The day we have all been waiting for is here: Survivor is back on our TV screens, and it’s with a bunch of returning players we know and love (or hate, because let’s be honest). It’s also Survivor’s 500th episode, which is an incredible milestone for any show to hit, but you can expect some big things tonight!
I always love the opening shot where Jeff Probst is standing somewhere precarious, and this time it’s on a wrecked ship in the middle of the ocean. In case you wanted that mini-insight. It’s Probst at peak-Probst, how can you not love it? If you want to know who my favourites are (so you understand why I rant over some players), you can find that post here.
But let’s get right down to it. The teams are:
- Nuku (blue) with Debbie, Tai, Andrea, Cirie, Brad Culpepper, Sierra, Sarah, JT, Ozzie, and Zeke
- Mana (orange) with Hailey, Caleb, Troizan, Sandra, Aubry, Tony, Michaela, (Jeff) Varner, Ciera, and Malcolm
They start out the same way the original Survivor season started, but with one twist: along with grabbing everything you need from a boat and tossing into rafts in under a minute, there’s also a life ring in the water. The first tribe to untie knots gets a massive toolkit. I guess they thought that would be a lot more exciting, but Ozzie immediately went for it and won without any competition.
Mana’s Opening Moves
Remember the days when the strategy didn’t really start until a team lost a challenge – and didn’t really ramp up until the merge? Those days are long gone, especially since Tony revolutionised the intensity of play. When everyone gets to their beaches they set to work building shelter and getting all their necessities sorted, but they also immediately start sizing each other up. Tony announces he’ll go look for an idol and runs off, scaring everyone even though he was joking. I guess he expected people to be a little more lighthearted or something?
Day two and Tony seems separated from the tribe pretty early on. I loved his Spy Shack, and this time around he’s creating a Spy Bunker near the watering hole. Troizan thought he caught Tony digging for an idol, though, so that prompts Ciera to throw names around way too early for her own good. I know she’s a great strategizer, but it’s also showing her to be too gamey, too quickly.
Nuku’s Having Fun
Once they get to their beach everyone is all friendly and huggy, and basically the complete opposite of Mana. It quickly turns to intense strategy, as everyone analyses each other and starts creating alliances. “I want to lather myself in the blood of my enemies” is a fantastic Zeke quote, and I won’t have anyone tell me he isn’t an absolutely fantastic guy to have on this show.
Sierra found the new legacy advantage while everyone was grabbing supplies, this time giving immunity with either 13 or 6 people left. I love that she talks up her gameplay because… who is she? A bunch of my favourites that are returning are actually pre-Tony, so I was really nervous they may not fare too well but I needn’t have been concerned. Clearly, Cirie is coming out swinging real early. She is on the same tribe as Ozzie, who she blindsided on Fans v Favourites, and although he says everything is fine it’s clear that everything is not fine.
The First Immunity Challenge
Our first challenge of the season and it’s combining a lot of classic elements. Basically: everyone races to a raft, paddles to a platform, one person swims to retrieve keys, then a water obstacle course back to the beach. After that, people dig for two puzzle piece bags, use keys to unlock a chest with a third bag, then form a ship wheel puzzle with the pieces. Easy-peasy, right? For Mana, Not so much.
Nuku gets an early headstart with Ozzie’s swimming, then even when they lose a little time on keys or puzzles they never stay back for long. My baby Zeke is a puzzle master on this show, and he works with Cirie to make the ship wheel. Even though Ciera has done this before, she doesn’t bring the win for her tribe Mana which will probably put an even bigger target on her back in the end.
Strategy, Strategy, Strategy
Tony brings a big group to the watering hole to discuss sending home the “weakest link” but honestly if Ciera is the weakest link of your tribe, you’ve got a damn strong tribe. Malcolm throws her under the bus almost immediately, telling Tony and Caleb she’s been talking about getting them out the whole time. Michaella’s name gets tossed around after she freaks out at being used as bait. She still hasn’t learned a poker face yet.
We get Tribal in a shipwreck set this year, continuing the clear theme. I’m loving it, but I wish I knew a bit more of the history. Of course, there’s a twist this year with Tribal too. Ties now have no re-vote but instead, they immediately go to a tiebreak. Those start with an open discussion for unanimous agreement, and if that doesn’t work then voters (not people caught in the tie) draw rocks. Expect less splitting of votes to get rid of idols.
Tony’s the first subject of conversation, looking at his impressive gameplay from past seasons, and then it moves to Sandra’s two previous wins. How has no one thought of sending her home? I guess that’s how she’s made it through each time. Michaella gets a little sour and Sandra calls her a “pleasure” a bit too many times for it to come off real, but in the Ciera definitely started to notice she wasn’t being told everything.
9 Ciera – 1 Michaella
But We’re Not Done Yet!
As usual, it’s a two-hour premiere so let’s get to the camp reactions. Tony and Aubry start planning a five person alliance of big threats to shield themselves and keep them dominant until the merge, immediately thinking of Malcolm, Caleb, and Sandra, so he brings them on board one by one. Sandra and Tony start talking about protecting each other because winners can only win with other winners at Final Tribal. Sounds legit, but that falls apart right away.
Late that night, Sandra and Troizan are talking by the water hole about Tony as he happens to be finishing up his spy bunker, and he hears his name tossed around a few times. He interrogates Sandra, but all that does is turn her against him. Now, she starts building her own alliance under the motto “you’re only the King until the Queen arrives.” Okay… maybe I love her, now.
Over On Nuku…
Tai is playing with the chickens and trying to give them a lot of food but that’ll likely get on people’s nerves pretty quick. Cirie immediately assumes that Ozzie and JT are ganging up on her so she starts talking to everybody to get an alliance – but people don’t seem to be feeling it.
The Second Challenge
Six people race to the ocean, across a balance beam, into a cage, untying a long and heavy snake. They push that snake over the cage, swim back to shore, put the snake into a cradle where three other members untie numbered tiles to solve a combination lock, releasing rings they must throw onto targets spelling immunity. It’s a doozy, but they’ll win the usual fishing gear – with a raft and paddles. Unsurprisingly, Cirie sits out for Nuku and then they’re off.
Nuku gets their snake untied pretty quickly, and Mana doesn’t manage that same feat until after Nuku’s snake is over the cage. It’s over 400 pounds, which is an insane effort, and Varner on Mana is absolutely useless in this challenge. He doesn’t untie ropes, help lift the snake, or do much of bringing it back to the beach. But if that wasn’t bad enough, Mana can’t get the snake across the balance beam for ages either.
Mana has some good people on the back end, (Malcolm, Michaella, and Sandra) who give them a real chance at winning, if only they had a couple more seconds. By the end, everyone is SO proud of Malcolm because he legitimately caught up with Nuku in the combination lock and ring toss and almost saved them.
The Tony v Sandra Feud
When Mana gets back to camp, Michaella is sour about their loss. But after that, Sandra and Tony go at it. Sandra wants to split votes to root out any idols and send home her biggest threat, but then all other strong men will be big targets as well. Tony, Caleb, and Malcolm understand the problem they’re in and decide Michaella is the unknown factor in all of this – can they convince her to vote against Sandra or will she stick to a vote against Tony?
The Tribal Council Battle
The question is: do they need to keep physically strong players or do they need to get rid of Tony? Everyone is talking at cross-purposes, trying to say they want strength or stability, but really it’s a choice between two evils. Tonight, a legendary Survivor castaway will be sent home and there’s not much they can do about it now.
7 Tony – 2 Aubry
So in the end, everyone but Sandra and Tony voted him out – including his own alliance. I guess that’s why they edited for so much of him in this premiere because otherwise, they would have missed out on one of their biggest game changing players for the entire series!
As he walks off Sandra makes a big show of calling herself the queen, but how is that really going to do anything other than make people see how overconfident she is?