Another season of Survivor, another cast full of familiar faces. Somewhere along the line, CBS put all of its reality hopes and dreams into the belief that America is far too overwhelmed to be able to watch a season of a very popular reality show without already knowing at least 25 percent of the people playing. From celebrity players like Jimmy Johnson to returning favorites like Rob Mariano and Russell Hantz, Survivor has spent much of the last few seasons desperately searching for an easy way to promote the aging show. This season the producers are at it again, with the latest installment (set in the Philippines) going for the double bonus of returning players and minor celebrities at the same time. Surprisingly, despite the eye-rolling nature of the obvious desperation, the premiere showed great promise for not only the familiar faces but the new players as well.
The theme for the returning players this season is people who had to leave the game early in the past due to a medical issue, with Jonathan Penner, Russell Swan, and Michael Skupin tasked to play again. The best part of these contestants' return in the premiere is likely the amazing “look at all these almost-dead people” montage full of incredibly scary medical moments from throughout the series. Russell’s unconsciousness and Skupin’s peeling hands still rank among the most memorable images from the entire series, so bringing them back for a shot at the game again truly is a no-brainer, even if the more frequently Survivor brings players back, the less impact those returns have each time.
As for the celebrities, unlike immediately recognizable Jimmy Johnson, cast members Jeff Kent (baseball player, mustache-haver) and Lisa Welchel (Blair from The Facts Of Life) aren’t nearly as easy to pick out of a crowd. This creates an interesting scenario where most players have no idea there’s a “celebrity” in their midst, except for a few sharp people, who all take the surprising tactic of keeping their knowledge quiet for now. Knowledge can be power in this game, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the future. For now, both Jeff and Lisa are unremarkable but pleasant presences who blend into their respective tribes the way any player of their respective age and gender normally does in the beginning of the game.
Speaking of tribes, their structure is also being tweaked a bit this season. Instead of the typical, two-tribe format, there are three total tribes, with a returning player on each. This creates the strange scenario in challenges where the tribes aren’t necessarily playing to win, just to not come in last. (Cue the cheers of “We’re number two!”) Still, while the smaller tribes create a strange challenge situation, they make navigating the doings back at camp far easier to follow. With the returning player easily helping to identify who is on what tribe, I know far more names of contestants after one episode than I think I’ve ever been able to pick up on in the past. This is a good thing, because it allows the show to immediately focus in on some fairly interesting players and not be stuck completely on the familiar faces, as has happened in the past.
Of all the new players, there is probably no one more memorable than Zane, the man of many tattoos and a constant stream of insanity coming out of his mouth. The first thing he does when he gets to camp is immediately make alliances with every single other player in his tribe, even telling people he had alliances with everyone else in the tribe. Zane and his crazy brain even went so far as to take responsibility for the tribe losing the immunity challenge—by interrupting Russell’s attempt to take responsibility first—and then tell his tribemates to vote him out in order to make the tribe stronger. It was an absolutely dumbfounding move, but in Zane’s mind, it was exactly what he needed to do to get the tribe to actually turn on Russell and vote him out instead. It’s like reverse psychology, if reverse psychology involved standing in front of a trigger-happy firing squad and insulting all their mothers.
The funny thing is, it didn’t even seem like Zane needed to do any of this. Tribal sentiment was fully on the side of getting rid of Russell sooner rather than later, especially after he declared he didn’t want to be a leader and then proceeded to boss everyone else around the entire first day. Zane even had the argument that Russell was the one who chose who was going to do what in the challenges, even going against what people said were their strengths and weaknesses. Instead, he gave everyone in his tribe the rope they used to hang him without giving them any sort of ammunition to use it against someone else instead.
The worst part about Zane's torch snuffing was that he is just the kind of crazy personality that pops in this game, if only he could have stopped his “mastermind” thinking for a second and just gone with the flow. The bright side is that there are several other potential standouts, from competent-and-smart-seeming Malcolm and his early alliance-mate Denise, to investment banker RC, who seems like just the right type of player to become a good villain. Between the new personalities and the familiar faces, it looks like this could be a promising season. Me? I’m just curious to see which celebrity gets busted first.
- Tribe names: Matsing, Kabalaw, and Tandang.
- Jeff Kent got hurt within five minutes of playing the game. Baseball players, amirite?
- Do sex therapists always overanalyze tattoos for clues about someone’s personality? They must feel exhausted when they go to concerts.
- I love that a woman was the only person to realize Jeff Kent’s true identity. I don’t love that it was because her boyfriend was a big baseball fan.
- It’s nice to realize that Michael’s fall into the fire was likely just a preview of all of the injury adventures he has in store for us his second time around. The man is a menace.