Jeff Probst would officially welcome the 10 couples competing in Survivor: Blood vs. Water at sunrise on Sunday May 19, 2013 and set them on their way for a 39 day adventure. But for the players, the game actually began the night before, when the 10 couples were dropped off at sunset to fare for themselves overnight in 10 different spots along the beach or jungle. No food. No water. And soon, no light. The new twist was called Day Zero (you can get the official explanation from Jeff Probst about it right here) and EW.com was exclusively invited to tag along with one of the pairs as they began their 39-and-a-half day journey.
After seeing their lively interactions during our interview the day before, I decided to follow Gervase Peterson and his niece, Marissa Peterson. Unlike the other duos that couldn’t stop praising each other, Gervase and Marissa appeared to want to beat each other at the game as much as they wanted to defeat the other 18 players. There was a lot of smack talk and boasting. Plus, I was curious how Gervase — who played in the first ever season of the show and has not returned since — would fare after a 13 year layoff. Here’s a timeline of the evening.
Gervase — wearing a green Philadelphia Eagles jersey and black shorts — and Marissa — wearing a purple tank-top with black pants and hoop earrings — board a boat named Tres Comando from Palawig beach, which will take them the to their drop-off point. The adventure begins.
Gervase and Marissa arrive on a rocky beach. They then open and read a note informing them “The game has begun.” They learn they will be forced to brave the night there without any supplies and then await further instructions. “Well played, Jeff!” cackles Gervase. “Well played!”
“I’ll follow your lead,” says Marissa. “13 years!” she bellows, referencing Gervase’s claim to fame of being one of the original Survivors 13 years ago. That pair walk to the end of the beach, but the entire surface is filled with rocks. “Are we gonna sleep on the beach or are we gonna sleep inside?” she inquires.
“I’m open to suggestions,” replies Gervase. “What do you suggest?”
“What do I suggest?!?” Marissa asks incredulously. “I’m following your lead!!!”
“That was 13 years ago!” Gervase fires back
The two begin to collect driftwood in an attempt to start a fire for warmth and light. Marissa remains unimpressed with her uncle’s survival skills. “I thought you were the OG! And were gonna make me a bed,” she sighs. “Imagine you were in Borneo right now. What would you do?”
Gervase thinks and sighs himself. “I think it is a good night to not sleep.”
“Okay, then” answers a frustrated Marissa.
Marissa conducts her first confessional interview with a cameraman (the only time in which contestants are supposed to talk directly to the camera about what has been happening). “ I thought he was gonna be the OG,” she says. “He doesn’t know what he’s doing either. I thought I was gonna have a Svengali to help me out but I’m almost on my own.”
The relatives are losing daylight — and quick. They walk from the right end of the beach to the left and begin to collect wood, bamboo and coconut husk for a fire. Good luck with that!
The cameramen shift to an infared night cam to prepare for the complete darkness to come.
“I’ve seen it done,” says Marissa about making a fire without flint. The niece holds one piece of bamboo while Gervase rubs another back and forth on it vigorously. “I can smell it,” says Marissa excitedly. (And I too can smell it from five feet away.) “I saw a little smoke come up!” They eventually switch places back and forth, but the task is near impossible.
“I won’t be mad at you if you want to stop,” Marissa tells her uncle.
These are the exact words Gervase wanted to hear. “I don’t think we’ll have fire tonight” he concedes while giving up. ”It’s just one night, and then hopefully we can meet up with our tribe,” says Gervase. At 6:50pm — just over half-an-hour after they set food on land — the sun is completely gone.
Lightning in the distance. Uh-oh
Marissa, who had been sitting cross-legged on a big rock, begins to lie down. “You going to sleep?” asks Gervase, who himself has been stretched out on the beach.
“What else am I supposed to do?” Marissa retorts. “What else can I do?” Marissa then elects to pass the time by launching into a story from freshman year of college about “S—ty Body” which involves finding a friend of hers wasted on her birthday in the bathroom of a club, lying down in a “pile of s—.”
“You better have less disgusting stories than that!” begs Gervase
The occasional small talk continues. “What is today?” ask Gervase.
“It’s the 18th,” answers Marissa. “Today is Day One! That’s what today is.” The two then play the time-honored Survivor tradition of discussing what they would be doing if back home in the United States right then on a Saturday night. Marissa says she’d be out at a bar. (Hopefully not finding any more friends in piles of s—. )
The two then attempt to get some shut eye.
Lightning in the distance continues, but everything on the beach remains dry…for now.
After trying — and failing — to get some sleep, the uncle and niece make more small talk as Gervase takes part in another proud Survivor tradition — waxing nostalgic about how hard your previous outing was. Responding to Marissa’s complaints about being “mad about how we started this game,” Gervase recalls how they only had 2 hours of daylight to paddle to shore through a vicious current in season 1.
Talk then turns to the other couples. “Everyone’s nice except for that blond girl,” offers Marissa, who then goes on to say that the problem is that the blond girl doesn’t like other women looking at her man. Marissa recognizes the blond girl from a previous season but doesn’t know who she is. (Pssst! It’s Kat form Survivor: One World.)
Gervase then brings up Tyson’s girlfriend Rachel. “Tyson’s girl doesn’t seem like she’s here. She fades into the background. She never smiled. Her facial expression is always blank.” Perhaps surprisingly, Marissa likes Colton (who was most notorious for making racially insensitive comments in his last outing on One World).
Gervase and Marissa are on the same large rock together now, talking over the people they want to work both with (Tina and her daughter Katie, as well as Aras and his brother Vytas) and against (Kat and Rachel would seem to be top of that list). Lightning flashes again in the distance. Whether rain manages to reach the beach before they leave to meet up with the 18 other contestants at sunrise or not, one thing is certain — a storm’s a comin’.
Survivor: Blood vs. Water premieres with a special 90-minute episode on Wednesday, Sept. 18 at 8pm on CBS. You can watch the first 7 minutes of the premiere right here!