Hello Survivor fans and welcome to Season 26. If the locale looks familiar, well, it should. We are back in the Philippines. Again. This time with fewer sitcom actors and guys who fell into fires. Although, with the same amount of Malcolms. After watching Probst risk his life with an amazing cold open stunt – seriously, he was standing on top of some giant, Dr. Seussian rock spire as helicopters carrying Favorites came zooming past him – we meet the 10 Fans. If they didn’t think that the 10 of them weren’t going to be facing a group of returning Survivors, then they couldn’t have been big fans. Why else would they have been separated from the rest of the competitors?
We are treated to montage of the exploits of the returning Favorites – and interestingly, we don’t see much victory. Cochran flipping, Corinne bitching out Sugar, Malcolm blowing the million, Philip being Philip, and both Erik and Brandon giving away immunity. This group truly is a random collection of flawed Survivors. They are so flawed that I totally expect to see the Smoke Monster show up and Merry the Hobbit to say, “Guys, where are we?” If Cochran has Daddy Issues, we have some eerie business.
Meanwhile, the Others…er…the Fans, are hard to get a feel for – this is the nature of Fans vs. Favorites. I remember from the first one, it took a few episodes to really get to know the new guys. The Favorites are so familiar and full of big personalities we already know that it is just easier to gravitate attention towards them. The Fans, not so much. We have a few of them getting some attention this week, but several others barely got much screen time. Meanwhile, Favorites like Corinne and Brenda also got little attention, but we know them already, so it doesn’t have the same feel to it. This is natural – we know these 10 so it is easy to relate to them instantly.
But let’s not avoid the obvious with this first episode…we had Survivor history made. Just as Jacob and the Smoke Monster represented opposites on “Lost,” we now have our counterpart to Sandra Diaz-Twine. Welcome to Survivor infamy, Francesca. It was almost too perfect an outcome for entertainment purposes to have Francesca go out first again, so perfect that I expected it wasn’t going to happen. I sat there watching and expecting to see my preseason pick to go all the way get booted first – how embarrassing. But despite getting four votes, Andrea survived, presumably thanks to the mini-coalition of Cochran and Dawn siding with her. This meant that Francesca was bested once again by The Specialist and his supporters.
Let’s talk about the dynamic as it unfolded – and recall that alliances formed on the first three days have often resulted in foreshadowing of the season’s endgame. Recall the Day 1 alliances of Rob and Amber, of Yul and Becky, of Russell and Natalie (and Parvati), and of Coach’s Crew in South Pacific. Sometimes we can learn a lot by these first few scenes.
The Legacy of Boston Rob – We may never get to see Boston Rob play Survivor again. After playing the perfect game in his fourth try, Rob is probably done barring an all-winners edition. And speaking of that – imagine how good that would be, with real life couples Rob/Amber and Jenna/Ethan competing against each other! However, his legacy lives on – this time with Philip and Andrea. Each are trying to take their experience with him in Season 22 and use it to their benefit. Philip has even developed the BR Rules – including forming a strong alliance, creating a sub-alliance, and bailing on your alliance before they bail on you. He probably shouldn’t forget Rob’s initial reasoning for allying with Amber.
Philip leading an alliance seems like a disaster waiting to happen, but Andrea can easily slip into that role. Philips interaction with Erik indicates that while he may have the lessons down pat, he may not be the best at implementing them. Andrea can. Just as long as she isn’t as obvious about it as she was this week, as her duplicity was caught onto right away. She was able to hide her allegiance from Matt the last time, so we know she has the skills.
The two Redemption Island castaways have linked up – so it seems – with Malcolm and Corinne. Brandon, Erik and Brenda appear to be on the opposite side for now in the minority alliance, as the South Pacific duo of Cochran and Dawn have teamed up to be the power swing votes. I’ll tell you this – Cochran and Dawn seem really determined to shake off their experiences in their first season and to win this time around. You can see it jump off the screen when they spoke, as you could whenever Andrea and Philip were on. I didn’t get that from the others. It seemed to me that Brenda, Corinne and Malcolm were almost sleepwalking through the beginning of the game – although Malcolm’s first challenge performance was quite impressive.
Will this Redemption Island/South Pacific grouping be what drives the season? Impossible to tell now, but they did get a lot of noticeable airtime. I expect a tribal shuffle to come at some point, so many groupings now could become moot as that happens, but from time to time you see these early alliances even survive those shuffles – see South Pacific, Vanuatu, and others.
Meanwhile, the Fans have a similar grouping happening, but with a bit more comedy. It seems Mike and Matt – the M&M Boys – have become the Fans’ version of Cochran and Dawn. Their two votes could alter the Fan balance of power between the Mean Girls/Guys alliance of four and the other three women with Sgt. Slaughter. I personally hope they avoid the Mean Ones if only because I like to see arrogance and stupidity punished. Just like the Meathead Alliance from South Pacific, basic math skills are needed. And when I say basic math, I mean math my six year old learned to do two years ago. Four out of 10 does not a majority make. And note to Eddie, you’re not even the best looking dude on your tribe. This red-blooded heterosexual man can safely say that title belongs to Reynold.
Oh, and Reynold, way to insult Allie’s looks in a confessional and then grope her ass the first night you sleep together in the shelter. It’s the first night! Way to class up the joint, guys. Although, if you’re going to snog someone, might as well do it before the halitosis and body odor kicks in. And comparing yourselves to the “cool kids lunch table” at school is a sure fire way to piss off the vast majority of the viewers, most of whom did not sit at the cool kids’ table. Seriously, these people are fans of the show?
I would include Sgt. Slaughter (Shamar) on the list of dumb fan moves based on his immediate arguing with Matt over whether or not shelter or fire should be stressed. Quick and easy answer…the both should be stressed. What do you have, an appointment or something later that day? You have plenty of time to build a shelter and try to make a fire. However, I can’t kill Sgt. for this as when they did spend the time on the fire…they made it. Good for them – that’s really hard to do.
First Challenge – No time wasting this season! The Favorites land and the most love from the Fans seems to go to Cochran, Dawn, Brandon and Philip. No one seems to react to Corinne and Brenda, while Malcolm is a total stranger to these people, as this season was filmed two weeks after the last one ended. Sgt, Slaugher seems to think the Faves are lunchmeat. Yum, I’ll have a Boehlke sub. Or a Meehan hoagie. Is a Brenda Lowe grinder a bit too raunchy for you guys?
Anyway, the challenge is to have groups of two from each tribe to wade out into shallow water and retrieve a large ring. Then they must bring it back to their team’s pole. The trick is, of course, to avoid the other team who will try to steal it or drag you to their pole.
Round 1 – Dawn/Erik vs. Sgt./Julia. Erik gives a hilarious “oh sh*t” moment upon getting a good look at the hulking Sgt. Wait, forget Slaughter… he’s Sgt. Hulka!!! The Fans easily take a 1-0 lead.
Round 2 – Brandon/Andrea vs. Eddie/Hope. The love story between the “best looking Survivors” begins in a rough manner. Eddie the fireman gets owned by Brandon the wacko. Eddie tosses the ring down the course and almost takes out Probst. Little Andrea manages to pull the beauty queen across to the pole, but Brandon manages to lug all of them to the goal. 1-1 tie.
Round 3 – Philip/Brenda vs. Sherri/Mike. The Specialist turns into the Foot Specialist, or the Podiatrist, if you will. He drags Mike though the water by his foot and dominates the challenge. 2-1 Faves.
Round 4 – Cochran/Francesca vs. Matt/Laura. Poor Cochran gets put opposite the woman. Already he’s getting emasculated. The four of them slow walk the course to the ring and Laura taunts Cochran, “You think you can handle me?” To which Cochran gives the awesome comeback, “You wouldn’t believe what I can handle.” HA!! Francesca smacks down the Bearded Man and Cochran gets down and dirty with the scrum as Francesca pulls them to the goal. Faves 3-1.
Round 5, FTW – Corinne/Malcolm vs. Reynold/Allie. The other pair of lovebirds battle to avoid the loss. Reynold and Malcolm sprint to the ring and then get into it. Hard. Malcolm loses his pants and women (and select men) around the world swoon. It is rough, but Malcolm slowly pulls the pile to the end and the 4-1 victory. Then gets slammed into the water by a jubilant Brandon. Maybe this is why Malcolm was so quiet afterwards.
Second Challenge – Unfortunately for Cochran the Tomato, there is a second challenge. The good news is he didn’t die. This challenge is a vertical one – five stories of ladders and crates on each level. Groups of two race to each successive level and toss the crates over the side to release sandbags. The final pair collect them, and for some reason, only one seems to toss them into six holes. The first to toss one into all six holes wins.
Level 1 – Cochran/Philip and Sherri/Laura head to the first level. No real surprises here – Cochran really couldn’t do much more with the giant sunburn feet.
Level 2 – Francesca/Corinne and Mike/Hope go to the second floor. No changes – sides are even.
Level 3 – Erik/Brenda and Matt/Julia clash. Erik flies up the ladders and gives the Faves a slight lead. We start getting the really cool camera angles from the top levels.
Level 4 – Brandon/Andrea and Eddie/Allie head up, and once again Brandon does a good job on the challenge. Andrea too. That’s two in a row for them.
Level 5 – Malcolm/Dawn and Shamar/Reynold. The Faves maintain the lead and Malcolm stakes them to an early 3-0 lead in bags. That’s before Reynold storms back and seemingly nails six shots in relatively quick fashion. He is an unexpected sand bag savant. The Fans win immunity and get the flint they lost in the first challenge. Malcolm, who no one has a relationship with, is in serious danger at this point.
Tribal Council – Except, no one really ever brings up Malcolm’s name. Curious. The Faves do a whirlwind of scrambling to figure out who is going out first. Phil’s name is tossed out there, as is Francesca’s. Then Corinne becomes an option – not sure if that’s due to her unexpected kind move in providing Cochran with a “delightful” cold homemade washcloth to soothe his burns. Philip is focused laser-like on Francesca, and apparently her extended family and hometown.
Francesca begins to overthink things and speculates that Philip and Malcolm’s easy-going attitude implies one has an idol. It appears she never considers the fact that they may be relaxed because they have the numbers. Brandon, of course, doesn’t trust Andrea. Probably because she’s a beautiful woman and … we know all about Brandon’s unease around the attractive ladies. So now Andrea is the target. This all seems to happen over a 15 minute span before Tribal Council.
At Tribal, Brandon thinks they are all chiefs and thus no leader and much chaos. Philip admits to purposefully mispronouncing Francesca’s name the last time around as he says, “Francesca, Francesca, Francesca.” Incredibly, Beetlejuice didn’t show up, unlike on “Community.” Francesca suggests she just may be bad at Survivor, and Probst calls her on it. D’oh! She also admits to getting paranoid. They all admit to paranoia – and Cochran says that even at the last minute things could change, and recalls Boston Rob doing the “hand on the shoulder” to get Phil to vote for Kristina and flush her idol. Malcolm hilariously puts his hand on Cochran’s shoulder and probably causes much sunburn pain as a result.
We only see two votes, leading me to think it may be a 9-1 thing, but it is Francesca vs. Andrea and a somewhat split vote. Andrea hides behind her hands and thanks the tribe (specifically, I presume, Dawn and Cochran) for sparing her. And Francesca makes history. Two Survivor stints, and she has spent less than a week in the game. Ouch.
Treemail Top 10
• First words of the season go to the Bearded Man. Will Matt go far? Is that foreshadowing? Will see more shots of Hope in night vision, as she is instantly the best looking person ever shot in night vision. Seriously, how does one get that talent?
• Probst wonders as the Favorites arrive in the helicopters – will it be explosive once these personalities collide? Well, hopefully not while they are still in the helicopters!
• Watch out Fans! That gator is sneaking up on you! And speaking of animals, how awesome was that monkey/bear thing chomping on the grasshopper?
• More “Lost” fun…anyone notice them arriving on a boat called “Vincent”? It surely was “Not Penny’s Boat.”
• Cochran’s sunburn was hilarious because it was not me. That looked painful. He was so swollen he looked like he was turning into the Red Hulk.
• Sgt. Hulka called for Mike to break Philip and Brenda’s wrists. Probst wondered about that one, but he meant it in the figurative-batting-swing sense, not the broken-bones-get-kicked-off-Survivor sense. One thing about him – that man can stretch. Yowsa!
• You knew Phil had to have the underpants, which seem saggier this season, and Cochran had to have the sweater vest. Are those items of clothing the most iconic in show history at this point? Maybe Boston Rob’s Patriots (S4) and Red Sox hats (the other three times) are first. Jerri’s hat? Rupert’s tie dye shirt. Russell’s hat. Penner’s hat. Lots of hats.
• Was there anything more awkward than Francesca and Philip’s first on-screen interaction since Redemption Island’s first Tribal Council? Perhaps Probst can produce the rock that Francesca said she would eat if she got voted out first again.
• Point for Philip – calling Corinne “The Dominatrix” might be the greatest use of nickname in the history of the show. Andrea The Eliminator is a good one too – but man, I’m jealous of that nickname creation.
• Anyone notice that we got lots of action on Day 1, culminating in the Allie groping, and then cut to Cochran’s sunburn and the rest of the action on Day 3. Did nothing happen on Day 2?
Votes – Francesca 6 (Cochran, Dawn, Malcolm, Philip, Corinne, Andrea), Andrea 4 (Brandon, Erik, Brenda, Francesca).
Next week – Brandon goes crazy already. Surprised it took this long.