Survivor 44 premiere recap: Destruction, terror, and mayhem
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Three medical interventions in the first three days of the game. The first two challenges of the season brought to a screeching halt midway through both competitions. A Shot in the Dark successfully played for the first time in Survivor history… even though there was absolutely no reason whatsoever for it to be played. Only one successful vote cast at a Tribal Council. Someone named Yam Yam.
All of that takes a backseat, my friends. It all takes a backseat to what has to be the weirdest opening in Survivor history. No, I am not talking about the fact that the Survivor 44 intro featured a gloriously random trifecta of Shambo, G.C., and Edna Ma shots. Before that! I'm talking about the very first shot of the season.
Survivor did something it has never done before: It took us inside a confessional interview, meaning it gave us an interaction between a producer and contestant as they began filming an interview. "Alright Carolyn, you ready…" the producer asked. (Why the producer was mic'd up in the first place is anyone's guess.)
"So I'm just, like, talking?" Carolyn responded, having no idea what to do or say. I similarly have no idea why they chose this moment to start the season seeing as how it seemingly has nothing to do with anything. Which is precisely why I dig it so much. Survivor loves to have big dramatic intros, and we love to watch them. Australian Survivor, in particular, has gone SUPER over-the-top lately in their insane season intros. So to start on this completely random, goofy note felt so refreshingly unexpected.
What was the point of it? Was it to show how these green contestants have no idea what is in store for them? Was it to foreshadow how deliciously looney tunes Carolyn — who later got her very own montage of wacky facial expressions and screams — is going to be out there? Or was it merely an inside joke between editors that someone forgot to take out before they sent the final cut to CBS? It matters not! Because it was amazing. Of course, it also got me wondering what we didn't get to see and how the rest of that interview went. I am guessing it was a little something like this…
PRODUCER: "Okay, Carolyn, start off by telling us a little something about yourself."
CAROYLN: "Well, I'm Carolyn. Not Carol Ann. And not Caroling like you're going out Christmas caroling. OH! Do you want me to sing a Christmas carol? I could do 'Good King Wenceslas.' Wait, I don't know that one. [Random scream] ACKKKKKKKKKKKKK! What's a Wenceslas, anyway? Wenceslas. Wenceslas. Wenceslas. ACKKKKKKKKKKKKK!"
PRODUCER: "Um, Carolyn. Just tell us where you're from, what you do… you know, stuff like that."
CAROLYN: "Where I'm from? Maybe I'm from Wenceslas. Maybe you're from Wenceslas! [Random scream] BLOACHKRYGVJHBLKJECH! Nanu-Nanu. Shazbot!"
PRODUCER: "No, seriously, I need you to tell me where you're from or I'm going to get fired."
CAROLYN: "Fired? Are you crazy? I'm going to make you famous. You're going to be the very first voice they hear on this season thanks to me!"
PRODUCER: "They're not going to hear my voice. I'm not even mic'd up."
CAROLYN: "You are now!
PRODUCER: "Wait, what? How did that happen?"
Before I go set up approximately 100 new fan accounts on social media dedicated to the walking supercut that is Carolyn (possible fan account social media handle titles: @carolstan & @carolynmanuelmiranda) I suppose I better recap the other big moments from the high-octane, action-packed two-hour premiere of Survivor 44. And you know what I always say: There ain't nothing to it but to do it.
Is there a doctor in the house?
Let me start by saying that I hope Dr. Will is filing for serious overtime for all the work he put in on these first three days. Hell, Dr. Will got more screen time than poor Josh in the premiere. And Josh almost died when he was a kid! That is like sad story catnip for producers! I also kind of feel bad for Dr. Will knowing that no matter how many medical maladies pop up during his tenure on Survivor — and he's working at a hell of a pace so far — that he will only ever be the second most famous Dr. Will to come out of reality TV, and If you don't know the first, that clearly means you take pride in expecting the expected. (It also means that you, unlike me, have an actual life outside of watching strangers lie, cheat, and steal for our amusement.)
The season premiere set a land speed record for injuries and proved that Survivor is definitely a contact sport. It was almost as if the contestants showed up and Jeff Probst was like, "F--- it. We're just going to have you all play Schmergen Brawl until only one of you is left and they can have the million dollars. See ya, suckers!" Let's take each of the scares one by one. Starting with…
This one hurt. I don't mean physically. Well, I do mean physically in that it obviously hurt him when it happened, but it also hurt for us to see a player pulled from the game after injuring himself just minutes into the season. Brutal. Let's set the scene.
The contestants were welcomed to the game, said their pleasantries, and Yam Yam offered to hold anyone's puke should there be a reason to do that. Then it was time for the first reward challenge, with players running through obstacles to collect puzzle pieces, complete a puzzle, and then release rings from a tall pole — the last part of which looked pretty easy unless your name was Carolyn and you were wearing pants. Or if your name was Carolyn and you weren't wearing pants.
But back to the obstacles, because it was under one such obstacle that Bruce dove and bonked his head on the structure. You immediately knew it was bad. You knew it was bad because the show suddenly shifted into super dramatic slo-mo mode. You also knew it was bad with all that blood dripping ominously from Bruce's head. That was a mild tip-off.
Being the competitor he is, Bruce collected himself and finished his portion of the challenge, but the problems were just beginning. As players worked on the puzzle, Bruce felt lightheaded and went down. Probst — who had been multitasking like a boss in monitoring Bruce's condition while calling the action — stopped the challenge. Next thing you knew, the oxygen mask was on, the umbrella was up, and players' hands were over players' mouths as they contemplated what could (and would) become the earliest medivac in Survivor history.
Bruce rebounded well enough for the challenge to continue, but any hopes that he would be okay were dashed when later that night he started getting terrible headaches. Hey, I'm not a doctor, and no diagnosis was given on the show, but considering that he took a nasty hit on the head and then had terrible headaches later, it certainly had the look and feel of a concussion. Whatever it was, it was bad enough that doctors and Probst were back on the scene, pulling Bruce from the game. "I wanted this so bad," Bruce told the host, to which Probst responded, "I am so sorry. I am genuinely heartbroken for you."
You know what? I believe him. Probst looked heartbroken — heartbroken for this guy who put his life on pause to pursue his dream, and then had to watch that dream come crashing down simply because he didn't duck his head low enough mere minutes into the season. On the official Survivor brutality meter, it's not quite Pat Cusack getting injured during a boat ride back to the beach, but it's not too far off either. (It does seem, though, as if Bruce may have a happy ending after all.) However, we weren't done with medical scares. Not by a longshot.
Down goes Matthew!
So, we knew this was coming ever since the season 44 teaser first aired back in December, but that didn't make it any easier to watch. Matthew — as opposed to Matt, who is a different dude with the same name — was getting a sweetheart edit this week. We saw him push his body to the brink dragging coconuts with Brandon in the "Sweat" challenge. We saw him making fire, and building the shelter, and finding a crab for dinner. We also almost saw him die.
Now, I didn't exactly catch everything that happened here because I was one-hundo P watching in between my fingers like a pathetic scaredy-cat… even though, again, I ALREADY KNEW IT WAS COMING! But as far as I can tell, Matthew was climbing to the top of some big rock for no apparent reason other than to complete his island badass montage… and then he fell. He fall hard. He fell fast. Apparently, he dislocated his shoulder and then popped it back in, Stephenie LaGrossa style. (Check out the footage I shot of that on Heroes vs. Villains, by the way. Steph is such a badass.)
Even with his shoulder popped back in, Matthew had problems. His shoulder was still hurting and in a makeshift sling, his hands were sliced up, and his foot resembled a war zone. (Thankfully, his beard still looked absolutely perfect.) Matthew was beating himself up after for taking a completely needless risk that almost knocked him out of the game, but I get it. Hell, I once scaled a similarly treacherous rock at the end of a long day out at Survivor: Philippines. Why? Because it was there and I guess I thought I would look cool sitting on top of it or something. I don't know. I was an idiot. The point is, these people are there living out an adventure, and sometimes adventures require being adventurous. That said, here's hoping Matthew does not channel his inner Ozzy anymore. Unless, of course, that means opening up an Only Fans account.
"Unprecedented body damage for day 2 of Survivor," said Kane, not even realizing Bruce had been medivaced from the game. Nor did he know what was to come on day 3.
The (medical) hits keep coming
There are some things that don't look as hard on TV as they actually are. Digging is one. Anytime you see someone digging extensively in a Survivor challenge, pity them. Look no further than that first challenge on Gabon or the one that knocked three people out in Kaoh Rong to serve as Exhibit A as to the suckiness of such activity.
Another brutal element that does not get the respect it deserves is whenever John Kirhoffer and his challenge producing team get straight up evil and make players use a rope to pull a chest up and down a zig-zaggy track. I'm pretty sure I still have skin missing on my hands from doing that in a challenge run-through 6 years ago. Also, it should be noted that I am a pathetic weakling, so anything involving strength is problematic for me. It should also be noted that you most likely had already noted my weakness as I rambled on about how hard challenges are. Whatever. They are.
Anyway, the rambling is to point out that Brandon was most likely done in by getting that giant chest out of the water and through the ramp when he sat down and said he could not get up. Big guy like that who needs calories out in the sun pushing his body to the max? It'll happen.
I do wonder how much water he was drinking. For all the incessant talk on Survivor about going to the water well, many players simply forget to keep rehydrating out there. Jackson Fox, who was medically evacuated at the start of Survivor 42 told me that he only drank half a container of water the first two days of the game. Think about that! He was out in the elements, hot sun, working hard to set up camp, and he only drank a half of container of water in two days! Sometimes when you get out of a routine, it takes some time to set up a new one, and Brandon's struggles (feeling lightheaded and cramping up) looked like classic dehydration. (Again, not a doctor.)
So Probst had to stop another challenge as Dr. Will sprung back into action, mentally high-fiving himself for all the airtime he was scoring while dreaming of his own eventual spin-off series: Dr. Will You Marry Me? This time, Dr. Will looked Brandon over and was all "Whatevs, just go lie down in the shade for a bit. Your team's totally gonna lose the challenge anyway. NBD." And, unlike Bruce, Brandon did seem to be okay eventually.
But can you imagine what would have happened had Survivor had three medical evacuations in its first three days? That's some serious Squid Game type stuff right there. I hate the thought of it… until I consider that it might possibly necessitate a return to the far mightier final two format that only rears its beautiful, misunderstood head once too many players quit or are injured in the line of duty.
But no, Brandon was fine. If he could survive the vote, that is. But before we get to that, let's hit the other two big premiere wrinkles that didn't involve medical interventions.
Rage in the cage
I will not be cagey on this. I will speak loud, and I will speak clearly on the subject of producers placing a random locked birdcage in each of the three camps with a mystery bag inside. And I will say this: loved it. Absolutely loved it. Now, I have no idea why Brandon told everyone on Ratu he found the key and then opened the cage right in front of everybody. The worst part about that terrible decision is that it happened before he got dehydrated so he can't even blame it on lightheadedness.
And when Brandon did open that mystery package, he revealed it to be a hidden immunity idol and a fake idol that could be used for nefarious purposes. Obviously, that's not want producers wanted. They wanted someone to find that key and sneak back and take that bag while alone and then everyone freak out and wonder who had the prize and what the prize was. And the paranoia and suspicion that would arise out of that would be TV gold. Which is why I love the concept.
Of course, had Brandon been really smart, here's what he would have done:
Step 1: Don't tell Maddy.
Step 2: Don't tell anyone.
Step 3: Go drink water. Lots of water.
Step 4: Open the cage alone, take the idol and fake idol out of the bag.
Step 5: Put some rocks in the bag so it looks full.
Step 6: Put the rock filled bag back in the cage.
Step 7: Relock the cage.
Step 8: Go drink more water. Seriously!
Step 9: Throw the key into the ocean so the tribe thinks nobody ever got anything out of the cage and can't open it themselves to check.
Thus concludes my Ted Talk.
Risk it for the biscuit
Another season, another "journey." But once again, a bit different. Sarah, Matt, and Lauren hopped on boats that took them to Journey Island, which is, sadly, not an island dedicated to 1980s arena rockers, but instead something I just made up because I have no idea what else to call it. After a walk during which they got to know each other but was evidently not interesting enough to make it to television, the three were told to pick a path and make a decision.
What I found intriguing about this incarnation of the risk/reward journey is that the paths were each different. The reward was not the same for each. Basically, each player had to reach into a bag of three packages. Two said "lose your vote" and the third was a secret advantage. However, if you pulled a lost vote, you had the option to draw again and either lose a second vote, or gain the advantage.
While the preview for next week makes it look as if Matt may end up lucky in love on Survivor, he certainly wasn't lucky in the game, losing two votes. DOH! Sarah lost a vote as well, but she drew again and won an Inheritance Advantage, which sounds vaguely like something that they don't want taught in Florida schools.
Here are the rules, as printed on the parchment: "Congratulations, you have earned the Inheritance Advantage. This allows you to secretly inherit all advantages and idols played at one Tribal Council. You must declare your intention to play this at the voting booth. Any advantages and idols played at that Tribal Council will become yours with full power. The last time this can be used is when there are seven players left in the game."
So, if you're like me — and let's pray to the Survivor gods you are not — you're still a bit confused. Does that mean when people play their idols and advantages, they work and then later secretly go back into play under the possession of the Inheritance Advantage holder? Does it mean when they are originally played that they are immediately null and void but go into the Inheritance Advantage holder's pocket?
There are like 18 more variations of how this could play out that I won't bore you by listing, but I needed clarity, so I went to Hostmaster General Probst to deliver the official answer on how this advantage works. Here's what he told me: "The way this advantage works is any idols or advantages that are played at that Tribal Council have full power to the holder. So they play as normal. But once they are played, and Tribal is over, those same idols or advantages are secretly given to the holder of the advantage with the same full power." So there you have it. Straight from the source!
Meanwhile, Lucky Lauren won an advantage on her first pull. Unfortunately, her Bank Your Vote Advantage is not as powerful as the Inheritance one. It allowed her to secretly not vote at one Tribal Council and instead take that blank parchment and use it as a second vote at a future Tribal Council. Like I said, not as powerful, but still pretty cool.
Lauren actually had the groundwork all laid out for a smart lie to her tribe by telling them that she had her lost her vote. It was smart because they would be able to count votes at the first Tribal and see that she, in fact, did not vote, seemingly confirming her story. That would (falsely) prove she was telling the truth. The only thing Lauren didn't count on was Bruce being medivaced, meaning people would be sitting out the challenge and could swap notes, which Claire and Matthew did. But Lauren's subterfuge ended up being way down the list of interesting things that happened a truly wacky Tribal.
To vote or not to vote?
So there was some weird Survivor math going on with the Ratu tribe at this week's Tribal. Six people. Yet only three votes cast. And only one successful vote. Let's break it down. First off, Lauren used her Bank Your Vote, so did not vote and took the parchment for another day.
Matthew used his Shot in the Dark, meaning he would not vote and instead pull a scroll for a 1 in 6 chance at safety. I guess I can kind of understand that decision. There seemingly was a majority alliance working against him and Brandon (if he was staying true to the coconut-dragging alliance he formed on day 1), and with his injury, he could have legitimately worried that they might have viewed him as a liability in upcoming challenges. He may have also worried about a split vote plan and him going home if and when Brandon used his birdcage idol. So I get it.
I have no idea what was going on with Jaime, however. Jaime also played her Shot in the Dark because… ??????? I just left that open-ended because I honestly have no idea. We saw no indication anybody was targeting her in the least. Me thinks Jaime just got a little paranoid. Now, you may say "better safe than sorry." Of course, that would mean that you were my mother, but also, consider this: You can only play Shot in the Dark once in the entire game. To burn it on day 3? I don't like it.
If Survivor is about playing to win and being bold and making big moves, the way to play to win and be bold is to roll the dice on that first vote that you're okay and save that magic bullet for another day. Jaime just shot hers, and while I guess you can say it hit its target in that she became the first person in Survivor history to get a "Safe" scroll, she didn't need it. Whoops!
So that leaves only three votes, and once Brandon played his idol (tipped off by Matthew, perhaps?) that negated Maddy and Kane's votes — making Brandon's vote for Maddy the lone one and sending Maddy out of the game on day 3. Bummer for her. And bummer for me because I was looking forward to watching her play, especially after I learned that she makes up words like "legiterally."
I guess, at least technically, she's not the first one out? I don't know. Looking for a silver lining here. Not very successfully, I may add. Okay, let's go through a few more odds & ends before we get the hell out of here.
Odds and ends:
* At first watch, I thought Tika got a bit screwed in the opening challenge by having to lug their puzzle pieces the longest distance to their table, but it turns out the puzzle pieces were evenly distributed on the far end to equate the distance of the tables so it was, in fact, all even Steven — once again foiling Thursday Morning Quarterbacks and aspiring conspiracy theorists like yours truly. Not that angles and distances mean much when Carolyn can't get a single ring off the pole, but there you have it.
* Wow, talk about pick your poison. That Sweat challenge of coconut dragging looked positively gnarly. Then again, I never in a million years would have solved that Sweat sphere puzzle. Major props to Brandon, Matthew, Helen, and Carson for getting those bad boys done.
* I know I've already written about Carolyn enough, but holy smokes is she going to be fun to watch this season. I do hope she can handle the emotional roller-coaster that is Survivor — a game filled with dizzying highs and devastating lows. Can she find that even-keeled middle ground to handle both extremes? Probably not, but here's hoping she keeps her head high and filled with random screams, yelps, and other weird noises.
* Can we talk about those badass looking sword and shield immunity idols for a second? When Probst whipped it out — and I really should be more careful using the phrase "Probst whipped it out" — I thought the dude was about to walk over and stab Yam Yam or something. Seriously, the way he unsheathed that thing, it looked like he was in the mood for some major plundering. Either that or he was about to yell "BY THE POWER OF GRAYSKULL!" at the top of his lungs. Anyway, super cool.
* Oh, jeez. It's time to make my episode 1 pick to win it all. I've actually been doing pretty well on this lately. I managed to pick the winners on both season 39 and 42 in Tommy and Maryanne, and got a finalist last season in Owen. Yes, a zero-vote finalist, but a finalist nonetheless! (You will also notice how I also somewhat conveniently omitted my less inspired choice of Danni Boatwright to take home the $2 million on Winners at War.)
I don't have a great feeling coming out of this premiere in that nobody immediately jumped out at me with a huge neon WINNER sign flashing over their head. I'll start by saying that I think the winner will come from Soka, which is interesting since we saw the least of them in this episode. There was no medical emergency. They didn't have to do a Sweat or Savvy. They didn't have to vote anyone out. We really didn't get to know them all that well.
Want a fun fact? My last four winner picks have come from tribes that lost the first immunity challenge and voted someone out. No doubt that is because they got the most airtime. But I'm going to swing in the completely opposite direction and go Soka this time. I actually could see anyone from Soka winning, and I can't say the same for the other two tribes. But my pick to win is… Claire.
"Why Claire?" you may ask. "We barely even saw Claire this episode," you may say. And that is all true enough. But I liked the way she utilized her time on the Sandra Sit Out Bench to ask Matthew what Lauren had told him about Journey Island. Just a smart move on her part. And I think socially, she'll be really strong. The only question is: What will her catchphrase be?
Okay, there's so much more I could say about this episode and the random chess board in the voting booth, or the hilariously blatant copying on the marooning puzzle, or the mini-backrub Probst gave Bruce before sending him off into that good night, but I should probably let you all get out of here before I put another imaginary Carolyn conversation down on the page. However, a few notes about some goodies we have coming your way.
You want an exclusive deleted scene from the episode? We have a hilarious one right here. You want to hear from Probst? We got him weighing in on the premiere as well, both courtesy of a big announcement as well as an exclusive 1-on-1. You want exit interviews with Bruce and Maddy? We legiterally have those as well. Bruce told us everything that happened after he left the game on a stretcher, and Maddy shares tons of intel on the Ratu tribe dynamics. Plus, I'll have some extra goodies coming your way all season long so follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss or Instagram @thedaltonross to keep updated on all that. And, as one Survivor 44 player would say, "That's showbiz, baby!" Hope you all enjoyed the premiere, and I'll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy.
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