We’re back, baby! Kaiser Island becomes its own island of extinction during the Survivor offseason, but luckily the winter one is the shorter of the two. I have been very vocal about coming into this season with the bar set lower than ever before, but this premiere wasn’t actually the worst. It may be just because the bar was set so low that anything better than David drowning to death or Aubry getting pushed off of a cliff would be considered a win for the night.
Overall, this cast is strong, but I was left wanting more from all of them. Oddly enough, the edit was pretty “balanced” in the terms of confessional distribution, but that just meant getting only a small snippet from most everyone, hence the desire for more. We definitely could have used that extra 30 minutes CBS decided to give to its attempt to enter the talent competition market about 10 years behind the other networks, but I’m sure that show will go extinct faster than any player this season so hopefully 90-minute first episodes become the new normal starting next fall. I digress ... let’s dig in to this season before we raise the surrender flag.
WELCOME TO THE 38TH SEASON OF SURVIVOR
It still really is unbelievable to hear those words. I remember over a decade ago in junior high thinking “what if Survivor ends before I’m in high school?” truly wondering what I would do on my (then) Thursday nights. Our next big milestone will, of course, be the big 4-0, but shooting its shot just a little early, the game threw the season 38 newbies a twist in the form of four returnees, “great Survivor players who have yet to win,” or for me, three of those plus Joe. Oops, I mean Captain Joe Sparrow.
Now I love me some Aubry, David, and Wentworth-does-not-count but I do wish that the show would have went a different direction in who it brought back, saving these three for an eventual “Legends” season we’ve all been speculating about — maybe, instead, Survivor could have taken a risk and asked four back that wouldn’t exactly have had Rick shouting, “Oh yeah!” but, rather, the whole boat going “Oh no…”
The fourteen fresh faces were expectedly ecstatic, or they at least pretended to be — except Reem, bless her heart. She didn’t want to see people she actually liked as that would naturally complicate voting them out. Lauren had the biggest visible reaction as she damn near jumped off the boat and swam out to greet Kelley and Joe. Sadly, she’d only be getting one of them on her tribe. Giving one tribe Kelley and Joe and the other Aubry and David would have been a little unfair, so Aubry went with Joe to the yellow Kama tribe while Kelley and David were assigned to the blue Manu tribe, but not before Jeff reminded the whole cast just how great these individuals were. I’m sure they appreciated having their impressive Survivor résumés read aloud right before joining their tribes.
I wondered how Jeff would hand out buffs with the season’s logo and name printed on them without giving away the twist, but in true Jeff fashion, he fabricated this fuzzy idea of being “pushed to the edge” or something and finished with “huzzah, Edge of Extinction!” Honestly, I wouldn’t have blinked twice at the name. We all know Survivor’s had to spit out more nonsense names recently, so I’d have just thought, “Cool, could be worse.” We’ll wish for Edge of Extinction when we reach the days of Island of Idols or Homemakers vs. Homewreckers.
After a quick meet and greet, it was time for the two tribes to take off with as much supplies as they could and set sail for their beaches. All sorts of survival items including fruits and vegetables were flying overboard, but luckily, no one tried to throw Gavin in his pineapple-print shirt into the water (close call). Among the items, of course, was the now-standard “secret advantage” which was snatched up by Ron who would find out what exactly that meant when he later hit camp Kama.
WHAT TO MAKE OF MANU?
Manu managed to bring back a solid haul of food which made shelter the biggest priority so the tribe quickly got to work, so quick that some were tripping over themselves.
I love that shot of Kelley and David just observing their surroundings, sharing in a mixed feeling of excitement to be back and “oh shit, we’re outnumbered.” However, Kelley immediately bonded with Lauren thanks to the fangirling, and David took on quite the role reversal compared to his last game as Manu turned to him for guidance in establishing their camp. The sound of a machete still makes him twitch, though.
David wasn’t the only one with a nervous tic as we learned that Wendy has a mild form of Tourette’s syndrome, and by mild, I actually mean freaking adorable if that’s a diagnosable form. Whenever she gets worked up or excited, one of her motor tics flares up and what I saw reminded me of a small puppy sneezing which made my heart completely melt (is that okay to admit?) I’m glad she opened up about the subject as it was probably the deepest character moment that we had all night. Wendy wasn’t as wild and crazy as I thought she’d be, but unlike Christian whose quirkiness felt indicative of a long stay in the game, I worry that Wendy’s airtime may just be the editing team trying to get as much out of her before she goes early. I’m sure she’d say she’s feisty, but she came off this week as almost too sweet for the savageness of the game.
YOU SMELL THAT?
Ugh. Joe with the episode title, “Smells Like Success” said as he’s making a fucking fire. It’s like the show’s just completely spelling out that he’ll be winning that Day 38 fire-making challenge and winning the game. That smells like ass to me!
Joey Amazing is so perfect that he even has the lust of the one and only lesbian! I’ll admit that was a pretty funny one-liner — “I’m gay and I’m still on Team Joe” — I just hope Aurora can swing back to Team Aubry too, or Team Anyone-Else, really. I just ... I don’t get it. Maybe it is a smell, and I just have never been close enough to Joe to catch a whiff. *shudder* That sounds disgusting. I’ll take Abi-Maria’s word on the moldy clown-smelling hair. It may only be slightly less pungent than a dead weasel.
On the total opposite end of the Survivor success spectrum, we met Julie who listed her greatest outdoor achievement as once peeing in a bush in Central Park. I wonder if that bush called out to her after an unfortunate encounter with a sea urchin.
I’m torn on whether this will be a season-long “growth” story for Julie or if this was setup for why she gets the boot the first time Kama goes to tribal council. Maybe she’ll have her own David story and surprise me and my pre-game assessment of her – everyone who knows me knows I love to root for the moms, and since things didn’t go over so well for the other mother with a machete, I’ve gotta hope Julie chops some folks like she chopped that bamboo.
With the Kama camp well underway, Ron and his bright white pants ran off into the woods to finally figure out what he had earned in finding that secret advantage on the boat. It wasn’t a full advantage but instead a clue to something greater, instructing Ron to dig three feet of the tribe’s water well — very vague, I know. With hardly any effort, Ron uncovered what was an even more useful piece of paper.
This was kind of a Survivor first in the menu-style option of advantages as Ron was given the choice to steal a reward, an extra vote, or steal someone’s chance to vote him out in the form of individual immunity. Looking at the note, it read that this advantage would only be viable through the third tribal council of the game which seems too early for an extra vote to do much good. Ron could either then be selfish and secure immunity, or if he feels safe, he may opt to steal a reward from Manu instead.
The bigger dilemma for Ron, in my opinion, was how he was going to explain to his tribe why he had gone off for a bit and came back covered head-to-toe in dirt. Something tells me saying, “Oops, I fell” wouldn’t cut it.
COME OUT LIKE A COBRA
With the honeymoon phase fazing out, Aubry and Joe knew better than to assume the newbies wouldn’t mind their stay in the game, but they also acknowledged that their best move wouldn’t be to make the first strike. No, Aubry said that it was best to “lay in the grass, then come out like a cobra when the time is right.” I’m all here for Aubry striking like snake, so I present you with ...
COBRY! (or Kaoh-bry?)
The surprise snake that Aubry will need to look out for, however, is Eric. He didn’t seem all that strategically savvy in his pre-game press, so I was surprised he was the first to steer that kind of conversation at Kama, apparently coming hard into the game wanting to remove the returnees. Like anyone would do, Eric first roped in the good ol’ Southern boy Gavin (who after Episode 1 I’m still calling my winner pick for fitting nicely into that new Nick Wilson mold). Eric didn’t want the returning players to run the game, as he rightfully should not want, but he said he wanted to keep Joe until the merge as a shield, but as for Aubry ... au revoir.
Manu didn’t want a mom, and Reem didn’t want to be their mom, but she certainly was fast to be labeled as exactly that. Trying to be helpful, Reem had laid the tribe’s clothes out on the beach to dry — a little sandy, but it’s the thought that counts, right? WRONG! “Don’t touch our shit” was basically the message the Manus gave, except no one bothered to inform Reem. Instead, they bitched behind her back and complained about her momming them too much. All the woman was doing was trying to be nice and help clean up the camp! I feel like Probst pondering over “is that a mom thing???” I guess it’s just not a millennial thing.
Keith cozied up to Reem a bit, being the one person who did seem to miss having that motherly figure around, but Reem herself was the first to say that she’d support him but she wasn’t wanting to be anyone’s mom. With that support, Reem offered Keith some lessons in the water because Keith couldn’t swim for crap. Wendy also wiggled her way out to join them.
Upon seeing those three gather, Manu continued to be the tribe of misconstruing things by labeling them as an “alliance.” To be a little fair, perhaps Wendy, Reem, and Keith shouldn’t have let the numbers in that moment split up as they did, but come on, did teaching a kid how to swim really scream “alliance” as much as the other six made it seem? It reminded me of Heroes vs. Villians when Rupert was hellbent on the big bad “female alliance” of the villains. Here, instead, Rick was really sure he was on to something with this swimmers’ alliance. I don’t blame the six for thinking, “we’re six, they’re three, so let’s make them the targets” but making it seem like those three were plotting against the rest ... whatchutalkinbout Rick?
IMMUNITY – BLOODY BALANCE BEAM
The rainy season must have passed because unlike during the first challenge of David vs. Goliath, Manu and Kama weren’t competing in the middle of a monsoon. Looking at the tribes before the show, I’d have given the edge to Kama especially with the Joe factor, but both seemed actually evenly matched until the dreaded bloody beam. It’s a good thing Debbie wasn’t brought back for this season, or this triple-decker may have decked Debbie for good. It damn near did Kelley!
I nearly turned off the damn TV when Kelley crashed and blood was gushing from her head. A potential Kelley medevac combined with an Aubry boot was 100% the worst thing that could have happened in this premiere, so naturally, I thought for a moment that’s what we were in for — the worst way to start what would go down as the worst season ever. Yep, sounds right. Fortunately, that was all fiction.
I’d say we have several early contenders for my biannual Debbie Donato Wanner Award for Best Performance on a Balance Beam but could anyone really be blamed for biffing it so hard on this one? Eh ... yeah.
As far as Manu went after that, it wasn’t a great indicator when David Wright was the one carrying them through the balance beam portion of the challenge. They came back a bit in the puzzle, the great equalizer of all challenges, but Kama’s earlier lead secured them a victory and possession of the dragon-shaped immunity idol which fit perfectly with the whole ... ship ... wreck ... island ... extinction theme? I mean, I guess dragons are extinct? If they were ever real? I don’t know. This seems more like someone in the art department just pulled an Alec Merlino and said, “fuck it.” They brought back players for no reason, so why not throw in a dragon? At least it kind of looks like a sassy dragon.
I was waiting to hear the voice of Eddie Murphy.
PUT THE MACHETE DOWN
Reem and Wendy, now established as a pair (so I guess Rick wasn’t all wrong), came back from the challenge guns ablazin’ for Kelley and Lauren who they saw as the real threatening pair. While filling up on water, they sought after Rick and Keith’s votes, but both well fellas knew better and spilled about Reem and Wendy’s plan to the rest of the tribe (a slick move for Keith to distance himself from the drowning duo). Manu didn’t need much more reason to vote for Reem, but now they had it. In an attempt to see if they could still work with Wendy, David and Wardog (WARDOG!) asked if she’d vote with the tribe. Weirdly, Wendy refused them.
I understand Wendy’s point about wanting to prove her loyalty, but loyalty to the person that literally everyone else on the tribe wants out? See, I said she was too sweet. As David or Wardog talking to Wendy, I’d have acknowledged that Wendy was a loyal person, but if that loyalty wasn’t to me, then it’s loyalty that’s not really worthwhile. That’s where Wendy went wrong. She also went wrong in telling Reem the rest of the tribe was coming after her, sending Reem running to chop David’s head off with a machete.
Just kidding (I think?) Reem was riled up now, and she made a fair argument against being a physical liability. Being a “weak older lady” really didn’t strike me as the reason to get rid of Reem. Up to this point, we hadn’t really seen much of a confrontational side of Reem either (machete-to-throat moment notwithstanding), so the “worst” of her evidently wasn’t worth putting in the show. I wasn’t buying the “weak link” storyline, and she wasn’t being the bossy mom around camp, so what the hell? Was Reem really just in trouble for trying to dry out the tribe’s clothes the other day?
Screw you, Manu!
This final act of the night was the Reem show featuring a surprise special guest, DEVENS! Actually, though, when Jeff asked “Devens” a question I literally had no idea who he was referring to, and when the camera went to Rick it still took me a minute to remember “Devens” was his last name. If Jeff’s going to refer to someone by their last name, at least give us some context. I hated feeling like such a filthy casual in that moment.
But back to the woman of the hour, Reem, who got pretty reamed in this one. Even Jeff was fast to give her the sass, calling Reem out for looking so annoyed. I’d feel heated too if I felt I was in the hot seat for next to no reason. It came out that the tribe wasn’t on board with some of Reem’s recent behavior to which she responded perfectly by asking why no one brought any of their feelings directly to her. You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken. Granted, I get in the first three days wanting to keep the target on anyone else but yourself, so maybe Manu made this a bigger deal than it actually was just to try and reach a unanimous decision.
Sure, Reem got defensive, but anyone would when someone on the tribe says, “We get along with everyone except one person.” Wardog didn’t want Reem to take this comment the wrong way, but what’s a good way to take that? True, he didn’t utter the words, “we hate her” but what he said was just as damning under these circumstances. I liked that there were sparks at the first tribal council of the season, but I didn’t like what started them. Reem was doomed from the start with this tribe. She does too much and she’s called bossy; she does too little and she likely gets called lazy and weak — the latter she was labeled anyway. Sigh. I hope she gives any Manu members (besides Wendy) hell when they inevitably show up at the Edge of Extinction because this tribe is messy.
While technically not out of the game, this is where I’ll still give my usual final words on the one that goes the way of extinction each week because I am absolutely not saying “goodbye” individually to eighteen people in my finale write-up. I liked a lot of what Reem had to offer for entertainment value both pre-game and in the game but her unfortunate fate here was one that was too easy to predict. Her demographic was her downfall but for an even dumber reason than I saw coming: drying clothes the wrong way. With the way Reem was raked over the coals for that, I’d have thought she either burned them or tossed them off into the ocean. Millennials don’t appreciate anything these days…
I don’t see Reem winning her way back, but maybe we’ll still get some fun scenes from her (or at least some fiery Reem rants) for as long as she remains in the game. Out of the game? What exactly is the proper term for this? I guess I’ll go with “on the edge.”
NEXT TIME ON SURVIVOR…
Uh oh. More threats on the vets. I’m very worried for Aubry, but I can also see Ron or Eric pushing too hard to vote her out with some of the girls rallying to keep her, maybe instead turning it around on Ron, forcing him to order immunity off the menu. If that happens, do we see a Julie boot for again being that “weak old lady” this season’s set against? As for Kelley’s similar situation on Manu, I think that one’s definitely a red herring. Especially if Manu loses two immunity challenges in a row, they’re not going to want to weaken their tribe further, but who honestly knows? Maybe Kelley takes one extra grain of rice and the tribe gets up in arms over her “hogging all the food” or “trying to starve everyone” — any excuse Manu can make up to target someone.
Reem – There weren’t a ton of standouts for me in this premiere, and of course the two biggest personalities presented were the first two on the chopping block. Reem was such a badass — spunky, strong, and she had a lot of fight in her (motioning that machete toward David was easily my favorite unintentionally funny moment of the episode). I hated that she had to fight for her life like she did but that fight had more fire than anything else that was happening. I’m still not in support of the season’s twist as a general concept, but I may come around to certain aspects if it enables some stars to stick around on TV especially if the next votes are as straightforward and stupid as this one.
Wendy – I worried “Big” Wendy would be big in a bad way, but she was a real sweet treat this week. I do hope she inherits some of Reem’s scrappiness and maneuvers her way out of the hole she’s in at Manu. Wendy has a lot to offer in terms of keeping the game fresh and fiery with her equally funny and fierce personality, so living up to my expectations of this season, that means she’ll probably be the next to go extinct. I didn’t find any other new favorites this first week, other than already being a fan of Aubry, Kelley, and David, so I’m hoping more “Bigs” emerge soon. Even Wardog was more of a drowsy dog than I thought he’d be.
Dirty Wet Clothes – Manu’s wardrobe this week was perhaps the most major player in driving the story to its ultimate conclusion. I may have to give the garments the label of “mastermind” for how perfectly they executed their devious plot to send Reem to the Edge of Extinction. Clothes, as we all know, live to be dirty. They don’t want to be clean, or dry for that matter. These sentient shirts and slacks knew that Reem, being the only mother on the tribe, would thwart every effort of theirs to rack up as much soot and stank as possible, so they needed to orchestrate a way to oust her. Placing themselves in prime position for Reem to relocate them, causing an uproar of chaos at camp, was such a savage strategic move to make this early in the game and for that, I must give mad props. If these #ChaosClothes can keep it up, they could even become a contender for me. I never thought I’d see the day, but if Russell Hantz can muster up a few votes at a Final Tribal Council, then surely so can a moldy sock.
It’s at least more plausible than Russell actually winning.
Ryan Kaiser has been a lifelong fan of Survivor since the show first aired during his days in elementary school, and he plans to one day put his money where his mouth is by competing in the greatest game on Earth. Until that day comes, however, he'll stick to running his mouth here and on Twitter: @Ryan__Kaiser