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Survivor’s past few seasons have been filled to the brim with gimmicky premises and stunt casting, so it stands to reason that the latest season, Cagayan, would follow suit. Last season featured returning players and their loved ones, and Tyson won what many described as an interesting and fun but “easy” season of Survivor. Last Spring, Cochran won a second Fans vs. Favorites installment, and previous to him, Denise triumphed over a celebrity and a returning player in Survivor: Philippines.
This installment, subtitled Cagayan for the Philippine island it was filmed on, sees 18 castaways divided into three tribes of six. Each tribe is individually designated as the Brains, Brawn, or Beauty tribe, and the individual members within each tribe fall somehow into the “classic” stereotype of the nerd, the jock, and the bimbo, even if that distinction is more complicated that it sounds. For example, Garrett, one of the more noteworthy players from tonight’s premiere episode, is on the Brains tribe, but could easily pass for one of the more macho Brawn tribe members. He is super smart, but also super ripped. Sarah is on the Aparri, or Brawn tribe, but looks well and fit enough to be on the Brawn tribe and also pretty enough to easily pass for the Beauty tribe. There are other examples as well.
After the tribes are split up, host Jeff Probst asks each tribe to pick a leader. L.J. is designated leader of the beauty tribe, and is forced to single out Morgan as the weakest member. David is pegged as the leader of the Brains tribe, and he cuts out Garrett almost immediately. Sarah is picked as leader of the Brawn tribe, and she picks Trish as the weak link in Aparri. Trish, Garrett, and Morgan do not exit the game, however. Instead, Probst sends them on a helicopter to a beach ahead of their tribemates, where they must make a decision based on self-preservation or on the good of the group.
This is where the episode gets good. Trish plays it safe, and chooses the good of the tribe reward, which earns her an extra bag of rice for the Solana (Brawn) tribe. Garrett decides to go all in on himself, having sensed that he will be a threat. Garrett receives a clue to the Hidden Immunity Idol, and finds it buried under water tethered to a rock. Morgan also chooses the idol clue, but is unsuccessful in finding the idol and eventually draws the suspicion of her returning tribe. This earns her the ire of leader L.J., but draws Brice closer to her. The Solana tribe seems split into three pairs of two, which will assuredly lead to drama down the road.
The three tribes meet up for the first challenge of the game, a classic fetch-quest with a puzzle
aspect. The Beauty tribe gets out to an immediately quick start and never really lets up. The Brawn tribe is not far behind them, flexing their muscles in the challenge to keep pace. The Brains tribe, however, lags far, far behind and is never really in it, despite a few lingering suggestions from Probst that they might catch up during the puzzle portion of the challenge. The Beauty tribe takes first place with the Brawns taking second, making them both safe from Tribal Council. The Brains tribe loses, and heads back to the beach, where David and Kass point fingers at J’Tia, who had been accused of lagging at camp.
At Tribal Council, Garrett is scared of a spider, which was quite funny. J’Tia makes a rather poorly argued case for keeping her in the game. David claims Garrett is safe from the vote. Kass, Spencer, and Tasha are rather quiet, until Spencer speaks up, claiming he is establishing his vote on how he would like to see the tribe move forward in the future. The final vote lingers on whether J’Tia or David will be the first sent packing. In the end, David is sent home, having been betrayed by Tasha, Garrett, and Spencer, who David had thought were all on his side. Luckily, tonight’s episode is a two-part special premier, so let’s continue…
Back at the Luzon (Brains) beach, Garrett complains about the survival aspect of Survivor, something that honestly doesn’t come up as much as you’d expect. He laments that he’s not playing the game right now, and instead is far too focused on the day-to-day grind, something the editing hasn’t really given audiences enough of since the way-back days of heroes like Colby, Tina, and Ethan. On the Solana tribe, Brice, Morgan, and Jeremiah make buddy-buddy, forming a potential power triplicate. On the Aparri tribe, Trish gets into a tiff with Lindsey, and then makes allies with Tony. Tony then proceeds to eavesdrop on a conversation between ex-basketball star Cliff and his ally, martial arts advocate Woo. The drama is ramping up on the Brawns tribe for sure.
The second challenge of the night is another fetch-quest plus puzzle, but this time there is an underwater twist to the happenings. Contestants must swim out to a bamboo structure, climb over it, dive down about ten feet, release fish traps, open their gate, and pull the fish traps to shore. On shore, they must use puzzle pieces within the fish traps to solve a puzzle. The winning tribe receives fishing gear, with second place receiving slightly less fishing gear and the third place tribe having to go to tribal council. The Aparri (Brawn) tribe gets out to an early start, with the Luzon (Brains) tribe right behind them. The Solana (Beauty) tribe is way back in third for a good majority of the challenge. The Aparri’s pull off an easy victory, and amazingly the Solana tribe comes back from certain defeat to humiliate the Luzon tribe, who must now go to Tribal Council twice in a row.
The Aparri tribe heads back to camp with a basket full of fishing gear, and Tony looks for a hidden idol amongst the nets, hooks, and whatnot. Finding a rolled up piece of paper, Tony surmises it must be the idol clue, and it indeed is. The clue tells him to search the pond behind the camp, and he finds the Hidden Immunity Idol underneath a log in the water. At the Luzon camp, the tribemates peg J’Tia as being the likely next contestant to be eliminated. Garrett and Tasha get into an argument over the nature of playing the game, largely because Garrett wants an easy vote going into Tribal Council.
Garrett’s reasoning, however, is totally dumb and completely backfires. He tries to play it cool and heads towards Tasha and Kass, thinking they’re scheming (which they are). While he’s away from J’Tia, however, she dumps their rice in the fire for whatever reason. This all happens very quickly and isn’t easy to parse out on the first viewing. For whatever reason, it seems people aren’t mad enough about J’Tia dumping out most of the rice. Maybe they’re all exhausted or maybe they’re all mad at Garrett now. The Luzon tribe is an absolute mess, and Probst points out as much when they head into Tribal Council. In a blindside vote, Garrett is sent packing (with an idol back at camp no less), with a shocked and disturbed Probst calling Luzon the most dysfunctional tribe he’s seen in quite some time. Episode one of Survivor: Cagayan was really, really weird. I would expect no less.