Continuing some of the traditions of last season, Survivor: Redemption Island, the new season of the show, Survivor: South Pacific brings back some of the formula that made that season so successful. First up: the show is bringing back two former players. While the pairing isn’t as poetic or majestic as Boston Rob and Russell Hanz (two of my all-time favorite Survivor players), the returning duo are still favorites: Ozzy and Coach. Ironically, while these are fan-favorites, they are players I know the least about. Both players had their initial stints in seasons that occurred while I was kind of tuning out of the show, although I did get to know Coach in the Heroes vs. Villains season.
Being a returning player has to be quite the daunting task. People know your playstyle and you’ve immediately established yourself as a threat, particularly if you were good at the game. Ozzy has pretty consistently been a physical challenge (based on what I’ve read, since I’ve not seen anything from him) while Coach actually redefined himself as a player during Heroes vs. Villains. The new group of players, divided into their tribes before the veteran players even step foot on the island, are divided between awe for the vets and passive unimpressive responses. One of the newbies even declares the returning players to be “temporary,” establishing right away what I said above: returning has to be daunting, because you’re automatically a target. At the same time, the credits (at least for this first episode) separate the returning players from the two tribes, giving the impression to the perceptive that they may indeed be separate and “temporary.”
Immediately we go into a challenge: a “hero” challenge that gives Ozzy and Coach the chance to prove their worth. When it’s revealed the first part of the challenge is climbing a pole, it’s obvious Ozzy has the upper hand. Still, playing for better food and fire is enough incentive to drive both challengers to do their best, regardless of the fact that they automatically will get a target on their back. Ozzy does do better on the pole, but not by much, and the Dragon Slayer gives Ozzy a run for his money, helped especially by the complexity of the puzzle part of the challenge, which turns the “hero challenge” into more of a team challenge, with the team members yelling directions from the stands. Ozzy wins – not because of his agility and physical skill, but because his team helps direct him through the puzzle. What’s especially frustrating for the viewer is that it looks like Coach’s tribe was giving him bad directions, giving the veteran player two strikes (his seniority and the fact that he loses the first challenge) when it really feels like this was the tribe’s loss.
The two sides set up their camps and make introductions. At this point in Survivor this is old hat, but it has to be included it in order to get the audience acquainted with the players. At the same time, the editing gives us the chance to see Coach jiving with his team a little better, calling on his expertise in order to help get the camp set up. On the flip side, Ozzy is finding himself in a rough place since he’s not a natural leader but has the entire tribe looking at him for leadership. Ozzy even says he has a strategy, but he might have to change that strategy to deal with the role he’s being thrust into. After Dawn badmouths Ozzy’s laid back nature, it’s kind of nice to see her crack and look to him for comfort (although I agree they probably should have focused more on building a camp instead of chilling in the water).
Challenge Time: Zig-zagging pathways, a web of coconuts, a high wall, hacking at a rope, and then shooting coconuts to raise a flag. Man, these challenges aren’t getting easier. No reward this time around, just immunity… oh, and a clue towards the hidden immunity idol. Russell definitely changed the scope of immunity idols and I’m curious to see just how drastic a change this will be. Based on what Probst has said, I wouldn’t expect anyone to stumble upon it this year. The challenge is intense with some great moments: Brandon being hauled up the wall by Albert, John showing his lack of prowess on the same wall, and the neck-and-neck battle at tossing coconuts… until Semhar starts blowing it. Just as Probst predicted, she’s simply not made for this game, and probably won’t be long for it with this performance.
Upolu (Coach’s tribe) wins the challenge, but they don’t actually get the clue that Probst talked about. The clue will now be hidden at their camp, so by winning they get the chance to find the clue, which will start to lead them on the path of finding the idol. As I said, this won’t be something found just by wandering around like Christine tried. Of course, it’s Christine herself who considers the change that’s about to occur as the tribe starts looking for the idol. Lady, you were looking for that from the first moment, and I guarantee other tribe members were as well, even if we didn’t see them. The camera is kind enough to show us Stacey missing the clue – the same woman who said she’s going to see all and miss nothing in the show’s opening moments.
It’s conflict time for the losing tribe, Savaii, since the teeth always come out when it’s time to figure out who to send home. Semhar goes on the offensive, which pretty well tosses a target on her back. John, the annoying geek, is also a viable target and the one Ozzy favors. So now we start to see just how much influence Ozzy will have over the tribe’s decisions. I love the music doling out the chime of a bell as John freaks out about his potentially limited future in the game, making it pretty clear that his time is limited. If he doesn’t go this week, his end will still come soon.
Tribal council: It doesn’t take long (at least through the magic of editing) for the claws to come out. Semhar is first to be attacked and then Cochran, the two candidates we’ve learned are the big choices for their torch to be snuffed. Cochran proves that his knowledge of the game is theoretical based on hours of watching the show, but it doesn’t seem like he’s pontificated much about what goes on in the footage we don’t see. It’s not a one-sided vote, at least by initial appearances though, and that’s nice for this early in the game.
Semhar heads for Redemption Island.
Obviously it was more of a one-sided vote, as the votes we see only show Semhar voting for Cochran (the count before Probst says it’s over is 5-1; the end credits reveal everyone voted for the “spoken word artist”). I have to add that I still don’t know much about Ozzy, but I love his comment as she walks off: “Shoot, I should have taught her how to make a fire.” Obviously the dude voted for her, but he still worries about her well-being, as well he should. This is the player Jeff Probst picked as an early choice to go home – like, he announced online that they gave her several chances to bow out. Seems pretty clear she was never intended to be a long-running contender for Ultimate Survivor.
So ends the beginning of the new season. Can Cochran redeem himself in the eyes of his tribe? Can Brandon maintain his secret heritage? Will Semhar be the first Survivor participant to actually die, or (at the very least) walk off of Redemption Island? We’ll see next week as the season continues.
Coach: I admire the way Coach tries to play the game, especially after he saw himself cast as a villain in the last season – an interpretation he didn’t like. I like the honor and integrity he aspires for, but he definitely has an ego and can be a little condescending, traits he’s trying to bury this season. So far, so good on that, but you can’t deny Coach’s confessionals make for good television. He may be a fun player to watch, but the dude is crazy at the same time.
Brandon: You have to admire the guy who “came out here to change the course of the Hantz name.” At least he’s smart enough to know not to advertise his relationship to one of Survivor’s most notorious players. At the same time, he has two tattoos with the Hantz name? Yeah, good luck hiding that identity, because Survivor never requires a player to take off their shirt at some point. And when that identity is blown… look out, because the game will change.
Mikayla: Showing an early physical advantage might not be the best strategy. Then again, it might be a good movie since women often play the sex card without being able to provide a physical side. She’s playing both sex and strength, much to Brandon’s discomfort.
Christine: I think it takes a lot of guts to stand there in the show’s opening moments and announce that Ozzy and Coach are “temporary” players. Consistent with that, she’s the first player visibly looking for the immunity idol. Subtlety is not her skill, but in a season where Coach and Ozzy are the returning players, is it going to be anyone’s skill?
Rick: Dude, a guy with a mustache like that can’t make fun of a “Dragon Slayer” title. It’s just bad form.
Albert: The big guy didn’t make a huge impression on me until he single-handedly lifted Brandon up that huge wall in the challenge. We still haven’t gotten to know much about him, but physically he’s obviously going to be a contender.
Ozzy: Again, I don’t know much about Ozzy but what I’ve read, but I suspect he’s about to have a really rough game. His tribe is looking to him to lead, which seems very counter to his personality. He’s going to have to adapt or he’s going to have some trouble. Obviously tonight showed he’s willing to manipulate and bend the truth when he needs to, despite his laid back, “groovy” attitude. I know a lot of people like this player; I think I’m going to enjoy discovering why.
John (Cochran): Woody Allen comes to the island. This guy annoys me. He’s the type of fanboy that led to the famous Saturday Night Live sketch where Shatner tells the boys to “Get a life.” He’s a superfan, but has a problem with stripping down to his skivvies to jump in the ocean? Like he didn’t see that coming? Go back to watching the show instead of trying to be a part of it.
Mark (Papa Bear): I like the guy’s moxie and had him tagged as a “Bear” before the term came into play on the show. He’s obviously pretty comfortable with himself and his choices, and that could pay off in a big way in dealing with people and conflict throughout the season. His connection with Dawn is nice, although I’m not sure how strong a bond over age will be in a series not divided up by age.
Dawn: The English professor and mother of six, who starts falling apart on day two. Allowing herself a moment of weakness is admirable, but announcing it (and announcing that she confided in Ozzy) at Tribal Council probably weren’t the smartest move. She’s going to have to get her head clear if she’s going to last beyond the initial cuts.
Jim: Brandon may be deceiving his tribe about his family connections, but Jim outright lied about his background. The guy is rapidly proving to be a bit of a jerk, something I can only expect will build from here. That’s fine, it’s a functional strategy for some folks, but that doesn’t mean I have to enjoy watching them play the game that way.