Aaaaaaaanaaaaaaand we’re back! For Survivor’s 26th season they’ve returned to the Philippines and revisited a familiar format with Survivor: Caramoan – Fans vs. Favorites 2 Legit to Quit. Except, this time around, the “Favorites” aren’t necessarily favorites, or heroes, or even skilled players. They are, for the most part, memorable personalities, some remembered for as much bad as good. Whether that was a wise casting decision will be borne out over the next few months. However, before we dive into the new season, let’s take a brief look back, way back, to Survivor: Palau.
Why return to the 10th season of this long-running series, which premiered in early 2005? Because, after recently completing our second viewing of the season, we feel confident in asserting that Palau is the strongest and most entertaining entry in the Survivor pantheon. And why do we say that? Well, let us tell you, in list format:
1. The winner. Has there been a better, dominant but still honorable, sole Survivor than Lt. Tom Westman? The only other player that we think comes close is Boston Rob during his winning season on Redemption Island. However, what separates the two is that a) Rob was playing for a record fourth time, clearly using his vast experience to his benefit, b) Rob manipulated his tribe in a much more Machiavellian way, c) Rob played the game with and influenced much weaker players, and d) Tom stood on a pole for nearly 12 hours. Tom had no prior experience to drawn on, but he begins his game on day 1 and pretty much carries his strategy all the way through to the end: form a strong alliance, win as many team challenges as possible, keep the tribe strong and loyal, look super handsome, play with honor and integrity befitting one of NYC’s Bravest. Yes, he was accused of strong arming some of the other players, but his tactics reflected logic and rational thought, and what was seen as coercion and intimidation was more Tom presenting the honest, inconvenient truth to other players. And, for the most part, the Survivors that Tom played with were skilled, smart, and savvy. Navigating those tricky waters with a target on his back from early on was no easy task, especially with competition like Ian, Greg, Katie, Jen, Bobby Jon and, arguably the strongest female competitor in Survivor history, Stephenie. Tom chose to play the game with the strongest players and truly outwit, outplay and outlast them. Boston Rob, on the other hand, surrounded himself with cyphers like Phillip and Natalie, pure pawns, in Jonathan Penner’s words, oxen brought to the slaughter. Rob played a brilliant game, but his brilliant game was taking weak players with him, making the final choice a no brainer. Tom, by contrast, allied with the strongest and smartest competitors and, yet, the final choice was still a no brainer. Oh yeah, and HE KILLED A FREAKING SHARK.
2. We mentioned above that Palau had stock on strong players, but it also offered a surplus on likable players, which aren’t always one-in-the-same, and is something that has felt in low supply for the last few seasons. With the “I’m not here to make friends“-ification of reality shows, it’s become more about drumming up drama and controversy, sensationalism and cattiness taking precedence over decency and common sense. Perhaps there’s no better Survivor example of this than Survivor: ONE WORLD!’s Colton, whose racist, vile, repugnant behavior was a low point for the program. But, really, this is a trend we’ve seen on the show from the beginning, from Richard Hatch to Boston Rob to Russell Hanz, who truly made it an art form. And, in full disclosure, those three are great, entertaining players. But the key is that they’re actually good at the game. Being a terrible, unbearable person is not always a shortcut to the final three. And, if it is, you certainly won’t win. On Palau, however, we had almost too many people to root for. Even Coby, the sassy hairdresser who might be seen as a spiritual precursor to Colton was extremely likable, and, it’s worth mentioning, a fierce competitor. And we should stress again that likable isn’t necessarily equivalent to “good” or “nice” or “kind.” But, too often, we find ourselves looking at the roster of remaining competitors and saying, “I don’t know who I want to win. I don’t really like anyone who’s left.” Well, Survivor: Palau had the opposite problem.
3. Palau featured not one but TWO ties, deadlocks which forced the players to build fire to decide who would continue on in the game. In the first scenario, Stephenie and Bobby Jon vied to be the only member of their ill-fated Ulong tribe to make it to the merge, and in the second Ian and Jenn raced for a spot in the final three. We’ll say that again: a tiebreaker to earn a spot in the final three! Both were significant and riveting, and help set Palau apart from other seasons. And, it should be mentioned, Tom and Ian weren’t afraid – unlike many Survivors in recent seasons – to force a tie that would result in them having to pick rocks. It never came to that, due to Ian persuading Katie to switch her vote to Greg in the season’s biggest (and, really, only) blindside, but they were fully prepared to do it. They didn’t want to just make it further in the game. They wanted to win.
4. Speaking of the final three above, it’s also worth noting that this season is pre-three Survivors making it to the last Tribal Council and the million dollar vote. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, the finale is a lot more exciting when only two players make it to the end. Inevitably, with three competitors in the finals there’s one player who is an afterthought, someone merely used as a means to an end. Also, having only two Survivors in the finals makes winning the final Immunity incredibly important, as that person makes the sole decision of whom to take to the final.
5. Water challenges. Palau had some of the best challenges of all-time (and, perhaps, the best, as Probst would agree), and that was due in no small part to the abundance of water-based competitions. With so many challenges now seeming like dull variations on simple backyard games, Palau proffered some of the most inventive and, frankly, brutal challenges in the show’s history. With Survivor returning to the Philippines for the new season, and with, hopefully, the rainy season in the past, we can only hope that they make a concerted effort to up the ante with some aquatic competitions.
So with those items in mind we move, finally, to the Caramoan premiere. And it’s fair to say that they pulled out all the stops for Probst’s introduction in this one, placing him precariously at the top of a towering, jagged rock formation. Probst, not surprisingly does his own stunts. But one has to wonder why he’s so angry.
And the seasons starts with some promise, harkening back to those halcyon Palau days, with the Survivors in the water! Now, unlike Palau they don’t have to swim to shore with Immunity at stake, but we’ll take the small victories where we can get them, like Favorite Michael, falling over the side of boat. And after the intros and the pleasantries, Fans Vs. Favorites 2 Legit to Quit is on, kicking things off with, yes, a water based challenge, and a pretty rough one at that, in which the Fans are pitted against the Favorites in a no-holds-barred battle to bring a life-preserver back to their respective flag. Which is not good news for Michael, who, clearly, is not that strong of a swimmer. But it’s good news for the Favorites, who seem to have a physical advantage (or at least more experience dunking strangers), and good news for us viewers, as the intensity is dialed right up right away. And with a pretty decisive loss for the Favorites (missing out on beans, because that’s what they’re giving away now) there’s a sense of devastation for the newcomers before they even get to camp, let alone before Michael’s bathing suit has a chance to dry.
And now something for the ladies:
The game begins almost immediately at the Favorites’ camp, as the BeKool Tribe has seen and done this before and is eager to jump right into making alliances and evaluating strategies. For Former Federal Agent (?) Fillip this means proving that he’s learned nothing since his first Survivor appearance, continuing to be completely unaware of why he made it to the finals on Redemption Island (because Boston Rob wanted to go up against someone everyone universally agreed did not deserve to be there). In fact, FFAF may actually be more delusional than ever, asserting himself as tribe leader and mastermind, utilizing a set of guidelines he refers to as the BR rules, initials which stand for “Boston Rob,” but could easily mean “barely reasonable.” He resumes his “Team Stealth” fantasy that was so incredibly frustrating in Redemption Island, but this time around in his dream world he’s calling the shots. And, really, it was quite disappointing to see, the show resuming its somewhat baffling love affair with the Former Federal Agent(?). Yes, he says and does outrageous, head-scratching things, and he’s no doubt an unpredictable character, but he’s not a good player. As we said much earlier in this post, we don’t care if the stars of the show are “good” or “evil” or “nice” or “mean;” more than anything we want them to be competent players, not buffoons (or a smart person masquerading as a buffoon to steal screen time). How long is it until Fillip goes off about wanting a scoop of the crispy beans or accusing Cochran of being a racist?
But before Fillip can alienate everyone in his tribe, he begins to put a team together to go for one last big score. However, considering the amount of people he spoke with about joining his alliance, his strategy seems to be “we got 10 people, we got the numbers, we control the game,” not really understanding that forming an alliance that basically includes everyone in the BeKool Tribe may not be the wisest tactic.
Meanwhile, over at the Fans’ Goya camp (a surprising Tribe name, considering that they lost the beans) the young, pretty, dumb ones (Eddie, Allie, Hope and Reynold (no “s”)) have the opposite problem, instantly bonding over their youth and killer good looks and failing to realize that, in fact, a four person alliance is not a majority in a ten person tribe. There seems to be a real lack of math skills on these tribes, and we can’t help but blame the nation’s public school system. They also fail to note that the majority of Survivor winners have been over thirty, but why start counting now when they can bathe and giggle and inspire the rest of their tribe to resent them (like BMX Bike Sales Matt, who we would have guessed was in BMX Customer Service. Just goes to show, don’t just a book by its cover). Oh, and they’re keeping each other warm (or hooking up).
We often wonder how it seems like Survivors never get hideous, excruciating sunburn. Well, for once, someone bucked this trend, with Cochran pretty much instantaneously frying to a crisp under the Philippine sun. Also, hairless Hobbit feet!
Despite Cochran’s pretty much unprecedented 5th degree burn, he presses on, like the Harvard grad he is, and it’s off to the Immunity Challenge, where a harmonica is also up for grabs!
Essentially, the challenge is a race to, yet another, bean bag toss, with the tribes throwing bean bags (what’s with beans this season?) from increasing higher levels. The Favorites jump out to a big lead (much in part to Brandon Hantz’s surprising scaling skills), and leave the ball in Malcolm’s capable hands. He was money in the bank on Survivor: Filippines when it came to tossing bags and balls. As long as an activity doesn’t require Malcolm to keep his hands still then you can assume the challenge is in the (bean) bag. So Fans, get ready to experience your first Tribal Council!
Wait? What’s that? The Fans come back? Because of Reynolds? Wait? What’s that? His name is Reynold? Not Reynolds? Seriously? What kind of name is that? And he beat Malcolm? At tossing shit? Alright, whatever man.
So it was the Fans who snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, which works out better anyway because a) the Favorites were already playing this game harder with more established alliances which should lead to a more entertaining Tribal Council, and b) we’re pretty lukewarm on most of the Favorites, so we don’t mind seeing their numbers dwindle.
Quick question: if you were voted off first on Survivor as a result of making a power move too quickly what you would do if you were somehow given a second chance at the game? You’d do the opposite, right? At least you’d try something different, if not completely counter to your previous strategy. And Francesca, who moved against Boston Rob in the Redemption Island premiere and paid the price, totally gets this, swearing “I’m not going to repeat the mistakes I made last time.” And then she immediately repeats the mistakes she made last time.
Which is incredibly frustrating and sad and somewhat stunning. She’s been offered this amazing opportunity (twice), and she even understands how silly and utterly embarrassing it would be to the only person in Survivor history voted off twice. In her own words it would be “the worst thing ever.” For Francesca, really, her only goal should be getting past the first Tribal Council. That should be her million dollars. And what does she do? Fly under the radar? Go with the majority? Nope. She tries to dictate the vote and a contingent against Fillip. Because that went so well last time. And then she starts gunning for Andrea, making her aggressive play even more obvious. Did Brenda try to grab the reins right away like she did on Survivor: Nicaragua, making herself an instant target? No. In fact, we don’t think she said a word the entire show. She learned from her mistakes. Francesca did not.
Well, Former Federal Agent Fillip, it’s time to vote. Please use your advanced training and peerless stealth skills to approach the voting area.
And even though Fillip ostensibly can’t see what is clearly in front of him, Francesca couldn’t see what was behind her, the mistakes of her past, and, in the process, became of a part of history. For the second time, Francesca, your tribe has spoken.
ALWAYS REMEMBER, FRANCESCA, LOOSE MEMORIES SINK SHIPS.
So how did the premiere of Fans vs. Favorites 2 Legit compare to our Palau rubric? Fairly. We’re certainly encouraged by the water challenges, and, like Palau, this season has already witnessed a Survivor first. But, truly, in Survivor it’s the characters stupid. And even though the show had its pick of the past litter, and should have offered us the best of the best, we’re not sold. We have some runts. So far we see a group of returning players who mostly distinguished themselves by not distinguishing themselves in previous seasons and a set of fans who already kind of forgettable. Is there plenty of time to turn this season around and make it one of the greatest of all-time? Certainly Or will it prove to be one of the weaker seasons the show has presented? Very possibly. In the end, history will repeat itself. One way or the other.
Which brings us, finally, to our first A-B-C of the season:
Always Be Cute
Because look at these little guy!
Where were these things last season? A-dorable. This season may have a chance after all.