The formula is so simple these days: A little bit country, a little bit rock-and-roll, and a healthy dose of crazy. That’s what we’ve come to expect from Survivor, and the premiere of the 22nd Season last night showed we won’t be missing any of it.
As always, the beginning, as the contestants hop off the helicopter that has brought them to the Nicaraguan coast, is priceless. As you first glimpse these 16 faces, you can see how thrilled, perhaps giddy they are to have begun their adventure. Over the course of the next 39 days, these people are going to be beaten down by merciless mother nature, physical challenges, hunger and the unrelenting stress of social conflicts. When its all over, what will these people think? How different will the experience have been from what they expected going in to the game.
Two of the three wild-cards in this year’s game already have a good sense of what this adventure will be like. After the first 18 survivors are flown in, the final two arrive on a separate helicopter. Boston Rob and Russell Hantz. Rob has already competed three times, Russell twice. Neither has won the game, and they faced off against each other in Survivor: Hero’s vs. Villains. Sent off to different tribes, the two instantly became the center of attention. It’s an obviously difficult position, because they were both targets for their tribes right away. These new players have had a good chance to watch both Rob and Russel, and should understand how they’ve played before.
Russell indicated he’s not going to change his game. He still thinks he’s the best at the game, but he isn’t. The best win the top prize. I’m sure he’ll con a few people, most should have been wary when they first spotted him. Winding up with him in the final three means you’d have a 1 in 2 chance of winning: Russell is too big of an ass to not piss off most of the jury on his way. I’m betting he’ll probably go deep into the game, but he can’t win.
Rob on the other hand, also is in a tricky position. He’s smart and he’s likable, and his tribe has to consider him both an asset and a threat to their own survival. He’s going to have navigate carefully and build some solid alliances to stay off the radar. I think he’s got a better chance to win than Russell, but not by much.
The final wild-card in the game is the new element: Redemption Island. A contestant voted out at a tribal council doesn’t leave the game. They are sent to a third camp, where they’ll have to survive on their own. Every few days, when another contestant gets booted out and sent to Redemption Island, their will be a “duel” as Jeff called it between the two. This will happen repeatedly until, at some unspecified point, the person on Redemption Island will return to the game. I’m guessing tribal merge, but we’ll see. Regardless, Redemption Island will give the players a fighting chance to get back into the game. But, I’ll bet it takes a terrific toll on the one who makes it back. And it’s going to have to be a serious concern of the players who conspired to get rid of the Redemption Island survivor.
A few things were clear from last night’s show.
Crazy is good fun. Last season, it mainly focused on the despicable NaOnka Mixon, who quit the game before she got what was coming to her. This season, our first jackass is clearly Phillip Sheppard. Federal Agent, my ass. I don’t think he’s faking it, he really is a nut. His completely bizarre behavior around camp, followed by his betrayal of fellow conspirators Francesca Hogi and Kristina Kell, made for great television. Because he’s big and strong, its going to be tough for his tribe to vote him out early. And I’m sure Jeff and the producers hope he’ll be bringing the crazy for many episodes to come.
Secondly, it was fun watching Kristina jump into the game without hesitation. Going for the immunity idol as soon as possible is a good idea. But when you get caught breaking away from the team to do it, you’re marked. Rob wasn’t sure she had the idol, but he suspected she did after he noticed her searching their gear while the rest of the team was working to get the shelter up. Mistake #1. Her second mistake was making an ersatz alliance with the other two outsiders in her tribe. Phillip was correct when he pointed out they didn’t have the numbers to make a move. I don’t think she did enough socializing with her tribe to keep her from being an obvious target. While her plan to use the idol to oust Rob sounded good, nothing in life ever goes as planned. In the brutal tribal council that concluded last night’s episode, one lesson I took away was that if you act like an outsider, you’re going to be on the outs. Kristina made a gutsy call not giving her idol to Rob and not playing it. But now, she’s going to face a severe uphill battle to stay in the tribe that she’s antagonized.
And finally, you have to trust your instincts. Francesca might not be the first visitor to Redemption Island if she had severed contact with Crazy Phillip when she first realized he was a nut. Kristina wouldn’t have been humiliated at tribal council if she’d made a smarter choice about Phillip. With the caveat that we don’t see everything that happens, players can’t afford to get caught playing politics. Especially at the beginning of the game. I think the winning players, for the most part, work hard to build relationships first, before committing to anything specific. And because you have nothing to go on when the game starts, you have only your instincts to guide you.
At this point, I won’t venture a guess as to who will make it to the end. But I will go ahead and say right now, I don’t think it will be Phillip, Kristina, Francesca, Rob or Russell. I haven’t seen enough of the rest of the players to really get a feel for them.
You can watch the entire first episode of Survivor: Redemption Island on the CBS site.