Survivor: Blood vs. Water - Preview, Part 1
By Ben Willoughby
September 16, 2013

Well, they don't appear to be off to a roaring start.

Survivor returns for its 27th season, its third consecutive season in the same country, and its second consecutive season with 10 returning players. Who says the show is getting tired?

If you thought the 10 returnees from the Caramoan season were lackluster, you should check out this bunch of low expectations. Of the 10 returnees, maybe two of them have been brought back because they are good at playing Survivor. And both won their seasons, so they will probably get booted out early. There’s maybe one returning player who I am interested in seeing again. So I am struggling to find silver linings for the season. For now, I’m focussing on my relief that the producers decided not to bring back Russell Hantz with his presumed loved one, Brandon, in a double-Hantz-tacular.

But maybe this season will be the one where a new player actually wins the game, because each of the returnees is bringing someone from their real life with them. Probably someone who’s sick to death of hearing how great a Survivor player the returning castaway is and wants to show that anyone can do it. But anyway, each of the newbies has been coached in the game by someone who has been through it before. Of course, a coach who knows what they are doing would have been better.

So that’s why we have the blood vs. water motif for the season. Of course, blood isn’t a great description, because six of the pairs are in their relationship by choice, rather spawned from the same gene pool. Two of the couples are described as “dating”. Maybe they share the same blood type. But it should bring a different dynamic to the season, as everyone coming into the game will have an existing alliance.

Anyway, speaking with EW, Probst is eager to shovel all of the credit for the blood vs. water concept on the casting director, who he claims has been talking about this for years. So it’s all on her if this season sucks the big one. But Probst seems to be genuinely into the whole idea, and interested in seeing how it plays out. After 26 seasons, I’d be looking forward to something new too.

Those aren’t the only twists. Returnees and loved ones will be on separate tribes, but they are paired up the day before. Redemption Island is back, because some brainiac decided that Tribal Council has too much drama and pay-off. One castaway from each tribe will be sent to Redemption Island before the first challenge. If the person you came to Survivor with is on Redemption Island, you can offer to trade places with them, and send them back to your tribe. But I’m sure Probst will go over the rules sometime in the first episode.

Probably the best thing about having returning castaways bring their loved ones is that they are interviewed together, so I only have to watch half the number of promo videos before judging them. Silver lining.

Let’s meet our first four pairs of castaways.

Rupert and Laura

There’s no need to introduce Rupert, the pirate wannabe who charmed us all by stealing shoes on the first day of the Pearl Islands season, and then proceeded to bore us all silly over his remaining 99 days on the show with his tie-dyed puffery and creepy possessiveness. Rupert also ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Indiana governorship last year, and who’d have thought the Indiana Libertarian Party would pick an entitled intense weirdo blowhard as their leader? Playing with Rupert is his wife Laura, who we have seen previously seen slobbered over at family visit episodes.

In Rupert’s CBS interview, he has the crazy eyes going on immediately, as he starts talking about how this is his fourth time on Survivor, and he is playing with his wife of 15 and a half years. He’s especially excited that it is the 27th season because 27 is “my number,” “it’s a dominant number in my world.” Rupert’s birthday falls on the 27th, and he even turned 27 on the 27th! Astonishing!

Anyway, Rupert touts Laura as being a better swimmer and a better runner than he is, though “maybe she’s not as strong.” But they say they are both in great shape and compare how much weight they have lost for the season – 40 pounds for Laura, 50 pounds for Rupert, both impressive – and Rupert talks about what a game-winning team they will be. “Every time I make it so close, but I’m that guy who trusts a little bit too much. Laura is more realistic, reality based, grounded. Laura is my reminder.” I'm reminded that Rupert's faults are all related to how awesome he is. Also, his wife is his “reminder”? Did Rupert never have sticky-notes as his luxury item?

EW asks Rupert why he would bring his wife on the horrible experience that is Survivor. It turns out that Laura didn’t even make Rupert’s top five loved ones to bring along! But it was because Laura had always said she never wanted to play. However, after he sent off the list, Laura asked “How come you never sent in my name?” Then he leans forward to the camera and says “I was never going to volunteer Laura, I wanted her to ask.”

Would Rupert ever vote his wife off? According to Rupert, “the game is giant, but my marriage is even bigger.” There’s no way he would ever do that. But he’s told Laura that if she has to, it’s “more than fine” because Rupert has to show how he is the bigger person. But he and Laura want to get to final two together. And he does that creepy Rupert laugh. They want a clean sweep, first, second and fan favorite. In a normal season, fan favorite would be pushing it, but wait until you see the rest of the cast.

Is there anyone Rupert and Laura are wary of? Laura says, “People that are scared of everything that moves.” Rupert says that Tyson’s partner (Rachel) is looking terrified, and Gervase’s loved one (Marissa) too. The Bonehams were also thrilled when they came on a loved ones Survivor and found there were no Hantzes.

Speaking of, we learn in this interview that Laura had to sign paperwork saying that loved ones can’t compete in the game. Where was this mysterious paperwork when we needed it? We could have been saved from two seasons of Brandon Hantz. People complain a lot about red tape, but it has a lot of uses.

Anyway, Rupert believes that as it was for Boston Rob, fourth time will be the charm for him – especially with his wife as his “sounding board.” In other words, Rupert thinks he’ll be the one coming up with all the plays. “27 is my time, 27 is my number.” He even talks about how he turned 27 on the 27th again! We are left to imagine what he actually did on his 27th birthday, but it was probably drinking Miller High Life with his friends while listening to Styx, and I don't see how that can ever be a profound mystical experience.

“Dominant number in my life, forever!” It pleases me how Rupert believes that fate has lined up his inevitable Survivor victory, because it means his hopes will be crushed that bit harder this time. I don't need to see him on TV again.

Assessment: Rupert seems to be more Rupert than ever, and is the “person most likely to take their loved one's place on Redemption Island”. Laura seems nice and supportive to the point of enabling, but that’s really all I can say about her.

Aras and Vytas

Aras is one of two former winners competing this season, and is probably my vote for worst winner ever. I may be confusing that with least memorable, though. Exile Island was 15 seasons ago! I can’t be expected to remember everyone! And thinking about it, he can’t have been worse than Fabio/Jud from Nicaragua. So, apologies Aras.

Anyway, Aras talks about the “intense process” of Survivor, and not just what you have to do to win it, but also going back home, watching yourself on TV and then weaning yourself off that brief 15 minutes of fame. Obviously he didn’t do a great job because here he is, back again.

Playing with Aras is his elder brother Vytas, who talks about how intelligence and adaptability is to win Survivor, and how those are Aras’ strong points. However, he’s a true elder brother as “beating Aras is something I’ve strived to do my entire life.” While Vytas trusts Aras the most, “of course I want to beat him. My goal is to beat my brother and win a million dollars.”

Aras and Vytas have done a lot of running to prepare for Survivor. Aras tells a story about how Vytas’ arch-enemy – a dog-owner whose dog gets humped by Vytas’ dog – started an argument with him one day while they were out running, and Vytas couldn’t hold back from insulting her back. And Aras told him that is not what to do on Survivor. And on the following morning’s run, Aras was throwing up because he was thinking about the deprivation. Great story, Aras.

Outside of Vytas, Aras would like to work with Tina, the other previous winner and who he thinks is (ha ha) trustworthy, and Gervase, who is a friend outside of the game. Aras also claims that his side interviews should have improved, and there will be no “somebody call a waaambulance” comment this season. I had to look this up, but it was directed at Terry Dietz, the epitome of the “whoever wins the most challenges should win Survivor, no matter how big a pill they are” mindset, so I like Aras more than I did at the start of these interviews.

Assessment: They both seem pretty together and sane, and one or both could go far in the game with the right alliances.

Kat and Hayden

Kat’s first season was One World, where she gained a reputation for being easily manipulated and, frankly, a bit dim. But she’s more than that – Kat has had open heart surgery, twice, and made valuable contributions to the English language such as “rantics” and “touché, whatever”.

Kat is playing with her boyfriend Hayden, a previous winner of Big Brother. This is a big reason why Kat’s interviews are focused on Hayden. “Kat is a weird girl. It’s understood by everyone,” says Hayden, before saying something more commonly heard on The Amazing Race: “If we can make it through Survivor, after that everything else will be easy.”

For her part, Kat is excited to use everything she knows now in the game. “I got to final seven without a clue about what was going on,” she says optimistically, as though people without a clue aren’t kept around longer than they merit. “The fact that I know too much is something that kind of haunts me a little bit now.” Oh, Kat.

Hayden gives a lot of the usual Survivor comments about making big moves and paying attention. As a winner of Big Brother, he is confident in his social game.

Kat says that “I am fully aware that I know I can be naïve. I have accepted it, whatever, that’s who I am.” Hayden tries to be supportive: “She’s cute, naïve, but she’s physically fit. She could float all the way to the end... and end up winning, but she has to play her cards right.” “Sometimes I don’t know how to do that, that’s why I need him,” says Kat, grateful she has a big strong man. Hayden, master of the social game, keeps digging. “Sometimes she needs to keep her mouth shut. But legitimately she could sneak in there and win the whole thing.” It’s a good thing for him Kat’s so naïve.

Speaking of naïve, she is still thinking about winning. “If I win, phenomenal! If he wins, fiiiiine.” Heh.

EW asks what is harder, Survivor or Big Brother? Kat says it is Survivor, but Hayden will only answer in 39 days. Or 24 days. Or 12. Or whatever. And will the “Survivor fraternity” want to get the Big Brother person out? Kat talks about how humble and modest Hayden is, and says that all the returning players know and like him.

Then, humble and modest Hayden completely takes over the interview. Kat’s biggest weakness is that she “doesn’t shut up, she talks and talks and talks and talks.” “You learn more when you listen”, he bangs on. “I don’t want her to be a mute, I want her to go out there and have a great time and talk and have fun, but just kind of be careful, you know?” Hayden could use some of that great social game advice he’s dishing out.

Assessment: Kat is still oblivious Kat. I expect I'll be trying out "Oh Kat" as a regular catch-phrase. Hayden is yet to demonstrate his mastery of the social game.

Monica and Brad

Here is Monica from the One World season and her husband Brad, a former NFLer who looks a bit like Ed O’Neill. They probably couldn’t get Taj from Tocantins and Eddie George. Oh well.

Monica and Brad have been married for 21 years, have three kids, and are ready to win. Monica says that Brad is her “shield”, but Brad says that he has “NFL stigma all over me.” I agree. I mean, he spent years as part of an evil organization that ignores the damage the game does to the players who make them rich. And even worse, he played for Tampa. But he means it in a “doesn’t need the money, is a huge physical threat” way, and it will be his job to convince people that there’s another threat bigger than him. Monica agrees, saying you can’t have “blinders” and be thinking “why would somebody want to get me off?”

Monica talks about how she never had an alliance on her season – she was immediately on the outs with the rest of the female tribe, and when she was switched over to the male tribe she was an outsider, and the only reason she was kept around was because she did a lot of work at camp. But now Brad is there to be the “workhorse” and the thinking will be left to her. If I were Monica, I’d stick to the work-horsing where my strength obviously lies.

EW asks Brad how he is going to cope with the heat, but Brad says he is used to it because he played for Tampa (eww!), and he was a lot heavier back then. Monica says “He’s a walking infirmary now, and he needs me to help guide him. Who’s going to win, you or me?” Monica is better at interviewing than EW. But Brad wants to talk about how all the fat will melt away under the hot Filipino sun and he hopes the weather will be terrible and make everyone else miserable.

EW asks Monica what Brad’s biggest weakness? She says the culture of Survivor has changed – from keeping the strong until the merge to getting rid of the strong. “The threats are the Cochrans,” says Brad, who he thinks only won because the Three Amigos were getting all the attention, leaving him to get to the end with "crybaby" (Dawn) and someone else whose name he can’t remember (but it took me a good three minutes to remember it was Sherri). Brad will be explaining to people that the ones who are not threats are the real threats. I’m sure the experienced Survivor players will humor him when he does that.

Monica would love to see the muscle get together and go to the end, as didn’t work last season. But Brad also wants to go with someone who has the Survivor knowledge, like Tina, Aras or Rupert. “Rupert is very well-liked, very loyal,” chimes in Monica. “You ever notice about Rupert, when he smiles, he kind of looks like a ventriloquist dummy!” Brad plans to do something like put his hand behind Rupert’s back and get him to mouth some words while Brad talks. That's horribly disrespectful, but also kind of awesome. I will have to reassess my opinion of Brad.

Assessment: I think Monica will make the same mistakes she did in the One World season. And Brad is too busy thinking about last season where Cochran was a threat to realize that there aren’t a lot of Cochran-types around this season. Think wider, Brad.

There are the first four castaway pairs, and if there’s one common thread, it’s that the male castaways sure spend a lot of time talking over the top of the female ones, and it's a lot more obnoxious when you see it than when you're doing it yourself. And that's one to grow on.

We’ll see what more we can learn from the other six castaway pairs tomorrow.