We’re baaaaaack… and it feels so good!
Might as well start at the beginning.
Last night’s two-hour premiere was one of our best ever. In fact, it was so good I think CBS should air it again. In the words of our fearless leader Mark Burnett, ”It was epic!”
It started with the kickass marooning where the Survivors landed on the beach courtesy of the Royal New Zealand Air Force and their Huey helicopters.
INSIGHT: We had to get special permission from the New Zealand government to get the use of the Huey’s and the Air Force personnel to fly them. We came to an agreement that allowed the RNZAF to use our rehearsals (without the real Survivors on board) as an opportunity to also practice various mission maneuvers for which they needed a location and situation to conduct them. It was a win-win.
If you watch it again you can see that when we did it for real with the Survivors on board and the Huey’s approaching the beach, it even resembles a mission. Two come in and land, sand flying around. They depart and the other two come in. It’s also worth mentioning that it went off without a hitch. Everybody hit their marks, it was magical.
As a thank you we had the RNZAF personnel rehearse one of our big challenges against our dream team. It was a great day in which I swapped one of my Survivor baseball caps for one of their RNZAF caps.
Moments in, we knew that we had made the right choice to go with the theme of Heroes vs. Villains. You could feel the rivalry even as the two tribes were departing the helicopters. The heroes were puffing their chests with pride, the villains were puffing their chests looking for a fight. The opening Q/A was fascinating. The fact that every villain believes they are a hero speaks to how important perspective is in this game. ”Outwit, outplay, outlast.” It’s an important factor to keep in mind as you watch this game.
There are very few rules in Survivor, the contestants are responsible for determining which qualities to reward and that is where the perspective of having played once before will have a big impact. For instance, if Russell plays the same game he did in Samoa during this season, he has a much better chance of winning because this group of players has a different set of criteria for what it takes to win the game. That is only one of the reasons I believe this season is going to deliver.
We knew we wanted a big, badass challenge right off the bat to let them know this season was going to be physical and demanding. We expected a battle but we didn’t expect it to rise to the physical level it did. Injury count: Dislocated shoulder (Stephenie), broken toe (Rupert – man you should have heard him screaming as the doctors tried to set it), and a topless finish and double ”flip-off.” (Thanks, Sugar.) On top of those injuries, there were lots of bruised up bodies that had been worked over during those digs in the sand.
The Coach/Colby matchup was one of the more anticipated. Colby waltzed through his first Survivor experience in Australia virtually unchallenged. Coach, his opponent, believes he can do anything and beat anybody… and whadaya know, he did. Coach worked Colby. He even had me fooled – I thought Colby was dragging Coach along, turns out Coach was riding Colby to the finish line.
In typical hero fashion, Colby merely nodded at the loss and moved on. It’s early in the game and he didn’t seem too concerned. And if you had any question about why Tyson was invited back, he answered that question with this quip: ”I can only imagine what Colby is thinking… I may as well become a woman because there is no point on trying to maintain my masculinity now.” Ah, it’s one of the nice things about having returning Survivors – they’re great interviews.
I have to tell you, writing this blog is a pleasure because this episode was absolutely fantastic. I challenge you to show the first 20 minutes of this episode to anybody – Survivor fan or not – and have them not want to watch the rest of the premiere and the season.
FIRST MOMENTS ON THEIR BEACHES
It was interesting to watch the two very different ways the first moments on their respective beaches played out. The Heroes got to work quickly. Everybody pitching in, their experience really showing. The Hero music was appropriately uplifting and heroic. The Villains ignored shelter and turned immediately to strategy. Russell was back to his bag of tricks, making alliances with everybody. The Villain music was also appropriate: heavy, suspicious and dramatic.
Russell made an interesting comment: ”I’m the best to ever play this game and now I get to prove it.” How do you feel about the idea behind his cocky declaration? Do you believe that the winner of this season will go down as the ”best to ever play?” Or will the winner of this season simply be ”the winner of Heroes vs Villains.” There are so many factors that go into someone winning this game that I often wonder if you can ever truly declare someone the best. I will say that to win this season you will have to play one helluva game. Nobody is going to win by coattailing it. No chance that kind of behavior will be rewarded. Playing an ”under the radar game” is different than riding somebody’s coattails. Please don’t ask me to explain the difference because I’m not sure I can; it’s just a gut feeling that I believe I can spot.
Another fascinating aspect of the first few days is watching the various egos inflate and deflate. We have a lot of true leaders this season and when you’re a leader it’s tough to accept the role of being a follower.
Coach is a perfect example. It is painful for Coach when he tries to be a follower. He’s a good soldier but he feels he’s a better General. Boston Rob was playing him for a fool during their ”coconut tree challenge” when he tried to entice him to climb the tree. But I actually think that Boston Rob and Coach could be a good team if they could both get past their egos. Coach still wants it badly and Rob needs some of that in his alliances because after becoming a husband and a father, I’m not sure Rob wants it badly enough. Rob can last a long time based on sheer street smarts but he will need to get his ”Survivor instincts” back quickly if he is to last.
The first immunity challenge was probably more revealing about the tribes than the first reward challenge. The differences in the strength of both tribes was clearly illuminated in this challenge. The Heroes are stronger but their egos get in the way. The Villains work together better. That was the difference in this challenge. Boston Rob and Sandra led the villains to victory by leading them through the puzzle. Period. They’re both scrappy players and scrappy will be the key to winning this season. That doesn’t mean a Hero can’t win, it merely means that in my opinion, by the time this season is over, the idea of what makes up a Hero or Villain will fluctuate quite a bit. ”Outwit, outplay… outlast.”
Okay, without thinking it through – just off the top of my head – here are some overall thoughts about some of the returning Survivors:
Sandra Diaz – I am so glad she is back. I love her lippy way of telling it like it is. Courtney is also surprising me early on. I like how hard she fought in the initial challenge. Cirie is a legit, 100% full-on threat to win this game. Parvati, if given any kind of an opening will worm her way back into a solid alliance. Russell is a no-brainer. Take him out early or risk seeing him in the final again. Tom Westman, so glad he came back for another go. He needs a strong alliance and if he gets it, he will go deep. He’s a very good ”people person.” Rupert, Rupert, Rupert. It’s hard for me to distinguish the Survivor Rupert from the real Rupert. Maybe there isn’t a difference anymore, but I know this… kids still love them some Rupert!
One of the greatest tribal council sets we’ve ever had. Forty feet in the air, a massive build, it is stunning. Our two production designers, Jesse Jensen and Dan Munday, are incredible talents. The fact that we have not lost them to the movie world is a testament to how strong our team is and how much we all enjoy working on this show.
The idea of ”past relationships” came up during Tribal Council and it is going to be a theme this season. If you’re in a Survivor pool, make sure you factor this into your decision of who you think will win. It could go either way – being tied to others from your season could work for you or against you, just as being the only one out there from your season could work for you or against you – but it will be discussed a lot and will factor into how people vote.
James illuminated the biggest challenge on the hero tribe: The Heroes must start listening to each other and let the ego go. Otherwise tribal council will become their second home.
THE FIRST TO GO
Sugar didn’t really seem like she was ready to do this again. I think she fell victim to the ”what did I get myself into” realization that often happens to a returning Survivor. They forget how miserable it was and so they say ”Yes!” to returning for another go. Then they get out there and by the end of day one they are quickly reminded… ”Oh yeah, I forgot. This sucks.”
I don’t think her tribe will miss her, and in fairness, I don’t think she’ll miss the tribe. I think Sugar would be the first to admit that the Survivor experience was more about being on television than it was anything else. I’m glad she came back, she was worth taking a shot on, but Colby said it best, given the amazing amount of personality this season, she won’t be missed.
Talk next week.