The Survivor medical team is gonna be working overtime this season, huh?
In Wednesday’s Season 44 premiere, the new batch of castaways sure kept the show’s doctors busy, when a bashed head, dehydration and a gnarly fall off a high rock led to bloodshed, exhaustion and a possible (probable?) concussion. While none of it was as serious as the Kaôh Rōng fiasco (you can relive that horror show here), there were still more collapses, nicks and scrapes than one might expect from Episode Friggin’ 1!
But before we dive deep inside this very good premiere, we’ve got to give props to the episode’s very first scene. We were treated to a behind-the-scenes look at how the players’ interviews are conducted. After the umpteenth season set in Fiji and the fourth season titled with just a numeral, we love to see these fun editing diversions that shake things up a bit. And Carolyn! Man, did she deliver the goods. Are the producers picking out a pet so soon? It’s almost as if they’re saying, “This woman is GOLD!” And after this opener, I’m already a fan. Sold! (Speaking of Kaôh Rōng, anyone else getting any Debbie flashbacks?)
After production walks Carolyn through her own introduction (bless her heart), we meet Carson, a spreadsheet-loving guy armed with puzzle experience; Jamie, a yoga instructor whose word is her wand (Bing! Bing!); and a man whose name is Yam Yam. I’m going to say that again: Yam Yam! (Need a refresher on the rest of this season’s players? Click here.)
One criticism I had with the last few seasons was the constant repetition. The bead-collecting. The Beware Advantages. Ship-wheel Island. But in the first reward challenge, Jeff says the winning tribe will earn their camp essentials, second place will choose the Sweat or Savvy task, while the losing tribe will get what’s left. It’s a small change, yes, but it’s a sign that the show wants to avoiding constant repetition. (Maybe, just maybe we can pump the breaks on the monotonous Beware Advantages. Tall order. I know, Jeff.)
Just a few seconds into the challenge, Bruce thwacks! his head on a wooden beam and start bleeding. The guy seems dazed. He finishes his task, but falls to his knees in the sand, prompting Jeff to pause the challenge and call for medical. A little oxygen and shade does him good, and Bruce is back in the game… but not for long. Later at night, the head injury catches up with him, and he’s eventually removed from the game. It’s a shame to see someone’s dream crushed so soon, and over something that was purely accidental. It’s the last we’ll see of ol’ Brucey, but certainly not the last we’ll see of the Survivor doc… this episode! (Read our Q&A with Bruce here.)
Soka wins the challenge and Ratu places second, leaving Tika in last. While celebrating their win, Soka finds the season’s first new element: A birdcage with what’s presumably an advantage locked inside. But where’s the key? While they ponder what’s inside the cage, the other two tribes successfully complete their Sweat and Savvy tasks. (That coconut haul was NO JOKE. Sheesh.)
As if losing one player to a medevac in Episode 1 isn’t bad enough, Matthew tries to climb a huge rock in the water and takes a nasty spill, dislocating his shoulder and slicing up his foot. (I totally gasped out loud. Did you?) I respect the guy’s love for adventure and a midlife challenge, but save some energy for the game, dude!
Sorry, but we need to pause this recap to once again bask in the excellence that is Carolyn. She views herself as the odd woman out and claims to be holding her authentic self back a bit — cue the montage of her hootin’ and hollerin’ all over camp. Is she just a tad bit extra? Absolutely. But is she amazing TV? YEP! It seems like she’s a bit socially awkward, but doesn’t have the ability to turn her high energy and loud voice off, which are sort of the things that make her so socially awkward in the first place? I hope she stays in this game forever. Is it too early to book her return trip to Fiji?
At Ratu, Brandon finds their key nestled under a rock. He tries to hide it from Maddy, but when he suspects she may have already seen him, he’s forced to tell her about it. And since he doesn’t trust her, he decides to tell the entire group. They unlock the cage and pull out the package: It’s a hidden immunity idol which comes with a (now-useless, since everyone knows) dummy idol. But hey, at least it’s not a Beware Advantage!
BOAT RIDE | Lauren, (other) Matt and Sarah take a boat ride and a hike, and unsurprisingly, have to make a decision. They must draw one package from a bag. One package is an advantage, while the other two read “Lose Your Vote.” If they lose their vote, they have the option to try again, but if they don’t get the advantage on the second try, they lose their vote for their next TWO Tribal Councils!
Sarah earns herself the Inheritance Advantage on her second try. It allows her to inherit all of the idols and advantages played at a Tribal of her choosing. Matt isn’t as lucky; he can’t vote for two Tribals. Lauren, however, pulls the Bank Your Vote advantage on her first try. It allows her to secretly not vote at one Tribal and keep the voting parchment to use as a second vote at another. Interesting.
RATU HEADS TO TRIBAL | After a grueling challenge full of rowing, crate-pulling and slide-puzzling that keeps medical busy once again (a dehydrated Brandon drops out of the challenge), Ratu loses immunity (and their flint). Their strategy discussions begin with one tasty morsel of information that Matthew learned from Claire while they were both sitting out of the challenge. Other Matt showed his tribe a parchment that said he lost his vote at Tribal; Lauren showed her Ratu zilch. So Matthew tells Brandon that he thinks Lauren is playing them. Maybe she did get the advantage, they wonder. And just like that, most of the tribe decides to vote her out. But Maddy tells Lauren that Brandon is the one doing all of the playing. Plus, he has an idol! Maddy knows she won’t be working with him, so why not paint the target on his back?
At Tribal, Jaime publicly announces that she’s using her Shot in the Dark. She says her vote won’t even matter if everyone does what they say they are going to. That, in turn, sets off an alarm in Brandon’s head. Lauren banks her vote, while Jaime does, indeed, play her Shot. But then Matthew reveals that he played HIS Shot, too! That means only three actual votes were cast.
Jeff opens the scrolls. Matthew isn’t safe… but Jamie IS. It’s the first time in four seasons that a Shot in the Dark actually worked. But why Jaime actually played the damn thing is a mystery as puzzling as Phillip Sheppard’s inability to pronounce “Francesca.” As a result of all this tomfoolery, Brandon gets up and plays his idol, so he’s safe too.
Jeff then reads the votes, and thanks to Brandon’s idol, Maddy becomes the second person to exit the game with just one vote to her name. (Read our Q&A with Maddy here).
Phew. Thoughts? We want to hear ’em! Grade the premiere below, then light up the comments.