Dalton Ross was in Nicaragua: His dish on what we saw on TV -- and what HE saw while on location

By Dalton Ross
Updated February 28, 2015 at 01:17 AM EST
Monty Brinton/CBS


S21 E1
  • TV Show

Here’s what you need to know about my summer. I developed a mild obsession with a wisecracking robot. I almost choked to death while moderating a panel at Comic-Con. Oh yeah, and I went down to Nicaragua for a week to bring you some on-location scoop from this upcoming season of Survivor! I’ll sprinkle some of those tidbits into this here recap as we make our way through the premiere episode ofSurvivor: Nicaragua. Season 21! Survivor! It’s GO TIME!

· The first thing out of anyone’s mouth this season was Jud (a.ka. Fabio) marveling at how out in the jungle ”there are no fences like at the zoo.” From what I’m hearing, comedy is going to be a main theme this season (think Keystone Cops), and you can expect Fabio to be in the middle of a lot of it. In this episode alone, you had him trying to pick up a crab (only to then be shocked when it pinched him back) and then staring in wonder at Kelly Bruno’s prosthetic leg and asking, ”Like, how do you tell it to move?” Seeing as how Fabio probably has a little trouble receiving intelligent messages from hisbrain, I can see how he was confused. The dude may not be the brightest bulb, but he does seem like a genuinely likeable and engaging personality.

· Obviously, the opening lacked drama compared to the ”epic” (Mark Burnett’s favorite word in the entire English language) marooning of Heroes vs Villains. Basically, everyone showed up, walked around for a few minutes looking for something, walked back, re-divided themselves, and then left. There was really no good reason to divide the tribes up one way, and then re-divide them up another five minutes later other than to offer the cameras an opportunity to capture obligatory ”OH MY GOD! I CAN’T BELIEVE IT!” shots from the contestants. But for some reason I do find myself amused at how easily and often contestants are amazed by the most unamazing things, so in that sense, I enjoyed it nonetheless.

· Okay, we can’t talk about the opening without getting into the other big twist: the Medallion of Power. When Probst first mentioned the twist to me, I honestly thought he was joking. Seriously, I was sure he was punking my ass for all those times I made fun of his hat and/or sunglasses. I mean, c’mon, it sounds like the title of a freakin’ Dokken album, for crying out loud! And then, when I rewatched the episode at home on television, it was so cheesy that I could swear when he said it that a small pool of Velveeta began congealing under my TV set. Which is why henceforth this twist shall be refereed to as the Medallion of Velveeta. I promise you, I am not trying to be a negative Nancy, but I have serious concerns about the Medallion of Velveeta. As I mentioned to Probst in our interview, I do like it when they force teams to make decisions during a challenge (I keep lobbying — unsuccessfully, I might add — for them to start putting hidden immunity idols into immunity challenges, so contestants must choose whether to play for the team or play for themselves by splitting off to go dig/search for an HII instead), but I honestly don’t see the upside of this one. If a tribe uses it, then we don’t have a fair match and it is less fun to watch. If a tribe does not use it, then, well, what’s the point, other than to have a few typical second-guessing sound bites? Not sold on the Medallion of Velveeta. Hope that I’m wrong. Don’t think that I am.

NEXT: Why Jimmy Johnson needs to go. NOW!

· As for the younger tribe giving up the Medallion of Velveeta for fishing gear and flint, they obviously made the right call since the MOV goes back and forth between tribes anyway. Not knowing what the power was, however, I would have lobbied hard to keep it. And then I probably would have been voted off for my stupidity.

· Big props to Jane for using glasses to make fire. Contestants have become more adept at this over the years, but you still would be shocked to learn how many people — knowing they are going to appear on the show — still make zero effort to teach themselves how to create a flame. Still, doing it without flint is not easy in the least. I’m always impressed when someone succeeds, and I’m impressed with Jane.

· Another contestant that impressed me was Kelly B. the amputee. (Hey, that rhymes! Insensitive?) I really enjoyed my chat with her pre-game, and she was working just as hard and just as efficiently as everyone else at camp when I was out there. Although she certainly didn’t have everyone fooled with the phony leg. Marty and Jill both told me before the game that they could tell she had an artificial limb under her long pants. Poor confused Fabio probably thought she was some sort of scientifically-engineered cyborg sent from the future to hunt down and kill both him and John Connor, future leaders of the resistance movement. And who’s to say he doesn’t still? I worried before the game started that contestants would want to get rid of Kelly rather than risk her winning sympathy votes, and after hearing comments from Alina, Naonka, and Shannon, I think she’s got a hard road ahead of her.

· Survivor producers were beyond psyched to have two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Jimmy Johnson on the show, and for a few reasons. Not only is a he a bona fide celebrity, but he is also perfect for the program in that as a football commentator on TV, he knows exactly how to speak in sound bites. Plus, he’s a genuine fan of the show, has watched from Day 1, and tried to be on twice before. They love him and viewers will no doubt love him as well. BUT NOT ME! Johnson will get no hugs and kisses in this here column for the sole reason that he coached my most-hated team in professional sports: The Dallas Cowboys. First Hogeboom and now this? What are you doing to me, Survivor producers? Is this about me making fun of Probst’s hats again? I’m sorry, but the Guatemala look simply wasn’t happening. I didn’t dress the man! It’s not my fault! As a die hard Redskins rooter, watching Johnson win Survivorwould be the equivalent of… well, there is no equivalent! You could put Survivor: Fiji and Thailand on an endless loop and that would still be more enjoyable than watching the former commander of the evil empire walk away with another title. You are persona non grata in these parts, Johnson! Get your perfect hair and natural born leadership skills out of my face!

NEXT: Why Probst was bummed after the immunity challenge

· Alina and Kelly B. getting the clue to the Hidden Immunity Idol was a bit random, wasn’t it? I liked it when people were sent to Exile Island but got a clue to the HII because it made people strategize as to whom to send there. I was fine with people scoring clues as part of a small group reward challenge because at least they earned the clue by winning the competition. But I’m less crazy about it coming completely down to luck with people stumbling across them in a toolbox, or, in this case, sitting on top of a water barrel. No skill. No strategy. Just blind luck. At that point, why not just do eeny meny miny moe? It’s simply too random for my taste.

· You know what I do like? The new Immunity Idol! That little pint-sized mini conquistador? Dude is a PIMP! Central America style, baby! I would go as far to say that that is the most stylin’ and profilin’ immunity idol in Survivor history. He’s kinda like those goofy Travelocity gnomes that keep popping up on the Amazing Race, only about 5000 percent more badass. Take that, Keoghan! If only you could flip it over to find out you’d also won a jet ski, or a four-night vacation in Aruba, the Amazing Race beatdown would be complete.

· Earlier this week I alluded to the fact that Jeff Probst and the producers were really bummed after the first challenge, and now I can reveal why. When the challenge was designed and practiced multiple times beforehand, it was assumed that the four contestants for each tribe holding the pipes that the gross colored water would flow down would be connecting them diagonally. In other words, when the pipes were all held together, they would look kind of like a big letter Z. But as the tribes set up, the younger guys realized they could reach far enough from their positions and make one, long continuous chute. The older tribe soon copied them, and by the time the challenge was underway, what should have been a dramatic and difficult race with water spilling all over the place turned into two straight efficient streams with little tension. Later, one producer dubbed it ”the worst challenge ever.” That’s an overstatement obviously — might I draw your attention to the dreaded ”S.O.S” competition thankfully abandoned many seasons ago — and I’m guessing while most viewers didn’t love it, they didn’t hate it either. But it certainly didn’t register the impact that the crew was hoping for. Which is precisely what makes reality TV so cool. You can plan all you want, but once you unleash those contestants on a course, the control goes out of your hands and into theirs. And in this case, the contestants actually outsmarted the producers.

NEXT: More challenge and Tribal Council moments you didn’t see

· Another interesting tidbit about the challenge that you did not see on TV: While the women were on the puzzle portion, Jimmy T. did something really, really stupid that I thought just might get him tossed from the game. All of a sudden, he thought it would be a good idea to try to confuse the younger tribe (La Flor, in yellow) by yelling out misdirections. ”Yellow, you’re messing up big time,” he bellowed. ”No! Turn it over! Turn it over!” I guess he was hoping the younger girls would think it was one of their young studs barking instructions. Only problem was that the voice was so unmistakably Jimmy T.’s that all it did was confuse his own tribemates. Jimmy Johnson got testy and had to explain what a moronic thing that was and ordered the other Jimmy to stop immediately. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they lost because of any of this, but if I were looking at weak links after this competition, I would have been looking straight at Jimmy T. And then I’d have to look away, because truthfully, one can only look at Jimmy T. for so long. Purple Kelly? Fine, could stare at her all day. Jimmy T? Not so much.

· Jimmy Johnson didn’t seem very concerned about losing the first challenge, pointing out that his second Super Bowl-winning team lost their first two games. Of course, what he neglected to mention is that they lost those two first games because Emmitt Smith was holding out for a new contract. Emmitt then returned and they went on win it all, but newsflash, Jimmy, unless you picked number 22 as your loved one for a challenge later in the game (and that would be a bit creepy), Emmitt’s not rushing to your rescue any time soon. Although at the rate they keep casting former Cowboys, he could be showing up in season 22.

· Tribal Council. Oh, lordy. Everyone knows that Tribal Council goes on longer than what you see on TV. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. This one went on FOREVER! And mostly because Wendy simply would not shut up. You saw a little of that in the episode when she stopped Probst from getting the voting started so she could tell everyone that, ”I don’t have any blisters on my feet. That will help. Just a little thing to point out.” (???) The truth is, people almost always have their minds made up as to whom they are voting out before they get to Tribal Council, so it wouldn’t be accurate to say Wendy dug her own grave at Tribal. In reality, she was already dead and buried before they got there. But this truly was painful to watch. It was as if Wendy was making up for three days of not talking much by spitting out anything and everything. She particularly went at it with Marty for a while, upset that he did not want to get to know her better. That was the oddest thing. None of anything she said had anything to do with strategy or reasons why it would be beneficial to anyone to keep her around (aside from the lack of blisters, of course). Instead she just wanted to tell everyone how old she was.

NEXT: Wendy is lost… literally

· Speaking of which, I’m with Probst on this one. There are thee things I never ask any woman: 1) How old are you? 2) Would you like to watch my What’s Happening Now!!: The Complete Series DVD? And 3) When are you due? A woman could be 37 weeks pregnant and I stillwouldn’t ask her if she’s expecting for fear of mistaking fat for a fetus. I actually liked Wendy when I interviewed her and found her endearingly quirky (she eats her pets!), but after this display I would’ve voted her out as well, cowboy hat and all.

· One other funny tidbit that I’m surprised didn’t make it on to the show: After Wendy was voted out and began to make her way into the cold blue light of death in the makeshift Nicaraguan cemetery, she… well, she got lost. After walking past a few of the tombstones, she lost sight of the path and just sort of stood there looking around not knowing where to go or what to do. AWKWARD! The only thing that could have made it any more awesome is if zombies had reached up from the graves and pulled her down into the soil to feast on her brains. (The zombies may be sorely disappointed with what Fabio has to offer in this department when his time comes.) In any event, her utter confusion proved to be a very fitting end to her very brief stay.

Now I’m curious to know your first impressions of the cast and season. Personally, I think the older tribe is in major trouble. Their fearless leader Jimmy Johnson is already puking on night number one (suck it, Johnson!), I’ve already shared my thoughts on how disruptive Jimmy T. is, and while they didn’t show it last night, Dan can barely walk and will be a major liability in the challenges. What do you think? And whom do you like and whom do you loathe? Hit the comments section and let us know. And the fun doesn’t stop there. Jeff Probst is once again offering up the ultimate insider’s take with his weekly blog. Plus, we have quite a few goodies for you in the video player below. Check out Probst’s immediate reaction to the first Tribal Council (and see whom he predicts might be voted out next!), as well as an exclusive deleted scene, and my pre-game chat with the one-and-done Wendy. Good stuff all around. And for continuing Survivor news and views all season long, follow me on Twitter @EWDaltonRoss. See ya next week!

[Sorry, video no longer available]

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