In a time when these shows increasingly feel like scripted drama, Mark Burnett and the Survivor producers continue to let the cast be the focus and the audience benefits. With a true cast of All-Stars (somehow this one feels bigger than when they did it ten seasons ago) Survivor has never had a better group of characters to provide entertaining television.
Does any show do a premiere (and finale, but we’ll get to that in a few months) better than Survivor? Jeff’s opening monologue is always great for being over-the-top and typically culminates with him standing in some ridiculous place (in this case, on a rock outcrop with waves crashing all around him and the helicopters buzzing overhead) gushing “20 contestants, 39 days, ONE SURVIVOR!”
The helicopters bank hard left out of the screen as the camera pulls away from Jeff and... cue the Survivor theme music. I don’t care what season this is, if that doesn’t get you excited as a Survivor fan, what are you watching for?
Speaking of Jeff, is there a better host in reality television? No one manages to connect with the contestants while still staying above the game better than Probst.
After the castaways enjoy a ridiculous helicopter landing on the beach with Probst waiting, he gives us his signature sly grin and unnecessarily slow “welcome to Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains,” as the castaways clap. Immediately, Jeff starts the grill the heroes and villains and somehow they all answer him like he’s their father. “Yes, Jeff ...” “Well, Jeff ...”
I challenge anyone to find a better reality television host than Probst.Though the show is full of some of my favorite Survivors ever (Russell, Coach, JT, James, etc.) my heart will always be taken by Boston Rob. He delivers immediately, sarcastically telling Probst that he didn’t realize he was a Villain and then puts Jeff in his place by correcting him when Jeff accuses him of not being intimidated by anyone on the Heroes tribe:
“I didn’t say that, Jeff, I just said that I think we have the advantage.”
His New England sass and confidence slays me, just as we see it slay the Dragon Slayer himself later in the episode.
As excited as I was for the opening fifteen minutes of the show, my spirits sank at the opening immunity challenge. It must make for good television because Survivor keeps bringing these glorified wrestling matches back, but I find the challenges that legalize assault (and in Sugar’s case, sexual assault) boring. There’s next to no strategy, often brute force wins and by the end the castaways are tired and the challenge gets sloppy. Aside from Coach’s turn-the-tables strategy with Colby, I didn’t care for the rest of it.
One of the great things about a two-hour, single elimination episode of Survivor is that we finally get to see a lot of the less significant events that occur at camp that are typically cut out of a rushed one-hour episode where we need to see every minute of both challenges and tribal council.
How great was the climbing the coconut tree scene with Boston Rob and Coach? Would that have ever been in a normal episode? Nope. It really had nothing to do with the game, but was a great example of the interactions between two characters that we’ve been imaging for two months now.
I’m very intrigued by the coupling that has started. Russell’s lame attempt to run the Dumb Blonde Alliance strategy that he used in Survivor: Samoa aside, ever since Boston Rob and Ambuh intimidated everyone on the original Survivor: All-Stars I’ve felt a solid duo was the winning strategy. It’s been replicated a few times since then (JT and Stephen in Survivor: Tocantins) and a number of intriguing pairs are forming already.
For the Villains, the obvious couple is Coach and Jerri. I’ve already dubbed the Coach/Jerri romance as Cori. It’s even easy to say. But beyond the possibility of “finding true love” as Sandra teased Jerri, a stable influence from a member of the opposite sex is something each player might benefit from. Jerri’s traditionally looked for a strong man to hang on to, but was unceremoniously dumped by Colby in each of her previous two seasons. The honorable Coach might stand by her. Also interesting is the Rob/Sandra combo. Rob needs a wingman and the two of them dominated the immunity challenge. Sandra even pointed out that she relates most to Boston Rob. Hmmm!
Over at the Heroes tribe the coupling is even more rampant. There are a number of obvious ones from previous season. Stephanie and Tom - Survivor: Palau tribe mates. Amanda and James – Survivor: China and Survivor: Micronesia tribe mates. Amanda and Cirie – ran the woman’s alliance that Parvati eventually won in Survivor: Micronesia. But these perceived duos have created some other pairs simply out of fear. Colby and Candice (hey, maybe she’ll matter this season) or JT and James. So far neither side has talked about an alliance of more than two people. Atypical for Survivor.
Loved the immunity challenge. First off, we all love anything where an underdog makes a huge comeback to defeat the favorite (see Red Sox vs. Yankees, 2004 ALCS). As Jeff described the challenge my immediate thought was “please let Boston Rob do the puzzle.” As I mentioned in my Survivor preview, Boston Rob is sneaky good at challenges and I knew he’d kill the puzzle.
Early, though, I feared he’d never get the chance to show off hiz skillz after the inept start by his tribe mates with the boat. Fortunately, I underestimated the Heroes inability to handle the puzzle. I’m not sure what’s more amazing – Rob and Sandra working together seamlessly and dominating the puzzle or Amanda, Cirie, Sugar and Rupert completely blowing it.
The season premiere predictably slowed down after the challenge. Due to her earlier absurd nighttime antics with Colby and then subsequent choke job with the puzzle, Sugar was the obvious choice for the elimination. Have to hand it to CBS for trying to make it interesting by inserting clips of various Heroes debating the merits of voting Sugar out vs. Cirie, Tom or Stephanie. Good try, but the only move was to get rid of Sugar, foiling the “divide the tribe” hopes of Russell.
Though the premiere started with a bang and ended with the whimper we’ve been given plenty to watch as the show heads forward:
- Will the budding relationship between Coach and Jerri blossom?
- How will the previous show pairs hold up on the Heroes tribe?
- Is Sandra’s this season’s “Ambuh” for Boston Rob?
- Can Boston Rob and Russell co-exist?
- Will Candice matter at all in this season?
- Can Colby sleep now that Sugar isn’t around to keep him warm?