Aaaaand, we're back! The castaways are divided up into three tribes before they even hit the beach, and their numbers include former professional baseball player Jeff Kent and Facts of Life star Lisa Whelchel. And, the surprise additions are three former cast members who had to leave the show due to injuries: Russell (who passed out during a challenge and I remember thinking was dead, so I'm glad he's okay), Jonathan Penner (who got a life-threatening infection on his second time around, so this is try number three) and the one everyone remembers, Michael Skupin, who passed out in the second season and fell in the fire. Ugh, I will never forget those images of him standing in the water with the skin from his hands just falling off. Gross.
Russell joins the blue tribe, Matsing. Penner joins the red tribe, Kalabaw (Jeff Kent's tribe). Michael joins the yellow tribe, Tandang (Lisa Whelchel's tribe). Once the returnees are introduced and assigned a tribe, Probst tells them to grab supplies and hop on a raft. It's fairly chaotic and the rafts are not big, but they all manage to grab a few things and head to their camps. Jeff Kent twists his knee in the process.
Russell immediately tells his tribe that he doesn't want to be their leader, but then gets busy telling everyone else what to do. The two young pretty people, Marcus and Angie (I think?) are a little annoyed by Russell but understand the value of letting him hang himself out to dry.
The people on Penner's tribe all agree that they should ditch him fairly early, but we'll see if they follow through. One of them immediately recognizes Jeff Kent but doesn't say anything yet. Penner starts searching for an Immunity Idol right away, which pisses off his tribe, but given how they plan on getting rid of him immediately, maybe he shouldn't care. He finds the first clue immediately.
Skupin's tribemates immediately form an alliance of four (Abi, Pete, Skupin, and RC). Let's not forget that alliances formed early have been really important in the past few seasons, especially last season. They want to get rid of Lisa Whelchel. Skupin immediately recognizes Lisa but doesn't say anything. Everyone else seems to be too young, I guess? Although she's been on television recently between the books she's written and her Christian ministry stuff. She is a Survivor superfan, too. Skupin kind of can't believe that his alliance-mates don't know who Lisa is, and he urges her to tell people because everyone wants to get rid of her. But she doesn't think it's prudent yet. Skupin's tribe is also concerned because Skupin has maybe four pretty serious cuts early on.
Back on Russell's tribe, things are crazy. Zane goes around and makes individual alliances with each of the women, then makes a three-man alliance with Malcolm and Russell and says that he can pull in any of the women if needed. Malcolm thinks that's shady, so HE makes an alliance with the older woman, Denise. I need a flow chart to track all the alliances on this tribe and it's still the first day, I think. Russell finds the immunity clue first, but Zane spots him trying to read it and Russell lies about it.
The first immunity challenge is a relay race run in pairs, tied together. The first pair runs into the jungle and finds paddles. The second pair paddles out and finds a chest, and brings it back to shore. The third pair opens the chest and assembles a puzzle. First place gets immunity and a firemaking kit. Second place gets immunity and flint. Third places had to vote someone out.
Have I mentioned how happy I am that this season takes place on water and we get to see swimming and paddling challenges again? I'm really happy. The yellow team (Skupin's tribe) leads the whole way. The red team (Penner's tribe) falls behind after the first leg but makes up ground on the second leg, leaving the blue team (Russell's tribe) in last place for puzzle assembly. Red and yellow battle it out, but red finishes the puzzle seconds ahead of yellow. Lisa seems to do a great job with the puzzle for yellow, which may have helped her standing. Russell was the one who chose roles for his team, and people ended up in roles they didn't want, so they blame him for the loss.
After the challenge, Russell tries to give everyone a pep talk but Zane cuts him off and says, "I suck and you should vote me off." This is a strategy somehow? Russell mansplains to all of the women that they should vote Zane off, which only annoys them more. Angie begs Zane to stay, and so does Malcolm. They think Russell has an idol, though. Whether it's for that reason, or because Zane basically volunteered to go, the tribe votes off Zane and he's the first to leave.
Probst voiceovers a lesson for all of us about the Philippines, this season's location, as we get to see him piloting a motor boat through the water. There are beautiful and dangerous animals there! Also furious storms! That arrive without warning! That sounds like my toddlers. They are beautiful and dangerous with furious storms that arrive without warning. I do feel like I'm on Survivor most days.
Let's meet some contestants: Jeff Kent was a professional baseball player! That no one liked! I do remember listening to the Jim Rome show randomly on the day the story came out where he claimed he got hurt washing his car. Turned out he was riding a motorcycle or a dirtbike or something and he didn't want to admit it because he wasn't supposed to be engaging in such activities. I didn't make the connection until someone in the forums posted about it. Another contestant is named Zane, and he's a runty scabby-looking dude who points out that one of his many tattoos is Frankenstein. Well, it's actually Frankenstein's monster, to get all pedantic about it. Anyway, Zane claims that Frankenstein picked a flower for a little girl, but then he strangled her, and he can show either emotion, depending on how people treat him. Comforting.
Another new contestant: Lisa aka Lisa Whelchel aka Blair from The Facts of Life. For you youngsters, The Facts of Life was a spinoff from Diff'rent Strokes, where the housekeeper, Mrs. Garrett, went to be the headmistress at a girls' boarding school. And eventually, the show focused on four girls: Natalie (chubby one), Tootie (the African-American one), Jo (the lesbian, but back then she was known as the tomboy, but come on) and Blair (the rich snooty one). Anyway, it was a show I watched incessantly, although I always hated Blair. Lisa has gone on to write a book about child-rearing that advocated the practice of hot-saucing children's tongues, which is controversial to say the least. And yet, she's not going to tell anyone that she's sort of famous. If she really wanted to go undercover, she might have considered changing her hairstyle; it looks exactly like Blair's used to.
Probst reminds us that this is an exciting game, but also a dangerous one, and we get a montage of people puking, fainting, and getting otherwise injured. And what the new castaways don't know is that three former players who were medically evacuated are returning to play again. Those three are: Russell Swan, who fainted during a challenge and hit his chin on a wooden maze. And then his eyes rolled up in his head and he wasn't responding to questions. I recapped that episode, and I really thought he was dead. The next is Jonathan Penner, who got evacuated due to an infection during Fans Vs. Favorites. They don't mention that he played in a season prior to that and got voted out, so it's not like he never got a chance to finish the game. Anyway, I like Penner, so I'm not going to complain. And finally, probably the most famous and memorable medical evacuation was Michael Skupin in the second season, when he fell into the fire. They show the footage of Skupin in the water with skin falling from his hands and hey, look it's Elisabeth Hasselbeck, before we all hated her! Anyway, all three are returning and really want to win. Unlike the other contestants, who are just there for the LOLs, I guess.