You may recall in our first Survivor:Filippines recap that we related a story about a friend asking us if and how Survivor can possibly still be entertaining after so many seasons, and we noted that despite over a decade of challenges and Tribal Councils and blindsides, the show manages to somehow, incredibly, keep offering something we’ve never seen before. And this week’s episode was yet another example of that, and it kind of left our jaw on the ground (just COVERED in mud).
It all unfolds at the Reward Challenge (and boy are we happy that, with the three tribes whittled down to two, we’ve narrowed the focus and returned to separate Reward and Immunity Challenges). The challenge begins promisingly enough, first with our first glimpse Jeff Probst, always a delight, and second with the introduction of the challenge course, which is essentially a single-ball version of American Gladiators’ Atlasphere. However, unlike his namesake, Michael “Two Skupes” Skupin, is not as successful in navigating the field as legendary Gladiator champion Wesley “Two Scooops” Berry. Pretty soon, it just turns into a mud stalemate.
Alright, guys, let’s try to do this before the entirety of the Matisyahu Tribe is completely decimated and all we have left is the memory of Angie’s boobs. We’ve been dark for the last few weeks, but all we missed discussing was the systematic destruction of Russell Swan and the Gang. But after tonight, when Denise and Malcolm will likely be forced into tribe cannibalism for survival and admission to the merge, things should get more interesting. So throw away your binders full of women and let’s get to it.
(Note: we want to thank Nate Silver from the Electoral Blog FiveThirtyEight for providing absolutely no scientific of statistical input for these predictions.)
Abi-Maria: Well, if the idea of the game was to out-crazy, out-make no sense, out-constantly touch your hair, then Abi-Maria would have this game completely locked up. Unfortunately for her, that is not how the game is played, and what she considers strategic, clever gameplay is actually loose cannon paranoia that verges on schizophrenia. Perhaps the reason that she keeps pulling at her tresses is that she’s trying to keep the voices out (or in). Certainly, considering the rapid disintegration of her alliance with RC Cola, her loyalty and judgment are suspect, and we think she’s ripe for a blind-side down the road. Odds of Winning: 45-1
A few days ago, on the cusp of the premiere of Survivor: Filippines: The Rise of Skupin, we were asked if Survivor as a series (not the Survivor Series) is still entertaining after twenty-four seasons. “How could it possibly be?” they wondered. But we told this person that the show, against all odds, manages to be fresh and new almost every season, that although the game uses essentially the same format that it started with back in Borneo, each season and its cast members offer something new and different, something that makes the show worth watching. Case and point, in the first episode of our new season, we are blessed with Zane, who once again proves that no matter how long this show goes the players will continue to be stupid. And that, my friend, is why, twelve years later, Survivor is still very much worth watching.
But, in our normal fashion, before we get to end and Zane’s stupidity, let’s start at the start. And we start with Jeff Probst channelling Bruce Willis in Striking Distanceand rolling up in a speedboat, looking as confident and determined as ever, putting to rest any worries that one might have had that he’d be preoccupied with this just premiered daytime talker (and, perhaps, in another post it would worth discussing just how much Probst has meant to Survivor, and how much it owes its success to the man in blue). And we get our first look at the new cast, which in addition to the returning players that we’ve already discussed – Mike “Two Scoops” Skupin, Jonathan Penner, and Russell Swan (who, apparently, came directly from a jazz performance) – includes former Facts of Life star Lisa Whelchel and former Major League Baseball MVP Jeff Kent.
Just a reminder, tonight is the premiere of Survivor: Philippines, AKA Survivor: The Skupin Rises. After eleven years, Mike Skupin returns to avenge his premature exit from The Outback, along with a couple other guys from other seasons that we don’t care about and we assume have no chance to win and should probably just go ahead and give it up already. We’re not normally ones for predictions (at least for the first episode), but we think it’s safe to say that the first player eliminated tonight will be fire itself, as Skupin will immediately declare war on his arch enemy. How will they cook the heaps of fish and piles of wild boar that Skupin will no doubt catch and kill with his bare hands, you ask? With Skupin’s piercing, steely gaze, of course. How will Jeff Probst snuff out voted out players’ buffs? Simple, he won’t have to. All vanquished players will offer their buffs up to Skupin as tribute, and he will wear them like pelts, trophies from the kill, a hero reborn.
There’s a tale we like to tell to novice or late-to-the-party Survivor fans. It’s a story – feels more like myth now – about a tribe called Kucha in a harsh landscape called the Outback. This is pre-Russell Hantz, pre-Boston Rob, even pre-Tom Westman. This is back in the second season of Survivor, when they had no idea that their initial success would continue nearly unabated for twenty-four seasons, that Richard Hatch and his flabby, hairy, naked figure strolling the beach in Borneo had changed the face of television forever. In season two the show was still in unknown territory, not yet a cultural institution with enough memorable moments to fill a double DVD and enough beloved (and reviled) players to field a competitive softball league. This was a long time ago. But all that time we’ve never forgotten about Michael Skupin. And never gave up hope – despite how unlikely it seemed – that he would return.
We often relate how this season featured a tribe that we found to be as formidable and as likable (save for Kimmi) as any tribe in Survivor’s prodigious history. It featured a pretty young face that we’d come to later know as Elisabeth Hasslebeck, football wife and The View co-host/conservative punching bag, then going by the surname Filarski. And while Kucha lacked the statistical dominance of Tom Westman’s Koror tribe in Palau, the team felt as strong and cohesive as any tribe, and it was getting stronger and more cohesive after each challenge and Tribal Council. There was Jeff Varner, the good-looking, drawling Tar Heel, and his partner-in-crime Alicia Calaway, who could have easily parlayed her Survivor appearance into a berth in the WWE. There was Old Man Rodger, who had formed such a sweet, good-natured, grandfather-granddaughter relationship with Elisabeth. And there was Nick Brown, the bright, young Harvard Law student. And they were all led by Michael Skupin, a midwest father whose receding hairline was more Bruce Willis than Ron Howard. Skupin served as heart and soul of the team, his intelligence and survival skills keeping Kucha focused and united at camp, his athletic ability pacing them in challenges, and his hunting prowess keeping them energized. With his guidance Kucha was poised to decimate the Ogakor Tribe, which featured such bickering, unlikable players as Jerri “the Black Widow” Manthey, arrogant chef Keith Famie, mama’s boy himbo Colby Donaldson, mama surrogate Tina Wesson, and another pretty face named Amber (yep, that Amber); it was a tribe that fell out of favor with us the moment they voted out Maralyn “Mad Dog” Hershey. Ogakor featured several future All-Stars and a couple million dollar winners, but after five tribal councils they were faltering, fractured and frustrated (Colby dousing Jerri with a bucket of water following a Reward Challenge loss, for example), and with one more Immunity Challenge defeat they were in danger of going into the merge down 6-4 to a Kucha Tribe operating with extreme confidence and bellies full of chickens and popcorn and, thanks to Mike, a pig.
And then, in the blink of an eye, it all came crashing down.
When Survivor: Nicaragua began we were unsure if it would be able to capture our attention, lacking the unbelievable drama of the previous season’s Heroes vs. Villains edition, and, more specifically, devoid of the Boston Rob-Russell Hantz showdown that defined that season and should have, at the very least, earned it an Emmy nomination. To our surprise, we were hooked on Nicaragua even though it didn’t offer those familiar personalities (or even offer any truly engaging new personalities, save for Jimmy Johnson (who, to be fair, was not really a new personality)). But when we talk about Nicaragua, then and now, it succeeded despite having anything that approximated the Rob-Russell Clash of the Titans. And when we talk about anything approximating the Rob-Russell Clash of the Titans, what we really mean is specifically another Rob and Russell battle.
That’s right, Long Island’s own Tom Westman is officially back in the game for Heroes Vs. Villains. I stopped watching Survivor a season or two after Tom absolutely dominated Palau, and while the real reason I ceased watching is that there were just too many good shows on Thursday night (and at the time my TiVo could only handle one channel at once), I’d like to think that after Tom every other competitor just paled in comparison. He’s five years older now, but hopefully five years awesomer.
The only thing better would have been if Michael Skupinrose from the ashes and returned. But that’ll never happen (I’m still sore about his departure, though. His Kucha tribe was one of the strongest in the history of the game, and if he didn’t have to bow out due to his melting flesh then Kucha would have probably run the table in impressive fashion). I do have to say though, I’m kinda over Rupert. The good guy/Hillbilly Jim act has worn rather thin.