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Survivor, in its earliest episodes, is a difficult show to recap. Oftentimes, cast members that will be around for the long haul are pushed to the margins in the first few episodes, as the editing heavily features those who get the boot early. Tonight was no exception, as players on fragile ground seemed largely featured over players whose stock in the game has nowhere to go but up in the coming weeks. It is also difficult to gauge just how much impact any particular player will have based on their edit in the first few episodes.
What makes the names part a bit easier is that Caramoan, the 26th iteration of the American version of Survivor, is a Fans vs. Favorites series, the first since 2008’s great season set in Micronesia. Though the producers are largely playing fast and loose with the definition of “favorites,” the cast seems to be great after one episode. I had my hesitations going in that players such as Dawn, Cochran, or Andrea might not be great choices to bring back, but each had big game last night, and look like they could develop into a powerhouse alliance along with Philip Sheppard, who I’m genuinely glad to see back. On the Fans side of the equation, a few players stuck out but for the wrong reasons. Eddie and Reynold, the de facto alpha male leaders of the Gota (Fans) tribe, seem like the typical meat-head Survivor bros that we get every season. The fact that they almost immediately paired up with Allie and Hope made some of the others, including Laura, Sherri, and Michael, feel suspicious right off the bat. Bad form, Eddie and Reynold.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how much I liked the two challenges in this episode. The first was an out-and-out old school Survivor slobber-knocker, with the Bikal (Favorites) tribe dominating the Fans for a 4-1 victory. Only heavyweight titan and ex-Marine Shamar was able to score a point for the Gota tribe. This was unsurprising, as Shamar, perhaps the physically biggest Survivor castaway since Ted from Thailand, shoved Erik and his stupid hair out of the way almost effortlessly to score one for the Gota crew. Malcolm was able to flex some muscle in the initial challenge, which makes sense considering he dominated in season 25, but he blew it on the final round of the immunity challenge, where Reynold was able to stake a come from behind victory for Gota. This immunity challenge was truly a beast, as our cast had to maneuver up a four story make-shift building, hurl crates to the ground, then toss bags into a carnival-type game to complete the victory. It seemed just barely too much for the Favorites, who had a bit of a lead but watched Reynold dominate the final lap.
Back at the camps, Shamar almost immediately allies himself against bearded Matt, as the two square off over how to equally divide chores up in camp. Matt seems to work quietly and patiently on the shelter, but Shamar, obviously hurting over lack of water, demands the group put their focus on the fire. Ultimately, Shamar makes the fire himself, and the two seemingly patch up their rough spots (though I doubt it’ll last for long). Other than this, we don’t see too much of the Gota tribe except for Eddie and Reynold’s alliance with Hope and Allie. I got the impression that Michael and Matt will form an alliance together, but that was about it other than the cool kids junk from Eddie.
Things get more interesting over on the Favorites side, however. Having learned from the excellent game-play of Boston Rob during the initial Redemption Island season, Philip Sheppard, the former federal agent, devises a plan to ally himself with Andrea, Corinne, Dawn, Malcolm, and Cochran. Together, he hopes, they can form a tight alliance and go all the way to the end. Andrea, a crafty player, seems to be playing two different games, as she also allies herself with Francesca. That Francesca is given a casting slot on this season is the most egregious error thus far – she was voted out first on Redemption Island, and she plays a scorched-earth game that is not conducive to Survivor. Worse yet, she makes the same mistake, targeting Philip, twice, and pays yet again for it as she is the first person to be eliminated from Survivor: Caramoan, thus becoming the first player to be eliminated from Survivor twice on two different seasons.
All in all, it was an extremely decent debut for what looks to be a promising season for Survivor. I barely even mentioned Cochran, who cracked me up with his severe sunburn and self-deprecating jokes (his line about Dawn experiencing a new dawn made me grin stupidly ear-to-ear). Big time players like Brenda, Erik, and Malcolm were largely pushed to the margins in this episode, but I imagine each will get their due eventually. The three hung around for a long time in their respective seasons, and I have to believe they’re in for the long haul here too, although I honestly get negative vibes from Brenda’s edit, miniscule as it was. On the Favorites tribe, I’m interested to see what ends up happening to Michael, who has thus far gotten a bit of a Penner-edit. I also like what I see from Sherri, and I hope she ends up being a bit like Denise from Philippines. Time will tell, but I think I’m going to enjoy this ride.