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
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:
What happened to Vytas?
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
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
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.
Other Second Chance Episode 1 recaps & commentary
Exit interviews - Vytas Baskauskas
Podcasts - Episode 1 analysis