Semi-notable fact: “Survivor” hasn’t aired an episode without Russell Hantz since May 17, 2009. Leaving aside whether you loved Russell or hated him, that’s a long time in “Survivor”-Land and it seemed worth acknowledging.
Now, on to the premiere of “Survivor: Nicaragua” after the break…
Pre-credit sequence. Welcome to Nicaragua. Remote! Mysterious! Dangerous! Or that’s what Jeff Probst tells us. Then he references the eternal struggle between ancient rain forests and young, active volcanos. Oh, Jeff. We know you’re not talking about rain forests and volcanos at all. The first contestant we hear from is floppy-haired Jud, who could be Hayden from “Big Brother’s” floppy-haired younger brother. Jud is amazed that, unlike zoos, there aren’t any fences. Duuude. Then, it’s on to our first “Survivor” introduction to football coaching legend Jimmy Johnson, who thinks that winning the show would be great capper to his career. The players have been divided, but not yet by age. Already, Jimmy T has noticed Dan and decided that he’s like a Mafia boss. They haven’t said a word to each other, but already, they’re both ready to go to the mattresses. And somewhere, Mark Burnett is rubbing his hands with malevolent glee. Similarly, Alina has targeted Marty as the kind of guy who looks like he might take a leadership position and she resents him. Again, they haven’t said a word to each other. The last word pre-credits comes from Brenda, I think, who describes herself as “single, single, single” and vows to flirt. Welcome back, “Survivor”!
The Medallion of Poooooooower!!! Jeff welcomes the castaways to a lovely beach. First reactions come from Yve, who says she can tell a lot about people by the way they walk. She doesn’t appear to be talking about Kelly B, but the word “walk” seems like a good time to hear about Kelly B’s amputated leg, which she’s keeping a secret, as if her dark pants aren’t sending up some kind of warning signal. Alleged potential leader Marty is the first guy to recognize Jimmy Johnson, saying he doesn’t understand why he’s here and preferring to have him on the other tribe. Now, Jeff drops first bomb. Something called a Medallion of Power is hidden somewhere and they have to race off to find the darned thing, even if nobody has a clue what it is. The Medallion is up in a tree and the plucky Brenda races to the highest perch and grabs it, earning praise from Jimmy Johnson. Meanwhile, Alina has noticed Kelly B’s limp. Marty’s proud to be on the winning team, but Jeff has to break it to them: People 40 and over go to one side. People 30 and younger go to the other. Several of the younger guys are bitter at missing out on Jimmy Johnson. Chase, in particular, thinks that “The Antiques” have the best coach possible. The older tribe is Espada and the younger tribe is La Flor, but seriously, are we going to call them anything other than “Young” and “Old”? No. No we are not. Brenda has a choice: She can either trade the Medallion of Power for fire and fishing gear, or she can keep it for later. What they don’t keep, the other tribe gets. Everybody on the Young tribe seems to want to keep the purely hypothetical power. Everybody on the Old tribe wants fire and fish. But before we learn their decision… Commercial!
Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Give a man a Medallion of Power and… who the heck knows? Despite the vocal early chatter, the Youngsters take the fire and fishing gear, meaning the Medallion of Power goes over to the Ancients. “We’ve got power, whatever it means,” Jimmy Johnson says. Dude-Shannon, a Youngster, reckons there’s no chance the Ancients will be able to compete in challenges, so he’s happy to cast off the nebulous “power.” The tribes now split, making this recap much easier for me.
Jane’s got Specs appeal. We begin with the Ancients, who begin their introductions by celebrating how weird it is to have Jimmy Johnson around. Jimmy, for his part, admits that he’s in a position with much less control than when he won his Super Bowls and National Titles, but he’s still prepared to play on his notoriety. He’s a bit worried about Redskins and Eagles fans. The first alliance forms between Holly, a swim team coach, and the admittedly sheltered Wendy. They’re already pledging loyalties. Wendy understands goats better than people and all she wants to do is avoid being voted out first. Even her husband is certain Wendy’s getting voted out first. Also out to disprove doubters is Jane, who takes a pair of glasses and heads to the beach hoping to make fire. She recently lost her husband and wants to pay off her farm. It’s hard not to respect Jane as she does, indeed, succeed in making fire, almost immediately. Suddenly the Ancients are dancing and celebrating.
I can’t believe it’s not butter. And the Youngsters? Well, it’s just like an instant Greek Row. They’re smiling, bonding and getting into trouble. Shades of “Jackass,” Jud gets an enormous splinter in his foot, yanks it out and high-fives everybody to celebrate his awesomeness. Right on! Then Jud goes and tries grabbing a crab and somehow gets the claw stuck on his finger. Right on! And they’re letting this guy, who they call Fabio, carry a Machete? “Dude, I don’t care what they call me,” laughs Fabio. Because Fabio’s a joke, Dude-Shannon and Chase are off bonding over their mutual strength. They want to form an Alpha Male alliance, with Dude-Shannon pointing out that Boston Rob and Russell could have run the game last season. Dude-Shannon observes, “It’s important that we don’t let these girls take over. I mean, we already get owned in marriage. Pretty soon we’ll have a woman president. But a guy needs to sack up and we need to win this.” And with that, we have the season’s first douche! Take a bow, Dude-Shannon!
Put your best (or only) foot forward. We’re sticking with the Youngsters, because it’s time for Kelly B to come out of the one-legged closet. She’s paranoid and self-conscious, so she calls a team meeting. She pulls down her black track pans and shows off her prosthesis. Everybody high-fives her, much as they would Jud for stubbing his toe or getting a pot stuck on his head. Dude-Shannon is moved by Kelly’s strength, but he knows that the further she lasts, but more likely she is to snag sympathy votes. Dude-Shannon wants Kelly out already.
Gut check for Jimmy. Over at the Camp of the Ancients, they’re still patting each other on the back for making fire. That’s the good side, but darkness comes from Jimmy Johnson off to the side puking after overexerting himself. Stop cheering, Eagles fans! The next morning, Jimmy Johnson begins by complaining about the ants, lack of sleep and the general discomfort. As the world’s smallest violin plays on the soundtrack, Jimmy tells us that despite watching every second of “Survivor,” he never imagined the game was difficult. Guess what, Jimmy? I’ve watched every second of “Hard Knocks,” so I’m pretty sure I could play in the NFL!
Gimme a C! Gimme an H! Gimme a U! Gimme an M! Gimme a P! What’s that spell? CHUMP! Jimmy Johnson is all anybody can talk about, even the Youngsters. Chase’s unabated man-crush gets a new angle when he discovers that not only does Brenda know who Jimmy Johnson is, but she used to cheer for the Dolphins. She’s just gone from hot to mega-hot and Chase is ready to make an alliance, if you know what I mean. But… But… But… What about Dude-Shannon’s Sterilize The Women Alliance? Chase acknowledges that he hadn’t planned on balancing multiple alliances, but there he is. As for Brenda, she’s just amused at how quickly Chase started spilling his guts to her. After Russell’s dominance in the field of Immunity Idol discovery, we’ve changed the process: Alina and Kelly B find a set of hieroglyphics that may or may not lead them to an Idol. They’re stumped and decide to hide the clue, forcing Alina into an alliance she doesn’t want to be in.
What? You wanted more Jimmy Johnson? Good! The Coach, already looking on the verge of death, retrieves the first challenge tree-mail and decides that this is the moment for one of his patented motivational speeches. He begins by making a compelling pitch: He can’t win the million bucks. No jury will give him the prize. So his goal is to help somebody else, specifically one of the Ancients, win the million bucks. Soon, everybody is cheering for JJ and his altruism!
The Ancients have no trouble with their flow, but they’re easily puzzled. The Youngsters dance their way to the challenge, ending with a sassy pose. Jeff Probst rolls his eyes. Immunity hinges on using gutter pieces to fill buckets of water, which will then bring down a set of puzzle pieces. Time to reveal the power of the Medallion of Power. In this case, it gives them what is effectively a 20% lead in bucket-filling, should the Ancients use it. With Jimmy J and Jimmy T leading the way, the Ancients decide to make a statement by holding onto the Medallion. The Ancients are correct that there’s no reason why age should play a role in bucket-filling and soon, Jeff is announcing “The older tribe, with a great flow!” As the puzzle-making begins, the tribes are basically even. It’s four older women vs four younger women, or as Jeff puts it, wisdom vs. enthusiasm. Sorry, young women. All you can be is “enthusiastic.” The Youngsters finish their puzzle first and win Immunity. Brenda then salts the wounds of the Ancients by saying they should have used the Medallion. Live in the present is her motto. Jimmy Johnson compares this to his second Super Bowl season with the Cowboys, where they lost their first two games. Better, I suppose, than comparing it to his 1-15 first season with the Cowboys.
We must put a stop to Jimmy-on-Jimmy violence. The Ancients return to camp. Jimmy T needs a nap. What’s up with Jimmys and their endurance? But before napping, he takes time to tell everybody else that he’s voting Jimmy Johnson out. Jimmy T cautions his tribemates not to be blinded by starpower. Coincidentally, Jimmy J is off working his starpower for all it’s worth. He thinks that Wendy is the weakest player, though he doesn’t deny he’s a close second. Suddenly, Holly is doubting her alliance with Wendy, who’s back at camp biting her fingernails and lamenting her lack of bonds. Marty tells the camera that he’s sensing a lot of uncertainty, agreeing that Wendy adds little physically, but disputing Jimmy Johnson’s claims that no jury would give him the million.
Tribal council. This season on “Survivor,” fire represents life. And it’s about darned time, too. Jeff greets them and starts by instigating a celebration of Jane, or “Survivor MacGyver.” Jane’s fire-making inspiration? An article Jeff Probst wrote. Kiss up! But good for Jane. Jimmy T, a leader in his own life, puts a target on Jimmy Johnson, dubbing him one of the greatest leaders of all time. JJ promises that he isn’t the boss, though he knows he’s going to have a target on his back every Tribal Council. Jane worries she’s in trouble. Wendy worries she’s in trouble and she’s offended that nobody has asked her age. Ummm… Why the heck would anybody have asked her age? Is she thinking they should have carded her to make sure she’s over 40? Wendy thinks she should have tooted her own horn, but now suddenly she can’t shut up. In fact, even after Jeff says it’s time to vote, Wendy asks for one last trip to the pulpit, nattering for a while about why they should keep her. You can see the eyes glazing over as she gets to the part about the lack of blisters on her feet. The lack of foot blisters was also the centerpiece of my campaign for 4th grade class president back in the day.
The vote. Since we don’t know most of these people, it’s hard to care or make sense of how they’re voting. At least one voter, though, says that he made up his mind to boot Wendy Jo at Tribal Council tonight. Ooops. Time to tally the votes. Wendy. Eve. [Who’s Eve?!?] Wendy. Wendy. Wendy. Wendy. Wendy. Apparently this decision wasn’t a difficult one. Wendy dons her white cowboy had and gallops off without a word to her tribe. I *love* that the Tribal Council exit path appears to be through a graveyard. In her exit, Wendy says that her mistake was changing who she really is and that if she’d been herself, she’d have done better.
Bottom Line: A one-hour premiere isn’t nearly enough time, especially when one player dominated the majority of the conversation and talking-head time. You pretty much had to know that Wendy was going home, because if Jimmy went home, the show would have needed to start again from scratch next week. Instead, we can return for a second episode confident that we know Jimmy Johnson, at the very least. We also know Dude-Shannon is a tool, Fabio is a doof and Kelly B only has one leg and therefore would be unbeatable in a jury vote. That’s not a lot of information about 20 castaways. So I guess I’m relieved we kept Jimmy around, even if he means he’ll be all that anybody can talk about for weeks to come.
What’d you think of the “Survivor: Nicaragua” premiere? Did you think Jimmy Johnson was a distraction?