The black helicopter swoops low over the glistening sand of the Nicaraguan beach. Perched precariously in its open rear hatch, our fearless leader Jeff Probst reaches back, grabs his Survivor cap, plops it onto his head, and Game On! Welcome, fans to the twenty-second edition of Survivor.
The chopper disgorges its cargo, sixteen eager, if eccentrically attired, Americans. There’s the usual cast of characters. Some are dressed for their roles:
•lawyer David (rumored to have the highest IQ of any contestant ever), is ready for court in his Brooks Brothers suit
•farmer Ralph (who likes to be called Rooster) comes ready for work in camouflage patterned overalls
•Ashley (Miss Maine USA) was disappointed when told she would not be permitted to wear her pageant sash
•Matthew (pre-med student, Fabio doppelganger) sports a yellow polo, looking like he’s just come from a fraternity rush party
One might assume that after all these years on TV, contestants would have figured out it would be a good idea to dress for camping out, not the prom. And if you thought their arrival get-ups were bad news, wait ‘til you get an eyeful of their underwear. And you will. When did they start making the gang run around for the first six weeks in their underoos, anyway? It makes my eyes hurt. And causes all that extra work for the guys who have to pixelate the naughty bits.
THE THREE Rs—ROB, RUSSELL AND REDEMPTION
Hardly have the new tribes, Ometepe and Zapatera gathered on their mats, than the Nicaraguan Air Force comes zooming down with their only spare helicopter and drops off the stars of the show, our Head Counselors Rob Mariano and Russell “The Troll” Hantz. Jeff, using his favorite method of selection, “the school-yard pick” directs each to choose a buff from the bag in his hand. Ometepe erupts into raucous cheers when Rob picks their yellow buff. The faces of the Zapaterians fall like a cold soufflé when they realize they’re going to be stuck with Russell, but rally to smile and shake hands as he joins them.
Jeff reveals the other “Twist” for the season. Once voted out at Tribal Council, the evictee will go to the isolation booth that is Redemption Island, where they will be miserable, hungry, uncomfortable and bored, but alone. Three days later the next person out will arrive and an epic duel will ensue. The winner of the duel stays at Redemption to face the third person out, and so on and so on. At some point, a person (or persons) will be retrieved from Redemption to rejoin the game.
Know how usually the tribes frantically try to cut bamboo poles and palm fronds to build some sort of make-do shelter? Not this season! No sirree, thanks to our good friends (and Mark Burnett benefactors) the fine folks at Sears Craftsman tools, we have hammers, saws, nails, pre-sawn support timbers all at the ready. It looked about as difficult as building a Lincoln Logs house. Still, it was good that Zapatera got theirs done so quickly, before Russell had a chance to bury the tools and burn the material.
What was that all about, anyway–that basket of rags and sewing stuff each tribe received? One thing’s for sure: it got Miss Kristina in trouble over at Ometepe. Rob caught her pawing through it, immediately realized she was searching for a clue to a Hidden Immunity Idol, and never trusted her for one second after that.
Farmer Ralph has come prepared to work. He brags to Marine Mike that he’s going to be a star, because he’s a farmer and he’s great at all the outdoorsy stuff. Then he removes his shirt. Mike takes one look and before he can stop himself, blurts out, “Wow, that’s a man sweater!” Poor Ralph, you see, is as hairy as an ape.
NOT HERE TO SABOTAGE NOTHING
Russell, wearing a giant cross of the sort usually reserved for warding off vampires, draped around his thick neck, gives a rousing speech about how he is a changed man, “I’m not here to sabotage nothing for nobody. That would be pretty stupid. I’m here to win.” Then he goes off and brags to the camera that “the first two times, I was a schoolboy. I was so glad to be back to get my title.” And some other stuff about how if he got sent to Redemption, he’d come back and tear people’s heads off.
After speechifying, Russell wastes no time in recruiting Stephanie to be his Girl Friday, this season’s Natalie/Parvati. Stephanie privately has no illusions about what he’s doing, but she’s perfectly happy if Russell wants to drag her along to the finals. Meanwhile, David and Mike are discussing Russell’s usual modus operandi, “What does he do every time? He finds a cute little girl and makes her the villain. Any pros of having Russell around have quickly evaporated; the only thing to do is to get rid of Russell as soon as possible.”
At Ometepe, it looks like Valentine’s Day at the insane asylum. There are a number of contestants in matching lingerie of various shades of red and pink. Some Survivor producer is without question sitting home, howling with laughter, yelling at their TV: “I can’t believe they thought I was serious!”
Kristina wastes no time vying for the title of Chief Crazy-Pants. She’s running all over the island looking for the Hidden Immunity Idol, ranting about how she’s going to use it to blindside Boston Rob. Seeing her pawing through the supplies, Rob lets her know he’s aware of her intent. Still, to give her props, she manages to find the idol quickly. I think they must hang a flag over those things with an arrow on it saying, “Idol Hidden Here.”
Okay, so you find an idol within, say, half an hour of arriving at camp. What do you do? If you’re smart, you either put it in your bag or stash it away some place safe. Not Kristina. She runs straight to Francesca to crow and then goes to Phillip to share. She really has a bee in her bonnet about getting out Rob at the first tribal council. Being the “person who blindsided Boston Rob on Episode One” seems far more important to her than actually winning a million dollars. Oh, and strictly for identification purposes, Kristina has a giant tramp stamp.
Phillip, quite reasonably, (and this will be his only sane action during the entire show), questions where the other votes will come from, since they only have three: himself, Francesca and Kristina. Kristina seems to believe that the idol has magical qualities which will generate further votes. Her plan, which is about the worst one I’ve ever heard on Survivor, is to have the opposition all vote for her and then she’ll play the idol. Okaaaaay. Maybe the pages in her manual about, “Use of the Hidden Immunity Idol” had been torn out by its previous owner. Just giving her the benefit of the doubt.
”HOW DID I GET STUCK WITH THE OLD ANNOYING GUY IN THE DROOPING FUCHSIA BRIEFS?”–Francesca
Phillip. No description can do him justice. His first act at Ometepe is a speech, in which he “reveals” that he is a former federal agent: “I’m an expert in analyzing people’s behavior.” If he’d been allowed, I’m sure Boston Rob would have squished him like a bug then and there. As to Phillip’s claim to having worked with “four agencies,” I can only ask: “Do the Feds have Section 8 discharges for mental cases like the military?”
This man is beyond obnoxious. Building the shelter, he’s ordering everyone around as if he’s the King of the World. Whenever anyone tries to say anything, Phillip snaps, “You need to pipe that.” Never heard the phrase, must be some special secret agent thing. And if anyone managed to get out a few words, Phillip would growl, “We’re done. We’re done. We’re done.”
Rob, without seeming to try, has already solidified an alliance of the two other guys, Matt and Grant, and the remaining gals, Ashley, Andrea & Natalie.
The first challenge of the season is one which seems to favor the stronger Zapatera/Russell tribe. They have an extra guy—and Julie, the firefighter, who looks as if she could carry a two-hundred-pound guy out of a burning building without breaking a sweat. The tribes have to push four extremely heavy blocks up a track to form steps to a second level. One tribe member must use the machete to cut a series of ropes which will release the ladder to an upper level, where there are three-dimensional puzzle pieces which require assembly.
Zapatera gets a huge lead on Ometepe by virtue of their superior muscle-power. Still, because of Rob’s extraordinary puzzle-solving abilities, Ometepe comes very close to catching them. Zapatera wins, and Russell glowers in triumph as if he’d personally just defeated an entire fleet of invading Martians. He boasts, “We’re stronger than they are; we’re smarter than they are. I know how Rob thinks. Right now he’s saying, ‘Crap, I’m with a bunch of weenies.’” As reward, Zapatera wins a flint for fire-making.
The losing Ometepes are back at camp. Phillip unilaterally announces that they will now have a debriefing. Francesca quickly puts paid to that with the observation that getting water is a more pressing need than debriefing. I’m thinking Phillip needs debriefing all right, at least in regard to those panties he’s prancing around in.
Kristina tries to find out who’s on the chopping block for tribal. No one will give her an answer. She runs back to Phillip and Francesca to insist that her plan to use the idol to vote out Rob is foolproof. Phillip rubs his hands in glee, “It is in the interest of Phillip Sheppard and Company to get rid of Rob. Goodbye, Rob, and you’re lookin’ at the new leader of our tribe.”
I have to say I’m so disappointed in Francesca. Pre-season, she was one of my favorites, and someone I thought would go far. In her video, she seemed funny, good-natured, and smart. In fact, one of the things she said in that is that “I’d be surprised if there is anyone there who is as smart as I am.”
And speaking of smart, Rob instructs his gang that they have to split the vote between Francesca and Kristina. He’s absolutely convinced that Kristina has found the idol and shares that information. He is, of course, correct in his assumption. Rob warns, “Don’t let anybody try to bamboozle you. This is it. This is us.”
THE DRY MOUTH PROBLEM
Jeff opens tribal council with his usual inquiry about the state of things at camp. Rob mischievously reports that Phillip just took charge right away. This isn’t going quite the way Special Agent Red Panties has planned. He lamely replies, “But not necessarily in the leadership role.”
And then, the whole thing just dissolved into chaos. Before anyone could say double-oh-seven, Phillip blurts out directly to Rob that Francesca and Kristina “tried to get me to vote you off.”
Kristina is furious, [this is directed at Phillip], “You’re a creepy person!”
Phillip fires back, “She’s got an immunity idol. And I’m a Federal Agent.”
Poor Francesca looks like she’s wishing for a time machine to take her backwards a couple of days.
Every time anyone tries to say anything, Phillip buts in with “EXCUSE ME….” and starts raving again. But the best part was the way he kept addressing Francesca as “Franquescwesheska”—or something––and that every time he said it she’d correct him: “FRAN-CHESS-KA!” Getting annoyed, Phillip brushes her off with the announcement that “I have a dry mouth problem. I’m getting treatment for it.”
Rob, who can barely contain his triumphant grin, demands to know if Kristina has the idol. She admits it, and pulls it out of her bag. Rob reaches for it and makes her let him hold it. He dares her, “Give it to me right now and you can stay.” Kristina, obviously realizing she’s made one of the biggest blunders in Survivor history, shakes her head, “I can’t do that.”
Next comes the vote. As planned, Rob’s team splits their vote 3 for Kristina and 3 for Francesca. Francesca and Kristina have exchanged signals, thrown up their hands in dismay, and both vote for Phillip. In the end, it’s Phillip’s vote which determines the outcome—he votes for Franchewhateverhernameis. He even misspells it on his ballot. Kristina takes a chance and does not play her idol.
And so it happened that poor Francesca, saying “Goodbye guys. Don’t trust Phillip,” stumbled her way through the dark to become the first inhabitant ever on Redemption Island. I hope she’ll be back!