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Survivor is back once again, and this time with a significant twist. Rumors began sprouting up of a “loved ones” season near the end of Caramoan, but I’m not sure anyone expected anything close to what we got. Many predicted doom and gloom for the new season, aptly titled Blood Vs. Water (I among them), and the follow-up news about the return of Redemption Island only threw gasoline onto that fire as well. Fortunately, the first episode, which aired Wednesday night on CBS, wasn’t a total disaster by any means. If anything, “Blood is Thicker than Water” was actually downright decent and compelling television. All is not yet forgiven, but at least the start is promising.
To get the bad out of the way first, yes Redemption Island is back. However, RI makes sense for a family season of Survivor. Blood Vs. Water pits returning castaways against their loved ones. There are a few husband/wife teams, mom/daughter teams, brother/brother teams, and etc all facing off against each other. In Wednesday’s episode, the “loved ones” tribe immediately voted out Laura Boneham, the wife of Survivor contestant Rupert , one of the most popular players in the history of the game. Rupert was then offered a choice. He could either stay with his tribe, or replace his wife on Redemption Island. Rupert, who has long fancied himself the noble hero, took his wife’s spot on RI, meaning his wife took her husband’s place on the returning players’ tribe. Conversely, Candice was voted out of the returning tribe, but her husband John chose not to take his wife’s place, reasoning that she had a good shot at beating Rupert in the Redemption Island challenge.
It’s all very complicated and political, and watching it on TV made much more sense than me describing it here. Let it be said that I still dislike Redemption Island. It slows the game down far too often, takes away reward challenges (which are almost always as compelling as immunity challenges), and gives people who were properly voted out an unfair way to get back into the game. But at least it makes some sense on a family season of Survivor, and while I disagree with Rupert’s decision to take his wife’s place, I can totally see why he would do that. He was right in one respect – he has played the game three times already. He wants his wife to have a shot in the spotlight for once. Rupert may be a big, emotional softie under his gruff exterior, but he always believes what he is doing is the right thing to do, and I can respect him for that.
The rest of the episode is largely devoted to getting to know the newbies. There’s Marissa, Gervase’s (of season one fame) niece who seems like a strong competitor with a good head on her shoulders. There’s also Brad, the ex-NFL player and husband of One World’s Monica. These two will butt heads throughout the episode, leading to an eventual showdown at the end. The two most compelling new players I thought were Caleb, One World’s Colton’s partner, and Vytas, Aras’ (of Survivor: Panama) brother. Caleb seems like he has the capability to go far in this game, looking savvy and intelligent thus far. Vytas is a very charismatic figure who seems a good judge of character and integrity. On the returning side, a portion of time is devoted to Monica and Colton, who had a rivalry on One World that ended with Monica’s unexpected ouster from the game. She still doesn’t trust him, but Colton claims he’s changed. More entertaining players like Tyson are given little screen-time unfortunately.
The ultimate challenge of the episode is a grueling combination of swimming, rowing, and puzzle-making. While the loved ones lead for about 95% of the race, the returnees come back in full force thanks to Tina and Laura M., who absolutely nail the puzzle portion. Gervase, who had gloated heavily about his tribe’s victory despite blowing the athletic portion of the challenge, grates on the nerves of the loved ones. What happens next is unfair but strategically sound. Brad, the meathead ex-NFL player and current crush of host Jeff Probst, engineers Marissa’s ouster based on the fact that her uncle gloated continuously after his tribe won. Or at least he sells it this way to the others. What really happened was that Brad was obviously covering his own butt after a verbal gaffe at the very beginning of the game, wherein he claimed he could potentially treat his wife nicely during a challenge and was chided by Marissa for his words. With an early enemy out of the way, Brad’s game is looking up. Unfortunately for him, he’s also playing a scorched earth policy, which may not rest well with his alliance of John, Hayden, Vytas, and Caleb.
Notes from episode one:
-Ok, so that wasn’t the disaster I was expecting. Phew!
-Redemption Island is now crowded with Rupert, Candice, and Marissa sharing space.
-Brad is unexpectedly self-aware when he talks about how the only people who win Survivor anymore are weaker players (disrespectful and whatnot, but also self-aware at least).
-Not too much time spent with the returning players, which is the same thing that happened in the first half of Caramoan (and what made the first half of that season so boring). Hopefully the loved ones keep it interesting.
-Colton looks to turn into an absolute monster again next week. Thanks for another season of this nutjob, CBS casting department!