for a "strong man." "Do we have a strong man here? Come on, Hercules! Hercules! Hercules! Hercules!" she teases in The Nutty Professor fashion.
Jolanda's volunteer (I think Jeff) starts modifying clothes for everyone, making cut-offs out of khakis and denim jeans, tailoring women's tops down to size with a machete.
As we're treated to shots of micro-mini skirts and women walking around in their underwear, Ian expresses how thrilled he is. It's a big day for Ian. Not only does he win immunity, but for the first time in his life, he sees nekkid wimmins.
Angie, Coby, Willard and Caryn find the water source. By the water source, they also find a gunny sack filled with shoes. (Where else would you expect to find shoes?)
Apparently, these are "their" shoes, leading one to question what they're wearing on their feet, and why they were asked to surrender their footwear, and whose shoes they're wearing now.
Coby throws the gunny sack of shoes over his shoulders like a wild boar he's brought down, and, along with some water, they start making their way back to the beach.
Along the way--and I think within earshot of Willard and Caryn--Coby feels out Angie about survival against their nemeses, the "young, good-looking people."
"We understand being different, being ostracized," Angie confesses.
"When I saw you, I realized I wasn't going to be the weirdest one here," Coby tells Angie.
This produces a hearty laugh from Angie.
(Note to self: Chicks dig that as an opening line.)
As Coby and Angie prepare their chairs at the cafeteria table where no one else wants to sit, Coby (correctly) cautions against standing out too much and making themselves obvious targets.
Dancing Topless in a Vegas Revue and Climbing a Tree Are Two Different Things
On the beach, the others start looking to Tom to help supervise the building of the shelter.
Las Vegas showgirl Janu climbs the tree to tie the crosspieces, citing her rock-climbing ability as a useful skill on the island.
Tom and Stephenie engage in some friendly banter about the oppressive heat. Tom, very casually, wonders aloud whether Stephenie would be interested in forming an alliance. He considers Ian as a possible third member.
Stephenie agrees. They mull the possibility that a division into two tribes could still be in the works, ruining their preliminary plans for an alliance.
Jolanda pets a grasshopper on her hand...and pops it in her mouth, citing its value as "protein." If this is that new Atkins diet all the kids are crowing about, I want no part.
Coby and Caryn discuss an alliance with Gregg, an idea he's lukewarm to. If they can convince Stephenie and Ashlee to join, they could form the alliance of "People Tired of Other People Who Misspell Their Names All the Time."
Coby puts aside talk of an alliance and feels out Caryn and Gregg on targeting Jonathan for an ouster, citing Jonathan as a physical threat they should cut off immediately. This idea receives a warmer reception.
Coby approaches the other contestants and subtly draws attention to Jonathan as an early candidate to leave the island. He gets a few head nods in response.
Coby points out that of course the others will agree to this; at this stage, they're just glad not to be targeted.
The Convoluted, No Good, Very Bad, Overly Long Tribe Divisions
The first night passes uneventfully. The next morning, Jeff Probst arrives to much fanfare and back-slapping. Brown-nosing the host of Survivor is good for absolutely nothing.
Probst announces it's time to divide into tribes. Ian and Jolanda, the first two winners of immunity, will become the first two members of the two new tribes. They will each take a turn choosing a member of their tribe from the pool of available players. Ian and Jolanda must each choose a person of the opposite sex, who will in turn choose the next member of the tribe, again of the opposite sex.
They will continue rounding out their tribes in this fashion until each tribe has nine. Eighteen players will make up the two new tribes. The two left standing on the beach without a tribe will be sent home immediately.
Wouldn't it have been easier if Probst had simply brought the Sorting Hat?
"Hm. Very interesting. Devious ability to scheme and form alliances...? Physically weaker than a newborn kitten? KOROOOR! Let's see: Thinks he'll lie around the beach all day? Wants to see Jennifer in her Victoria's Secret again? ULOOONG!"
But I digress.
Ian was first on the beach, and will be first to choose a tribe mate. Ian chooses Katie, who chooses firefighter Tom, who chooses Las Vegas showgirl Janu, who chooses Gregg, who chooses Jennifer, who chooses Coby, who chooses Caryn.
(Keep in mind Ian's tribe alternated turns with Jolanda's tribe. I'm summarizing selections and eliminating turns for the sake of readability.)
Jolanda chooses Bobby Jon, who chooses Stephenie, who chooses Jeff, who chooses Kim, who chooses James, who chooses Ashlee, who chooses Ibrehem.
That leaves four on the beach: older attorney Willard, tattooed Angie, singing English teacher Wanda and early target Jonathan.
The First Cut Is the Deepest
Caryn looks over her choices and chooses Willard. Ibrehem pauses then chooses Angie.
Jeff distributes the buffs--Ian's tribe is clad in brown, now known as Koror. Jolanda's tribe is clad in blue, now known as Ulong.
Jonathan and Wanda are sent back to the boat. The members of Ulong and Koror wave from the beach and shout encouragement, like "Go get 'em!"
Go get what? The game is over for Wanda and Jonathan. Get a good night's sleep and a warm meal? As Wanda's boat pulls farther and farther from shore, she again breaks into song--singing all the way to her own grave (and beyond), that one.
Angie remorsefully wonders why she was picked last since she was sure Coby would choose her. She complains that she feels no kinship with her tribe.
The two tribes prepare for life on the same beach.
Gregg (Koror) cautions against letting the other tribe weaken them through competition. Well, thank you for that deep and insightful bit of strategy, Einstein. I'm sure your tribe mates' strategy involved losing every competition until you came along and set them straight with your wisdom.
Jeff cautions Ulong against Koror attacks involving gossip and hearsay to cause them to doubt one another and their unity as a tribe. Jeff apparently thinks that Survivor takes place in a junior high lunchroom.
The parade of the painfully obvious continues as Ibrehem tells the camera that while mental fitness plays a role in Survivor, athleticism will play a role as well. Ibrehem makes this pronouncement with such gravitas, like it's never occurred to anyone but him.
The Super-Duper Long Obstacle Course
Koror and Ulong meet Jeff Probst for their first challenge. It's a joint reward/immunity challenge.
For any of you who may be first-time viewers (though I doubt it), the tribe members must compete in a physical and/or mental challenge each episode. For now, the tribe wins or fails as a group. The losing tribe go to what's known as "Tribal Council," where they vote out a member of their own tribe.
Because reward is involved as well this time, the tribe that wins "immunity" (from Tribal Council) also earns something that will either make life easier on the beach (fire, food, etc.) or a luxury item or items (a hot bath, a gourmet meal).
The first Palau challenge is long, but straightforward.
The teams will make their way through (1) a net maze and (2) a tire obstacle course to (3) find a supply dump.
Let's stop and discuss the supply dump, because this is a little convoluted and, as we will see, become very important for later discussion.
At the supply dump for each team, they will find paddles and four items in metal lockboxes: flint for fire, two cans of water, flour and rice for food and a tarp for shelter.
They must take the paddles. After untying the rope joining the lockboxes, they can choose to take as little or as much as they want, but they must take at least one item.
After (4) choosing which item (or items) to carry with them, they will (5) make their way over a wall, through (6) a jungle swamp and find (7) a canoe on the beach.
The teams will drop their items on the beach and launch the canoe. They will paddle out to (8) a flag, retrieve the flag, turn and return to shore. The first team to (9) plant the flag in the sand with all team members on the beach will win reward/immunity.
Excuse me while I take a break. I'm tired from just keying all that information.
Obstacle Course Results
Before running the obstacle course, Ian and Jolanda are forced to give up immunity. The new immunity idol is unveiled: a tiki with handles. (You gotta love those handles. I call them "love handles.")
The teams hit (1) the net at full tilt. Tom is over and on the ground, giving Koror a slight lead. That lead vanishes as both teams come off the net to regroup.
They're neck-and-neck as they (2) make their way through the tires to (3) the supply dump.
Both teams are required to drag their goodies to a "map" placed nearby, on the ground.
The members of Koror show exceptional discipline and teamwork. They leave the supply dump behind, carrying only the flint for fire.
When Stephenie and Jeff from Ulong see Koror on the move, they encourage their tribe mates to finish choosing what they're going to take and move as quickly as possible. Jolanda insists on taking more supplies.
Koror (5) hits the wall, well ahead of Ulong, still struggling with (4) selecting their supplies.
The members of Koror are over the wall almost at the same time that Ulong regroups at the wall and attempt to scale it. Ulong has brought with them everything from the supply dump, except for flint/fire.
Koror are through the (6) swamp and regroup at their (7) canoe to attempt the (8) flag in the water.
The Second Immunity
Koror continue to show exceptional teamwork, getting very close to their flag, as Ulong is in serious trouble once again. For all the progress they make in the water, Ulong may as well be sitting in one place.
When they list badly off course, Probst quips, "Ulong, looking for another island."
With the lead by the Koror team, and the trouble Ulong has encountered, it's clear that unless something drastic happens, Koror is headed for a sure victory.
Even Probst compliments the Koror team: "Working together--straight, strong, fast."
Ulong Jeff, out of frustration, slams his paddle into the water.
Ulong are nowhere near their flag even as Koror reaches shore and plants their flag.
Probst declares Koror the winners of the first challenge and compliments them again on their unusual strategy at the supply dump.
Surprisingly, Probst also announces that the two tribes will no longer be living on the same beach. Koror are offered a choice: They can stay at the beach where they spent their first night, or they can take the map Probst offers them to a new, unseen beach.
"Let's see something new," Tom decides for Koror. "New adventure!" the members of Koror agree excitedly.
It's a new adventure with a less than auspicious beginning. As Koror paddle their canoe toward the new beach, the canoe capsizes, dumping everyone into the water. More importantly, it dumps the lockbox with their flint into the water.
Ian dives into the water, looking for the flint, but can't locate it.
"We've lost everything we won today," Tom says.
Ulong Gripes, Trouble and Strife
Meanwhile, Angie from Ulong criticizes Jolanda's decision to try and take as much as possible from the supply dump during the challenge.
Jolanda and some of the others eat their coconuts. Jolanda promises her tribe that she won't let them sink into despair.
Angie tells the camera she thinks she's a target because she doesn't fit in well.
Jolanda takes a stroll with Ibrehem and Bobby Jon. She emphasizes her physical strength, claiming to be stronger than even some men from Koror. She targets Angie for the tribal council vote and leaves Ibrehem and Bobby Jon to discuss her ideas with Stephenie.
Stephenie agrees with Jolanda that it's crucial to keep all the men of their tribe and tells Jolanda that the tribe needs her stength. She takes Jolanda to task for not leaving the supply dump earlier.
In a textbook definition of "passive-aggressive," though, Stephenie tells Jolanda that she (Stephenie) understands that it's simply because of her (Jolanda's) "go-getter attitude" that caused Jolanda to try and take more from the supply dump.
The discussions and finger-pointing continue. Stephenie approaches Bobby Jon and tells him their tribe lost because of Jolanda. Bobby Jon admires Jolanda's strength and wants to target Angie.
Stephenie throws her hands in the air, but they both laugh about the disagreement. Stephenie says that she'll go along with the plan to oust Angie.
Jolanda is seen taking charge of tribe work, telling everyone to take an hour break for every two hours that they work.
Ashlee complains that Jolanda is a strong personality, not a team player.
She takes a walk with James, Kim, Angie and Jeff to discuss booting Jolanda.
"Are you in?" she asks James. James agrees.
Kim prefaces her agreement to the setup: "If you people go back against your word, I'll hold it against you for the rest of my life!" Now, that's quite a grudge.
James and Jeff share a thumbs-up. And, like that, the deal is done.
Angie is happy it's not her. "Hell, yeah, I'm in! You think I don't remember exactly the order we got picked for tribes? If I can make it past this one, I'll be happy."
Probst asks Stephenie what's the biggest surprise so far for her.
Stephenie replies that she's formed bonds that are no longer in place, she's hungry, the tribe has no fire and has no idea what's coming next.
Probst asks James if he's happy with the tribe. James replies that it's a "damn fine tribe" that's tough, young, with a lot of energy and a lot of testosterone. (Since half the tribe members are women, I would hope that estrogen is involved, too.) James vows that Ulong will win competitions in the future.
Probst asks Ulong Jeff if he would agree they were outwitted during the challenge.
Jeff claims his tribe lost time at the supply dump. (I should point out that Jeff may not be the best person to ask a question having to do with brains versus brawn.)
Probst asks them all why they didn't take fire from the supply dump.
James responds with a non sequitur: "Dumb ass!" It's not clear who he's directing his comments to.
Jolanda responds that they tried to bring it, but it was last. Since they lost so much time, they were trying to make up for lost time and simply left it behind.
Probst asks Ashlee if a leader has emerged.
Ashlee responds that the lack of leadership is holding them back.
Probst asks if the team can continue without a leader.
Jolanda responds that she would like to see someone making "unilateral" decisions and that while she would like to contribute to the decision-making process, she's also aware that she has a strong personality. She doesn't want to become known as "bossy," a "witch."
Probst asks Angie if being picked last for the tribe affects her. Angie replies that it weighs heavily on her and feels that makes her a prime target for the vote. Unless the others have plans for another member of the tribe, she says, she thinks she'll be voted off, overwhelmingly.
Big, Fat Pens and Scratchy Parchment--Time to Vote
Probst taps Jolanda to vote first. Jolanda votes against Angie, holds up her vote and announces, "I just don't think we can be happy with losses. We have to evaluate and move forward."
For all you Survivor-philes, Ulong voted in the following order: Jolanda was followed by Stephenie, Jeff, Ashlee, Bobby Jon, Kim, James, Ibrehem and finally, Angie, who holds up Jolanda's name and tells the camera: "Nothing personal, but it's you or I, and I don't want it to be me."
Probst calls the votes: Angie, Jo, Angie, another for Angie. It's 3-1 against Angie, and it doesn't look good for Angie.
Probst reads the next three votes: Jo. Then another Jo. And another for Jo. Suddenly, the tally shifts dramatically against Jo, 4-3.
Probst reads the next vote.
The first person voted off Survivor: Palau is Jolanda.
As her torch is extinguished, Jolanda turns and tells her former tribe, "Good luck, you guys" and what sounds like, "I want you to win."
Before dismissing Ulong, Probst tells them to take away one thing from Tribal Council: "Stop the excuses and get a plan."
Jolanda's final words:
I played this game, and I don't think I would do anything differently. I am the oldest. I think differently than my tribe. They are a lot more happy-go-lucky than I am. But that's fine, because this was a great adventure, and it's an experience I think everyone should try, and I don't regret anything that happens after.
This is how the members of Ulong voted:
Bobby Jon: Angie
I'd be holding two pina coladas on the only island I'd want to visit. Join me by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org