15 years after its series premiere, Survivor is currently in the midst of a pretty impressive stretch of strong seasons. Last Spring’s “Survivor: Cagayan” is considered by many to be among the best seasons of all time, and that was on the heels of the massively popular “Blood vs Water” season in Fall of 2013. No pressure, “Survivor: San Juan del Sur,” which kicked off Survivor’s 29th season Wednesday night with a 90-minute premiere episode. The good news is, with a seemingly strong, funny, entertaining cast of all new players, the early word is that Survivor will continue its winning trend.
Lots to get to, so let’s recap this baby.
39 Days, 18 Players, 1 Sole Survivor. We all know the drill by now and this season kicked off like most others. Host Jeff Probst started us off with a bit of background and important up-front info, such as the fact that this season will once again feature the “Blood vs. Water” theme of players and their loved ones competing in the game. Give props to the Survivor producers and editors, who seemed to juggle quite nicely the introductions…it seemed to me as if most of the 18 players got at least a share of screen time through this season’s first 90 minutes. The most notable early bit of info? Most of us knew from pre-season interviews that the not-so-ambiguously gay duo, Josh and Reed, were huge Survivor fans, but did you know that Reed bought Josh a piece of flint for their first Valentine’s Day together? The only thing wrong with that is that I didn’t think of it first.
Day Zero. The last “Blood vs. Water” season also featured a “Day Zero,” a night where each couple got to spend a night on the island prior to the game actually starting. It was on Day Zero that we got to meet our new cast. Notably, the father son duo of Keith and Wes seemed to be stand outs, giving us some funny zingers and also managing to lose their flint striker, which – along with a piece of flint – each couple was given in order to try to practice starting fire.
Redemption Island? The one major difference between this season and the last “Blood vs. Water,” is that Redemption Island is a thing of the past (at least, for now). But on Day One, Jeff brought all 18 contestants into an area that seemingly could double for what we know as “The Redemption Island Arena” from seasons past (RI was supposed to happen this season, but at the last minute, production got rid of it, re-purposing the arena for something else, which I’ll get to in a minute). With all 18 players present, they had a laugh about Keith and Wes’s flint trouble (apparently in addition to losing the striker, they also managed to break their piece of flint in half as well) and twins Nadiya and Natalie acknowledged that they were twice past contestants on The Amazing Race. After the pleasantries, some good-byes and hugs were exchanged and buffs were drawn, forming our initial two tribes.
Hunahpu Tribe (Blue). Hunahpu consists of mom Missy, singer/actor/performer Reed, big brother surfer dude Drew, firefighter husband Jeremy, firefighter dad Keith, former Michigan State football player Jon, former MLB pitcher John Rocker’s girlfriend Julie, Kelley (daughter to oldest contestant Dale) and finally one half of The Amazing Race twins, Natalie (who can be identified by the streak of color in her hair).
Coyopa Tribe (Orange). On the other side of things, meet Baylor (daughter of Missy and at age 20, the youngest contestant this season), little brother surfer dude Alec, Reed’s partner Josh, John Rocker, Jeremy’s police officer wife Val, Kelley’s dad Dale, Keith’s firefighter son Wes, former Miss Michigan and Jon’s girlfriend Jaclyn, and the second half of the twins, Nadiya. Keith (getting a lot of earl screen time), immediately noticed the towering hulk, John Rocker, who was a big controversial MLB pitcher (Google why if you are curious). “He was an ass when he was with the Braves,” Keith tells the camera. “He might still be an ass now.”
First Reward Challenge, with a Twist. Probst didn’t waste any time introducing the season’s first twist. After a game of paper, rock, scissors to determine which tribe would choose first (in which Hunahpu won), one player had to be determined to compete in a challenge that would bring a reward of flint and a bag of beans. Jeremy volunteered and was selected from Hunahpu. The twist? Probst revealed that he would have to compete against his wife, Val, from the other tribe. The winner gets reward for his/her tribe, and the loser? Well, they will be sent to Exile Island…a game twist that has been absent since Season 18. Already, the blood/water dynamic was making this season very compelling. The Exiled player would immediately leave and wouldn’t return until before the Immunity Challenge, missing out on those crucial bonding, alliance-forming Day One moments. “I’m here to play,” Val said, taking the twist in stride. “We’re all here to play. It is what it is.” The challenge was a rope maze, and Jeremy ended up winning, making Val the first person to be sent to Exile. A second bummer-of-a-twist was then revealed by Probst: Jeremy had to then pick a member of his own tribe to join her at Exile. He chooses Keith, having faith in the fact that he would be able to protect his wife from the elements. Probst pointed out that Keith was the one that broke his flint in half, but hey, to each his own. “I hate to leave, but we’ll make it work,” says Keith before heading off with Val.
Meet Hunahpu. The blue tribe arrives at camp to discover some basic tools (hammer, nails) have been provided in order to help build a shelter. Jeremy’s emotional win over his wife seemed to have gained him much sympathy from his tribe mates, but he sheds a few tears on camera over the hardship of sending his wife into such a horrific, desolate place. He quickly tries to get over it and uses the sympathy to his advantage. First, he approaches Kelley and the two form the season’s first alliance. He then pulls in Natalie, who is completely on board, and then Missy. Just like that, Jeremy finds himself in a four person alliance. “Everybody wants to date the Prom King,” Jeremy says.
Meet Coyopa. Things don’t seem as harmonious over at the orange tribe. Nadiya points out the age differences in her tribe, with poor old (literally) Dale, at age 55, the only “mature” adult in the group. Dale feels the age gap too, and starts to realize that his anti-social life as a farmer may work against him in the game. On the way to fetch water, Dale stumbles upon a medallion of some sort and quickly snatches it up. Was this the hidden Immunity Idol? It wasn’t made clear, but it seems to have been something. When the tribe struggles mightily with starting a fire, Dale proves his worth when he is able to get fire started, by breaking his reading glasses in two to double the magnification power of the lenses, using them to get the initial flame going.
Welcome to Exile Island. When Val and Keith arrive at Exile – a rocky, unlivable crap hole of a location – they find two urns and are instructed to choose one. Val pulls out a clue to a hidden Immunity Idol, barely noticing in time that Keith didn’t also get one. “Mine was blank,” Keith says. “Story of my life.” When Keith asks what she was reading on hers, she fibs and tells him it was just “stuff at camp.” The clue seems to point to a location back at her camp. Keith also finds out from Val that her husband, Jeremy, is a firefighter, a commonality that Keith sees as a possible bonding point once he returns to his Hunahpu tribe.
Delusions of Grandeur. Back at Hunahpu, surfer bro Drew and former athlete Jon find themselves doing the bulk of the grunt work in building their tribe’s shelter. The delusional Drew has done some modeling work, and wonders if others will recognize him (they won’t). Rocker’s girlfriend Julie finds Drew arrogant and takes note. Over at Coyopa, Wes is on to John Rocker as being the former MLB pitcher John Rocker. At first, John denies it and tries to lie to Wes. But when Wes isn’t buying it, John admits to him his true identity. John asks Wes to keep the info of his true identity “under his hat,” and then mentions to the camera that Wes may now be a potential target of John’s, in order to keep his secret safe.
Tough Times. In the next segment we see Hunahpu’s Jon attempt to speak with nearby monkeys, but the topic quickly turns serious when he reveals to the cameras that his dad had recently been diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor…he hopes that his time on Survivor will make his dad proud. Over at Coyopa, Josh seems to have gotten some poisonous sap in his eyes, making for a painful go of it. Turns out the poison brush was used in building their shelter, so much of it had to be redone.
Immunity Challenge. The first Immunity Challenge of the season was an obstacle course where each tribe had to then scale a wall and finally, finish a puzzle, to win Immunity. Val and Keith reunited with their respective tribes before the comp and the challenge began. Coyopa (orange) had the early lead, with the giant John Rocker playing a big part in the team’s success. But breezing through the puzzle, Hunahpu came back and won Immunity. Dale was instantly worried that he would be the tribe’s first target.
Keith Welcomed Back. Now with his tribe for really the first time, Keith is welcomed back with open arms, especially by Jeremy who feels indebted to Keith for watching over his wife at Exile Island. Keith also feels a bond with Jeremy since the two are firefighters. With Keith in place, Jeremy seems to have formed the first majority alliance of five: Keith, Jeremy, Missy, Kelley and Natalie, but time will tell if this five stays loyal to one another.
Coyopa Scrambles. Val on the other hand, comes back to a tribe that is now faced with voting someone out of the game almost immediately. She obviously thinks that she could be the easy target, being that she hasn’t had any time with anyone. She goes on a mad scramble looking for the Immunity Idol. As the guys begin to chatter, Nadiya’s name comes up as a possible target. Nadiya though, approaches Josh, who seems a bit torn as to what to do. Probably because Josh is gay, Nadiya then refers to him as “one of the girls,” to which Josh politely smiles. In truth, this is insulting to Josh (as it should be). He calls it, “One of the worst things you can say to me.” Jumping right into the mix, Val rallies the girls of her tribe to “make some history” and be the first female alliance in Survivor history that actually sticks together…they all seem game and they decide to target Dale first, viewed as the weakest, oldest member of their tribe. Baylor is a part of this all-girl group, but she then breaks away showing what may be her true loyalty…to Josh. She tells him of the girl’s plan to vote out Dale and tells him that she will vote along with him no matter what. It seems like the likable Josh finds himself smack dab in the middle of the very first vote.
Tribal Council. Fire represents life, yadda yadda. John tells Probst that there isn’t an “obvious” first choice this time around, with no major camp jerks or serious weak links. Nadiya confirms that Survivor is way different than The Amazing Race (um, yeah, it’s way better!). Val slyly implies that there are “things to discover” on Exile Island, hinting that she may have an Idol so don’t even think about voting for me. When talk turns to Josh, Nadiya once again puts her foot in her mouth, spouting some gay stereotypes and calling Josh “in between the girls and the guys” and the only guy she’d call “girlfriend.”
The Vote. Only two votes are shown: John Rocker voting for Nadiya and Nadiya voting for Dale. Probst then read the votes: Nadiya – Dale – Baylor (huh?) – Dale – Nadiya – Dale – Nadiya – Nadiya….and Nadiya. Ouch! In a 5-3-1 vote, The Amazing Race alumnus, Nadiya, was the first person voted out of Survivor. Look at the bright side, we should have no problem telling the two twins apart moving forward. Probst tosses the tribe some flint and they head off into the night.
Analysis. So there is your episode recap. But did you know that every week I follow this recap up with an “Analysis” article? The Analysis will delve more into my opinions on what we just saw, and go deeper into the episode. Check out the full Analysis article here!
Next Time On…Foregoing the usual “on the next episode” format, we instead are treated to more of a “this season on” tease. It promises some conflict and some drama, but also hints at a possible quitter this season. I guess we will find out as we trek forward together.
So what did you think of the premiere episode? Who is your favorite? Your least favorite? Comment below and be sure to check out the Analysis!
Also, you wont want to miss my exclusive one-on-one interview with Nadiya tomorrow…subscribe or check back in Thursday!
Last but not least, please check out one of my favorite Survivor sites, SurvivorFever.net. You can also find all of my Survivor coverage exclusively at Survivor Seasons.