44 seasons and 22 years! Survivor is back with a vengeance and so is Top Five, Baby! I hope everyone had a great winter and holiday season. I am once again humbled to be back again this season. I love doing this and I hope you still enjoy reading them, hopefully, we get to do this for years to come. We were given another 2-hour premiere to start the season and there is a lot to break down and discuss in this 2-hour episode along with 18 new faces. Also, read on to find out more, but after the premiere, I think my pick to win this season is Sarah.
Before I start though, just a quick word on Bruce. What an absolutely heart-breaking moment for him ... and us too as fans, really. Not too ashamed to admit my eyes were tearful when he was pulled from the game. To have that happen right out of the gate before he could really get going in the game was tough to watch. Ok, enough sad stuff now, there is plenty of other stuff to talk about as well, so welcome back to “Top Five Baby!”
Ok, let’s make this easy to start the season out. There are plenty of new cast members to talk about, so let’s break it down by tribe. I will pick Soka first since they are the ones that won the first immunity challenge. Out of the gate, they appear to be the stronger tribe, not just physically, but all around. Danny even mentions how they were all great, with no easy targets to pick off. There seems to be a nice alliance forming between Matt and Frannie. Could this be the “showmance” that was hinted at? If so, I can see both of them sticking around for a while.
I also really like Heidi and Claire on this tribe. Claire, I will mention in more detail below, but it was great the way Heidi stepped up to start the fire when everyone else was struggling. Danny seems to be the strongest one out there physically, so he is going to be an early asset. Josh is the only one I don’t have a feeling about yet, but that’s mostly because we really didn’t see him in this episode. That slow-motion crawl through the mud might have been the most screen time that he received this week.
Overall, I have a good vibe about this group, and I don’t think they will lose more than one immunity challenge in the pre-merge.
I have a feeling this is going to be our “train wreck” tribe this season. Already missing their strongest player in Bruce, they also have Carolyn who appears to be on the outside of the majority already. Carson, Sarah, and Helen have formed a bond almost immediately, and with Bruce gone, that puts her and Yam Yam on the outside looking in.
The curious part about that division is that both Yam Yam and Carolyn are two of the biggest personalities in this season. So, even though they are entertaining, that doesn’t mean it will be easy to live with them. But we can ask Gabler how that works out in the end can’t we? Even though Yam Yam made the fire (very quickly it seemed), the other three are sitting pretty right now. Plus, Helen and Carson helped them get their camp supplies by figuring out the Savvy puzzle.
At this point, if Tika loses the next immunity challenge (and I think they will), Carolyn may be in trouble.
Wow, what a start to the season, and such an action-packed first tribal council as well. Even though I think Soka is the stronger tribe, Ratu may have the bigger men so that may save them just like it did in the Sweat challenge to get their camp supplies. The biggest issue this tribe had appeared to be Maddy and Brandon not trusting each other and since Maddy is now gone, this may actually work out well for Brandon. Especially since he has already played his hidden immunity idol. His biggest competition is gone and the target on his back is now gone.
I think Lauren could have a lot going for her this season as well as long as she can earn back some trust from her tribe. The biggest wild card of this tribe ... and maybe the whole season is Matthew. The dude fell off a freaking rock for crying out loud. I know that this is an adventure, but why in the world would you think that is a good idea? So, even though he is patched up now, he still has a bum shoulder and hurt toe.
Honestly, though, I think Jaime’s paranoia is worse than anything that Matthew has going on. Playing her shot-in-the-dark even though she was told she didn’t have to will probably cost her at their next tribal. Kane is also in a tough spot now since he is the only one left that voted for Brandon.
I am really curious to see how this tribe comes back after that tribal next week.
4. Cross-tribal communication
So yes, Sarah, Matt, and Lauren went on the “Survivor Journey” together after all of them were chosen in one way or another by their tribe. However, we didn’t see a single bit of game or strategy talk amongst them during that segment. So, if it happened we didn’t see it.
But the big thing that came out of this actually occurred at the “sit-out bench” during the immunity challenge. Since Bruce had to leave the game on night 1, both Ratu and Soka had to sit someone out of the challenge. Matthew logically set out for Ratu, and Claire was the one that sat out for Soka. At some point during the challenge, Claire whispered to Matthew about the lost vote Matt had brought back and showed his tribe when he returned. Matthew looked shocked and then Claire added that she liked him. Which I assume was her trying to build a future bond with him.
Rarely does this sort of thing ever bear fruit, but I will be excited to see what other interactions they are able to try in the coming weeks. Also, is this the start of a new trend for Survivor players to start having strategic meetings on the “sit-out bench”?
5. New game advantages
With every new season comes new game twists, especially in this new era of Survivor. Like the cold open we got with Carolyn talking to a cameraman or producer about what to say, that was great by the way. One episode in and there is already plenty of new stuff to discuss. First, while on the journey all three castaways had to draw something out of a bag. It could be a lost vote or an advantage. If it was a lost vote, you could draw again one more time. We pretty much got all three outcomes. Poor Matt ended up losing his vote twice, so he can’t vote at the next two tribal councils he attends. Sarah got one lost vote and then drew out the first new advantage of the season with the inheritance advantage. I’m still not 100% sure how this works yet, but basically, she can play it at any tribal council where an idol(s) and/or advantage was played and then she will inherit those items.
Lauren however got the best luck overall when she drew out the bank a vote advantage. So, she gets to skip voting at one tribal, then gets to keep that particular vote for future use. That one mostly worked out great for her since she told her tribe she lost her vote, the lie worked out. The only issue with her story is that she doesn’t have proof the way Matt did when he came back and told them about his lost vote. I think Matt’s in a good spot even with his two no-votes. Lauren pulled her lie off, but there is still a little distrust there, so I think Sarah may be in the best spot of all of them with her new advantage.
The last new game twist to mention is the birdcage that we now know has an idol ... and a fake idol in it. As soon as Brandon told everyone about the key, it ruined any chance of drama revolving around it, other than a few seconds of wondering if he would play the idol or not at tribal. So at least we have two more tribes to look forward to someone finding keys and mixing up the game a little bit.
So, there you have it for the jam-packed 2-hour premiere of season 44. After we lost two this week, who is your episode 1 pick to win it all? Do you think Brandon voted out the wrong person? Will any of these early alliances stay longer than the pre-merge? What do you think of the new advantages? I want to hear from you, let me know if I missed any moments or if you think I was correct in my thinking, the interaction is part of what makes this so fun!
Please catch more of me here next week where I will try to bring you more fun top five!
Brent Sullivan is a long-time fanatic of Survivor and has been writing about it for years. When he is not writing, talking about, or applying to be on the show, he spends his time with family, doing nerdy IT stuff, and watching movies. Follow him on twitter: @BSully_13