A new season of Survivor kicked off with a less-than-thrilling opener. For the 39th season of this juggernaut series, the first hour felt more like a whimper than a winner. The game started without any fanfare, the twist merely appeared into being, and the castaways didn’t get the impactful introduction that has been expected from seasons past. Survivor: Island of the Idols’ premiere didn’t live up to the tension and celebration we’ve come to expect – and it showed greatly in the tone of the hour. The momentum was seriously lacking!
Firstly, Survivor tried something different by not having Jeff Probst introduce the game to the castaways. Typically, the players are on a beach or boat when Jeff explains the season to them and places them into new tribes. Sometimes, the players are also marooned and have to grab as many supplies as possible before being forced off the boat, like what happened on Survivor: Edge of Extinction. However, in this case, the players were merely dropped off at their respective beaches, already in tribes, and given no direction on what to do next. That’s it, nothing else happened. The players had a few confused expressions on their faces and tried to serve as narrator, but this failed on all accounts. The opening 10 minutes had no excitement, no thrills, and no motivation to get us interested for the season – the start merely just happened.
Survivor: Island of the Idols continued with its formulaic path: castaways get to know each other, they start building the camp, and the leader/follower personalities emerge early on. As any fan of Survivor will attest, this storyline happens every season premiere – it’s a necessity and one that moves on quickly after the opening hour. A few standout players who emerge from the pack include Tom and his past in the NHL, Aaron and his strong gameplay, Vince and Karishma being pulled in multiple directions, and Elaine’s lovable personality. Some early alliances form naturally during the creation of camp, but we shouldn’t take any stock into them yet. The season just started, so by Episode 2, many of these friendships and groupings will most likely break up, including the majority alliances.
What Survivor: Island of the Idols did introduce was the strong, paranoid gameplay of using “Survivor” as a strategy. After 39 seasons of backstabs and strategic moves, casuals and superfans tend to know the basics of the game, and also what to expect while on the beach. At the Vokai tribe, Jason’s short absence caused Molly and Dan to spin with paranoia and start a majority alliance to vote him out. Sure, he was casually looking for an idol, but he was also grabbing leaves and such; the pair didn’t debate any other possibilities – in their heads, he was idol-hunting. That decision spun into existence within the span of minutes. Dan pushed that strategy through because finding idols is a part of the game and he wanted the target off him. Seeing most of the players jump to the deal was surprising and a tad lazy, but I can’t fault them for not wanting to be voted out first.
Another fascinating scene was the campaigning between Ronnie and Elaine. Ronnie spotted Elaine as his biggest social threat and tried the “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” tactic. Most times, this would minimize your enemy’s target until you struck first, but Ronnie underestimated Elaine’s intuition. We must give Elaine a lot of credit here – she deduced right away that Ronnie couldn’t be trusted and that their personalities would never work together later in the season. By switching gears on Ronnie and making the first strike, she avoided trouble that could’ve hurt her down the road.
After the immunity/reward challenge, Elizabeth got the chance to visit the Island of the Idols and we learned about the rules of the twist first-hand. Regardless of skeptics, I believe that Rob and Sandra won’t be joining the game at some point – this isn’t a Big Brother 14 scenario; the previous winners are just there to advise. Plus, they’re both getting chances to play again during Survivor 40, so there’s no point to waste the energy on back-to-back opportunities. I’m still on the fence about this twist. Rob, Sandra, and the producers get the power to determine the lesson/power of the week; they literally have ability to affect the game based on what they want to teach. We’ll have to see how this twist affects the game, but the outlook doesn’t look good.
When it came to Elizabeth’s choice, she should’ve known better than to challenge Rob to a fire-making competition. Come on, she just saw him build a practice fire in under five seconds! Plus, he played the game four times. Why risk your vote for a losing battle? Rob and Sandra were right in their assertions that she needs to question things, look at the situation, and not take bad risks. Maybe that lesson will stick with her down the road? She’s lucky that she didn’t need her Tribal Council vote this week.
Ronnie being the first person voted out was a little surprising. Typically, tribes tend to keep around physically strong people in the beginning to help them win at immunity challenges. With Ronnie leaving, they focused more on saving a trustworthy person (Vince) than someone who seemed shady and a threat. Ronnie’s only chance to stay would’ve been reading the room and not talking as much. He didn’t mesh well with his tribe, and every time he tried to control things, he pushed people away and seemed like a strategist. You can’t play too hard to fast in the beginning!
The first episode of Survivor: Island of the Idols came and went without any excitement. While the Tribal Council had an enjoyable blindside, the show banked too much on the Sandra and Rob twist to save the day. Clearly, Survivor is focusing a lot of energy on the veteran players than the newbies. The novelty will wear off soon, and while having both of them spy in on Tribal Council was a fun surprise, it didn’t make up for everything else. There needs to be more in a Survivor premiere.