It’s always great to have Survivor back. But Survivor San Juan Del Sur stumbled in its first 90 minutes, with the scent of desperation lingering over the stereotyping: it was as if this season is desperately trying to live up to the first Blood vs. Water.
The episode began with Jeff Probst in a helicopter, which usually causes me to wet my pants with excitement. But his intro felt forced and barked (even allowing for the effect of the helicopter) and his eyes seemed lifeless. Between the relative ugliness of Nicaragua’s landscape–compared to the stunning beauty of the Philippines over the last four season–and the actual ugliness that was about to come out of Jeff Probst’s mouth, it was an awkward start.
Immediately, he went into worst Probst mode: turning the sexism up to 10 while playing producer and trying to create immediate drama between the soon-to-be-separated loved ones. “For a guy, you want to take care of your woman,” he said. “That’s what we’re supposed to do.” Yep, and they’re supposed to bake cookies in between squeezing out babies–it’s nature’s way!
Natalie and Nadiya immediately distinguished themselves as targets and not very bright Survivor players, immediately admitting, “We learned on Amazing Race not to judge books by their covers.” That admission seems to be what doomed Nadiya at Tribal Council. Concealing their past participation on a CBS reality competition may have been as pointless as John Rocker calling himself John Wetland (I later learned he meant “John Wetteland,” another MLB player, but I heard “wetland” so I’m going with that), but they’re nowhere near as famous so it would have at least been worth trying to hide and then downplaying.
The tribes randomly drew buffs yet ended up conveniently with everyone else who was wearing their new tribe’s color. Seriously, how did that happen? It’s not news that producers pick clothes for the cast, nor that they’re color coded, but that was way too coincidental. The show often pre-arranges tribes, so why not just admit that?
Then it was time for a reward challenge. And by reward challenge, I mean, manufactured drama challenge. Instead of the whole tribe competing, each tribe picked one person to compete, so they’d have someone to blame or hate later and there’d be some story right away. Also, the first tribe chose its player, Jeremy, Probst said he was competing against his wife, Val. Now they’d have even more story because drama!
The challenge brought out more sexism, as Probst screamed “dig, woman!” at Val, who happens to be a police officer. At least use her name, Probst. Then, when she lost to Jeremy, he was told to choose a person from his tribe to accompany her to Exile. Ooh, more drama! Jeremy chose Keith because “he could take care of her.” Keith, who’d just admitted to losing his flint on the first night. Later, Jeremy told Keith, “I owe you,” even though Keith insisted being a babysitter for Val “wasn’t no chore.”
At the tribe camps, the losing tribe, Coyopa, which I will from now just call the orange tribe, Dale started a fire. By breaking his glasses in half. “I’m sacrificing my ability to see later in the game so I can start a fire,” he said. Tune in next week when Dale peels off his skin to cover their shelter.
Also at orange tribe, Josh got something in his eyes that left him teary for the entire episode, and Baylor didn’t want that in her eyes. Meanwhile, Wes outed John Wetland as John Rocker, and John Rocker called him a cocksucker. No, sorry, that’s what John Rocker did on Twitter yesterday, but not during the episode, because Jeff Probst made sure that Survivor cast members no longer tweet, apparently because it confused a precious snowflake.
A very fun, dramatic multi-stage challenge came down to what CBS called “the hardest puzzle in Survivor history,” with the blue tribe coming from behind to win.
At Tribal Council, Jeff Probst first instructed everyone to metaphorically drag the old guy behind the set and shoot him (“typically, older people are sometimes an easy target,” he said, surprisingly not adding, so vote that guy off please because he’s boring). Then he asked Nadiya about the differences between Survivor and The Amazing Race, and she charmingly said that the race provides “exact directions” while Survivor is like, “here’s your island, do whatever the hell you want with it.”
Then she repeated the non-charming thing she’d said earlier about how Josh “has that advantage” of being able to be in both the men’s and the women’s alliances, because he’s gay and that apparently means having detachable genitalia. “Obviously I’m never going to consider a straight guy girlfriend,” she said, emphasizing the last word with her best gay voice.
Whether for her stereotyping or just her bad move of standing out early by pointing out she’d been on another CBS reality show (probably the latter), Nadiya was voted out first–but not before Dale, upon seeing a third vote with his name on it, started packing up his stuff. I’m surprised he didn’t just throw his bag into the fire along with the remnants of his glasses.
Overall, not the best premiere for Survivor ever, nor the strongest cast, but there is hope. During the first challenge, I had to remind myself that the first Blood vs. Water started off with a bunch of unnecessarily desperate things (eight twists!) but quickly found a groove in its strong cast and even stronger game play, which felt new because of the cross-tribe strategizing. Hopefully, that’ll happen here, too.
The show has rarely stumbled these past few years, and has been consistently entertaining for the past 14 years, so I’m confident all will be well. But to ensure future success, sometime this year, Probst needs to take a gender studies course.