Mandi Bierly
June 01, 2007 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The ”Pirate Master” premiere: The first mutiny

I need to say this now: I want John, the scientist/exotic dancer/Bobby Cannavale look-alike, back. He single-handedly proved that this Mark Burnett-produced series — even with its epic aerial shots and 16 contestants competing for $1 million — isn’t Survivor when he stole their only two compasses (really?) and tried to blackmail his fellow crewmen into mutiny against Captain Cocky, the firefighter/charmless John Krasinski known as Joe Don or J.D. This show isn’t about the challenges (clearly, if last night’s lame paddling and key-hunting ”expedition” was any indication). It’s about what happens when the pirates return to their vessel and the captain is forced to command a crew that has a built-in mutiny clause.

Unlike Survivor, where the hierarchy can be masked, Pirate Master lets the contestants know where they stand. The captain of the good ship Picton Castle decides their rank and share of the recovered treasure (gold coins that convert to real money at game’s end). He also nominates three pirates for possible plank walking (or, rather, raft drifting) before ”pirates’ court,” where the marked get the chance to defend themselves before the vote. Possible strategies: suggesting that they’re fun to have around despite the nausea (receptionist Joy); urging the crew to mutiny (which is only successful if the vote is unanimous for the captain and not for you, John); or rhyming (fishing-dock operator Louie).

Since this is a new show, with its own lore, we probably should take a moment to make sure we’re all playing the same game. As I understood host Cameron Daddo ( not quite as involved as Jeff Probst, but even hotter with his Aussie accent, icy stare, and varied wardrobe), the modern-day pirates are circling the Caribbean island of Dominica, where the mythical pirate Henry Steel and his crew buried 14 chests filled with gold. Each episode, the pirates will divide into two teams, the black crew and the red crew, and whichever finds the chosen chest first during the expedition wins the booty inside. (Shout-out to whoever thought up the ”sabotage” twist, which lets the leading crew slow up the lagging one.) Once back on board the Picton Castle, the elected captain of the winning crew has the right to 50 percent of the treasure — though he can share some of that with his crew if he pleases. (Captain Cocky did not.) The two officers appointed by the captain then split 50 percent of what’s left, and the remaining take is divided among the rest of the winning crewmen. Once the gold has been divvied up, the ship becomes one crew serving the captain, who remains in charge until either there’s a mutiny at pirates’ court or his mini-crew loses an expedition (in which case the members of the other mini-crew elect the vessel’s next captain from their ranks). As we saw last night, the captain and his officers (assistant district attorney Cheryl and musician Ben) have to wear special coats and hats — love it! — and get to share a cabin that, frankly, everyone thought was far more impressive than I did.

As for memorable characters: Let’s give it up for fashion publicist Alexis. She not only was the recipient of John’s socially awkward, seemingly drunken flirtation (”My horoscope told me to watch out for red-haired foxes”) but also expressed the black crew’s general pissiness after Captain Cocky kept his 50 percent of the take: ”Grizzly Adams J.D., who lives in Alaska with no running water, just walked with $20,000. We all worked together, you know, and the way it played out, I was not happy.” Yes, Alexis, you all worked together, except for that time when everyone stood around and yelled, ”Come on!” while Ben searched for his shoe. And when only John could figure out the three-key lock and that the prize chest would be under a mangrove tree because that’s where crocodiles live. I’d say your paddling, accompanied by that one boob shot, was worth about $2,000, which is what you got. I’d also add that John, as condescending as he came off, was right when he said that he expected a lot of the people on his crew and they didn’t deliver.

In the end, J.D. emerged as a likable villain, if only because his two years in the Navy allow him to say things like ”In order to sail this ship effectively, and find treasure, there’s gotta be order” with a straight face. He stayed surprisingly calm during pirates’ court, when John challenged him to show which way was north — definitely the moment of the night. It’s so against my nature to be power hungry that I can’t imagine anyone genuinely doing what he does next week: manically giggling over the fact that his crew has no food and bribing auto-parts salesman Jay to be his snitch. How in on the joke is he, really?

So would you have voted for John or J.D.? Should the producers give the pirates another set of compasses? Will bartender Sean (the David Charvet-lite with a retired-Navy-officer dad) and Christian Okoye (the former Kansas City Chiefs heavy known as the Nigerian Nightmare — very piratey!) be threats? And do you want to see more footage of the pirates’ deck jobs?

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