Survivor: China
A Chicken's a Little Bit Smarter
By Jim Van Nest
September 25, 2007

See, he's named Chicken. Because he's a chicken farmer.

Hello, good people, and welcome to the premiere of Survivor: China. In an unprecedented move, CBS somehow talked the People's Republic of China into letting them film their little TV show there. There have been a couple of changes to this season's show...and they're changes that could have been made a few seasons ago. Exile Island is a thing of the past, which means we'll have about five minutes less dead time per episode and that's always a good thing. Also, they've returned to their roots and only have 16 Survivors. While this doesn't seem like THAT big of a deal, I think it's huge from the standpoint that you get to know the Survivors quicker. And knowing them is the first step to rooting for them. Or against them. With MY formalities out of the way, let's get to Jeff's formalities.

The episode opens with Jeff on the steps of an ancient Buddhist Temple. He tells us about 16 Americans beginning the adventure of a lifetime. He does give us a tidbit about each player. We have a former Miss Montana, a middle school lunch lady, a Christian radio talk show host and a gay Mormon flight attendant. We also have a professional rassler, a University of South Carolina honor student, a chicken farmer from Virginia and a professional poker player. Also, we have a fourth grade school teacher, a Nashville musician, a gravedigger from Louisiana (um...must be northern Louisiana, cause they don't dig graves in the southern part of the state), a jewelry designer from LA and a New York City waitress. We finish up with a surfing instructor, a bartender and former model and a 20-year-old student and athlete, the youngest Survivor ever.

As we watch the journey back in time from thriving metropolis to ancient forest, we see that all the Survivors seem to have luggage. I could be wrong, but how much surviving will they have to do with all their stuff? They all unload from a truck and begin the hike up one the largest sets of stairs I've ever seen. Some have to assist others carrying the heavy bags. Again I ask, what the hell is going on with the suitcases? As they climb, Jeff tells us how tough it will be to battle the elements to be named the Sole Survivor. Are you ready Survivor fans? Cause here it comes: 39 DAYS, 16 PEOPLE, ONE SURVIVOR! Cue the opening theme...

As we come back from the opening, the Survivors are being led in by a tribe of Buddhists. Chicken (the chicken farmer) tells us how much he loved the experience. Peih-Gee tells us how moving it was being Chinese and in the old country. They finally meet up with Jeff Probst and he tells them that they have been invited to attend a welcoming ceremony. He specifically tells them that this is not a worship ceremony, but a ceremony to make them feel welcome. The group enters an amazing Buddhist Temple and they're's quite incredible. Denise, the mullet-wearing lunch lady, is almost moved to tears. Courtney, the Gwen Stefani wannabe, tells us how she's from New York and she doesn't understand what they're doing. As she's talking, we get some good shots of a monk correcting her hand positions and her rolling her eyes throughout. Afterwards, she complains about having to bow for days. (More on that in a moment.) Everyone else seems to be soaking in the moment, except for Leslie. Leslie is a Christian Radio Host and since she has been taught to not bow to any other idol...she actually walks out of the ceremony in the middle. Afterward, Jeff asks Leslie about it and she says that while she's not a religious person, she has given her life to Christ and that she'll only put her face to the floor for him. Jeff mentions that he even told her it wasn't a worship ceremony, but she said that it felt like worship. As seems to be the case for everything, Courtney is rolling her eyes through the entire exchange.

Okay. I can't believe I'm less than 15 minutes in and already something has annoyed me to the point that I have to set an entire paragraph aside to bitch about it. First off, Courtney, get over yourself. I realize that you're from New York and that in your mind, that somehow makes you better than everyone else, but to roll your eyes during this ceremony and to essentially make fun of it and belittle the people have some serious growing up to do. Maybe it's just that you don't realize that an American being invited to China is a huge thing. Maybe you don't realize that being invited to the part of China you're in and the Temple in which you just stood is something that simply doesn't happen. To be included in a ceremony like that was something that doesn't just happen to any American who stumbles into China. It's something to be experienced. Something to be humbled by. At the very least, it's something to be respected. The disrespect Courtney showed inside that temple is exactly the type of behavior that is associated with Westerners in general and Americans in specific. And exactly why we don't get invites into China. And then Leslie. She wasn't much better than Courtney. To her credit, she at least didn't totally make fun of the ceremony. Although she did walk out in the middle of it. Now, I've participated in a few debates on this topic and I feel as strongly as ever. It was made quite clear that this was not a worship ceremony. Further, if you know anything about Buddhism (which, I'll concede, she probably doesn't) there are no idols in Buddhism. The Buddha is not a deity. The Buddha is a teacher. He's a regular man like the rest of us, except he has found his way to spiritual enlightenment. Had she known that, she would have known that she was not bowing down to another God, but rather taking part in a welcoming ceremony that, until now, probably no American had ever witnessed in person. Of course, she could have just listened to Probst when he told her that it was only a welcoming ceremony. He even mentioned that specifically because he thought some people might take it the wrong way. Bottom line, walking out of a ceremony like that, regardless of the reason, was a slap in the face to a group of people that most certainly didn't deserve it. Further, it helps continue the stereotype that Americans don't really care about anyone other than themselves and that we have no interest in learning about or understanding any culture other than our own. Again, Leslie's offense wasn't as bad as Courtney's, but they both reeked of disrespect and it really hit me the wrong way. Okay, I'll jump down off my soapbox and get back to the show. Thanks so much for bearing with me there as I let off a little steam.

Jeff then explains to everyone that a big theme in Buddhism means the leaving behind of your worldly possessions and that means they'll be going into the game with the clothes on their back. Frankly, I'd be thinking he could have mentioned that before I lugged all that crap up 97,000 stairs. They scan to some of the players, like the rassler. She's wearing fishnet stockings and HUGE boots, that she says weigh like 20 pounds each. The honor student mentions that she's not wearing a bra. "Well, that's gonna make you either very popular, or a big liability." And that's why he's the best reality show host in the business folks. Each person grabs themselves a bag which contains their buffs. The yellow tribe is called Zhan Hu, which means fighting tiger. Frosti, Dave, Jamie, Eric, Peih Gee, Sharea, Ashley and Chicken make up the Zhan Hu tribe. The red tribe is Fei Long, which means flying dragon. They are Jean-Robert, Leslie, Amanda, Courtney, Denise, James, Todd and Aaron. Amanda is pumped about having James and Aaron on her tribe.

Jeff goes on to let them know that by reading The Art of War, the tribes could learn important information that will help them progress in this game. He gives each tribe a copy of Art of War and a map. The Fei Long tribe is having trouble rowing. Aaron seems to be the only one who knows what's going on. He does not really want to be a leader, but he seems to take that role anyway. As they land, they find a big bucket of rice and shortly thereafter, the rains came. Leslie tells them that the Big Guy upstairs is providing from them. Then we really get to meet Courtney. As everyone is introducing themselves, she's completely annoyed by the fact that people are actually speaking to each other and enjoying themselves. I'm sure her growth in the game will be fun to watch...supposing she makes it past the first vote.

The first really interesting exchange comes between Brad and Jean-Robert, our professional poker player. JR (which is what I'll call him from now on, questions Brad on the whole flight attendant thing. He tells Brad that he seems devious and that he knows he's sharp and that he's not gonna pull anything over on him. Brad refuses to say whether or not JR is right, but he asks him to not spread the word. Brad tells us that JR is absolutely right. I've often wondered what it would be like to have someone like a professional poker player on the show. Someone who can see through the BS and call it like he sees it. Apparently, it's gonna make him an in your face type that seems to think he's smarter than everyone else. I'm gonna have to see more of JR to decide if I like him or not. Brad...I like him right off. He is very smart and very knowledgeable about this game. He could go far, if JR doesn't make him a target too early.

When we come back from break the Zhan Hu tribe finally lands at their campsite. The first person we meet is Sherea and she laments the wearing of high heels in the muddy campsite. She's the typical city girl, out of her element African-American that they have every season. You'd think they would change that up...just for one season, wouldn't you? Ashley and Frosti begin pulling out wood to build a shelter. Chicken tells them to stop as they don't have enough wood for everyone. He says they should build a shelter. This whole thing sets up a bunch of "do it my way - no do it my way" talk and Chicken gets his feelings hurt and decides he just won't offer any more help to anyone. Way to be a team player there, big guy. We next focus on Ashley. She's the WWE Diva. Dyed hair, lip rings and big fake boobs are pretty much the first thing you notice. She tells us that she feels like she's tough enough to handle this and that she has a lot of fans that she doesn't want to let down. Peih Gee (who I'll abbreviate PG, cause that's how her name is pronounced) tells us she thinks she's on the lazy tribe. She tells us she's normally a social person, but she feels like she has to be so serious. We get back to talking about shelter, and Chicken continues to not offer any opinion whatsoever. As the rain comes down, the Zhan Hu tribe is no closer to a shelter than the moment they landed.

Back at the Fei Long tribe, their shelter is coming along nicely. James, who has to be the biggest muscle guy in the history of the show, is basically pushing down trees to use to build their shelter. As he's being compared to Superman, James is shown to be quite the loner. He says that he doesn't really have the social skills for something like this, but he's gonna try. Leslie is offering him tips to handling the social aspect of the game. James tells us that he's gonna try extra hard in camp and at the challenges to hopefully make up for his lack of a social game.

Night and the rain falls and we get a couple shots of folks in complete misery...really not much different than any other season, except it rained real badly. At Zhan Hu, their camp and shelter is a mess. Chicken seems to have woken up with a new found spirit and is working his butt off. The exact opposite has happened to Ashley. Looks like she's the token "sick one." She has real bad chills and is dry heaving. Naturally she's getting a lot of negative attention with this sickness. Dave tells her that this will not put her on the block, after which he tells us that if her condition stays the same, she'll be the first to go. So, I think we can put Dave in the "will say anything to stay in the game" category.

When we return to the Fei Long tribe, they are getting Tree Mail. In the chest is a miniature Chinese dragon with instructions that tells us this is an immunity challenge. Fei Long begins reading Art of War. The first thing mentioned is that they need a leader. Brad suggests that Aaron is the perfect person to lead the tribe, as he's kinda taken that role anyway. Brad just doesn't want the role for himself and he wants to keep Aaron close. Aaron tells us he really doesn't want it, but he can step up and be the leader if that's what the tribe wants/needs.

Over at Zhan Hu, they're also reading their mail and talk falls back on Ashley again as she's not feeling any better. Frosti (he's the 20-year-old) tells us that he is a Parkour. Since I didn't know what that meant, I went and looked it up. Parkour is an activity of French origin that is essentially finding the quickest most efficient way from point A to point B, regardless of what obstacles may be in the way. Whether the obstacle is a hole, a wall or anything you can think of really, these guys use their body and mind to find the most efficient way to get around, under, over or through that obstacle. WOW...I can't imagine THAT skill would come in handy on Survivor, can you?** He tells us that he's ready to use his skill to do whatever it takes to get his team across the finish line first.

Probst sighting!! Jeff asks Chicken how life has been and he says they're okay. JR tells Jeff the worst is being completely soaked and trying to sleep. Let's get to the challenge. Each tribe will have to carry a ceremonial mascot (think Chinese dragon, like you would see in a Hollywood version of a Chinese parade). This mascot is heavy and awkward. They will maneuver the mascot through a series of obstacles. When they reach a locked gate, one tribe member will race ahead and scale two walls (wow, if only there was someone on the show who would know how to do that!). They'll release a bridge at each wall and will retrieve a key to unlock the gate. The tribe will them continue on through a swamp with their mascot. At the end of the path is a bunch of blocks with different grooves in them. The mascot will set into these grooves, like a puzzle. The mascot will only fit one way. First tribe to set their mascot will win immunity and a flint for fire. All players are given their tennis shoes prior to the challenge, which they will be allowed to take back to camp. Survivors ready?

James and Frosti will be the wall jumpers for their respective tribes. The race begins and the tribes stay pretty much even throughout. Ashley doesn't seem to be hurting her tribe at all, but Fei Long has taken a bit of a lead as they get to the locked gate. Zhan Hu catches up at the gate and Frosti and James take off toward the first wall. Frosti, the Parkour, just leaps to the top of the wall and pulls himself over in about two seconds. Amazingly enough, the muscle-bound James is every bit as fast. As they jump down, Frosti forgets to lower his bridge, so he has to go back. A challenge this close, those couple seconds could be enough to sway the challenge. James keeps his lead over the second wall, but the lead is so small it almost doesn't matter. As it is, Zhan Hu actually takes a bit of a lead into the swamp. It's here that Zhan Hu really starts struggling to carry their tiger mascot. Fei Long gets to the puzzle platform first and begins planting poles. Zhan Hu gets there, but can't get anywhere with the puzzle. And Fei Long wins the first immunity challenge and flint for fire.

We come back to Zhan Hu where it's time to play our favorite game, "It's anyone but Ashley." The tribe is pretty dejected, as most tribes are. PG is completely verklempt. She's crying on Dave's shoulder and then he addresses the tribe. He asks that they please continue as a tribe until they vote. PG is telling us that unless the tribe gets it together they'll never win anything. She begins to take charge of the shelter building. She asks Chicken his opinion and he still refuses to give it. He basically just agrees with anything PG says. Meanwhile, PG is irritating some people, especially Ashley. She says that if you want to be the tough leader, you can't come back crying after challenges. And then she begins the campaign to stay. She's feeling better and is trying to be sure that people won't hold that one day of sickness against her. Chicken wants her to go because she hasn't done anything since they got there. Sherea tells us that her vote is between PG and Chicken. Dave tells us that it seems like three people have their head on the block and that he won't vote for Chicken, because he wants the experience to stay on the tribe. I have to say, it's quite impressive how it went from a slam dunk Ashley vote to an Ashley-Chicken-PG three-way potential.

As the tribe makes its way into Tribal Council, they get the same ol' speech about fire being life and that once the fire is gone, so are you. As the tribe sits down, Jeff starts with PG. He asks if this was more than she bargained for. She says that it's been terribly hard. Chicken complains that it took two days to build a shelter that should have been done the first night. Jeff asks for a show of hands of people who want to be the leader. Dave and PG raise their hands. Dave gets into how he didn't want to step into this position, and that someone needs to step up and kick some people in the butt to get this tribe together. PG says that she doesn't want to be bossy, but if the tribe doesn't get it together naturally, someone might just have to get bossy. As they move onto who should be sent home, Dave says that he needs to trim the least productive people. Chicken is also voting for the person that's done the least over the last three days. Jeff asks Ashley if she's fitting in, and she says that hearing everyone speak tonight, she's not feeling like she is. She acknowledges that she's done the least due to being sick. Chicken admits that he's not fitting in but the decision tonight comes down to the guy that doesn't fit in, or the guy that works. He says a wrong decision could mean they'll be seeing Jeff a lot. And with that, it's time to vote.

As the tribe votes, we see three votes. Ashley votes for PG saying that she feels Dave is the leader and there's not room for two. Chicken votes for Ashley saying that it's just bad luck at the wrong time in the wrong place. PG votes for Chicken saying that he's been too afraid to step up and make a decision and that they don't need that right now. And here it is, Jeff's gonna go tally the votes. First vote is for Chicken. Then Ashley for two. Then we get the PG vote followed by another Chicken vote. Sixth vote is for Chicken. And the first person voted out of Survivor: China is Chicken. The best part of having to go to Tribal is that Jeff tosses them a flint on the way out. While some may say this was a dumb vote, I have to disagree. While I would have voted PG, I don't think you could go wrong voting for either of her or Chicken. You can't dump Ashley. She's got too much potential in challenges. There's always a couple of one on one challenges or more physical challenges, and as strong as she is in her real life, you have to take the chance that she'll get well and potentially help out in some of those challenges. I mean what woman on the Fei Long tribe will be able to compete with Ashley? That alone is enough for me to give her three more days. Now, if after those three days, she's still useless, Ashley gets the boot next time around. As for Chicken, he may have the experience, but if he's decided that he'd rather watch the tribe sink than give an opinion, then he's no use to anyone. Only time will tell if they made the right decision, but I think they did.

Next time on Survivor: at Fei Long, JR is getting crap for not doing anything. At Zhan Hu, Ashley seems to have rubbed Dave the wrong way and he's decided that if she wants a fight, he'll give it to her. And looks like we have one of those physical challenges as the rassler in Ashley comes out. They show her just slamming Leslie into a big pool of muddy water. It'll be quite interesting to see if she helps her team win and manages to hang around for a bit. I guess we'll see next Thursday. Until then, take care.