Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains Recap
By Kim Hollis and David Mumpower
February 16, 2010

We have to use these pics of her while we can.

Almost ten years after the debut of Survivor, the show that kick-started reality television (for better and for worse) returns with this, its 20th season. Rather than introduce a series of new contestants, the producers of Survivor acquiesced with CBS' request to do something special this season. After years of saying that an All-Star competition would never be attempted again due to the troubles arising from the first iteration in season eight, a variation on the theme was attempted in season 16, which featured Fans vs. Favorites. Given the overall success of that season, the handlers for Survivor determined another All-Stars competition could work if done well. The key would be the casting. Thus, we find ourselves beginning a new season full of familiar faces, some of whom we are thrilled to see return, some we are less enthusiastic about watching again and a few we never wanted to see ever again. As such, we are conflicted about the idea of Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains, but as long as Boston Rob is back, we're cautiously optimistic.

Our recap of the first episode, which CBS was kind enough to stretch out to two hours in order to make us write more, will be split into two parts. Here in the first part, we'll remind you of where we stand on the various Heroes cast members selected to participate this season while examining the season premiere up until the end of the first challenge. In the second part, we will scrutinize the Villains and recap the second hour of the show.

For the most part, this season represents a phenomenal cast. The first Hero is Jessica Kiper aka Sugar, whose determination in doing the right thing allowed her to overcome a tight alliance and make her way to the final vote. There, she aided Bob Crowley in convincing the jury that he was a worthy champion, albeit at the cost of her own triumph. Sugar received no votes from her competitors and was later revealed to have been generally despised by her opponents, probably because she has a tendency to go on prolonged crying jags. In fact, we believe a great idea for a webcast would be recording Sugar watching Ol' Yeller. Nonetheless, she's one of the most innately good people to ever make it to the final vote on the show, which means we like her a great deal. She's one of our all-time favorite players.

Arguably the two most beloved competitors making a return appearance this season are Rupert Boneham and James Clement. Both of them have appeared twice in the competition. Rupert stole everyone's heart when he stole the opposing team's shoes, which is theoretically villainous behavior yet he found a way to rob with the sort of charm usually reserved for movie characters like Thomas Crown and Danny Ocean. Rupert finished eighth during his initial appearance then worked his way up to fourth place on Survivor: All-Stars. James earned his way in the Survivor Hall of Shame during his first season by failing to play one of his two hidden immunity idols at Tribal Council, thereby finishing in seventh place in a competition where he was a strongly positioned to win. He was doing quite a bit better in the Fans vs. Favorites competition during the Micronesia season before bad luck struck. James injured his finger and the medical staff eventually settled upon removing him from the game rather than risk amputation of the digit. He finished seventh that year as well. Between the two men, they have won the Fan Favorite $100,000 reward three times.

In terms of heroic game play, the first competitor to make an indelible impression on the show was Colby Donaldson, who won five consecutive immunity challenges to end the second season. Of course, he also had mommy issues that were exploited to maximum benefit by Tina Wesson, who let Colby carry her until the end then reminded everyone on the council what terrible strategy that was on his part. Viewed as the ultimate physical threat, Colby was never going to be a contender during the All-Stars competition. As the seventh player eliminated, he failed to outlast the woman who had been his enemy during his original season, Jerri Manthey. This feud is likely to continue during the Heroes vs. Villains season as Manthey clearly has issues about being rejected so profoundly on national television.

In terms of players who are the best combination of strength and savvy, Stephenie, JT and Tom lead the pack. Stephenie LaGrossa made her first appearance in season ten, where the editing demonstrated her to be a feisty battler stuck on a team of absolutely pathetic players. Her tribe, Ulong, lost eight out of the first nine immunity challenges that season. She was the last one standing after the "merge", but with the odds stacked against her so emphatically seventh place was a best case scenario performance. She improved dramatically in season 11 when she and previous tribemate Bobby Jon were allowed to return. Stephenie finished second that year, but she revealed herself to be much more ferocious in personality than had been displayed the prior season when the editing made her the heroic underdog. She is not the genteel sweetheart her initial press had indicated. For this reason, she got absolutely destroyed in the final vote by Danni Boatwright, who won 6-1. We went from loving LaGrossa in season ten to hating the very sight of her in season 11.

With regards to Tom and JT, we are talking about the winners of seasons 10 (yes, the same season where Stephenie's tribe was methodically exterminated) and 18. Tom made an early alliance with Ian the Dolphin Trainer (no, really) and remained loyal to the end. Ian was less firm with his commitment at first, manipulating events in order to betray Tom at the end. When Tom got word of this impending treachery, he exchanged harsh words with his former ally, who grew so remorseful over his actions that he retired from the game in order to let two more worthy contenders make the final vote. Tom is one of the most ethical players to ever win the game as well as one of the strongest physical contenders. JT , on the other hand, is arguably the most underrated winner in the show's history. The Alabama native masterfully understated his intellect while playing up the "stupid, well intended good ol' boy" stereotype. It was the male equivalent of a woman with an IQ of 160 acting like a ditzy blonde. His opponents did not have a full appreciation of just how well he played during the Tocantins campaign until the season was over. Some of their media interviews afterward indicated that they never could have guessed just how bright a player he had been the entire season. Among the returning heroes, we consider Tom and JT to be the best overall players in terms of complete skill set. As such, if they last more than five episodes, the other people in the game have made a huuuuuuuuge miscalculation. If either of these guys gains traction in an alliance, they'll win.

Perhaps the most intriguing combination of returning players on the Heroes side are Cirie and Amanda. Let's examine the latter player first. Amanda made it to the final vote during season 15 only to bungle the final Tribal Council as much as anyone in the history of the game. She stuttered and stammered her way to earning zero votes from her fellow contestants, making Todd Herzog one of the worst champions the game has ever had. His lying was viewed as more open than Amanda's lying, which is exactly the strategy that Evil Loser Russell expected to earn him victory last season only to discover was a one-time only mistake from a prior jury. Amanda was given an opportunity at immediate redemption in season 16, again earning a spot at the final Tribal Council only to receive no votes from her peers. There are a couple of aspects of Amanda's game that are clear. 1) She's a strong contestant who makes savvy alliances that take her to the end of the game. 2) She would never make it as a trial attorney as she seems utterly incapable of convincing others to take her side in a dispute.

Cirie knows this all too well about Amanda, because she was one of the woman's two primary allies during Survivor: Micronesia along with Parvati, who also returns this year. Cirie is perhaps the most oddly defined of the Heroes as she doesn't like to touch bugs and is wildly manipulative. Lazier contestants who use others to advance their goals can be wonderful Survivor players, but they are certainly not Heroes. Either way, Cirie's presence immediately defines her as the villain among the Heroes as well as the person most likely to have an alliance from the beginning due to her previous relationship with Amanda. We suspect that most of the early instigation in the Heroes camp this season will trace back to Cirie.

"I'm a gangster in an Oprah suit." -- Cirie, stealing the words out of the mouths of heroes everywhere

Candice Woodcock is also a contestant on the Heroes tribe. We are told that she appeared in season 13 and that she finished eighth. We have absolutely no recollection of this and strongly suspect revisionist history. How else could we explain a Survivor contestant who made absolutely no impression on us despite making it all the way to the merge? Her bio indicates it may have something to do with the fact that she was banished to Exile Island four straight episodes, which limited her television time. Even so, we just aren't buying that this Candice chick has ever been on the show before.

Okay, that's the Heroes. We'll get to the Villains tomorrow. For now, let's start the recap hour one and we start the only way we could. Probst Sighting! The best reality show host narrates some images from the various highlights of some of the players before we cut to a picture of twin helicopters. Rupert's tie-dye shirt is unmistakable, even from this distance, but the camera pans in anyway. We then cut to see several members of the villains on the other aircraft. If you believe that the editors are always up to something, the first two people to speak are Rupert, who maintains that his goal in life is to show that good always triumphs, and Evil Loser Russell, who says...something. We don't focus on the specifics, because we're too busy laughing as we remember how insanely jealous he was during the live post-game episode after the season finale last year. You know, when he lost. Also, it's fun to imagine how insecure he's going to be around Boston Rob, who will see right through him.

In terms of mood setting, the producers of the show outdo themselves here. Coincidentally (wink wink, nudge nudge), the Heroes arrive a few moments before the Villains. This turn of events allows the helicopter carrying the Villains to whip sand in the faces of the Heroes. I'm not talking about a beach bully kicking a wee bit of sand at a 98-pound-weakling, either. I'm talking about an entire beach worth of sand funneled up in the air then dispersed in the faces of the good guys. Now THAT is good video.

They aren't messing around with any filler during this premiere. After a moment of discussion about who is on the wrong tribe ("I'm a villain?" asks Boston Rob), they go straight to the first challenge. And it is BRU-tal. There are bags hidden in the sand a certain distance away from the starting point. Teams of two attempt to retrieve these packages and touch their finish mat in order to earn a point. Three points wins. As near as we can tell, everything is legal. Everything. In the first leg, Stephenie and Cirie compete against Parvati and Danielle. At one point, Stephenie and Parvati get in a wrestling match as one of the Villains villainously yells, "Break her shoulder." This was intended to be a joke (we think), but Parvati takes it seriously by snapping Stephenie's arm. She winds up with a dislocated shoulder that a medic has to pop back into place. This happens in the first leg of the first reward challenge of the first episode. The show can only go downhill from here. Villains are intentionally injuring Heroes, who are heroically not complaining as they receive medical attention. To wit, the trend continues later on. Rupert breaks a toe. In three places. The strategy employed by the Villains is not just victory in the challenges; it is the systematic elimination of all Heroes. This is better good versus evil than the actual show Heroes has ever managed.

The worst part for Stephenie is that her team loses the leg where she is intentionally injured. After the Villains win the first leg, Randy and Jerri face off against JT and Amanda. After Randy delivers a body slam on JT, the former champion places Randy in the Scorpion Deathlock before grabbing the bag and running to the open field for the first score for the Heroes. The third leg is Alpha Male Central as Colby and Tom match up with Coach and Russell. Long time readers of this column realize that the latter two men are among our least favorite players ever, but we have to credit Coach with tremendous play in this round. First, he comes up with a zone defense strategy wherein he doesn't bother digging but instead watches to see who unearths the prize. Once Russell comes out with the bag, he is immediately tackled viciously by both opponents (yay!), but Coach comes in to offer assistance. Colby winds up with the package, attempting to carry it to the finish line. Coach goes Greco-Roman wrestler on him with a ton of homoeroticism thrown in as he tracks Colby to the finish line doggy style.

Meanwhile, Russell puts Tom in a figure-four leg-lock (we're not even joking here) as Probst shouts, "Play fair down there." Yes, Jeff, we're certain that you want the fairest possible competition in this and aren't at all concerned about the ratings boon of Russell breaking an older guy's leg. Anyway, as Colby heads to the finish, Coach makes a genius play by letting Colby do most of the work (isn't that just like a power top?) only to use all his progress against him in the end, just as Tina Wesson had once done. Colby is derailed at the last moment and Coach maneuvers their coupling to his side of the finish line to score the point. They're also now married in some countries and we guess Colby is the bride. Survivor is a strange game.

The fourth leg sees Sugar and Candice face off against Sandra and Courtney. Speaking of ratings, this one goes exactly the way everyone was hoping. After several tackles, leg whips and even a forearm shiver, Sugar finds herself in control of the bag. At this point, Sandra unhooks her bra (again, not joking about this) in anticipation of Sugar modestly covering herself at the expense of control of the pouch. That...doesn't happen. Sandra didn't do her homework on this. Sugar is a pin-up girl who is quite comfortable with her top off (seriously, look her up on google the fourth result is her topless). She gleefully slides out of the remainder of her bra, escapes her opponent and rushes to the finish line. When she gets there, she spikes the bag and flips off the competition. No, it is not particularly heroic, but it is all kinds of bad-ass. THERE is the Sugar we love.

The final match is James and Rupert versus Tyson and Boston Rob in a matchup of three of the strongest physical competitors in the history of the game...and Tyson. This one is a foregone conclusion from the start. We love Rob, but he'd be a draw against Rupert or James. There is no way he can beat both on his own and Tyson has the upper body of...well, Courtney. He's useless in every sense of the word. Once the package is unearthed, Rob is left trying to fend off two people and he cannot do it. James gets out in open space, makes Rob miss on a would-be tackle and runs to the finish line, giving the Heroes the first victory of the competition, albeit at a stiff price in terms of physical health. This was shockingly great television in terms of intensity and has us very enthusiastic about the rest of the premiere as well as the full season. The Heroes and the Villains appear to genuinely dislike one another, making this the reality television answer to pro wrestling. In conclusion for today, we would like to end with a fitting quote.

"The Villains lost. Do you think that really bothers me? Losing? ‘Cause I'm used to losing." You said it, Evil Loser Russell. We couldn't have said it better ourselves, you complete fraud.