Pre-credit sequence. The division of tribes has been made by the quality the players most rely upon in life, whatever that means. The Brains Tribe has an average IQ of 130 which is, honestly, not all that impressive. I mean, they're smart, but they're not GEENA DAVIS smart. Spencer tied for first in the World Open Chess Championship and says he's both diabolical and a genius. If you say so! David is the President of the Marlins, which means that if there's a challenge that requires salary dumping, he's going to be hard to top. Kass is a lawyer who boasts about being undefeated, which is the kind of thing John Grisham characters boast about, that and smart older secretaries who have forgotten more law than most of us will ever know. On to the Beauty Tribe, whose beauty can't be measured numerically. But Morgan was an NFL cheerleader and she's sure she can get what she wants from guys. Jeremiah has a thick accent. Jefra was second place in Miss Kentucky three years in a row, which suggests at least three people who should be on “Survivor” instead. The Brawn Tribe includes Cliff Robinson, who is one of the 50 leading scorers in NBA history. Also in Brawn are Tony and Sarah, both police officers, though only Sarah says she likes punching people in the face. Brainy Tasha declares herself “super-smart,” which is something no super-smart person would ever say. And Alexis is pretty, but she's also a student. Why do I feel like she isn't pretty enough to be classified only for her beauty or smart enough to be classified only for her Brains?
Ugly folks have won “Survivor” too, Jeffy. Jeff Probst waits for the tribes. Trish says she'd do anything to get to the finishing line. She's in Brawn, apparently. Lindsey doesn't like the pretty girls. Jefra looks at the Brain Tribe and immediately suspects that they'll be “the Cochran type.” Probst explains that they've been divided by “three of the qualities it takes to succeed in this game.” Um. No. Beauty is not a requirement. On any level. Morgan correctly guesses that she's in Beauty. Spencer correctly guesses he's with the nerds. Tony's comfortable with being in Brawn and he's ready to stomp Beauty and stomp Brains. With no prep time, each tribe has to select a leader. LJ is quickly selected as the leader of Team Beauty. Team Brawn picks Sarah, because she's a talker. David is selected as the lead of Brains, because he has a natty blazer. And now each leader has to pick the weakest member of the group on the spot. LJ guesses that the game will include a lot of physical challenges and selects Morgan, who he calls “hot” rather than “cute.” “Me personally, I trust cute more than I trust hot,” LJ observes. And I completely agree! Sarah chooses stick-thing Trish as the weakest in Team Brawn. After making it clear to his tribe that because his blazer doesn't match his pants, he's not wearing a suit, David picks Garrett as Brain's weakest, saying that he's making the decision for the end of the game. Is anybody else surprised that the President of the Marlins' first instinct is to jettison the strongest person on his team? Not anybody who watches baseball! The three rejects are going off on a chopper and eventually they'll have to make a decision on behalf of their tribes. Oh. Way to be cryptic, Probst. Do you seriously expect me to call the tribes anything other than Brains, Beauty and Brawn? Why would I do that, Jeff?
For yourself or for the tribe? The rejects are flown off. Garrett is bitter that David chose him, completely not understanding David's strategy. It turns out that they've been flown to their respective camps. They can choose to help themselves or help their tribes. If they help themselves? They get an Immunity clue. If they help the tribe? They get a second bag of rice. Garrett doesn't hesitate and helps himself. Garrett has a six-pack and he's a poker player, so he's more than just brains and he's already targeting David. Trish isn't surprised she was chosen and she pauses a bit more than Garrett did. “I'm so not selfish, but maybe I need to be,” the single mom says. Trish goes with her gut and decides to help the team. And Morgan can't read. Oh, I'm kidding! Morgan thinks that LJ was tempted by her beauty and vows to never forgive him. She helps herself and admits that she's a selfish person. Well those decisions weren't especially surprising, now were they? We return to Garrett whose intellect doesn't extend to hide-and-go-seek activities. Instead, he turns it into a “splashing around in the water with lizards” activity and finds the Idol! I'm not sure I like this as a game-starter. Will the curvy Morgan do as well as Garrett? “There are so many different crevasses and nooks and crannies,” Morgan observes, as the camera takes in her landscape. Unlike Garrett, Morgan is still searching as her colleagues arrive. Will she find something or will she jiggle her way out of the game?
Beauty and the Bust. Team Beauty arrives at camp and Morgan has to think fast. She does OK. She points to the fishing stuff and rice and shelter materials and says that she picked those over comfort items. Everybody agrees that Morgan did the right thing. I'll give Morgan some credit. LJ is concerned about Morgan and her underwear, suspecting that she's got something Immunity-related and he doesn't want “a hot girl with a grudge.” Brice also senses Morgan could be a woman scorned and quickly goes and tells her that he would have chosen somebody else. “He's old, so…” Morgan says of the guy who's two years younger than I am. Oy. Alexis thinks expectations are going to be low, but soon Team Beauty has fire and coconuts. “I'm lovin' our tribe,” says Jefra.
You can't coach height. Trish greets her Brawn tribemates with hugs and enthusiasm. Trish tells them exactly the choice she made. “I knew you would,” Sarah says, even though she has no clue what she's saying. They're all giddy at their extra rice, though Tony leaves no doubt he'd have made the other choice. Lindsey's stoked and ready for any physical challenge, particularly impressed with the ginormous Cliff. It's easy to not tell people that you're a football player or a baseball player if you're of slightly-above-average size. Cliff, however, is 6'10″ and even though he was always a weakass rebounder for his height, he has to admit he played “a little basketball.” Yung, who apparently we're calling “Woo,” was a Trailblazers fan growing up, so he knows Cliff well. Cliff's proud nobody seems to care. Sarah thinks Tony looks like a cop and asks him if he's a cop, but he says he's in construction. It's a silly lie, but he sticks to it, even though Sarah immediately cops to being a cop. Sarah doesn't trust Tony. Nor should she.
David would have preferred to build their shelter using Miami tax revenues. Garrett and his six-pack greets everybody else from Brains, including Spencer, who thinks Dave made a dumb decision. Asked about the choice he had to make, Garrett proves a lot less adept than Morgan and just answers a different question. Previously silent J'Tia is a nuclear engineer so this makes her the woman with the shelter plan? She expects she's the smartest person there and looks forward to coaching everybody on how to make her shelter. The problem? J'Tia has a plan, but nobody with the physical skill to accomplish her orders, so Super-Smart Tasha is already complaining about bossiness. “I don't appreciate her attitude,” Kass says and soon she's conspiring with David to trade J'Tia for a group of midlevel prospects. Wait. No. They're conspiring to get rid of her. It doesn't help that J'Tia's shelter is not well built.
My kingdom for Giancarlo Stanton. Our first challenge is like an elaborate game of Mousetrap. It starts with a cart that has to be maneuvered through an obstacle course. Advantage Team Brawn! Then, however, the cart has to be taken apart and a puzzle has to be solved. Advantage Team Brains! Then they have to flirt with Jeff Probst until he blushes and looks away. Advantage Team Beauty! They're playing for a busy Immunity Idol for two teams. And they're also playing for a fire-making kit for first place and flint for second. The teams are all neck-and-neck for a long while, but Brawn pulls ahead with Brains a little bit behind, exactly as you might expect if you were feeling stereotype-y. I hadn't noticed how tough the last part of the pre-puzzle segment is. The Brain tribe just falls apart and Brawn has a big lead. Jeff Probst is, as you would expect, contemptuous of the ungainly nerds. “One of the worst performances out of the gate in the history of 'Survivor,'” Probst taunts. Is there any chance of a Brains comeback? Please? “Pound it a little bit,” is J'Tia's only advice. “Trade for a Single-A pitcher!” is David's only advice. Out of nowhere, Beauty pulls ahead and tames the Beast! Brawn finishes second. Brain Tribe sucks. Now, barring twist, they'll do what so many “Survivor” tribes have done to start seasons: Vote out the African-American woman.
David only knows how to get rid of his *best* players, not his *worst*.Team Brains returns to camp. They realize now that they can't be cocky. Tasha blames everyone. “We're book-smart, but when it comes to playing this game, we're dumb,” Tasha says. David and Kass are, again, thick as thieves. David wants to get rid of Garrett again, especially because he doesn't know what Garrett is doing on the Brains Tribe. Kass, however, wants J'Tia out. With absolute candor, Kass tells J'Tia that she's deadweight and it's time to scramble. J'Tia thinks she was motivating and not lazy and she cries. Garrett, however, reassures J'Tia that she's fine and that they should all vote David out. Spencer is good to vote David off, but he worries that they haven't heard about an Idol, so he wants J'Tia out because it's simple. Garrett knows David doesn't have an Idol, but he isn't sure if he has to bluff and vote J'Tia out to protect his poker face or something.
Tribal Council No.1. In this game, fire represents life! Garrett hates spiders. J'Tia begins by saying she's in trouble and goes on the offensive immediately. She handles it well, apologizing for being bossy and making jokes about her shelter failures. “If I'm talking too much, tell me to shut up,” J'Tia says, as rain begins to fall. David is put on the spot to defense picking Garrett, so David says something about not dithering. Garrett is confident and David agrees the confidence is well-placed. J'Tia says David should be the target if it's not her. David says, “Jose Fernandez won the Rookie of the Year last year!” Or not.
The Vote, No.1. “In the real world, I may hire you, but in this world, not tonight,” David says, writing J'Tia's name and suggesting the Marlins might be in need of a nuclear engineer. Probst tallies: J'Tia. David. J'Tia. David. David. DAVID. “Unbelievable,” he says. What? The President of the Marlins doesn't understand how prioritizing long-term hypothetical strategy in a win-now game could backfire? At least he'll have a Top 5 pick in the next “Survivor” draft. “The tribe just doesn't have it together or they have it together just against me,” he says.
“Survivor” would be great, were it not for all the surviving. The next morning at Team Brains, Garrett is happy to get rid of David, but he's whining about how he isn't having fun. “It's not like a cool adventure for me,” he complains. “I don't want to play 'Survivor' to survive in the wilderness,” says a man who has apparently never watched the game he's playing. It turns out that in his poker world, Garrett is regularly served chicken and vegetables. He's weirdly specific about that. Garrett and Spencer are prepared to vote out a girl next time, any girl. Kass feels blindsided, but she also knows that she's the swing vote. Garrett and Spencer offer her Final 3 and they shake on it, which she calls “a stupid handshake.”
Batman and Pippen. Is anybody else feeling like it's been too long since we saw Team Beauty? I agree. Instead, we're going fishing with Team Brawn, which Cliff Robinson has been “inching at the bit” to do. Cliff thinks that Woo is going to be his wingman, the Robin to his Batman, the Pippen to his Jordan. They cement their pack by capsizing the boat. Sarah decides that Cliff is likable. Lindsey loves him. Uh-oh. Kiss of death. Tony isn't feeling the same passion for his tall comrade.
Country Folk Alliance. Brice thinks that everybody on Team Beauty is playing dumb. He thinks Alexis is over-relying on being cute, but he can't quite figure out Jefra, who really wants to talk about her bodily functions. Morgan figures she's successfully got Jeremiah in her back pocket, talking about being from the Silicon Valley, which would probably be a euphemism, except that she seems to be all-natural. Brice has decided to play wingman so that Jeremiah can spend time with Morgan. “I feel like we need to be the brains of the operation,” Brice tells Morgan and Jeremiah, as they make a Country Folk alliance.
I've gotta admit, “Malnu-Trisha” is mean, but kinda clever. Team Brawn is gathering wood, but Trish doesn't think Lindsey is doing her share of the gathering. Lindsey is not a fan of “Malnu-Trisha,” even developing an impressively cruel Trisha impression. “I'm from Boston, Mass. She hasn't met me yet. Because if I really snapped on her, she'd still be crying right now,” Trish says of Lindsey. Tony and Trish align. Tony's building a Spy Shack. I don't understand how he thinks this is going to work, but Tony is eying Cliff as the lead lion in the pride and he wants to take him out.
Blood and Brawn. Immunity is back up for grabs. The challenge begins with a swim to an underwater bamboo cage. Each cage hold fish traps, which contain “a very complicated” fish puzzle. They're also playing for Reward. Wanna know what they're playing for? A fishing kit and some spices. The second place team gets some hooks and lures. Cliff and Brice sit out the challenge. Because of J'Tia's weak swimming, Brain Tribe struggles here as well. The fish traps are heavy, but Garrett somehow finds his physicality and becomes dominant, leading Brains to a surprisingly huge lead as they reach the puzzle. Sarah and Tony are bleeding, but Brawn is a reasonably close second, with Beauty struggling. Sarah's impressive at puzzling and Brawn takes control and finishes first! J'Tia is dismal and suddenly LJ moves into second. “Are they still working on them puzzle? I think I'm on the wrong tribe,” Sarah tells Jeff, whose contempt for Brains couldn't be more obvious. LJ finishes! Brains is going to Tribal. Wow. Let's just send J'Tia packing, because that was weak-sauce. “I feel like I let my tribe down,” J'Tia says.
Call him Sutton Foster, cuz he's a Tony winner! Because it's hard to imagine Brains is going to do much strategizing, we actually return to Brawn. Everybody respects Sarah and Sarah respects that they solved the puzzle through a sea of blood. It's a nice Reward basket that they received, but Tony is sure it has to contain something Immunity-related. And he's right. It's a clue and he's confident he knows where to look. He rushes off and, very swiftly, he has the Idol. “I'm king of the jungle!” he says repeatedly.
Nuclear standoff. There isn't much doubt that J'Tia should be going home next. Garrett suggests openness and honesty and puts Kass on the spot. Showing, again, her honestly, Kass tells J'Tia that it has to be her. They have an actual open forum where the guys and Kass all agree that J'Tia is the target, but Tasha wants no part of this. She wants to scheme and backstab and she doesn't like Garrett telling her she can't scheme. “This is 'Survivor,' you go talk,” Tasha tries saying. “I don't want to do that anymore!” Garrett whines. “Then quit!” Tasha instructs him. “If you didn't want to play the game how it should be played, get out of here,” Tasha tells us.
Nuclear meltdown. After a commercial, we're EXACTLY where we left off. J'Tia isn't prepared to roll over. “Garrett. You're an idiot. What are you doing? You're a first-class grade-a moron at 'Survivor,'” Spencer sighs to the camera. So Tasha scrambles on her own. “Why can't I be top dog? I can make it happen,” Tasha posits. But not flipping can be flopped without Kass. They leave J'Tia alone, which doesn't seem like such a bad idea until J'Tia decides she might as well burn this whole thing to the ground. Semi-literally. Calling herself the mental patient who shouldn't have been left alone, J'Tia dumps all of their rice in the fire. “See what happens when you leave crazy people alone?” she says. Ummm. Well, that was weird. “Who poured rice on the fire,” Kass asks, as if there were multiple suspects. This is not what Garrett wanted. People bring him chicken and vegetables. CHICKEN AND VEGETABLES! “How did we come up with the criteria for Brains? I'd like to see that data,” Kass cracks. Well. OK. This will not be a suspenseful Tribal Council.
Tribal Council, No.2. The conversation goes very much as you'd expect, with criticisms of both J'Tia, but also the open forum discussion. Because it's what J'Tia does, she candidly confesses the rice-dumping. “Not my best moment. Not at all,” J'Tia says. “She's volatile,” Tasha says. “There's a reason blindsides work, it's not because they're fun, it's because they're effective,” Probst explains. J'Tia feels like Garrett spanked her butt in front of everybody. “Jeff, I feel like my game is being stifled right now,” Tasha complains, on the verge of tears. The Garrett/Kass/Spencer alliance is outed by Garrett, who is a really dumb Brains guy. Tasha is pissed off. Spencer is annoyed. Probst is incredulous. “I have no idea what is about to happen. It's been very enlightening and it's been crazy,” Probst says.
The Vote, No.2. Spencer and Garrett still vote for J'Tia, who votes for Garrett. Nobody plays an Idol. Probst tallies: J'Tia. Garrett. J'Tia. Garrett. GARRETT!!!! HAHAHAHA. Oh, good times. Spencer is stunned and practically ready to follow Garrett out the door. “This is the oddest tribe I've ever seen,” Probst says.
Bottom Line, Part 1. Like Super-Smart Tasha, I'm curious about the criteria used to select the Brains Tribe. That was as silly a bit of mutually assured destruction as you'll ever see on “Survivor.” There's no way that if you're David, you select Garrett in that first selection. How can you? You don't know what you're selecting and you have to at least consider the possibility that you want your tribe to win challenges. You need to pick somebody who you can politely justify picking and who doesn't have throbbing neck veins and a glower suggesting he'll get revenge. Immediately. Gender and strength are always the easiest and fastest things to align around in “Survivor” and David put himself in an immediately weak position and paid the price. As you do. And then Garrett turned around and literally couldn't have done more things wrong. Well, that's not true. He could have also cost his team the challenge. J'Tia did that 100 percent on her own, being unable to swim or do puzzles. But the open forum, followed by abandoning J'Tia, followed by outing and alienating his alliance, followed by not whipping out the Idol the second he realized there was even a slight chance that he might be in trouble. I guess Garrett needs his chicken and vegetables to maintain any semblance of intelligence? But he really just never wanted to play “Survivor.” He wanted to play… I dunno. Maybe “Big Brother”? Or maybe he just wanted to be on the World Series of Poker. So David and Garrett both did everything wrong and now Team Brains is just about the weakest team you could ever put together. They're one scrawny guy, one seemingly strong woman, one middling woman and one massive liability going back to a camp without rice? That's pretty dire. But if they'd voted out J'Tia, as they really probably had to, they were going to go back to camp with one strong guy who was only going to get deader and deader in the keys as his hunger grew. The Brains Tribe was always going to have zero margin for error, because even if “Survivor” hasn't given an advantage to brute force and athleticism for a long time, you can only take advantage of the puzzle-heavy “Survivor” balance if you succeed at the thing you're supposed to succeed at. I feel a little bad for Spencer, who made a stupid alliance and then couldn't do anything about it, but only a little bad, because Garrett didn't even have to lie about his decision back at the camp and everybody just accepted it. Lame.
Bottom Line, Part II. There's fun stuff happening over at Team Brawn, with the peculiar spyshack, Tony's pointless professional lie, everybody's crush on Cliff Robinson and the possibility that Trish may know some people in Southie capable of having Lindsey whacked. I can root for Cliff. He's a goof. And I like Sarah some, though I'd like her more if she were 100 percent convinced that Tony was lying to her, rather than just thinking things aren't quite right.
Bottom Line, Part III. I give Morgan credit for fast thinking about the Idol clue and being able to lie to her Beauty tribemates, not that she's lying to geniuses. And I give Brice credit for smartly playing wingman and getting himself in solid position. I don't get why Brice is in the Beauty tribe, mind you. And I don't get why Alexis is in the beauty tribe. Neither of them is unattractive at all, but if you're pretending that there's any purpose whatsoever in the three-way tribal division, the people in Beauty need to be capable of moving mountains, or at least convincing people to move mountains for them. Brice could prove very, very successful in this game, but it's going to be by using his brains, not his beauty. Probably swapping Brice and Garrett would have gone a long way towards making some sense of this season. Something probably had to be done about Trish as well. I get that “Survivor” liked the alliteration, but “Brawn” doesn't just mean “strong.” It implies muscularity. I know that Pilates makes you crazy strong in certain ways, but even if Trish is “strong” and even if she would say that “physicality” is her greatest attribute, Tony is brawny, Trish is not.
Bottom Line, Part IV. I don't think the season was cast as purely as it would have been if they'd decided the Brains/Brawn/Beauty twist far enough in advance. That, unfortunately, renders the core twist a little bit moot and instead we just have one really pathetic, weak tribe against two tribes that look very close to “Survivor” Business As Usual. But we've also had a couple seasons in a row in which random reshuffling led to tribes of wildly disproportionate strengths. So, no big different. However, there's a great relief to a season without any returning players, where we can watch people do stupid and inexperienced things and not feel like they should know better. Tonight felt much more like “real” “Survivor” than anything we've seen for a long time, even if we might have seen lots of instances of better-played “Survivor.” We had two episodes and we got two blindsides, including one blindside of a guy with an Idol. And the other guy with an Idol, Tony, found it the old-fashioned way, with a clue he was smart enough to identify, rather than just going around poking his hand in every tree. So that was a good start to the “Survivor” season, in my book, even if Beauty/Brawn/Brains is a MacGuffin.