“I trust cute more than I trust hot”: Survivor Cagayan Season Premiere Recap

7 Mar

“Brawn versus Brains versus Beauty” was the announced theme and gimmick of this season, and we begin by seeing the three tribes arrive by three different forms of transportation: helicopter, car, and boat. A neat touch. A few are introduced briefly, and lo and behold one of them is the old Portland Trail Blazer, Cliff Robinson! I don’t think I had ever seen him without a headband before. Other than Cliff, everyone pretty much just tells the camera how awesome they are.

The tribes are told why they’re grouped the way they are, and each tribe is made to instantly choose a leader (of course the smart thing to do is to speak up quickly to nominate someone else for the job). Then it gets worse: each leader is made to choose someone in their own group as being the weakest player of the group.

The “Beauty” leader, an affable fellow named L.J., chooses Morgan the former NFL cheerleader. We have already heard a lot from Morgan at this point of the show, and almost every sentence begins with “I don’t want to sound conceited, but … [and then a comment about her own beauty].”  L.J. tells the camera he made this choice because most of the people on the tribe are merely cute, but Morgan is hot, and he trusts cute more than he trusts hot. Morgan is very sexy indeed, but I couldn’t help but think she’s one of those 20-year-olds who will have lost her looks by 25. Just sayin’.

As for the “Brains” tribe, we have learned that their leader, David, is the president of the Florida Marlins. He shows his capability for decision-making by whirling around and choosing … the only athletic-looking person in the group, Garrett. Why in God’s name would he choose him? David explains to everyone that he is already thinking ahead to day 39. Of course, everyone else knows that if you don’t win challenges early to keep your tribe strong, you might not see day 9, never mind day 39.

The “Brawn” leader Sarah picks a Pilates teacher named Trish, certainly a sensible choice as she’s the least brawny of the bunch. Trish sees it more as ageism.

By the way, thus far in the show there has been not one mention of the Philippines, never mind where in the Philippines Cagayan might be, but take my word for it, they are indeed in that country. However, the settings do look a bit different from the last two seasons, so I suspect they might be in a different part of the country this time.

The “weakest” members of each tribe are flown to their camps ahead of everyone else, and each sees a message that “you can help yourself or help your tribe.” Either the player can take an immunity idol clue or get an extra barrel of rice for the tribe to share. Garrett doesn’t consider the rice option, seeing as how he’s already somewhat of an outcast. We also find out he is a professional poker player. And that he’s ripped. He finds the clue in fairly short order, as a number of different lizards and snakes look on.

Trish the Pilates teacher (“Brawn” tribe) is the only one to choose the rice. Morgan the ex-cheerleader also chooses the clue. However, she still hasn’t found it when she sees the rest of the Beauty tribe arriving at the beach. She figures she’s a dead duck if everyone hears that she has an idol clue, so she quickly concocts the cover story that none of the equipment at camp would have been there if she hadn’t altruistically chosen to do without an advantage for herself. Why is she all wet? Just going for a swim. The other beautiful people seem to buy it. By the way, there is a fellow named Brice in the group who doesn’t have much beauty that I can see. He seems to be the comic relief.

Over on the Brawn tribe, we find out that Cliff Robinson is not trying to pull a Gary Hogeboom/Jeff Kent and hide his identity. Good thing too, as an Asian fellow named Woo has already recognized him. Meanwhile, Sarah, the “leader,” has had her eye on Tony: “There’s a look that cops have and Tony’s got it.”She asks him if he’s a cop and he denies it, saying he works in construction. We the viewers know that he is in fact a cop. He explains to the camera that he didn’t want the other players to think of him as a tactical mastermind type. Tony is a really good character.

And on the Brains tribe, it’s time to build a shelter. A girl named J’Tia proudly announces that she’s got this covered, as she’s a nuclear engineer. Nuclear engineering and structural engineering are much different, right? Well, I know I’m right, because her shelter plan does not go well, plus she bosses everyone around. Congratulations to Survivor: though the whole world knows that the surest way to exit the game quickly is to be bossy while building a shelter on the first day, season after season they always turn up one contestant who does just that.

Well, not only does shelter-building go poorly for the Brains, so does the first challenge. One of them sighs, “We’re book-smart, but when it comes to playing this game we’re dumb.” So that tribe will have to go to the first Tribal Council. David (Marlins president) and Kass (a pull-no-punches lawyer) take a walk to strategize, and David portrays it as being a choice between J’Tia and Garrett (remember, he is still clinging to his “Day 39 strategy.”). Kass responds to that choice as follows: “No. J’Tia. All the way.” Soon thereafter J’Tia asks Kass who she’s thinking of voting out and Kass says “Honestly, I’m leaning towards you.” And proceeds to tell her exactly why!

As it turns out, the only votes J’Tia gets are from Kass and David, and David becomes the first person voted out. This is the guy who was playing for Day 39, mind you. By the way, did I miss the Florida Marlins being some great sports dynasty?

This is a two-hour premiere, so the fun continues. We begin with Garrett and a tall young guy named Spencer doing some strategizing. These two look like they’re going to be quite the power alliance. They realize that the two black girls, J’Tia and Tasha, are sticking together, which makes the fifth tribe member, Kass, the swing vote.

Speaking of pairing up, on the Brawn tribe, Cliff Robinson and Woo seem to have hit it off. Meanwhile Trish (Pilates) is clashing with a scary tattooed brunette named Lindsey. Tony the secret cop tells her not to worry, and then he shows the viewers a “spy shack” he is building. It’s not really clear how this will work, but apparently it will let him eavesdrop on other players. By the way, so far I really like the cast of this season.

It’s time for another challenge, and in this one the Brains jump out to a sizeable lead on the other two tribes. To win, the only thing they need is for J’Tia to solve a puzzle. Oops. She starts slow and panics very early, the lead disappears, and the Brains come in third. They go home empty-handed again, while the Brawn tribe who came in first gets a huge care package of fire-making tools.

While some players on this season appear never to have seen Survivor before, that’s not true for Tony. He knows that boxes of rewards often have immunity idol clues hidden in them, and sure enough he looks for one and finds one. Soon thereafter he has an idol, and vows not to tell anyone that he has it.

OK, the rest of the episode is devoted to the Brains tribe. When they get back to camp, Garrett suggests that instead of having individual side conversations, everyone ought to decide as a group who should get voted out. He tells the camera that his goal was to get Kass to declare which way she was leaning so Garrett could decide if he himself was in any danger and might need his idol. Kass says she’s leaning toward J’Tia, and Spencer and Garrett say they are too. Then Garrett says he’s really serious and everyone should just stay together all the way until tribal council! And he’s stubborn about it! All of this is much to Spencer’s chagrin — he tells the camera “Garrett! You’re an idiot!” Meanwhile Tasha (who is showing signs that she could be a really interesting player) tells the others she wants to play the game and can’t believe they don’t want to. Her frustration is obvious: if J’Tia is a shoo-in to be voted out, then Tasha would be the next logical person to be voted out. Somehow Tasha gets some brief alone time with Kass and tells her this is her only chance to vote one of the guys out by 3-2. But after they’ve spoken just a moment, they look up, and the guys are right there breathing down their necks.

J’Tia didn’t say much the whole time everyone was talking about voting her out, and she just chills out after the guys go chase after Tasha and Kass. That is, she chills out until the moment she decides to dump all the tribe’s rice in the fire. Whaaat the HECK?

Where this crazy impulse came from I have no idea. Not the move you want to make if you’re trying to convince everyone to keep you around. And it was so sudden. I mean jeez, even Brandon Hantz spent a few weeks gradually building up to being psycho enough to dump out his tribe’s rice. This is the second hour of the season! At Tribal Council J’Tia gives us the understatement of the year: “Not my best moment.”

Both this and Garrett’s odd insistence on everyone staying together are discussed at length at Tribal. I thought that they might even forgo the vote and simply have a show of hands to confirm everyone voting J’Tia out. But they vote, as normal. And the second person voted out for the season is … Garrett? Now that made me rewind the TiVo to make sure I had heard it right. I did not for one second consider that anyone on a starving tribe would keep the person around who had dumped their food in the fire.

But it happened, and I have to say this underlines why I think the Redemption Island gimmick (which is not being used this season) should never be brought back. This was really dramatic: one thing is certain to happen, and yet the player who dominated the early going is suddenly out of the game for good. The finality of it is what makes Survivor awesome.

By the way, don’t forget Garrett had a hidden immunity idol that he didn’t even bring in his bag, never mind use!

A great start to the season.

Early favorites: Sarah, Tasha, Spencer, Tony, and L.J.

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