Survivor season premiere recap: The Face of Evil
One contestant socks it to the rest of his tribe. Socks…get it? Oh, never mind
Summer’s over. I know this because there are no longer any knuckleheads running around in banana suits or red unitards in the Big Brother house. Yes, I was hanging out in the reality TV minor leagues for a few months, but it’s back to the majors now, people! Julie Chen did an admirable job hosting while preggers, but LOOK! There’s Jeff Probst about to get pummeled by a massive wave! He might even lose his hat in the face of that perfect storm. His hat, for crissakes! Then he’d be risking prolonged sun exposure and who knows what level SPF he’s wearing. For all we know, he’s not wearing any sunscreen at all! THIS IS SERIOUS DANGER WE’RE TALKING ABOUT!
Judging by the way the camera is briskly moving away from the reef, we have to assume the helicopter has either left Jeff Probst to die on a rocky cliff, or he’ll be just fine. But before we get into the rest of the Survivor: Samoa premiere, a few programming notes.
Programming Note #1: Good thing Probst did survive his epic Samoan encounter, because it means he can continue to deliver his must-read weekly blogs here on EW.com. Want insight from the host with the most? Then make sure to get the inside scoop he’s kindly hooking you up with.
Programming Note #2: Deleted scenes. You want ’em. We got ’em. The fine folks at CBS are once again hooking us up with an exclusive deleted scene every week from the most recent episode. You can find them at the end of this here column — don’t skip ahead! — and on Probst’s blog.
Programming Note #3: Another season of Survivor means another season of Survivor Talk! Josh Wolk and I will be grilling each of the losers — uh, I mean contestants — after they are booted out of the game. And we’ll once again be having a few former Survivors stop by to join in the fun. (Amazon winner Jenna Morasca will be in the house for today’s episode.) Installments should go up later on Fridays so check our Survivor video hub around then.
Okay, the contestants look like they’re almost done discussing Shambo’s mullet and paddling to shore. What’s Jeff gonna make them do now? He’s gonna make them pick a leader. The Galu (purple) tribe picked Back Russell, who Erik described as a “better looking Lennox Lewis,” which I suppose is nicer than a “worse looking Milli Vanilli.” In their infinite wisdom, the Foa Foa (yellow) tribe did not pick White Russell, who had already kindly informed us that he wants to make it hell for his entire tribe. Instead, they went with pleasant and instantly forgettable Mick. But Mick did make a very interesting pick when Probst told the leaders they’d have to select who they wanted competing in the tribe’s first reward challenge. Jeff asked Mick to pick his strongest swimmer, and Mick immediately chose Jaison, which no doubt raised eyebrows among his tribemates (Mike, in particular).
Why? Well, this is a touchy one. You see, there’s no gentle way to put this so we may as well just state the facts: black contestants have not always been the strongest swimmers on Survivor. Some haven’t known how to swim at all. I even remember being out in Micronesia and watching Parvati give James swim lessons one afternoon so he could figure it out. I can’t tell you how much I was silently praying before Jaison took to the water — silently because my wife gets creeped out when I talk to the TV screen, and if I am going to start praying to God, it’s probably best that I don’t begin by asking the Big Fella to use His enormous powers to help influence the outcome of a reality TV competition. Please, let Jaison smash this stereotype to smithereens, I thought, and smash he did. Turns out the dude plays water polo! Also turns out it’s pretty easy to outswim someone when they insist on wearing jeans in the water! I don’t know what John was thinking with that outfit. Why not just tie some weights around your ankles as well while you’re at it? Maybe bust out a pair of Heavy Hands?
NEXT: A tale of two Russells
The other bold choice in the team picks was Black Russell’s selection of Shambo as his squad’s smartest player. SAY WHAT?!? Evenshe thought it was a bad call. Look, Tribe-Member-Possessing-Weirdest-Obsession-with-a-1980’s-Cold-War-Movie-Character? That’s Shambo all the way. Tribe-Member-with-Hairdo-Possibly-Holding-Every-Object-Known-To-Man-Not-Unlike-the-Animated-Harlem-Globetrotter-Character-From-the-Old-Scooby-Doo-Cartoons? Again, Shambo’s your gal. But smartest? The jury is still out on that one. (She was too far behind the win the reward challenge puzzle and was part of the winning puzzle team on the immunity challenge, but they started with a healthy lead.)
So after serving up a producer’s dream by making the buxom Marisa and Yasmin crawl around on beams with their breasts hanging out, Foa Foa won flint and headed off to camp. And it was finally time to get to know this villain that CBS has been hyping incessantly for the past few weeks: White Russell. “I didn’t come here to work. I came here to play,” said W.R. as the rest of his tribe got busy constructing a shelter.” But he then did get to work — on the ladies. “It is day one now, and I got an alliance with the dumb short haired blond (Ashley), the even dumber long haired blond (Natalie), and the dark haired girl (Marisa). I like to call it my dumb-ass girl alliance.” Making pacts with people and then calling them idiots behind their back is nothing new in Survivor, so this didn’t necessarily impress me so much. Plus, making so many one-on-one alliances that early in the game can only lead to trouble. Witness his falling out with both Marisa and Betsy (with whom he also had made an alliance) just 3 days in.
But the man with the unfortunate facial hair was just getting started. Later at night we heard him telling a tear-jerking tale about being a firefighter and surviving Hurricane Katrina but losing his beloved German shepherd Rocky. Only thing being, Russell is not actually a firefighter. Nor has he ever lived in New Orleans. Nor has he ever owned a German shepherd. To a lot of people — and especially those who lived through the horror of Katrina — using such a tragedy to further yourself in the game is despicable. I am not one of those people. Lying about your dead grandmother, dead dog, whatever — in this context it does not bother me one iota. Hell, I would kill off my whole family if it got me a step closer to the million dollars. Okay, that didn’t come out right. I wouldn’t actually kill anyone, per se. But I wouldn’t be beyond embellishing personal tragedy for a good ol’ fashioned sympathy vote. I never understand why people in this game don’t lie more about their past. All these folks who show up on day one in suits and talk about how they are lawyers, I just want to shake them and be, like, “What is wrong with you?!? Go with homeless or something and put a Z on the end of your name like my man Dreamz. That’ll get you to the final 3 and you may even score a free car along the way.”
Back to White Russell. Apparently not content to rest on his laurels after his big phoney baloney story, he then concluded that it would be totally awesome to pour out everyone’s canteen water while the rest of the tribe was sleeping. And you know what? It was totally awesome. Random, to be sure. But awesome nonetheless. So, anyway, I’ve noticed over at Foa Foa that…wait, what’s that smell? Do you guys smell something? There’s a certain aroma coming from…OH MY GOD, HE’S BURNING SOCKS! Why the hell is he burning socks? Who does that?!? This doesn’t make any sense. No sense at all. And yet…I love it! “If I can control how they feel, I can control how they think,” explained White Russell. I don’t believe that’s necessarily true (and I doubt Ben and Marisa started getting irritable at each other the next morning just because Russell poured out their water), but faulty logic or not, it’s pretty damn funny. “I’m really a multi-millionaire,” boasted White Russell. “I own an oil company in Houston. I’m not here for the money. I’m only here to show people how easy it is to win this game.” Seeing as how Amber Brkich won Survivor (and an All-Stars season, no less), I would argue that that has already been clearly established, but regardless, have at it, W.R.
NEXT: The tribes get testy
Bad blood is essential for any good Survivor season, and not only were we starting to see it on Foa Foa, but we were also beginning to witness some between the tribes at the outset of the first immunity challenge. First, Black Russell started talking about how great and tough his tribe was, only to be interrupted by Ben (reality television’s sassiest “mixologist” since Big Brother‘s Memphis), who cracked that Black Russell’s speech was from a book called “Things Losers Say.” (I would totally buy that book, by the way.) This prompted Erik to say that he wanted to get the challenge started so he could open some cans of whoop ass. (Not for nothing, but didn’t cans of whoop ass go out of style back in 2004 when Lex tattooed an actual can of whoop ass on his body before Survivor: All-Stars? I’m just sayin’.) The teams would be playing for the all-important immunity idol, which, in this case, looked vaguely like the face of the aliens from District 9.
The challenge involved 6 members of each tribe going over some wooden slopes and then the other 4 figuring out a word puzzle. Galu took a big lead going into the puzzle, only to watch Foa Foa come back in the puzzle, and then fall apart again. The victorious Galuians then did their best to reenact a scene from the Bring it On franchise, breaking out into a celebratory cheer…for themselves. “Galu is the house! Galu! Galu!” (Wow. Original.) Ben and White Russell looked none too pleased about that, ensuring more bad blood and good times to come.
Who would Foa Foa send home? 62-year-old Mike came up with the curious decision to make “strength” his platform and began telling all the other players that they should get rid of the weakest players. This was curious considering that Mike is A) 62 years old. And B) Fell on his butt 2 seconds after paddling to shore at the very start of the game. Him advocating the offing of weak players is like me mounting a full-on campaign against neurotic, reality-TV obsessed nerds with no social life. IT’S SUICIDE, MAN! Meanwhile, Marisa began to get weary of White Russell, which sent the pit bull into immediate attack mode. He went to work on everyone trying to ensure her ouster. Would he succeed?
At Tribal Council, Betsy (who is also rightly suspicious of W.R.) made a case against Ashley, calling her the weakest link. At this point, I realized that there was simply no way around it: Whether it was Marisa or Ashley — either way, a hot bikini-clad sexpot was about to be kicked out of the game. (Thanks a lot, God!) Jeff then asked Marisa who the weakest link was, only to get a stumbling nonsensical answer which oddly caused Ben to blow a fuse (no doubt fueled by his not being on camera for over 60 seconds) and proceed to scream at Marisa to “assert yourself and answer the question. It’s not that hard!” It is when you’re about to be voted out, and sure enough Marisa was sent packing, but not before Ben could point a finger gun at her and fire. Silly Ben. Don’t you know that in this game fire represents life and that until Jeff Probst snuffs Marisa’s torch, she is immune and protected against any and all harm including — but not limited to — finger guns, throat slashing gestures, hand bombs, and, of course…oh, wait, Jeff Probst just snuffed her torch. Never mind. She’s dead.
NEXT: My pick to win Survivor: Samoa
So what to make of episode 1? A few final observations:
* I dig the growing hatred between the two tribes. Galu are clearly setting themselves up as the likeable goofball underdogs.
* The two Russells could not be any more different, and I’m not just talking about the height differential or color of their skin. One wants to bring his tribe together; the other wants to tear his apart. We’ll see which strategy works better, but I already know which one is more fun to watch.
* I like Betsy the cop a lot. In fact, she is my official Episode 1 Pick To Win it All. It’s a risky pick considering that her tribe has already splintered and she appears to be on the short side numbers-wise of that split, but she seems savvy enough to navigate some pretty choppy waters. Plus, no one else is jumping out at me yet. Don’t let me down, woman!
* For a rocket scientist, John does not appear to be playing a very smart game. First, there was the whole swimming in jeans thing, and then he couldn’t shut his yap about the proper way to set up camp. Mind you, I’m not saying that he was wrong with his declarations that “wind needs to be addressed,” but sometimes you have to take the temperature of the tribe and simply back down, even if you know better. After all, what’s the point of annoying everyone into building the proper shelter if you’re not going to be around to enjoy it?
* Judging by the promos for next, things are only gonna get more tense, with one person even getting tossed out of a challenge. Like I said, bad blood makes good TV.
Okay, fellow Survivor freaks: be sure to enjoy Jeff Probst’s EW.com blog, as well as the exclusive deleted scene below. And check back later today for Survivor Talk as Jenna Morasca (who just did an interesting interview about her departure from TNA Wrestling) and I find out from Marisa where it all went wrong. And now it’s your turn. Which tribe are you rooting for? Will White Russell’s evil scheme work or blow up in his face? And who’s your pick to win it all? Sound off on the message boards, and I’ll see ya next week!
[Sorry, video not available]