Thanks to a CBS network decision to air all their fall premieres within the same calendar week (perhaps aided and abetted by Big Brother's continuing encroachment on Survivor's rightful late-September territory), Survivor had just one short hour for its premiere this season, as opposed to the preferred 90-minute expanded episode. With 30 fewer minutes in which to introduce 18 new players, and an extra challenge (more or less), and a nighttime pantsless frisking to somehow cram in, things felt not unlike a careening mine cart carrying six people. Cramped, rushed, and plunging into a pile of sawdust at the end.
The biggest obvious casualty of these time constraints was learning about the new contestants. First One Out Katrina had just *one* confessional, and while her chyron did say "Olympian," that fact was never even verbally mentioned on the show (although she did bring it up in her final words, as the credits rolled underneath). That's just bizarre all around. Why cast an Olympic swimmer, especially one with a huge personality, if you're not even planning to show her? And that ending really did suck the momentum out of the episode. Not only did Katrina, the contestant just about everyone was worried might be the first boot, actually become that first boot, but the big exciting first-Tribal-only new twist ended up being a whole lot of nothing (at least in the first episode, but more on that later). Sigh.
Again, because there were only 42 minutes of show (an hour minus the ads) to work with, it's probably not surprising that this lack of basic exposition, let alone character development, extended to much of the non-Heroes cast, with the exception of the ones talked to/ getting confessionals on the ship in the opening sequence (Cole, Mike, Ali, and Ryan). For example: isn't there a Simone on this season? And if so, who is she?
Normally, when tribes arrive at camp and are finally allowed to speak to each other (after a week or so of silence in pre-game lockdown), we have scenes where everyone gathers in a circle and introduces themselves to each other. This is a handy way for the both the contestants themselves and the viewers at home to meet these people. Here, the only instance of that was at the Healers camp, and there, it was reduced to essentially B-roll video accompanying a Jessica confessional gushing over Cole, and a Joe confessional in which he bragged about being the only strategist, and everyone else being his victims. The other two tribes didn't even have this talk, so instead we had stray shots of JP bonding with Ashley over his being a firefighter, and the Hustlers learning Devon teaches kids to surf.
Furthermore, even when a character somehow managed to sneak into a non-Heroes scene that was included, the results were frustratingly skeletal, at least if you followed Josh Wigler's pre-season work for The Hollywood Reporter or his First One Out podcast series. As revealed there, Ali and Patrick knew each other (or at least Ali knew Patrick) before the game started, having been college classmates at Auburn, and been affiliated with the same group of friends. Patrick even moved Ali's stuff! Maybe the show will never bring this up, since it sort of violates the concept of "18 strangers..." but Ali and Patrick did have a scene together, in which they're feeling out whether they can work together. In context, that discussion had an extra layer of meaning (and/or humor, since it's not clear Patrick recognizes her), that whooshed right past the TV audience.
With Survivor losing more than 10% of its year-over-year audience (8.3 million here, vs. 9.5 million for the Millennials vs. Gen X premiere in the fall of 2016), and Probst gravely announcing that Survivor will now stay in Fiji until it ends, we should probably be grateful that the show even had a full hour (including ads) in which to tell its story. And we are! Don't get us wrong! At least Survivor hasn't been shuffled off to CBS All Access-only streaming status, while the network kicks off its Wednesday prime-time lineup with back-to-back episodes of Old Sheldon and Baby Sheldon. Yet. But still, the reduced space left the episode feeling a bit cramped and a bit rushed, which underserves both the show and what looks like a solid cast.
The amazing Tribal that wasn't... no time!
The other major victim of the shortened premiere was Tribal Council. Josh Wigler described this, from his in-person vantage point, as a dramatic spectacle, containing an hour-long Alan harangue, in which he continually pressed his claim that Ashley and JP were hiding something. On the show, editing shaved this part down to just under a minute, after which Probst quickly pivoted to discussing the two older women being voted against (which would obviously not affect the Super Idol-wielding Chrissy, leaving just Katrina in peril). So instead of creating the impression that Alan might have talked himself out of the game (as it appeared in person), the only suspense was whether Chrissy would play her Super Idol. Which was an odd choice, because Chrissy didn't end up actually using it. So at that point, the entire episode just kind of delated, a seeming narrative bait-and-switch: Nothing came of Alan's accusations, as Ashley received just the one vote from Katrina; no votes went Alan's way; and nothing came of the Super Idol we'd spent the entire episode learning about. Sigh.
Had the show had more time, though, it might have built Alan's Tribal performance into a legitimate red herring, perhaps making him seem like a potential target. Instead, it seemed like merely a distant, irrelevant echo of the nighttime strip-search scene. A few minutes more here, a few more on character exposition, and this could have been one of Survivor's better introductory episodes. Instead... meh. Thanks, CBS?
The Super (Duper) Idol that wasn't... but could still be, maybe?
Speaking of idols, another time-related departure from the norm was that nobody was shown looking for idols, except Mike, and then only as part of the scene in which Joe confronted him. While there are regular hidden idols this season, there's also a new idol clue system in each camp, and that will probably take a while to set up/ explain (visible in the previews for next episode). So in all likelihood, there may have been a discovery, or at least clue-aided searching, that occurred during this episode's time frame, but there just wasn't space in which to show it.
To be fair, perhaps the run-of-the-mill idols took a backseat simply because so much screen time had to be handed over to the rapidly expiring Super Idol. First Ryan needed to be shown finding it, then reading the complicated rules, then using it to secure an alliance with Devon, then lamenting his forced separation from it, after the Hustlers avoided Tribal, and finally, we had to see Chrissy's surprise receipt of the idol. And her reading the (now different) instructions. And announcing her plans to use it tonight, if she needs to.
That's a lot of episode space to devote to an idol that didn't do anything. (Yet.)
The play around the idol was all top-notch: Ryan made a great use of the idol in recruiting Devon, and offering to save him this one time, should either of them be in danger. Perfect way to build trust. Sending the idol to an opposing tribe member who had appeared physically weak at the challenge was also great strategy: Chrissy was the most likely target at Tribal Council (theoretically), and saving her could potentially hurt the Heroes in future challenges, especially if a strong player was idoled out instead. And as an added bonus, if they reach a swap or merge, Ryan can bond with Chrissy over having saved her. Win-win all around. (That discussion will now be a tad bit more awkward, since Chrissy did not actually need saving, but it's the thought that counts.) Chrissy's voting with the majority and idol non-play also puts her in a solid swing vote position in her tribe, able to side with Ben/Alan against the perceived JP/Ashley power couple, or vice versa. Not to mention that she still has the idol and its packaging.
Which leads us to hope (as we belatedly discovered Josh Wigler had already done, in real time, after that very Tribal Council, in First One Out, and Stephen Fishbach had also done on Know-It-Alls), that maybe the idol isn't total garbage, maybe it will be used in the future—as a fake idol. Chrissy could simply place the entire idol package in someone else's bag the next time her tribe loses an immunity, tricking that person into a false sense of security. Maybe that person, thinking they're home free, then tries to make a Big Move, and draw votes to him- or herself. Only to gasp in despair as Probst tells them it's a real idol, it's just not one that still has power.
Alternatively (as Lisa Simpson suggested on twitter), Chrissy could keep it, doctor the note and pass it off as a still-functional Super Idol, which in the past (Terry Deitz, Yul Kwon, Tony Vlachos) has been100% effective as a vote shield, persuading the idol-bearer's tribemates to cast their votes elsewhere. So many potentially exciting options. It would be hilarious if the much-maligned "overpowered" Super Idol became even more powerful after it actually stopped having any power.
So anyway, at least there's hope. This cast has the potential to be a second MvGX cast - active, informed gameplay, with an eye to remembering it's just a game, and not descending into personal attacks. That's the Survivor we hope to see. With the introductions (mostly) out of the way, let's hope that game starts happening. And having room to be shown.
But enough griping and fretting. To lift everyone's spirits, or at least confuse them, let's get to the vidcaps!
So I'll bet you're wondering why I've called you all here...
Do we have to stay alone on a haunted island, dodging ghosts, in order to inherit $1 million?
Please, the chances of that are a mere 1 in 36!
Are we here for a crab-collecting contest? I have some in my pants right now!
Uh... is that guy living with us?
Psst... hey, Patrick. I can probably fix that for you. Give me a call.
Actually, the guy on the boat is a hologram. I'm stuck on this giant rock! Can someone come save me?
We're Heroes, we can probably swing something like that.
Well, it's a rock surrounded by water. Big water. Ocean water. Any of you swimmers? Lifeguards?
Dude! I surf! I'll come get you, tiny bro!
I was kind of hoping one of you was a rock climber. Ideally a dreamy one.
Are you talking to me?
Because they're all generally nice people, everyone rushes to help
Hey, wait a second, you were actually on this boat the whole time!
Look, I swear you guys. The dude with the orange cap was still on that big boat back there!
Heh heh. So long, suckers!
Um, weren't you guys supposed to be getting me off the rock? What the f*** is this? Cheerleading practice?
Ha ha, great prank, bro. Okay, so when does this ghost busting start?
Okay, fine. This is Survivor. But for not rescuing me, I'm forcing you guys to be the Heroes tribe.
[Nelson] Ha ha! [/Nelson] That makes us the Villains!
Aw, man! *I* wanted to be on the Villains tribe!
Sorry, Joe, looks like you ended up on Beauty. Oh well.
Wait, does that mean this blue tribe is also the Brains? This is so confusing.
Not to worry, there's little chance of that.
I don't want to be the Heroes, either! Can't we be Blue Collar? My buff is like a collar!
Oh, right, the NFL guy. But NFL players are *popular* with Blue Collar folk. Close enough, right?
I'm a little more blue collar than an NFL player, but sure. Whatever.
Patrick channels his inner Villain by... eventually not eating an insect
I still haven't forgotten that you dented my armoire, Mr. Mover. Two stars on Yelp.
Wait, are you sure I know her?
Oh, hey. Here's something fun.
Yeah yeah, but it's all a trick and it'll *also* bring me grave misfortune, right?
Whoa. So you'll give me your cursed object? For free?
Sweet! I *love* grave misfortune!
In the meantime, there's also grave misfortune attached to this map.
Hey four-eyes, I saw you getting all "memorize-y" with that map. I know what you're up to.
You're opening a proctology clinic here, aren't you?
How did he know that? It was a million-to-one shot! Especially since I'm a urologist.
Meanwhile, NFL guy tries to launch his own urology check-up clinic. Results are mixed.
Hi again! I bet you're wondering why I've called you all here.
Finally! We're going to kick some Ghosts off of this Island!
Just the ghosts of whatever non-Fijian culture came up with these idols.
For the record, instead of the Heroes, we'd rather be called Matsing. Is that okay?
Clearly, the only ghosts here are those of Guatemala
Hauling up supplies to help build Dr. Mike's Tropical Uro-Procto Emporium. Please be careful backing up.
The examination tables are a little bumpy, but they come with extra balls.
I'm no doctor or things like that, but aren't three balls too many?
No, three is just the right amount. You have a spare that way.
Clinic completed! Yay, etc.
Wait, so why are we still working on this, then?
Always place the spare, apparently.
Here's a statue, put in the waiting room or something.
And here you go, Villains. I don't really want to know what you'll do with this.
Wow, it's a good thing a medical clinic just opened up here. What timing!
Well, actually... it's for the other end of things. Sorry. You will be missed.
Heh heh, I bet if I send her my cursed power thingy, it'll finish her off!
Ominous foreshadowing: One of these people is going to Levu very soon.
It's not me is it? We probably should have tried harder to rescue that old, short guy.
Look, I've already done all the urology inspections I can.
Wasn't I supposed to be on Survivor? What the heck is going on here?
Look, now I have a Blue Collar, sort of. Can you swap me to that tribe?
Oh great, a cursed object appeared in my pack. No way in hell I'm messing with that.
Let's go, everyone! Free proctology inspections from the old guy!
Do we need to turn our heads and cough? How does this work?
Also, is there a disposal area for cursed objects here? I'm uh, asking for a friend.
Seriously, though. Was anybody else told they were here to play Survivor?
Well, if you insist. I guess you're voted off or whatever.
Say what, now?
Oh, *that* was what the ominous foreshadowing was for. No ghosts, you guys! Phew!
Other HvHvH Episode 1 recaps and analysis
Exit interviews - Katrina Radke