For what Survivor has become—both in its alleged 2.0 era and over the past 18 seasons or so—the opening of Survivor 44 was quite spectacular, and a heck of a lot of fun.
Right up until its first gaping, bloody wound, the premiere was playful, opening with a glimpse into confessional interviews as a producer told Carolyn, “Just pretend it’s just you and I,” and Carolyn responding with a mix of amazement and confusion: “Just saying who I am?”
There was a delightfully edited montage of the players’ anxiety about starting the game, in which individual phrases were strung together to create a long sentence uniting them all.
Both the editing and cinematography—sweeping drone shots over swimming players—were of the quality Survivor is known for, and that I so appreciate.
Every single player had at least two confessionals! And, even better, instead of getting lost in treacly backstory segments, we learned about many of the players organically, through their conversations with each other. Remarkable!
This is a great cast so far, too: enthusiastic, maybe even to the point of over-enthusiasm: We learned about Carson’s incredible preparation (3-D printed puzzles, 30 pounds of weight gain so he wouldn’t start the game at 115 pounds), Matthew’s joie de vivre, Carolyn’s Carolyness.
The set design has dropped shipwrecks and tribal designs for Game of Thrones. And I’m quite sure the two-piece immunity idol is the He-Man sword and shield I had years ago.
Alas, as much as I try, I’m unable to ignore some of Survivor’s choices. If the producers just pulled back a little—skip the summit and its advantages, dump the shot-in-the-dark, stop describing every single thing as it’s happening during challenges—and trusted its cast more, it’d be in even better shape.
Right after the brilliant montage, the professor came into the room and started to lecture.
“For 22 years, Survivor has been exploring the idea of group dynamics and interpersonal relationships in a really unique way…” Oops, sorry, nodded off there for a minute. “…force them to create a new society…” zzzz “…you can never predict what’s going to happen…” I’m awake! “….which is what you’re doing right now…”
I perked up when he said “we’re going to birth you into this game right now,” thinking we might get a birth canal-themed challenge.
Instead, it led to a hospital visit and a medical evacuation.
Somehow, the narrator missed the actual moment of injury, losing an opportunity to narrate violence in real time. However, the cinematography captured Bruce’s head gash artfully for such awful horror: a clunk, slow motion grimace, blood pouring out.
“Nothing is easy on Survivor!” the professor continued. Eventually, he realized what was going on, and said, “Bruce, you let me know if we need to stop.” Is asking people who have gaping head wounds and very likely a concussion to diagnose themselves the right way to handle this? Asking for Bruce.
Eventually, Jeff Probst sensed and opportunity to crouch and interrupt a doctor’s work, so he yelled, “everybody stop!” and “can we get an umbrella?”
I was impressed Survivor medical had a bandage that matched Bruce’s skin tone. I was less impressed by the medic’s diagnosis that “the intensity of being in this game and the adrenaline going through his body probably just caused his body to need a bit of a time-out.” So the whole smashing his head into a wood plank hard enough to split open his head had nothing to do with it?
Bruce’s injury seemed too severe to just treat him with “some oxygen, a bit of time in the shade”—and, surprise, later that night, Bruce was not doing well, though medical was apparently monitoring him at camp. Jeff came out to narrate and rub Bruce’s shoulders as he was pulled him from the game.
“I wanted this so bad,” Bruce said. Probst said, “I’m genuinely heartbroken for you.”
Later, at the immunity challenge, Probst told the tribes that Bruce’ “needed further testing” (oh wow really) and that he was “happy to report he’s in great shape: no danger, no damage.” That is excellent news. Also, on Jeff’s new podcast—which I’ll be reviewing!—he said Bruce will be invited back for a future season.
Fun fact: the last Bruce to be medevaced on Survivor was in 2006, and that Bruce didn’t get medical care for eight hours.
The green tribe, Soka, won its first of two challenges, while the purple tribe, Tika, came in second in both this and the next challenge.
The losers, purple and orange, Ratu, had the back-at-camp challenges to complete, though they came with slight modifications: Tika got to choose which task it completed, leaving the other for Ratu.
The at-camp challenges were limited to just two people for the brainteaser,
Skeptical about an “unknown puzzle,” as Brandon said, they opted to take the physical challenge. Matthew volunteered to help, to prove things to his tribe, and they filled a net with coconuts one at a time, back and forth.
On purple, Helen and Carson finished the brain teaser, which was more of a counting task, though both were a little reluctant to step up. Carson said he wanted his tribe to suggest he do it, rather than volunteer.
All three tribes found bird cages in the woods, inside of which was a wrapped gift from Jeff Probst: an actual immunity idol with no bullshit attached! There was also a fake idol so they didn’t have to craft their own to try to deceive someone else.
“It’s something we’ve never seen before—just completely out in broad daylight,” Frannie said. Yeah, very different: usually idols and advantages just fall out of producers’ pockets right in front of whoever needs them! (I joke; I don’t think that actually happens, even though the editing makes it seem like it.)
Carolyn told us she had “all these sick thoughts in my head, like how can I get in there without the key.” I really want to know what sick ways she had in mind for getting inside!
Yam Yam asked, “what if it’s candy?” We learned it was not, alas, candy when Ratu split up and went in search for the key in pairs, so as to not allow anyone to find it on their own. Then Brandon found it and tried to hide it from his partner, Maddy.
Brandon stuffed the tiny package into his shorts, which Maddy noticed: “Brandon does something weird.” They considered concealing it from the rest of the tribe—YES DO THAT—but Brandon decided “I can’t trust Maddy” and announced to the world they’d found it.
As everyone watched him open the immunity idol and now-useless faux immunity idol, Brandon said, “I just messed up,” he said. “I should have kept this a secret.” No shit!
But not everything should be kept a secret. Boats picked up people for the summit zzzzzzz What?! I’m awake.
Actually, now that this has become a known part of Survivor, it was interesting to see how the groups handled it. On Tika, Sarah volunteered. Soka drew straws and Matt was dismayed that he picked it. Ratu drew rocks—but in a spectacular twist, Lauren actually fixed it, because she was the one who chose the rocks. “Magically, I picked the gray rock,” she told us.
I’d say the summit trip basically added nothing except time to the two-hour premiere, but the consequences of what happened afterwards definitely reverberated.
Instead of the three’s choices affecting each other, they instead learned that Jeff Probst was forcing them to make a choice: draw one of three scrolls. Two were lose-a-votes, and one was an advantage. If they drew the lose-a-vote on the first try, they could draw again, taking advantage of the 50-50 odds but potentially losing yet another vote.
Here’s what happened:
- Sarah: lost one vote, and then drew again and received the new Inheritance Advantage. This is another way-too-freakin’-powerful advantage that allows her to secretly get every advantage played at a single Tribal Council. Sarah lied to her tribe and told them it was the same was in Survivor 42: she risked her vote and is not sure if she lost it
- Lauren: drew the “Bank Your Vote” advantage, which means she can skip one vote and use it later, a decent advantage if we must have advantages. Lauren lied to her tribe and said she lost her vote.
- Matt: lost two votes, and lied to his tribe about the second lost vote
“I don’t know if it’s going to come back to bite me,” Lauren asked. I can pretty much guarantee it! And it eventually did.
Early alliances include Matt and Frannie. Frannie said they are both “a little awkward, a little nerdy,” and between that and Matt announcing he’s newly single, I cannot help but wonder if this is the showmance that Jeff Probst has teased.
Helen, Sarah, and Carson formed an alliance, which Helen said was “relieving. If you’re the one person that no one is talking to, that sets off alarm bells.”
Savage cut to Carolyn: “I feel like no one is talking to me.” Oh no! She asked us, “Do I wait for people to come to me? What if they never come to me?”
Then she talked about how she knows she’s “weird,” “odd,” “loud,” and “someone who loves and accepts myself.” We got a montage of her screaming and her insistence that “I want to play this game as my authentic self.” They better not vote off her authentic self just because she’s quirky, because she’s one of my favorite characters right now.
Matthew is also very, very enthusiastic. He told us: “I just want to do everything!” And he did mean everything: He not only climbed a jagged rock, but fell off it, too. “I need a medic,” he said, and then popped his own dislocated shoulder right back in. I guess he really does want the full experience!
“I want so much from this journey, and I don’t want my own stupidity to take me out,” he told us. His foot was gashed and his arm is now in a sling, but that actually worked out to his advantage.
At the immunity challenge, Matthew sat out because of his shoulder, along with Claire from Soka. (Brandon also sat out mid-challenge because of dehydration, the third visit from medical.)
Narrator McExposition returned with key insight such as “it is only day three of your 26-day adventure” and “if you get it wrong and don’t notice it, it’s a big setback later.” He literally told us Brandon was being looked on by medical three separate times in less than 30 seconds.
Thankfully, he did not narrate the best part: Claire brilliantly used the sit-out bench. “Dude. Excuse me,” she whispered to Matthew. “Did the person who went to the island show you anything?” When Matthew revealed that Lauren did not show anything, like Matt did, Claire said, “I like you.” I like you too, Claire!
That piece of intel made Lauren an easy first target, though for a Black woman to yet again be the first person a tribe doesn’t trust is quite the coincidence. The other possible target: Brandon.
While Matthew tried to protect his friend and ally, making the tired case that it’s too early to vote a big strong man out, clearly Brandon’s strength means nothing if he’s going to just go down mid-challenge. (Can you tell I’m tired of that rationale?)
Based on his lack of trust in her, Maddy tried to get everyone to vote out Brandon, and apparently succeeded, since all of the votes at Tribal Council went to him.
Yet “all of the votes” was actually just three.
Jaime announced she’d play her shot in the dark and declared her vote didn’t matter. Way to start Survivor strong. Then Matthew also played his. Was it just so he just didn’t have to vote for his friend?
For the “first time in Survivor history,” someone actually became safe from playing the shot in the dark: Jaime. Except no one voted against her, so it was useless.
Meanwhile, Lauren decided to bank her vote.
That meant three of the six people—half the tribe!—did not vote. And two were immune: Jaime and Brandon, who smartly played his idol, though after the shots in the dark were revealed. (Is there an order to these kinds of things? How long can one wait before deciding to play an advantage? I’m genuinely curious!)
With all two votes going to Brandon, Brandon’s vote was the only one that counted, and Maddy was voted out with just his one vote.
I think this Tribal Council is an interesting test of your feelings about this new era of Survivor: Is it spectacular that someone can be voted out with just one vote? As you may have guessed, I am not a fan!
It’s been six years since Cirie was voted out without actually receiving any votes, so you think I’d be used to this by now, but I’m not, because I’m stubborn and cling to the memories of early Survivor seasons that produced so much drama with so much less game interference.
The Survivor 44 players used the game elements to their benefit, and I place no fault with them. And I really do love that Brandon used his idol to turn on the person going after him. As always, I just wish the producers would trust their great casts more—and what is explicitly clear from this season premiere is that we really do have a great cast.
Friday 3rd of March 2023
I am really surprised that Maddy went over Lauren. The tribe knew Lauren was shady from her explanation of the summit. I am sure they're going to figure something out when we see the next episode and the tribe realizes the vote count was off.
Friday 3rd of March 2023
I have a question, please, about something that you briefly touched upon but didn't quite address...yet. ;-)
At Tribal Council, there were six (6) castaways present. Two (2) played "Shot in the Dark", which meant that four (4) would be voting, right? Wrong...as only three (3) votes were cast/counted/shown because of Lauren's "Bank Your Vote" move in the voting booth.
...but shouldn't the castaways have done the very basic math (it's not like there were, say, twice as many people, or even more, so that keeping track of things like this would have been somewhat harder) and realized that one (1) vote wasn't included in the urn for Jeff Probst to announce?
The telecast didn't, say, show castaways with surprised looks on their faces to match that moment...it just continued along...but shouldn't someone(!) have noticed this and either said something (whether out in the open, or in a suddenly-inserted interview clip), reacted visually or done something else when those numbers just didn't add up?
This puzzled me when I watched it, so maybe you have some insight into this, please.
Thanks again, Bram Weiser
Wednesday 8th of March 2023
Thanks, Chuck & Andy.
I might be mistaken but I thought Jeff said something when retrieving Maddy's vote, along the lines of, "the only vote that counts" or "the only vote left", etc., no?
But, yeah, to not have some(!) follow-up after not showing/counting what should have been all four (4) votes is odd...I'm surprised things played out this way.
Friday 3rd of March 2023
@Bram Weiser, Actually, there was one surprised look (I think it was Brandon) when the exile was announced. I am sure they are leaving the reactions to missing a vote for the next episode.
Thursday 2nd of March 2023
What is this woman narrating every scene? It is very distracting.
Thursday 2nd of March 2023
Definitely a strong start, and some excellent editing that actually gave a soundbite to all contestants (I think?). Sometimes it can feel very lopsided and people get lost until deep in the game; no Purple Kelly situation here! I also appreciated Survivor US taking a page from (the superior) Survivor Au and having some some truly epic slo-mo shots during the challenges.
And wow, what an absolute hot mess of a tribe. Perhaps one of the worst and most chaotic starts we have ever seen. Also, in defense of Brandon, he was so gassed during the challenge because he literally had to pull that entire box through the course himself.
My only real note is that I wish inside the birdcage was absolutely nothing, as one of the contestants suggested might be the case. Now THAT would be a real gag.
Thursday 2nd of March 2023
I was SHOCKED! Matthew figured out for himself that he had to DIG! to finish the coconut pulling challenge, without Probst there to yell that at him.
I thought Brandon was really dumb letting anyone know he found the key and then opening the cage in front of everyone, but I get that he didn't have much choice. And he made up for that at Tribal.
Thanks for listening to the Probst podcast and reviewing it, so I don't have to. :)