It’s probably too early to make declarations like this considering we’re only one episode into the current season, but hell, I’m going to do it anyway: Survivor appears to be smack dab in the middle of a full-blown creative renaissance. Survivor: One World was good. Survivor: Philippines was great. And so far, based on this lively premiere, Survivor: Caramoan—Fans vs. Favorites is off to a promising start as well.
All of this comes down to my frequent refrain of casting, casting, casting. The show is playing fast and loose with the term “favorites” (with many of the selected cast members likely better described as “vaguely recognizable”), but the people the producers did select appear to be a lively group full of a wide range of personalities, and everyone seems ready to play the game hard. And the fans, at least from the limited time we got to spend with them, seem like people who have actually watched the show before (judging from the way they reacted to the favorites) and know how this all works.
Having never seen a fans vs. favorites season before, I must admit the immediate structure of separating the two groups into two tribes pitted against each other is a little off-putting. (“But it’s right there in the name!” you say. “I know, but I never really considered it!” I respond.) Here’s my issue: All of the favorites have a clear advantage of playing the game before, of knowing each other both in and perhaps even outside the game. At first glance, seeing a group of people work together whom we know and who also know each other seems far less interesting than a mixed tribe full of people we know and people we don’t.
But I get it now: That’s not the point here. The point is to create a narrative of old vs. new, of strong vs. weak, of rich vs. poor, and then hopefully have the fans rise up from their inherent underdog position to challenge our beloved favorites. The catch is to make that narrative work, the fans have to be just as easy to root for as the favorites, and so far, that’s not really the case.
Perhaps it is because of the short time we have to spend with them, or perhaps it is because many of them are generally awful, but the fans tribe definitely is high on the ugh factor right now. Shamar is mostly framed as a bossy boor, instructing everyone what they need to be doing around camp while simultaneously doing nothing himself (until he strategically makes fire, of course, saving his shaky reputation). But nothing is worse than the “cool kid lunch table” alliance of Reynold, Allie, Eddie, and Hope, the self-proclaimed most attractive and coolest people on their tribe, because obviously, Survivor is high school, and we are all reliving our worst nightmares by watching. We can only hope they watched this footage and felt as awkward about themselves as we all feel about them right now.
One thing that’s as strong as ever are the challenges—especially the immunity challenge—which has a scope and build bigger than almost any the show has done before. It’s four stories of impressive, imaginative design, and it almost doesn’t even matter that the challenge comes down to a silly beanbag toss considering the rest of it is so fun to watch. The beanbag toss is what ends up mattering, though, and although Malcolm starts it with a lead for the favorites, Reynold quickly passes him and goes on to win it for the fans. As disappointing as it was to see the likeable, known quantity of Malcolm lose to “cool kid” Reynold, the favorites going to Tribal was probably the best thing for the episode, because what happened next was pretty darn exciting.
Throughout the episode, the editors seemed to be building to a Phillip vs. Francesca rematch, with both getting a very heavy strategy edit. There is still no love lost between the two from the first time they played together, and Francesca is determined to both beat Phillip and not be the first person voted out this time. Both immediately start gathering alliance members, but the fatal flaw in this strategy is that it is very hard to nail down a large group of people you can trust so quickly. This fact ends up biting Francesca in the ass when she thinks she has the votes to get out Phillip but at the last minute learns Andrea (their fellow Redemption Island cast member) is potentially playing both sides and planning on voting her off instead. This causes Francesca’s group to frantically scramble to switch their vote to Andrea while letting Andrea think they are splitting their vote. It’s a kinetic, hectic, damn confusing sequence, and it’s just plain fun.
When they get to Tribal, it’s rather clear that Francesca is going to be the one to go. Still, both Jeff Probst and the editors mine a great deal of suspense in the way the votes are presented, with Andrea definitely getting quite the shock that she is even in the running. In the end, Francesca is voted out first (again). Some people are just not meant to play the game of Survivor. At least she was fun to watch (again) before her exit.
- Confession: I haven’t seen the first Fans vs. Favorites season or Gabon, so I have no prior experience with Erik and Corrine. So far they seem… fine.
- No one appeared to immediately go on a crazy idol hunt. Hooray!
- The editing throughout the episode was excellent, especially in the traditional animal transitional segments. The dancing crabs and jumping… whatever those things are with the big eyes were the standouts. (What? I’m not a zoologist.)
- Very curious to see how long Phillip can run with his “BR” strategy, considering he’s missing the biggest aspect of Boston Rob’s success story: likeability.
- There were so many early alliances, it was fairly impossible to keep up. The obvious ones to point out are Phillip and his band of BR followers on the favorites side, and the “cool kid” group and “we’re not the cool kid” group on the fans side.
- Cochran laughing at his “it’s a new Dawn” joke is the most Cochran thing ever. As is his insane sunburn. Never change, Cochran!
- Francesca: “If I am voted off first a second time, I will eat this rock. It’s not going to happen.”
- “Cochran, that is the worst sunburn I’ve ever seen on Survivor… when did that happen?” “Instantly.”