One contestant's 'dry mouth', and another's bold move make for the most entertaining first Tribal Council ever.

By Dalton Ross
Updated February 28, 2015 at 12:56 AM EST
Image credit: Monty Brinton/CBS

Survivor

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It’s a Survivor civil war!!! At least that’s what it has seemed like for the past few months ever since it was announced that Russell and Boston Rob were returning to play again. Survivor fans immediately fell into two camps:

Camp 1: Enough is enough! Rob has been on four times now, and this will be Russell’s third time in four seasons. We’re sick of Russell hijacking every season, tired of his “I’m the greatest” mentality, and disgusted by his stupid little hat. And after Rob’s three previous seasons of Survivor, two of Amazing Race, moonlighting as the “Player Operator” on The Player, and starring in that absurd show where he became a professional poker player, did he really think we wanted to see more of him?

Camp 2: Why are you complaining? We all loved Heroes vs Villains, right? And what carried the entire first half of the season was the feud between Rob and Russell. It was the best strategic and social battle we’ve seen in 21 seasons of the show. Why wouldn’t you want more of that? It’s certainly a hell of a lot more entertaining than Chase vs. Dan.

Here’s the thing. Both camps have a completely legitimate point. On one hand, there’s no way you could not enjoy the Russell and Rob feud in Heroes vs Villains. You may have hated one (or both) of them, but it was exhilarating to watch. On the other hand, we’ve already been there, done that. Do we really need to do it again? With all that in mind, I have a totally crazy idea. Let’s actually watch the season and then see how we feel about it. Sure, it could be like one of those classic movies that turn into a laughably bad sequel (I’m looking at you, Grease 2). Or it could be The Empire Strikes Back. Who knows? But judging whether it will be awesome or atrocious before we actually see the damn thing is kind of futile. So let’s have a big group hug and get to our first taste right now. Besides, it can’t be any worse than Survivor: Nicaragua, which had the folks from Fiji taking part in a huge collective high five because they were no longer part of the worst season in Survivor history. And if the crazy, loony, insane, hilarious first Tribal Council we were just treated to is any indication, all should be well. This week I’m in a “hyper state of arousal” as I hit you with a few observations from both the first episode and my time on location for those first few days.

* I love the way Probst donned his hat right before he exited the helicopter. Some people put their game faces on. Probst puts his game hat on.

* Anyone who watched my pregame interviews with the contestants knows that the majority of them were not big fans of Russell. Some of them, like Steve (the former football player) and Mike (the Marine), were downright hostile toward him. So no surprise that he got nowhere near the warm welcome that Rob did. When Rob picked the orange Ometepe buff, the tribe exploded into cheers. I remember being out there and watching the Zapatera tribe at that exact instant, and they were crestfallen. After a few seconds, they recovered and at least put on a brave face, but make no mistake about it, neither tribe wanted Russell.

NEXT: Phillip models the latest in high-fashion underwear

* Even though I was just a few feet away from the opening, the surf was so loud it was difficult to hear what anyone was saying — that’s also thanks to my sucky hearing courtesy of too many years of idiotically standing next to gigantic speakers at concerts. So I was shocked to hear what Franquesca … excuse me, Francesca said when Rob and Russell were introduced. “They’re sizing us up like we’re prey,” she told the group. “They’re troublemakers. I don’t think they’re here just to help us out.” NOT SMART! Don’t get me wrong, she was absolutely on the money in her assessment, but you don’t blab that out right in front of them and automatically put a target on your back. Franquixote … er, Francesca was one of my favorite pregame interviews, and I loved her in this episode. With her quick wit, she had (or has if she can make it back from Redemption Island, which is not likely) the chance to be the next Courtney Yates. But she dug her own grave with that comment.

* I’m pretty sure Mark Burnett just set the Survivor land speed record for product placement in a season with those Craftsman toolboxes. He just wasted no time at all with that one. In much the same way Kristina wasted no time in searching the box for a clue. Thankfully, there wasn’t one in there, as I’ve never been a fan of the whole the-person-who-just-happens-to-stumble-upon-the-clue-gets-it thing. It also leads to mentally unstable physical education teachers knocking over women with one leg, which I believe is frowned upon in most parts.

* Ralph says he’s built cabins and was ready to get crackin’ on the shelter! Of course, he also told me before the game that he could make fire in an instant, and I watched him struggle for an hour with no luck on day 2, so who knows? I do know that Mike telling him “You have the most impressive man sweater I’ve ever seen” was the second-best line of the night.

* The No. 1 line of the night, of course, came from Franquiznos: “How did I get stuck with the old annoying guy in the droopy fuchsia briefs?” Tell me you don’t love that woman.

* We saw Stephanie do her best Natalie and Parvati impersonation and form that early alliance with Russell. What you did not see — but I did while out there — was Russell campaigning hard to get rid of Sarita (although he was having trouble remembering her name). He was working Steve hard on getting rid of her, but Steve didn’t want to hear any of it, telling Russell, “I’m just gonna focus on challenges. Right now, that’s all I’m gonna do — camp and challenges. I don’t want cannibalism inside here right now.” Steve was the most vocal anti-Russell voice before the game began (“Russell was a little idiot,” he told me, while also dubbing him a “cancer” and “the lowest of the low”), so I’ll be very curious to see how that relationship shakes out.

* Phillip! Man, you’re completely bonkers! “Answer my questions! Answer my questions!” Hey, answer my question: How’d you become such a sweet dude? You’re amazingly rude on many levels, yet — not unlike the Dragonslayer himself — you are oddly entertaining as well. I’m not exactly sure why. It could be the aforementioned droopy fuchsia underwear. It could be the fact that you’re really into roller disco. It could be the fact that you insist on repeating that you were a federal agent approximately 516 times per minute. Whatever it is, I am amused. Of course, if I were living out there with you I’d probably want to slash a machete through my own skull, but I’m not, so carry on.

NEXT: All hell breaks loose at Tribal Council

* You saw a lot of Rob with his little harem of longhairs (and I’m including Matt in that group), but don’t overlook Grant. When I was out there, he and Rob were pretty inseparable. Like Russell, Rob usually forms closer alliances with women, but keep an eye on Mr. Dread Head as well.

* Probst called the immunity challenge deceptively hard, and he’s right. I did a run-through with Dream Teamers and other members of the press, and moving those blocks royally sucked. The smaller ones were actually more difficult than the big ones because you had to get so low to push them along. (Like my boy King Ad-Rock said, slow and low is the tempo.) For that reason I figured Zapatera would have a big advantage. Not only did they have an extra man, but Julie is also built like a tank. And sure enough, they smoked Ometepe in that physical part of the competition. But never count Boston Rob out when it comes to puzzles, and he brought his tribe back close to winning. Just not close enough. Imagine if Rob and Russell had ended up on opposite tribes: That could have been one of the biggest ass-kickings in immunity-challenge history. “I know how Boston Rob thinks,” said Russell after his tribe’s victory, “and right now he’s thinking, ‘Oh, crap. I’m stuck with a bunch of weenies.'” Not necessarily. Even with the opening loss, Rob looks a lot more secure to me in his tribe than Russell looks in his.

* Kristina and Franquintuplets are players you want to root for in that they are both strong women. And you have to like Kristina going out and finding the hidden immunity idol without the aid of a clue. But they forgot one cardinal rule of early Survivor gameplay: Go with the flow. Because when you don’t, you end up isolated from the group and having to try to form alliances with people like Phillip. And I can’t think of a worse person to be in an alliance with. And next thing you know, you’re relying on him to save your butt. And next thing you know, you’re having to tell him about the hidden immunity idol you found. And next thing you know, you’re off to Tribal Council…

* …And next thing you know, you are part of the craziest first Tribal Council in Survivor history. Here’s my impersonation of Tribal: “Excuse me. Excuse me. Excuse me. Excuse me. Excuse me. Excuse me. Excuse me. Excuse me. Excuse me. Excuse me. Excuse me. Excuse me. Franquintessential.” First Phillip out of nowhere called Franqui-gon jinn out and said that she and Kristina had asked him to change his vote to get rid of Rob. Then he realized he hadn’t told anyone he was a special agent in 14 seconds, so he did that. Then he told everyone that Kristina had a hidden immunity idol. And then he told everyone about the treatment he was getting for his dry mouth. But the fireworks were just getting started.

NEXT: Rob messes up the voting

* Rob then took the opportunity to make Kristina show him the idol before offering a Sashonian deal: “Give me the immunity idol and you’ll stay.” (Note that Rob had not seen Sash’s play on Marty when he did it, since this filmed in August, before Survivor: Nicaragua aired.) Kristina didn’t bite, though, holding on to the idol. But would she use it? You had to assume she would. On one hand, I have to give her props for boldly not using it. However, had Rob not miscalculated, she would have been on her way to Redemption Island, and here’s why. If you know someone has a hidden immunity idol, you split the vote so if that person uses it, someone else from their alliance still goes home. But you always throw the most votes to the person you think is going to use the idol. That way — either way — the idol is gone. Either the person uses it, or they don’t use it and get voted off with it still in their pocket. But Rob’s plan (if he masterminded the voting, as it appeared he did in the episode) called for all the guys (4) to vote for Franquaalude while the girls (3) voted for Kristina. And now Kristina is still in the game and sill has the idol.

* Have I mentioned how sad I was to see Franquasimodo voted off? Just watching her at Tribal repeat the proper pronunciation of her name to dry-mouthed Phillip — “It’s Francesca” — cracked me up, She’s easily my favorite first person to be voted off. Now we’ll see if she can somehow win her way back into the game. It’s not going to be easy.

* When I interviewed the cast of Nicaragua before the game started, I was not feeling them, and sure enough the season was a stinker. Conversely, I got a very good vibe off the 16 newbies I talked to for Redemption Island, and so far so good. Phillip, Kristina, and Franquarterback stole the show in episode 1, but there are other interesting characters like Ometepe’s three S’s (Stephanie, Sarita, and Steve) who have the potential to make great TV as well. I’m very excited to see how it all plays out, and that excitement at this point has little to do with Rob and Russell.

As always, we have plenty of extra goodies for you. Make sure to click on the video player below, where you’ll find an exclusive deleted scene from last night’s episode as well as my pregame interview with Franquietriot. And we’re doing something a bit different with Jeff Probst this season. The host will be answering a few specific questions about the most recent episode, as well as offering a tease for the following week. Look for that every Thursday morning. (Also make sure to check out the host’s new site, jeffprobst.com, for more Survivor-related content.) And for more Survivor news and views all season long, follow me on Twitter @EWDaltonRoss. So what did you think about the first episode of Redemption Island? Are you rooting for or against Russell and Rob? Did Phillip annoy or amuse you? And which new contestants are you digging the most? Hit the message boards and let us know!

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