Intro and Re-Intro. Water! Blood! It’s a structurally interesting start. The 10 pairs are being dropped off in 10 locations and they don’t know that they aren’t playing together. Let’s meet and re-meet them! “I am the original, the OG,” says Gervase, whose niece Marissa was nine when he originally played. Oh God. We’re all so old. “It’s cute that he thinks he’s going to win,” Marissa says. Ah, Kat and “Big Brother” winner Hayden. I assume their conversations mostly involve smiling prettily. “It is ‘Survivor’ in a house,” says Hayden, who apparently knows precious little about “Survivor,” while Kat insists this is her game. Monkey! Yeah, I don’t remember Laura at all, so I don’t have any real ties to her daughter Ciera. Yawn. Rupert. Rupert has somehow never made it to the end and his wife Laura wants to outdo her hubby. “This has always been about Rupert and Rupert playing three times and Rupert, Rupert, Rupert,” Laura says. Oy. No, Jeff Probst. Colton didn’t make “controversial” statements. He made bigoted statements. There was no “controversy.” He was a pig, but he’s hoping that his fiance will give him maturity. Colton’s goal is to show us a new side, while Caleb swears he knows a different Colton and promises redemption. Candice and husband John are worried they may be perceived as too successful. Monica is joined by husband Brad Culpepper, who Jeff Probst calls “famous,” even though if you showed his picture to 100 of the most dedicated NFL fans in the world, 98 couldn’t identify him (the other two went to Florida). Brad’s ready to play second fiddle to his wife. Former winner Tina is prepared to be competitive with daughter Katie who is, in turn, prepared to beat her mom at her own game. Tyson has been disappointed by “Survivor” (and “Survivor” fans by Tyson!) but he’s going to do well this time, because he’s prepared to take down the loved ones. “Exile Island” winner Aras is here with his somewhat estranged brother Vytas, who had a drug problem and spent a year in jail. This duo already intrigues me, even if Aras’ season is one I only half-remember. The teams will all get to spend a night alone, without supplies, with the veterans expected to help prep their loved ones for the game. I just wish that the different locations didn’t look awkwardly staged and lit. Gervase finally realizes it’s been 13 years since he played “Survivor.” “Do you want me to do something?” Colton asks Caleb. Kat is overrun by ants. And the game is on!
Pre-credit sequence. Everybody emerges from the jungle and it’s suggested that they were all probably around 20 yards from each other. Jeff Probst welcomes them all to “Survivor 27.” Hayden now thinks that it’s hard to compare “Big Brother” to “Survivor.” He learns fast, that one. “You will not be playing with them. You will be playing against your loved one,” Probst tells them. Most of the castaways agree that they’re looking forward to the adversarial relationship. “I think it’s going to be the hardest thing that any of us do,” Tina says of seeing tribes come out and realizing that your loved one has been voted out. Sniffle. Brad admits that part of him might want Monica to have a tarp instead of him, which isn’t what anybody else wants to hear from a beefy competitor. The Tribes split after hugging and shedding a few tears. “It’s a game and I can play it on my own too,” says Tyson’s Rachel. “It was a little bit of a relief and a little bit of sadness at the same time,” says Rupert, who’s pleased he won’t have to write his wife’s name down. Returning players are Galong. New players are Tadhana. And I’ll never call them by that name again. But there’s already a twist! Each tribe will immediately vote somebody out. Get rid of Colton! Get rid of Colton! “Really? Hi. I’m Colton. Remember me? I’m probably going to be the one,” he admits. On the New side the votes go decidedly against Rupert’s Laura. I’m curious how that happened so decisively, but Rupert blames “scared newbies.” On the Returning side, Candice votes Laura, because she has no clue who she is, as does Tyson. Tina votes for Candice, as do Kat, Monica and Candice. Their votes are based on not knowing Candice. Rupert votes Laura. Aras writes Gervase’s name. Laura’s vote against Candice is the deciding vote, which makes John feel a bit vengeful.
Blood is thicker than water can ever be. There are twists, of course. Redemption Island is back. We knew that already. Nobody goes, “Jeff, Redemption Island is great in theory, but not so great in execution.” One last twist of the Blood vs Water twist: Jeff Probst tells Rupert he can take Laura’s spot, which would send Laura over to the Returning tribe. He doesn’t hesitate and sends his wife over to live with a group of strangers. Jeff Probst, who apparently has never met Rupert, says he never anticipated this. Tina is pissed off. “We were counting on Rupert,” Tina says aptly, blaming him for weakening their tribe. I can buy that explanation. The trade-off in strength here is pretty massive. John has a little chat with Candice, who says that she thinks she can beat Rupert. “You probably have a better chance than I do,” John tells his wife, sending her off to Redemption Island. “In Laura and I’s world, blood is thicker than anything,” Rupert says. John cries as his wife leaves and then cries remembering his wife leaving. “Now I have the opportunity to show all of those dumbasses how big a mistake they made,” John says.
You’ve been had. You’ve been took. You’ve been hoodwinked. Bamboozled. Led astray. We begin with the Returnees of Galang. Everybody agrees they’d rather see Tyson naked than ever see Jeff Probst at Tribal. They get a box full of supplies, which already feels like an improvement to Gervase. “I wanted to play with Rupert, I didn’t want to play with Laura,” Gervase says frankly. We immediately establish that Laura doesn’t know much, but she’s willing to learn. “I so wish your husband was here right now,” Aras tells her. Shelter time! And fire time! Tyson was correct that he learned valuable lessons from Boston Rob, because they have fire within 15 minutes. They have water and rice and they’re happy. And Colton is cutting a bamboo stalk with the saw pointing towards his crotch. One person who’s hoping he slips is Monica, who goes to Colton and reminds him that he stabbed her in the back. “I’m not going to have happen to me what happened before,” Monica says and she and Colton share a pinky-swear. “Am I once again going to be bamboozled? I don’t know,” Monica laments.
Ground Culpepper. Tadhana is the correct spelling for the Newbies tribe. I wouldn’t have guessed that. They’re reasonably confident despite the absence of veterans. Brad knows that he made a blunder early on and he calls everybody together and tries to clear the air and reassure them that he’s going to go 100 percent or they can vote him out. Marissa is annoyed because what Brad said wasn’t an apology. An apology for what? I get why he wanted to clear the air, but what did he need to apologize for? Brad and John are getting homoerotic in the waterfall, splashing around and complimenting each other on their bodies. Brad proposes that the five guys — or four men and one gay guy, he clarifies — stick together, which is superficially fine for John, but he sounds skeptical. Caleb shakes hands with Brad, but isn’t on-board at all. Brad laments that weaker players — “The John Cochrans and the women” — run the game. Then Brad tries doing math, which is hilarious.
Vytas’ Confession. Shelter is coming together for the Newbies. Will Brad be able to get fire from bamboo? Nope. “I can feel the liquid leaving my body and I’m turning into sludge,” Vytas says. The woman who I think is Ciera is telling everybody her story of being a Teen Mom. This leads Vytas to tell his story of being a junkie and being in jail, for robbing a woman at an ATM, at 19. Brad has nothing to add, so he offers meaningless platitudes. “I do want to be vulnerable,” says Vytas, who hopes truth will lead to trust. As sun sets, however, Tadhana has no fire, but at least Vytas has serenity, so there’s that.
Colton’s Confession. In contrast, it’s sooth sailing at Galang, where Colton is raving about the people he’s playing. Colton claims that last time he played, he had a mask on because he was insecure. He tries explaining to everybody that he used to be a sweet kid, but that intolerance changed him and made him into what he appeared to be on TV. He cries as he talks about the family that he has no relationship with anymore. Do we believe Colton and his tears? Shrug. It looks real enough, but we’re dealing with a guy who hasn’t given us reason to think of him as anything other than a snake. “If he’s changed, wouldn’t that be a beautiful story?” Monica ponders, while acknowledging that he’s still Colton Cumbie.
Rupert’s Inaction. Redemption Island is actually pretty swank. Rupert and Candice have a pre-made shelter and lots of time to get bitter about the circumstances that brought them there. “Never in a million years would I have guessed that I’d be in this position on the second day,” Rupert says. “Living with Rupert is extremely annoying to say the least,” says Candice, who resents Rupert for splashing in the water and leaving her to do all of the hunting and gathering and tending. This is New Rupert. He’s decided that the reason he has never won Individual Immunity is because he has tried too hard and he’s ready to let Candice burn up all her energy. Lots of people dislike Rupert at this point. I don’t. I’m just bored by him. Unlike somebody like Boston Rob or Parvati, who I could watch play every season, I’m maxed out on Rupert.
Filler because this episode is 90 minutes. The Newbies collect their first Tree-Mail and Brad is finally feeling like a real “Survivor” player. Colton and Tina are only slightly less excited. Needlessly complicated Tree-Mail suggests that they’re going to have to swim, paddle, run and a bunch of other stuff. At the Newbies, Katie is sure that her mom is going to do the puzzle and wants an early showdown, but Laura is actually volunteering to do the puzzle for the Vets, setting up a potential anti-climax. Gathering pre-challenge, the Newbies gloat about their fire and their high level of comfort. “Do you guys not have fire?” Tyson asks the Newbies, who lie. A disgruntled Hayden calls his tribe “meatheads.”
Puzzling, Winston is about to do some puzzling. Things begin with a six-person obstacle course leading to a boat holding a puzzle. The remaining three people will have to solve the puzzle. With teamwork, the Newbies get out to a lead, while the Veterans are struggling with their chemistry and Gervase’s swimming. Jeff Probst is not impressed with Gervase, who also struggled with swimming 13 years ago and somehow didn’t figure this was something he wanted to be good at this time around. The Veterans also don’t know how to paddle — Kat is displeased with Colton — and the Newbies have a decent lead at the puzzle. Probst calls the Veterans pathetic. It’s Laura, Monica and Tina puzzling against Caleb, Teen Mom and Katie. You know who both of these sides could use? Winston! That guy is great at puzzles. And, in no time, the Newbies have squandered their lead. “Two mothers schooling their daughters right now,” Probst crows as the Veterans complete an impressive comeback. Gervase is giddy at how his tribe performed despite him, while Colton cries randomly, leaving Laura to try to explain his motivation. “I was like, ‘Hey Bozo, your loved one may go home,'” says Brad of Gervase’s taunting.
Targeting women like a serial killer on a TV procedural. The Newbies are, as you might imagine, a bit down. “I hate to lose,” Brad says, while giving his gang a pep talk. “This is not the first time that those three ladies have done a puzzle,” John adds. But Katie knows that the puzzlemakers were the reason they lost. The first to turn on Gervase and mock him is Marissa, who doesn’t understand why her uncle was so blustery. Brad urges them to win with grace if they ever win. Seriously, these guys need to stop whining about how the Veterans were pleased to win. If we have to deal with a month of restrained and respectful victories, this’ll get wicked dull. The men are certain that they’re bonded and they’ll stay together, so the question is who they’ll vote out. Caleb quickly throws Katie under the bus for failing on the puzzle, which moves the target away from him. “We’re not being subtle at all to these women,” admits Vytas, who even goes and tells the women that Katie is the target. “To me, they’re all equal,” says Brad, who I don’t much care for.
Tribal Council. The Newbies arrive and set their torches aflame. Why do they do this? It has something to do with what fire represents in this game. And what does fire represent? “Your life,” Jeff Probst explains. Ah. Hayden admits they were bluffing about the fire earlier, while Ciera agrees that having her mother tell her stories was no preparation. Teen Mom says it’s like there’s somebody in her stomach clawing to get out. John has a lot of guilt about not replacing Candice on Redemption Island and, like everything else, this makes him cry. John’s vote will be based on strength. Inexplicably Probst is already calling Brad “Culpepper.” Come on, Jeff. Just because he has an NFL resume doesn’t mean that he deserves the last name treatment already. For a while, the Newbies carp about Gervase, with Marissa worried she might be voted out by association. We have no clue how any of the women are going to vote. Are they that irrelevant? Katie says she wouldn’t be surprised to be voted out, though Brad says they aren’t voting solely on puzzle performance.
The vote. Katie votes for Marissa. Marissa votes for Katie. Jeff Probst tallies: Katie. Marissa. Marissa. Marissa. Marissa. MARISSA. So that was a blindside on us for no particular reason. Marissa doesn’t have any words as her torch is snuffed and she heads to Redemption Island. Probst tosses them fire and now maybe they’ll be less useless. Yay! “I came in thinking that Katie’s a go, but no, Marissa’s a go,” says the blindsided Marissa.
Bottom Line, Part I. First off, when Marissa cast her vote against Katie, she knew that one of them was going home, so let’s not pretend this was a shocking blindside, or at least it shouldn’t have been. Like I just said, the only people blindsided were the audience. I’m not a big fan of “Survivor” keeping us out of voting logic just for the sake of a surprise. Had the vote been against Katie, we had a through-line: The Newbies struggled on the puzzle, so they voted out somebody who wasn’t a physical asset and wasn’t an intellectual help on the puzzle. But Marissa ended up being the choice because? I’m not sure. She seemed to be an asset on the part of the challenge that the newbies succeeded at. So was Marissa really voted out just because her uncle was a tool after the challenge? And who instigated that? We were left to assume it was Brad, but I would have loved to see the deliberations. Part of me really loves the idea that in this format, you can punish the winning team for the way that they win. Yes, I think it’s a little pissy and self-righteous, but it’s also a little vengeful, to say “Yes, we lost, but we’re going to hurt YOU in losing.” Eventually, that’s the way these votes should go down as we approach the Merge, with people trying to think two or three moves ahead and eliminate people who have built-in alliances with somebody strong on the other side. So in that circumstance, maybe you target Rachel because you want to keep Tyson from having an ally. Or something like that. There are potential dynamics that could pay dividends down the road, even though…
Bottom Line, Part II. I don’t love any of the returning players. There are a couple folks I like watching play, but there’s nobody other than maybe Tyson who brings a particularly entertaining personality to the table. There are one or two people like Colton, who I have outright dislike for, and then another half-dozen people who I either don’t remember, don’t care about or don’t expect to be interesting players. Is Laura just there because her daughter was a teenage mother? Is Candice just there because her husband has abs? And we know Monica’s only there because her husband was in the NFL. That’s a pretty feeble selection process for a lot of this season’s contenders.
Bottom Line, Part III. And which of the Newbies do you like? Hayden was somewhat appealing in his “Big Brother” season because he was the least objectionable person in his alliance, but as a stand-alone player? Yawn. Brad’s a dick. Vytas has a great story, but I’m much more interested in seeing how it plays out when he’s united with Aras than I am in watching him alone. Similarly, Caleb only seems worth following because eventually we want to see if we can figure out what he sees in Colton. And yeah. Nobody else popped, despite a 90-minute premiere.
What’d y’all think of the season opener? Do you like the cast? Do you think the various twists will work out in compelling ways?