Baka was dead-on talking about how the early days of this game is like the early days of dating. This premiere was focused on just starting to get to know these people, and the show did a great job at balancing that — we were given lots of backstories and personal reasons to care about almost every individual. But also like those early days of “talking” to someone new, it can take some time to get to the juicy stuff or you can be stuck waiting for that text back, trying to figure out if you’re into each other or not. I would have liked to have seen a bigger BANG by the end of the episode, but this one did a fine job at setting up storylines on each tribe that at least have me saying yes to a second date.
The only part that I don’t need to see more of was the Scooby-Doo disguising of the prisoner’s dilemma twist. The new element was that the decisions to risk your vote or play it safe were public to the other players, but to me, that would only disincentivize me from taking the risk which is what the show wants everyone to do, right? If that was the worst part of the premiere, though — a twist that admittedly isn’t the worst we’ve ever seen — that’s not bad, even if it still felt a little recycled with the perfectly on-cue boat ride. I wish they’d have found a way to make that more surprising — I’d say I wish to see it in 44, but we know 44 will be a carbon copy of 43, so any major changes we’d like will have to wait for 45.
But that’s most of what I have to bitch about! One thing! Well, not really (as if), but I have a mostly positive review of this premiere and its new players — many of whom I’d say I was LOVIN!!
Vesi was expectedly the tribe that performed well in the challenges, so they were safe from first vote, but back at camp? Things were far from perfect:
In addition to struggling to construct a solid shelter and make fire in the first day, there were early lines being drawn in the sand (like the one Probst weirdly drew at the opening challenge) indicative of what messiness may come if Vesi ever does vote. Here’s my full Vesi viability analysis:
Production obviously loves Cody because he was everywhere this episode. I didn’t hate it, but a big presence in the premiere can often be a red flag (thought not always, as we just saw last season with Maryanne). Cody’s just a wild character like I knew he would be, but he’s also playing wildly aggressive. He should know he’s a physical threat, so he shouldn’t have stood out so much in the opening challenge — a brilliant idea it was to use the hole on the end of the bamboo the way he suggested, but that will send major red flags that not only does Cody have the brawn and the beauty; he’s got the brains too. That may just make his boot come soon with a blazing speed.
Strategically, he was much sharper than I’d have guessed with trying to turn his tribe against someone in the sales field, carefully concealing that he was a salesperson himself. The “alliance” he eyed with Jesse and Nneka didn’t feel like the right “fit” to me, though, and I especially see Jesse signing another deal with someone else.
Overall, I enjoyed Cody a lot and he was a fun, kooky character who I’m sure will make me laugh. Most everyone got to share an emotional piece of their past, and I have to say that out of them all, Cody’s deeply compelling struggle in life to find the perfect ass tattoo really resonated with me and brought a great deal of tears to my eyes. I wonder if Survivor will inspire him to get one on his other butt cheek — maybe a nod to his famous, first Big Move of the game.
I can’t think of a better spot for that.
While Cody came out guns blazing, I think Noelle’s fire will spark later, like Vesi’s own fire. She was established as a pair with Justine, who we know is a target of Cody’s already, but other than that, her focus was around her leg and how she’s an impressively successful athlete in spite of that. She’s obviously competitive, so if it comes up soon that Justine is on the chopping block, I think we’ll see more of Noelle then as she defends her closest ally in the game. For now, she’s just happy to be on the winning tribe, but as soon as they lose, I expect intense heat from her with probably a lot of fierce friction between her and Cody over who should be the first Vesi vote-out. I predicted Noelle and Cody to be a quick power couple, but now it looks like they’ll be on opposite sides which should be a fun fight to watch in the next few weeks.
Dwight stood out for being one of the youngest players but with a decent head on his shoulders. However, with the superfan label he probably should’ve been aware of, I think it was a mistake to make the journey to the Risk Rock or whatever we’re going to call it. That couldn't have gone much worse for him, and the only reason he was saved from being totally screwed was the note that he was allowed to show his tribe to assure them he had no idol or advantage.
He has no vote, but I don’t think it will be critical now as he seems somewhere in the middle of two forming factions — critical for Dwight, at least. He’ll be safe no matter what, but I expect all the pressure to then be on Jesse to decide between Cody/Nneka and Noelle/Justine. I like Dwight a lot and I’m not going to totally discount him yet for being a little naïve in his youth, but he’ll have to be mindful that he can’t just volunteer to be a part of every Survivor twist that presents itself. Cody didn’t buy what Dwight was selling without that piece of paper, so without it, Dwight would’ve looked like the next JD.
That would not have been a good look.
Unlike some others on her tribe, Nneka didn’t stick her neck out much in the premiere. We just learned about her Nigerian background and that she’s used to working with men a lot, so unsurprisingly her two go-tos were Cody and Jesse. Initially I thought she may stick out here, but Cody as a shield could be good for her. If Jesse and Dwight lean toward working with Noelle and Justine, though, I’m not so sure they won’t look at Nneka instead of Cody to “keep the tribe strong.” No major red flags from Nneka’s initial impression, but I’ll need to see more of her to be a better judge of how much I should bet on her in this game.
Justine was the last person in the entire cast to be introduced via confessional which may mean everything or nothing. The last two winners were on complete opposite ends of the visibility spectrum, so I don’t think we can rule anyone out based on too much or too little content. Justine’s focus was on the flint and fire, including a funny moment where she looked to only accidentally strike flame, but she ended up the hero taking credit for it finally. Cody’s target is already on her because she works in sales, but something tells me that while Cody could be a good schmoozer with an opening pitch, Justine could be the better closer. She has already shown to bring value to the tribe and she’s obviously not as volatile as Cody in personality and as a player, so as long as Vesi doesn’t just purely focus on muscle mass, Justine’s case to stay may resonate more than Cody’s own elevator pitch.
Jesse the man of many surprises was unsurprisingly the man who best managed his first three days at Vesi. All of my top three players from my pre-game assessment did, so maybe I finally picked 'em right this season!
Jesse positioned to be in the middle even though his plan going in wasn’t to do much. It goes to show how much observing and sitting back can sometimes work in one’s favor on Survivor. As Cody & Nneka and Noelle & Justine cliqued up, both sides approached Jesse to invite him to their “parties” which was a new experience for Jesse and made for a cute moment where he talked about how back home, his “friends” were mostly his family so he wasn’t swimming in party invites, but here he found himself the one on everyone’s VIP list.
I don’t know for sure which way Jesse will go and whether he’ll ask Dwight to be his “date” to either party — we identified who the parties were but didn’t get deep inside Jesse’s own thoughts about which he wanted to accept and which to reject. That will be the question of the hour ahead of Vesi’s eventual visit to tribal council. Especially with Dwight not having a vote, Jesse’s vote will be the decider in who stays and who goes. He’s done extremely well for himself despite saying he wanted to do very little, so if that keeps up, Jesse may find himself in many critical power positions down the line. Hopefully he’ll stick around long enough for us to see more surprises about himself, like does he also have an ass tattoo or was that one of the ones he had removed? Maybe Cody could call Jesse’s guy ….
Similar to Vesi, Coco’s dynamics were also introduced in a way that showed us two “sides” forming within the tribe and one person reluctantly finding themselves in the middle, but even with that brewing, Coco remained mostly calm, cool, and collected on the surface. Ryan and Geo bonded on the beach as they dug up supplies for the tribe (a risky decision but it ended up having a quick reward), the ladies were led by Lindsay to team up, inclusive of James, and Karla emerged as the queen-pin who will ultimately determine which way the Coco crumbles — maybe not so much “crumble,” but I’m not sure I see a unanimous vote happening here like we saw on Baka. A couple of key moments and some characters were showcased, and Karla captured the mood of the episode, saying, “I feel like we’re dating” which is what I felt too trying to get a read on these people:
Ryan had a great premiere episode and is someone with way more than what meets the eye who could otherwise have been easily labeled just the jock/male eye candy of the season. Immediately we were introduced to his past and being born a preemie, defying what doctors expected his life would be. There’s a lot to root for in Ryan — he seems super sweet, happy-go-lucky, he’s a physical hard worker, an early beast in challenges, and seems strategically savvy based on where he’s set up with relationships in the tribe. NONE of those except the last one is a similarity between him and the Ryan writing this, but I’m a fan for non-narcissistic reasons!
The group of Ryan, Geo, and Karla will be amazing if it holds together — a totally unlikely trio, unlike what could otherwise have ended up as just men vs. women on Coco. You’ve got the LGBT+ in there, all three are lovable underdogs in life — what’s not to like about this early alliance? Ryan will have to figure out how to play around his physicality later in the game, but I think he’ll be someone who will be hard to vote out on a personal level. I said he will “absolutely not win” after saying he wanted to play like Rupert before the game, but I may be eating those words because Ryan was definitely a highlight of this premiere.
On the flip side, as Lucille Bluth would say, “I don’t care for James.” He started off fine for me with his Fiji love and inspiration from Earl, but when he got to camp, his attitude shifted and maybe it was just a strategy of not wanting to be one of the two to “sweat” on beach, I thought he gave a BS reason as to why. He said he “went all in” on the opening challenges and basically had nothing left in the tank, but compared to the rest of Coco, he actually contributed the least. He wasn’t a runner, he wasn’t in the water, he did help solve the cube puzzle but then left it to Lindsay to finish the job. If that’s “all” then I worry for his long-term stamina. I’m sorry, but you just haven’t given it your “all” until you are seconds away from death and all of your organs are failing.
Survivor — where players are willing to die for salt and pepper.
This cast was overall good, so I’ll admit I’m probably being nit-picky here with something in James to bitch about. His game so far on paper may not be so different from Jesse’s, letting people come to him with pitches so he looks like the pawn when he’s really the king, so he said in reference to his history playing chess. Jesse just seems smoother than James, though, and James may be more on the fringe than he figures he is. If Karla wants to stay in between her two boys and her two girls, that would leave James on the outs, so I think this dude’s got to put in more energy to play than he seems to have thus far. When your most memorable moment of the season so far is this:
I’m not putting you high on my contender list.
Nneka wasn’t a WOW in this premiere, but Lindsay was absolutely my #MomSquad stanee of the season premiere! She’s SO positive and couldn’t stop smiling every time she talked — it was endearing to watch her live out her dream like she was. She revealed that she’s known Survivor longer than she’s known her family, including her husband, which is 100% relatable. I don’t personally plan to have kids, but if I did, I’d tell them that Survivor will always come first to me because I’ve known it longer (… that’s probably why I shouldn’t plan to have kids).
Moms are so often overlooked and underrated from fans and fellow castmates, but Lindsay was in there wheeling and dealing like anyone else. The all-women’s alliance isn’t exactly new, but I appreciated her stepping up to get something going for herself rather than end up like the last mom, Marya, with an early exit. Lindsay also stepped up in the opening challenge to show that she’s capable of competing with the rest and best of them, setting out to be a mold-breaker of the mom archetype. I loved Lindsay, and she was prominent throughout the episode which gives me hope she’ll have a long stay in this game. I didn’t connect this until now, but there’s a “Ryan and Lindsay” on this tribe which would also be a fun pair to root for given that my sister and I share those names.
Lindsay looks strong physically and at making connections, the latter of which had me questioning that pre-game swipe given the demographics of Coco, so I think she’s going to make me regret swiping left on her. If anything, she could be voted out for playing too hard at this point, but I think she has potential for some Chrissy upside which I’m 100% here for (minus the r.obbed g.oddess ending).
Cassidy let us know she wanted to play sneakily in the shadows, rather than “loud,” because women can’t get away with playing loud like men can. (Preach!) In line with that strategy, Cassidy’s story this week was a quiet one. She wants to work with Karla and Lindsay, but outside of that, we didn’t see her connecting with anyone else like those two did with the guys. That doesn’t make me too confident for Cassidy should Coco face tribal council — if the women don’t stick together (as we saw at Baka), then I don’t know where Cassidy falls besides falling hard into Losers Lodge, unfortunately.
Geo was way more mellow than I imagined, and I think this was a good look for him. I’m sure he didn’t expect to be second behind Ryan in brute strength on Coco, but that’s where he landed in the opening challenge, so following an expectedly unspectacular performance there, he worked hard to redeem himself by volunteering to dig up the tribe’s supplies in the “Sweat” challenge.
Geo later said he his strategy was to play with his heart and use that to get people to open up to him. It showed some success in an early connection with Karla over their LGBT+ identities, bonding over shared, hardship-filled experiences in their life. Talk about heart! Not that I disliked Geo before — he just rubbed me as one who could ruffle some feathers, but since his approach instead seems to be more of a calming nature, maybe he won’t do so bad. Ultimately, though, he’ll be at the mercy of Karla and whichever way her heart leans on this tribe.
I love it when my pre-game favorites stay my favorites in-game. Karla was SO FUCKING GOOD in this season premiere. She was funny, she was passionate, she was heartfelt, and she played the hell out of the rest of Coco. We saw Karla make inroads with everyone, and while I’m sure most people had one-on-ones through the first three days, seeing Karla making multiple connections and early alliances without throwing out a first name — like Cody did with Justine — gives me confidence that we’re in for greatness here.
She also made what I think was the correct move to play the “No Risk” card and watch Gabler and Dwight either become a target with an advantage or in trouble without a vote. Another favorite line of the night was, “Honey, your vote is your life right now” because it so is. This cast had probably just seen how chaotic the first Vati vote was with the near-rock draw due to lack of votes in the urn. Karla was many “firsts” in her family, but she wasn’t going to be the first person voted out because she stuck her hand in a bag and pulled out the wrong thing.
I referred to Karla as the queen-pin earlier and that’s where she sits (on a throne) on Coco. When they go to vote, she should be the decider, either going with the girls or the guys. I’d like to see her vote out James and spare the hard vote for the one after that, but I trust Karla to do what needs to be done. I also love how she worried about being liked in the game when she ended up the most popular person on Coco beach. Right now, she’s the queen of Coco and the queen of 43 for me.
BAD LUCK BAKA
This is the tribe that I thought would go to tribal council first and I hated it more and more as the episode went on because I knew I’d like all these people. Even Gabler — who fits an archetype I rarely like — wasn’t so bad until he tried to Zane himself out of the game. They remain a fun tribe and now are definitely the underdogs, so I hope they can make a comeback. Gabler tried to give a pep talk after their immunity loss by saying to everyone, “To date, we have all played an amazing game.” Only three days in…did they, though?
There are some sure stars here, but even the best made some questionable calls, in my opinion, possibly voting themselves into a minority as well as getting outed as Rain Man among those decisions. I’d like to think that this tribe could win out to the merge, but in reality…they’re boned.
Starting with the whiz-kid himself! I actually found Sami surprisingly endearing. He definitely fell into the trope of “young kid wanting to prove himself” but unlike some of those before him … he actually did. That mind-blowing bones realization!? I consider myself a respectable Debbie D.W. when it comes puzzles, but I don’t think I’d have come to Sami’s same solution ever after 4 hours (stuck thinking about how the solution must still be 4 digits). He was a superstar and regular Rain Man there, but low-key it was actually Jeanine who led the tribe to the correct answer. Sami saw to move two bones from one of the zeroes to land at 508111, but Jeanine realized there was a bigger number of 511810 utilizing the same maneuver. As is typical, though, the men get all the credit in this game!
(I mostly jest – Sami deserved the MVP award)
I should’ve known from the long-winded resume recital that Sami would be a favorite of the episode. I think he’s still a little high on his own chances of winning, but the kid’s admittedly got game. If he can show some more humility and maybe not blast out into the universe that he’s got a big brain to go with his brawny physique, maybe that confidence is well-placed.
There also may not be many as bizarrely iconic quotes as “like the shih tzu I put in the incinerator” in this show’s history, and that’s including the goofy phrases from the last two seasons. Imagine had the show used something like that instead, like, “Boy Jeff, I’m so hungry I could roast a chihuahua over a campfire and then smother it in barbecue sauce! Wash it down with some hamster blood!”
Sometimes I get lost in my own imagination and digress … anyway … Sami’s really fun, weird, and “energable,” and that’s a good combo to be for me. He also genuinely wanted to keep Morriah which makes me like him even more. I think he’ll probably still have a post-merge spiraling-out, but the Sami ride along the way should be an entertaining one.
I thought Morriah would be the biggest character on Baka that Sami ended up being for me, but her colorfulness didn’t really make a huge splash until the end when her name came up on the chopping block. Part of me thinks the show knew that if they showed us any seconds more of her, we’d have fallen so in-love that we’d have all rage-quit the rest of the season after she was the first to go. Thank the Survivor gods I have Karla because if Morriah remained far and away my #1, like she was as early as the season 42 finale, I may have just had to do that and bury my head in the sand until 44.
I don’t feel like Morriah’s boot was explained very well given that the show had 2 hours to tell her story. I picked up that it was along the boring “strategy” of “keeping the tribe strong,” but to that I’d argue, where did Morriah flop? The puzzle in the opening challenge? Was that even worth remembering? Jeanine started off Baka behind in the immunity challenge while Gabler and Sami shit the bed on the table maze. The only strong showing for Baka in the immunity challenge was Morriah’s quick movement across the balance beam. Seems like some people were just making a mountain out of a mole hill when it came to Morriah’s “weakness” and were simply searching for a scapegoat. I think Elie just really liked Gabler and Owen more than she did Morriah, so she threw out whatever reason would stick to get the tribe to go her way. Good for Elie, but bad for one of my early faves … sigh.
This is the guy who I wanted to see go. As soon as he opened up that idol, I went, “Fuck.” At that point, there was literally no outcome at Baka that I’d have been satisfied with at tribal council. I just don’t relate to Gabler and I never will, so it’s harder for me to root for him as much as others. He sure made the right strategic call at least, whether intentional or not, in warming up to Elie. Without her, I really think he’d have sat on his idol or played a silly shot in the dark to get himself voted out first.
On that note, what the actual fuck? I think Gabler was genuinely okay with being the first one voted out given that he blew the immunity challenge. When everyone was like “no, no, don’t give up!” this was me shouting at the TV:
He wasn’t going to literally quit, but Gabler was prepared to do everything he needed to do to make himself the first boot. If it was all an attempt to fall on his sword for Morriah, I’d support it, but I don’t think that was his intention, and if he’s that out of his damn mind on Day 3, I don’t think he’ll be seeing Day 26. Over the next week, I’ll be spending every waking hour trying to find a scenario in my head where he doesn’t play his expiring idol at his next tribal and gets voted out instead. Don’t count those children before they hatch – there’s a way! I just have to find it still.
I hate that I was kind of rooting for Owen to be the first boot — thanks, Gabler! I didn’t want him to go, but with gun to my head between him and Morriah, I had to make a decision. I was surprised that Owen didn’t really find his place in the tribe since I thought he’d for sure be its kingpin, but Elie stepped into that role instead, and lucky for Owen, she locked him in by her side.
I don’t doubt that Owen will make a comeback, though. Nick Wilson went on to win the game after a shaky start as a superfan, so it’s not like it hasn’t been done before. Owen has some ground to make up though, first by stopping his thinking that “I’ll let you know if I hear your name” builds any meaningful trust. I’d be like, “Does that mean you’re not going to talk to me until then, or … ?” After Swati, maybe Owen was afraid to promise too much, but promising too little is just as poor of a strategy. I’ll cut him some slack and say he was maybe just starstruck to the whole experience thus far. In a few more days, Owen may own more of the game.
Hiiiii! *giggles* Jeanine pretty much had all the right reads this episode. She saved her tribe from a critical error on the bones puzzle and she tried shifting the vote in the direction most beneficial for both her and Elie, but Elie didn’t budge on wanting out Morriah, so Jeanine was forced to follow. I worry that the prophecy she saw is going to come true and at the next Baka vote, it’s going to be her and Elie against the boys and since Elie is in good with those guys … Jeanine may be toast. Jeanine seems super smart, super cute, and super fun — all of which we need more of now that there’s a Morriah-sized hole to fill, so I’m not the religious type, but I pray that doesn’t happen.
I hate what she did, but I loved that she had the power to do it. Elie was my pre-game winner pick, and though I felt the same way about Shan’s dominance in her own premiere episode, I still feel pretty good about this call. The vote was 100% Elie’s. Whichever way she wanted it to go it was going to go. I guess I’d say I was “impressed” by her gameplay, but I expected her to be stellar, so rather I’m as impressed as I expected to be!
I didn’t know as much about her personal history, however, so to hear her talk about the tragedy with her sister was a major plot twist. That was a big, supportive hero moment for Elie ahead of some seriously killer and villain-esque gameplay later on. A quote that stood out to me this week was from James who said, “Someone that was nice and sweet can be a villain” which I immediately pinned on Elie. Elie’s equipped to use her background as a weapon and instigate some psychological warfare on these unsuspecting players. She proved to be sharp when it came to figuring out how to bond with people like pretending she was a major metalhead to connect with Gabler which was a key moment in shaping the outcome of the episode.
I’m interested to see where Elie’s edit goes because she comes across as warm and inviting, but it’s obvious she’s already playing secretly cold-hearted and calculated. I do question how she came to the conclusion to vote out Morriah because, as Jeanine pointed out, it puts her in a tight spot at the next vote, especially with Gabler guaranteed to be immune, but because Elie seems so smart, I assume we just weren’t shown how tight she actually was with Owen already, so I don’t think Elie will be the one in danger, and if she wants to save Jeanine, I think she’s capable of doing so. It’s probably too early to get too excited over Elie slaying the shit out of this game, but from what I’ve seen so far, she kind of scares me in a good way. I think we’re in for an epic smackdown for the crown between Elie and Karla one day, and it will have me LIVIN!!
LIVING IN A FANTASY WORLD
Someone must’ve sprayed some Delusion by Jinkx in the air because Baka was batshit crazy at tribal council trying to proclaim how they were winners even though the whole premise is that tribes vote when they lose. Moral victories can be important in life, but they mean shit in Survivor. Gabler stating, “We were supposed to win today,” even lost Jeff who normally is LIVIN for those insane, metaphoric monologues.
I don’t know who else noticed the new lighting on Jeff, but it aged him about 30 years. Just like this moment did for me:
When in say I like tribal councils to end with a bang, I don’t mean a gut punch to my own body. This one hurt, and I’m pissed that production stacked Baka with a lot of people I liked a lot and let the one guy I could spare to see go get an idol. Morriah was a bright spot in the cast and I’m sad it’s a little duller without her. Catch me next week looking like this:
NEXT TIME ON SURVIVOR
Is “jump the rock” the new “jump the shark” on Survivor? That looks a little like attention whoring to me and the rest of Vesi seems to be noticing the same. Karla’s contemplating her life choices at Coco as she tries to tread the middle (please don’t end up like Dolly), and at Baka, some storm looks to have taken down Gabler. I wouldn’t wish a med-evac on anyone, but, I mean, if I had to pick someone … usually promos mean little so watch Ryan get blindsided or something. Look forward to that as well as at least two more idols entering the game with confusing rules.
Sami – This was a big intro to Sami and whether for better or worse, I’m not totally sure yet, but I’m intrigued. I think he’ll have a larger impact like Michael Yerger and less of a subtle showing like Will Wahl, Sami’s two premature predecessors. The editors obviously love him and I expect many more wacky one-liners during his time here which I think will be a while. That bones puzzle solution still may stand out as the most impressive move made in the premiere.
Elie – I expected Elie to play like Michele and I expected her to be edited like her too, but I guess it’s hard to edit down someone who was such a driver of the strategic narrative as well as one who had a compelling backstory to share. Like I said, she scares me with how great she already is at bending people to her will. I’m a little worried that she came out swinging so well in Episode 1 since a lot of appeal to her as my winner pick was how I thought she could navigate a super social game while flying under the radar. I think Elie remains a great winner pick still but now with a much different journey than I imagined.
Karla – Karla’s another pre-game pick of mine that I wanted to see do well so I’m glad she is! Walking a tightrope as the swing vote can be tricky, but with Karla’s mix of street smarts and book smarts, I think she’ll walk that well. She’s fierce, she’s funny, and she’s fabulous – I’m very happy with all the Karla content I got this week. She showed a little bit of nerves being between a few different alliances, but she seems confident enough to take control rather than let the chaos control her.
Cody – A million dollars is one thing, but if you can get a million dollars and some ass tattoos, that’s Cody’s dream right there. He was as wild as I could have predicted, but I didn’t predict he’d be so strategically savvy so early, and I could tell he’s a quarantine binge fan compared to others who have studied the more subtle ways to approach the game over its 22 years. Cody’s at risk to flame out early, but my gut says he’ll end up safe. Next week’s preview already painting him as the target should mean that he’s not by standard Survivor promo logic, unless that rock has its way with him…
Ryan Kaiser has been a lifelong fan of Survivor since the show first aired during his days in elementary school, and he plans to one day put his money where his mouth is by competing in the greatest game on Earth. Until that day comes, however, he'll stick to running his mouth here and on Twitter: @Ryan__Kaiser