Recap and review of Survivor: Caramoan – Season Premiere – She Annoys Me Greatly:
Survivor: Caramoan — Fans vs. Favorites is only half a misnomer. The ten people assembled to do battle with the opposing ten first-time returnees are certainly fans. But it’d be kind of a stretch calling this collection of returnees favorites – most of them anyway: Malcolm and Cochrane could legitimately be considered popular, while the rest are more infamous, at best, and forgettable, at worst. Francesca, for instance, is memorable only in relation to her blow-up with Phillip in the first week of Survivor: Redemption Island. Meanwhile, Sheppard and Brandon Hantz are notable for being completely off their rockers, and Erik is only here because, until Brandon gave away immunity in Survivor: South Pacific, he was responsible for what was generally considered the dumbest move in the history of the game.
Yet while the cast is hardly what one might hope for in a season where half of the players are returnees, I can certainly see the sense in what the show is trying to do with this cast. Much like the returnees from last season’s Survivor: Philippines, these “favorites” are pretty much on equal footing with their opponents. Those returnees had experience playing the game, sure, but none of their game reputations preceded them to such a degree that they were given an unfair advantage or an undue handicap in the game. I suppose you could argue Penner had it rough, but for the most part, the returnees and the newbies were gifted an equal opportunity, not just in name, but in actuality. And I felt the same way in tonight’s 90-minute premiere, “She Annoys Me Greatly.” Yeah, you have beasts like Malcolm and strategy-oriented players like Brenda and Cochrane, but the fans know every bit as much about the game as the people who’ve played it, owing to their serious fandom. The favorites have played the game before, but that doesn’t mean the fans don’t know what to expect.
As things stand right now, the two tribes are a study in hubris. The fans in the Gota tribe have a comical, borderline irritating sense of self-absorption. When iron-jawed Reynold spends the first night cuddling with hot bartender Allie, and Eddie the lispy fireman flirts with pre-law student Hope, it’s only a matter of time before the four of them find themselves in an alliance engineered by their own self-congratulatory agreement about how good-looking they all are. It’s yet another classic High School Clique alliance, and I’m not sure the other people in the Gota tribe have the self-awareness to get over themselves and recognize the problems this foursome could present. Ex-Marine Shamar is generally insufferable, playing the loud, confrontational nutjob, and spending the better part of the episode warring with Matt, whose long red beard is one of the only things we get to learn about him this week, not that this is necessarily an issue for me since this episode had a lot to cover (even with the extended 90 minute runtime).
Over at the Bikal tribe, the favorites are tethered to their own haughty ideas about how the game needs to be played. Phillip wastes no time consolidating a power base, which would be admirable if he didn’t overplay his hand so severely. Taking his cue from Boston Rob’s play style in Survivor: Redemption Island, Phil has put together a list of “BR Rules”: among them, “be in an alliance” and “be in an alliance within an alliance.” This is all well and good, except that Phil appropriates Rob’s policies for his own without adopting any of The Robfather’s tact or subtlety. He ends up coming across as a bully, instead of as a man with a plan: Erik, on his way to redeeming himself from his poor performance in the first Fans vs. Favorites season, recognizes that Phil’s “With me or against me” play style is a poor facsimile of Boston Rob’s strategy, and declares that he has no intention of ever aligning with Phillip, as a result. Of course, Erik is in the minority, as Phil consolidates his base by first approaching Corinne, and then locking down Andrea, Brenda, Cochrane and Malcolm. It wouldn’t surprise me if much of the impetus in allying with Phillip is in the recognition of what a lightning rod for controversy he tends to be, which could come in handy if you’re sitting next to him in front of the jury. However, it could turn out to have the opposite effect if Phillip becomes too polarizing, as Parvati’s alliance with Russell cost her the win in Heroes vs. Villains: many of the people on the jury didn’t want to vote for her on the principle of her having been allied with someone so detestable. Whether that will prove to be the case with Phillip or not remains to be seen. But for now, Sheppard’s Flock proves to be a valuable alliance for all involved.
The season kicks off by marking a division between the Haves status of the favorites and the Have-Nots status of the fans, as the fans arrive on the beach in a boat while the favorites arrive in an air conditioned helicopter. This division seems to have a psychological effect on the first challenge, in which the tribes must get a lifeline through a goal, wrestling past their opponents in the water in teams of two at a time. Malcolm scores the winning goal for his tribe, but the boost is short-lived. The immunity challenge involves pairs of tribemates taking turns racing up a tower and throwing crates off the side, revealing beanbags to be tossed into peg-shaped pockets by one other tribemate. Though the favorites get a monster lead early on, the fans make an incredible comeback, making for a white-hot nailbiter of a conclusion. As Reynold sinks one beanbag after another, Malcolm loses his lead. Ten seconds later, and it’s all over. The fans walk off with immunity, and the favorites suffer the humiliation of attending the first tribal council of the season. (Somewhat off-topic, but let me put on my tinfoil hat for a moment: did it look, to anyone else, like that immunity idol had an extraneous piece on it? You know, sort of like a hidden immunity idol? That would certainly be new for the series, putting a hidden immunity idol on the tribal immunity idol, as there’s almost no way to claim it without not only your own tribe noticing, but the other noticing as well. I know at least one member of the Bikal tribe could have desperately used one…)
If it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that she’d be going home first when she vowed that there was no chance of that happening (and in the first twenty minutes of the episode, no less!), it became all the more obvious that Francesca, the first person voted off of Survivor: Redemption Island, would be getting her torch snuffed out once the Bikal tribe lost the immunity challenge. Though Phillip claims to have gotten over their little tiff in their first playthrough together, he claims to find Francesca immensely irritating, and his vote never really sways from Francesca, as the former Federal Agent can’t resist the delicious possibility of sending her home first for a second time. Meanwhile, Brandon Hantz, of all people, tries to introduce a little common sense into the proceedings, arguing that Andrea is too personable, and that she needs to be neutralized before she’s able to further consolidate her base of power. At tribal, Brandon argues that there are too many chiefs in their tribe, and not enough Indians, adding that each tribemate is trying to make sure they don’t “get done like they got done the first time.” Of course, as Jeff says, that’s not going to happen. By necessity, someone is about to get done like before, and the only thing a person can do in this game is make certain that person isn’t them.
Unfortunately for Francesca, she didn’t do a good enough job stemming the tide of influence against her, even though Andrea does manage to get four votes cast against her (which scares her enough that Francesca’s eviction results in her bursting into a relieved chuckle, in one of the episode’s more awkward moments). That said, I’m not sure how much Francesca could have done, realistically. Players like Cochrane and Dawn admitted that they liked her a lot, with Cochrane in particular voicing his concerns that it actually might be a bit cruel to send a person home first for the second time. But there’s a pervasive feeling, among the tribemates, that Francesca is a huge potential threat. I’m not exactly sure where any of this is coming from, unless it’s simply a way for the voters to justify their decision to themselves (since the alternative is that they allowed themselves to be influenced, and to have their votes directed, by Phillip’s pettiness). Regardless, Francesca takes it much better than I would have expected her to, saying that she’s clearly not cut out for this game, but that at least she got to try it twice.
“She Annoys Me Greatly” is an episode as fraught with petty feuds and egos as it is with clever, savvy strategizing, and white-knuckle physicality. It’s all over the place, but it’s in a good way. It’s hectic in that classic Survivor fashion, and though the structure of the episode means that we don’t necessarily get as much of each player as we might want, it’s still a very engaging, compelling premiere, especially for an episode so busy. I’m very optimistic about where this season is headed, even though my gut instinct is that this many combustible personalities in one season will mean a lot of sloppy gameplay that privileges luck over strategic acumen. Although I feared the same thing about Heroes vs. Villains, and that season ended up being one for the ages. Hopefully, I’ll get to say the same about Survivor: Caramoan, when it’s all said and done.