‘Survivor: Kaoh Rong’ Season Premiere Review: ‘I’m a Mental Giant’ Highlights Iffy Strategies

Recap and review of Survivor: Kaoh Rong – Season Premiere – I’m a Mental Giant:

Nearly a year after filming wrapped on the season, Survivor: Kaoh Rong has finally premiered. And what did we get with this premiere? Well, we got a lot of good, in the form of some colorful personalities and an interesting first tribal council. But we also got a lot of bad as well. Namely, we got a lot of iffy strategies. Granted, that’s always been a part of Survivor, but “I’m a Mental Giant” has me worried this season will feature a cast of people who, by and large, have no idea what the hell they’re doing. And that can lead to another iffy season like Philippines or South Pacific. But hey, I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

So the tribes were divided before the game even started, with each of the castaways having learned the theme of the season already. The result is we can get straight to the game, and getting to know the various colorful personalities. For instance, there’s Tai, a gay, Vietnamese gardener; Caleb, the hunky Army veteran most recognize from Big Brother; and professional poker player Anna, who admits she isn’t above using her sex appeal to advance in a game. And that’s just the Beauty tribe! In fact, let’s start with the Beauty tribe, as Tai, Caleb and Anna make a pretty strong impression right out of the gate. Tai sees an intrinsic value in every living thing, going as far as to save a chicken from the equipment boat, simply so it wouldn’t be slaughtered by another tribe. Later, he takes issue with Caleb excessively chopping into a tree, stating that hacking at the bark isn’t any different from someone hacking off a person’s limbs. Caleb seems annoyed by this, but he mostly just rolls along with it because everybody loves Tai around camp. But then Tai goes off searching for a hidden immunity idol before they’ve even had their first challenge.

'Survivor Kaoh Rong' Season Premiere Review

Credit: CBS

Suddenly, Tai is no longer as popular as he once was, as Anna realizes she doesn’t want to be in an alliance with someone she can’t trust. While the edit makes it seem like Nick is the one with the hubris, the narrative is that Tai overplayed his hand far too early in the game, and that’s a sort of hubris in itself. Granted, Tai is still a pretty lovable guy, but now he’s gone and put a target on his back, for no real reason other than he thinks hunting for idols on day one is what you’re supposed to do on Survivor. And maybe he’s right, but there has to be a better way to have gone about it. Regardless, this episode works because it gives us a clear sense of who each of these people are, and what their approach to the game is. Nick fancies himself the alpha male in the Beauty tribe, going on about his great looks and his aptitude for all things. We don’t know enough about Nick to know if he’s overestimating his abilities, but I don’t see enough to indicate he’s any better than, say, Julia. And at least in Julia’s case, she makes one of the smarter moves in the premiere. As a college student, Julia recognizes that people are underestimating her, and so she’s quick to pair up with Anna, because she recognizes she’s underestimated too, which means they could potentially do some real damage in this game if left unchecked. Meanwhile, Michele is a bartender, and she notes how her career has made her perceptive to personality traits and how best to give people what they want. While she doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time this week, there are the beginnings of a decent player there, and I’m thinking we’ll get the chance to explore that at some point. If nothing else, the show should make the best use out of its cast by focusing on different dynamics within the three tribes, rather than settling on just one.

Survivor Kaoh Rong - Season Premiere - Recap and Review - I'm a Mental Giant

Credit: CBS

On the subject of the tribes, the Brains should, in theory, be the most mature. But they’re kind of lacking, to a degree that would be surprising if the Brains tribe in Cagayan hadn’t already set the precedent for the Brains tribe being terrible pre-merge. Chemist/Red Lobster server Debbie gets on everyone’s nerves by rambling on about how smart and capable she is, even annoying tribemate Peter by noting how much he looks like President Obama. Meanwhile, the younger tribe members don’t really help matters when they choose to freeze out Debbie and former FBI agent Joe, both of whom are the oldest people in the game. Ice cream entrepreneur Neal and quantitative strategist Liz seem like the smartest, most level-headed people on their tribe, but it seems as though being a part of a youth alliance isn’t in their best interests at this early stage of the game, since they don’t really know the people with whom they’re allying yet. For example, it seems social media marketer Aubry is a rock solid alliance mate, until she suddenly has an anxiety attack prompted by dehydration. I know panic attacks as well as anyone, so I’m not judging Aubry at all for having one. I’m only pointing out how unfortunate it is that she likely will be judged by others for it, as we see that her alliance mates are already having second thoughts about her, since there’s no telling this sort of thing won’t happen again once things aren’t going her way. Basically, what we’ve got here is a melting pot for conflict, and it carries over onto the Brawn tribe, who are this week’s losing tribe.

Despite a close immunity challenge, the Brawn tribe came in last, and the resulting conflict over that defeat is the episode’s most salient. Postal worker Darnell, who made an instant connection with body builder Cydney, suddenly finds himself on the outs with the non-Cydney members of his tribe, due to a screw-up at the immunity challenge. At the start of the challenge, all three tribes started off on a platform out in the water. From there, they all had to get in a boat, and then dive below to free some oars that were tied up with rope. Each designated diver for each tribe was given a pair of goggles with which to see, since the cloudy seawater makes it difficult to know where the knots are to untie the oars. Unfortunately, Darnell drops the goggles almost instantly, and never recovers them. When Darnell suddenly finds he can’t undo any of the oars because he can’t see, he tags out and lets another tribemate take a shot at it. This costs the Brawn tribe valuable ground, and they end up lagging behind for the rest of the challenge, which involves pushing the boat onto shore and solving a puzzle at the end. Although the Brawn tribe is able to catch up, and come within a single puzzle piece of finishing the challenge in second place, they come up short. The implication is that they’d have made it to the puzzle first, and would have finished before the Beauty tribe, if not for Darnell’s mistake. In truth, Darnell’s mistake wouldn’t have even been that bad had he not initially volunteered to do the diving portion of the challenge, vowing that he could do it all himself. This infuriated retired NBA basketball player Scot, a strong swimmer who offered to do the diving himself. But Darnell seemed so confident in his own abilities that Scot figured he was the right man for the job. But as it turns out, not so much.

Survivor Kaoh Rong - Season Premiere - I'm a Mental Giant - Recap and Review

Credit: CBS

It’s kind of a shame that Darnell gets raked over the coals for his challenge screw-up, since he apologizes profusely and graciously. It’s clear that it’s genuinely tearing him up inside that he let his tribe down, and it seemed even clearer to me that this is the sort of mistake that would have been unlikely to happen again. But the tribe opinion swayed pretty quickly. Going into the challenge, it was agreed upon that, if they were to lose immunity, real estate broker Alecia would be the first to go, since she doesn’t actually bring any significant physicality to the table, unlike professional contractor Jennifer. Even worse, Alecia is already scheming like hell even though she doesn’t have to. But Darnell’s performance at the challenge prompts Scot to seek out his ally, bounty hunter Jason, to rethink their entire boot strategy. On the one hand, Darnell screwed up and could be a liability down the line. On the other hand, can Alecia really be trusted? Hell, Scot tries to give her a stern pep talk about how she needs to stop scheming, since her nervous energy isn’t helping matters at camp. Jason follows it up by asking if she has an idol……and Alecia responds by refusing to confirm whether she does or doesn’t have one. I completely empathized with Scot in that situation. He was giving Alecia the chance to prove she’s trustworthy and loyal, but she seems to have this idea of how Survivor is supposed to be played, that overt scheming in lieu of subtlety is somehow the best way to advance. And I’m not sure that’s the case when it puts a target this large on your back. But then, maybe Alecia knows something we don’t. After all, she manages to stick around despite her shortcomings. In a surprising tribal council, the vote is deadlocked, three for Alecia and three for Darnell. This prompts a revote in which, in another surprise, Darnell goes home unanimously (granted, we don’t see all the votes from the revote. But if there had been a vote for Alecia among those four, Probst would have read it, if only for the sake of drama). This meant firm, anti-Alecia voters like Jason and Cydney changed their votes on the revote, presumably to avoid going to the rock draw on a second tie vote. It wasn’t necessarily the biggest shocker we could have gotten to start off the season, but it was a nice little surprise result for what seemed like it was poised to be a really boring tribal council.

'Survivor Kaoh Rong' Season Premiere Review 'I'm a Mental Giant' Highlights Iffy Strategies

Credit: CBS

Naturally, what I loved about this premiere was that, despite the terrible strategy on display, we had compelling conflicts in each camp. Whether it was Tai getting caught searching for an idol at the Beauty tribe, the question of whether or not Jennifer would be able to compete after a bug crawled into her ear at the Brawn tribe, or whether it was Aubry’s nervous breakdown over on the Brains tribe. We got to see how each of these tribes reacted under pressure. My only wish is that we’d castaways with a better aptitude for the game. I suppose Caramoan set a high bar for this season right out the gate, but I would hope that some of these castaways would know well enough not to be so obvious about searching for idols like Tai, or overplaying their hand and generally being paranoid like Alecia, or shutting out potential allies like the younger members of the Brains tribe did to the older members. Right now, it feels like low-level Survivor, with people who are trying to learn on the job, rather than coming in as students of the game. Hopefully, the castaways step it up in the weeks to come. This is already being touted as the most brutal season ever from a physical standpoint, but that shouldn’t preclude it from being competent strategically.

But what did you think of the season premiere of Survivor: Kaoh Rong? Sound off in the comments!

And for more on Survivor: Kaoh Rong, meet the cast in greater detail here!

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