Welcome to “Survivor: Caramoan.” It takes three seconds for me to realize I can’t tell the difference between a bushbaby and a spectral tarsier. Based on geography, I’m saying those were spectral tarsiers in the opening. Not that that has anything to do with anything. Oh gracious. What sort of wormhole did I just go down? Oy. Let’s start over again, shall we?
Pre-credit introductions. Bearded Matt, already a pre-show favorite, calls this surreal. Shamar, an Iraq veteran, says that this game (or his competitors) will be lunchmeat. A blonde, I think it’s Allie, says she knows enough about people to make it to the very end. A different, totally indistinguishable blonde, [Laura, I guess?] profiles that because Michael wears glasses, he’s going to be a strategist. Michael thinks Laura looks too young to be out there. Or maybe he thinks that about Allie. Or possibly Hope. Come on! It’s bad enough I can’t tell spectral tarsiers from bushbabies, but differentiating between Hope, Laura and Allie may kill me. Fortunately, speaking of telling people apart, Jeff Probst is reminding us who each of the “favorites” is or was. I remember nothing about two or three of these people and I wouldn’t call more than four or five of them “favorites.” Adorable Andrea helpfully explains that the theme of this season is people who made big mistakes. But if that’s the case, why is CBS calling it “Fans versus Favorites” as opposed to “Newbies versus Ooopsies” or something?
The tribes are Gotye and Theodore Bikel. Crocodile! In the water! The newbies arrive on a boat named after Walt’s dog on “Lost.” Probst tells them they’ll be playing against “favorite” survivors, who arrive via helicopter. Much excitement! Cochran exits first in a sweater vest, followed by Dawn. Nobody seems to care who Corrine is. Nobody reacts to Adorable Andrea. [Fan Sherri is freaking out over EVERYBODY.] Erik gets some excitement, but mostly from Sherri. Nobody could possibly know who Malcolm is. The women instantly are wary of Brenda. Disturbingly, the women are MUCH more wary about Brenda than Psycho Misogynist Brandon. No reaction to Francesca, who is really only there to annoy Former Federal Agent Phillip. “This is lunchmeat right here,” Shamar repeats. The Fans wear orange buffs and they’re Gota. But I’ll never gall them “Gota” again. The Favorites wear purple buffs and they’re Bikal, but I’ll never call them Bikal again.
Ring Cycle. We start with a challenge. It’s a physical task that has players trying to retrieve rings from the water, while the other team tries to stop them. Want to know what they’re playing for? Fire, duh. They’re also getting 20 pounds of beans. That’s a lot of farting. Wait. “Protein.” I meant to type “That’s a lot of protein.” Shamar is fierce and scores the first ring for the Fans, terrifying Erik. The second round? Well, it prompts Probst to yell, “Andrea and Hope going at it,” at which point I’m unable to concentrate. Andrea scores and Brandon beats his chest like a lunatic. The third round is all about Phillip’s pink underwear and Shamar yelling “Break her wrist” to Sherri, tussling with Brenda. Phillip scores, to give the Favorites a lead. With Francesca leading the way, the Favorites take a 3-1 lead. Reynold and Malcolm have an impressive Alpha-off in the next heat. Malcolm introduces everybody to his rear and and wins the first Reward for the Favorites. Brandon tackles Malcolm in celebration.
Gimme shelter. The Fans get transported to their camp. Shamar is disappointed. “It made me realize that I don’t have full control over this game,” Shamar says, though he’d done his part. Julia has brown hair, so I can try to recognize her. They’re short on water, so there’s some disagreement over the importance of shelter versus hydration. Shamar and Reynold are in favor of starting fire and getting water. Matt is angrily in favor of making shelter. Why is Shamar sitting and pouting while other people are making shelter? Already, Matt and Shamar are yelling at each other with real hostility, while Reynold is getting concerned about tribe chemistry. You think?
Hey, did you remember Francesca was voted out first in her season? The Favorites arrive and Dawn becomes the second person this season to call the experience surreal. “My role the first few days is really impression management,” Malcolm observes correctly. Phillip knows he can survive 39 days, so he compares his arrival to his father hitting the beach at Iwo Jima. He’s ready. Spectral tarsier! “I pretty much stand by my initial assessment of him as a crazy person,” Francesca says, hoping that going out first in her season will benefit her. Adorable Andrea, Francesca and Dawn go off to the side immediately and make an alliance and they decide to bring in Cochran and Brandon and Phillip as a six-person alliance. But Francesa has decided she wants to align with everybody this time around, or at least have the potential to align with everybody, so soon she’s chatting with Erik and Brenda and even trying to make nice with Phillip. The Former Federal Agent things Francesca is “stuck in a time warp” and he announces that she still annoys him greatly. “If I am voted off first a second time, I will eat this rock. It’s not gonna happen,” Francesca vows. Gee. Why does this feel like foreshadowing?
So now “Survivor” is just like both Iwo Jima *and* Iraq. Have the Fans begun to become functional? Shamar is still pouting, but people around him are at least trying to make fire. But he’s thinking and contemplating and he’s ready to backseat-fire-build. He comes in at the last minute, re-directs their efforts and joins with Michael to produce ember and, finally, a flame. “It was like being in Iraq and having to get home. It just had to happen,” Shamar says. With fire, Matt and Shamar are suddenly buddies. Yay! We are family!
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, Her Love, The Dominatrix, The Eliminator, The Specialist, The Intelligence Attache and The Malcolm. Phillip has created “The BR Rules,” composed of lessons he learned from Boston Rob: It starts with getting in an alliance and then getting in an alliance-within-an-alliance and then getting rid of your alliance before it gets rid of you. He starts with Corrine and says he wants to target Malcolm and Andrea next. He gives Corrine the nickname “The Dominatrix.” He calls Andrea “The Eliminator.” Phillip remains “The Specialist,” but also “The Undercover Brother.” Malcolm’s game, but what will his nickname be? No answer. But Cochran is “The Intelligence Attache.” Phillip wants Erik as the sixth in his alliance, but worries that Erik might get nervous. Erik immediately resists Phillip’s “With me or against me” ultimatum and IDs the Boston Rob move. “He’s a combative idiot loser who makes everybody crazy,” Erik diagnoses. Oy. Is Phillip going to regret not giving Erik a cool nickname immediately?
Grope-a-Dope. So many monkeys. The Fans, having gotten fire, move on to shelter construction and surreptitious alliance-making. Reynold and Eddie (or possibly Eddie and Reynold) know they’ll be targeted as Alphas and they join forces. Reynold does the same with the blonde I think is Allie and they make a Final 2 deal already. “She kinda flies under the radar. She’s not the cutest. She’s not the anything,” Reynold says of Allie. Ouch. He actually kind means this as a compliment, but it’s a heck of a douchy compliment. That night, Eddie and Hope stare at the stars and make an alliance based entirely upon cuteness. “She’s like a little Southern belle. That’s what I’m looking for,” Eddie leers. Soon, it’s late-night cuddling time. Most people are doing it for warmth, but Reynold and Allie are doing it for groping, as we get to see quite a bit of the music note tattoo on Allie’s hip. “Not a smart move,” Laura says.
Because this is a 90-minute premiere, this gets to be a segment. It’s hot. Cochran and Francesca agree. “I was not aware of how quickly I could become sunburnt,” says Cochran, who inexplicably has gotten sunburnt feet. “Cochran is like a little tomato right now,” Brenda giggles, saying he’s “swollen like a little pregnant lady.” I’d forgotten that I actually did like Brenda. But anyway… Poor Cochran, I guess. “I’m actually in horrible pain right now,” he says. “I can’t be the same freak I was last night,” Cochran says, vowing to show more confidence and swagger.
Caramoan Shore. The Pretty Fans hang out in the water and agree that they’d all be friends in Real Life as well. Awww. And Reynold and Allie are particular sympatico after cuddling. “A lot is communicated through the cuddle,” Reynold tells us. They all splash in the water and agree that their Cool Kids alliance is a cliche, but it just happened. OMG! And so coincidentally! Matt floats near them on the water and looks on jealously. Back at the fire, Sherri and the other Fans agree that the Cuddlers are dangerous and they need to be broken up immediately. But Michael isn’t prepared to just align with the men, because he wants to be flexible. Michael floats with Matt and they are, indeed, the two floating variables. So much floating. Michael and Matt decide that they will decide together, though they’d rather not decide for a while. If this were Phillip’s team, he would call them The Deciders.
Sandbagging. Immunity is up for grabs, but only after Jeff Probst mocks Cochran for his sunburn. “You’re not seeing the half of it. It’s pretty ridiculous,” Cochran acknowledges as everybody laughs at him. Players have to race in pairs to the different levels of a structure, tossing down crates filled with sandbags. After 12 sandbags are collected, they have to be tossed into six targets. I don’t understand the design of this challenge, or its strategy. The Favorites have a reasonable lead when it’s time to start sandbag-tossing. Malcolm has the Favorites up 3-0 before Reynold starts tossing for the Fans, but Reynold evens things and pulls into the lead. Reynold comes from behind and the Fans win! Uh-oh. A squandered advantage for Malcolm. Will he be viewed as the goat? Will he be hampered by nobody knowing who he is?
Hey, did you remember Francesca was voted out first in her season? Dejected, the Favorites return. “There’s such a thing as luck and that guy Reynold, he just was really good at tossing sandbags into holes, which apparently is a skillset,” Francesca says. In the shelter, Francesa and Cochran initially target Phillip, with Corrine as an alternative choice. For her part, Corrine is playing nice and bringing Cochran cold compresses and giggling with everybody. But the true balm on Cochran’s burn is the rapport he’s feeling with his whole tribe. Andrea, though, is concerned by how long she didn’t hear from Francesca after their initial meeting. Who. Fires grow cold fast on “Survivor.” That was two paragraphs ago! Andrea goes to Phillip and tells him Francesca is plotting against him, so they need to get her out, which appeals to the Former Federal Agent’s desire to mention Machiavelli. Crabs are waving us toward them. I don’t know why. In the water, Brandon and Erik agree to vote Phillip out, with Erik still stewing about Phillip’s first approach. “I could be voted out first twice, which would be the worst thing ever,” Francesca laughs, still confident they’ve got numbers against Phillip. Meanwhile, Dawn and Cochran are rekindling their bonds of trust. Dawn doesn’t trust Francesca, because she’s going to play to win, not that anybody knows what that would mean. Cochran is very amused by the idea that Dawn is playing a different, cutthroat game and that this is “a new Dawn.” Somewhat inexplicably, Francesca suggests splitting votes between Phillip and Corrine. Huh? “I don’t trust Andrea at all,” Brandon says. Yes, Brandon. We know. Attractive women who talk to people terrify you. Glad to see you’ve learned. With Erik serving as ambassador, an alternative five-person alliance writing Andrea’s name is proposed. They’re about to leave for Tribal Council, so Francesca doesn’t know what else to do. I have no clue what’s happening.
Tribal Council. In this game, fire represents your life. That’s part of the ritual of Tribal Council. “We’re all kinda chiefs. There’s no Indians here,” Brandon says of leadership roles. Phillip has learned to pronounce Francesca’s name, insisting he always could. Probst mentions that Francesca doesn’t really have that much experience at “Survivor,” but she protests nobody feels secure. There’s a long discussion of paranoia. Andrea thinks people respect her around camp and she admits that her big mistake last time was getting too comfortable. Probst suggests that with returning players, things can happen much faster and decisions can be made at Tribal Council. “That’s the excitement of returning players,” Cochrane says. Still no clue what’s coming.
The Vote: Francesca writes Andrea’s name down. Andrea writes Francesca’s name. Jeff Probst goes to tally: Andrea. Andrea. Andrea. Francesca. Francesca. Francesca. Andrea. Francesca. Francesca. FRANCESCA. Farewell to Francesca. Again. Andrea smiles in relief. There’s a lot of discomfort and minor confusion. Francesca smiles. “I’m not gonna cry about it, but I did make ‘Survivor’ history,” Francesca says. “I’m no longer rooting for the Favorites. Now I’m rooting for the Fans,” she adds.
Bottom Line: Well, that’s what Francesca was brought back for. There was no way she was anything resembling a “favorite” in any traditional sense, but somebody must have talked with her and realized that she would play with the exact same over-aggressive style that doomed her the first time and if you have the chance to have the first “Survivor” player voted out twice, apparently you’ve gotta take that chance rather than bringing back an actual favorite. I never disliked Francesca. Who knew her long enough to like *or* dislike her? Of course, I sure like her more than Brandon and the speed with which Brandon targeted an attractive female as a threat for being too social was astounding. The only thing I hope is that he leaves the game before he hurts anybody, including himself, frankly. I don’t love most of the favorites, but they were interesting enough tonight. I’m amused by Erik’s new [well-earned] paranoia, by Phillip’s distorted funhouse mirror version of Boston Rob strategy, by Malcolm’s understandable need to lay low and by Cochran’s sunburn.
Bottom Line, II: I’m not sure the Fans were cast all that well. The Laura/Allie/Hope hydra has too much similarities, though I guess I like Laura best because she wasn’t invited into the Cool Kids’ Alliance. Sherri scares me. Shamar concerns me. Eddie’s icky. So I think I’m currently rooting for Michael and Matt to do interesting things, though the speed with which Matt turns on Shamar was problematic, as was his reticence to commit to any kind of strategy. The best thing about this Fans group is that nobody is expecting them to carry this season.
What’d you think of the premiere? Are you sad to see Francesca go again? Does this validate Phillip in some weird way? Does Phillip need validation? And were those, indeed, spectral tarsiers and not bushbabies?