Bring on the idols and advantages


S36 E1
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February 28, 2018 at 10:00 PM EST

I don’t believe in ghosts. Nor do I don’t believe in Loch Ness Monsters, yeti, vampires, fairies, werewolves, witches, or — contrary to my Twitter profile picture — zombies. I don’t believe in them because I am not absurd. But I love stories about them. Remember back when the Six Million Dollar Man was battling against Bigfoot? I do. You know why? BECAUSE IT WAS FREAKIN’ AWESOME!!! I watched Buffy. I kept up on True Blood. I may have sampled a Walking Dead episode or two (or 100) in my day. The point is, I love all this stuff, even if it is a bunch of nonsense. And I think I love Ghost Island.

I love the fact that Probst thought up the name before what it actually meant just because it sounded badass. (Incidentally, that’s what happened with another one of my favorite shows, Orphan Black. Co-creator John Fawcett thought of the title first, and then had to backtrack to figure out what it meant.) I love the fact that it honors the show’s rich and deep history. I love the strategy involved in terms of a tribe figuring out whom to send from the other team. I love the strategy involved of trying to get the other tribe to pick or to not pick you to go. And finally, I love the fact that you don’t just go and there’s an idol or advantage waiting for you. Decisions must be made. Risks must be taken. Stakes shall be raised.

I love it all. Or maybe I just love Survivor and have been going through withdrawal symptoms for the past two moths without it. (Which, perhaps, explains why I flooded the market with a truly absurd amount of preview posts — 50! — leading up to the season premiere. They’re all right here.) And while I am not a fan of airing back-to-back episodes (the price we pay to watch BJS infect the Celebrity Big Brother house, I suppose) because I would rather have as many weeks of Survivor as possible, the two hours did help make up for the time we spent apart.

Clearly we have a lot to get to, and while I’ve never been one to condense, well, let’s get right to it and recap this S.O.B. (Since I was there for the first days on location I can throw in some behind-the-scenes intel here and there.) But first — sorry, channeling my inner Chenbot — a trivia question for you. Which Survivor player has appeared on the most seasons of the show? Did you say Boston Rob? Or Rupert? Or Ozzy or Cirie? Wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong. It has to, without a shadow of a doubt, be Erik Reichenbach. The poor guy gave away his immunity once and, like a bad rerun or Black Mirror episode, has been paying for it ever since. I can’t remember the last season that did not begin by showing him handing over his immunity and then promptly being voted out.

And here it happens again, a mere FIVE SECONDS into the season. Erik’s folly is joined by its famous cousin — the f—ing stick — about a minute later and we are off to the races. By the way, big shout out to the production team once again for that slow-motion shot in the intro of Morgan and Wendell running up a net in the water while a bird flies by. It’s a small touch, totally insignificant on some levels, but soooo significant on others. Survivor is the most gorgeous show on network television and I love images like this that flaunt it.

Instead of the contestants being thrown off a boat (which has been the norm of late) they arrive on a beach and are welcomed by an orange-hat-adorned Jeffrey Probst, who is about to hit them with more information than any human can possibly handle. That’s because there is an opening reward challenge, but the rules are so confusing it is like reading the fine print on the annual grocery store Monopoly game that ruins my life for two months every year.

Basically it comes down to this: Each tribe picks a leader who then selects a jock athlete and a nerd puzzle solver. They are then told they will start the season with a machete, a pot, rice, and a fishing kit. HOWEVER, the winners also get a massive shelter-building kit while the losers do not receive their fishing gear. HOWEVER, if a tribe leader thinks they are going to lose, he can forfeit the challenge during a limited amount of time during the puzzle and keep the fishing gear. HOWEVER, that means the winners also get 20 eggs and a flint to go with their shelter-building kit. HOWEVER…no, wait, I think that’s actually it. Unless a partridge in a pear tree is somehow involved, and at this point it very well may be.

So again, that is a lot to take in, but once you take it in you realize…that’s kinda awesome. I’m always pushing the producers to force contestants to make difficult decisions in the game, and doing so here with a running clock in the form of sand falling out of a bottle is dramatic as hell. That’s a great way to start the season.

And it plays out exactly as the producers must have dreamed as Chris pulls the lever, causing all of Naviti’s tiles to go crashing to the ground just as time is about to expire. Being there, it looked like he made the right call. Even though Naviti started with a lead on the puzzle because Michael faded getting over the obstacles for Malolo — looking like a punch-drunk Apollo Creed going up against Ivan Drago while James Brown watched ringside — Desiree appeared lost on the slide puzzle. From my admittedly limited vantage point, Laurel seemed to be more in control.

So Naviti looked likely to lose. And while strengthening the other tribe with eggs and flint is a bummer, you need that fishing gear. So while I would absolutely fault Chris for volunteering to be the leader — a clear rookie mistake if ever there was one; just ask Jeremy from San Juan del Sur — I too would have pulled that lever in his shoes…or flip flops, as it were.

A few other interesting on-the-scene notes about this challenge. Brendan was actively (but not annoyingly) offering advice to Laurel on the puzzle while Chris stayed absolutely silent. Also, Michael was really hurting after that challenge. While Probst addressed the tribes after, Michael was kneeling down on the ground unable to stand. Jacob was attending to him and finally alerted Probst to it. Jeff asked if Michael required medial attention but Michael refused it, saying he thought he would be okay…and he was. However, it was interesting seeing how quickly he was felled by what appeared to be an easy enough section of the challenge — but clearly was not. Survivor, man. Ass-kicker. Let’s now head over to the camps to see what’s what. (Recap continues on next page)

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