The season gets off to a weirdly abrupt start as nineteen people (one bolted just before filming started, apparently) land on a beach together. They receive a box, which several studly dudes try to open by dropping giant rocks on top of it, and it comes open only when Yau Man, a genial older gentleman, drops the box onto the rock. It seems like a metaphor for something. The group is instructed to build a fancy-pants shelter with a toilet and a kitchen and all kinds of neat stuff, and they're all pretty confused, but why argue, right? When Jeff finally gets them all together, he pulls out Sylvia, who has emerged as the bossypants "leader" of the first episode in the great tradition of many early-exiting contestants. Sylvia divides everyone into two tribes, and then she heads off to Exile Island, not to return until after the first tribal council, when she will join whichever tribe loses a member. And the fancy-pants shelter will belong only to the team that wins. The other team will be sent off to live on a horrible, empty beach, with nothing but a pot and a machete. You know the drill. The first challenge goes to Moto, a tribe including a lawyer named Alex, someone named Boo, a guy who rather hatefully calls himself "Dreamz" (yes, with a "z"), Gary The Minnesotan, and a bunch of other people. The losing tribe is Ravu, a tribe including a B-Rob wannabe who will be calling himself "Rocky" owing to a not-entirely-imaginary resemblance to Stallone; a very negative lady named Erica; Nick Verreos's sister Rita, and a bunch of other people. Rocky seems to think that he and two women he expects to be able to control can run the show, but it turns out that pulling that move is harder than it looks, and one of his chosen women, Jessica, is the one everyone else wants to get rid of. It turns out that three people cannot, as Erica suggests at one point, dominate a nine-person tribe, so Jessica is excused, mostly because it's very early, and she didn't do very well on the first puzzle. She is shocked to get booted, probably in part because Rocky assured her that it wouldn't happen. Because he can't count, apparently.
The Jeff Probst Seaplane Of Branded Virility drifts over your basic Expanse Of Blue Water, and then we cut to this strange-looking tableau featuring a peak with a perch in the background, and a giant skull in the foreground. Television, you see, is here to eat your brain and leave nothing but the bones. The seaplane, it turns out, is flying over a boat that contains -- aha! -- the season's castaways. Or "survivors." Or whatever you want to call them instead of "people teetering on the brink of unemployment, unless they have tenure." Inside the plane, we join Jeff "Fourteenth Verse, Same As The First" Probst, who tells us that we are in the Fiji Islands, and of course, this area is known for cannibalism. But the problem is that Jeff always claims that wherever they're going, there have been cannibals. I think Burnett is at risk here of becoming The Boy Who Cried This Season We Will Poach Someone In His Own Gravy. What I love is that when they discuss cannibalism, they show a (probably fake) skeleton, but it's propped up, like the guy died sitting up, and they just baked him and carved him like that. Also, there are bats. Bats! As we watch a shark actually eat a fish (awesome shot), Jeff says that the islands are spectacular and lush and threatening and all the things that make for a great season. Supposedly. Jeff calls the contestants an "Xtreme cross-section" (my spelling, courtesy of the influence of the awesome Monster Energy Pipeline Pro, which I recently attended, because I am nothing if not a connoisseur of energy drinks and surfing) of society. A "former homeless street performer"! A Harvard lawyer! They know nothing about what's going to happen! In fact, Jeff explains, one person quit right when things were about to start. Good job on the psych screenings, geniuses. I guess not everybody is cut out for three weeks of sand in her crotch. At any rate, Exile Island has returned, and this time, it has sea snakes! Which may or may not be bad for you (Jeff claims they're "deadly"), but they're good on camera. Another change: there are two hidden immunity idols this time. As usual, we get a lot of close-ups of skulls. Somebody associated with this show has a real thing for skulls. Like, a real thing. A "cornering the market on prop skulls" thing. A "scary basement" thing. "Thirty-nine days, nineteen people, one survivor!" Jeff yells out of the plane in his usual swooping fashion. So, right. "Nineteen people." That would be a cast of twenty, minus the quitter, whom Jeff Probst probably has on his endless shit list, alongside Osten.