Survivor: South Pacific
I Need Redemption
By Jim Van Nest, Survivor Analyst
September 19, 2011

Yeah, I got voted off but Ozzy thought I was hot. That's how Amanda Kimmel got (somewhat) famous.

Hello, good people, and welcome to the premiere of the BOP Survivor: South Pacific recap! I'm Jim Van Nest, Survivor Analyst, and I'll be your guide through the sometimes wild and wacky world of Survivor: South Pacific. We're back in Samoa again for the 23rd season of the granddaddy of Reality Shows. This is the third season (out of the last five) to be filmed in Samoa. We'll also be watching the return and retooling of the Redemption Island twist. While we will have Redemption Island this season, Jeff Probst has promised that there will only be 1-1 duels on RI and we will not see any of the "as long as I'm not last" challenges from the previous season.

The last two seasons to be filmed in Samoa both featured David and Kim's favorite villain, Russell Hantz. So it's only fitting that a return to Samoa features the return of the Hantz. But this time, it's Russell's nephew, Brandon, donning the buff in an attempt to win the million dollars. Aside from winning the game, Brandon is also there to clean up the Hantz name. And what better way to do that than to begin the game by lying about who he is?

Also along for the ride this season are two "favorites" from seasons past. First up is everyone's favorite soccer coach/orchestra conductor/world kayaker/pygmy fighter/dragon slayer, Coach Ben Wade. Having failed in two previous attempts (Tocantins and Heroes vs. Villains), Coach is back seeking redemption. He still feels that Survivor can be won with integrity and honesty and he's out to prove it.

Joining him this season, from Cook Islands and Fans vs. Favorites, is Oscar "Ozzy" Lusth. Ozzy was a madman in the Cook Islands, not just winning, but dominating challenges. He also was a complete jungle man, climbing palm trees and fishing as though he was born doing it. He made it all the way to the end that season, but lost to one of the best ever, Yul Kwon. Ozzy came back a couple seasons later in Fans vs. Favorites. This time around, Ozzy bought into his own hype and fell victim to the Amanda/Parvati steam roller that completely owned that season. He left that game early AND with an immunity idol in his pocket. Ozzy's back seeking that one thing that's eluded him, the million dollars and title of Sole Survivor. He claims to have grown up and thinks he has the social game to match up to his physical game.

As the episode begins, we join a helicopter on its way to Survivor Island. Inside are the two returning players. With Ozzy in the foreground and Coach in the background, it was no surprise to see Coach inch forward on his seat to command a little more of the screen. And with that, the game is already on. As Coach and Ozzy are being flown in like some sort of Island VIPs, the rest of the cast can be seen down in the water on rafts, working their asses off to paddle to shore. The tribes seem to be broken up by color, with one tribe donned primarily in red, the other in blue.

As the tribes paddle in, we meet John. He looks like a reject from Lambda, Lambda, Lambda. He claims, however, to be a Survivor Expert...dare I say a Survivor Analyst? Nah. He's never missed an episode and he's written a prize winning essay on Survivor. Oh really? Try recapping every episode, big boy! I don't think you have it in you. Put that in your sweater vest and smoke it! We also meet a young girl claiming to be Native American who is counting on some sort of Indian-by-osmosis technique to help her excel at living off the land, despite having no actual skills. Normally, I would have laughed at that...but then we met great-great-great-great granddad, Jessem Herring, without whom Phillip would never have made the finals last season. Next up is a 51-year-old cowboy telling us that anyone who didn't train and learn to make a fire before coming out...well, you're just spitting in the wind. We meet a 44-year-old mortician who plans to use motherly ways to eavesdrop and spy on the rest of the case. The aforementioned Brandon Hantz introduces himself by comparing Russell to Hitler. "I don't think Hitler's nephew was running around telling everyone he was Hitler's nephew."

As the players continue their paddling, we prepare for Jeff's big finish to the season opener. Normally he's on the bank of a volcano, has huge waves blasting up behind him, or is sitting on the back of a helicopter as it goes in for a dive. I have to say that this season was quite disappointing as he's just kinda hanging out in Redemption Arena. But whatever the backdrop, after a long summer's absence, it's always special to hear, "Thirty-nine days, 18 people, one Survivor."

We open the show with the two tribes making their way to Redemption Island Arena to meet Jeff Probst and the two returning players who will be joining their game. As the helicopter lands, everyone is concerned about who it could be. Right off the bat a young lady in a business suit leans to Brandon Hantz and says, "I hope it's not Russell." All he can say is, "Oh my goodness. That would suck." He tells us in confessional that he'll have to keep his shirt on for the entire show as he has he name tattooed twice on his body and the last thing he wants is everyone to know he's related to Russell. As he finishes up, the helicopter doors open and Ozzy comes running out of the chopper to a rousing ovation. They can't wait for him to be on their team. Coach takes a much slower walk and gets a much less significant round of applause. Right off the bat some lady on the blue team reacts, "It's good to see them. It's nice. They're temporary players." Oooooh.

Jeff asks the Tri-Lamb for his opinion. But before he offers any, he asks Jeff to please call him by his last name, like Donaldson (Colby), Penner (Jonathan) and Mariano (Boston Rob). He feels that he'll fit in that lineage and so, at that moment, Cochran was born. May God have mercy on all our souls. He goes on to talk about their experience and that they've played twice. Jeff points out that he knew their history right off the top of his head. So Cochran comes clean that he's a huge fan of the show and that he even has a buff collection at home. Okay...if THAT'S what it'll take to get me on the show, you can frickin' forget it. I am NOT collecting buffs. I'm not that much of a whore...what's that? Jeff Probst on Line 1? Quick, someone get me my immunity necklaces!

To find out which tribe will get Ozzy and which will get Coach, they have to choose eggs filled with paint. With one quick squeeze, Coach busts his egg to reveal blue paint. After three slaps to his chest, Ozzy finally busts his egg spraying red paint all over his shirt. Cochran is thrilled to have Ozzy on his tribe. He's a huge Ozzy fan. The cowboy, Rick, is not at all thrilled to see Coach on his Tribe. He is not impressed by the Dragon Slayer and mentions something about him being in his forties. Which brings me to a quick Writer's Aside here: I don't really do these anymore, but I feel it's necessary to point this out. Coach is actually NOT in his 40s. He is actually 39-years old. I only mention this because yesterday, Sunday, September 18th, was Coach's 40th birthday. I only mention THIS because Sunday, September 18th happens to be the birthday of BOP's very own David Mumpower. As I know he still holds Coach solely responsible for ruining at least one full season of the show, I think it's incredibly hilarious to find out that not only do they share a birthday, but that Coach is younger. So, Happy Birthday, David (and Coach).

With a quick swipe of red paint all over Jeff's shirt, Ozzy is welcomed into his tribe as a returning hero, while Coach is damn near shunned as he heads to his team's mat. Basically, this is Boston Rob vs Russell all over again. The difference here is that Ozzy isn't half the player Rob is. Can't wait to see what he's learned since his last game.

Right off the bat, it's time for a challenge. Ozzy vs. Coach. They'll start by scaling a 12 foot pole to retrieve a small turtle. They'll then have to dig under a log, to make their war to another Survivor puzzle. The puzzle is a pyramid puzzle that you need to move from one position to another (with one in between), but you can only move one piece at a time and a bigger piece can never be on top of a smaller piece. Once the puzzle is moved with the turtle on top, the winner will receive a basket full of taro root and flint for fire. Survivors ready? Go.

As we've seen in reruns, Ozzy can scale this pole like no one’s business. But amazingly enough, Coach keeps right with him. They're neck and neck as they dig under the log. Ozzy being a bit smaller, he's able to get under the log first, but Coach is not very far behind. Ozzy's at the puzzle for about 45 seconds or so, but that doesn't matter as he's completely lost in this challenge. Both players seem to be having trouble with the rules and the strategy to solve it. The red tribe, Savaii, seems to have done this kind of puzzle before as they are giving Ozzy very detailed, perfect instructions for how to solve this. The blue tribe, Upolu, is shouting out instructions, but it becomes quite clear that they have no idea how to solve this puzzle. As you would expect, Ozzy wins easily, though it really was a win for Savaii. As they cheer and embrace, Coach is looked at with disdain for losing, despite the fact that the chucklenuts on his tribe had him working in circles. I guess we see how this is gonna go.

As Coach packs up to leave, only one person stays behind to help him. Edna, the business suit clad lady who was afraid of Russell, lags behind and gives Coach a hand gathering his things. Coach finally has a smile and tells us that this was a big kick in the ass; he's staring at going home first.

We come back from break as the tribes reach their beaches. First up is Savaii. They enter camp as winners often do, cheering and clapping. Everyone is looking to Ozzy to help set up camp. Never mind that setting up camp was never his strong suit, but honey badger don't care. Everyone gathers 'round to talk about what they do. Cochran is a Harvard Law student. Whitney is a Nashville songwriter and Semhar is a spoken word poet. She's also attractive. So naturally, Ozzy wants her on his team. In his first decision as "leader," Ozzy decides that they should shuck off work and just go swimming. Poor Cochran is not a fan of this idea. He doesn't like how he looks in his underwear, so he's not looking forward to everyone seeing him mostly naked. As all the girls strip down, Cochran finally joins in.

Over at Upolu, the mood is much different. Coach is busy trying to figure out how he'll fit into this game. As Coach tries to work his way into their good graces, they discuss what they do for a living. Rick is a rancher. Random dude is a baseball coach. Sophie is a Russian major...and naturally, Coach speaks Russian. While she's annoyed by his arrogance, she admits that after two times, they probably should listen to his advice for building a shelter. And right away, the tribe gets to putting a shelter together Coach is helping with the construction. He's showing them roots to eat. He's being about as much of a team player as he could possibly be. Christine (the "temporary player" chick) walks away to look for a hidden idol. Lucky for her, only her ENTIRE TRIBE sees her looking for it. Coach sees this and thinks she may be someone who's working her way out of favor.

Back at summer camp, the Savaii tribe is still getting to know each other while they hang out in the ocean. Jim, who sells medical marijuana, appears to be this season's horndog as he can only seem to comment on how hot the chicks are. He tells his tribe that he's a teacher, but he's really a professional poker player and he owns a couple medical marijuana shops. Talk of marriage comes up and Mark, a retired NYC Cop, announces that he's gay. He goes on to say that he's a "bear." And right then, Papa Bear was born. After swimming and bonding, they finally decide to go work on a fire and shelter building. Dawn, the resident worrier, is concerned that there is no shelter. You can see it on her face, she's about to melt down. Ozzy tells them all that since the weather is nice, sleeping on the ground won't be too bad. Needless to say, that freaks Dawn out even more. For a guy who was so warmly welcomed into his tribe, I don't think it's gonna take Ozzy long to annoy the crap out of the rest. I mean, he's done this before. Twice. Of course, he's okay with sleeping on the beach. These people are brand new at this. The least you could do, as a returning player, is share some knowledge and help them build a nice camp.

Back at Upolu, Coach is noticing Brandon's tattoos. That has him worried. As he and Coach keep talking, Coach mentions Mikayla (the lingerie football player). Brandon has obviously noticed her. She tells us how she has no problem getting her hands dirty and doing some of the hard work. As she's climbing on top of the shelter arranging palm fronds, Brandon is keeping a close eye on her. He tells us about how religious he is and how she makes him uncomfortable. He says she's flaunting herself off. As he's telling us about being a married gentleman and how he needs to keep away from her. Mix this in with shots of him looking like creepy stalker guy and I'm totally freaked out now. First off, get over yourself, dude. Look at her. Now look at you. You don't have to worry about her getting too close to you.

As night falls on Upolu, a small group has gathered on the beach. There are five of them. Coach is telling them about how he wants to win every single immunity challenge. He says reward challenges are great, but the feeling after winning immunity is incredible. He goes on to tell them that if you have a strong five, you can go all the way to the end, even if you're down in the merge. He tells us that there will probably not be another chance for the five of them (Coach, Rick, Brandon, Sophie and the baseball coach whose name I still don't know) to sit around and talk like they are. So he pounced on it. As they talk, everyone seems to agree that this group works. Coach tells them that first day alliances are always the strongest. He even adds the, "We've all seen that." And as he talks, you can tell they are all buying in. What a difference a day makes, huh? Coach seems to have worked his way into a five person alliance; meanwhile, Ozzy is alienating himself from some members of his tribe.

The next morning over at Savaii, Dawn is continuing her meltdown. After dumping a full pot of water in the fire and coming off a night of no sleep, she's starting to self destruct. Papa Bear is telling her that she has to keep it together. Since they're the oldest, they could be the targets. As Dawn is trying to help out around camp, she's just having misfire after misfire. She confides in Ozzy. And he tells her that she has to get it under control. He tells her that the age difference doesn't matter and as long as she doesn't quit, she'll be in the game. He tells her to get rid of the part inside her that is unsure. He seems to be having a positive impact on her and he hopes that she'll become an important ally in this game.

We come back from break as Savaii brushes their teeth. I'm SO glad we got a 90 minute premiere. What would I do without seeing some good oral hygiene? Ozzy's feeling a sense of urgency now to get a shelter built and to get some fish caught. As the tribe gets to work, Cochran decides he wants to learn how to machete a coconut. To his credit, he does seem to be a quick learner. Ozzy is a little concerned about Cochran. He feels that he doesn't really offer a lot to the tribe. He tells us that he thinks he has enough social game to overcome his lack of a physical game.

At Upolu, Brandon is out fishing. He tells us that he wants to provide for his tribe and he wants to do what his uncle never did. He then comes up with his first fish. Sure, it's a two inch little fish, but it's a start. He's still convinced that he will not take his shirt off. He doesn't want to be judged by Russell's reputation. Sophie tells us that she is very happy with her new alliance and she feels that some of them are sincere. She's worried about Brandon, though. She's sure that he's hiding something. Whoa...freaky.

Probst sighting! And here we have our first immunity challenge of the season. It's a massive obstacle course-y game. Both tribes will race through a zig zagging pathway on the ground. Once everyone is through, they'll run through a web of coconuts. Then they have to get all tribe members over a 10 foot wall. Once over, one tribe member will dig up a machete and cut through a bunch of ropes to release a bunch of coconuts. Then three people will use those coconuts to shoot baskets. Once enough coconuts are in the basket, their flag will raise. First tribe to raise their flag wins.

In a rare scene, we see each tribe strategizing for this first challenge. Coach is outlining what they'll need to do to get people over the wall. And Ozzy is talking about shooting baskets. Keith, at 6'5", says he'll shoot. Semhar also steps up and says that she'd be good to go on that as well. And with that, we begin.

The tribes take off and it's a mish mosh through the zigzagging maze. Upolu makes it first and blows through the coconuts. They're first to hit the wall as well. Baseball Coach (his name is Albert) is quick up the wall. As Cochran has some trouble with the wall, Albert just pulls Brandon from the ground to the top of the wall. Upolu has opened a nice lead now as Rick digs for the machete. Savaii finally gets over and Ozzy begins the machete dig. Rick is digging forever but finally gets to it. And Ozzy has his machete as well. Rick makes quick work of the ropes and releases the coconuts. Then Ozzy releases his coconuts (that sounds dirty.)

Brandon, Mikayla and Albert are shooting for Upolu. Keith, Semhar and Ozzy are shooting for Savaii. Semhar has not made a basket yet, as Upolu closes in on winning. (Wow, that strategy conversation seemed so extraneous at the time.) Keith and Ozzy are keeping Savaii in the challenge, but Mikayla is just not missing. And with that, Upolu wins the first immunity challenge. To run a little salt in the wound, Jeff lets Savaii know that they were one coconut away from winning. When you factor in that Semhar missed at least 12-15 shots, that is an unforgivable performance in an immunity challenge. Of course, she's hot, so she still has a chance to stick around.

As Jeff is congratulating them all on the closest challenge ever, he hands over the idol to Coach and tosses flint to Brandon. He then tells them that hidden back at their camp is a clue to the whereabouts of a hidden idol. So, find the clue and then try to find the idol. As Upolu leaves, Jeff asks Semhar how she's feeling about the challenge. She says she feels "sorta bad." As she says that, Jim is rolling his eyes like crazy behind her. When Jeff calls him on it, he says that he feels "sorta bad" when he runs out of milk. He feels like crap right now that they have to vote someone out. Jim tells us how pissed he is that she was adamant about shooting the baskets and then was terrible at it. He says there's no reason to keep her.

We come back from break to Coach giving a rousing victory speech. Of course, as he's talking, all anyone is thinking about is finding that idol clue. As the tribe splits up to search, Stacey is telling us how important it is to find. As she's digging around, she tells us that he needs to look in the trees and in the holes in the trees and that it's probably somewhere right in the open and she may have already gone right past it. As she tells us that, the camera zooms into a hole in a tree that she just removed her hand from. Yep...there's a clue in there. D'OH!

And now it's time to play "It's anyone but Semhar." Right off the bat, Semhar tells them that she feels horrible about losing but she didn't appreciate what Jim was doing behind her back in front of everyone. She doesn't like that he kicked her when she was down. He apologizes to her, though not very genuinely. She tells us that it might have been a bad idea to go off on Jim like that. We join Dawn and Papa Bear as he tells her that he will not write her name down. As the day goes on, it becomes obvious that Dawn will be safe. Papa Bear fells that Semhar should be the one to go. Dawn is happy as a clam to jump on board with that. As Ozzy hangs out in the water, he tries to convince them that Semhar might not be the vote. He says that Dawn did real well and that Cochran is the one they may need to get rid of. Ozzy tells us that despite losing the challenge, she should get some credit for stepping up. Jim tells us that he's concerned that Ozzy is fighting so hard to keep her. He says that if Ozzy wants her around so bad, it might be a good reason to get rid of her. Ozzy goes to Semhar and tells her that he'd like her to stay and that Cochran could be the vote, but she's gonna have to do some politicking if she wants to stay.

So she starts working everyone in camp and they all give her the affirmative that she won't be leaving. Jim, on the other hand, goes to Cochran and Papa Bear and blows Ozzy's plan. So with Dawn, Jim and Papa Bear in the mix, Cochran is still one vote shy. He tells us that he's very paranoid and very upset that he could possibly be going home first. Papa Bear does what he can to talk Cochran off the ledge, but he's in a bad place now. As they head to Tribal, Cochran is positive he's on his way out and he's completely bummed about it.

The group arrives at Tribal Council, lights their torches and sits down. Dawn admits that the thought of being alone at Redemption Island is not a good thought. She admits that she had a rough go of it over the first couple days, but she hopes the tribe will look at her now as opposed to then. Elise, she's the Indian, admits that Semhar could be in trouble because of the challenge and the explosion at camp. Jeff asks Jim what happened. He says that he hates losing and that she stepped up to do the challenge and blew it. Whitney even admits that she stepped back from the challenge because Semhar sounded so confident. Semhar feels that she should get some credit for taking on the role as opposed to someone who never takes on the role. Ozzy says that someone like that is someone you want on your team.

Jeff asks Dawn who else might be worried and she suggests Cochran. He jumps in and says that yeah, he might be weaker, but he did well in the rope portion of the challenge. Papa Bear does admit that Cochran has a rough time on the wall and also that he needs a lot of direction. Semhar admits that she does feel a little relief knowing that some people want Cochran out instead of her. Cochran decides to go on the offensive. Sorta. He suggests that she doesn't do much around camp and that he's working a lot harder. He says that he is a good learner and despite not knowing anything, he only has to be taught once. He also says that it's heartbreaking to think that he could be the first person voted out. He promises that beginning tomorrow he will be a new Cochran. He'll do whatever they want him to do and that he'll be a work animal around camp.

Jeff points out the obvious, that it's Semhar or Cochran going home. And with that, it's time to vote. We only see two votes. Semhar voting for Cochran and Cochran voting for Semhar. First vote, Cochran. Second vote, Semhar. In what could be a bit of a shock, Ozzy actually thinks with his big head and joins the rest and they make Semhar the first resident of Redemption Island in a unanimous. As she heads out, he says, "I should have taught her to make a fire." I guess now we have to see whether or not Cochran can improve like he said he would.

Overall, a very nice first episode of Survivor. I can't overstate how nice it is to have that extra half hour to get to know these people. I feel like I have a nice handle on the dynamics of each tribe as well as a nice foundation on the personalities in this game. Sure, I don't know all the names yet, but I feel like I know about the people. That extra 30 minutes of camp life will be huge in "getting into" this season, I think.

Next time on Survivor: Cochran seems to be the focal point. And Brandon's secret is weighing on him and that awakens the Dragon Slayer. Oooh...Episode 2 and we get the Dragon Slayer already?? I can't wait. Til then, take care.