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Survivor: Philippines: 25.01 – “Survivor Smacked Me in the Chops”

It’s hard to believe, but Survivor returned for it’s 25th season tonight. This cycle the show takes place in a remote area of the Philippines (I hope I will be able to spell Philippines correctly by the end of the season). The twist this season is that they brought back three previous Survivor castaways that were taken out of the game due to injury or medical evacuation. The three returnees were Michael Skupin (Australian Outback), Jonathan Penner (Cook Islands/Micronesia) & Russell Swan (Samoa).

The show started like any classic Survivor season. Beautiful shots of the location, followed by Jeff Probst setting the scene. There’s also a brief montage showing the injuries/evacuations over the course of the series. I have to say, Michael Skupin’s injury was really the worst. A really terrible moment and that image of his skin hanging from his hands is haunting. The clip also showed a brief clip of Elisabeth Hasselbeck, pre-The View, crying into the arms of a tribemate.

Jeff greets the 15 new castaways, before giving an introduction to the players’ twist. A boat speeds up and drops off Michael, Russell & Jonathan. Jeff gives them a quick introduction, splits the tribes up into 3 different teams, then also gives the information that there will be 3 hidden immunity idols this season. Jeff then gives everyone 60 seconds to collect as many items from the boat as they can to bring with them to camp. I actually don’t think they’ve done this method of introduction in quite some time, but it was a lot of fun. The Kalabaw tribe had a difficult time with this task. Their boat tipped over and spilled everything into the water. That was a great moment. Then Dana, the little blonde girl, threw a chicken on the raft to save it. And apparently Jeff Kent hurt his knee.

Most of the episode was showing the tribes getting to know each other and adapting to the new environment. The Matsing tribe (blue buffs) consists of Angie, Denise, Malcolm, Roxy, Russell & Zane. Russell is the returning castaway and immediately tells the tribe that he does not want to be the leader of the tribe this time. Immediately after saying that, he begins to order everyone around and telling them how to set up camp. Way to NOT be a leader, Russell. Malcolm knows how to get fire started, so he instructs Russell how to do it and they get a nice fire going. Russell of course takes credit, which is fine with Malcolm.

On Day 2, they dived into Zane’s background. He talks about dropping out of high school at age 17. He had a string of weird jobs and how dealing with different people is going to help him in the game. He’s also shown making an alliance with every other person on the tribe. He’s not looking very good to the rest of them, especially Denise and Malcolm who bond over their skepticism of Zane. Later that day, Russell is shown cooking rice and finds the clue for the hidden immunity idol. Zane sees this going down and confronts him. Russell denies everything, but Zane is convinced that Russell has found it.

Over on the Kalabaw tribe (red buffs) we had Carter, Dana, Dawson, Jeff Kent, Jonathan & Katie. Jeff thinks that he injured his knee after jumping off of the ship at the beginning. He’s shown limping a little bit over the day, but it’s not a big hindrance. Jeff Kent is a pretty famous baseball player, but wants to keep that under-wraps. One of the other tribemates, Dawson, recognizes him as an MLB player and estimates that he’s made over $30 million in his career. Dawson doesn’t confront him, but says that she will use it when it’s valuable to her. Dawson is one of my favorites because of this. She seems like a smart player from the get-go.

Penner seems to be taken the lead role on the Kalabaw tribe. He’s using his previous experience on the show to help the others along, but they don’t see that way at all. There’s a great moment where it’s pouring rain on the camp, and the 5 others are huddled in a cave for shelter. While they are huddled and Jeff is leading some smack talk about Jonathan being too much of threat and not wanting a veteran to win, Jonathan is working his ass off to find the hidden immunity idol with the clue he found in the bag of rice. He doesn’t find it, but based on the rest of his tribe’s feelings, he better find it before they got to tribal council.

Finally onto the Tandang tribe (yellow buffs): consisting of Abi-Maria, Artis, Lisa, Michael, Peter & R.C. Skupin is absolutely thrilled with the tribe because he thinks he got the best people. R.C. doesn’t waste time and makes an alliance with Michael, Abi-Maria & Pete. Michael goes with it because he says his strategy is to “go with the game”. If his tribe is going slow, move slow, if it’s going fast, then move fast. He says that the tribe is moving fast with this alliance so he’s going along with it for the moment. Skupin seems to be getting the star treatment so far. There’s a big segment on Day 2 devoted to him hurting himself around camp. He hurts his finger and scrapes his head while trying to make fire, cuts his finger while opening a coconut, and cuts his feet when he ventures into the ocean. It’s easy to see how he was injured in his original season.

Lisa Whelchel has been a big publicity magnet for the show this season. She’s best known for playing Blair on the classic sitcom, The Facts of Life. Lisa’s keeping that secret because she thinks that’s going to be a distraction and hurt her game as a whole. But Michael Skupin feels the opposite. He pulls her aside on the first night and tells her that he immediately recognized her. He’s going to keep it quiet for her sake, but he tries to convince her that it’ll be more of a favor for her to the other tribemates. The younger ones all want her gone. Lisa stills says that she won’t do. Skupin then says in the confessional that maybe it won’t help her because “the show is so old they probably haven’t seen it.”

Then comes the Immunity/Reward Challenge. The first two tribes to finish will be safe from tribal council. Last place will have to vote somebody out. First place gets a complete firemaking kit, second place gets some flint to make fire, and third place gets nothing. It’s a complicated obstacle course that only Survivor* can create. To make this post a little bit shorter, Kalabaw & Tandang win immunity and Matsing has to go to tribal council. Matsing really came apart at the challenge thanks to Russell not assigning the right people to the right sections of the challenge. Angie vocally said that she wasn’t good as puzzles, and she was one of the solvers for that final puzzle portion. Zane was also dragging ass in the opening race.

When Matsing gets back to camp, Russell tries to give a pep talk but is interrupted by Zane. He basically throws himself under the bus for underperforming and gives them permission to vote him off. But according to Zane’s confessional, this was strategy to see how much control he has over the tribe. It begins to work. Denise and Malcolm discuss getting rid of Russell over Zane. But Zane pretty much shoots himself in the foot by saying that he’s almost 100% sure that Russell has the hidden immunity idol (which he doesn’t). This sends the rest of the tribe scrambling back to their original plane. Zane is voted off with a vote of 5-1.

Previews for next week: Jonathan is still searching frantically for the hidden immunity idol and Lisa is having a hard time being an outsider to the rest of her tribe.

Overall, it was a strong premiere. Usually these episodes are boring because they shifting back and forth from tribe to tribe trying to establish characters and alliances. But the three different alliances this season kept it from being too tedious and gave the episode a much faster pace. Everyone on the season so far seems pretty likable. Russell is annoying right off the bat, but I have a feeling he won’t last too much longer in his current season. A pretty fantastic start to the season.