There were two big components to last night’s premiere of the 21st season of Survivor, Survivor: Nicaragua. First, the introduction of a new wrinkle to the game, the Medallion of Power. Second, the inclusion of legendary football coach Jimmy Johnson. Which one proves to play the biggest role in shaping this season of Survivor will play out over the next few weeks. However, if you needed any clue which one CBS felt was the biggest hook, simply look at the title of last night’s episode, “Young At Heart."
The title pays homage to former University of Miami and Dallas Cowboys football coach Jimmy Johnson’s comment upon learning he was being placed on the older tribe, Espada. “I’m young at heart,” Johnson cried, but subsequently admitted in an interview; “I was looking forward to the young people carrying me.”
In general, I’m opposed to the inclusion of celebrities in reality shows, especially games such as Survivor or The Amazing Race. Understandably, it is hard for people to react to a known quantity like Johnson the same way they would the other 18 strangers on the show. However, much like the Globetrotters competing on The Amazing Race two seasons ago, the right celebrity can provide a fun wrinkle to a season.
Jimmy Johnson should provide a very interesting dynamic to this season of Survivor for a number of reasons, but the coach laid his cards on the table for the players right from the get go by professing that he doesn’t think he can win, but he thinks he can help a tribemate win. It’s an enticing proposition and one that will seem more genuine coming from someone famous and wealthy like Johnson than a random person who no one knows about.
Johnson’s celebrity unintentionally makes the proposition even more interesting because he’s being honest, but many of his tribemates are skeptical. The man sharing Jimmy’s namesake, Jimmy T., tells Jeff Probst at tribal council that he doesn’t believe Johnson can’t win and thus his offer isn’t as sincere as Johnson wants his tribemates to believe.What shocks me is how the castaways haven’t recognized that Johnson’s plan is the coach in him coming out and trying to lead his tribe and/or tribemates to victory. Certainly everyone is suspicious of anyone when playing Survivor, but the beauty of a celebrity is that when someone makes claims as Johnson did, we can compare them to the personality we know, even however little that may be.
Even if Johnson’s tribemates do not believe him and go along with his goal to get them to the finish line, his mere presence will impact the game whether he wants it to or not. For one, Johnson is honest about the adventure and can thus play the game without fear of losing. The freedom this will hopefully give Johnson to take risks and make bold moves has me very excited.
Johnson’s impact should also be examined from a player’s perspective. Heading to tribal council the two names on the block were Jimmy (by his own admission) and Wendy. The tribe ended up making the correct decision and perhaps the uncertainty was just an editing ploy by CBS, but to me there was little debate.
As a player, the beauty of having Johnson in the game is that he always takes the attention away from you. His profession and resume is that of a leader, so he’ll easily fill the role that is so often loathed on Survivor. Despite Jeff’s proclamation that most people who make it on to Survivor are leaders, few will have the level of experience in that role that Johnson does.
Finally, the players should be leaning on Johnson’s expertise as a leader to improve their tribal chances. However one might feel about Johnson from his football experiences, his track record as the leader of a football team is unquestionable. I want to see the players lean on that experience. So often tribe leaders on Survivor try to motivate their teammates only to fail and have the move backfire. I believe Johnson can do so without the negative backlash and have a positive effect.
Enough about Johnson. For a player like Jimmy, the key is getting past the first vote. I’m convinced he’ll stick around for a while longer and there will be plenty of time to breakdown his impact.
The other major wrinkle previously addressed is the Medallion of Power. Unlike Johnson, this wrinkle can not be voted out, so it is here to stay. The question, of course, is how long? Throughout the episode we were uncertain how long the medallion would be around until at the challenge we were told that it will be switching hands if used at least throughout the two tribe phase of the game. Whether it will extend to the individual portion is harder to say, but my money is on yes.
A bigger question is how the medallion will impact the game and, most importantly, our viewing experience. As for the former, despite Brenda’s proclamation, I think the fear of the other tribe having the medallion will blunt the number of times it is used. Already has. Fortunately, whether it is used or not doesn’t affect our viewing experience. The fun is the debating and second-guessing about whether a tribe should have used the power or not.
Moving on, the players continued focus on the final few days while in the first few days of the game continue to flabbergast me. Not to sound like a clip out of Jeff Probst’s blog, but don’t these people learn anything?!? Players make the mistake of worrying about taking someone to the end or how they’ll fare in individual challenges far too early.
We escaped the first episode without a dumb vote along those lines, but not without several intimations that the end is on people’s minds already. La Flor is considering voting out Kelly B. because her handicap will surely give her a finals victory? The logic is reasonable, but that’s thirty days from now! If she can help your tribe win now, that’s all that should matter.
More fun observations from the premiere:
- Did anyone else think of James LaFleur of Lost fame when Jeff revealed the young tribe’s name?
- As interesting as Jimmy Johnson’s inclusion in this season of Survivor should be, he was originally cast for season 19 with none other than Russell Hantz. You have to wonder how the course of that season and thus All-Stars would have gone if a strong force with nothing to lose like Jimmy Johnson was in Hantz’s first game.
- Brenda being a cheerleader during Johnson’s tenure with the Miami Dolphins is definitely going to be a let down story line when/if they meet.
- Alina and Kelly B. are walking on thin ice by not telling their tribemates about the clue to the hidden immunity idol. That was just clue #1. Clue #2 and so on is coming and unless those two are the only ones who get to check tree mail, someone else is going to find out and it could come out that Alina and Kelly B. were not truthful with the tribe. Or maybe they all conspire together.
- I absolutely love the immunity idol. A gold, tiny conquistador. From here on out the immunity idol will be referred to as the tiny conquistador. The tribal council area and urn are cool too.
- Jane’s nickname, Survivor MacGyver = awesome.
- How cool was it to hear that Jimmy Johnson has seen every second of all twenty seasons of Survivor? Ok, maybe only cool if you're a Survivor nerd as I am. Unexpected, perhaps?
- Do we really need to blur the men's crotches because we can see their bulge when they only have underwear on? Doesn't it just bring more attention to the area in the first place and make little Suzy ask "Mommy, why is the man's underwear blurry"?
Which will have a bigger impact this season, Jimmy Johnson or the Medallion of Power?