Survivor: Panama - Exile Island Recap
The First Exile
By David Mumpower and Kim Hollis
February 3, 2006

She's a lumber jill and she's okay!

The new season of Survivor begins with an homage to The Birds, or maybe they're just telling us that the show is for the birds. We're betting on the latter. We apologize for the pessimism, but we remember that Stephenie was the second place finisher in a group that offered nothing to love other than Gary Hogeboom. But we hear there's an astronaut this year, so it can't be all bad.

They immediately start hyping up Exile Island, making it sound like their very own version of Snakes on a Plane. When the cameras cut to the boats that are bringing the Survivors to their new home, we notice that they are divided into four, which obviously means that we have a four-tribe situation this time around. We're sure that the contestants haven't figured this out yet.

Er, wait a minute. Maybe they're smarter than we've allowed. The groups have been divided into younger men vs. younger women vs. older men vs. older women. Immediately, Cirie takes offense at her placement, as she plaintively states, "I thought I was younger!"

Bobby the attorney summarizes the four tribes as the Young Beefcake Crowd, of which he was charter member and president, the Love Boat crowd, which is made up of older men, the Golden Girls, and the Spice Girls. So we have two lousy TV shows, an even worse girl group, and some weak Chippendales dancers. This. Is. Not. Promising.

Probst announces another surprise. The reward challenge will take place right away. Each of the four tribes will choose one member to run in a race across the island. Once they reach the other side, they must bash in some skulls (take that, C.S.I.!) until they find an amulet. The first three contestants to return with prize in hand will win flint for their tribes. The group that does not win (hi, Golden Girls!) will have to immediately send one of its members to Exile Island. Cirie is in danger of being called old and undesirable in the first five minutes of the show.

The volunteers are Ruth Marie for the older women, Terry for the older guys, Danielle for the young ladies (who mentions that she is looking forward to the challenge because she is so athletic), and Austin for the strapping bucks. The order as they reach Skull Island (King Kong sold separately) is Terry, Austin, Danielle and Ruth Marie, though there's only about ten seconds between first and last.

Incidentally, so far the quotes we've heard from the peanut gallery are "Look for the amulet!", "I hope she's good at pounding things!" and "She's not a smasher!" These comments leave us longing for the halcyon days of Judd.

Terry is first out with an amulet, followed by Austin a few moments later. So the first member of Exile Island is going to be a woman. The only question is age (sorry, Cirie). When Ruth Marie emerges from the jungle with her amulet, we realize Sporty Spice isn't quite the athlete she was posturing herself to be. To her credit, Danielle does volunteer to go to Exile Island, but her teammates protest and they play Rock, Paper, Scissors to determine the first victim. To our infinite amusement, the missile engineer, Misty, loses.

Probst explains the concept of Exile Island. It's a bit more intricate than a simple alienation of a single cast member. Whoever takes up residence is afforded the same opportunity that Gary Hogeboom had last season when he found the hidden immunity idol. The Survivor at Exile Island can spend his or her time searching and if the idol is retrieved, they don't have to tell anyone. Even better, they don't have to produce it until they've received enough votes to be eliminated from competition at Tribal Council. If this happens, the person with the second most votes would be the person voted out. The ramifications are far-reaching. It's conceivable that if there is a merge at ten players, someone with a single vote could be eliminated. A stray vote is much more important than ever before.

Next, Probst spends a few moments of camera time explaining the accommodations at Exile Island. There's a machete and a barrel of impure water. His prepared speech was intended to berate whichever person had been chosen as the most pathetic, but the rock, paper, scissors thing makes this a bit melodramatic. Apparently, she is to spend the next 24 hours thinking about what she did, but that seems like an inordinate amount of weight placed on throwing down rock instead of paper.

On a side note, we question the wisdom of immediately alienating the expert in missile construction. We're pretty sure this is how Dr. No got his start.

Misty grimly accepts her fate as the first denizen of Exile Island while the other 15 contestants sail away. We can't help but feel bad for her since she spent the last couple of months dreaming about her first moments in the game only to find herself in Tom Hanks territory, sans Wilson.

The show continues to taunt Cirie by putting up the "Older Women" caption whenever possible. Let's get them a new tribe name, stat! And preferably one other than "Old Crones." Sure enough, they reach the beach front, depart their boat, have a group prayer, and find themselves anointed Casaya.

The first unexpected profession is revealed, as outgoing (read: annoying) tribe member Tina turns out to be, and we quote, a Lumber Jill. There's one that the guidance counselor is never going to come up with. It's still no Dolly the Sheep Farmer. Establishing the fact that they're not only older chicks but also hippies from the ‘60s, they gather in a circle and sing Kumbaya. No, really. We thought that only happened in Woodstock/fiction/Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Earlier, Cirie had mentioned that she wasn't good with machetes. Or clearing away stuff. Or "things" in general. We thought that was insecure hyperbole, but not so fast. It turns out she was underselling it, if anything. She doesn't want to touch leaves. She doesn't like them. Who is she, the Aviator? Lumber Jill is bemused by this revelation, positing to the camera that the young lady must not have realized what show she was going to be on. We're just going to give Tina the punchline here, because she's right.

The young bulls' tribe has been given a name as well. They are Viveros, the men who swing clubs at rocks! Aras, the yoga instructor, proves to be more than just a man with one of the worst farmer's tans (sunburns) ever filmed. The New Age guru somehow tricks everyone but Bobby into holding their hands on top of each other until they have accumulated enough energy to create fire. Call us skeptics if you must, but we don't think this is going to work. If you break out the flint, on the other hand... Bobby earns our immediate love by looking them over and cleverly debating how he will spend his million dollars. After watching them bumble about for a few minutes, it becomes obvious how important it is to have young women among the males. If there's no one to impress, what's the point in doing anything?

Upon looking at the collapsed tree that they're describing as shelter for the evening, Nick (not satirically, by the way) states, "We don't wanna peak on the first night." No danger of that, big guy. We've seen better forts made out of couch cushions.

When we visit the tribe of the younger women, we first meet Courtney, who is, we kid you not, a Fire Dancer. Is this more or less impressive than being a Lumber Jill? Does she have 401K? When they eventually get their flint, will she do something special? Does she have powers that we're unaware of? Wouldn't this be an unfair advantage? You don't see the producers letting Superman on the show or anything. Aquaman, sure, but he's useless (even in the swimming challenges).

After watching the Spice Girls for a few moments, coupled with what the young men just did, we weep for the future. If Lost had started out this way, it would have been canceled before the pilot was finished airing. Maybe we were a little harsh about the guys' shelter comprised of six branches. That's more than these ladies have managed.

Courtney shows herself to be a perfect mate for Aras (if they both make it to the merge). Upon discovering a dead turtle on the beach, she starts mumbling, "Oh, we love you. I thought it was really ironic because like the turtle represents like mother, and Goddess, and like Native American culture and this is like the island where three women are you know, are living on. It just, to me it seemed significant." As she draws a heart around the turtle corpse, we cannot properly describe the look of horror her tribemates have. "There are only three people on this island, and one of them is crazy!" you can see them calculating.

Sally, a social worker, says, "To me, it's just a turtle." We like Sally.

Survivor veterans know what's coming next. Cut to the older men working like they're Monster House contestants trying to claim the grand prize. They have the best campfire in the show's history, they're debating the quality of wood to use, and they're boiling water. We think they have also created a coconut telephone and ham radio.

Two of these guys form an alliance before we really know who they are. One of them is Terry, a fighter pilot. Before he can say, "Goose, ya big stud, take me to bed or lose me forever," he gets one-upped by his counterpart. Dan reveals that he not only worked for NASA, but was a member of their "Walk on the Moon" department. Terry at this point tells his new best friend that he's more than just an American Airlines pilot, he's also flown F-14s in combat. It's the Dave Bowman/Maverick alliance.

Every family has a black sheep. In the case of the older men, it's their youngest chickadee, Shane. Remember Cancer Man on the X-Files? He had nothing on three-packs-a-day Shane. The dude decided the best way to break the habit was to get isolated in the middle of nowhere for 39 days. He's made it almost 32 hours before realizing, "Wait, I miss cigarettes."

The silent member of the older men's tribe, Bruce, is stealing every scene. At one moment, we see him dragging branches for their shelter, and the next he's looking to prepare more water. And boy, does the man ever know how to use a machete. We suspect that if we brought the Lumber Jill over for a visit, she would just sit back and watch in admiration. You name it. Logs, cantaloupes, Jeff Probst. Bruce will chop them all. Until he does something to prove otherwise, he's our favorite Survivor since Rupert.

The first rainy night on the island affords the producers a chance to check back in with Misty. It is at this point that we realize the core flaw with Exile Island. The footage of these people is deadly dull. No one is talking. Unless "look, there's someone sitting!" is your idea of excitement, you may as well be watching Big Brother.

At the start of the first Immunity Challenge, Misty tries to trick everyone into believing she has found the hidden Exile Island Immunity Island. This is a stupid idea, as she's just overplaying her hand. The challenge itself has four phases. The first part is for all members to jump from a platform and swim to a raft. Once they arrive at the raft, they have to dive underwater to detach it from its bearings; then they can paddle to shore. At this point, they have to solve a rope puzzle and trigger the release of their team's flag. The trick is that three teams will receive immunity, with only one going to Tribal Council.

The teams are relatively even until the "untying of the rafts". As is typical in these sorts of challenges, some of the contestants prove to be more adept at being able to hold their breath for long periods. The younger women and older men have no trouble, allowing them to build insurmountable leads to the end and finish first and second. The race is to avoid last place, and while the younger men have trouble untying their raft, the older women can't solve puzzles, even with the solution in front of them. The older women finish well behind and are headed to Tribal Council.

It's time to play "It's anyone but Cirie". To her credit, Cirie is aware of the fact that she is not a particularly strong competitor. Her main goal at this point seems to be avoiding being the first one off the island. Tina, however, decides to make things interesting by going off on her own, a huge Survivor no-no. She is not, however, off pouting about the loss at the immunity challenge. In a shocking confessional, the tear-soaked Lumber Jill reveals that her only child, a 16-year-old boy named Charlie, died in a car accident four-and-a-half months ago. She's obviously devastated and needs time to herself to think. Anything we say here would be inappropriate, so we'll just move on.

A humorous segment unfolds as Cirie schemes to eliminate Tina. It just so happens that the Lumber Jill happens upon a fish that has gotten caught in the rocks at that very moment. She brings it to the rest of the group, acting as though she caught it with her bare hands. Hey, she is a Lumber Jill, after all. The look on Cirie's face as she tries to act happy when inside she's dying is hilarious to behold. In a desperate attempt to gain favor with the rest of her tribemates, Cirie scales the fish, though we're sure she doesn't like it, as it is a "thing".

At Tribal Council, Cirie and Tina both answer questions as if they're dueling to get off the island rather than stay on it. Cirie goes out of her way to say that she's never stayed outdoors before and seems like a lock to get voted out. However, a study of the body language shows that Tina is fed up with all three of her tribe mates. She resents being stuck with a bunch of incompetents who wouldn't know lumber if it walked up and introduced itself. Tina notes that she doesn't believe that her teammates have been pulling their weight "as much as she would like them to." She might as well have thrown sand in Melinda's face. The Dollywood singer bristles as she replies that none of them have been napping while Tina has been a busy bee, they've just all been busy with separate activities.

It's readily apparent at this point that Tina's answer has just gotten her voted off the island, and sure enough, three votes later, she's gone. Probst expresses some outrage at this turn of events, rightly pointing out that the only person who had proven to be capable of doing anything was the first one voted out. The women don't seem to care, though. They just don't like being reminded of their recent failings. Congratulations, Cirie! You survived the first episode!