Survivor Nicaragua’s debut: a cast worthy of Big Brother loses a weirdo, sexist ass stays

The debut of Survivor Nicaragua brought everything we’ve come to expect from the show: awesome visuals, a relatively strong–and new–challenge, blurred boxer-briefed bulges, and Jeff doing the cold open from the middle of the ocean atop a rock phallus. One thing was off, though: the cast.

At first I thought there were a few kooky people, as usual, particularly on the old folks’ tribe (apparently, La Flor and Espada are given names only, because Probst just referred to them by their ages). Then I thought there were more kooky old people than usual. Then we met the younger tribe, which also had some crazypants members.

That’s when I realized that someone sent the Big Brother cast to Nicaragua by accident, leaving the alternates to move into the soundstage house this summer. Seriously, from the first hour, those who got the editors’ attention came off as annoying, kind of crazy personalities. Is this the Russell effect, as casting looked for people with bigger personalities? Or is it just the editing?

Many of them copped attitudes immediately, like Marty declaring, “I want nothing to do with Jimmy Johnson,” and more than one person on the 20-something tribe declared they’d get rid of Kelly once they learned she had an artificial leg because she’d win based on that alone. When in the history of Survivor have we ever seen someone win on a sympathy vote? Instead of playing hard, they seemed to do the opposite. Jimmy T. freaked out for no reason, stomping his feet and all but starting to cry as he said, “I’m not gonna not be heard!” And Jimmy Johnson argued that they should vote him or Wendy off the tribe because they were the weakest players, which he illustrated by dry heaving. I’m not sure if that argument (not the dry heaving) was brilliant strategy, raw honesty, or just stupidity, but it seemed like odd game play.

Also, while Survivor has mostly been devoid of the bigotry and obnoxiousness demonstrated annually by the houseguests, we have misogynist ass Shannon Elkins, who has no trouble flinging gay slurs in an interview with a journalist. In a pre-season interview, he said, “My wife would rather see me hugging and cuddling a dude. My boys can call me a fag [but] I know I’m straight.”

In the first episode, Shannon first joked about Jud, “I’ve never really called a guy a dumb blonde before, he’s a dumb blonde,” and that was funny until you realized that he has a really dim view of women. “I don’t want another girl to win,” he told Chase, saying, “we already get owned in marriage.” I can’t believe he’s actually married and has three kids. We really need to start requiring a license to reproduce in this country.

On a lighter note, the cast members were also weird to a degree I can’t remember. Jud is bumbling comic relief, and the fact that he hasn’t swung the machete into his flesh yet is a miracle. The young tribe came in to the immunity challenge doing some kind of ridiculous dance/chant that was hilariously absurd. In his Emmy-worthy moment of the episode, Jeff Probst responded, simply, “k.”

Earlier, at the start of the episode, after Jeff Probst continued the charade of pretending that the contestants had all formed first impressions walking in to their first quasi-challenge rather than forming first impressions at Ponderosa and during casting, he had them search for the Medallion of Power. That replaced the usual opening challenge, which was kind of disappointing. Brenda found it, perhaps because she noticed the tiny lipstick camera pointing directly at the giant medallion, which was in a tree.

Probst then revealed that they hadn’t yet been organized into tribes, but had been faked out by the group they’d walked in with–a nice little twist to throw everyone off. Instead, they would be organized into tribes of old versus young, and that surprised everyone. The young tribe was given the choice to trade the Medallion of Power for flint and fishing gear, which they did.

While Jimmy Johnson observed that “fire’s going to be so important early” and wanted the flint, he didn’t have to worry, because Jane the dog trainer made fire rapidly using glasses and the sun. As she explained/cackled, “old people need reading glasses!” Later, she said she was able to do that because she read something Probst said about learning how to start a fire and “practiced for two months.”

Possession of the Medallion didn’t help the old people, as they lost the first challenge even though a) they had a Medallion to give them a big advantage, and b) it was not a physical challenge at all. They had to pour water down a series of gutters they held in the air to fill a bucket, but their water-pourer dumped it all over the platform instead of in the gutter. They were basically tied, though, but then their puzzle people did a horrible job of assembling a puzzle that was rather easy for Survivor.

An alliance between two of the older tribe’s weirdest people formed as swim coach Holly bonded with goat rancher Wendy Jo, who told us “my husband thinks I’m going to be the first person voted off.” Well, her husband won the bet, because she was voted off unanimously; even her friend betrayed her. That was all but assured when she said that she had a problem talking a lot, and then interrupted Probst as he started the voting process, making him sit back down as she babbled about why they should keep her. Of course, all she did was make an excellent argument for dumping her.

All of this amounts to a shaky start for Survivor, and on its new day–which has me convinced today is Friday, dammit–I’m a bit concerned. But we’ve had plenty of seasons start off weak and get great, and I wouldn’t call this a weak start. Just weird. Very weird.

Surprisingly, man not eaten alive on Eaten Alive

Eaten Alive

Discovery Channel’s happy family holiday special Eaten Alive aired Sunday, rewarding viewers for their two full hours of viewing by ensuring that they spent quality time in the company of others instead of wasting that time doing something else that might not have been as satisfying, such as buying things that have labels which accurately reflect their contents.


Winter 2015 reality TV debut schedule

winter 2015 reality TV schedule

Mark your calendars with all these upcoming reality TV show debuts, including Celebrity Apprentice, The Bachelor, and another season of MasterChef Junior, all of which kick off in early January.

There are also 20+ shows debuting in December--including the one-off return of The Sing Off. No winter break for reality TV.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.