Russell says you’d have to be a dummy to try and be a leader in this game. So what the hell is he doing?

By Dalton Ross
Updated February 27, 2015 at 11:39 PM EST
Image Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

Hey, everyone! Welcome back. Hope you had a great summer! And if you did have a great summer, make sure to log onto Twitter right now and tweet out #HADAGREATSUMMER! Don’t you feel pretty cool now? If so, tweet out #FEELINGPRETTYCOOL. Yeah, that’s the stuff. Oh, hold on a second. I was reaching for my remote to mute the TV and knocked over my beer and now have to clean it up. That ever happen to you? If so, or if you think that may possibly ever happen to you at any point in the future, make sure to tweet out #REACHINGFORMYREMOTETOMUTETHE-TVANDKNOCKEDOVERMYBEERANDNOW-HAVETOCLEANITUP. Hell yeah! Let’s get that mofo trending toot suite! You’re now part of the social media conversation!

Social media kicks so much ass. I know it does because I watched The Voice one time and they had a “Social Media Correspondent” who asked the contestants insightful questions like “What makes you so awesome?” that were tweeted in by fans. Totes legit. No way Carson Daly could have come up with that on his own. It seems CBS also discovered this phenomenon recently as they began peppering Big Brother broadcasts with annoying hashtagged phrases like #QUACKPACK, #SILENTSIX and #SLOPDATE in the misguided hopes that the audience would mindlessly obey and begin placing such tags to the end of their tweets. (Perhaps they may have gained some traction had they instead come up with hashtags like #SHANEHASONEBRAINCELL, #IANCANNOTSTOPPACING, and #MIKEBOOGIEBOTOX.)

But Big Brother is a low rent guilty pleasure. Surely they would not sully the screen of the gold standard of reality television with such things. Of course they would! Okay, it wasn’t as egregious as #ANGIEHASENORMOUSBOOBS or #PENNERHASENORMOUSBOOBS, but still, seeing #IMMUNITYIDOL and #IMMUNITYCHALLENGE pop up on screen like we’re supposed to start tweeting that out for some reason was kind of lame. Were these there last season? If so, they feel even more intrusive now.

You know why I’m bitching about stupid hashtags? Because that’s all I have to bitch about after watching the first episode of Survivor: Philippines. No, it wasn’t a feast of jaw-dropping insanity like the Redemption Island season opener (although you all know I feel that season ultimately disappointed). But the premiere (hopefully) confirmed my hunch after meeting the cast and spending the first few days on location that this would indeed be a solid season. The table is pretty well set up for the next few episodes. Already you have one tribe (Kalabaw) uniting against its returning player, another tribe (Tandang) with an instant alliance that is already showing some cracks, and a third tribe (Matsing) with an intriguing awkward hug alliance between a sex therapist and a bartender. And with three tribes, we hopefully won’t have to worry about any five person day one alliances making the entire season super predictable. What I’m saying is, so far, so good.

And with that, let’s get to it, starting from the very top. We begin with Captain Jeff Probst steering a boat out in the Pacific Ocean. What is he doing? Joyriding? Searching out males for his “Guys on the Couch” talk show segment? (Say yes, people!) No, he is en route to meet the 15 suckers new contestants set to do battle for Survivor: Philippines. And they too are on a boat. A much, much slower boat. HOLY CRAP! NOW THERE’S A THIRD BOAT! WHAT IS THIS, A FREAKIN’ ARMADA?!? This boat carries three players who were medically evacuated from previous seasons — Michael Skupin, Jonathan Penner, and Russell Swan — along with two other dudes who are just, you know, hangin’.

NEXT: What you didn’t see at the marooning

This first new player we hear from is Jeff Kent, who tells us about how he used to be a big baseball star. We also hear from Lisa Whelchel, who tells us about how she used to be a big sitcom star. And we actually hear from someone we have never heard of before. It’s Zane, who immediately launches into a speech on the merits of strangling young girls. (Yikes! Perhaps we should just stick to famous people from here on out.)

After a montage of folks vomiting, passing out, and getting slammed to the ground, Russell Swan tells us that, “Last time, Survivor smacked me in the chops. And this time, I’m smacking back.” People strangling children and smacking reality TV shows? What the hell is going on? All three boats finally converge, with Probst introducing the newbies to the returnees. He then apparently decides he’s done with all this boat business and kicks everybody into the water, giving them a mere 60 seconds to grab whatever they can. “10 seconds left!” Probst yells at one point. “Before what happens?” yaps Penner back in a classic Penner moment.

I love seeing contestants kicked off a boat. It used to be regular thing on Survivor, but we haven’t had it in quite a while. My favorite part, however, is not the shot of Carter tossing a chicken onto the Kalabaw raft. Nor is it seeing Jeff Kent sliding down and busting his knee. No, my favorite part is the shot of the shark circling on the ocean floor — a shot meant to convey imminent danger, but no doubt filmed on some other day in some other part of the ocean. Awesome.

BONUS INSIGHT! So, I was there for the marooning and one thing you did not see is that after all three tribes left on their rafts, there was still one chicken on the boat. Penner swam back to retrieve it, but was not allowed on the boat, so had to wait until the chicken — while scurrying away from camera crews still on board — got close enough to the edge where he could grab it. You’d figure that would put Penner in his tribe’s good graces. But you would be wrong. Okay, let’s hit the tribe beaches!

MATSING

Russell is so smart. He says there is always “some idiot” that tries to immediately take charge and be a leader. That person is a “dummy,” says Russell. Russell has a completely different strategy in mind. Instead, he’s gong to immediately take charge, be a leader, and refuse to hear any input or suggestions from the rest of the tribe. Brilliant! In Russell’s defense, however, these people should listen to him. At least when it comes to setting up camp. The guy has done it before, and done it well in that his tribe had a huge numbers advantage until he decided to take a little snooze during a challenge.

Not to imply the rest of the tribe has no idea what they’re doing. Check out Micronesia Malcolm. He says he knows how to make fire, and make fire he and Russell do. Having fire that early is a huge advantage. They’re totally going to be well fed and well hydrated and kick ass in the challenge now. Just you watch!

NEXT: Zane goes alliance crazy

Later, we see Zane make alliances with Denise, Roxanne, Angie, Russell, Malcolm, the shark allegedly swimming under the marooning boat, Barry Bonds (who still hates Jeff Kent), Tootie (who always thought Blair Warner was a bit of a prima donna), and the Twitter hashtag symbol. Seriously, Zane just set the land speed record for number of alliances made. Which is bizarre because in my pre-game interview — when he was not going off on how much he hates sprinkles (see video at end of recap) — he talked about how if he made an alliance with someone he would never ever turn on it. Hard not to do when you promise “to the end” with everyone. (P.S. Sprinkles rule.)

Meanwhile, Malcolm and Denise have their own alliance rocking, consummated with a truly awkward hug, which I suppose is what you should expect when a sex therapist hugs a shirtless bartender in front of a camera capturing the image for all of America to see.

KALABAW

Jeff Kent’s knee is not feeling too sweet after he injured it on Project Get The Hell Off The Boat. But unlike Major League Baseball, in which he could just go on injured reserve and collect his money, here it’s a case of No Play = No Pay. Kent proves he can be just as ruthless on the island as the diamond, however, when he gathers the tribe (minus Penner) and says, “If anybody’s gonna win this game it ought to be one of us.”

The tribe seems to agree with this sentiment, with Dana the southern tomboy particularly liking the cut of Jeff’s jib. Dawson, however, knows something the others do not. Her baseball-loving ex-boyfriend is still proving useful, having passed on his encyclopedic knowledge of mustache-sporting second basemen. She keeps this information to herself, however, leaving it as a card to play should she need it. Smart. Speaking of smart, Penner knows he is on the outs, and one thing you did not see in this episode but I saw while out there is him not only looking for the hidden immunity idol, but collecting pieces to make a fake one as well (see the video here).

TANDANG

OMG! Are you an executive assistant? Me too! Let’s be besties! YAY!!! And hence an alliance is born. And while RC and Abi-Maria are busy getting acquainted, America is getting acquainted with the most haunting laugh this side of Rachel Reilly. Mark my words, you will be having nightmares and waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat with the sound of RC’s cackle ringing in your head. I’m not dissing and dismissing, however. I totally dig RC. I think she’s a gamer and has the big personality to match. (Plus, she showed up for our pre-game interview wearing 6-inch heels that could poke a hole in my brain Playboy Club style, which both confused and amused me. Speaking of being confused and amused, I have to thank Stephen Fishbach for bringing this outstanding video of RC, Angie, and Katie to my attention.)

NEXT: The facts of life are that Lisa is already on the outs

These girls are SO excited and bubbly about being in an alliance together that there is little doubt it can only go horribly wrong at some point. Of course, a two person alliance is not going to go anywhere, so they decide to bring in Mike Skupin and the Taylor Lautner lookalike. Skupin makes sense in that he is likable, a good worker, and a solid challenge competitor. As for Team Jacob…well he has…um, pretty muscles? Skupin is taken aback by the “three minute alliance” and I am taken aback as well by how fast my 1980s crush Lisa Whelchel has been ostracized by her tribe. They’re messing with the pride of Eastland Boarding School for Girls!

SIDE NOTE: Jeff Probst took a bit of heat last week for saying in an interview with me that Lisa’s biggest obstacle would be her age. This got me wondering: Is older age — and, mind you, Lisa’s age of 49 only makes her “older’ in the Survivor universe — more of a hindrance for women than men? After all, Probst didn’t seem to think being 50 would be a problem for Skupin or Penner. Well, because I’m a nerd and have nothing better to do, I conducted a little research. And here’s what the facts and figures tell me: There have been 24 Survivor winners (which counts Sandra Diaz-Twine twice). 13 of those winners have been men and 11 (again, including Sandra twice) have been women. The average age of the male Survivor winners has been 32.3 years old, while the average age of the female Survivor winners is 28.9 years old. So, statistically speaking, older men have had more success than older women. Even if you threw out 57-year-old Bob Crowley — and kept the oldest woman winner (40-year-old Tina Wesson) — the male winners would still be on average almost a year and a half older. I’m not making commentary one way or another on this. I just felt it was worth looking at the numbers, so there you have it. Draw your own conclusions on what — if anything — it means.

The young women here, of course, have no idea of Lisa’s past, and they raise no further questions when Lisa tells them of her mom ministry, and nothing more. But Skupin knows, and asks Lisa why she isn’t flaunting her Facts of Life resume. Lisa explains that she doesn’t think it’s the best move and I tend to agree with her. It’s nice to see Skupin making an attempt to get her on the ins as opposed to the outs. Here’s hoping the two of them can work more together. That is if Skupin doesn’t kill himself first. The man who fell in the fire his first time out is now proving himself to be a bona fide Captain Klutz — hurting his finger, gashing his head, cutting his foot, and then stabbing another finger with a machete. Hey, Mike Skupin — stop trying to kill Mike Skupin! (P.S. Zane totally wants to make an alliance with you.)

Skupin is also behind his fellow returnees in another department — he’s the only one who has yet to find a clue to the hidden immunity idol. Penner and Russell both found the clues, but have yet to figure out the idol itself is in the top of the rice container (which Probst told me before the game began). Happy hunting, gentlemen!

NEXT: Our first challenge, and it is a doozy

Off to the immunity challenge we go. Excuse me, I mean #IMMUNITYCHALLENGE. Let me tell you a little bit about this challenge. Namely, it’s brutal. Especially the second leg for the two people that need to paddle out, dive down, unhook a ridiculously heavy box, and then push it back a few hundred yards to shore. I know this because I did it myself along with the super badass Dru Moorhouse as part of a challenge rehearsal. If you have strong swimmers, or strong people in general, that’s the leg you put them on. (Unfortunately our team had neither, so Dru and I were the least egregious options.)

I mention this only to further illustrate how poorly Russell did in picking out who did which leg of the contest. First off, he put a Miss Teen beauty pageant contestant on the puzzle. Now, I’m not trying to besmirch the intelligence of beauty pageant contestants, but listen, she said herself that she sucked at puzzles! If a beauty pageant contestant with fake boobs tells me she’s no good at puzzles, I’m going to lean towards believing her. Maybe that’s just me. Yet, Russell insisted on putting her there! Then, he put a guy who just quit smoking two days ago on the running portion. This run was not particularly hard or long, but it was a run. Again, not smart. Then, if you’re going to take control of who does what, put yourself on the paddle/swim leg, because that leg requires the most strength and endurance. Now, maybe Russell’s not the strongest swimmer. I don’t care. The guy is cut and is a former personal trainer. He needs to be on the most physically challenging leg, and that by far is the most physically challenging leg. (I know. I almost died doing it. We won. But I almost died.)

So of course, his tribe loses (with Denise being the only woman on all three teams out in the water) and now the pressure is not on her or Angie or Zane or Roxanne. It’s on Russell. Because he shut down anyone else making suggestions and took control of the decision-making process. If only someone else could idiotically shift the blame back on themselves. Oh, hi, Zane! “Three days in, brother, and I ain’t built for it. I deserve to go.” Well, if you’re going to be so stupid as to volunteer to leave on day 3, then yes, you do deserve to go.

But wait, does Zane really want to go? Now he’s claiming it is all a Machiavellian ruse to see if he is indeed running the tribe as he thinks he is. WHAT?!? That doesn’t even make any sense whatsoever. “I’m playing chess the best way I know how,” he says. Well, then you, sir, are a pretty crappy chess player. Hold on, do you even know what chess is? I’m starting to suspect that you think you know what chess is, but what you think is chess is something else entirely, like, I don’t know…stabbing yourself in the skull. Just to be absolutely clear — stabbing yourself in the skull is not chess. (Incidentally, Probst has a very interesting take on this in our weekly Q&A.)

NEXT: My episode 1 pick to win it all. Plus: A deleted scene and Probst reacts to Tribal Council

At #TRIBALCOUNCIL, Zane compares Russell to an onion because it makes him cry when he peels back all his layers and realizes what a much better player he is. Not for nothing, Zane, but I’m pretty sure Sonja Christopher is a much better player than you are too. The question becomes whether the tribe would rather have someone who can be a bit bossy or someone that literally asked to be dragged across the finish line in a challenge. “I quit smoking the day I got out here,” says Zane, who apparently thought it was Halloween and that he should try on his best Shane Powers costume. They wisely choose to keep Russell, sending Zane home. “I honestly thought I had this whole game figured out,” Zane tells us. Of course you did.

And our first episode of Survivor: Philippines is in the books. Now is the point where I have to make my episode 1 pick to win it all. Last season it was between Kim and Chelsea and I chose Chelsea. Whoops! This time out, I’m going to play the percentages. Every single time they have brought back returning players, one of those players has made the finals. Every damn time! And looking at the three they brought back here, Mike Skupin seems to be the most secure by far. I worry about whether he’ll be able to be sneaky enough to backstab if and when he needs to, but he’s a super likeable, hardworking guy who can win challenges, so if he does make it near the end, watch out!

Think we’re done? Not by a long shot, because we have goodies galore for you this week. Not only do we have an exclusive deleted scene from last night’s episode in the video player below, but we also have an instant Tribal Council react from Jeff Probst in which he breaks down what happened and makes a prediction for the next person to go. Did someone mention Jeff Probst? Because we’ll be starting up our weekly Q&As this Friday morning right here on EW.com. And to have Survivor news delivered right to your virtual doorstep, just follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss. Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the premiere? Who do you already love and loathe? Hit the message boards to let us know, and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy!

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