Welcome back, Survivor! Loyal fans of the venerable reality competition franchise gathered ‘round their televisions Wednesday last night to take in the exploits of 20 people competing for a million dollar prize. Twenty people who would otherwise never so much as acknowledge one another in real life. Twenty people who will, by season’s end, probably hate each other on some level but air kiss like long lost friends at the season wrap-up show.
For a reality show to last as long as Survivor has lasted, it has to evolve. It has to continue to shock and awe old and new fans alike to keep that spark of romance burning. Some of those twists work—Exile Island (the first time around), Super Immunity Idols and surprise tribe swaps. Other times—like last season’s Edge of Extinction—it’s about as popular as bringing Cousin Oliver into the mix. But this season’s twist of bringing back two of the game’s most successful and most popular players, Boston Rob and Sandra, is already paying dividends, if you ask me. Although, I’m not gonna lie. Those giant busts of those two on that island? Weird.
Who the Hell are You?
Before we get to that, however, we have to choke through the obligatory “who the hell are you?” first episode nonsense of the tribes interacting with one another and over-exuberantly enacting Day 33 strategy before their feet even touch a beach. Seriously, people! This again? Members from both the Lairo and Vokai tribes dove into end-game alliances, targeting the “big threats” way too early. Why do they always do this? I realize there’s a great deal of excitement and energy around playing this game, but c’mon, man! You just got there. Your underwear is still clean, for Christ’s sake! Why don’t you at least build a shelter before making such boneheaded overplays!
It started with people at Vokai chattering about Jason the personal injury lawyer being gone too long and making them nervous. Of course, their suspicions were verified when we see Jason rooting around the base of a tree, clearly looking for idols.
Over at Lairo, we’ve got Ronnie the professional poker player not-so-subtly building a strategy to get Elaine booted first because she’s, like, soooooo popular! Leave it to a freakin’ poker player to remind everyone he thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room because he plays poker. Who couldn’t see where this was heading for Ronnie?
After white-knuckling through the getting-to-know you sequence, we finally get to the challenge: an obstacle course, of course, capped by a puzzle. Someone’s gotta lose, so it might as well be you, Lairo. They did well, right up to the puzzle, where their three puzzlemasters appeared to have never actually put together a puzzle before in their entire lives. In a challenge that was virtually neck-and-neck most of the way, Vokai smoked ‘em for the win.
Enter the Twist!
Upon announcing the winner, Probst instructed Elaine to pick a name out of a hat. Is this person going to Exile Island? Nope. The random person—Elizabeth, the Olympic swimmer—was sent away for an afternoon to the mysterious Island of the Idols. Unbeknownst to her tribemates, Elizabeth would spend a few hours with former champions Boston Rob and Sandra.
”Think of it like a Survivor boot camp…”
Not gonna lie, I already LOVE this new twist on the game! It might be the best use of former Survivor players to shake up the game. It’s almost unfair to everyone when former champions come back to play among first-time players. The champions enter with HUGE targets on their backs while also robbing a new player of a chance to compete.
Putting Rob and Sandra in ‘mentor’ roles is both fitting and interesting. It also adds a new wrinkle, forcing players to take risks to earn advantages in the game. That’s way better than the endless stream of hidden idols, which handicap the entire game, if you ask me. The randomness of hidden idols negate actual game play. Sure, one hidden idol is okay. But keep putting it back in circulation all game long? Blech!
Getting back to Boston Rob and Sandra…there is nothing like watching the first contestant down the mine shaft try and sort out the new twist. True to Rob’s words, Elizabeth was treated to a “boot camp” by learning to make fire; an all-important skill one must have just in case they make it to the Final Four fire-making challenge (one of the best twists in Survivor ever). I also admire Elizabeth for accepting the challenge to win immunity for the next two tribal councils. Sure, she lost the challenge and, subsequently, lost her vote at the first tribal council, but so what? The odds of being a swing voter that early in the game do not outweigh the benefit of knowing you’re safe for six more days. I would’ve done the same thing.
Where Elizabeth may have risked too much was by not being more forthright with her tribemates about the nature of Island of the Idols. Perhaps it won’t matter much down the line, but it seemed like a really big bluff at a point when you don’t really need to bluff that much. We shall see if it comes back to bite her (but I doubt it will).
All that chatter around likable and affable Elaine being on the chopping block seemed premature to me, and it was. Poker Genius and holder of 38 jobs before playing Survivor Ronnie and his Day 33 strategery spectacularly backfired on him and he was the first to have his torch snuffed in this Season 39 of Survivor. Good, I say. Yes, Survivor is a game that respects big moves to remove big threats. But not on Day freakin’ Three! That’s simply a boneheaded move, man! That’s why you didn’t see it coming.
Is Elaine a long-term threat on this game? Sure. But at this point, everyone is a long-term threat. With so many random twists and turns to come, isn’t the smartest move right now to keep your tribe as strong as possible to win challenges? Between now and the merge, there will likely be at least one “drop your buffs” moment as well as a double tribal council and who knows what else Probst has cooked up?
All this to say focusing so much time and attention on identifying “the biggest threat to win” on Day Three is a fool’s errand. And just now, that fool is a pokah playah from Brockton, Mass.
In addition to the Island of the Idols twist, I also enjoyed the voyeuristic nature of Rob and Sandra perched atop tribal council in a hidden duck blind, providing their own commentary during the proceedings. This is a feature I hope to see expanded in future seasons. Invite a hidden gallery of past players to watch Tribal and, like sportscasters, give us color commentary on the players, their game play and their decisions.
And I’m solidly with Sandra on her scoffing over so much emotion in voting someone out. Sure, I realize the first vote is the toughest because there are so many unknowns involved. And you just spent three days bonding with these people and your emotions are flying high over it all. But get over it! I don’t begrudge Elaine for making an impassioned, albeit unnecessary plea to be spared Probst’s torch snuffer, but everyone else being soooooo wracked with emotion and guilt? Oh, FFS! Just write a name down and move on!
Survivor Employee of the Week: Boston Rob
Yeah, it’s early and we barely know these people, but someone’s gotta win. There were a couple early favorites for EOTW on the Vokai Tribe—Lifeguard Janet for her adept fire making skills and Jake for his athletic leadership in getting his tribemates over the wall in the challenge—but it was not enough.
I even considered Lairo’s Elizabeth because she didn’t shy from risk at Island of the Idols, but also, not enough. This week’s Employee of the Week: Boston Rob. Why? Because showed no mercy in the fire challenge against Elizabeth. He truly has nothing to gain this season, but his competitive spirit is still strong.
Next Week’s Prediction
Germophobe Kellee will complain about handsy Dan’s “lack of spatial awareness” about 25 more times until someone throws a coconut at her to shut her the hell up (although, in fairness, Dan’s got a bit of a creeper vibe going on). Hockey goon Tom will spend time in the penalty box for cross-checking Vince into a palm tree.
Keep the discussion going with your own thoughts in the comments section.