Dalton Ross was there when the Fans vs. Favorites began to square off for season 16. With episodes soon to start airing, he shares some of what he saw, and charts the series' surprise success at reclaiming a ratings Immunity Idol
Credit: Monty Brinton

Ultimate · Survivor
[uhl-tuh-mit ser-vahy-ver] noun:
1. A show that came dangerously close to having its own torch snuffed, only to return to life last fall with bigger ratings and better action.
2. syn: ‘Survivor: Micronesia — Fans vs. Favorites,’ an epic battle between popular former contestants of the reality show and die-hard followers who have dreamed of competing on it.

JEFF PROBST IS TALKING TO HIMSELF. When you’re left out in the blazing sun on a tiny island in the South Pacific, that can happen. But the reality TV host hasn’t gone cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs; he’s merely practicing what he’ll say to welcome the tribes about to be marooned for the 16th edition of Survivor. A boat arrives and drops off a collection of 10 of the show’s most recognizable past players — characters like challenge dominator Ozzy Lusth of the Cook Islands season and brainy underdog Yau-Man Chan from Fiji. The contestants retreat silently to hide around a bend until summoned. Most of them, at least. Twenty-five-year-old law student Eliza Orlins (Vanuatu) instead squats down right in front of everybody and begins peeing. Right through her bathing suit. Even odder, no one so much as bats an eye, because, well, Survivor doesn’t exactly come equipped with bathrooms.

Out on the water, a canoe filled with chanting natives comes into view and — almost as if on cue — the skies open and rain starts to fall right as cameras begin rolling on Survivor: Micronesia (debuting on CBS Feb. 7 at 8 p.m.). The canoe delivers 10 other contestants to shore — these are the ”Fans,” hardcore followers of Survivor who will do battle with their idols from previous seasons. One by one the ”Favorites” walk around the bend and reveal themselves. The awestruck fans whoop, cheer, and holler, as familiar faces like sharp-tongued Cirie Fields (Panama), scheming Jonathan Penner (Cook Islands), and superhuman-looking James Clement (China) make their way to center beach. Until there’s only one left. As he waits to be beckoned, the notorious Jon Dalton (a.k.a. Jonny Fairplay) — a man who once lied about his grandmother being dead during the Pearl Islands season — bounces up and down like a boxer warming up in the ring before a title fight. The hat on his head reads ”Will Lie 4 Food.” Probst calls him out, and the fans start applauding like crazy. ”It’s not my birthday!” Fairplay responds as he struts into view, the rain turning from steady stream to full-on downpour. (One wonders if somewhere, executive producer Mark Burnett has pushed the lever on his magical weather machine all the way to 11.) After some introductory banter, Probst then points to another island a few hundred yards away with two immunity idols — one for each tribe — and sends the players off on their first challenge to retrieve them. The contestants make a mad dash for the water and… Sorry, we can’t tell you how it ends, except to say this: It culminates with a battle between good and evil. The producers are downright giddy afterward — they couldn’t have scripted it any better. And that’s exactly the point.

NEXT PAGE: ”Sometimes your creative doesn’t work, and your casting doesn’t work. Sometimes you end up with Fiji. We would have loved to have just erased that season.”

Survivor: Micronesia
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