Pre-credit sequence. The teams are arriving in trucks, practically “Wages of Fear” style. Are they trying to say that this season's contestants are combustible? They're TNT, dyno-MITE? The 18 castaways have been divided semi-arbitrarily into three tribes based on occupation and outlook on life, whatever that means. Up first? The White Collar tribe. “They're used to being in charge,” Jeff Probst says. So admits she might be the Devil, says that she's demanding and makes her underlings cry. Max, who everybody I follow on Twitter knows from his “Survivor” teaching days, says that he's willing to use people to succeed. Carolyn compares this to her corporate experiences. The Blue Collar tribe is next. “They're used to hard work and physical labor,” Probst says condescendingly. He resists calling them “salt of the earth” and “just folks.” Mike is used to being covered in oil and mud and wants to get his hands filthy. Lindsey is a single mom and hair stylist and tells us that mentally, there's no one on this Earth who is as strong as she is, which is absurd, but amusingly so. Monkey! Dan is living his dream and he hopes to being remembered. For something. As for the No Collar Tribe? It means nothing! “They use their free-spirit mentality to further themselves in life,” Probst says. Jenn does what she wants to do when she wants to do it and she wants a million bucks. Hali is a law student, but she's in it for “like the poor, broken down people.” How freely spirited! And Vince seeks truth as a coconut vendor. “My personality's a lot like surfing a wave,” Vince promises. Whoa. Lord, this is so silly. Joaquin is in this for the bling. Joe wants people to think he's there to enjoy the beaches, but he's not. “When it comes to the competition, I'm filet mignon and they're a bunch of Steak-umm,” opines alleged meathead Rodney. This reminds me that I'm hungry.
And what about collard greens? The trucks rattle up, as the castaways begin to size each other up. Shirin has wanted to be on “Survivor” since she was 16, but says this is fate after 10 years of “Survivor” rejection. Probst explains the questionable tribal divisions, telling each tribe about themselves. Tyler agrees that he enjoys authority and setting team goals. [If you remember, Tyler is an “ex-talent agent's assistant.” This is what counts as “white collar” and what counts as “authority” even though there's nobody in the universe with less authority than a talent agent's assistant unless it's a FORMER talent agent's assistant.] Probst explains to Blue Collar that they're used to following rules. “We built the heart of America,” Dan says. “The winner of the show is on this mat,” Lindsey predicts. Probst tells the No Collars that they tend to break the rules. Vince loves the description and feels like he's with his family. “It's that free smile,” Vince says. Rodney moves furniture and says he moves things that the lazy people don't want to move. Rodney tells us, though, that he's actually a hustler and a salesman. White Collar Carolyn insists that she works hard and has a free spirit despite the color of her collar. “My 9-to-5 doesn't define who I am,” suited Joaquin says.
Hoagies and grinders. Hoagies and grinders. Somebody has to represent each tribe. Max knows that you don't want to take a leadership position early and Joaquin is sent to represent White Collar. Blue Collar sends Dan out, though he knows it's a double-edged sword. White Collar hems and haws. “Big surprise. They're having a hard time deciding on anything,” Max says. Will takes the duty for No Collar, promising sandwiches. “Using what?” an incredulous Jeff says, but Will insists that he'll be delivering sandwiches. Will apparently was a YouTube sensation last year. Oh. Now, Joaquin, Dan and Will have to choose a second person to join them. So volunteers to join Joaquin. Mike volunteers to join Dan. And Will picks Jenn. Probst tosses scrolls, but says that each pair will have a choice to make later. “To me, class has nothing to do with it. To me, it's 'Survivor' warfare,” Carolyn says.
Better lock it in your pocket. “Survivor” isn't bothering to ID the tribes with their “native” names, so I'm certainly not. So we start with No Collar. Hali is hoping to just let it flow. Groovy, baby. Nina is deaf, but has implants. She knows she's going to have a disadvantage, but is still determined. Out in the woods, Will and Jenn find a pile of barrels/crates/goods. There are two signs: Deceive and Honest. “Deceive” lets them take a small supply of beans back to camp, along with an Immunity Idol clue. “Honest” gives them a large bag of beans. [Am I wrong that the parts of speech are wrong? Shouldn't it be “Honesty” and “Deception”? Or… “Deceive” and… a verb relating to honesty?] Who the heck would choose “Deceive”? They don't hesitate and take “Honest” and the big bag of beans. If you're an individual, maybe you choose to get a clue, but two can keep a secret if one of them is dead. But the Blue Collar pair is less sure. “My heart says you want to be a good guy, but villains win this game,” Dan says with only partial accuracy. Dan agrees it's too early to be a villain and after some deliberation, they agree to take the beans. “You have to focus on trying to build that camaraderie,” Dan says. Mike and Dan tell their fellow Blue Collar-ites about their choice and their altruism, but naturally this blows up in their faces. Sierra is skeptical that what they brought back was a full bag and now she distrusts them. “The bag should be three-times the size,” Sierra tells Lindsey. Dan juggles.
Stuck in Neutral. Over at White Collar, they do introductions. “We're not ashamed of being White Collar,” Carolyn says, impressed with their efficiency. And then So and Joaquin go off to make their decision. Joaquin doesn't hesitate and says that they're taking Deceive, that the only question is what they tell everybody. And So doesn't doesn't necessarily disagree, but announces that they'd be in an alliance. “Who the hell is honest?” Joaquin ponders. So isn't so sure about trusting Joaquin, saying she may be making a deal with the Devil. This is confusing, because So already told us that she IS the Devil. Walking back, they make up a story, which So already know could destroy her game immediately. The story is: There were *three* boxes, Honest, Deceive and Neutral and they chose Neutral. “We wanted to pick Honest, but…” So explains. Carolyn doesn't trust So and Joaquin, assumes they have a clue to an Idol, but she says that she can't be upset with them, because she'd have done the same thing. Max doesn't believe them, neither does Shirin, who decides to scurry to find an alliance early, hugging out a pact with Carolyn. She figures Max is a “hipster-academic type” and brings him in quickly for a group of three.
“Scorpion,” starring Kat McPhee, airs Mondays on CBS. Blue Collar has crabs! In a good way! To eat! “We'll find a way. That's what we do,” Dan says. And, indeed, Blue Collar makes fire in a hurry. Rodney and Lindsey bond over tattoos. This gives Rodney a way to tell the story of his sister's murder. “We will be your family,” Lindsey says. Rodney's strategy? Get the girls and be their leader. Mike kills a scorpion and decides it will be a source of protein and he eats it. “Bam. Down the hatch. It tasted like crap,” Mike says. And minutes later, Mike is regretting his pro-protein strategy. Ha. “I'm the type of person, if I see an opportunity in front of me, I'm gonna go grab it,” Mike says. [Wait. What happened to the crab? Did nobody eat it? That's a tease.]
If he doesn't have a collar, what's stopping blood-flow to Vince's brain? The No Collar tribe is doing a salutation to their first coconut of the season, led by Vince. “Everything's going great. We're meshing and flowing smoother than hot butter,” Jenn says. Vince is emotionally secure and physically secure around Jenn. And Jenn relates to Vince's feathers in his hair. Vince tells Jenn that she's a kindred spirit and they can go all the way together. This is… ummm… beautiful. “He's everything I expected him to be. And more, maybe,” Jenn tells us. “One of my greatest weaknesses is my intense attraction to women,” Vince admits. “When I want something, I get it,” he adds. Jenn, for her part, is at least a little cautious around Vince, but is determined to smile and nod for now. But Vince isn't just looking for love. He's also hoping to commandeer the construction of shelter, which leaves Joe, who formally worked in construction, worried. “I'm not a big fan of someone telling me to do something that I know is wrong,” Joe says, distinctly un-No Collar. “It sprung a huge red flag,” Vince admits.
Dan, Not-So-Champion of the World. Perhaps because Jeff Probst tells me that Blue Collar people have to be told what to do, the Blue Collar tribe is bickering over their shelter possibilities and Dan is getting frustrated and snotty with Lindsey. “He's the one person who doesn't belong,” Lindsey tells us. Dan is impressively obnoxious with the ladies and his lack of social skills perplexes Kelly, also on the older side. Everybody is laughing at Dan, who senses he's in a bad position. Rodney calls Dan “Harry Potter's grandfather” and everybody conspires against him. I don't know what it is that Rodney thinks he's talking about, but maybe we can ask some White Collar or No Collar people about that later. Which collars read YA novels, Jeff Probst? Mike tries telling Dan that he still has a friend in him.
Keep it off my wave. Joe tries making fire without flint and Jenn is initially disbelieving, because Jeff Probst didn't mention that this ability was in the skillset of a No Collar. Joe is forced to pretend that he got the knowledge off of a YouTube video, probably because that's the thing that makes him sound less White Collar. Soon, they're flirting and Jenn's saying that Joe should be on the cover of a romance novel. This is not what Vince wants to hear. Joe has a lot riding on his ability to generate fire and… success! Joe gets hugs aplenty and a glower from Vince, who doesn't want Jenn to ride Joe's wave. Vince takes Jenn aside and asks if she feels more of a connection to Joe. She denies it and claims she has no preference. “I know how to handle him, though, I think,” she says, attempting to coddle Vince, who requires an endless hug. “We smell bad. Do not get this all over my face,” Jenn says.
White Collar criminals. Monkey! White Collar doesn't have fire yet and they also have an embarrassing-looking shelter. Tyler calls it “average” and says they need to find a blue collar work ethic. Nobody has a clue how to make fire. I'm already very disappointed in Professor Max, who ought to have come in with that skill-set. Or maybe he's slow-playing this? Carolyn, meanwhile, is monitoring So and Joaquin, who aren't being especially coy in their Idol hunt. Carolyn knows the kind of places that “Survivor” producers hide Idols and when she sees So looking around trees, Carolyn knows to look not just for trees, but for distinctive trees. And because So and Joaquin are dumb and Carolyn is already impressing me, Carolyn finds the Idol herself. This is perfect, because So and Joaquin will continue to search and everybody else will continue to watch them and Carolyn will just sit on an Idol.
Knot ready for primetime. It's time for our first Immunity Challenge of the season. It's a long obstacle course leading to a ladder that can either be opened with keys from a very full key ring or by untying knots. The ladder leads to another obstacle course. Then they have another choice: A five-piece puzzle, a 10-piece puzzle or a 50-piece puzzle. The puzzles are very different and require somewhat different skillsets. I love this. First two finishers are safe. They're also playing for Reward. Want to know what they're playing for? A firemaking kit for the winners and flint for the second place team. All three teams use the keys. “Nobody took the knots,” a disappointed Probst whines, helpfully reminding them that they can try the knots. White Collar swaps to Knots first, followed by Blue and then No Collars. “All three tribes knot afraid to change it up,” Probst says. Or at least that's how I wanna believe he says it. White Collar gets to the ladder first, with Blue Collar lagging. No Collar picks the 10-piece. White Collar takes 50, which Probst mocks with, “Big surprise for the big brains of White Collar.” Shirin and Joe are puzzling for their tribes. Probst mocks Blue Collar for their ladder skills and Shirin for her puzzle skills, as Blue Collar does the 10-piece as well. Joe, already this season's most impressive contestant by a wide margin races through the 10-piece and No Collar wins. Max asks to swap in for Shirin. Max at least knows what he's doing, but Mike is making up a lot of time on the Blue Collar puzzle. Shirin already knows she's screwed, as Mike finishes. White Collar is heading to Tribal Council. So points the finger at Shirin and Carolyn as the weakest links.
So-so. White Collar returns to camp dejected as the literal buzzards hover. “Do you guys wanna talk about it?” Shirin asks. Carolyn knows that it's going to be a girl and So did well with the knot-untying, so she can point to having been an asset. While So doesn't have a clue what Shirin's name is, her actual target is Carolyn, for playing it too safe. Joaquin is willing to vote Carolyn out as well, but Carolyn has noticed So's conspiring. Joaquin offers his “New York word” that Carolyn is safe, but Carolyn as magical White Collar interpersonal skills and she's worried. Tyler causes trouble by warning Carolyn who, as a sign of trust, tells Tyler about her Idol. She wants So out and Shirin agrees, of course. Max wants to be with the numbers and sees how both Carolyn and So could be liabilities, but needs Tyler to be on-board. For Tyler, it's a question of strength (So is strong) versus integrity (So lied, therefore Carolyn has integrity), but Tyler also knows voting Carolyn out with an Idol is the smartest gameplay. He predicts someone will be shocked.
Tribal Council. In this game? Fire represents life. Probst prods Joaquin to tell the story of the “three” boxes. “There are big holes in that story,” Shirin says, accusing them of dishonesty. “I would have made that same decision probably for myself. I just would have done a better job of lying about it,” Max says. So still thinks she's got a solid alliance of four, with Max, Joaquin and Tyler. “The game is afoot,” Shirin says. “Max and Shirin have been with me since Day One,” Carolyn says. This doesn't look so great for Max, does it? So tells Carolyn that they're voting her out, with Carolyn mocking So's knot-untying. “You didn't step up once at any single challenge,” So says. Carolyn protests that she's just as athletic as anyone else. Rain begins to fall and Max says this is exactly what he was hoping for in his first Tribal Council.
The vote. Carolyn votes for So. So votes for Carolyn, calling her the lesser of two evils, which is either a funny joke or a misinterpreted idiom. Carolyn does NOT play her Idol. Probst tallies: Carolyn. So. Carolyn. So. So. [And that's that.] SO. “Well, there's no doubt that you guys are players. Bigger question is are you good players?” Probst asks. “This moment is absolutely my worst nightmare,” So says. [I like Shirin voting for “So much drama.] She predicts a self-destruction for White Collar after booting an asset.
Bottom Line, Part I. In the “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” spirit, it feels like the White Collar tribe, particularly Tyler, made the wrong call. They know So is a liar, but they also know that she's a bad liar. And Tyler had the added advantage of knowing that Carolyn already had the Idol that So and Joaquin were looking for. By voting out Carolyn, Tyler would have simultaneously sent a player home with an Idol, kept a player he knew was a bad liar and left Joaquin and So with nothing that they'd gained from the lie, because the Idol would be rehidden and presumably Joaquin and So won't have a clue for the new location. Unless Tyler really trusts Carolyn and assumes she's working with him and will help him, he has no reason to have kept her around, especially with Carolyn specifically saying that she'd been in an alliance with two people who weren't him. And I'm not just saying that because So is/was pretty. Unless you figured she was going to flirt her way into better position, So'd already displayed a combination of physical acumen and strategic ineptitude. That seems valuable. To me, at least. I also wonder if people would have configured things differently once they knew that Max was in two alliances, but it was too late to shuffle the vote, or if they'd have kept him anyway because he's a dude. I feel like if Max's double-dealing had been outed sooner, we might have had a complete repeat of the Brains/Beauty/Brawn opening where an inept Brains tribe was willing to sacrifice strength in order to get out an overly aggressive male.
Bottom Line, Part II. Structurally, much of this season still already feels like a repeat of Brains/Brawn/Beauty, which was much too recent for me to feel good about. We already witnessed that a team driven by intellect will have major liabilities in wilderness coping skills and questionable strength, but also that a team of five or six intellectual alphas will have difficulties coming together as complementary pieces in the early going. I really hope that the White Collar tribe turns things around next week, because it would be the most boring of bores if this becomes Loser Luzon Part II. But basically No Collar is Beauty and Blue Collar is Brawn, so I don't know why we went back to this structure so soon.
Bottom Line, Part III. As always, I wish the casting directors decided on a theme before casting rather than retrofitting everybody into idiotic groupings that make no sense. Obviously a few of the people fit into their respective groups, the No Collar tribe is especially absurd. Just because Jenn is going to allegedly represent poor people doesn't mean that she isn't pushing herself toward one of the most structured professions imaginable and just because Joe is a “jewelry designer” now doesn't mean that he isn't a recent college graduate with a lengthy background in organized sports. Depending on what crazy and erratic things Vince, who at least fits with Jeff Probst's concept of No Collar, forces, Joe and Jenn are both well positioned if they make it to a Merge. Yes, it'd be tempting to try to fit them into Amity, Candor, Dauntless or Abnegation, but Joe and Jenn, among other people, are clearly Divergent and we all know that Jeff Probst, like Kate Winslet in that movie, hates Divergents.
Bottom Line, Part IV. I'm glad we got a full 90 minutes for this premiere, both so that I could learn people's names, but also so that Jeff Probst could have 20 minutes to explain the season's theme. I appreciated that there were enough good moments and an interesting enough Immunity Challenge to make for an OK premiere. I hate the BS categorizations, but I know from “Survivor” past that it won't last for long and if White Collar can avoid an early annihilation, maybe we can just start the game new after a Shuffle.
What'd you think of Wednesday's premiere?