reality TV reviews and news

Survivor strips down to the basics: accusations, overplaying, puking

The Healers tribe, getting ready to start overplaying Survivor and accusing each other of things. (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS)

Survivor still delivers, 17 years and 35 seasons in to its run—epic cinematography, a high-quality production, incredible strategy, and insightful host commentary.

“This is what Survivor is all about!” Jeff Probst declared, as foamy vomit spilled from a contestant’s mouth onto a well-constructed platform in Fiji, medical teams available if she decided to take a break from puking and request their assistance from the host, who stood nearby and only turned to acknowledge her after dealing with other post-challenge odds and ends.

Yes, this is what Survivor is about now: the elevation of a masculine ideal, where vomit is evidence that you’ve played hard enough to earn affirmation from Father.

Later, night vision cameras captured Alan bonding with his alliance member by reaching into JP’s pants, which were around his ankles, and feeling around. “I know you got the idol down there,” Alan said as JP stood naked, a stranger searching his pants. “Dog, where’s it at?”

Yes, a lot of this premiere had me cocking my head and saying, Umm, what? at the television. It was a packed first hour—but packed with a lot of weirdness.

At Tribal Council, we were led to believe Chrissy and Katrina were on the bottom, isolated from their tribe of young people (they’re both 46, which in this era of Survivor, is basically the equivalent of Rudy).

Every single vote was for Katrina, and as viewers only knew, Chrissy had been gifted with the first-episode-only super idol and could have saved Katrina and sent their enemy Ashley home. But she didn’t, and the show moved on.

That was so confusing—though I understand not wanting to show your hand so early, if the rest of the tribe had voted against them as a pair, she had nothing to lose. But: We later learned that Chrissy voted for Katrina, too, and the preview showed Chrissy close to Ben, which suggests we were misled about her true relationship to her tribe.

That kind of result frustrates me more than it used to, because the conceal-everything-from-viewers edit is less common than it once was. But even as Survivor evolves, some things never change.

Episode one of Survivor: time to overplay!

If that was some major under-selling on the part of the show, there was a lot of overplaying, and it wasn’t limited to Alan’s strip-search of his fellow alliance member.

Tony—I mean, Joe—confronted urologist Mike with idol-posession accusations and then was all You can trust me! The guy who just cornered you in the woods and accused you of something with no evidence! But at least he didn’t look accusingly at Mike’s crotch and then root around in his underwear?

Joe, by the way, has been assigned to the healers tribe, because he has an innate gift: “I’m wanting to be in the tribe that I could easily manipulate,” he said. “They’re just all my victims at this point.” OH SHIT DOES HE THINK SENDING THEM TO HEAVEN IS HEALING THEM SOMEONE CALL SECURITY.

I am aware that the show is cast with type-A personalities and/or personality disorders, and everyone from casting to Probst do their best to instruct the cast to play hard right away. I am still, however, baffled by those who play so aggressive immediately.

Aggressive may be the word of the day, from immediate alliances and accusations to that immunity challenge, with its toboggan ride into the side of a sand pile. Beautiful visual; not the theme park ride I’d choose. (The challenge’s mid-run choice between puzzles was intriguing, especially because the easy-looking one wasn’t exactly a gimme.)

Those cast members who we actually got to see had some aggressive confessional games, too, such as Ryan, who picked up the Secret Advantage on the boat, which was hidden deep on top of a pile of desirable things.

Ryan, who’d previously worried about whether not his tribe was “macho enough” before explaining, “I don’t drink and I don’t have a girlfriend,” excitedly told his interviewer, “It’s in my pants. I’m dying to know what it is. For the first time, someone’s dying to get in my pants.” I’m also dying to tell jokes. Let me add more. More jokes. Here comes another! Penis! 

Ryan told Devon, the surfer dude, about the super idol, and Devon was so happy: “We’re going to cause chaos together,” he said about the thing that Ryan couldn’t use and gave away to someone who threw it away before it became even more useless than it apparently was to her.

The title of this episode was “I’m Not Crazy, I’m Confident,” which could apply to most of what we saw. But isn’t confidence this early a little crazy?