An auspicious debut for the show, although one of the better narrators is already halfway out, at Redemption Island. Odd that CBS didn't feel the need to advertise the show, but those are the breaks. Our debut crop of TDT awards for Episode 1 are below. A clean sweep by Ometepe!
Now, you may have thought we created this prize just to mock Russell repeatedly. Actually, we may have thought this as well. But it appears that such thinking was misguided, because the shocking first recipient of the Troll of the Week award is none other than (former) Federal Agent (?) Phillip Sheppard. Congratulations, sir! Your time on Survivor thus far is brief (as is your attire), but you grabbed it, stared at intensely, then talked it to death.
The old former federal agent (?) and the sea
To be honest, we're as shocked as you are. For most of the episode, Phillip seemed like a well-meaning but misguided guy who had clearly never seen Survivor before, and had no clue how to play it, nor how to interact with others. Kind of a hope-filled mashup of Roger from Amazon, Chicken from China, and maybe Jimmy T. from Nicaragua. The standard pushy, older guy who tells everyone how to build the shelter, occasionally correcting those he sees slacking, and always having to put his two cents in, despite nobody requesting such an ante. Sure, Phillip nabbed the coveted first confessional slot, but that has to go to someone, and Rob and Russell hadn't even been introduced yet. That seemed like a fluke. But it appears the editors knew what they were doing there.
For his part, Russell leapt from the gate in full, comically self-over-inflated form, warning us that his thrice-weekly pronouncements that he was King of Samoa were a mere warm-up for the full-scale preening he had in mind this season. Oh Russell Hantz, you make the prospect of continued, so-predictable-they-could-be-scripted confessionals so pleasant. But somewhere along the way, he appears to have wandered off into the brush with one of the young women, and gotten distracted. For instance: did you know there were hidden idols to be found, and yet the editors somehow managed to get through an entire episode without showing him looking for one?
No, the real faux action was back at Ometepe, where our fuchsia-briefed friend (could he secretly be Special Agent Oso?) was busy informing the women on his tribe that he had interrogation training, and could easily spot liars, so they just had to put up with him for three weeks, tops (until the merge), then he'd finally be useful. (He actually planned this out pre-game, and told Jeff Probst about it, which earns special bonus Troll points.) Or forcing Kristina and Francesca to take turns speaking, to ensure the rest of the tribe returned before they could explain their plan. Or spilling every one of Kristina and Francesca's secrets in front of the entire tribe at Tribal Council. Or repeatedly mispronouncing poor Franzchesquiaeah's name for comic effect.
These are all fine attempts at Trollishness, but what sealed the deal for Phillip was his pre-Tribal Council declaration, speaking about himself in the third person plural (Phillip Sheppard and company), in what we presume was a Dragnet voice (we're not old enough to be sure), that he was about to embark on an unstoppable path to tribal domination. Punctuated with a handclap. That's some special effort right there. And for that finishing touch: Phillip, you are our inaugural Troll of the Week.
Phil's phinest moments: Click arrows to navigate
Oh YES, Phillip. We're soaked, and our shelter has no roof. Of COURSE we want you to take time out to tell us about your secret agent status!
Okay, fine. You can kiss us all, as long as you promise to stop talking."
Did I mention that I worked for the federal government? Three separate agencies? Don't give me that look, Kristina, I'm pretty sure this is news.
I've got a really good feeling about this! This is Gil's time to shine!
Let us be perfectly clear: This award has no monetary value. Also no spoiler value (Tina Wesson would have won this in Ep1 of Survivor: The Australian Outback, so it's not necessarily predictive of a quiet, inconsequential, middle-of-the-pack finish). In fact, it has no value at all, apart from proving you were actually on the show. So step up, former NFL player Grant Mattos (who, to be honest, was barely seen there also), we're here to say "We saw you!"
We're pretty sure this is Grant
We know, there are a lot of obvious reasons for lack of confessionals early on: 18 people to cram into 40 minutes, Phillip won't stop talking, Russell gets his requisite 10 minutes of airtime (regardless of impact), Probst needs to jabber on incessantly about the new twists, Phillip is talking again, Rob's sheep-like minions don't do any apparent thinking for themselves and therefore don't need to talk, Phillip is still talking at tribal council, and so on. People on the immunity-winning tribe (such as Sarita and Julie, from whom nary a peep was heard) may just get lost in the shuffle when all the drama relevant to the vote is at the other camp. We get it.
But it takes a special kind of camera avoidance to be an enormous, goateed, dreadlocked, former NFL wide receiver who just summarily gets lumped in with "the young girls" whenever anyone else on your tribe talks about you. We can see how they might make that mistake with stubble-free, golden-tressed Matt. But Grant? He did at least get a (largely unreactive, non-speaking) reaction shot at Tribal Council. But apart from that, nothing. Way to maintain the balance, Mr. Yoga Instructor. Keep up the good work.
Where's Mattos? A game in vidcaps: Click arrows to navigate
We see you, Grant! Very clever, trying to hide behind Boston Rob
Um, very funny, dude. Seriously, we found you there the last time. Find a new hiding place.
Ha, ha! Nice one. Just so you know, you're slightly bigger than that stick. And this clinging to Rob is getting a bit creepy.
Oh there you are, Grant! Wait, please tell me that guy you're with isn't..."
One problem with early challenges is that they tend to involve the entire tribe pushing or carrying something, which doesn't lend itself especially well to honoring standout individual performances. Zapatera developed a huge lead in the immunity challenge through a vastly superior team effort at shoving the giant blocks, but it's hard to isolate any one individual who made that happen (the smart-ass pick here would be tiny Stephanie). Instead, the problem seemed more to be Ometepe's bizarre insistence on pushing solely from the sides of the blocks, and not from inside the tracks, which meant at least one person on each side didn't have room to help push. This led to at least a couple of shots where Kristina was either delicately touching the handle or just jogging along behind. Well done, Ometepe!
Kristina has everything pretty well covered
But since the other challenge was finding hidden immunity idols, we have to recognize Kristina Kell here, simply because her efforts were so brazen that: (1) Boston Rob noticed right away what she was doing, thus creating a target on her back; (2) she actually succeeded in finding a hidden idol before the first tribal council, without a clue (take that, Russell!); and (3) her hamfisted attempts to leverage that power got her into hot water with her tribe. So she won (found) immunity, and in doing so, alerted her tribe to the fact that she wanted six of them out. Which, when you think about it, is the true spirit of this award. Moral of the story: don't go telling your biggest secret to the guy you've nicknamed "Bigmouth." Also, you should've listened to Francesca. A hidden idol doesn't magically erase a 3-6 disadvantage.
Kristina's hidden beast: Click arrows to navigate
Ometepe shows how to make six people do the work of nine
Zapatera, foolishly sharing the load. Although the five guys + Julie part probably helped a bit, too.
Psst, Kristina: It's just an idol. Those things grow on trees if Russell's on the show.
Oh come on, Francesca! We've got two votes plus an idol! How could you possibly get hurt by this?
This was a tough one, because nobody played a perfect game here. David had the best overall performance (driving a wedge through Zapatera and putting a target on Russell, all while convincing Mike he's actually a nice guy), but had no effect on the vote, since his tribe won immunity. Can't very well award the first Slashy to a guy with completely clean hands, right? So we move to Ometepe.
Just do what I say, and only Francesca gets hurt
Here the unavoidable pick would be none other than "Boston" Rob Mariano, who certainly made friends and vanquished a foe, although the style in which he did so better resembled a steamroller than a switchblade. Francesca made the mistake of expressing disappointment that her screentime might diminish with Rob and Russell hogging the confessionals (or that he was a troublemaker, one of the two), and that was enough to mark her for ouster. His finest moment was observing Kristina rifling through the toolbox, searching for idol clues, and subtly taking her aside to let her know he knew what she was doing (and then listing her as a boot target).
But the rest of Rob's effort was classic Robfather bulldozing. There was no subtle alliance deal-making (except possibly with Phillip), he simply told his assembled flock how to vote, resuscitating his 3-3 vote split, in case Kristina had an idol. And the assembled Ometepes just did what they were told, although that was a step up from the same move's outcome in Heroes vs. Villains. Other "plays," such as telling Kristina to give him her idol to win back his trust, didn't work. As did splitting the vote to flush the idol: Kristina still has her idol (thanks again, Phillip). But in the end, Rob got his way, even if it didn't go down the way he planned. Close enough.
Rob plus a bunch of amachuhs: Click arrows to navigate
That dude with the dreads is behind me again, isn't he?
Come ahn, Kristina. Don't make me do anothah 3-3 vote split. If it doesn't wahk I'd have to fake fainting again.