Hi, everybody! Wow, that may have sounded a bit Dr. Nick Riviera of me, but I’m just so gosh darn excited to be back. Another season of Survivor is upon us. Season 30! Jeff Probst and I used to joke that we would still be talking about this show when we were both in the old age home, and every passing year that joke seems less and less funny. How has Survivor lasted this long and managed to stay fresh 30 installments in? By rebooting each and every season with a new cast and new twists. This anniversary campaign brings us the intriguing and slightly confusing White Collar vs. Blue Collar vs. No Collar vs. Ring Around the Collar. (Hey, Tide sponsorship, what are you going to do? It was either that or a tribe called Sprint 4G.)
All this collar business got me wondering: What collar am I? Am I White Collar because I work in an office in New York City? Am I Blue Collar because I… okay, there is no chance I am Blue Collar. Or am I No Collar because I very rarely wear a shirt with any collar at all? Plus, I like to put feathers in my hair and creep out on any woman who even talks to another dude. Oh, wait—sorry, that’s Vince. (For the record, Jeff Probst told me I was a White Collar, which supremely bummed me out.)
Whatever. They’re just labels, people! I mean, Garrett was on the Brains tribe for crissakes. But Probst has been very high on this cast, so I was excited to see what we had in store. I was supposed to go on location for this season but had to back out at the last minute due to some other work commitments. DAMN YOU, WORK! So without further ado, let’s recap this son of a bitch!
The start of a new Survivor season is always tremendous because it affords contestants a chance to brag about how badass they are for no reason. I never really understand why they do this other than a desperate attempt to be seen as a “character,” but I always find it hilarious. Not as hilarious, however, as on Big Brother where they always manage to work their occupation into their smack-talk (sample: “My name is Kent. I’m an 8th grade math teacher, and I’m ready to take the competition to school!”) Sure enough, our very first comment of the season comes from So, who brags about “making everyone under me cry at some point” and then claims she is the devil. (Is that a good thing now?) Max follows that up by proudly informing us that, “I step on people whose assistance I need to get to that next plateau.” (That seems rude.) And then there is Dan, who proclaims, “I plan on being remembered. One way or another, you will not forget me.” Is that a threat? Because it kind of sounds like a threat. And does that threat involve unfortunate underwear choices?
After Joaquin secures the female fan favorite vote by talking about his love of “loose women,” and Rodney compares himself to filet mignon and the rest of the cast to Steak-umms, we can finally dispense with the pointless and nonsensical boasting and get to the stuff that actually matters… like Jeff Probst being almost completely swallowed by the surf. While the host usually likes to go high on a mountain peak or dangling out of a helicopter for his signature “one Survivor” line, I like him going all Poseidon-mode down in the water. Call it our season’s first twist!
So all the contestants finally arrive via trucks onto a beach where Probst explains the whole collar conceit. And then… another twist! Each tribe has to pick someone to represent them, and then a second person to join the person they already picked, because why not make this even more confusing? And those pairs are Joaquin and So from WC, Dan and Mike from BC, and ocean sandwich-making Will and Jenn from NC. What will they do? That twist is waiting for them back at their camps, so the three tribes then all dramatically walk in different directions (before being pulled back by production so they can be driven to their respective beaches… which would have looked considerably less dramatic).
NEXT: Food or clue?[pagebreak]
Will and Jenn from the No Collars—I’m not even going to bother with the actual tribe names until the inevitable reshuffling happens—go off into the woods as directed and find a choice before them: Honest or Deceive. If they choose Honest they get a large bag of beans. If they choose Deceive they get a small bag of beans that will only last a few days, but they get a clue to the hidden immunity idol. This is the definition of a no win situation, because whatever you choose, people are going to automatically be suspicious. This is why you always keep a low profile at the start of the game. Jeremy learned this the hard way last season (having to send his wife to Exile), and David learned it the season before that (making immediate enemies). Any time you volunteer or are chosen for anything right off the bat, it’s bad news. Just act like Probst when he welcomes tribes to a challenge and look down at your feet. Avoid all speaking and eye contact. Go invisible like Julia from Caramoan. (Who? Exactly!)
Will and Jenn choose the lesser of two evils—in both senses—of Honest, as do Dan and Mike for the Blue Collars, with Dan correctly assessing that “it’s too early to be a villain.” Even though he’s right, it doesn’t matter: Sierra still thinks they are lying. And then we come to Joaquin and So. “If I have an advantage, I’m going to take it,” says Joaquin, and sure enough they pick Deceive. And there we have it, ladies and gentlemen: our first White Collar crime.
Although that crime is not as terrible as the lying that follows it when So claims that they picked a non-existent “Neutral” option because they were worried something bad would happen if they chose Honest. Let’s all pause for the cause and think about that for a second. They said they were worried that choosing the Honest option would be worse than the tiny bag of beans they allegedly got by going Neutral. That is just a flat-out terrible lie because it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. It would have made more sense if they said that breakdancing robots wearing red berets in tribute to Rerun from What’s Happening!! had descended from the skies and then barfed Mogwais out of their mouths, who then in turn ate all the tribe’s beans after midnight, metamorphosed into Gremlins, decided to take a nighttime dip in the ocean, multiplied, made Phoebe Cates serve them beers, and then all died when the bright sun melted their skin in the morning. Also, no way I vote out somebody that comes back with a story like that no matter how much food they took off my plate.
Okay, let’s give some intel on what else went down at the three tribe beaches before the challenge:
BLUE COLLAR BEACH
They make fire with no flint, which is always impressive. I’ve been out there and watched many a tribe struggle and fail to get a fire going, so whenever it happens on day 1, props are due. (By the way, does anyone else still say “props” anymore? Or talk about What’s Happening!! for that matter? Before we officially move on from the What’s Happening!! thing, it should be pointed out that my obsession with that show largely centers around the fact that there is no question mark at the end of the show title, yet not one, but two exclamation points. So I guess it is more of a statement than a question. Either that or there were no copy editors around when networks were naming 1970s sitcoms.
We also get some quality time with the filet mignon himself, Rodney, who joins Joaquin in immediately throwing away any chance of the female fan favorite vote by saying how “Girls, they want to sit back and let a man take the leader role.” Way to have your finger on the pulse of society, Rodney! I hear they also love to be paid less for their work, while favorite hobbies include cleaning bathrooms, doing laundry, and being “too emotional” to have access to the big red button that will start a world wide nuclear war.
NEXT: Dan shows everyone he has the full package[pagebreak]
Meanwhile, Mike is busy trying to kill himself. He chops the tail off a scorpion and eats it for protein. This actually doesn’t sound like a terrible idea… as long as Mike has done some research as to what might happen if one eats a scorpion. He hasn’t, and next thing you know he’s puking, sweating profusely, and lying on his back. It could be worse. He could be arguing needlessly with his tribemates about the best way to build a shelter. This is a Survivor tradition as there is always someone who can’t help him or herself, and that someone this time is Dan.
Dan doesn’t like the way Lindsey is handling the shelter—explaining that, “I am a fat guy. It’s not going to hold me!” Fair point, but it doesn’t matter whether it can hold you if you’re not there to sleep on it because you’ve been voted out. Now, I want to make it clear that I sympathize with Dan because getting along with people like Rodney, who barks out that “We need to get Harry Potter’s grandfather out of here” cannot be easy. I mean, that comment doesn’t even make any sense! How in any way, shape, or form does Dan resemble Harry Potter? Does he mean Hagrid’s grandfather because they both have beards? Well, that doesn’t make much sense either seeing as how Dan is 47 years old and the guy who plays Hagrid, Robbie Coltrane, is 65. Rodney—clearly stepping up to be the leader that “girls” want him to be.
Anyway, Dan takes off to the beach and… DEAR GOD, WHAT KIND OF UNDERWEAR IS THAT?!? What is Phillip Sheppard doing back on Survivor? I wish I could use one of Harry Potter’s spells to make me unsee what I have just seen as Dan removes his pants. Let me give it a shot—Buddgiesmugglerundus! Nope, didn’t work. Clearly this is the work of a Death Eater if ever I saw one. Dan’s first ally should be with a pair of boxer shorts.
NO COLLAR BEACH
Is this the No Collar beach or merely a dramatic reenactment of every painfully awkward 9th grade love triangle? The action begins with Jenn and Vince hitting it off down by the water. “One of my greatest weaknesses is my intense attraction to women,” Vince tells us. “When I want something, I get it.” (You mean like that feather? Did you want that feather? And did Phillip Sheppard give it to you? Why is Phillip Sheppard everywhere this season? If I only knew of a former federal agent who could investigate such matters…)
But then Vince’s island dream date turns into a horror show as his shelter-building rival Joe makes fire, magically transforming Jenn into Flirty McFlirterson—fetching him water and doing all sorts of things that Rodney will be the first person to tell you girls love to do. This causes Vince to tell Jenn he needs to ask her “a real human human question”—lest she think he wanted to only ask her a half-human question as if they were stranded on The Island of Doctor Moreau. And that leads to this positively brilliant exchange:
VINCE: “Do you feel more of a connection with Joe?”
JENN: “No, I’m playing this flirt game.”
VINCE: “You’re not attracted to him?”
VINCE: “Not even a little? But you like him? Like, you genuinely like him?”
JENN: “All I know, it’s me and you.”
VINCE: “You still want that?”
The scene ends with Vince shoving Jenn’s face into his underarm, which must be the mating call of the coconut vendor or something. I’m sure it smelled delightful. I want to hate this guy, but I cannot for the sole reason that his name is Vince Sly, which is the most tremendous name of all time. It sounds like a rogue cop who breaks all the rules. Or a professional wrestler who hits people over the head with folding chairs when they are not looking. Or, it would seem, a hippie stalker psychopath who tries to put a woman who he has known for approximately 24 hours on complete lockdown.
NEXT: Why I love the immunity challenge[pagebreak]
WHITE COLLAR BEACH
Guess which tribe can’t make fire? “None of us knows how to make a fire,” says Tyler. “Why would we?” Oh, I don’t know…BECAUSE YOU ARE GOING ON THE SHOW SURVIVOR IN WHICH YOU NEED TO MAKE FIRE TO EAT!!! Again, making fire without flint is hard. No question about it. But you can at least do your homework before you get to location so you have a fighting chance.
But even with their terrible lying and fire-making skills, the White Collars have Survivor smarts in other ways. Carolyn is no dummy. She figures Joaquin and So got a clue to the location of a hidden immunity idol, so watches them like a hawk. So is apparently making little-to-no attempt to hide that she is looking, so Carolyn goes on her own search near unique landmarks. And sure enough, she finds it. But will she need to use it sooner than she thinks? Let’s head to the immunity challenge.
Allow me to be crystal clear about something. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this immunity challenge. And I’ll tell you why. I have been pestering Probst for years to start adding some choices into the challenges. So instead of just competing straight-up, you have to make decisions that could end up helping or haunting you. The very first reward challenge back in Palau did this as tribes had a chance to grab valuable supplies to race with—those supplies could slow them down, but also come in handy later. What to do? I love stuff like that. But we pretty much have not seen it since. Until now.
Basically, the tribes must race down a ramp and through an obstacle to a large wooden crate with a ladder inside. Then it is time for CHOICE #1: They can either use keys to unlock locks or untie knots to open the crate. Then they take the ladder out and use it to go up, across, and down platforms and through other obstacles. Then they come to CHOICE #2: They must use the ladder to choose between retrieving pieces to one of three different puzzles. There is a five-piece puzzle that requires them to see the big picture, a 10-piece puzzle that requires them to see things more visually, and a third 50-piece puzzle that is the most straightforward, but again, 50 pieces. They all average the same amount of time to finish, so the teams must match the right person on the right puzzle.
Again, wondering and watching what the teams decide to do adds another element of intrigue to the proceedings. And we see that element play out multiple times. After Lindsey earns first wipe-out of the season honors, all three tribes choose to go for the locks… only to then all change and switch to the knots instead. The No Collars get to the puzzle pieces first and choose the 10-piece puzzle. Then the White Collars go for the 50-piece puzzle (a.k.a. The One For Dumb People). “Big surprise from the big brains of the White Collars,” bellows Probst. Meanwhile, the Blue Collars are waaaaay back, but eventually, they go for the 10-piece puzzle as well.
Here’s why that was the smart call: When in last place, pick the same thing the people in first place did, especially since it has only 10 pieces. Why? Easier to copy. My position on copying has been clear: I think producers should put up sight barriers to prevent it. But since they hardly ever do anymore (perhaps because it would lead to less comebacks, which they love), you should take advantage of it whenever possible. Because if it is not against the rules, then it is not cheating. And sure enough the No Collars take first, the Blue Collars take second, and the 50 puzzle piece-picking White Collars take their dignity and watch it get drop-kicked to oblivion. All because they made the wrong choice at the wrong time. By the way, can we talk about the first place immunity idol for a second? What the hell is that thing? It looks like a zombified Mr. Peanut. Or maybe a Mr. Peanut voodoo doll. I don’t know. I just know it looks freaky as hell. And I’m never eating Planters again.
NEXT: So long, So![pagebreak]
But whom will they choose to be this season’s recipient of the Sonja Christopher Golden Ukulele Award as the first one booted out of the game? So is gunning for Carolyn, but So’s lying and aggressiveness is working against her and making others nervous. And then Carolyn tells Tyler about having the idol, giving him extra pause as well. So it’s off to Tribal Council to find out. Once there, Max takes Joaquin and So to task for being horrible liars, while So tells Carolyn straight out, “Yes, we are voting you out tonight.” Then again, So says many confusing things. For instance, she also says while voting for Carolyn that, “We have to keep the tribe strong and you are the lesser of two evils.” I’m sorry, but don’t you keep the lesser of two evils and vote out the greater of two evils? Isn’t that how that works? Outside of untying some knots, So was remarkably awful in this game in a very short period of time, and sure enough, she is the one sent home. Carolyn doesn’t even need to play her idol.
Okay, time for overall thoughts: Probst has been hyping this cast big time ever since San Juan Del Sur ended, and I can see why. One episode in, I feel I already have a pretty good handle on around 15 of the 18 contestants. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it. Of course, that is aided by the fact that it was a 90-minute premiere and the three tribe set-up makes it easier to remember folks due to the smaller groupings. But still, that’s a strong batting average. That doesn’t mean this season is destined for greatness—I thought the Redemption Island season had one of the best premieres ever and then fell off after that—but it’s certainly off to a strong start.
The only thing I don’t feel good about is my traditional episode 1 pick to win it all. Strategically, nobody stood out to me. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some strong game theory thinkers in the group; I just haven’t seen enough from anybody yet. I guess just by the fact that he seems likable, has proven his worth at camp by making fire, and performed really well at the challenge, I’ll go with Joe from the No Collar Tribe. (I‘m pretty sure Vince Sly just ripped the feather out of his hair and stomped on it in absolute disgust.) I don’t feel great about my pick, but that’s all I can go on at this point, so there it is: Joe.
Okay, enough of this nonsense. You think we’re done, but we’re not! That’s because we’ve got an exclusive deleted scene from last night’s premiere waiting for you in the video player below. Plus, make sure to check out my weekly Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst. And, of course, for way more Survivor scoop delivered right to your virtual doorstep, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.
Now it’s your turn. Who is your episode 1 pick to win it all? Which tribe are you rooting for? And whom are you loving and loathing so far? Hit the message boards to weigh in. (By the way, did you know that 11 of the 25 most commented on recaps on EW.com for 2014 were for Survivor? Congrats! You guys rock!) That will do it for now, but thanks for going on this adventure with me once again, and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy!