Welcome to Guatemala, where the ruins are spectacular, the jungle is brutal, and the vomiting is plentiful. In a major change of pace from the cushy, dumped-on-the-beach landings of the last several seasons, this season opens with a truly brutal eleven-mile hike through the jungle that leaves a substantial chunk of the winning tribe flat on its back, throwing up and cramping and not quite having the photogenic good time they might have been expecting. Speaking of not what they were expecting, the sixteen contestants who first arrive in Guatemala find that each tribe has been assigned a returning contestant to add to the ranks. And who are the second-chance lucky ducks? Stephenie and Bobby Jon, seen so very recently in Palau. Stephenie kicks off her season, predictably, by losing the reward hike, but after Bobby Jon becomes one of the walking wounded on his tribe, her tribe rallies to win immunity. Wow, Steph never wins immunity! Anyway, at tribal council, the Nakum tribe is supposedly highly unsure whom it should boot, given that several of its men -- including Bobby Jon -- are flagging physically. But when what may be the most severe injury of all is the one suffered by the old guy? It's not too hard to figure out what's about to happen. Say goodbye to Jim, gone before his time thanks to gray hair and a failed bicep. Overall, though, a good start to the season -- not nearly as cushy and dull as some, and featuring some people, like Margaret the nurse-practitioner, who may not be impossible to like. Farmer Brandon, however, is dead to me immediately, as a result of his very early use of the non-word "supposably."
Previously on Survivor: Islands and jerks. A lot of islands, but really, even more jerks.
We approach a fog-shrouded tower that looks rather like the Filthy Wedding Cake Of The Damned, and then we pause for a glance at speed-demon footage of clouds blowing across a rising sun. That stands for mysticism. The mist hangs over the trees. Ruins jut up toward the clouds. And then, Jeff Probst is staring out at us, and we realize that Just For Men hair color is this year's Pontiac Aztek. He watches us earnestly, as he walks toward the camera and declares that these ruins are "thousands of years old." Even older than his shtick. But I kid Jeff Probst! The ruins are what is left of a "powerful and sophisticated civilization," making them the perfect place for -- you know it -- pixelized asses. I mean, whatever deity you worship, you've got to be able to get behind that. Drums pick up as we jolt all around the ruins and all around Guatemala and quite possibly all around Margaritaville, judging by all the disembodied palm trees. Probst mentions the Maya and their "advanced celestial knowledge," and their resulting "uncanny ability to calculate time." Of course, in the end, the entire culture "mysteriously vanished," just like Atlantis and Playing It Straight.
Jeff reminds us of the "exotic and dangerous wildlife." "I am exotic!" says a passing monkey. "I am dangerous!" adds a furry spider. A couple of jaguars, a poisonous snake, and a crocodile round out the Love Boat-style rundown of the entire cast. ("Starring this terrifying, eye-gouging crow as Your Yeoman Purser.") Probst tells us that the environment is "unforgiving," just like members of the jury, and that "even the strongest" will be brought "to their knees." Just like Joey.
We get our first shot of the new Survivors as Jeff says that this "group of Americans" (Bite it, Canada! Try again, France! Smell ya later, Trinidad and Tobago!) will begin "the adventure of a lifetime." (As opposed to the adventure of Lifetime, which involves being stalked by Antonio Sabato, Jr.) Jeff says that the teams have been divided into tribes, and that they're currently "hiking to a destination unknown." I love it when Jeff makes with the tortured syntax. Hott! We watch the survivors, all of whom have been through the jungle on a hike with no name, and then there's this thing that looks like the universally feared Screeching Tree Monkey Bear, and things are beginning to seem kind of dicey for these innocent actor/waiter/bartenders. Jeff explains that the strangers will "create a new society," which he just keeps on saying every season, even though it's stupid now. Although I would like to see them become a matriarchal commune sometime, just to screw with production. Blah blah blah, million dollars, spider and scorpion conspiring together, escalating music, Probst: "Thirty-nine days! Eighteen people! One survivor!" He's totally not hanging out of a plane or anything, either. He's just standing at the top of a big wad of ruins. Like, unless they want me to be afraid the rocks are going to fall on him, that's a huge letdown.