Survivor Survival Guide: “Slay Everyone, Trust No One”

“These All-Stars, I feel I’m above them. Like Michael Jordan in basketball, Michael Phelps in swimming, there’s always someone that’s above their sport. That’s me. I’m the best to ever play this game, and now I get to prove it.”

—Russell, Villain

“To win this game of Survivor, you have to have a dark side somewhere.”

—JT, Hero

If John S is gonna go and file a weekly review of his favorite desert island show—and steal my interlocutor style in the process—then you best believe I’m gonna respond by doing a weekly review of my favorite desert island show, stealing his RW/RR challenge format in the process.

Survivor kicked off its 20th season last night with the first episode of Survivor: Heroes and Villains. Twenty former castaways are back for a second and in some cases third go-round, with 10 being assigned “Heroes” and 10 “Villains.” The designations ring true for most of them, although the dichotomy is a bit overstated (can anyone on a reality television show really be cast as a “hero” or “villain”? And even in context, Sugar?).

The Heroes consist of Colby, Stephenie, Tom, Amanda, Sugar, James, JT, Cirie, Rupert, and Candice. The Villains comprise Boston Rob, Randy, Parvati, Tyson, Coach, Sandra, Courtney, Russell, Danielle, and Jerri. To my knowledge, Tom, JT, Parvati, and Sandra are the only four of these returning “all-stars” who have actually won the game the first time around.*

*A seemingly important sidenote on my Survivor credentials: I have seen probably six or seven of the previous 19 seasons. But a lot of those coincided with these particular players. I have seen at least one season with all the Heroes except Candice. Combine this with her attendance at UNC-Chapel Hill, and I dislike Candice. On the Villains side, I haven’t seen Sandra, Courtney, or Danielle at all and only watched a couple episodes with Tyson, Coach, and Russell.

The episode started, as first episodes of Survivor are wont to do, with scenic shots of the location (the South Pacific)* and some historical hyperbole from host Jeff Probst, who compares the imminent battle between heroes and villains to the old tribal wars held on these islands, as well as World War II.

*Man, the Lost parallels are ubiquitous, am I right?

My first impressions were as follows:

  • Survivor’s probably one of those shows that’s better to not watch in HD, right? Especially as we get later into the season?
  • Probst mentions that roughly 300 people have now participated in the game. What are post-Survivor relationships like (aside from Boston Rob and Amber being, you know, married)? Do they ever have reunions or conventions? Where would be the proper place to hold a Survivor convention? Does it have to be near a beach? Would the Survivor: Africa people be upset by that assumption?
  • Does the Red Sox recent success make Boston Rob even more unlikable, or was he unlikable enough to begin with?
  • How much did the astounding and borderline inexplicable popularity of Rupert foreshadow the professional ascendancy of Zach Galifianakis?
  • Is it weird that I enjoy Survivor so much and have never once even considered watching The Amazing Race?
  • Does the Hero/Villain set-up eliminate the odds of a random tribe swap—the single most manipulative thing that can happen during a season?

The initial reward challenge is, of course, for fire (these people can’t start a fire without flint yet?), and is particularly vicious. A pair of players from each team had to dig in the sand to locate a bag (probably the only bag all season that will not be filled with puzzle pieces), and then reach their team’s small mat while holding the bag. In the first matchup, Danielle dislocated Stephenie’s shoulder en route to a Villains victory, setting a nice tone for the season as a whole (O/U on players leaving with injury: 1.5). Steph’s shoulder was relocated before JT exacted revenge to tie the score at 1. In what appeared to be a pivotal Game 3, Coach outfoxed Colby by letting him drag the bag all the way to the end line before Coach then dragged Colby to the Villains’ mat for a 2-1 lead. This was the first of an assuredly astronomical amount of “I’m a lot older this time around” moments from Colby. The Heroes bounced back in Game 4 when, after having her bikini top undone by Sandra, Sugar reached the Heroes’ mat while topless.* The climactic Game 5 was a letdown, though, as James characteristically overpowered everyone, breaking a Boston Rob tackle to give the Heroes the win.

*Cirie: “Sandra earned her title as a villain with the Bra Incident.” Is Bra Incident subtle enough to be an effective euphemism? “How was the Saints’ victory parade?” “So much fun, outside of a Bra Incident here and there.”**

**In this hypothetical conversation, a mother is asking this question of a father who took his pre-adolescent son to the parade.

The camp scenes focused on burgeoning alliances between Russell and everyone, and former castmates Tom and Steph. Tom also made the smart move of approaching JT about a possible alliance to the final two, considering they’re the only two Heroes who have already won the million dollars (and thus would likely lose a final vote against anyone else). This type of posturing is especially intriguing in reunion editions of Survivor because all the players come in with baggage from their past experiences on the island. Everyone knows how everyone else played the first time around, so there’s that curiosity whether they’ll play it the same way again or play against those expectations. Furthermore, one of the byproducts of the Hero/Villain set-up is that everyone in the Villain camp is inherently untrustworthy, and it will be interesting to see if any deep, post-merge sustainable alliances emerge out of that tribe.

Tom also helped the Heroes catch four chickens, which extended his Survivor legacy in terms of catching animals (he became the first survivor to catch a shark his first time around). And Sugar kept everyone awake at night with her unsuccessful attempts to flirt with Colby, which extended her Survivor legacy of being useless.

The Immunity Challenge consisted of assembling a boat, paddling out to grab a torch and light it, paddling back and dissembling the boat, solving a four-tier puzzle, building a ladder, and lighting a bucket. The Heroes had an enormous lead heading into the puzzle, but if Survivor has taught us anything over the last decade, it’s that the puzzle is the great equalizer. Boston Rob and Sandra teamed up to quickly complete the puzzle while the Heroes fought amongst themselves, allowing the Villains to avoid Tribal Council.

Back at Heroes camp, Colby and JT pushed to vote Sugar out before Tom suggested they take out a bigger target in Cirie. Cirie and Candice thought along the same lines in discussing Steph. Ultimately, though, due in part to the physical and emotional weaknesses she quickly brought to the fore, Sugar received nine of a possible 10 votes (although Steph may have voted for Cirie; it was hard to tell).*

*This was the first time Sugar’s name had ever been written down at Tribal Council. She reached the Finals of her season without having a vote cast against her, and then didn’t have a single vote cast for her in the Finals.

Colby summed it up well: “Losing her, we’re gonna miss…yeah, we’re not gonna miss much.”

Who Needs to Watch Out Next Week: Not getting a good early vibe from Rupert (who suffered a broken toe), Colby (who’s too old for this), and Boston Rob (this is probably influenced by the scenes from next week, in which he apparently passes out in the jungle).

Who’s In Control: I like how Tom and JT are playing as former winners even with a target on their back. I can see Amanda going a long way and losing again because she’s so non-threatening, as well. It’s tough to get too good a read this early.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Wey on February 12, 2010 at 8:50 AM

    Some of these “heroes” are questionable and the villains ever more so…


  2. […] the first time around in this game by crossing other players and generally being untrustworthy—would be able to sustain an alliance.* Well, finally, a dozen episodes in and so much later than I expected, we saw the first crack in […]


  3. […] Survivor episodes (“I’m Not a Good Villain” and “The Sinking Ship”). There’s been Sugar going topless to win a challenge, enough time for a Colby-sucks-but-then-he-redeems-himself-but-now-he-sucks-even-more storyline, JT […]


  4. […] It’s remarkably our first puzzle since the opening episode of the season, and a reminder that THE PUZZLE IS THE GREAT EQUALIZER! Benry all but gave up after a few minutes—if this episode did nothing else, it really soured the […]


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