We begin the way every returning player season begins, with a recap of some of the biggest players’ biggest moments. There’s Tony in his Spy Shack™! There’s Malcolm giving away his extra immunity idol! There’s Sandra telling off Russell! There’s Cirie convincing Erik to give away his immunity and then voting him off! There’s… Debbie???
Debbie’s a hoot, for sure. Just a little odd, that choice there. (I was actually convinced there was some sort of editing editor in the opening segment seeing how we were not treated for the millionth time to Ciera voting out her mom.) But none of that matters. All that matters is the color of Jeff Probst’s hat to kick off this season, the only clear predictive indicator as to the quality of the season to follow. And I am here to tell you right here and right now that this is going to be a great season because we have a full-scale #OrangeHatAlert, ladies and gentlemen!
That’s right, Probst is rocking the greatest of all Survivor hats as he wonders to himself if he ever got a tetanus shot while standing up on that rusty, capsized ship and belting out his famous “…one Survivor!” line. Then, after a credits sequence that lasts .385 seconds — or, approximately the same amount of time as Wanda in Survivor: Palau — we get Jeff on a different boat, and this time with 20 returning players. (By the way, you can see the full credits sequence that didn’t make it to TV later in the recap.)
Probst welcomes the Game Changers and tells them that they were “each hand picked… because you have proven you are willing to make the kind of moves to change the game!” The camera angles are a bit non-committal here and I could not see well enough from my perch on a floating dock while I was out there for this, but I am relatively confident that Probst avoided any and all eye contact with Sierra, Caleb, and Hali while delivering that last line. But hey, at least he didn’t laugh. That’s what makes him the best in the business, folks!
Anyhoo, they all applaud each other for being Game Changers and then J.T. wins the Francesca Hogi Award for saying something bold and completely unnecessary right out of the gate, informing everyone that “Sandra’s not gong to be the only two-time winner, I don’t think.” Look, that probably wasn’t the smartest thing for J.T. to say, but I suppose we should all just be happy he didn’t write that in a letter to Sandra and have Colby hand-deliver it with a hidden immunity idol.
Jeff tells the people with the blue buffs they are the Nuku tribe while the folks with the orange buff are Mana. This is especially confusing because there don’t appear to be any orange buffs! At least not as far as I can tell. I see what appear to be red buffs, but not orange. Have I suddenly gone colorblind or is this like that whole “What Color is the Dress?” thing? Seriously, I have not been this confused about anything Survivor-related since they decided to bring Brandon Hantz back to play again.
In classic Survivor fashion, the boat is loaded with supplies they have to grab before jumping off, but there is also a ring out in the water, and the first person to untie the underwater knots will win a tool kit for the tribe. Ozzy immediately takes off for it and the other tribe wisely says to themselves, “Well, no point in going for that!”
But that’s not the only twist. Andrea picks up a box of food but does not notice there is a secret advantage envelope right underneath. Sierra eventually spots it and proceeds to stick it in the back of her underwear. GAME CHANGER! Look, the whole jump-off-the-boat thing has been done on Survivor so many times, but I don’t care. I still love it. It’s classic Survivor, and watching people jump off a boat and have crates crashing on top of them is the best.
One fun thing you do not see is Ozzy, after retrieving the tool kit, going back on to the boat. At first Probst was not going to let him back on until Ozzy explained that he had left his shoes on there in his rush to dive in, so back on board he went to get his shoes and do a dramatic dive off the top bar, which made the opening credits that didn’t make it to TV. (Fun fact: Last year on Second Chance, Terry Dietz had to return during the scramble back to the little outrigger he arrived on because he had left his shoes there.)
The other interesting thing of note is the disorganization of the Mana tribe. They didn’t send anyone immediately to get the tool kit, therefore giving them one extra person on the boat to get supplies (until Caleb left belatedly) and yet still came away with way less food than Nuku. And then after that, they could not even paddle away from the boat. Probst was yelling at them to get it together and start paddling, but their effort seemed halfhearted at best. I remember thinking to myself, I wonder if this will carry over into the challenges. It obviously did.