It’s almost fall, which can only mean one thing – the crap reality shows that fill up the summer (Age of Love, anyone?) are done and it’s time for the return of the granddaddy of them all, Survivor, now in its 15th season. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to this one, mostly because we’re finally leaving those repetitive tropical islands and going to CHINA. I’ve always wanted to go to China, it looks beautiful in pictures. Also this season, we’ll have a mullet.
Ironically, In China Google Censors Itself
Jeff Probst starts us off at a 16th century Buddhist monastery. We see a clip of our 16 Survivors walking through ultra-modern Shanghai, as Jeff explains that they’ll be journeying back in time to live in a remote area of China – a “harsh and remote land,” Jeff says, near what he calls the Lake of a Thousand Islands. It really does look awfully pretty.
The survivors have taken a train from Shanghai to the Lake of a Thousand Islands region. Since I don’t know China
at allvery well, I googled it. Apparently this is a man-made lake, formed by the building of a hydroelectric dam in 1959. It’s in the Chun’an County of Zhejiang Province and is, in fact, a national forest park. (At least, according to this site).
Who Are These Freaks?
So, there’s the place. Now let’s meet the people. And first, let me state for the record that I wish Survivor would STOP casting model-slash-whatevers, and use more real people. I, for one, do not watch Survivor to see busty 23-year-old blondes falling out of bikini tops. I may be in the minority on this, but I’m just tired of pretty people.
That said, here is this season’s crop, helpfully arranged by tribe:
Zhan Hu (Fighting Tiger) – yellow:
Frosti – the youngest Survivor ever at 20, Frosti is a film student in Chicago and practices “parkour,” which apparently involves climbing over obstacles as fast as possible.
Dave – a former model, the 37-year-old Dave is now a bartender in California. Way to move up the corporate ladder.
Jaime – Like, omiGAWD, y’all! She’s a 22-year-old student from South Carolina.
Erik – 26, a musician in Nashville. And, of course, a model on the side.
Peih-Gee – a 29-year-old jeweler from California who still points out, even 10 years later, that she got almost a perfect score on her SATs.
Sherea – 26, a teacher in Atlanta
Ashley – 28, a professional WWE wrestler. Oh, and a model. In Playboy. Will the casting never end?
Chicken – the aptly-named 47-year-old is a chicken farmer in Marion, Va. This is near where I grew up. He talks like my uncles. Go, Chicken!
Fei Long (Flying Dragon) – red:
Jean-Robert – 36, he’s a professional poker player in Las Vegas.
Leslie – 38, she’s a Christian radio talk show host from South Carolina. Oh, my. BUT, at least she’s not a producer casting model plant – she auditioned for five years before she was chosen.
Amanda – a 23-year-old Miss Montana. Booo models! But also a hiking guide, so maybe she’s cool.
Courtney – a 26-year-old waitress in New York city. She is tiny and snotty.
Denise – the mullet! She’s a 40-year-old school lunch lady in Massachusetts. She is married. To a man.
James – Ooooh, pretty. See, I can make eye-candy exceptions when the eye-candy is not a model, but is in fact …. a grave-digger. What? Wow. He’s 30 and from Louisiana.
Todd – He’s 22. He’s gay. He’s Mormon. He’s a flight attendant. What more could you ask for?
Aaron – 32, a surfing instructor in California.
I’m Not Trying To Be a Monk. I’m Trying To Be a Bitch.
Ugh, I hate those lengthy introductions, but they’re necessary. Anyway, we rejoin the survivors as they sherpa their luggage up what appears to be a very long flight of steps to the Buddhist temple Jeff Probst was at earlier. They walk into the temple, flanked by monks (or locals dressed as monks; I’d swear some of those are women, and aren’t women not allowed to be monks?), and right away my man Chicken is impressed. “I was like a damn kid in a carnival,” he says. “I loved it.” Chicken makes me homesick.
Peih-Gee is apparently Chinese, and so to her this is amazing. Also, her grandfather just died, and he would have loved seeing her there, she says, so she gets a bit choked up.
Jeff greets them and says that the monks want them to participate in a welcome ritual. This is not a religious or worship ceremony, he says, and herds them into the temple. Inside, they follow the monks in some bowing, chanting and other ceremonial stuff. Well, most of them do. Courtney, however, keeps fidgeting, rolling her eyes and moving her hands so much that the monk beside her pokes her to quiet her down. Courtney claims that she’s from New York and in New York, people don’t do this kind of thing. “I’m not trying to be a monk here,” she whines. “I’m tired. I want to go sit back with a lemonade, I don’t want to be, like, bowing 37 times. We bowed for like days, I swear to God.” Wow. Disrespectful much? Would it kill her to shut up and just do the damn ceremony?
Speaking of which, Leslie also bows out of the ceremony. She says as a Christian, it felt too much like bowing to another god, and she leaves the temple near tears. Now, personally I think if there is a god, then everyone is praying to the same one, but Leslie seems to hold her beliefs truly, and so if it really bothers her that much, I don’t care if she left the temple. At least she did it quietly and without the disrespect and drama of Courtney.
However, once they’re all back outside, it’s Leslie Jeff choses to zoom in on, rather than Courtney. “I have a relationship with Jesus Christ and the only time I’m going to put my face on the floor is for him,” Leslie says. In response to further probing by Jeff, who clearly wants her to act like a religious freak, Leslie says she doesn’t think leaving the ceremony will hurt her in the game.
The Art Of Dressing Completely Inappropriately
Jeff has one last surprise for the survivors: as Buddhism calls for the leaving behind of worldly possessions, he says, the survivors won’t get to keep that luggage they just hauled up all those steps. They’re stuck in what they’re wearing. For Ashley, this means a low-cut dress, FISHNETS and big black boots that she complains weigh 20 pounds. Why in the world would anyone traipse off to Survivor wearing ANY of that? But Ashley’s not the only idiot here. Jaime says she’s not wearing a bra. Why? WHY? Listen, ladies, I don’t care if all you’ve got is half an A cup. Wear a damn bra. Jeff says that will either make her very uncomfortable, or very popular.
Jeff separates them into the tribes as described above, and warns them that this will be a struggle for survival. In keeping with the China theme, he hands them all a copy of “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu. (More info here.) He says it may help them. He also gives them a map, and as they head off to their boats, I see that everyone does have a small bag slung over their shoulder.
How Not To Win Friends or Influence People
In the Fei Long boat, Aaron is trying to tell people how to row so that they stop going in circles. He privately says he doesn’t think anyone in his tribe knows what’s going on. He thinks he is a leader, but he doesn’t want that target on his back.
Fei Long arrives at their campsite, where they’re elated to find rice. But as it begins to rain, and it looks like they’ll be living in a half-drenched rice paddy, I’m thinking someone should start talking shelter.
Heaven forbid it should be Courtney, though. She whines that she’s “marooned in a land of flight attendants and Sunday School teachers.” People in New York aren’t like that, she says. Honey, if I thought all people in New York were anything like you, I’d be first in line to bomb the whole place. But guess what? New York is not the only place on the planet! There are many more non-New Yorkers than there are New Yorkers, all of whom behave differently, and that is part of the beauty of humanity. Courtney says these people are the kind of people she doesn’t like being around, and I think she is the kind of people I don’t like being around. Or watching on my TV.
Jean-Robert and Todd go off into the forest and find what will be their tree mail box, although it’s currently empty. Jean-Robert asks Todd if he’s really a flight attendant, and doesn’t seem to believe him. “You seem a little devious,” Jean-Robert says. Now, Jean-Robert explains to us that one of his skills as a poker player is the ability to read people, and he believes Todd is a sharp one and he said all this to Todd because he wants Todd to know he’s onto him. However, I think Jean-Robert is an idiot at this point. Why would you, right out of the box, basically tell another player that you don’t trust them? He’s just making Todd feel like he has to defend something, and as Todd points out to us, he now considers Jean-Robert a threat. Duh. Stupid poker man.
You Ain’t Gonna Listen to Me? Well, I Ain’t Gonna Talk to You
Zhan Hu has also arrived at their campsite. Sherea is wearing a dress and HEELS (for the third time, WHY would you even bring such things to Survivor, much less wear them?) and complains. “This situation is so disgusting and so nasty,” she says, near tears. Sorry, she must have thought she was trying out for “Survivor: Hilton.” Did she even watch the show before she was cast?
Some of the people drag out of the woods a half-rotten old wooden wall thing, with the intent of making it part of their shelter. But Chicken shakes his head, saying it won’t work. He wants to build a shelter from scratch. “I got a lot of experience over these characters,” he drawls.
But not a lot of patience. When his first ideas aren’t welcomed, Chicken shuts up. “I just give my opinions and nobody wants it,” he says. Oh, Chicken. Being pouty doesn’t work very well on Survivor.
Ashley, meanwhile, has already volunteered the information that she’s a professional wrestler. (Perhaps to shoot down suspicions that with those fake boobies, she might be a professional … dancer, shall we say?). At least one guy is pretty impressed. Ashley says she’s competitive and that’s going to give her an edge. Also, she adds, “I know my fans are going to want me to win.” Wow. She may be the first survivor so stuck up her own butt that she’s selflessly “doing it for the fans.”
Despite all this, several tribe members seem to be having fun; the women are dancing, god only knows why. But not Peih Gee. “I can’t connect to the wackiness out here,” she says, pointing out that people are just standing around talking, when there’s so much they need to be doing.
It does finally occur to someone to bring up the idea of a shelter again, and they want to place it out in the open, rather than on a little hill in the trees where Chicken wanted it. He, still pouting, flatly refuses to give an opinion.
Fei Long is building their shelter. Todd says they all seem to work well together, although I see at least three women sitting on their butts doing nothing. One of them is Leslie, who apparently has been goggling at James, who’s chopping trees with no shirt on. I cannot blame her for this. She goes over and talks to him and asks what he does. “Bury people,” James says. He tells us he’s used to working alone, and so talking to people and strategizing with them and being social is going to be hard for him. Leslie advises him to ask people questions about themselves, because people love to talk about themselves. James says he’s hoping to do well in challenges and make people like him that way.
And back at Zhan Hu, their shelter-building was so hopeless that they spend the night standing huddled together under a little hut, because it’s pouring rain.
The next morning, Chicken says that was a reality check for the others. Ashley has gotten sick somehow and is curled up on the ground with the dry heaves. The others just seem to be either watching Ashley be sick or watching Chicken work on the shelter.
Dave goes to Ashley and tells her not to think that being sick right now will put her on the block. He then tells us privately that it absolutely puts her on the block, that he’d expected a wrestler to be stronger.
The Art of Carrying a Dragon Faster
At both camps, tree mail arrives to tell them of their first challenge. Fei Long decides it would be a good time to look at the Art of War, and they read out loud a bit about needing leadership. Todd tells Aaron he’d make a good leader. Both Todd and Aaron tell us privately that they don’t want to claim leadership and thus make themselves targets, but Todd has publicly put Aaron in a tight spot and he has no choice but to say ok.
At Zhan Hu, Ashley feels better. Frosti explains to the others how his parkour stuff can be helpful as he’s good at climbing things. And Sherea is now using her dress as a wrap and going around in just a bra.
At the challenge, Jeff asks Chicken how things are going in camp. Chicken says they’re doing ok. Jean-Robert says the worst part has been getting no sleep because of the rain.
Jeff explains the challenge: each tribe will be tethered to a large, heavy ceremonial mascot – a long Chinese dragon – and will have to maneuver it together through a maze. Then one person will have to scale a wall, retrieve a key, and come unlock a gate to let the rest of the tribe through. They must get through a swamp and solve a puzzle to win. The winner gets immunity, and fire. For this challenge, Jeff says, they were given their running shoes, which they’ll get to keep. I’m sure Sherea and her heels are grateful, but could we also please give her a shirt?
And they’re off! Both tribes wind their dragon through a twisty maze, with Denise falling in the mud. Fei Long gets a little bit ahead, but when it comes to the point where two people must get the key, James – who’s the one doing that for Fei Long – can’t get unclipped from the dragon. Once he does, though, he and Frosti are pretty evenly matched, because Frosti forgets to let down a walkway and lets James get ahead. The tribes are neck and neck through the swamp (and dragging those pretty dragons in the mud!). They must put the poles holding the dragon in the correct holes on a platform to win, and Fei Long manages it first. They win the first immunity, and a flint, and are delighted.
Back at Zhan Hu, Peih Gee bursts into tears. Dave tells her it’s ok, and tells everyone they’re still a tribe together, but they have to make a business decision about who’s going home. Peih-Gee tearfully tells everyone they all need to pitch in at camp, because there’s so much to do. She says they need a shelter, and asks Chicken what he thinks. But he still refuses to offer an opinion – HOW pigheaded is he? Still put out that he wasn’t listened to at first, he’s going to just pout forever? – and Peih-Gee gets irritated.
“It’s not worth anything to me if he won’t apply his strength,” she says.
Ashley is irritated that Peih Gee is barking orders. She’s feeling healthy now (but still sitting on her duff) and tells Erik they should think about strategy.
Chicken and Frosti are also talking, with Chicken saying that Ashley being sick should take her out of the game. “She ain’t done nothing since she landed down here,” he says. Frosti is noncommittal. Sherea thinks either Peih Gee or Chicken should be the one voted out. Dave thinks it’s Chicken or Ashley, but tells Chicken he’s not going to vote for him. Dave wants the tribe to be strong, and he knows he’s older than the others, and so he wants to keep Chicken around.
At tribal council, Jeff homes in on Peih Gee, asking if Survivor so far is what she expected. She says there’s mud everywhere and building the shelter is hard. Chicken says that shelter should have been done the first day, and he seems to regret (now) not grabbing the bull by the horns and just doing it.
Jeff asks if they need a leader and if anyone wants to step up. Dave and Peih Gee both raise their hands. Dave says he doesn’t want to be a leader, but someone needs to get this tribe together. Peih Gee says if they’re floundering, then yes, someone has to do it.
Jeff asks what is driving people’s votes tonight. Dave says he’s voting to trim the least productive person off the tribe. Chicken agrees, saying he’ll vote for the person who’s done the least. Eric also agrees, saying they must hold each other accountable.
Ashley is troubled. She says she thought she fit in, but now, hearing everyone talk about non-productivity, she’s worried. She worked less than others because she was sick, she says.
Chicken says he knows he doesn’t fit in with the group, but that he has worked hard. “Do you want the guy that don’t fit in, or do you want the guy that does the work?” he asks.
It’s time for the vote. Ashley votes for Peih Gee because she says the group already has a natural leader – Dave. Peih Gee votes for Chicken because he was too afraid to step up.
And the rest of the votes are: that one for Peih Gee, two for Ashley, and four for Chicken. When Jeff reads it out, Chicken lets out a “Damn!” that has those around him jumping in surprise. “The tribe has spoken,” Jeff intones. “I heard ‘em,” Chicken says, walking off. Alas, poor Chicken, we barely knew ye. I think he screwed himself by just shutting down, and it’s a pity, because it seems like he’s a character and would have been fun to watch. In his parting words, Chicken says being voted out was a shock, but he thinks his tribe is playing by the seat of their pants. And it was an honor to be a part of it.
Jean-Robert is told to step up and carry his own weight in the tribe, Dave takes command for better or worse, and Ashley demonstrates her wrestling skills during a competition. I’m hoping that also Courtney gets sent back to her beloved New York, but maybe they just didn’t show such delights?