Survivor: Blood vs. Water might exist solely to see just how much annoying bullshit the world can put up with from Rupert and Colton before flinging their TVs into the ocean and swearing off reality television forever. Sure, this is hyperbolic, but seriously? Those two guys? Together? In one season? It’s going to take a lot of patience to get through this.
The idea of pitting returning players and their loved ones against each other is so genius in its simplicity that it’s surprising the show hasn’t gone to this well before. It fits all of Survivor’s favorite tropes: familiar faces, built-in storylines, and an easily digestible hook for promotion. In practice during this premiere, however, the execution is far from simple. Not content to simply let the drama of the episode hang on separating loved ones into teams of returning players and newbies and forcing them to compete against each other, the show adds enough twists and turns to complicate things at the beginning almost to the point of exhaustion.
The biggest of these complications is the return of Redemption Island, where a player from each tribe is immediately sent to before anyone can even introduce themselves. Candice, a player from Cook Islands, is voted off by the returning players. Rupert’s reputation as, well, whatever he is precedes him, and his wife Laura is immediately voted off as well.
This is where Rupert’s tendency for drama comes into play, as Jeff gives him the opportunity to take his wife’s place, and he stands up like the noble soul he’s always painted himself to be and does exactly that. The most unfortunate victim of this circumstance is Candice, who is now forced to spend three days at Redemption Island doing all of the work while Rupert prattles on and lies about in the sun. It’s an auspicious start for the four-time player, for sure.
Back at the tribes, the 90-minute length allows for a surprising amount of time to get to know the new players, along with getting a good look at how the returning players are shaping up. Most time is spent with newbie tribe Tadhanna, where former football player Brad Culpepper takes charge and almost immediately forms an all-male alliance with the four other men on his tribe, crowing about how weak women and men like Cochran have been the recent winners, so they need to get rid of those people before the weak can come after the strong. All-male alliances formed on day one don’t have the best history in the world, so time will only tell how this one shakes out.
What the 90-minute running time also gives the editors is plenty of time for people to air their dirty laundry, as Laura M.’s daughter Ciera confesses to having a baby in high school, and Aras’ brother Vytas tells all about his former drug addiction that led him to spending a year in L.A. County jail. It’s not a place Survivor normally goes so early, but with only really half of the cast needing an introduction, there was definitely room for it.
Where the sob stories took a ridiculous turn was when it turned to returning tribe Galang and suddenly became the Colton Cumbie redemption hour. Colton was such a disgusting presence on his first appearance in the game that Jeff Probst himself seemed to imply the show would never ask him back, so for his first big reappearance to be a sob story about how he was an awful person the first time around because his life was so hard, with no cutting confessional commentary on what a shameless display it all was? That was, frankly, gross. If Colton is truly a changed person, fine; let it come out in his actions and interactions with other people as the game progresses. As presented, it was just as if Survivor was giving him a forum to clear his name, and that doesn’t sit well.
The challenge was interesting only in how it proved that physical prowess isn’t everything, as younger and stronger Tadhanna took a big lead on a Gervase-hampered Galang, right up until it got to the puzzle portion and the veterans took over. But it was Gervase’s obnoxious gloating after the challenge that ultimately decided who was going to go home. In one of the stranger rationales for voting someone off I can recall, Gervase’s niece Marissa was sent packing basically because Brad decided Gervase was annoying. At this junction in the game there is very little to go on, but voting off a seemingly competent player because their loved one—whom you never see—is annoying feels like the most arbitrary criteria in the world.
Now Marissa is on Redemption Island with Candice and Rupert, and three people have already been voted out of the tribes, though all still technically remain in the game. This feels like it's going to be a long one, folks.
- Kat’s outraged “Oh, hell no!” response to Colton’s verbal abuse during the challenge was perhaps the highlight of the episode for me.
- I recognize everyone except for Candice and Aras, whose seasons I missed. Anything essential I need to know about their games?
- Brad: “We’ve got five guys right now. We’ve got four guys and a gay guy.” So… five guys, then?
- "I didn't get to where I am in life by losing," says Brad, the guy who played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the '90s.