Survivor Tocantins debuts tonight as several twists have already been revealed

Tonight at 8 p.m. ET, CBS debuts the 18th season of Survivor. Set in the Brazilian Highlands, Survivor Tocantins features a cast of 16 likable people; the most annoying among them, Sierra, has nothing on the worst of Survivor Gabon‘s group.

Can Coach change Survivor forever? Will Spencer’s age help or hurt him? What about Taj’s fame or Brendan’s millions? And can cowboy JT and crazy bus driver Sandy overcome others’ negative impressions of them?

In advance of the new season, CBS has revealed a surprising number of details, including about some twists. The opening vote has been featured in several ads for the show, and in one overly dramatic preview, Probst says, “We’re going to have our first vote. One person from each tribe is not going to make this journey.”

In that promo, the announcer says, “the new survivors have not met each other. They have not communicated at all. And they must make a critical decision that will affect the next 39 days.” Of course, cast’s first impressions are based on a lot of non-verbal communication before the game begins, as several mentioned in their conversations with me. The show is finally acknowledging that, and the first episode even includes interviews filmed pre-game about the contestants’ first impressions of one another.

Elsewhere, besides previewing the first immunity challenge–in which the press beat the Dream Team, as you’ll see in the clip–TV Guide’s preview special includes several details about game elements that aren’t part of the first episode. In the first segment, Jeff Probst reveals more about the opening twist and this season’s rule changes.

(Skip this paragraph if you don’t want to know, although none of these involve any specifics about what will happen, just rules.) At the show open, Probst will have tribes each vote for one person, but the “journey” language he uses is key, as those two actually get helicopter rides to camp, while the others hike for four to six hours through the blistering heat. The rule changes involve Exile, which is a spectacular, massive sand dune that was the most beautiful location there, and is also a publicly accessible place that was closed during production. As usual, after a challenge, the winning tribe picks someone from the losing tribe to go to Exile, but this season, the loser picks someone from the winning tribe. At Exile, they find two eggs; one has a clue to the idol’s location (it’s at camp) and the other has nothing. Most significantly: Each exiled person may mutiny when they get back. “We’re hoping to get some mutinies this season,” Probst says.

Those should make that part of the game more interesting than it’s been recently, and undoubtedly, the producers will find more ways to screw with them.

First impressions count on new ‘Survivor’ [MSNBC]