Jeff Pitman's Survivor 31: Cambodia recaps
V is for Voted out
By Jeff Pitman | Published: September 25, 2015
Survivor: Cambodia Episode 1 recap/ analysis

V is for Voted out

Wow, what a premiere. Despite a cast full of second-time players and incorporation of ancient ruins, everything feels fresh and new. From the vibrant new color palette (magenta buffs!) to a completely new location that's more than just a generic beach, to new local wildlife, it all works together to feel like a rebirth. It helps that, to a person, every player talked about their eagerness to grow and play and learn from past mistakes. And everyone seemed to be having fun! (Okay, everyone except Abi and whichever person had the bad luck of talking to her.) The Second Chance format shows the implicit strength of having a cast full of returnees (instead of half-full, or less than a handful): everyone knows exactly what they're getting into, and they're all there to play. Game on.

Survivor fans - better at casting than Casting

The cast

Spectacular job, America. You picked a set of contestants that's not only far more ethnically diverse, but also broader in age distribution, and more interesting, and filled with better players than the usual, mostly white, mostly young assortment of two-strategists-plus-a-ton-of-cannon-fodder that Lynne Spillman semi-annually selects. True, maybe CBS signed off on this because a good chunk of the cast fits neatly in the network's core demographic of octagenarians, but still: Nice work. This is a great cast, and here are some of the (first-episode, at least) highlights:

  • Kelley (Wentworth) was your breakout superstar of the premiere. She received very little screen time in San Juan del Sur, and entered with the shortest time played among the cast (just 13.5 days). But here she was, joining alliances, making fun of the bootee, rolling her eyes with Spencer in the shelter, finding the idol clue, then seizing the opportunity and the idol itself. All great. That's more like it!
  • Stephen, the Underdog. Shown first in the flashback-to-last-time montage. Getting a strong "I have to work my way up from the bottom in this tribe" storyline. Luckily, his tribe has Joe, and Stephen escaped going to Tribal. He's either poised for yet another "growth" story or is not long for this game. There can be no middle ground. Hopefully he can at least ride the Bayon train until a swap.
  • Abi-Maria, the goat. Okay, more of a lowlight. Honestly, we're not even really sure why she's out there, because her chances of winning flatlined before Day 1 had even barely started.
  • Kelly, Terry, Savage: The old-school straight shooters, all of whom appear totally out of their element. Kelly now fails at challenges (first swimming for the rice, then the Jailbreak). Terry gets snookered right out of the gate by another opposing group of six people, in particular one Young Lad. And Savage... well, he chopped down an unsuspecting tree, we guess. Yay? As with Stephen, there is hope for Terry and Kelly that things can turn around. Savage is, for now at least, not in short-term danger, but we suspect he might be if Bayon goes to Tribal.
  • Varner, Peih-Gee: On the fence, but only temporarily. Varner was a revelation, giving both heartfelt and hilarious confessionals, and serving as the fulcrum point for the strategy. But he and Peih-Gee are both neither solidly new school nor old school, they're both playing hard, while not appearing to be overly doing so. We're not convinced they're even really together, but how great would it be if they were? They could absolutely wreak havoc in the game, flipping back and forth between the old-schoolers and new-schoolers just as Tony and Woo did. Next week's preview seems to suggest Varner might try this, but it's not clear if Peih-Gee's on board. Either way, welcome back.
  • Joe: After pledging to tone it down and not appear so threatening out of the gate, he promptly makes himself the hero of the firemaking, and of the IC, and of #Joega. He's basically the sole focus in Bayon (except for the occasional Fishbach). He's on everyone's minds, but strangely, he was seen almost exclusively from everyone else's perspective. Usually droolingly. We were worried he'd be an immediate target, and we're still just as worried. Where there's fire, there's a bunch of firemen anxious to put it out?
  • Several other people made great impressions while not being part of the story directly: Shirin, Spencer, Kimmi (!). It's nice to see them adjusting well and flourishing in power positions and/or powerful tribes. Jeremy and Keith pledging to work together was also a welcome development, as was Tasha and Kass getting to avoid the first Tribal.
  • And then there was a massive horde of people who dutifully stated they're making the most of this second chance, not gonna blow it, and then faded into the background. Was Monica even in this episode? And who was she, again? Still, 20 people is a lot to get through, and everyone spoke at least once.

What happened to Vytas?

No touching!

When you listen to Vytas talking about Survivor on, say, RHAP, he blows you away with his intelligence and enthusiasm for the game. He may well have been the smartest player out there. This was evident his first time playing, back in Blood vs. Water, when he was spit-balling and coming up with clever spur-of-the-moment new strategies, such as voting out (Tyson's then-girlfriend, now-wife) Rachel, to try to bait Tyson into swapping out for her at Redemption Island. And yet somehow, with all his smarts and people skills, Vytas ended up the first person out. Something seemed off here.

Obviously, the editors had to show him in the least flattering light possible, to explain the opposition. But even so, Vytas's biggest failing felt like his too-ferocious battle against his reputation as a schemer. He did this by doubling up on his natural friendliness/ personability, which in theory probably seemed like a good idea, but in practice came out as insincere and forced. Shirin called it "smarmy," which seems about right. He was just too pleasant, too cheerful, and it rang inauthentic. He seemed like a used car salesman whose boss had offered a raise to the first person who can unload that "clean diesel" Jetta wagon that had been sitting on the lot for six months, while threatening to fire whoever ends up last in sales this month, which is currently poor Vytas. The more he fought against his reputation as a strategist, and slathered on layer after layer of charm, the more it seemed like he was trying to pull something over on everyone. Clearly Vytas was trying. But it wasn't working. Some problems aren't solved by giving 110%, or 150%, or 10,000%. Which, as a sometime math professor, Vytas ought to know. A disappointing finish for an otherwise solid and interesting player.

The Dalton Ross Idol

Kelley's dilemma

We had our doubts as to whether this would work, and Jeff Probst expressed the same reservations to Dalton in their Q&A this week. And we're not normally a fan of ending tribal challenges (especially ones with 10 people per tribe) in a task that only one person can complete. But clearly, having the Jailbreak leg at the end of the previously pure-racing Quest for Fire worked perfectly. It created the comeback opportunity needed for balance, and it the ideal situation in which someone could actually grab the idol. Not to mention a moment of actual tension, as every member of Bayon contorted their faces, willing Joe to grab that key. This was all brilliantly conceived, and watching Kelley struggle mightily between wanting to grab the idol and not wanting to get caught was delightful. It's a great sign for the concept and for the season that, given the perfect opportunity to make a bold act in her own self-interest, Kelley seized it. Sneaky, sneaky is good, good.

*So* close to interesting

Even Vytas can't watch

Abi loses her bracelet, which is just a bracelet. We hear about it for half an hour. (It was "in Peih-Gee's bag." Uh-huh.) And then we get to watch as Abi tells that to each and every person in her tribe, and then half of the Cambodian population, none of whom seem to care in the slightest. Whoo! Great story!

Meanwhile, Peih-Gee has her own, self-designed bracelet, in which she sneaky-sneakily included a piece of flint. And fishing wire, and hooks, apparently. Production promptly whisks it away, and we never see or hear about it.

Sigh. Obviously, they can't show the heavy hand of production stepping in to confiscate contraband items. We get it. But it's still infinitely better than the other bracelet story.

Vapid Fire


  • Did Vytas not watch what happened to Aras in Blood vs. Water? Never go off and do yoga on a hilltop! That's when they plot to vote you out!
  • "Go Vytas" is an anagram for "Yoga TVs." No wonder.
  • I'm so old, I remember that Quest for Fire was also the first challenge in All-Stars. Since this is pretty much All-Stars III, you would think that might have come up when someone had to sign off on the tree mail approval.
  • I liked Joega better when it was called Coach-chi.
  • Wait, no I didn't.
  • Why is the immunity idol decorated exclusively in Bayon colors? That doesn't seem very fair.
  • Thanks for ruining the Savage daughters' chances of dating Joe, and their *lives*, Dad!
  • So is it Survivor: Cambodia, or Second Chance? Pick a side, people. Don't be one of those lemmings calling it Second Chance until the theme gets repeated next spring, then retroactively revert back to Cambodia. Be on the right side of history now. (It's Cambodia, obviously.)

Jeff Pitman's recapsJeff Pitman is the founder of the True Dork Times, and probably should find better things to write about than Survivor. So far he hasn't, though. He's also responsible for the Survivometer, calendar, boxscores, and contestant pages, so if you want to complain about those, do so in the comments, or on twitter: @truedorktimes