Jeff Pitman's Survivor: Cagayan recaps

We put the 'lose' in Luzon


Oh, Brains tribe. Or, as Jeff Probst prefers to refer to you, not the least bit condescendingly in its singularity, "Brain" tribe. What happened? You were the chosen ones! The hopes, dreams, and aspirations of thousands of internet Survivor nerds rested on your shoulders, and you, you... looked almost as disoriented, ill-tempered, and clueless as the average "Fans" tribe in a Fans vs. Favorites season. Why must you fail so? It was those two times Probst called you "Luzon," wasn't it?


Sigh. Well, despite our dashed expectations of Luzon domination, we guess we need to write a recap. For this season, we're going to try a new format, breaking down the episode analysis into separate critiques of strategy, challenges, and overall entertainment value. With two hours, there is a lot to talk about.



Tony idols up


  • Idol hunting - It pains us to include hidden immunity idols in the strategy section, but it doesn't really fit anywhere else. Look, we get that finding hidden idols may be the only way for certain, colorful people to escape an early boot, especially when there is nowhere to hide on a six-person tribe. But even so, if someone can read one clue, march right up to where the idol is hidden, and pull it up, as Tony did, then that may be a little too easy. To be fair, the idols were at least actually hidden this time, and the clues were needed. And somehow the beauty tribe received two clues, and nobody apparently managed to find one. But then again, they are the Beauty tribe. Our objection stands.


  • Strategy - individual highlights

    - Sarah: She's the one person on Brawn who seems to be on top of both the social and the strategic game. While we haven't seen much strategy, since Aparri hasn't had to attend Tribal Council yet, Tony's repeated denials that he was a cop did not convince her of anything, except that she couldn't trust him. She gets along with everyone else except maybe Trish, which places her in the best position on the tribe. Tony is gunning for Cliff, Trish hates Lindsey (and doesn't love Cliff), Lindsey hates Trish. Almost everyone else is a target before Sarah.

    - Tasha: Despite a few missteps (mainly letting her frustration with Garrett's "open forum" break her cool) she performed the best of the Brains, and indeed, worked her way up to calling the shots within the first two hours. Her record: two Tribal Councils, two people voted out, zero votes against. Nobody else matched that. The editors seem to be hiding how well-connected she is to J'Tia, which bodes poorly for J'Tia, but a great sign, long-term, for Tasha.

    - Spencer and Kass: While both tried alliances that didn't work (David, Garrett), each served (at times) as a voice of reason on an otherwise highly combustible tribe. Despite their alliance missteps, they both looked like solid, serious players who are in it for the long haul. We're mentioning them together because they would probably hate that, and we love to troll.


  • Strategy - individual question marks

    - Tony: We love Tony's enthusiasm, and the #spyshack is at least a novel tactic, even if we don't yet quite get how it will work. But we worry that in building it (and apparently the rest of the shelter, solo), he's separating himself from rest of the tribe. Just like Russell Hantz did. It doesn't matter how great your eavesdropping operation is, if the rest of the tribe has been busy forming one big alliance (minus Trish) while you've been off building it.

    - Brice: Brice had a decent showing this episode, setting himself up as a stealthy strategist on Beauty. The problem he's up against is the rest of the tribe seems to be in pairs (Jefra/Alexis, LJ/Jeremiah). While it's a great move trying to convert Jeremiah's attraction to Morgan into a "country folk" alliance, it wasn't clear that Jeremiah was actually on board. But again, there's still time, and at least Brice was trying.

    - Trish: After her initial separation as the "weakest" on Brawn, Trish took one step forward (getting praise for choosing the rice), then one step back, in isolating herself by arguing with Lindsey. Despite Trish's claims to the contrary, it wasn't clear that everyone else saw Lindsey as lazy. One ace up Trish's sleeve, however: Should a merge or swap come, she'll know that Morgan and Garrett lied about their Day 1 decisions. Garrett's gone, but Morgan could still be done in by this. Second ace: Maybe Tony plays his idol for her?



Ep1 IC


These were two solid, complex challenges. We would have preferred more pure teamwork (as in, say, Pearl Islands, dragging a cannon through the jungle), especially since LJ and Sarah got to single-handedly save themselves with two puzzles. But praise where it's due: the Ep2 RC/IC was a reworked version of "Cell Block Sea," the Ep3 RC/IC from Caramoan, except the final grappling hook stage was replaced with a puzzle. You should always be replacing grappling hook elements with puzzles, Survivor. Always.


Entertainment value

So long, David and Garrett


  • The cast: Overall, an interesting, dynamic group. Some predictable bickering on Brawn (Lindsey vs. Trish, both of whom copped to having short fuses in their pre-game interviews). Also some amusing bro-ing down on Brawn (Cliff/Woo). And despite the occasional vibe that he really, really likes Russell Hantz's shenanigans, Tony's unabashed glee at playing Survivor is something we wish every contestant brought to the screen. We were given precious little insight into the Beauty tribe, but Brice and Morgan were both stronger gameplayers than expected. See, CBS? The show can work without returning players. Just as it did when it was new.


  • The editing: As we said at the start, on the whole, the two-hour episode structure was great. But there is one, tiny caveat: David got almost no screen time, apart from when he had to announce his decisions as chief. First, his game was a casualty of the opening twists. Then his camera time in the episode was a casualty of having to watch these twists play out within the first hour. In a normal season, a 90-minute premiere would've been welcome. But here, the editors had to cram three dramatic arrivals, chief picks, weakest picks, THREE separate people making decisions about receiving rice versus looking for clues, then two of them following through on the idol search. Not to mention the usual duties of introducing three sets of new players, a long, complicated immunity challenge, and the in-camp decision-making about who gets booted, all of which had to fit into a standard one-hour boot cycle. As well as the second hour worked to pay off these sacrifices, it's still a pity that David went missing here, because despite his semi-stunt casting status, he seemed like an actual fan of the show, with a lot to offer.


  • Lowlight: J'Tia's bristly unpredictability seemed legitimate (as in not acting), which was welcome. These people are cast for conflict, and as long as it's real, we can deal. Her deeply premeditated dumping of the rice, however, was absolutely pathetic. Not because it was a terrible thing to do to her tribemates (which it was, obviously), but because she was blandly copying something she saw Brandon Hantz do. This is Survivor, not reality show karaoke. If you want people to think you're a great villain, do something original. Hantz-by-numbers is the opposite of that.


  • Highlight: Let's end on something positive, though: The last half hour was simply some of the most entertaining Survivor in recent memory. Watching the supposed Brains tribe (full of actual, longtime fans) make horrific strategic choice after horrific strategic choice, culminating in Garrett getting blindsided after not even bothering to bring his hidden idol to Tribal was head-shakingly amazing. As the tail end of an artificially two-hour premiere, this played like a miniature, movie-length version of the four-episode "Fall of Matsing" story arc from Philippines. Hopefully the remaining Brains can escape that particular fate, but the epic hero's journey of every Survivor winner's story necessarily generates 15-19 lesser tragedies, and this particular tragedy delivered.




A note about the numbering: Look, we're as confused about this stitching together of the first two episodes into a disjointed, lumbering Franken-episode as you are, but for the sake of writing a single recap, we're going to pretend it was Episode 1, even though it was really Episodes 1-2. Still, Episode 3 is next week! Overall, though: Wow. The decision to have this two-hour premiere of Cagayan worked spectacularly well, simply because the closing half-hour (of what would otherwise have been Episode 2) was so strong. Yes, it was probably mostly done to avoid competing with the Olympics, while still allowing the finale to air during May Sweeps. But even so, these two hours really fit together perfectly in a single storytelling arc. All in all, a great premiere, even if much of its entertainment value did come at the expense of our otherwise beloved Brains tribe.


Special note: In the interest of getting these things posted in a more timely fashion, we're breaking the vidcap gallery off into its own section, and will try to post recaps the day after the show (Thursdays), and vidcap galleries the next day (Fridays).

Recaps and commentary


Exit Interviews - David Samson

  • Daniel Fienberg at "Marlins President David Samson Talks Survivor: Cagayan"
  • Gordon Holmes at "David Samson - J'Tia 'Is the Mayor of Crazytown'"
  • Rob Cesternino at RHAP: "Talking with the First Two Players Voted off Survivor: Cagayan"


Exit Interviews - Garrett Adelstein

  • Daniel Fienberg at "Garrett Adelstein Talks Survivor: Cagayan"
  • Rob Cesternino at RHAP: "Talking with the First Two Players Voted off Survivor: Cagayan"
  • Gordon Holmes at "Garrett: David 'Didn't Know How to Play Survivor At All"