Survivor: Philippines - Episode 1 (Part 1)
Survivor Smacked Me In The Chops
By Ben Willoughby
September 20, 2012

Lodestones tied together.

We open with a montage of spectacularly green islands, waterfalls and even a volcano, before – Probst sighting! – we cut to Probst driving a speedboat. Do we think he’s really driving the speedboat at the same time as giving his intro? I’m sure there’s someone below in the actual cabin behind the tinted windows doing the steering, while Probst is up top with his Junior Sea Captain’s Steering Wheel and Foghorn Playset.

Probst talks about how beautiful and remote this area is, and how it is teeming with dangerous wildlife that could potentially kill or maim a castaway. Like whale sharks - which eat plankton. And tarsiers – and we get to see one pounce on a grasshopper. I hope none of our castaways are especially small.

This season, our castaways are split into three tribes. We see Jeff Kent, with a montage of him playing baseball and washing his truck, talk about pressure playing in the World Series and hoping that people won’t recognize him. We see Zane talk about his Frankenstein tattoo and how it relates to his double nature – because Frankenstein picked a flower for a little girl, but he also strangled her. Can't he pick a better dual-nature role model than a child-killer? Like David Bowie? And we see Lisa talk over another montage of old clips from The Facts of Life, but in what looks like being a recurring theme, she’s not going to talk about her fame to her fellow castaways.

And now, we have another montage of Survivors getting hurt and feeling sick, with plenty of rolling their eyes back, compacted bowels and throwing up. (For those keeping count, that’s four montages in the first five minutes.) This season has three returning Survivors, and the thing they had in common is that they were all evacuated out of the game. So we have yet another montage with each of them getting hurt, interspliced with Russell saying that this time he is “smacking back,” Jonathan saying “I am on fire to win this game… 39 days from now, I’ll win a million dollars” and Michael killing a pig and smearing his face with its blood. Oh wait, that’s what he did back in the Australian Outback season. Also, it's an excuse to show some starved Elizabeth Hasselbeck.

39 days, 18 people, one Survivor, Probst announces, while “steering” the boat.

The 15 new castaways are gathered on a boat that is much less fancy than Probst’s. They are waiting patiently for Probst to arrive and wondering which annoyances from past seasons will be joining them, since there are only 15 of them. They are all sitting in their new tribes, and wearing tribe-appropriate colors. After the opening credits, Probst “drives” up beside the castaways’ boat and clambers aboard to ask a couple of questions. Jeff Kent is worried that with three tribes there are only five people on each, so it will be panicky come Tribal Council. Zane has something to say, too – having three tribes is fine, so long as there aren’t celebrities. Cut to Lisa, “former TV teen star”, saying in an interview she wants to keep things secret. Probst then asks Roxy about the toll this game can take, and what’s the worst she has ever seen. Roxy gives Probst exactly the answer he wants by saying the worst was when this guy passed out right in the middle of a challenge and he was begging Probst not to take him out. Probst would give Roxy a gold star if he could, because he introduces the three returning castaways: Russell, who must be embarrassed when Probst informs everyone very loudly that Russell “passed out right in front of [Probst]!," Jonathan, who had a “life-threatening infection” and Michael, who fell “hands first into the tribe fire, with skin dripping off of his fingers!” “All three of these players were leaders on their tribe,” says Probst, eliding over the returnees’ several leadership failures in their original seasons, “and all three have one thing none of the rest of you have – experience.”

Anyway, Russell is with the blue tribe, Matsing, Jonathan is with the red tribe, Kalabal and Michael is with the yellow tribe, Tandang. Michael turns out to have been a big fan of the Facts of Life, because he nearly calls Lisa “Blair”, talks about how amazing she is and tries to make out with her. Okay, not that last part.

Jeff advises them that Hidden Immunity Idols are back this season, and that they have 60 seconds to grab whatever supplies they can, and then they have to get their raft and get overboard. There’s a brief scramble for a machete, which the producers have wisely decided not to include in the supplies, but the only thing to happen is that when Kalabal shoves its raft into the water, the tribe’s supplies, the tribe’s chickens and Jeff Kent also fall in. Jonathan, who may already be looking for someone to vote out, asks “Your leg okay, buddy? Is it twisted?” - though I think this is an edit from a later discussion. In interview, Jeff Kent says his knee is twisted and something about his MCL, and how if the others find out he’ll be voted out real fast. This has to be a record for the fastest injury on Survivor ever. Obviously Survivor: Philippines is cursed, and the returning castaways will have to be burned at the stake to redeem the season. I’m pretty sure Jeff Kent was grateful the cameras were rolling, so there’s no chance anyone would think he hurt his knee dirt-biking or snowboarding or competing in the Extreme Daredevil Games.

All of the tribes get onto their rafts, which are half-submerged under the weight, and start paddling. We see each of them arrive at their respective camps. First, Matsing. Russell is thrilled to be playing Survivor again! And blessed! The first thing he does is gather the other Matsings around to announce that leadership isn’t gonna happen, that there will be no leaders, that we are all a team, that we can get this camp built and the fire started and then maybe we can select two leaders or something, I don’t care. I think I see a flaw in this plan, because by doing this Russell is taking a leadership role. In interview, he says that they can do what they want, but he’s not going to be the chief, and this is all a cunning plan to make some other dummy the leader so they can crash and burn when the time comes they can get the chop. Then back at camp we see him tell everyone the correct technique for cutting bamboo.

We also get to learn a little about Matsings who aren’t Russell. It turns out that Malcolm, the “bartender” who wants to play a sociopathic game, lived in Micronesia for a year teaching ESL. In interview, he downplays having experienced any roughing it, but he does know how to make fire, as well as stuff with coconuts and palm fronds. So he gives Russell some advice on technique, and Russell gets some coconut husks smoking, Malcolm throws in some grass and Matsing has fire. Good job, Russell! Russell gets the credit, which doesn't bother Malcolm at all, because Russell wants to be the leader so bad, and he wants to make Russell to feel good about being the leader. I don’t think he’ll need to try very hard.

Over on Kalabal, the red tribe, we check in on Jeff Kent’s knee. He doesn’t want anyone to know it’s hurt, but it’s really not good. We also check on Jonathan, who having played with four tribes, and then two tribes, is now playing with three tribes. He seems thrilled and genuinely moved to have this opportunity again. Meanwhile, Jeff Kent is saying to the other four Kalabals that the winner should be anyone but Jonathan. Why? Because of the strong emotional connection they all formed sitting on that boat? The other Kalabals should be wondering why Jeff Kent wants Jonathan off so bad. But they all agree, and in interview, Dana is on board. Back at the discussion, Katie doesn’t look so on-board.

And at Tandang, the yellow tribe, we first see Michael. He is talking about how people advised him not to come back because “now I am opening himself up to the legend of what I was, versus what I am today." Legend? You killed a bushpig, not the Erymanthian Boar. But he makes a good point, because remember Colby – in the same season as Michael - was the challenge monster, but ten years later in Heroes and Villains he wasn’t a physical threat. We also see RC and Abi go off to talk. RC, who describes herself as an all-or-nothing girl, is claiming to be an executive assistant, and not an investment banker. Because apparently not everyone likes bankers even though Wall Street is really tough. And to be a great investment banker you have to be tough, like you have to hail cabs in the rain while wearing six-inch heels. Whoa, I thought being an investment banker was all about being slave-driven by your slimy boss on the back of vague assurances that you’ll make partner one day if you shut up and do what he says. But now I find out it’s about hailing cabs? In the rain? When I interview with Goldman Sachs and they ask me about how I have dealt with life challenges, that's the example I'm going to use.

Abi and RC agree almost immediately to form an alliance – RC even says “We can win together!”, which I really hope Abi doesn’t believe. They are also smart enough to realise they need four people in their alliance, and they decide to approach Michael because of his experience, and Pete because he’s strong and he looks kind of dumb. Abi starts flirting with Pete by wearing her buff as a skirt and then adjusting it while looking at him and pointing out that her “big Brazilian booty” is preventing it from staying on. RC approaches Michael, sucking up big time by declaring how big a fan she is of the game and how fantastic that he is here and that “we can’t lose with you on our team, and we can’t lose with you in an alliance”. Michael agrees readily, revealing in interview that a part of his strategy is to go with the game – if the team is going slow, go slow. This is good general advice for Survivor, and I’d like to see if Michael can maintain it. The three young people are moving fast, so he’s going to move fast with them. Thus, the alliance is born! “We need to pick a name for our alliance”, says RC later. I can't wait to hear what they come up with.

Back at Kalabal, the castaways are all feeling each other out. Jeff Kent, who doesn’t want to reveal he’s made a fortune by hitting a ball with a bat and wearing over-sized novelty gloves, is quite comfortable revealing that he owns an enormous ranch, even though he claims to make his money selling motorcycles. He gets to work splitting bamboo and coconuts, while Jonathan gives an impressed thumbs-up to the camera. Dana doesn’t know who Jeff Kemp is, but there isn’t anyone else like her on the tribe, who is “tatted out people with punked out spiky hair” or who “would fight any boy in the trailer park that would challenge me”, so she plans to bond with him using their shared Southern roots. Jeff Kent talks again about he doesn’t want to be recognized, that he wants to play the game and loves to compete, and maybe if he is outed as Jeff Kent, multi-millionaire baseball player, he won’t be able to do that. Dawson – who you’ll recall “loves to trouble” – does recognize Jeff Kent, and while she’s not going to tell anyone, she does plan to tell Jeff Kent “as soon as it becomes valuable to me." Like when she needs to pull off the best Survivor prank ever.

Tandang again, and Lisa says that her strategy is to connect with each castaway individually, but she’s off to a bad start when she won’t even take off her pants to go paddling in the ocean with the other women. She says in interview that she doesn’t feel that she can play a cut-throat game and she has to play to her strengths, and that she lost all her Facts of Life money in the ’87 stock market crash. Being on Survivor is a godsend to her, because it gives her the opportunity to see “if I am more than a mom, and more than a child star." But she makes the mistake of staying behind while the others go off to talk about her. This is a challenge with only six castaways per tribe – there’s probably only one outsider, and if you’re marked as the outsider from Day One, good luck working your way back in.

RC is already undermining Lisa to Michael. According to her and her leopard-print bikini, Lisa’s going off on her own means she can’t be trusted. This isn’t true. If she was going off on her own with one other castaway, she can’t be trusted. If she was doing it several times with every castaway, she really can't be trusted. But if she’s on her own, who is she talking to? What relationships is she forming? It does make her an easy scapegoat, as RC points out, but it doesn’t make her untrustworthy. RC is doing all of the talking in an alliance pitch to Michael about why Lisa can’t be trusted. Can’t she wait until they lose a challenge and get rid of the oldest woman because “the tribe needs to be strong blah blah blah”? RC is moving way too fast in pushing her alliance towards the outcome she wants, and the rest of her alliance is letting her do all the talking. Michael is not totally on board because of his connection with Lisa thanks to a misspent youth watching NBC on Wednesday nights.

Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of the opening episode recap.