It's Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty—take 2!

By Dalton Ross
February 18, 2016 at 03:43 PM EST
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Credit: Robert Voets/CBS
S32 E1
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Welcome, everyone, to Survivor: Wrath of Khan edition! The season in which Ricardo Montalbán sneaks into the Brawn camp, bores everyone to sleep with talk of Corinthian leather, and then plants indigenous eel larvae into the ear canals of his unsuspecting victims in the hopes of achieving ultimate mind control. (Just ask my man Chekov how that went for him. By the way, how jacked was Montalbán in that film? Six-pack city, baby!)

So, yes, if we’re already in paragraph one sidetracked into discussions about the dude from Fantasy Island, then it must be time for another rambling Survivor recap. And ramble on we shall in what will prove to be the most dangerous season of Survivor recapping EVER! Watch out for paper cuts if you are printing this out to read because that sucker could get infected and then it is GAME OVER! (I’m just hoping I don’t get medevaced for keyboard-induced Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.)

But who can blame me for being concerned? After all, here’s Jeff Probst proclaiming that, “This will be the most grueling 39 days in Survivor history.” And from everything I have heard — and seen and felt from my time out in Cambodia — he’s not exaggerating.

A little (possibly super boring) background on that: While this is season 32 of Survivor, it was actually shot in Cambodia before season 31. Why? Here’s why: With fans voting in the cast of Second Chance in May, it was imperative that those contestants then pretty much go straight out to play and that air first in the fall. Which, under a normal Survivor schedule, would be fine, since shooting first in a two-cycle shooting schedule traditionally begins in late May, with the second season shooting in August through early September. (I warned you this might get super boring.)

However, Cambodia’s rainy season is at its worst in July through September, so to avoid that, production had to start much earlier than normal, in this case on March 30. Of course, the Second Chance voting had not even begun yet, so that is why the two seasons were shot out of order.

When I went out there in May for Second Chance, it was hot. Like, really hot. But all the crew talked about was how much worse it had been before we got out there. So I don’t think this is hyperbole on Probst’s part, especially after what we saw in the premiere. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, which, granted, is something I am known for.

Okay, let’s get to it and recap this son of a bitch! We start out on a big blue boat while Inception-like foghorns blare out at intervals. Here we go, one of my favorite parts of every Survivor season — random to-the-camera boasting! Take your pick for most shameless boast:

A. “Being an ER doctor, it’s going to be difficult for me to not show how smart I am” —Peter

B. “Puzzles lay down for me like lovers.” —Debbie

C. “I do try to use my looks to my advantage in poker. If I feel like a male is staring at my boobs, I might push ‘em up a little more.” —Anna

D. “My life has definitely been easier because I am better looking than most people.” —Nick

Ooooh, tough call here. While at first blush Anna’s may seem the most egregious, she’s really just taking advantage of male boob obsession (or MBO, for short) to improve her game. Nothing wrong with that. I think I’m going to go with Nick on this one because — and I hate to ask this question because I am a terrible judge of male attractiveness — but is Nick really that hot? Like, he’s not ugly. This isn’t an Elephant Man or Eric Stoltz in Mask situation, but is he really all that and a bag of chips? Just asking.

Of course as great as all of this is, there is one thing even greater: ORANGE HAT ALERT! Everyone knows I am obsessed with Probst’s orange Survivor hat. It is clearly the most awesome of all Survivor hats. I seriously don’t know why he even bothers with any of those other lame colors. Orange all the way!

While Probst is modeling the height of Survivor fashion, the contestants are scrambling to get supplies off a boat. This is the second straight season they’ve done this for the opening and do you know why that is? Because it works. Every time. You have Beast Mode Cowboy jumping into the water to save a chicken (that he will most likely later eat). You have Tai protecting another chicken “because I love all living creatures.” And you have women being hit on the head by falling coconuts. I think I also just dig the scrambling-for-supplies-and jumping-off-a-boat opening because it is reminder of the essence of Survivor and ties back into the very first opening of the very first season.

NEXT: Meet the Brawn tribe!

Okay, so it’s off to the tribe beaches. Instead of constantly jumping back and forth between camps, let’s just take them each one at a time. We’ll start with the Brawn tribe because Kyle (whose last name is Jason and is IDd and referred to by everyone as such for some odd reason) may try to hog tie me and throw me in the back of his truck if I don’t.

BRAWN TRIBE

Our introduction to the Brawn tribe basically consists of them explaining why they are in the Brawn tribe. Some (Kyle the bounty hunter, Cydney the bodybuilder, Scot the former NBA player) clearly belong. And then there is Alecia, whose alleged claim to Brawn fame is the fact that she has done bungee jumping and swam maybe somewhere in the remote vicinity of a shark once. Maybe.

It’s not Alecia’s fault. Probst told me that they’ve discovered the key to casting success is not to cast people to fit a specific grouping or twist but rather to cast the people they want on the show and then just figure out where they should go. It doesn’t always make sense. Max was definitely more of a No Collar guy while Nina was more of a White Collar gal. And Alecia seems like a much more likely candidate for Beauty than Brawn, but you just have to kind of say “whatever” to some of these designations.

Now, when Scot miscounts five instead of six people on his tribe, then, yeah, he fits the Brawn mold pretty well. And when Kyle refuses to even learn Alecia’s name and just call her “blondie,” then yeah I suppose that could fit the Brawn meathead stereotype as well. And when Darnell goes to take a poop right in front of everyone… Wait, WHAT?!? Darnell is taking a poop right in front of everyone?! What the hell, man? And why in the name of aqua dumps would you say this on national television: “This gut don’t lie to me. And right now my gut tells me, go use the bathroom.”

Honestly, I’m still flummoxed. And it was such a non-sequitur as well, coming right off talking strategy with Cydney about alliances. When Darnell first started saying, “This gut don’t lie to me. And right now my gut tells me, …” I assumed it would be followed by something like “…get the women out first.” Or “…I can trust Cydney.” Not something about defecating in plain view of everyone! It should be noted that the aqua dump is indeed a proud Survivor tradition. Contestants are even instructed to do so. But not right by the beach and in plain sight of everyone! Go around the bend, for crissakes! I don’t think the rest of your tribe has any interest in wading alongside any possible Baby Ruth bars, if you’ll pardon the Caddyshack reference.

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But any visual pain the tribe experienced as a result of watching Darnell drop a deuce was nothing compared to the physical pain Jennifer was going through when a bug started crawling its way into her ear canal. Be honest, when you watched this at first, there was a little part of you that wondered: Is this all in her head (as in made up) as opposed to all in her head (as in a bug actually, you know, IN her head)? And your doubt may have increased as it lasted all through the night and into the next day.

I thought another tribemate may have been right that it was just some trapped water, but alas we finally saw a close-up of the bug exiting Jennifer’s ear. Then entering it again! Then exiting. And entering it again! The exiting. And entering! FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY WILL SOMEONE JUST PULL THAT THING OUT ALREADY?!?! Jennifer’s tribemates just sat there acting like Jim Nantz and Phil Simms doing play by play on the current whereabouts of the bug while it kept crawling in and back out. Just grab the sucker! Either that or they were trying to stage their own low-budget reenactment of the aforementioned Wrath of Khan. Otherwise, I don’t know what the hell they were doing.

Alas, the bug was finally ejected from the lobe and Jennifer felt fresh as a daisy for the challenge. But before we can get to that we need to check in with the other two tribes.

NEXT: Meet the Brains tribe!

BRAINS TRIBE

Ah, what interesting professions we have on the Brains tribe. There’s an “Ice Cream Entrepreneur” (Neal), a “Quantitative Strategist” (Liz), a “Former FBI Agent” (Joe), a “Current President of the United States”… uh, I mean “ER Doctor” (Pete), and “Social Media Marketer” (Aubry). And then there is Debbie. What does Debbie, do? (And please don’t respond with “Dallas.”) Well, what doesn’t Debbie do? She proceeds to list off approximately 384 current and former jobs, including “‘Captain, civil air patrol, chemist, photonics manufacturing supervisor, electronics expert, bartender, caretaker to nuns, and between jobs I fill in at Red Lobster as a server.” SAY WHAT?!?

First off, quite a year for Red Lobster between Beyoncé’s “Formation” and now this. And I’m guessing it’s not every day you find photonics manufacturing supervisors also serving up Crispy Shrimp Lettuce Wraps and Langostino Lobster-Artichoke-Seafood Dips in their off-hours. Just spectacular. But Debbie knows how to do everything! And that is according to none other than Debbie, so she must be right! Pay no attention to the fact that the Brains tribe has no fire. Debbie says she knows how to make it, so just trust her, people! She clearly has spent hours upon hours in between her daily juggling lessons learning how to master the art of fire-making, so just back off and let the woman do her thing! (By the way, speaking of backing off, I believe Debbie also gave back rubs as part of her professional portfolio at one point.)

Unfortunately, party-pooper Neal — as opposed to aqua-pooper Darnell — does not like the cut of Debbie’s jib and wants to get rid of the tribe’s “geriatric tinge.” (Geriatric Tinge also happens to be the name of my midlife crisis bar band. No cover on Wednesday nights and we play all the old hits.) Liz joins Neal on his ageist rant by proclaiming Joe to be the “most likely to be medevaced,” which makes me want to buy a DeLorean and go back in time to be voted that by my fellow high school classmates.

But it is neither Joe nor Debbie who is having trouble out in the elements, but rather Aubry. Whether Aubry is suffering from dehydration, a panic attack, or some combo platter of the two is unclear, but regardless, she becomes discombobulated and needs to seek shelter in the… well, shelter. I have watched multiple people among the press and CBS publicity department get felled by dehydration while on location, so I can only imagine what it is like for the contestants. Just brutal stuff. So I sincerely feel for Aubry here and am glad she noticed the signs that something was off and put herself in timeout. While nobody — and I mean nobody — loves watching people suffer more than I do, you don’t want to see players getting pulled from the game already.

BEAUTY TRIBE

Nick loves being beautiful! And he loves how beautiful everything in the world is! Beauty is more than skip deep, it’s world deep! Although Tai — the most adorable Survivor contestant in the history of Survivor contestants — is a bit confused as to how he ended up on the Beauty tribe. “Why am I here? Look at me. I’m bald, big head, big ears, and skinny little body.”

Former Big Brother stalker Caleb is similarly confused. “Why in the world is Tai on this tribe?” he asks. “50- or 60-year-old Asian guy whose got eyebrows four inches long. Dude’s got Mr. Miyagi glasses. Like, I don’t understand.” Now that is COMPLETELY off-base, Caleb! C’mon, man, I expected more from you. After all, everyone knows Mr. Miyagi never wore glasses. Get your facts straight!

NEXT: A challenging situation for Darnell

It doesn’t take long for the culture clash to set in as Tai and Beast Mode Cowboy start arguing over a tree. Tai gives his backstory about leaving Vietnam in 1979 with 262 other people on a boat for 11 days with no food, ending up at a refugee camp for a year, and then eventually landing in America. For the .0000001 percent of people not already rooting for Tai, this story is enough to seal the deal. And when Tai and Caleb make fire together it seems like the eldest member of the tribe could be good to go. But then Tai makes a fatal flaw and pulls a Fishbach. Now, to pull a Fishbach could mean many things. I looked up the official definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary and here’s what I found:

Fishbach

/fiSHbak/

verb

  1. To fail miserably at chopping wood
  2. To cry uncontrollably while experiencing gastro-intestinal distress
  3. To inadvertently hit the other team’s target during a challenge, thereby scoring a point for them
  4. To paint a target on your back due to excessive and early searching for a hidden immunity idol
  5. To laugh at oneself with grace and class when producers give you the “goofball” edit and insist on highlighting each and every one of your season-long foibles, complete with circus music

Unfortunately for Tai, he hit definition number 4 by going off on his own with no excuse whatsoever to search for the idol under some trees. This was dumb for many reasons. For one thing, if you’re going to disappear to search for the idol, you need to make the tribe think you’re off doing something else. Search for it while coming back from a confessional interview. Tell them you need to go to the bathroom or want to collect more firewood. Don’t just randomly disappear.

And this brings us to the second point, which is that finding an idol does not consist of completely uprooting trees. Idols are rarely buried. They’re usually in the hollowed out hole of a tree, or up in some branches, or behind a rock, or attached underneath something. Rarely is any digging involved, and if it is, it does not include moving planted trees. Just not savvy-searching skills by Tai here, and that’s a bummer because Tai is one of those characters that immediately jumps off the screen. It would be a shame to lose him early, but this move may put him on the outs.

Let’s move on to the first challenge of the season and see who’s ready to step up. Speaking of stepping up, there’s my man Jeffrey Probst once again rocking his orange hat. Attaboy! As for the challenge itself, the players must swim to a boat. Once they are all on board, one person must dive down to retrieve four paddles, and then the team must race to shore, convert the boat to a cart and push it to the top. They’re still not done though, because then each tribe must decide whether to assemble a puzzle or test their dexterity by stacking balls while standing on a wobbly beam. First tribe wins immunity and a massive fire-making kit, second tribe wins immunity and a flint, while third tribe has a date with Probst at Tribal Council.

I love this challenge for multiple reasons. I love that it has so many different stages. I love that there is actually diving involved because that always leads to someone screwing up. And I love the fact that each tribe has a choice between the puzzle and the dexterity because choices in challenges are always a good thing in my book.

And in a Survivor rarity, we get to see the tribes actually strategize beforehand, figuring out who will do what. They film this little strategy session before every challenge but rarely use it, so when they do, you know it is invariably because someone is bragging about how they can do something that they are going to totally prove they cannot do. And that person in this instance is Darnell, who volunteers to dive down for the paddles. Just one problem, as Darnell loses the mask upon diving in the water. Not only that, but he then does not even attempt to get the paddles without said mask, forcing Jennifer and others to take over for him.

So instead of making up for his error by drawing upon his lifeguarding skills to retrieve either the mask or the paddles, Darnell compounds the error by tapping out and making the others do it instead. What an absolutely terrible way to begin (and end) your Survivor challenge career. I guess it could have been worse. His gut could have told him to poop inside the mask.

NEXT: Aubry steps up and Darnell steps out

On the flip side is Aubry, she of the panic attack/dehydration earlier. Aubry steps up in a huge way, getting all four paddles for the Brains tribe. That’s called changing the narrative, people! Not only that, but then somehow the Brains tribe manages to take the lead during the physical part of pushing the boat/cart up the beach and into the cradle.

All three teams go for the puzzle (BOO!). Brawn has managed to catch up and pull into second place, but they appear to only have one person (Jennifer) working on the puzzle. “Get the f—ing pieces,” she yells to Alecia, who proceeds to get some pieces out of the box and then never touch them again because apparently they are contaminated with the cooties virus or something. And it costs them, as Brains and Beauty take the top two spots.

Back at the Brawn beach, both Alecia and Darnell apologize. It looks like Darnell will be voted out, but then Alecia makes Kyle and Scot nervous by refusing to reveal if she has an idol or not. Plus, Cydney wants Alecia out because she wants to protect her dub-alliance with Darnell.

So off to Tribal Council we go to see how it all plays out. Kyle talks about how there are some people on his tribe that don’t measure up to high standards — standards which include not bothering to learn a tribemate’s name and just calling her “blondie.” Speaking of Alecia, she manages to tell us within a span of a few minutes how she is both “a mental giant,” and “not a puzzle god.” (Self-proclaimed mental giant Alecia will also attempt to write Darnell’s name at the voting urn with the pen cap still on so, you know, maybe she falls more on the “not a puzzle god” spectrum of things.)

While Kyle asks Jennifer at one point “Are we doing the right one?” and she says openly that she doesn’t want to vote Darnell out, that appears to be the plan because Darnell and Alecia actually tie on the first vote, but he is unanimously voted out on the revote, signaling that there was either some discussion we did not see between votes, or, far more likely, they simply split the votes the first time to protect against a hidden immunity idol. Sorry, voyeurs, no more aqua dump sightings for you! Speaking of which, I guess Darnell’s gut also told him not to bring his stuff to Tribal Council because I did not see him bring a bag after he had his torch snuffed.

So there we have it: our first installment of Survivor: Kaôh Rōng! Pretty solid, I’d say, right? I don’t know if anyone knocked my socks off out of the gate as a strategist, but we saw plenty of misery and suffering along with a fun marooning and dynamic opening challenge. Plus, thanks to this being a 90-minute supersize episode, I actually finished the episode with a pretty good sense of who most of the people are, which sometimes can take a while to develop.

But who is my episode 1 pick to win it all? Like I said, since nobody stood out so far in terms of strategic play there’s not a lot to go on, so all I can do is base my guess on how someone may possibly project real-life experience into the game. We know Boston Rob used his poker-playing skills to finally land the million-dollar check, while Parvati blended savvy strategy and expert flirting to claim the top prize. Could professional poker player Anna also possess that same mix of charm and smarts to get her to the end? I HAVE NO IDEA! But I have nobody else to pick at this point so I may as well go with her. Congratulations, Anna! I just picked you to win, thereby ensuring you will not. #DaltonCurse.

That’s bad news for her, but here’s the good news for you: We’re only getting started. We have an exclusive deleted scene in the video player below, and my premiere Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst is now live as well. Unfortunately, there will be no Survivor Talk this season due to some lame logistical issues, but we’ll still have text/podcast exit interviews every Thursday as well, so we’ve still got you covered. And you can also always follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss to have all the Survivor scoop sent directly to your digital doorstep.

But now it’s your turn. What did you think of the premiere? Whom are you loving and loathing so far? And who is your pick to win it all? Weigh in on the message boards below and, as always, I will be back next week with another scoop of the crispy.

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Jeff Probst leads adventures in the ultimate (and original) reality series.

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