The new season begins with sixteen Survivors pre-split into two tribes before they even arrive at the beach via helicopter: Ometepe (orange) and Zapatera (purple). After Jeff Probst welcomes them, another helicopter flies into view and dispatches Boston Rob and Russell, who draw buffs to find out which team they'll be joining. Rob goes to Ometepe and Russell goes to Zapatera. Probst really emphasizes the whole "they have experience and can help you angle" but the new contestants aren't fooled. Boston Rob gets a warm reception from his new tribe while Russell's is…less so. Probst also introduces the season's big twist: after being voted off in Tribal Council, the eliminated Survivor goes to Redemption Island to live alone. When another Survivor is voted off, the old loser and the new loser will battle in a duel (a format you may be familiar with from RW/RR Challenge: The Duel, among others). At some point, whoever remains on Redemption Island will re-enter the game. That's kind of interesting, especially if someone goes on a run after being eliminated early, and then comes back and kicks some ass. But since I've watched every season of this show, I'm predicting it will fizzle out.
Early standouts on Zapatera include Stephanie, who quickly allies with Russell with a plan to get to the merge. Also, Ralph, a redneck farmer-type in overalls. And that's kind of it so far.
Early standouts on Ometepe include: Phillip, the former Federal Agent question mark? They literally put a question mark after it on the chyron. He's a little nuts and a little bossy. Also, Francesca, the lawyer, who aligns with Phillip and then regrets it. Also, Kristina, who finds the Hidden Immunity Idol without a clue a la Russell, and also recognizes that they need to get Rob out quickly since many of the younger tribe members seem to be in awe of him.
The first half of the episode is taken up with camp building and getting to know one another. The Immunity Challenge is one of those multiple-step deals where they have to push giant stones, and climb and cut ropes and whatnot until ultimately building a temple out of giant 3D puzzle pieces on a giant platform. Zapatera takes a quick lead and gets to the platform with lots of time, but they take a long time assembling their temple and Ometepe seems to be catching up, largely due to Rob's puzzle-assembling skills. But it's not enough and Zapatera wins Immunity and flint.
There are a lot of machinations before Tribal Council. At first, Francesca and Kristina and Phillip decide to urge everyone to vote out Kristina, while the three of them vote for Rob, so that when Kristina plays the Idol, Rob will go home. In order to convince Phillip to do this, Kristina has to show him the Idol. Meanwhile, Rob has convinced the younger set to split their votes between Kristina and Francesca so at least one of them goes home, since Rob realizes that those two are smart and have his number, and apparently the younger set just falls into lockstep.
But then at Tribal Council, everything goes to shit when Phillip, with little to no prompting from Probst, just opens up and reveals the whole plan, including the fact that Kristina has the Immunity Idol. Kristina and Francesca are like, "Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck." Rob insists on seeing the Idol and then tells Kristina if she gives it to him, she gets to stay this week, with the implication that otherwise she's going home. Which she's not, because she can play the Idol. It was a nice mind-fuck try by Rob, but Kristina didn't fall for it. So by the time the voting starts, no one know what the hell. Kristina doesn’t play the Idol, since everyone knows she has it and presumably didn't vote for her. Rob's minions split the votes like he told them to, and Rob casts the deciding vote to get rid of Francesca, who heads to Redemption Island. Meanwhile, Kristina still has the Immunity Idol, but no allies left.
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Hey, guys and gals -- it's time for a new season of Survivor! So let's all pretend that terrible previous season never happened, okay? Because it was terrible. And it's not like I remember every season anyway. There are whole seasons that are just wiped from my memory bank. Like there was a season in Thailand? And one time they divided the tribes up by race? Vague memories. So let's start fresh because there definitely won't be any reminders of seasons past now, right? RIGHT?
A military helicopter soars over the Pacific Ocean, and guess who's inside? No, not Jesse Ventura. He doesn't have time to bleed. It's Jeff Probst! And the newest contestants! Probst explains that the helicopter is being flown by the Nicaraguan Air Force. Everyone in America: "Nicaragua has an air force? How much did the US pay for that?" How come Probst gets to stand up and walk around while everyone else is strapped in? Is it to prove how studly he is? Because that thing has an open back and if they hit one air pocket, Probst would be flying out the back. That would be bad. I shouldn't laugh, just thinking about that.
Let's meet some of the new castaways. First up is a totally normal, average guy. He's middle-aged, but looks to be in good shape. His name is Phillip. He owns his own software company. Okay, I get it. He's smart, but he probably likes to hike and rock climb on the weekends, right? And then they put up his chyron and he explains that he's a former Federal Agent. Except the chyron lists it as "Former Federal Agent?" So either he's lying, or the show couldn't verify this information, or both. So that's your first clue that Phillip might be a little bit looney tunes. And he seemed so normal for the first three seconds I knew him!
Then there's Matt, a pre-med student and a Christian. I was just watching that House episode where House bullies one of the candidates to join his team due to his religion, and wonders how he reconciles a literal translation of the Bible with science. That is a good question. I would suspect they don't think about it much. Anyway, Matt is like Fabio 2.0 except obviously smart if he's in medical school. Then again, he's pre-med, which just means he's taking some anatomy and physiology courses. If he hasn't passed organic chemistry yet, I don't consider him a med student. That was the dream-killer in my undergraduate years. Many a friend changed majors because they couldn't pass o-chem.
I just noticed that these people have already been divided into tribes. So Phillip and Matt are wearing orange buffs and they are on the Ometepe tribe. And our newest castaway, Ralph, is wearing a purple buff and he's on the Zapatera tribe. He's also wearing overalls and a shirt with the sleeves cut off. I will give you three guesses as to what kind of accent he has and what his profession is, based on that information. Oh, don't get fancy with your guesses. This is Survivor He will absolutely fulfill the stereotype; he's got a Southern accent and he's a farmer. Why he is not chewing on a hayseed also, I do not know.