Challenge within a challenge: Survivor Cambodia — Second Chance Season Premiere Recap

23 Sep

Wow, this episode featured an instant-classic moment, but we’ll get to that in due course!

We begin with all of the returning players (each of whom has been on only one prior season and did not win that season) actually walking through Angkor Wat in Cambodia before making their way onto four boats. Jeff Probst welcomes them from a nearby ship with a deck full of supplies and announces that their first challenge is here. They must climb onto his ship and load a raft with supplies, then get the rafts to another boat in the distance that has rice on it. Only one tribe will get the rice, so they have to decide  when to stop loading the rafts and start making their way toward the rice.

Both tribes cut their rafts loose at about the same time, and Kelly Wiglesworth (the runner-up to Richard Hatch in the very first season of Survivor) simply jumps in the water to swim, even though the other boat is pretty far away — 100 yards perhaps? Kelly is moving faster than the rafts, so the members of the other tribe wonder whether one of them should jump in as well. When they get closer, Joe (who you’ll remember from last season’s “no-collar” tribe) jumps in to swim, but then so does Woo (runner-up to Tony from Survivor: Cagayan), who is on the same tribe as Kelly. Woo, who you’ll recall is a surfing instructor, outswims the others to claim victory for his tribe.

Jeff Probst tells both tribes to head right for their beaches. One tribe has Terry Deitz, the fighter pilot who was probably the best player on Survivor: Panama. That season was won by Aras Baskauskas, and Aras’ brother Vytas, whom we first met in Survivor: Blood vs. Water, is on this season.

The other tribe includes Tasha and Kass, who were both in the “Brains” tribe on the Cagayan season which was Brains vs. Brawns vs. Beauty (for that matter, so was Spencer, who came back for this season but is on the other tribe). Also reunited are Jeremy and Keith, both of whom were on the San Juan Del Sur season with their wife and son respectively. Keith is perhaps best remembered for his disastrous “stick to the plan” comment which you can refresh your memory about here if you wish!

Now, on Jeremy’s previous season he was always talking about himself as a big-time strategist, though he never seemed to actually back that up, and he barely made the jury on his season. Still, he has figured out who he wants to ally with, and that’s Tasha, Andrew Savage (who was possibly the best player on Survivor: Pearl Islands), and Joe. Jeremy thinks of Joe as “the ultimate shield,” which I take to mean that nobody will be gunning for Jeremy as long as Joe is around as an even bigger threat.

Also on this tribe is Stephen Fishbach (Survivor: Tocantins), who seems a fish out of the water (no pun intended) who’s a bit clueless on what to do. That may be a red herring because Stephen has done a podcast for years that features expert analysis of Survivor strategy!

Back at the other beach, Vytas is getting much of the camera time, and Shirin (back from last season’s “white collar” tribe) tells the camera she thought Vytas was “smarmy” when she watched his season and still does now. She also points out to some tribemates that Vytas has connections on this tribe (not sure who she means besides Terry) and on the other tribe too (Jeremy and Keith?). I absolutely hated Shirin on the prior season, but she is pretty entertaining here, and dare I say even a bit likable?

On the same tribe, Abi-Maria is back, yes, the incredibly blunt young lady from Survivor: Philippines whom I gave honorable mention in my list of the Worst Survivor Players of All Time. Abi says all the right things about wanting to learn from her mistakes and not create drama, but the game hasn’t been going very long when she announces that she can’t find her bag which included a treasured leather bracelet. She proceeds to look inside everyone else’s bag and finds the bracelet in the bag belonging to Peih-Gee (whom we know from way back in Survivor: China). She announces that she is not going to make a big deal of it, by which she means she will simply mention it to every other player on the tribe except Peih-Gee. Unsurprisingly, Peih-Gee hears about it in no time, and she sits down with Abi to clear the air.

In general, it’s pretty telling that every time a player talks to the camera about what they want to do differently than on their prior season, the answer is to play a better social game.

I haven’t yet mentioned Jeff Varner who was on the second season, Survivor: The Australian Outback, but that’s not because he lacked camera time. In fact, I think we see him about five times saying that he’s at a loss for what to do because this new generation of players is so strategy-oriented.

Then there’s Kelley Wentworth (not to be confused with one-E Kelly Wiglesworth). Kelley with two Es was the one who played on Survivor: San Juan Del Sur with her father who was a farmer and whose game dragged her down somewhat. When they announced Kelley as a candidate for this season my comment on her was “she seemed very bright and perhaps even a bit sneaky.” We certainly see the latter here as she volunteers to go collect palm fronds, knowing this will take her to remote areas where she can look for a hidden immunity idol. And lo and behold she finds one! Well, not so fast, it’s a clue to one. The clue shows the precise hiding place, the problem is that it’s not anywhere in camp but on the challenge course. In other words, if she wants it she needs to grab it during the challenge when anyone might see her! I know that Dalton Ross of Entertainment Weekly has been pushing this idea for what seems like ten years, and now we finally get to see it play out.

But first we get to see that both tribes are independently doing some yoga, led by Joe on the one tribe and Vytas on the other. As Vytas demonstrates some poses to Shirin, Kelley interprets this as his way of flirting; she is no fan of Vytas obviously.

The challenge is a reprise of the first challenge of the first-ever episode (Jeff Probst doesn’t fail to point out that Kelly Wiglesworth participated in that one and didn’t win). The players have to push a raft through water while lighting torches, then place the raft on some supports. Then one player has to tie together sticks to lift a hoop off of a faraway peg. As for the idol? It’s behind the leg of one of the raft supports, definitely not a spot Kelley can just swing by without anyone noticing.

The two tribes get out of their water and place their rafts and get to work tying the sticks together, with Kelly Wiglesworth and Joe doing the honors for their respective tribes. The two of them are maybe five yards from the raft supports, and each tribe has nine other members crowding around, though all looking in the other direction. Kelley wisely positions herself at the back of her group, but she is still a couple of steps away from that support leg. She casts some longing looks backward, but other players are looking around a bit too so she doesn’t dare risk it. There is no plausible reason for her to head back there, and all it would take is for one person to glimpse her for one instant, and the resulting distrust would have a good chance of getting her voted out! I must confess, I found myself thinking “What would Boston Rob do in this situation?” Surely he would come up with an excuse, fake an injury, or something! Kelly continues to sneak peeks at the leg, and this is ten times more dramatic than the actual immunity challenge that’s going on! But now that actual challenge gets to its tensest moment. Joe on the other tribe is an inch away from getting his hoop off the peg, and everyone’s eyes are riveted on him, and that’s when Kelley smoothly steps back, grabs the idol, and slips it in the back of her pants while stepping back forward. YESSSSSS!

Wow, I might have a bit more of a Kelley crush than I realized. Anyway, Joe wins the immunity for his tribe, Wiglesworth takes the blame for the loss, and Kelley does a convincing job of looking sad.

And then Jeff Probst drops the bombshell that the losing tribe has to go directly to tribal council from there! I believe this is unprecedented except in the case of a player quitting or some other extenuating circumstance of that nature. The development is certainly enough to make Spencer worry, as he tells the camera his tribe is unpredictable, having Abi, Jeff, and “all the crazies under the sun” (whether he meant Shirin or not, the camera shows Shirin).

At tribal council, everyone pretty much downplays the suddenness, saying that everyone likely already knew who they wanted to vote for. Woo essentially gives a eulogy for Abi-Maria, who points out that it’s clear who Woo plans to vote for at least. When it’s time to vote, Spencer stands at the voting booth in such an agonized fashion you would think he’s deciding who to take with him to the finals.

When the votes are counted, Vytas is voted out, 6-4. I guess that’s a tribute to the intelligence of the players. Vytas is an ingratiating guy, but anyone who saw his prior season knows he’s a good liar and completely ruthless. The six who obviously wanted to eliminate that threat were Abi, Kelley Wentworth, Spencer, Shirin, Peih-Gee and Jeff. And voting for Abi were Woo, Vytas, Kelly Wiglesworth, and Terry.

In the interest of completeness I should note the three other players on the season not mentioned above: Monica from Survivor: Samoa, Kimmi from Survivor: The Australian Outback, and Ciera from Survivor: Blood vs. Water. My memory of the first two is pretty hazy but Ciera can certainly be quite the little troublemaker.

So who are my early favorites to win this thing? I think Andrew Savage would have a good shot, and also Spencer and Tasha.

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