A pre-pre-credit proposal. Before we start Thursday’s (Feb. 11) two-hour premiere of “Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains,” I want to raise a thought: Would the competition be more fun if, instead of being divided into Tribes of “Heroes” and “Villains,” 10 of each had been selected by the producers and the teams had been integrated with the contestants only knowing they were there for an All-Stars season? Then you could have seen clearly if the Hero approach or the Villain approach was superior. We could have reached a merge with all Villains! Or all Heroes! Either way, the game would have been head-to-head from the beginning. That’s just my thought…
[Now, a full and no-doubt epic recap of “Heroes vs. Villains” premiere is after the break…]
Pre-credit sequence. We’re back in the South Pacific, home of whales and islands and fierce natives, Jeff Probst fetishizes. “Survivor” has had over 300 contestants and now 20 of them are arriving in four military helicopters. Colby! Parvati! Russell! That pale, sarcastic skinny chick! “I’m a villain,” gloats Russell H, who shot this season before he knew that his villainy didn’t even pay off last season. “I think villains are smarter than heroes, because they don’t mind stabbing somebody in the back to get where they want to get.” Unbowed and ego unabated, Coach vows to “slay everyone and trust no one.” Tragically, Tom says he isn’t in the same kind of shape he was in before. And Boston Rob says that if the other contestants are “smaht,” they’ll vote him out first, but they’re never “smaht.” Cirie vows to be “a nice gangsta with a smile.” Cirie may be confused which team she’s representing.
Wow. This is a long introduction. The helicopters are still circling. Rupert’s exciting to be sitting next to Tom and Cirie, gushing, “I’m finally back in the game.” Russell admits to being a little nervous, actually pretending to be impressed with Boston Rob and Parvati. Amanda, hottest “Survivor” contestant ever, says she’s so excited she feels like she might throw up. J.T. is feeling pretty good about being amongst heroes. And why shouldn’t he? Everybody loves J.T., heroes and villains alike. The Heroes are all settled on the beach when the Villains arrive, their chopper blowing sand into the faces of the Heroes. The musical score turns bellicose. Jerri calls herself “The Original Villainess of ‘Survivor,'” but says she’s Mother Theresa compared to her colleagues. Jeff starts by asking Russell how he feels about his notoriety. He’s proud. Boston Rob’s response to his team assignment, “I’m a villain? It’s all in perspective, I guess.” To my mind? Boston Rob is a hero. It’s an honor for Rupert. Tom says his tribe has positive energy, but that nobody is required to stick to their categorization. Jeff Probst’s man-crush on Colby remains amazingly unabated. J.T. jokes about watching some of these people in high school, rocking his trademark “Aw shucks!” charm. The Villains all think they’re Heroes except for Jerri, who arrived with a black hat (in contrast to Colby’s white hat). Boston Rob says the Villains’ advantage is in the strength of their women. Rob needs to look to his right, where Courtney and somebody named “Danielle” are standing.
Our first Reward Challenge, our first blurred nudity and our first injury. We’re rushed into the first Reward Challenge immediately. They’ll square off two-by-two, rushing back and wrestling over bags. Want to know what they’re playing for? It’s the premiere, so we’re guessing “fire.” Stephenie and Cirie go against Parvati and somebody named “Danielle” (I kid, but I still remember nothing about her) for the Villains. Cirie gets the bag first, but Parvati takes her down. There are bikinis and sand flying everywhere. It’s pixelation run amuck. It is, frankly, mighty dirty (take that as you will). Parvati is having particular bikini difficulties, but by the end there are blurred nipples everywhere, difficult to assign different body parts to different women, like Mark Burnett’s version of a Picasso painting. The Villains win, but Stephenie has a dislocated shoulder for the Heroes [Exactly what Courtney was yelling for.]. Candice thinks this may be it for Stephenie. Seriously, Candice? Have you never seen Stephenie play before? She isn’t going anywhere.
Two cracks and a rack, but only one winner. They call in medical for Stephenie’s shoulder. They wrap it up and, with a loud CRACK, they knock it back in. Probst is impressed and probably a bit turned on. Amanda and JT go against Randy and Jerry. I like Amanda. That is all. JT pins Randy and Probst crows, “That’s some country right there.” JT is awesome. We know this. He scores for Heroes and it’s 1-1. Colby and Tom go against Coach and Russell. Surely the Heroes are unbeatable in this one? Russell gets the bag first and then things get brutal. It’s like a scene from “Spartacus: Blood and Sand,” only real. As Russell destroys Tom, Colby drags Coach across the beach. But the effort is too much for Colby, who runs out of energy and gets misdirected by Coach. “Colby getting owned by Coach? Oh my gosh, dude!” Tyson jeers. It’s Candice and Sugar against Sandra and Courtney now. Sugar isn’t really trying to play, but she’s definitely auditioning for her next pin-up calendar. Courtney is like a small, vicious dog, clinging to Candice. In a rare double-takedown, nobody has the bag, but Sugar, bikini top removed in the melee, breaks free and sprints across the beach with the bag and scores for her team in full pixelated glory. ALL-TIME CLASSIC “Survivor” moment as a topless Sugar flips off the woman who stripped her. Rupert and James are paired in another powerhouse for the Heroes. Tyson and Rob are scrappy, but James is too fast and too strong. Heroes win reward! Our second casualty is Rupert, sporting a broken toe. “I felt it cracking inside, but I’m not getting put out of this game over a damn toe,” Rupert growls. “I used to losing with a bunch of dummies, but the difference is this isn’t a bunch of dummies,” Russell drawls.
First challenge tally: One dislocated shoulder. One broken toe. One topless Sugar. One Heroes win. One great opening challenge. Are we excited yet?
One Villain thinks he’s the GOAT. We start at the Villains tribe. They may have lost, but they still have fishing gear and some basic supplies. The bugs are already biting and Russell is already talking about what it will take to be named the best “Survivor” contestant ever promising, “I’m taking this crap serious.” He begins by taking Danielle, who I barely remember, aside and laying out his plan. She goes with her gut and promises to stick with him, for a while at least. Then Russell goes to Parvati and makes roughly the same offer. She knows he’s talking to everybody, but she’s smart enough to know not to go against him, calling it a deal with the Devil. Russell compares himself to Michael Jordan and Michael Phelps, saying he’s above his sport. Russell gives good talking-head, doesn’t he? Like I said, he doesn’t know he lost last season. Would he be playing this differently if he knew?
I’ve gotta crow! The Heroes arrive proud and victorious and Sugar’s bikini top has returned. Rain begins to fall as they go off for a celebratory swim. JT’s loving the first challenge, leading off with Sugar’s toplessness. Colby, though, is disappointed by his own performance. Oddly, Sugar takes a leadership role in the location of their encampment. Leadership and Sugar aren’t necessarily two tastes that go great together. Amanda, who I like, is feeling great about her tribe and their karma. They also have chicken in the camp! Tom, the shark-slayer, spots the assorted poultry. They surround the four chickens and prepare to catch them with their fishing net. Success! That’s pretty amazing. With four chickens to eat, Rupert thinks they might not hit that five-day “Survivor” wall.
The Black Widow and the Dragonslayer?!?!? Spirits are still high at the Villains camp, where they’re mocking Rupert and Stephenie’s injuries. Coach, who won his challenge segment, is the one Villain with trash to legitimately talk. Jerri is surprised by him, promising to “make it a point to get to know Coach.” For his part, Coach is interested in Jerri as “a different type of girl.” The actual surviving begins the next day, but everybody wants to talk about Coach and Jerri, with Russell and Parvati urging Coach to go for it and Courtney and Sandra pushing Jerri in his direction. “Love finds you sometimes and you don’t even know it,” Courtney giggles. Off to the side, Jerri and Coach agree that they have to downplay their romance, or else people will say they’re in love.
The ties that bind. How about over at the Heroes camp? Any love? Well, JT and James are building a bromance. We all know JT’s true to his alliance-mates, though he admits he could never beat James in the Final Two. Colby and Candice form a bond over not being aligned with anybody previously, handicapping their fellow castaways and the invisible linkages. Amanda has ties with Cirie and James and knows that she’ll have to keep their distance. Old pals Tom and Stephenie sneak way and re-establish their bond. But Tom knows that he can’t go to the Final Two with a non-winner, so he goes to JT and they make a pact. But JT says this season is going to be about showing his dark side, saying “I’m not looking to save my Hero name.” Evil JT? We’re intrigued.
Boston Rob is the Firestarter. The Villains tribe is already suffering from ADHD. They need water, fire and shelter, but only Boston Rob wants to get any work done. “My wife told me to have patience… Ambuh, I’m trying!” Rob sighs. Rob sets to making fire, but Negative Randy discourages him from making the effort. Rob’s having none of it. They get smoke in no time and soon they have a spark. And then a flame. Will it be enough? It is! The Villains have fire. This is why I love Boston Rob! And why Boston Rob never should have been a Villain. Uh-oh. Rob is giving a long speech about how his life has changed since he last did this. That sort of reflection is never a good sign, nor is it good when Coach expresses his admiration for Boston Rob, adding, “I’m bromancing on my Idol.” Russell sees this and he’s concerned at the hero-worship, or concerned at any hero worship wherein he’s not the hero being worshipped.
Rupert is *not* the Firestarter. Rupert, with his broken toe, is looking for ways to contribute, so he takes a stab at fire. It’s harder than it looks, apparently. Poor Rupert. He’s having a tough time in the jungle. It takes almost no time for JT to get a flame. Rupert’s worried and in pain. This is an odd, disheartened Rupert, not the one we know and love.
Tree of life. Why do the Villains look like the team on the winning streak? They got fire. They’re climbing trees. Danielle warns Boston Rob that Amber wouldn’t want him scaling a true. He agrees and decides to prod Coach into making his way up the tree, with Boston Rob and Sandra making side bets. “That’s someone I can see myself aligning with until it’s time to cut his throat,” Sandra says.
Just a spoonful of Sugar goes a long way.The Heroes sleep soundly, except for Sugar. Poor Sugar needs a protector, but she hasn’t chosen which of the “sexy young men” will be that protector. So she starts conversing with the sleeping men, targeting a disinterested Colby as her cuddle-buddy. “She’s becoming a bit annoying,” Colby declares.
Winner, winner, chicken dinner. At the Heroes camp, they’re debating on which chicken to eat. They’re going to keep the ones who produce eggs and turn the others into dinner. JT, he’s gangsta. He gives the chicken’s neck a quick turn, prompting a hilarious shaggy dog story from James about his great-grandmother. They’re happy with their stew and with what Colby calls their “sustainability.”
A puzzling reversal of fortune. Immunity Challenge time. The Heroes boast about their chickens, leaving the Villains grumbling about their shelter (and not mentioning their fire). The task involves the creation of a boat, paddling out to a point in the water, coming back and assembling a puzzle. It’s a busy task, one borrowed from the Cook Islands season, meaning that Parvati and Candice both have experience. The Heroes finish their boat first and, working together, they build a solid lead, lighting their torch out on the water. After the Villains make their boat, Probst gets in a crack about all of Coach’s “life experience on a kayak.” The Heroes start on the four-layer puzzle first. Boston Rob and Sandra begin making up time on the puzzle, as Amanda and Cirie struggle. The Heroes have to scrap their puzzle and start over again, as the body language swings dramatically. The Villains finish their puzzle, build their ladder and win the first Immunity Challenge. Sugar begins to cry. If Sugar is voted out first, it would be one of the biggest in-episode swings in “Survivor” history and that’s the way things seem to be heading, as Colby says, “Losing her, we’re gonna miss… Yeah. I don’t think we’re gonna miss much.”
The Villains feel Heroic. The Villains return to camp triumphant, putting the Idol in a place of honor. Boston Rob proposes they just have a nice night, without anybody trying to cut anybody’s throat. They try guessing at the alliances over at Heroes. “The Heroes got their asses handed to them,” Russell cackles, adding later, “They’re over there being Villains.”
UM, NO. *NOT* AMANDA. Rupert hopes that the loss does nothing to their momentum. Other than losing a playing and losing all momentum, you mean? For some reason, the general consensus, raised by Sugar, is that Amanda should go first. Ummm… WHY?!? This makes no sense. And yes, I’m only protesting because, um, I like Amanda. [To be fair, I acknowledge that Amanda contributed nothing to the puzzle and visibly gave up at the end of the challenge. I’m prejudiced, but I’m not stupid.] Sugar, still crying, is relieved that nobody’s talking about her and feels pretty good that she’ll survive to see another day. But while JT agreed with Sugar’s Amanda suggestion to her face, now he goes to Colby and they agree it’s Sugar going. Stephenie agrees. Everybody agrees. Tom agrees initially, but then determines that maybe Cirie should go first, because she’s “just a brilliant strategist.”
Amanda’s out for blood. Tom is still advocating against Cirie with one group. In a different group, though Candice, Cirie and Amanda decide they want to break Stephenie and Tom up. Amanda half-heartedly agues that Stephenie can help them in more challenges that Sugar would, but she acknowledges that Stephenie’s got game, strategically. Amanda says that she and Cirie are out for blood.
Tribal Council. Hmmm… I feel like fire ought to represent something. Could fire represent something? “In this game, as you know, fire represents you life,” Jeff explains. Thanks, Jeff! The Tribal set-up is on a 40-foot-high structure, without a roof. Jeff asks how big a factor prior relationships are. Tom insists that he’s not worried and everyone has a clean slate. Sugar disagrees. How about past success? Is that a factor? Amanda makes a joke about blowing two seasons on the Final Tribal Council, emphasizing that she’s not one of the people who won. Jeff tries making Cirie out to be a threat, but Cirie points out that they’re all threats. Stephenie says her vote is against the person she thinks is the weakest. Cirie and Sugar try saying that nobody should be voted out because they blew the puzzle, but they kinda would say that. Candice gives noncommittal answers to several questions. That’s going to be her strategy and I bet it takes her far.
The Vote. Sugar can’t figure out how to use the magical pen, but we don’t see whose name she writes down. We don’t see whose name *anybody* writes down. Does that mean that a strange surprise is coming? The first vote? Sugar. The second? Sugar. The third? Sugar. The fourth? Sugar. Amanda picks up a vote. Sugar gets her fifth and she knows it’s over. Apparently a consensus developed why we were away. Farewell, Sugar. You’ll always have the season’s first great topless moment.
Bottom Line: A very promising start to the All-Stars season. We had a rambunctious first challenge with nudity and broken bones. We had the development romance between The Black Widow and the Dragonslayer. We had Boston Rob making fire. And we had the tragic fall of a hero. This was the rare two-hour episode that didn’t feel long at all.
What’d you think of the start of “Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains”?