Bickering, theft, injury, and awful gender stereotypes dominate Survivor One World’s great first episode

What an incredible first episode of Survivor One World: chaotic, weird, real, totally unpredictable. A challenge stopped in the middle, theft, bickering–and in the end, no one was even voted out because Kourtney Moon had to be removed from the game for surgery to her broken wrist.

Jeff Probst started the season with incredible news: “When you are voted out this season, there is no second chance. You go home.” What a twist! But he didn’t tell them that they were living on one beach. Instead, after they raided the supply truck and the men stole things from the women (Rupert would be so proud), Probst gave them “maps” to their shared beach, which I put in quotes because they were likely fake and the tribes driven to their beaches, as usual.

Like the cast seemed to be, I’m lukewarm on the “One World” twist right now. I love the possibility, but right now, there’s very little crossover; it’s just two tribes living adjacent to one another. Most interaction seemed to be bickering, and far too much of the episode was people talking over one another, arguing, making my head hurt. I was hoping for a lot more, with individuals recognizing the possibility to construct their post-merge games while still staying part of their tribe to guarantee their own safety.

Five of the women aligned themselves right away, with Alicia telling us “it was done in a matter of seconds,” although I don’t quite believe that: So much of the early game in Survivor is affected by what happens at pre-Ponderosa and even at casting, as people interact non-verbally and start to judge one another.

As Alicia told us who was in her alliance, their names popped up over footage of them, Pop Up Video-style, which the editors did again later with the men’s tribe. I loved that, as it was helpful, especially with so many people who look alike. I also loved the Google Earth-style zoom-ins to the tribe beach, which were a nice way to keep the same location looking fresh.

Colton and Christina seemed to be the only people making inroads on the opposite tribes, Colton because he decided “I’m the girl within the guy tribe” (sigh) and Christina because she wanted to negotiate with the men to make their camp better.

I’m not sure why the women were so worried about being able to start fire, since they had Colton. But at one point they appeared to be contemplating doing naked pole dances for the men in exchange for flames, and that’s beyond absurd, and makes stripping for chocolate look like an act of militant feminism. At least they followed that with some good and entertaining effort: Alicia tried to brazenly steal fire from the men in broad daylight and, later, when all the men were asleep, Christina and Monica successfully stole fire–but were unable to keep it going. They ended up exchanging weaving for fire, apparently because birthing the men’s children and cleaning their homes wasn’t an option.

Whether it’s the casting or the result of grouping people by sex or just sexist editing, the women did little to transcend stereotypical feminine behavior, appearing weak, bitchy, and helpless. The men got a similarly gendered edit, with their strength and competitiveness and masculinity being highlighted, although they were less of the focus of the first episode.

Sabrina went off looking for the idol, and found in mere seconds, apparently, because they’re no longer actually hidden and because I hate this twist. Luckily for Colton, the one she found was for the men’s tribe, and the new idol rule (which wasn’t exactly clear pre-game) required her to give it to someone else before Tribal Council. She chose Colton, because I’d spent the whole episode hoping he’d be voted off first so we’d be spared his bad game and self-satisfied bad jokes (Taylor Swift, really?).

I do appreciate Sabrina playing the game and trying to impact what happens on the men’s tribe, and she’s one of my favorites so far. And I think it’s notable that Matt had to tell Colton that he was in trouble with his tribe because he was spending all his time with the women (“nobody has an issue with him becing gay or anything like that, he just doesn’t try to fit in … if Colton doesn’t fix that, then he’s gonna being go home quick”). But Matt also showed some game by suggesting Colton play double agent, and it tells you a lot about Colton’s lack of game that he didn’t figure that out on his own and use that as an excuse with the men.

The immunity challenge was incredible, from start to finish. It took place in the exact same grove of palm trees that so many challenges during four of the last six seasons have taken place. (Hilarious that, moments before he introduced the season while hanging out of helicopter as it banked severely, Probst introduced the location as “a remote Polynesian island” instead of just calling it Samoa, but they are in the exact same place; when the tribes were chasing after the chickens, last season’s winner, Sophie Clarke, revealed on Twitter that the chicken was running around in the area her tribe used as a latrine weeks earlier.)

The challenge pretty much ended after its first stage: jumping from a platform and landing on a net. Probst kept reminding everyone to cross their arms in front of them and land on their backs. Pretty much no one did, and Kourtney broke her wrist landing on it. By the time her tribe got to the next platform, to walk across a balance beam, she was in such severe pain that Probst stopped the challenge–He stopped the challenge!–and called medical in. They decided she needed an x-ray, and that’s when the shit really started going down.

I’m sure Probst and the producers had to make a decision they never expected, but it felt like something that wasn’t carefully considered. He said the challenge required full teams of nine to finish it, and since the women lost a player, the men automatically won. Why? Why not finish the challenge with eight versus eight, giving the men the advantage of being able to remove their weakest link from the competition to even up the tribes?

The obvious answer was that the solution they came up with offered more drama: Probst said the men could take immunity, or finish the challenge and see what happened, and thus the women would love them. Of course, it’s ludicrous to imagine the men agreeing to continue the challenge. That’s like winning the lottery, and then the lottery asks if you want to give up your cash and then play again because the people who lost would like you more.

The women’s disbelief over the men’s decision was ludicrous. Chelsea said, “Those guys don’t give a crap about any of us girls. They don’t care. This is a no mercy game.” I can’t believe she said that seriously, but that seemed to be the collective attitude. How, after 23 seasons, are there still people unaware that this is a game for $1 million?

The women hiked to Tribal Council to have another opportunity to snipe at and argue with one another, before Probst finally dropped the news that Kourtney needed surgery and since she was out of the game, no one was going home. It wasn’t quite a shock, but it was another unexpected moment in a pretty crazy first episode. This may not have been the strongest first episode in Survivor‘s history, but it certainly was the most unusual.

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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.