Survivor is back and while there was a lot of old and only some new, one thing was confirmed: I love Carolyn Wiger and so does Survivor! That unusual opening marked this season as one whose journey just may be a little different, and while I was already planning to witness it all through the eyes of this woman, I’m glad the “gag” was that the rest of the audience will be too. Survivor knows it’s struck gold.
I was happy my star Carolyn got to shine, but overall, the premiere was just okay for me. I caught glimpses of great things that may come, but after a two-hour premiere, I’d expect to have a better sense of who all the characters are, and instead, as is the new tradition of the new era, I felt there was too much focus on the mechanics of the game rather than the people playing it. Hopefully with all that introduction out of the way, the weeks to come will introduce us to more of the cast, but until then, I’m left longing for a little more. Let me get talk of those silly things out of the way first before digging into what we saw of the stuff I care about at each camp.
SWEAT VS. SAVVY
This is one of the “old” things I mentioned and seems to be a Survivor staple at this point, but why? We watch an opening challenge, the winner walks away with fire and camp supplies, and the losers must complete another, smaller challenge to win their reward. So far, 100% of the time, we’ve seen those losing tribes win the Sweat or Savvy challenge, so are the stakes really that high, or is it just more manufactured “drama” for people who watch this show for the challenges?
For me, this “twist” has run its course. Given that the tribes always get the reward anyway, all this does is waste time in getting to the relationship-building that takes place on the beach or, rather, removes time that could otherwise be spent showing this. Just give the tribes their shit and let the game get going. We don’t need two people split away from their tribe if it doesn’t add to the story at all. Matthew and Brandon’s bond was important, I suppose, but all everyone else was doing was waiting around for them to finish, so then the audience, too, was left waiting for the real action. Suffice to say, I was bored. Sweat and Savvy aren’t exciting enough segments to take up time in a premiere. I’d rather see more moments like Soka starting to introduce themselves to each other as they scrubbed off the mud from the first challenge.
At least I hope that’s mud and not some severe gastrointestinal distress brought on by stress from the start of the game.
THINK OUTSIDE OF THE CAGE
This “new” thing I actually liked in concept, so of course it kind of flopped the first time I got to see it.
Each tribe approached this mysterious birdcage a little differently. Soka seemed to take note but table it for later, Tika was too timid to touch it until Yam Yam suggested, “What if it’s candy?” and assured them there was no reason to be scared, and Ratu eventually organized a group effort to go look for the key.
The birdcage is already better than the Beware Advantage because there’s less negative consequence for the player who interacts with it, an issue with the “beware” warning which potentially prevents players from wanting to take a risk (the show didn’t like this either, evidently, as they removed the choice from the boat trip that I’ll get to in a bit). My hope is that Soka and Tika will play this a little more as intended with someone sneaking into the cage, taking the real idol, and leaving the fake idol behind for someone else to claim later, not realizing it’s not real. However, the outcome at Ratu was a bit of a bust, and I’m sure Probst and Production yelled, “Fuck!” when they heard that the entire tribe opened the cage together.
Not only will there not be a fake idol in play at Ratu, but the real idol was also burned at the very first tribal council, so there’s little fun left to be had with that at Ratu. It would be too good to be true to think that this means there won’t be any more advantages cluttering up Ratu’s camp, as we know Probst will want to replace this idol with another one, so this probably means we’ll just get a regular idol re-hidden next week.
I doubt the “birdcage idol” will go 3 for 3 in being a dud twist, so I expect some shenanigans as Soka and Tika as they try to tinker with the cage. It’s just sitting there, taunting them. Close enough to touch but not close enough to taste…
“YOU MUST DRAW”
“Take this time to get to know each other” – cut to zero time spent on Lauren, Matt, and Sarah getting to know each other…
I thought the show wanted to “birth” us into this new era (Probst’s word choice, not mine) with the theme of player choice between risk and reward. I liked that idea, so, naturally, Probst killed it. The Day 2 boat trip was another something-old that I didn’t need to see again, and I appreciate the show wanting to do it differently this season, but they went about it in the worst way. No longer do the players get to choose Risk vs. Reward, but instead, they’re now forced to stick their hands into the bag of
tricks advantages and hope for the best, so Matt was very correct in not really wanting to go on this journey.
Each of the three ended up with different outcomes: Lauren lost no votes and earned a “bank your vote” advantage, Sarah lost one vote but banked a ridiculously overpowered “inheritance” advantage giving her the ability to inherit all advantages played at a tribal council of her choosing, and poor Matt lost two votes and left with no advantage. It was giving big “I got a rock” Charlie Brown energy, but he didn’t even get to take home a rock to rub himself with – maybe that’s why Carolyn wanted to get on the boat so badly. She wanted a rock!
I’m going to get so much mileage out of that screenshot.
No one was 100% honest with their tribe which also wasn’t anything new. Matt and Sarah got to show their “proof” (which I talked about last season being a little unfair) and Lauren was left to lie which sucked for her but I think this is how it should be – let trust only be as good as one’s word. I did love Lauren sharing how she rigged Ratu’s rock draw to set herself up to go on the boat in the first place – that was impressive. That’s the kind of “Savvy” I prefer to see on Survivor.
I’m sure we’ll see the boat trip again in Episodes 3 & 5 as is the standard pattern, I believe, so I’m sure I’ll get to bitch about more old or new advantages then, oh boy! Bank Your Vote isn’t too earth-shattering, but the Inheritance Advantage could create a super unfair set of circumstances; however, according to the rules, it must be played in the voting booth so at least someone can’t see what’s been played first. My gut is that this will play out like Knowledge is Power and won’t have much of an impact unless Sarah can sus out an Advantagegeddon situation, so I’m going to try and not spend much time worrying about it.
SOKA SO GOOD
Now that I’ve recapped some of the crap, time for the good stuff!
Tika had Bruce, Yam Yam, and Carolyn to cover, Ratu had to prepare for Tribal Council, so with Soka winning both challenges in the episode and suffering zero life-threatening injuries, there wasn’t as much story from them as is what usually happens to the tribe that takes early wins in the season (Luvu and Coco come to mind). Matt got some character development talking about his recent break-up before the game, setting us up for what could be a cute nerdmance between him and Frannie (Probst confirmed a showmance this season, so I know the world is waiting on who that will be), and of course he received a lot of screentime with the boat trip, so he was definitely the main character as far as Soka was concerned.
Frannie I expect to be a fun narrator and while I worried she’d be a bit of an odd duck on this tribe, I didn’t see any reason to still feel that way compared to, for example, Carolyn’s first few days at Tika. The “Fratt” thing could make her a target, but I think being one of the more memorable members of Soka bodes well for her longevity.
“Tiny but mighty” Heidi was another standout with her fantastic fire-making skills (final four challengers beware), but other than that, it’s mostly “more to come” from Soka. We got confessionals from Josh, Claire, and Danny as obligatory signs of life, but they weren’t as impactful. If only 3 more elimination rounds to go before the “Earn the Merge” day (which happened when 13 remained in 43), it wouldn’t shock me if Soka never goes to tribal council. Right now, the only “at risk” player I’d say is Matt depending on how much his story will be believed.
MATTHEW (AND RATU)
Aside from Brandon and the birdcage, Ratu was mostly about Matthew. I didn’t count, but I’m guessing he had more confessionals than anyone else in the premiere, serving as the night’s major narrator from beginning to end since so much happened with the Ratu tribe. First, he and Brandon bore the weight of the coconuts to win the tribe their supplies, then he took on the role as leader with making fire and giving general direction at camp – a risky choice but one that seemed to be well-received and appreciated by the tribe – so it looked like everything was going great for Matthew, but unfortunately, his excitement for the game later got the best of him.
While no one will ever top Boston Rob on Probst’s list of favorites, the glowing edit given to Matthew makes me think he’ll be a significant character this season. Normally I don’t like the “golden boy” edits, but I liked Matthew since he seems genuine – his love for the game and general life adventure. I hope to just see some of the love in his edit spread to other players. It may simply have to be if he injures himself out of the game.
I do love the random medieval theme this season has going, but I don’t need Matthew looking like this guy by the end of it:
He said himself he doesn’t want to end up “damaged goods” so I hope he stays true to that. I laughed at Kane’s comment about already an “unprecedented body damage” count, although we don’t need another Kaoh Rong with people getting pulled from the game left and right, so everyone just needs to chill the fuck out, please.
Speaking of chill ... Tika! Lol just kidding their premiere night was next to a total disaster. The shot above is about the only time they were anything close to “chill.”
Obviously, the biggest heartbreak for the Tika tribe was losing Bruce. Even more obvious was that eventual outcome the second we saw the gash oozing blood from the top of his head:
Sometimes I wish the show wasn’t shot in HD.
Bruce managed to get back up and resume that challenge, but when Jeff gave him the honors of starting everyone back up, I honestly thought Bruce would pass out in the middle of “Survivors ready? Go!” You don’t dive head first at full speed into a wooden beam and walk away without a concussion. I know everyone held out hope that it wasn’t the case, but I think we all knew deep down what would happen.
It’s weird that Bruces have now gone 2 for 2 in being medically evacuated on Survivor and even more oddly coincidental that during their painful and emotional exit from the game they were offered some nice but totally unnecessary services from the kooky, quirky blonde lady on their tribe:
I thought this season was going the direction of Kaoh Rong, but if we get Exile Island and Tika is Casaya 2.0, that would be much more appealing to me. No more medevacs please!
In Survivor: South Africa (and I think in AU too?) we’ve seen someone pulled from the game and return safely, so when Jeff later reported that Bruce was “fine” I wondered why he didn’t just re-enter. Since the episode aired, it’s been confirmed that Bruce was not “fine” and that he did, in fact, have a concussion which thus explains why that wasn’t possible. Thanks, Jeff, for that convenient cover-up!
Probst has also reported since the episode aired that the offer for Bruce to return to play has been made, so assuming that he wants it, this may not be the last words I write about Bruce. I can’t help but wonder, though, why this offer hasn’t been made to other unlucky early outs. I want justice for Wanda Shirk, dammit! Lucky for me, at least, this season has someone to give us that kind of unprecedented, unpredictable, unhinged energy.
Apart from Bruce being pulled from the game, I was LIVIN for Tika. Helen was a sweet, smart, lovable puzzle queen, securing supplies in the Savvy challenge and saving Tika from tribal council in the immunity challenge. I finally got to see Sarah after having a hard time getting a read on her pre-season, and Yam Yam and Carson I didn’t hate as much as I thought I would (noting that it’s still early for me).
Naturally, my worry at Tika is what will happen to Carolyn. I expected her biggest ally to be Bruce, so that was a blow to her game losing him as she later expressed that he was her only ally. The Helen/Sarah/Carson is the alliance I feared would form, but I hoped that Carolyn/Bruce/Yam Yam would counter it and swing one of the other three over. Now, Carolyn and Yam Yam appear to be on the early outs. If this was Big Brother, I know that a “twist” would swoop in to save them, the two top favorites in Casting, I’m sure, but the key to their survival may only be a literal key.
God, imagine losing Carolyn and Yam Yam and having Carson be the voice of Tika, listening to him talk more about how he decided to gain weight before coming out onto the show. Truly rocket science-level strategery right there! Weight gain? For Survivor?
As the show made loud and clear in the very first seconds of the premiere, this is The Carolyn Show so my gut says she’ll magically find a way to make the merge. She just (literally) screams “main character” to me – must be something in her face.
IMMUNITY – FEELING THE HEAT
THAT IS HOW YOU DO IT ON SURVIVOR!*
*If you want to lose Survivor
Thankfully this was not another Caleb Reynolds moment, but Dr. Will nearly eclipsed Carolyn as the main character with all the action he was in on this episode. THAT IS HOW YOU EARN YOUR PAYCHECK ON SURVIVOR!
Brandon and everyone else ended up okay, but so far 100% of the challenges this season have had to stop due to medical emergencies, so I’m worried that we may not have seen the only medevac of 44 this episode.
One thing that refused to rest, however, was Claire’s genius mind in a small but one of my favorite moments of the premiere episode:
Was this Survivor or The Bachelor with her little “Can I steal you for a sec?” attention grab? Claire effectively outed Lauren as having hid something from her tribe, telling Matthew that if she lost her vote, she’d have a note to prove it. Lauren didn’t end up leaving the game immediately as a result, but Claire already trying to control the other tribe’s votes? HER POWER! She had a subtler night compared to others, but I’m excited to see more of this level of gameplay from Claire. I’ll repeat the phrase, “chill the fuck out,” again as I don’t want her to come on too strong, but this was simply some amazing sideline shit-stirring that was reminiscent of another Survivor winner:
Claire may not have got Lauren voted out, but she certainly set in motion the drama driving Ratu’s pre-tribal scramble following their loss.
SHE’S PLAYING US
It was not lost on me the animal imagery the editors inserted for Lauren, showing a shot of this snake just before the shot above:
Matthew shared back at camp what Claire had told him at the challenge, immediately raising red flags about Lauren and making her the official first target. The three men were in agreement and they initially brought in Jaime to secure a majority. However, after Brandon had made it clear that he wasn’t wanting to work with Maddy, given his defiance of her wishes to keep the birdcage key a secret, Maddy made it her mission to put the votes on Brandon instead.
With the guys locked on Lauren, Maddy needed numbers with at least the ladies which put Jaime in the uncomfortable swing spot.
Starting to let paranoia go to her head, Jaime told Maddy and Lauren that she was considering playing her Shot in the Dark. With Lauren telling her tribe she lost her vote and Jaime now having lost her mind, Maddy was suddenly down to just her one vote for Brandon so her plan was not looking good. She scrambled to convince Kane to vote with her, but Kane had reservations about voting for Brandon and having to deal with him back at camp if he played his idol.
Maddy really lived up to my pre-game expectations of her: playing way too hard way too fast. Her rationale wasn’t bad – she wanted to eliminate the big, strong guy with an idol while protecting the women’s numbers – but her execution was sloppy and spazzy. The look on Matthew’s face when she was trying to convince him to go along pretty much said it all:
Bless her heart for trying, and bless her most of all for making this not an easy, unanimous vote for Lauren. Survivor needs mess and Maddy delivered it with the way she tried to strongarm this first vote.
I’ll add here that I wish we could’ve seen a few more key conversations to answer a few questions – IF ONLY there were things we’ve seen before that could’ve been cut out of the episode. Were Maddy and Lauren allies or was Maddy just trying to keep the women around? Where did Jaime fit in with them? Were Jaime and Matthew working together on this vote or were their decisions separate? I’d also love to know who Matthew and Jaime would have voted for, assuming they’d have been together. Knowing Lauren was without a vote, would they have joined Brandon to vote out troublemaker Maddy, or did they unknowingly save themselves from voting for Brandon and having to come back to camp with their tails between their legs? WHO KNOWS! We know what vote talk was, but what about the relationships between those talking about it? That’s what I feel is missing most in modern Survivor.
THAT’S THE SNAKE
I still thought that with Maddy’s plan to vote out Brandon kind of a bust, the vote would settle back down and settle on Lauren but boy was I wrong! Jaime announced to everyone that she was planning to play her Shot in the Dark even though hers was one of the few names not on the chopping block, so of course the first time in Survivor history that Shot connects is a time when it didn’t need to.
Matthew also played his own Shot in the Dark but it missed, and before Jeff read the few votes actually in the urn, Brandon played his idol just to make sure he was safe. Good thing because had he not, he’d have been voted out in a measly 2-1 decision. My mind was blown when the 1 vote in the urn that counted was for Maddy, making her the “second person voted out” of Survivor 44 – I guess we are counting the doctor’s vote for Bruce to leave the game as the first.
Initially, I was stunned, but in retrospect, this made sense. I’m okay with a surprise vote when I can piece it together myself rather than when the show leaves us going “huh?” Maddy pushed too hard for Brandon and I’m sure he caught wind of it, so he wrote her name down. I’m not totally sure what Jaime and Matthew were thinking – were they truly scared or did they just not want to have to “choose”? If they were worried about Brandon playing his idol, they could’ve just voted with him for Maddy and saved their Shots for later. If they wanted Brandon out, then they should’ve done a better job of making him feel safe – playing their Shot in the Dark wasn’t exactly going to accomplish that.
In the end, I’m sad for Maddy as I think she would’ve kept up the chaos more than Brandon will, but I appreciated her fight. Being the first boot (at tribal council) and only having one vote cast against you is pretty iconic. The edit gave us enough to know that Maddy came to play and it’s a shame she didn’t get to longer, but she at least made her mark on this season and set the pace for what hopefully will be as action-packed of a season as this episode’s ending was. Stay feral, my friend!
NEXT TIME ON SURVIVOR ...
I’m not going to force anyone against their will into a showmance, but you have to admit this would be one of the cutest ones we’ve ever seen on the show. Carolyn’s screaming about it too or she’s screaming about something else. It’s hard to tell if the noises she makes are when she’s happy, sad, mad, tired, confused, or horny. She looked to be up in a tree, so I’m praying she’s found the key to the Tika birdcage – she’s a smart one, that Carolyn, thinking like a bird to unlock the birdcage.
Matthew – Lots of great content from Matthew this week and easily the most visible in the premiere out of anyone not named Carolyn. We learned about his personal life, his family, his desire to not have a midlife crisis but instead take on midlife challenge – a little too much of a challenge in climbing that rock for no reason, but I appreciate his spirit. I call this a lot of “plot armor” that’s going to keep him around as a major character this season. As a player, he’s done extremely well from what I can tell. He was viewed as a the leader which can often paint a target on one’s back, but he remained one of the only Ratu whose name wasn’t mentioned. Until we learn more about his Shot in the Dark play, it’s hard to say whether he really had much of a role in Maddy going home or Brandon playing his idol, but Matthew has his finger on the pulse about everything and everyone, including the knowledge that Lauren lied. This may be too strong to be a “winner edit” but I expect Matthew to be a big star of the season whether he wins or loses.
Matt – The other Matt was also a big name this episode which was not what I expected. I figured he’d lay a little low as kind of the shy, nerdy type but circumstances forced him to play a big part in the premiere. I’m interested to see him play around his trip to the island where he got goose eggs as a reward, but if he can blossom whatever it is he has going on with Frannie into something that’s more than just a two-person alliance (a throuple, perhaps), Matt may make if further than I thought he would.
Brandon – Kind of another big character due to circumstance surrounding the idol which inconveniently made him a target at Ratu too. This was a big entrance for Brandon but now that he’s without an idol, he may be able to fade into the background a bit. Despite Maddy’s claim that it was Brandon, I think Matthew is the kingpin, and if Brandon’s good with Matthew, the two of them will be good until the merge. It’s hard to say whether it was 100% the idol that made Brandon the target that he was, so I’m curious to see how he bounces back from this near-blindside boot.
Jaime – What the fuck lol. Jaime out of nowhere made the most random, entertaining move of the night. She was 100% not getting votes, but she played her Shot in the Dark anyway and made Survivor history in becoming the first person to be declared “Safe” by it. If Jaime doesn’t win, sign her up for Second Chance 2 or Game Changers 2 immediately. I cannot wait to see what other unexpected, unstrategic moves this powerhouse player is going to make!
Last but not least ...
I figure I’m going to want to end every week talking about Carolyn, so rather than having her a permanent slot among my Players of the Week, I decided to give Carolyn her own special spot-on Kaiser Island called the Carolyn Corner. If I had this sort of thing for past seasons, I’d have dubbed them the Heather Hovel or Natalie’s Nook.
Carolyn gave everything I wanted and expected her to give this week but the surprise was how hard the show leaned into it themselves. Every moment Carolyn was on-screen was a joy. She’s just so completely her unapologetic, authentic, larger-than-life self, but her head’s not so far up in space that she doesn’t know how she’s perceived. She knows she’s weird or the oddball or has tendencies to be “annoying” which gives me hope that she’ll know what to do in order to adapt. After a very lackluster last season in terms of star power, this season needs Carolyn in every single episode to give us more instantly iconic lines like this one:
Now that I’ve finished writing for the week, I’ve got to run to an appointment. I’ve decided I’m getting this tattooed on my ass:
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