Considering, in two hours, I think we only heard from Libby once at the second Tribal (and she was never on the table for a boot), and considering two people I genuinely liked went home… dearest readers, I can’t remember being as entertained by an opening episode of Survivor in a long, long while. Let’s hope it keeps up, even at the risk of Andy calling a perfect boot order (though, at least from pregame, I think we could do a lot worse than seeing a Chelsea win… if she ever manages to speak on the show).
So Long, Sweetest of First Picks
Remember when I said I did not feel good about picking Gonzalez first in the draft? *sigh* My only consolation is she appeared to be booted because she was perceived as a threat, and in that threat, Gonzalez became one of my least favorite archetypes in Survivor: a strong woman taken out early. Having just rewatched Cagayan, I would like to bring up a point Kass made, in which she says something to the tune of “people might call me a bitch, but if I was a man, they’d call me strategic.” Gonzalez seemed too hardcore for the folks out there, but something tells me, had she only been born a man, people wouldn’t have given that a second thought. Were there other factors that undoubtedly led to her ousting? Sure, there must have been. I just hate to see a woman who truly seemed like she had a lot of potential go out whilst two others who seem like filler (looking at you Jenna and Libby) just coast. Oh well. Sorry, my dear. I still enjoyed you brief sojourn out there. I love me a good eye roll.
I Really Thought You Were Gonna Pull It Off Lil Buddy
Seriously, the way they set up Jacob and then his whole conversation with Steph and then thinking on how much screen time Michael got… I really thought the young'n was toast! Call me shocked when Jacob, a loveable super fan I really related to, got the axe. Too bad. Jacob stands as something of a storyteller archetype. He’s a person, wise and very knowledgable of the past, who is vital for a narrative, giving the present/future actions resonating context within the larger world as a whole. In this case, that world is Survivor mythos, and who better than Jacob to send to Ghost Island right off the bat? Yes, our storyteller was lost early, but the lessons he imparted on us will linger, because each season of Survivor never exists within a vacuum.
Side note here: for being a “Super Fan,” Jacob made the exact same mistake Val did in SJdS, bluffing an idol he didn’t have. If you’re already on the bottom, why make a target bigger for yourself? You promise you’ll play the idol at the next Tribal, but that only seems to ensure people will throw votes your way. Poor choice, bud.
A Shout Out to Challenges
At Least There’s Some Innovation
Was I a fan of the first, two (but kind of three)-hero challenge? Eh. I liked the idea on paper, just like I liked the intro challenge way back in Samoa, but then Jeff just kept explaining rule after rule. For a Survivor challenge, it seemed overly complicated. There were four potential rewards contestants had to keep track of, not only for the sake of what you might win, and not only for the sake of what your opponent might win, but for the sake of what you might also lose… and your opponent might win. I just felt all of it seemed unnecessary and convoluted. Just have a winner take all, and leave it at that. That’s what Survivor is predicated on.
As for the first immunity challenge, I was a huge fan. Physicality, endurance, puzzle, and knots without any backyard, lawn games! I know a lot of first challenges every season do something like this, and while we may never get back to the Tribal Challenges of old in which people sometimes had to push a whole cannon through obstacles in a forest (see Pearl Islands), this is something new, and I like it. Sure, the second challenge was much more classic—or what has become classic—Survivor, but as with the first challenge, there was innovation and something, as a whole, we hadn’t seen before. I like that. I applaud that. Everyone, please remind me I said this once we get to the Merge and have to endure 4-6 boring balance/endurance challenges for immunity.
And Why She’s Gonna Blow Her Advantage
In the season’s opening moments, Jeff makes some comment that "one bad move can haunt you for the rest of your life." The camera immediately pans to Morgan. While I noticed this, I somewhat wrote it off as a red-herring edit, and nothing more than editors needed someone to pan to. That stuff happens, after all.
Then Jacob willed the Legacy Advantage to Morgan. Again, not necessarily conclusive of a misplay.
What’s more, Morgan makes a comment that she talks a lot, or is loud, or something like that to the point that she hyperbolizes needing staples to keep her quiet. Evidence is really building up against Morgan here, but, hey, at least only she and Jacob know she has the advantage! And besides, the edit seems pretty convincing Jacob will somehow survive to a swap and even the Merge, and then he and Morgan can play together! Right?
Oh wait… then Jacob spills the beans to Stephanie (which I think was honestly the right thing to do given he seemed very isolated—swing for the fences and put all your eggs in one basket). Well, that’s still probably okay. Jacob’s still around.
Oh… Jacob got the boot. Sorry, Morgan. The evidence doesn’t look good, and the edit is setting you up for a downfall worthy of Ghost Island. Merge boot? I’m calling it now… assuming we Merge at thirteen.
The Alpha Male Paradigm
And Why They Could be All or Nothing
In a season in which there are a lot of big men, there are sort of two general avenues the pre-Merge section can go for them: (1) somehow all, more or less, make the Merge or (2) a couple get picked off. Why am I making this claim? It’s simple Tribal logistics.
Let’s say the swap is to only two Tribes, nine on each. Let’s also assume, for the sake of argument, the eight most athletic guys (which is to say, everyone but Donathan), are evenly distributed—let’s say Brendan, James, Seb, and Bradley against Domenick, Chris, Michael, and Wendell, roughly equal, I think. If Tribe A gets rid of a Brendan or a Seb, they lose a vital match-up against the other males on Tribe B. While this does not spell doom for Tribe A, we saw what happens in HvV when you pick off your biggest challenge assets early on (namely the Heroes losing Westman in favor of crippled James and Colby and the Villains ditching Tyson and Rob). Things don’t go well.
However, let’s say, for a moment, A ditches Brendan and James and somehow wins a challenge. Now, immediately, Dom, Chris, Michael, and Wendell seem a lot less vital. A smart, not alpha-male-esque player like Steph (who I was utterly wrong about in my pregame assessment, at least thus far) could just as soon make a strong case to ditch more muscle. After all, if you don’t need to match up to the other Tribe, what good is challenge strength? I don’t know which way this season will go, but I’m leaning more towards the majority of the strong men making the Merge with a possible exception with Domenick and/or Chris… or even Brendan. Just some food for thought, but speaking of Brendan.
A Shifting Winner Pick
Maybe the Draft Will Work Out?
Okay, yes, I know Brendan was my preseason pick, and while I like everything about him that I thought I would, after this premiere, I’m much less sure he’s going to be our champ. I’m not tossing him completely aside yet, but unlike Sarah and Chrissy who I cheered for and talked up basically all of the past two seasons, I don’t think I’ll be able to do that with Brendan… though I still thoroughly hope he does win/at least does well.
No, the person I wish to draw everyone’s attention to is Donathan. Is it possible he’s just our tragic hero/ “journey” player this season, taking after a Cirie in Micronesia or, more recently, David in MvGX, someone who makes it so close only to fall at the bitter end? Of course, but every good winner needs one thing: a winner’s quote production can show at the finale that says “the winner was right in front of you the whole time!” Remember when Donathan was at Ghost Island? Remember when he said, "Coming out here is giving me all the confidence to be the person I know I could. I came out here to play. I came out here to win"? While that might not be his exact quote, it's close, and you get the point. Who else could you say had a more winnerish first episode/two? Maybe I’m wrong and Donathan goes next, but you heard it here first, my last draft pick might just surprise us all.
Side note here: the little conversation Donathan and Laurel had on the beach could just be coverage to show Donathan’s lack of a racial minority friend back home, or it could also speak to Laurel and him having a lasting bond. If that’s the case, Merge for both, methinks.
Domenick and Chris
I Hate Both of Them
Okay, hate is a strong word. And to be completely fair, I actually like Chris more than I thought I would. He is suspicious of Domenick after the whole "I don’t have an idol, but wait I do, but the one I’m showing you is fake…" and rightfully so. I would have just sort of thought, looking at Chris and his pregame content, he would’ve just been too stoked to bro down with Domenick post this idol reveal. Bravo for keeping your suspicions heightened, Chris, but you still kind of seem pompous, to say the least.
Domenick, on the other hand, is exactly who I thought he’d be, and while he may do well, I don’t particularly like him. He seems like he has to go against any authority that isn’t his own (calling out Chris after the first challenge was objectively a poor social move), and he appeared remarkably paranoid for day two of Survivor. Then he found an idol and immediately feels super comfortable as he wastes calories clean-squatting a tree trunk. If not for the little personal content about his family and Wendell mentioning he likes Dom, I would say his edit was just as negative as Chris’s. That being said, these positives, to me, only highlighted what I dislike in ol' Dom all the more.
The point here, however, is not my feelings on this pair, but the fact that, for as long as they’re both in the game, these men’s fates are intertwined. Domenick will either lead a coalition to take out the pretty boy, or Chris, rightfully mistrustful of Domenick, will blindside Dom with an idol in his pocket. Could neither of these things happen? Sure. But I ask you then, why put so much effort into showing their relationship if it doesn’t come to a head?
A Closing Thought, Dearest Readers
First Impression of Ghost Island
Y’all knew I’d have to touch on it at some point, but the twist this season is predicated on, Ghost Island… what do I think? In short, I’m fairly indifferent to it, maybe leaning on the side of dislike only because it introduces boatloads of advantages into the game. As mentioned in previous seasons, I don’t like it when there’s an over-saturation of artificiality in the game (which, I suppose, is the entirety of Ghost Island). Still, I was refreshed to see not every urn has an advantage—sorry, Donathan. As a whole, however, Ghost Island seems to benefit players more than Exile did on most seasons it was in play. Jacob (for a bit at least) and Donathan both avoid Tribals in which they were surely to be in at least some hot water. Additionally, did anyone else see how much rice Donathan was eating at Ghost Island? Plus, there’s a premade shelter!
Yes, it sucks that Jacob wasn’t given the advantage he rightfully won there, one that wouldn’t have made one iota of difference, as it turned out, but you’re removed for only one night, and it’s the night your Tribe goes to TC. Plus, there’s a chance at an advantage? Dude, sign me up. I’ll gamble my vote for a little extra power nine times out of ten! If Malolo finds itself in the majority on one Tribe post swap, it might make a lot of sense to send their own people to Ghost Island to protect them (though, sadly, thus making the rest of Malolo more vulnerable by reducing a voting number in the minority). Regardless, I’m excited to see more of Ghost Island before I give a definitive verdict on it, but, if nothing else, it’s not Redemption Island. We can all be happy about that, right?
That’s all for this first week, my friends. Yes, I didn’t touch on the fact that the premiere saw two fake idols made, nor the fact that I don’t believe Bradley, Chelsea, Libby, or Angela got confessions in two whole hours. I didn’t mention the fact that all of Brendan, Steph, Donathan, James, Desiree, Domenick, and Wendell got varying levels of personal content (and I may be missing some), implying at least many of them will be around for the long haul, and I didn’t go into depth about my extreme reversal of opinion of Steph from pregame. No, instead, let’s do some boot predicting!
Okay, so as with every swap, the tribes will either be even or they will not be (duh, Otsuki). If the tribes are equal, I think people will rally behind challenge threats even if they’re in the minority in order to match up better against the opposing tribe—see my point above. If the tribes are mismatched, that makes challenge strength on the weaker, and therefore probably losing, tribe all the more important. In short, I think a weaker person goes regardless, and I don’t think it’ll be Donathan. While Andy might have called it right and Angela is destined to go, I think editing would have at least thrown the army vet a confessional in the first two hours. Personally, I think it’ll be a small lady who got at least a little screen time last episode. So, Jenna, my dear, see ya.
Dan Otsuki has been watching Survivor religiously since season two, and is a recent graduate of the University of Puget Sound, where he double majored in English and Religious Studies. He's also applied to play on the show every time he's been able to do so.
Follow him on twitter: @DanOtsuki