‘Survivor: Second Chance’ Review: Cambodia Kickoff Is Twistiest Season Premiere Ever

Recap and review of Survivor: Cambodia – Second Chance – Season Premiere:

Survivor: Cambodia – Second Chance is finally here! And yet, while this was basically the twistiest season premiere of all-time, the final outcome ultimately boiled down to classic Survivor: who was perceived as a threat, and who formed the necessary alliances to keep their head off the chopping block. Because all the twists in the world won’t help you unless you have the social game to back it all up.

Let’s get the big details out of the way first: Vytas ended up being the first person voted out over Abi-Maria, six votes to four, at a tribal council that was held immediately after the immunity challenge, which the Takeo Tribe won in a tremendous comeback victory. But that’s not the only big reveal of this super-twisty premiere, as Kelley Wentworth found a clue to a hidden immunity idol that revealed that the idol could only be found at the immunity challenge itself. There was a lot of drama surrounding the question of whether or not she’d try and grab it for herself. The notion that she was able to without actually being spotted made for one of the most victorious moments of the premiere. This is without even getting into the free-for-all marooning that opened the episode, or the surprising alliances that were formed (Spencer and Terry? YES, PLEASE). In short, while this might have been the twistiest premiere ever, this real twist was just how little those twists ended up mattering, because there’s a very real likelihood that, even if the Bayon tribe had the opportunity to discuss the vote before Tribal Council, the result would have been the same.

'Survivor Second Chance' - Vytas is first person voted off

Credit: CBS

Of course, the other thing that was interesting about this premiere, aside from the twists, was just how much it resembled the first season. Granted, this was largely by design, as everything from the marooning to the immunity/reward challenge, and even the tribal divisions (with a fairly even breakdown of young/older and male/female castaways), felt cribbed straight from Borneo. And that’s a good thing. Watching the two tribes scramble like mad to get all their supplies from a giant boat, and then load onto a raft to beat the other tribe to the rice on the opposite boat nearby was exactly the type of Survivor I love to see, because it makes demands on the contestants right away. There’s no real chance to settle, as everything is frantic, and you get a good glimpse of how people are going to play from their unspoken actions. For instance, Kelly Wiglesworth took on the same responsibility she did back in Season 1, acting as a sort of guide for the raft by swimming ahead, and putting the Bayon tribe in a position to get to the rice first. While not exactly some sort of subtle mystery, her actions suggests that Kelly is looking to essentially repeat her performance from Borneo, in the hopes of getting to the end for a redo of the outcome (she came just one vote short of beating Richard Hatch at Final Tribal Council). It would also explain why she got so emotional when the Bayon tribe lost at the immunity/reward challenge, since this was a repeat of what happened at the same challenge in the first season. Essentially, the message to Kelly is that history will repeat itself: and while that potentially means getting far, that also means inevitably losing too.

'Survivor Second Chance' premiere recap and review

Credit: CBS

But then, that’s just me reading way too much into everything. What if we don’t take such a literal approach? Well, we can see from the marooning just how hard some of the men are trying to avoid coming across as physical threats. Did you see how long Joe and Woo waited to jump out of their raft to swim ahead? They almost have to be goaded into it, with Stephen Fishbach suggesting that somebody should swim ahead and try to catch Kelly. Here, we can see that Stephen is looking to play a game that shirks physical responsibilities in favor of delegation, which is somewhat similar to his strategic role in Survivor: Tocantins, albeit without the immensely charming J.T. there to reinforce the rest of the tribe’s tolerance for his scheming. For instance, Stephen goes searching for a hidden immunity idol in an utterly tactless way, and the rest of the tribe immediately sees through it, rolling their eyes at his efforts. In short, Stephen can try to play the same game he played in Tocantins, but that’s not exactly going to fly unless he braces himself with alliances to deflect suspicion. Meanwhile, for a clear look at someone who’s trying to change, but ultimately doomed to fail at playing differently, we need look no further than Abi-Maria. She made her name as a brash, outspoken player on Survivor: Philippines, and I can certainly understand her attempt at a more demure play style, as she avoids personal confrontations in favor of seeking out alliances.

'Survivor Second Chance' Review Cambodia Kickoff Is Twistiest Season Premiere Ever

Credit: CBS

However, it’s hard for Abi-Maria to change how she’s perceived, since her season really wasn’t that long ago. She’s still viewed as a challenge liability, for whatever reason, and she’s still viewed as an acerbic presence, even though she doesn’t really give anyone any reason to view her that way, other than getting mad that Peih-Gee apparently stole her bracelet. Sure, it was a bad idea for Abi-Maria to go through everyone’s bags, and her paranoia about her belongings getting stolen aren’t any less off-putting just because she turned out to be right. So it’s unsurprising that she lands on the chopping block at the first tribal council. By the same token, it’s not at all surprising that Vytas is the first person voted out. He tries to vary his play style, but he ultimately can’t succeed because, again, a perception has been formed about him from his first season, and it can be difficult to dislodge that perception among people who’ve already formed an opinion, for good or ill. Also, Vytas openly flirting with all the women at camp suggests that nothing has really changed, one way or the other. He’s still the same schemer, just with a better yoga routine.

'Survivor Second Chance' Season Premiere Recap and Review

Credit: CBS

There’s also an undercurrent of Old School vs. New School running throughout the premiere, although the notion that old school Survivor players will start teaming with the new school castaways seems like a misdirect from the show. Look at Terry Dietz, for instance. He’s another guy who pays lip service to the idea of playing a stronger social game, but whose actions don’t really bear that out, considering he doesn’t seem any less standoffish than before. Speaking of old school players, we have Jeff Varner, who’s caught in the middle of the Old School/New School divide, and Shirin, who’s playing REALLY hard right out the gate, a move which could backfire on her (hell, even Varner seems put off by it). Ultimately, the direction of this game will be decided by who’s the most willing to change their play style and commit to that change, regardless of how well their game worked for them the first time around. That’s my theory, anyway. Whether it pans out that way remains to be seen. Either way, Survivor: Cambodia – Second Chance has me super stoked for what’s to come. Survivor is back, baby!

But what did you think of the Survivor: Cambodia – Second Chance season premiere? Sound off in the comments!

And if you missed the start of the episode, watch the first nine minutes of the season premiere here!

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