When I was a kid, I had those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, in which you’d make a choice like “Go through the door” or “Take the left-hand path” and then flip to the page indicated to see whether that helped you continue your quest or got you killed. And one of those books was “Mystery of the Maya.” I don’t remember the plot, but I distinctly remember making the poor choice to join a Mayan ball game, in which I lost and my heart was taken as a sacrifice. Um, fun. And that was my introduction to Mayan culture. So when I heard this season of Survivor was set in the Mayan ruins, I thought, “Sweet! Finally they’re taking this game seriously!” Alas, this premiere episode did not bring us any sign of organized blood sacrifice. However, it was a damn sight more physical than some past seasons – an 11-mile hike certainly trumps the typical “rowing to shore” method of getting the castaways into their new jungle home. So there’s hope for ritual sacrifice yet.
(Incidentally, I also had a “Cave of Time” Choose Your Own Adventure book, and I would think a “Survivor: Medieval France” or “Survivor: Ice Ages” would rock.)
We open Survivor: Guatemala with shots of a misty jungle, panning up to Jeff Probst standing among Mayan ruins, where he’s probably been dropped by a helicopter, because he certainly doesn’t look like he’s hacked miles through the jungle to get there. Probst gives us a brief lecture on Mayan history and culture (lived in Mexico and Central America more than a thousand years ago, built big-ass stone temples, understood astronomy, etc.) Jeff also warns current conditions in the area include dangerous wildlife of the spider, snake and crocodile variety. Seriously, that’s when I would have turned back for home, right there. Also, high temperatures and high humidity complete the recipe for what sounds to me more like Survivor: Hell.
Already, Jeff says, our survivors have arrived, been divided into teams, and are hiking through the jungle toward the ruins. There are sixteen people hiking, but there will be 18 Survivors, thanks to a not-so-well-kept secret twist – two former Survivors are coming back. “Thirty-nine days, 18 people, one Survivor,” Jeff intones from the top of the temple as the camera zooms out.
All Shiny and New, Except for You Two
Our 16 new survivors march in to the ruins, where Jeff tells they’ll live amongst the ruins “like the Maya did.” Actually, if that big building behind him is a temple, the Maya probably didn’t actually live in it. I’m just saying.
Anyway, the tribe buff colors are yellow and blue – yellow is Nakum, which should have a little accent over the U but whatever, and blue is Yaxha, which I have spelled different EVERY SINGLE TIME it appears in my notes. Thanks for nothing with the tribe names, CBS. Pffft.
The tribes will have some tools similar to what the Mayans used – as an illustration, we see a pile of clay pots – and “one other tool,” Jeff says mysteriously. He turns to the temple and shouts “Come on out, guys” to the top. Disappointingly, instead of a tribe of Mayan warriors, out come Stephenie and Bobby Jon.
Now, anyone who watched Survivor: Palau last season remembers Steph and Bobby Jon. They were two hard-working members of the Ulong tribe, which could not seem to win an immunity challenge. It finally came down to Stephenie sitting on a beach by herself before the producers took pity and let her join the other tribe. Eventually she got voted off.
For whatever reason, the producers have decided that, like people who don't like their choice in Choose Your Own Adventure and flip back to where they started, these two deserve a second chance at a winning tribe, and thus a second chance at a million dollars. So Stephenie and Bobby Jon are slip-sliding their way down moss-covered temple stairs in Guatemala while their new tribes applaud far more enthusiastically than I would have if I got to be on Survivor, only to be upstaged by people who already had their shot.
Jeff says that Steph and Bobby Jon are going to be full members of their tribes. They know how to make fire and find food, Jeff says, and Stephenie’s strong and not a quitter while Bobby Jon is a hard worker, so they should be assets. But they could also be easy early boots.
Stephenie joins Yaxha, where she’s apparently very welcome – Brian says he’s “like, in love with Stephenie” and Brianna says Stephenie is her idol.
Just a side-note here – at no time are we actually formally introduced to any of these people. I figure, if Jeff Probst can’t be bothered to even say, “Yo, this is Danni, she’s a radio host” then I’m not doing introductions either.
Back to the action: Bobby Jon joins Nakum. Danni – who IS a radio host – says she’s glad to have Bobby Jon because he’s easier on the eyes. And someone else whose name I didn’t catch says that at least they know Bobby Jon’s not going to wuss out and quit and Ostenize the tribe. But Brandon says Bobby Jon is kind of dumb.
Welcome To the Jungle, We Got Fun and Games
Their first challenge is going to be for reward, Jeff announces. The challenge? An 11-mile race through the jungle, where “there are poisonous snakes at every corner,” Jeff warns cheerfully. The race ends at the reward – the better of two camps. First tribe there wins the camp, along with a flint for fire and some tools.
The tribes will leave via different paths, armed with a compass, a map and however much fruit, water or sacks of corn they want to carry.
On Jeff’s signal, both tribes bolt to their starting point, and try to figure out what to take, what to leave, and what their overall strategy is. Margaret says it’s difficult to strategize at this point since they’ve never talked to each other before. What, were they silent during that hike INTO the jungle?
Brandon is all gung-ho, loading himself up with sacks of things, trotting off down a hillside and landing on his butt. Way to impress one’s tribemates, Brandon.
Bobby Jon says he’s glad to be back in Survivor, but there’s no time for his team to waste lollygagging over the corn sacks. He knows Stephenie is rushing her team to get moving.
Stephenie, meanwhile, is more nervous about fitting in with her team; she says she’s afraid she’ll be seen as threatening, or, conversely, not as spectacular as they’re expecting, given the worshipful way most of them greeted her.
18 People, 2 Compasses, 482,394 Spiders, 92,495 Snakes, 3 injuries
Anyway, both tribes eventually set off, and Nakum is leading. They’re trying to use the compass to find an old archaeological road. Ooh, how very Indiana Jonesish. The requisite old guy, who this season is Jim, is the one who knows how to read a compass. He says it’s impossible to walk a straight line in the jungle, so he’s sending runners ahead with markers so the tribe stays on the right heading.
Meanwhile, in Yaxha, Gary and Steph have become the leaders, sharing map and compass duties while the rest of the tribe straggles behind. Rafe, however, watches Gary and tells us that the first person to step up as a leader in Survivor always gets voted out. Gary, however, says he can’t help it – there are so many young kids on the team that his paternal instincts come out (Gary’s probably about 50 or so). I guess Gary’s paternal instincts don’t extend to telling the truth – when asked what he does for a living, Gary says he’s a landscaper. He doesn’t mention his years as an NFL football player, and says he doesn’t intend to.
Nakum is still hacking its way through the jungle, and Judd says it’s just insane. “I’m just a doorman from New York,” he says. “I never even went camping.” And then WHAT about Survivor appealed to him?
Suddenly, a barbed tree branch falls on the shoulder of a pretty-boy named Blake. If I were watching a scary movie, of course, the branch would have fallen on purpose and its barbs would be poisonous. As it is, this is apparently just a stroke of bad luck – or, as Margaret calls it, “a reality check.” While the branch looks pretty small, it scratched Blake’s shoulder and he carries on like he got hit by a whole tree. Margaret’s a nurse, and tends to him.
About this time, it starts getting dark. Yaxha is still trailing, and while some of the tribe wants to stop for the night, Stephenie wants to press on, afraid Nakum is getting far ahead. “I’m not starting Guatemala on the losing team,” she says.
However, Nakum is having its own problems. Blake is now throwing up. They think he’s dehydrated. Nakum stops for the night as well. Meanwhile, monkeys roar in the trees (do monkeys roar? I’d always thought they chittered, or something, but these are awfully loud.) The noise reminds someone of the movie “Predator,” which is not a thought one ever wants to have while lost in a dark jungle at night.
It’s a Walk to the Finish
In the morning, the tribes get moving again, and at some point they spot each other. Morgan, of Nakum, says that took the wind out of their sails, as they’d thought they had a bigger lead. Running neck and neck, the tribes finally find the archaeological road, where they can run. Or at least, Nakum can run. Yaxha seems to just be ambling along. Stephenie, clearly frustrated, says the less-fit girls are holding them back. She moans that they’ve lost Nakum completely.
Further into the race, Bobby Jon says he suddenly got cold, and his whole body cramped. As he lies on the ground in pain, Cindy tells us it’s dehydration and exertion. Margaret works him through it.
Meanwhile, Yaxha is still puttering along behind, despite Stephenie’s efforts to speed them up. Nakum spots a lake, and they slither down the slope to a boat. “That’s the light at the end of the tunnel,” Judd says. The boat contains directions to a pier that will lead them to the campsite, and Nakum is out in the water and paddling hard when Yaxha arrives at the bank.
Brian, of Yaxha, says that seeing Nakum so close was a huge morale booster. But Nakum still reaches the dock first. Judd leaps out before the boat is quite to land – a “premature evacuation,” Brandon calls it. Judd lands square in some mud that apparently is pretty hard to get out of, judging by the crippled-calf like way he’s floundering around in it. And Bobby Jon’s body-cramps make it difficult for him to get out of the boat.
However, despite these problems, Nakum still manages to straggle up the path to the camp before Yaxha lands. The camp has some Mayan ruins, and Jeff is there waiting, looking clean and well-rested, and tells them they’ve earned their reward. He hands them a flag and a flint.
Yaxha gets no flag, no flint and no sympathy. “Don’t get too comfortable,” Jeff says as they limp into the camp. “You’re not staying .. this is where you will not be living.” He gives them another map and sends them back to the boat.
Stephenie says that that trek was the most difficult challenge the game has ever had, and she’s proud of her tribe for not losing too badly.
Are We Watching M.A.S.H. Here?
Yaxha paddles all the way back across the lake, finally finding their much-less-nice campsite, where there are no handy sheltering ruins in sight, although there is a pile of clay pots. Stephenie quickly sets everyone to building a shelter, and they manage to put together poles and palm fronds (or whatever those big leaves are) without bickering (is that also a Survivor first?).
“I’m so psyched,” Stephenie says, “Finally I’m on a tribe that’s got as much heart and determination as me.”
Back at Nakum, the dehydration problems that started during the hike are getting worse. More people are throwing up, and Blake, Bobby Jon, Judd and someone else are down for the count. Interestingly, all the women seem fine.
Bobby Jon, in fact, seems about to pass out. His eyes are rolling back in his head, women are pouring water on his face and Margaret keeps trying to keep him awake.
“Palau was recess compared to Guatemala,” Bobby Jon says, presumably later.
Margaret notes what I just realized, that the girls are holding up just fine. Cindy calls it a bittersweet victory, to win the good camp and then have all the men sick.
By now it’s Day 3. In Yaxha, the tribe finds an oar in what I guess is their mail-pot. The message attached to it informs them of their first immunity challenge, and tells them they’ll be competing like the Maya (again, I hope for someone to be sacrificed, although it’s too early to have someone I hate). Stephenie gives some advice about group-canoe paddling, and says she’ll be really down if they lose.
Bobby Jon says the health of various Nakum members is a real concern. He says the women of the team are strong, and the guys need to “turn it on like no other.”
Putting the Lie to "Easy as Falling Off a Log"
Both tribes arrive at a beach for the challenge. Jeff unveils the immunity idol, which is meant to look like a Mayan statue (I assume that it’s a fake, and not chipped off a temple somewhere). He explains that the challenge is based on a Mayan method of transporting materials to build those temples. After both tribes row back out to a buoy and snag a torch that’s hanging out there, they’ll come back to shore and pull their boats up a hill using ropes and rolling logs. Some tribe members will pull, others will keep moving the logs in front of the boat, and the first one to get to the top and light their torch wins. At stake is immunity, and a flint for Yaxha.
And they’re off! Both teams are pretty much neck-and-neck in the water, although Yaxha gets ahead as they turn back toward shore. Yaxha works well together, although at one point Stephenie’s foot gets caught under a log and Nakum seems to gain a lead. But it’s a short-lived one, and Yaxha pulls back ahead and wins. They hug and dance, and Stephenie makes a grab for the immunity idol – the first one she’s probably ever touched. Jeff points out that this will be the first tribal council that Stephenie hasn’t participated in.
Nakum are dejected. Margaret is irked that they lost, but says the heat sapped them. And Jim apparently pulled his bicep muscle trying to pick up the canoe by himself. At camp, there don’t appear to be any big alliance talks, but various people are looking at the sick guys, who litter the ground like fallen trees, and thinking that one of them should be the one to go.
“We might send home one of these crippled broke-down guys,” Brandon says, delicately.
Brooke says that the women should stay, because they showed the endurance skills. Margaret says it’s hard to strategize with three people down. She likes everyone, but is concerned with who can help carry the team forward. Like the others, she seems to be suggesting that it’s not the people moaning on the ground.
Raise Your Arm if You Didn’t See This Coming, And If You Didn’t Sprain It
All too soon (for them), it’s council time. Tribal council this season will be held at some temple – hopefully not the first one they saw, 11 miles behind them. Wherever it is, Nakum arrives to find it lit up with torches and looking all spooky. Jeff has the tribe light their torches, and says that they’re in the “North Acropolis,” which is where Mayans decided on their own leaders, so it’s all very apropos.
Jeff then starts in on his questioning of the tribe. Blake admits it’s been tough, and names off everyone who has been sick. Bobby Jon says he doesn’t like “getting beat dodwn like that this early in the game” and hopes it doesn’t spell his doom tonight.
Jeff asks Danni if she’s surprised the women held up better than the men. She says she was, but that the men were carrying heavier loads early in the trek.
Jeff then asks Judd about being ill. Judd gets all defensive, pointing out that he was only on his back for an hour, then he was fine, and he feels great now. Clearly it has occurred to Judd that sick men are marked men.
Margaret says they’re all worried about pacing themselves yet still trying to win, and they just need to stay healthy.
And I just hate these tribal councils before people make alliances and start backstabbing. It’s so dull early on.
Anyway, it’s time to vote. They all dutifully troop up the temple steps to vote, and we don’t see any votes, although several people mumble apologetic sorts of things. As it turns out, we didn’t need to see any votes – everyone voted for Jim. The poor thing, he barely had a chance. He snuffs his torch and trudges out of the circle, telling us later that he doesn’t blame anyone, it’s a hard game, and he wishes them luck.
Jeff warns the remaining Nakumians that they have 36 more days. They need to learn to give it their all without destroying themselves. They head back to camp.
Yaxha appears to have NO food at all, because they’re debating eating ants. A challenge looks very physically tough, and Blake gets even sicker. I’m hoping the Mayan sacrifice is there, just not being pimped for promos. A girl can dream.
To enter the temple, turn to page 49. To go into the jungle, turn to page 24. To make a blood sacrifice, email firstname.lastname@example.org