In the season premier of ''Survivor,'' the show introduces some new rules -- four tribes! temporary banishment! -- but Tina gets a very traditional send-off
Credit: Tina Scheer: Jeffrey R. Staab

”Survivor”: Four tribes go to war

First off, before we get going with another season of Survivor, I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize. Some of you may have been having nightmares lately, and I honestly don’t blame you a bit. After all, that picture of me shirtless in EW magazine (accompanying the article about my overnight stay on Exile Island) is one of the scariest things ever. There’s really nothing I can do or say — except curse my editors. (And maybe try to eat a few more burgers.)

There was one good thing about going on location for this latest edition of Survivor, however: It gave me a chance to meet all the contestants right before the game started, as well as watch the first few days of filming. What exactly does that mean, besides a mild sunburn and an addiction to DEET? It means I can share with you a few interesting nuggets you didn’t get to see in the premiere episode.

For instance, let’s start with that opening scene on Exile Island when all the tribes competed in the first reward challenge. The younger women lost and were told they had to immediately pick someone to stay on the island. Danielle, who had lost for her team, volunteered. (Why would anyone in his or her right mind volunteer to spend the night alone on an island? Oh…uh, never mind.) Now, on TV you saw some pretty comical indecision, with the ladies finally settling on a game of rock, paper, scissors — which Misty lost. What you didn’t see is that said indecision was even more comical in person. After Danielle volunteered and was turned down, then Courtney (the dread head with the identity crisis) also volunteered! And then she was turned down! Why all these people were volunteering (remember, they didn’t know yet that there was a hidden immunity idol somewhere on the island) and why people were not allowing them to isolate themselves is completely beyond me. Probst repeatedly had to tell them to pick someone. It was pretty damn funny.

What you also didn’t see was a pretty classic Probst line. After the challenge, as all the teams headed toward their boats to leave, Misty turned to the host and said, ”Looks like it’s just you and me, Jeff.” To which he replied (without missing a beat), ”Not for long.” That, my friends, is pure uncut Probst. Except, in this case, I guess it actually was cut, so never mind.

Okay, one last behind-the-scenes tidbit to share, and one which I’m sure many of you are trying to decode: Probst’s clue to Misty about the whereabouts of the hidden immunity idol. For the record, here is exactly what he said: ”You also have a lot of time to think about why fate chose you to be the first one out here, which is also why immunity is so important.” This oral clue was actually a last-second addition. Right before the castaways showed up, Probst and Mark Burnett were perfecting the exact wording, with Jeff practicing it over and over to get it. (It should also be noted that the twist of not having to reveal that you have the hidden immunity idol until after the vote was also a last-minute switch. Originally contestants were going to have to reveal they had it before the vote, à la Hogeboom in Guatemala. For the record, I like it the new way a lot more.) Now, Burnett told us the meaning of the clue shortly after, but since spoilers are the bane of my existence, I will refrain from sharing it here. (Sorry.)

Okay, enough of that junk, it’s time to talk a little Shane. Because a little Shane goes a long way, people. I knew this guy was in for a hard time when in our interview a few days before the game, he told me about his three-pack-a-day habit. He was even smoking while wearing the patch! And it’s not just cigs this guy will be missing. He also drinks 15 cups of espresso a day! Caffeine and nicotine withdrawal? Fun stuff! Can’t wait to check this clown out on day 5. One interesting Shane moment that didn’t make it into this episode was at the immunity challenge. After his team came in second, thanks to Bruce’s successful ring toss, Shane started running around the beach yelling, ”Miyagi!” at the top of his lungs. Bruce actually refers to himself as Mr. Miyagi, so it wasn’t completely out of the blue, but it was still pretty damn odd. (The producers may have cut this out because of Pat Morita’s recent death. Or maybe just because I’m the only person in the world who would find such a thing funny. I’m also probably the only person who thought it funny that when Misty showed up for the challenge, it looked like she had peed her pants. Go back and watch — you’ll see.)

As we know, the older women lost. Speaking of which, how much do you think they wanted to punch Jeff Probst in the mouth every time he referred to them as ”older women”? I’m actually kinda bummed Tina got voted out. She really got a raw deal: She had originally been chosen to compete on Survivor: Guatemala, but 10 days before she was to leave home, her son was killed in a car crash. As a parent, I can’t even imagine going through something like that. And then, when she does show up for this season of Survivor, she’s the first one kicked off. One can debate whether telling her tribemates about her situation would have saved her, but obviously strategy becomes secondary when you’re still dealing with the loss of a loved one. (It should also be noted that in a press round table with Probst the day before filming began, all six of us had Tina in our final four. Four people — including Probst — even predicted Tina as the winner. My pick, Sally, is still alive. Take that, Probst!)

Even beyond the son thing, it’s too bad Tina is gone, because she was a big personality, as you saw. Luckily, in between Shane, Cirie, Melinda, and ”Bob Dawg,” there are plenty of those left. I’ve got a good feeling about Exile Island, and not just because I’m no longer on it.

What do you think? What’s going to be a bigger factor, age or gender? And who are your early favorites?