Survivor: Fiji Recap
Episode One - Something Cruel is About to Happen
By Jim Van Nest
February 10, 2007

The producers of Survivor were sad to learn that the hottest girl was voted off first.

Hello, good people, and welcome to the 14th season of the reality mega-hit Survivor. First off, let me say that again, "14th season"! Who'd a thunk that this little 'experiment' would have lasted seven years and 14 seasons? I know I wouldn't have.

So, this time around, Jeff Probst and company have set up shop in exotic Fiji. Previews, interviews and web chats have promised more beautiful scenery, lots of deadly snakes, two hidden immunity idols, an odd number of players and a rags versus riches format that is sure to shake things up from the get-go. Since I'm not sure how much will get covered in the first episode, I'm going to throw out a few things I've picked up from Jeff's interviews recently and some articles I've read over the last couple weeks.

First off, there are 19 Survivors this time around. There were supposed to be 20, but one woman had a huge anxiety attack the night before the game began and bowed out. Thinking they had one of the more solid casts in years, producers did not have any alternates for this season (on an interesting note, Sundra from Cook Islands was actually an alternate.) So, with no alternates and only a few hours to adjust, the team had to make some changes to their planned 'two ten-person tribes' format. Next, they instituted what I'm going to call the Yul-Rule. Having just watched Yul Kwan masterfully ride the hidden immunity idol to victory, the powers that be realized that a new blueprint to win this game had been written. Rich Hatch wrote the original (get three or four people and form a real tight alliance and run the table with it) and they've been coming up with twists and turns all over the place to counteract that blueprint. Well, last season, Yul proved that he could use the hidden idol as a leverage tool to get people to do what you want them to do, while never actually playing the idol. Another downfall to that is that after a couple tries at this, Survivor has never gotten the bang they were hoping to get out of the idol. And that is the total blindside surprise of having someone play the idol unexpectedly, thus sending some poor unsuspecting schlub home early. In an effort to stop the expected group of Yul-wannabes, there will now be two hidden immunity idols and they will now be asked for after the tribe casts its votes, but prior to them being read. This leaves the element of surprise in there, but it does offer up the chance that someone may think they're in trouble, use the idol and after receiving no votes, find out they completely wasted their get out of jail free card.

The most advertised change for this season, however, is the rags versus riches format. In reading Web chats with several people, including Jeff Probst, the Survivor brain trust came up with this idea at the same time as, but without the knowledge of the decision to handle Mark Burnett's other show, The Apprentice, the same way. Unfortunately for Survivor, The Apprentice premiered first and now it looks like Survivor is simply copying the format. Will this format work for Survivor? I certainly think so. Part of what made Cook Islands so special was having a tribe set up as clear underdogs and then watching them roll to victory. With one tribe getting the shaft right off the bat, we'll once again have a clear cut underdog scenario that I'm sure viewers will get behind right away.

A couple last comments before I begin. Apparently the two immunity idols will be hidden around each tribe's beach. This provides an interesting dilemma for folks. Can a person ever be totally alone to look for the idol? What will it do to their status in the tribe if they are constantly looking for it? And several other questions. Exile Island, which is usually my time to take a little cat-nap, figures to be at least a little more interesting as the ads keep saying it's infested with deadly snakes, so that should be fun. And finally, Jeff has made several references to one girl making a move "we haven't seen since the Africa" season. And supposedly it completely alters the game. I can't come up with anything from the Africa season that was any kind of special so I've given up trying to figure out what that means. And now, without any further ado, let's dig in to Episode 1 of Survivor: Fiji!

We begin with Jeff Probst giving us the background on Fiji set to some fantastic footage both underwater and above. As he's speaking, we're also shown a boat with all 19 Survivors on it, rowing toward shore. The whole entrance thing is odd since Jeff is usually on the boat with the cast as he does his opening. This time, he's flying overhead. Jeff tells us about the diverse cast, from a former homeless street performer to the Harvard Law graduate. And while I appreciate that they all come from different backgrounds, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that up to 12 of the 19 people this season have California ties. With all due respect Jeff, that's really not all that diverse, nor is it much different than every other season. I could be wrong on this, but I truly believe that there are interesting people in the other 49 states as well. Anyway, Jeff tells us how the Survivors have been given no information and the fear of the unknown is sinking in. So much so that one contestant quit just moments before being set adrift.
He tells us about the sea snakes on Exile Island and the two Hidden Immunity Idols. 39 Days, 19 People, one Survivor.

And we jump right into the show as we catch up with the boat landing on the beach. As introductions are going around, the first person we get to meet is Rocky. He's a walking stereotype. Apparently, he reminds people of Stallone, hence the nickname Rocky. He says it must be because James is too hard to remember. And did I mention he's the token bartender this season? What follows is best described as pandemonium. With no info, they have no idea what to do. They're not divided into tribes. Jeff isn't there to meet them. So they go exploring. We meet a construction worker named Boo, a cheerleading coach named Dreamz and a Cirie-wannabe named Cassandra. She says her outdoor experience consists of being maybe 40 feet off the road, so this is going to be quite interesting for her. We also get another snippet of Rocky. Seeing him twice before we see 14 of the other contestants seems like a bit of an omen to me. I have a feeling Rocky is going to be a focal point of the show. I think I'll call him Boston Rob Jr.

The next person we meet is an older Asian man named Yao Man. I think I'll call him the Anti-Cao Boi. He was born and raised on the island of Borneo (site of the very first Survivor, by the way) and he knows his way around the jungle and a coconut. He's the type of guy that could prove to be a huge asset to a tribe, if he makes it through the first vote. He even mentions that he knows older people are the first voted off, so he's hoping to make some sort of mark early on to get to stay in the game.

The discussion starts to turn to what's going on. How do they split up 19 people into 2 tribes? They don't have a tribe name. Where's Jeff? What's the deal? And right on cue, Jeff's plane flies overhead and he dumps a crate out into the ocean. As a dozen or so head out to get the crate, they bring it back and now the frickin stooges get to try to open it by dropping in on a rock, throwing the rock on the box. After no success, Yao Man comes in, picks up the box and cracks it open in ten seconds or so. He uses his brain a bit and drops the box on its weakest spot, the corner, and after two drops it cracked right open. There ya go, big guy - you are already proving yourself. Good for you.

Once the crate is opened, they find a note, a map and some plans for a shelter. Apparently, they are to use the map to find a huge pile of supplies which they will use to build a shelter as designed on the plans. The shelter will have a kitchen, a bathroom and several luxury items. Alex, our Harvard Law graduate, is excited at first, but quickly remembers, "This is Survivor, this is gonna mean that something very cruel is gonna happen very soon."

When we get back from break, the tribe now has a goal and they're beginning to work together and assume roles. They finally find the supplies for the shelter. And everyone is beginning to feel suspicious about it. As it turns out, Sylvia is an architect and she is quickly given the plans and put in charge of the shelter project. And in typical Survivor fashion, she is told to figure them out and get them organized, followed by the bitching that she's trying to take control and tell people what to do. As Sylvia mentions that one of the supports is slightly askew, Rocky jumps in by saying, "All right, here's what's gonna happen, whenever there's a big word in a sentence, we're all gonna have a timeout and teach James the big word." I could be wrong, but this guy could turn out to be one of the most fun guys we've had on this show. Also, I have a feeling he's WAY smarter than he's letting on. It'll be interesting to see how this strategy works for him.

The first bit of game play we see is between Erica, a non-profit fundraiser, and Jessica. They make a quick little early game alliance. Erica says she's going to be talking to a lot of people to see where they are. And I think we have our first player in Erica.

As night falls and the storm begins, the shelter is far from done and has no roof. So everyone gets a little wet and I think the feeling is that the shelter will be finished tomorrow without a doubt. Yao Man has fashioned some coconut shell cups and a funnel for the water. Earl comments that he's the Professor on this Gilligan's Island. So it's safe to say that the older guy is making his mark. As the shelter is coming together, the folks are becoming even more nervous about what's coming. This is by far the nicest shelter in the history of the game and no one seems to be convinced that they're just going to be given it. As everyone celebrates a bit, we get to know more about Dreamz. He's our former street performer. He tells us a bit about how he used to live in the back of a soup kitchen and used to dig up the food out of the dumpster. As night falls, we get to learn even more about Dreamz. As in, he's obnoxious as hell. He tells us he's hoping to be the playful jokester of the crowd and that's super duper. We need one of those. What we don't need is someone who does it when everyone else is trying to sleep and when he's asked to simmer down, only gets worse. The person that gets the most irritated is Rocky. And he takes him out of the shelter and basically tells him he needs to shut the hell up and calm down. The rest of the folks pretty much roll their eyes at this exchange and it ends with Rocky heading away from the shelter and Dreamz finally shutting up. See? Rocky is definitely setting up to be the focal point. Sadly for his chances in the game, the focal point never wins.

I can't believe we're three days into the game before I can say "Probst sighting!!!" Jeff welcomes everyone and then asks about the first couple days. He asks if anyone emerged as a driving force for the tribe. Alex points out Sylvia and everyone agrees that she stepped up to be the leader. So he calls her over. Sylvia now has the chore of dividing the other 18 folks into two tribes. She sends Cassandra, Liliana, Stacy, Lisi, Dreamz, Boo, Gary, Alex (the sexy guy) and Edgardo to the green Moto Tribe. Which leaves Erica, Michelle, Rita, Jessica, Rocky, Earl, Yao Man, Anthony and Mookie as the orange Ravu tribe. That also leaves Sylvia as a person without a tribe. She gets to go to Exile Island. And she'll share it with thousands of sea snakes. She'll get a clue to the whereabouts of a hidden idol, she'll be immune from Tribal Council tonight and she'll return to the game to the tribe that has to vote someone out. Not bad, I guess. Although, I don't think she was in any danger of going home. However, the clue to the hidden idol could prove important somewhere down the road I suppose.

Let's get to the challenge. It's a chariot race. Seven people will pull two on their chariot. As they go, the two on the chariot will be in charge of collecting three bags of puzzle pieces. Once they get back to the start, they'll solve the three puzzles. The answers will be numbers that will be used to turn a home made combination lock. Once the code is entered, they'll open a bag that should have a knife in it. Cut the rope, drop a tribe flag and your tribe will win. Real quick, I want to point out that I'm not liking this challenge. Last season, almost every challenge was an incredible physical test followed by a puzzle. It was neat at first last season, but it became old very quickly. And now the very first challenge is the same exact format? I have an idea, instead of throwing so many "twists" into the game, why not shoot for some originality on the challenges? But I digress. Wanna know what they're playing for?

The prize is the most important thing on the show, immunity. Also, the winning tribe will get to go back to the beach with the nice shelter. They'll have a care package awaiting them - some cutlery, cups, a shower and a couch. The losers will go to a new beach where they'll find one pot and one machete. Plus they'll have to go to tribal and vote someone out. I wonder if anyone else recognized how screwed Sylvia just got. I mean, she's doomed to the crap tribe no matter which one wins. What kind of crap is that? At least she's on her way to Exile Island right now. And if it's as bad as Jeff says, even the crap beach will seem good to her.

Stacy and Lisi man the chariot for Moto while Michelle and Jessica ride for Ravu. Jessica has some trouble with the knots, causing Ravu to fall quite a bit behind. Once they get the first bag, Michelle takes on the knots the rest of the way. As they continue on the quarter mile course, Ravu slowly begins to make up time. Once both teams have all three bags and are heading back, Moto stumbles, allowing Ravu to take the lead. Both teams begin working their puzzles and this is where Moto pulls away again - this time for good. While Ravu is still struggling with the third puzzle, Alex pulls out the knife, cuts the rope and a new band of underdogs is crowned, the Ravu tribe. I had no real stake in this, but I have to say, the idea of Rocky on the crap tribe might just make for some really fun TV.

We get back from break and join the victorious Moto tribe. All of the nice items are there - the couch, the hammocks, the silverware, the cups and everything. Never has a tribe lived like this on Survivor. I can't help but think we're on the verge of seeing the laziest tribe with the largest sense of entitlement in the history of the show. And if the Moto tribe survives til the end of the game, I'll be incredibly surprised. Lisi talks about their kick-ass tribe and then mentions how bad she feels for Sylvia sleeping with the snakes, which is a nice segue into...

Exile Island. This is generally the time on Survivor where I catch a little nap. But, it's the first episode, so I'll check it out. Sylvia lands on Exile Island and is stunned to find that Jeff was not exaggerating on the snake thing. She hikes up to a little covered platform, which sports an amazing view as well as a chest with the first clue to the hidden idol. She checks out the clue and it simply states that the idol is hidden back at camp. In one respect, that's cool for her, because she'll be the only one that knows the idol is at camp. In another respect it sucks because she now has nothing to do on Exile Island. She can only try to avoid the sn...zzzzzzzzzz.

What? Huh? Ravu is making there way to their new beach? Oh, okay. The tribe is pretty dejected as they get there, but amazingly enough, most of them quickly turn to positive as they really like their new surroundings. Only Erica remains pissed off and she can't believe no one else is. Aside from the whole idea of setting up a new camp with absolutely nothing, they still have to find someone to vote out. Erica and Rocky form the first bond, which will include Jessica. They approach Earl and between them decide that Rita should be the one to go. Meanwhile in the other half of the tribe, Jessica seems to be the target. She hurt the team by messing up the knots in the challenge and she was the one working on the puzzle that was never solved. So they see her as responsible. As Earl and Erica plead Jessica's case, it seems like we're going to come down to a Rita vs Jessica vote. Rocky and Erica both say they will not vote for her. Very interesting indeed.

As the tribe gets to Tribal Council, Jeff has them light their torches, because as you know, fire represents life on the island. As long as you have fire, you have life in this game. When your fire is gone, so are you. He begins by asking Michelle how frustrating it is to know that there are nine people sleeping in a shelter that THEY helped build. Everyone tries to sell the story that they really like there new island. Earl quickly points out that they're hurting without fire and also water. The tribe seems to be enjoying their underdog status already. Jeff asks how they plan to vote. Everyone seems to feel that they can't afford to lose another challenge, so it's about voting out the weak link. Yao Man admits that he wants to see all the strong guys stay, which puts him on the chopping block and he wouldn't be surprised at all to see his name come up. The hard part of this vote is that everyone is working hard so there's no obvious target. With that in mind, it's time to vote. We see Jessica's vote for Rita and Yao Man's vote for Jessica. Whaddaya say? Should Jeff go tally the votes? Sure! First vote is for Mookie. Second vote for Rita. Third for Jessica and the fourth is for Yao Man. It's been a while since I've seen four people get a vote in a Tribal. However, the rest of the votes all match and Jessica is the first person voted out of Survivor: Fiji.

While I wait for the previews, I'll give a quick assessment. So far, it's a typical season. I expect that next week's episode should bring some more interesting stuff. The first episode (which I still say should be two hours) is always about people getting used to the game and us getting to know them. We should start to see some more personalities develop over the next couple episodes. Thus far I know I like Rocky, Erica and Yao Man from the Ravu tribe. And I like Alex from the Moto tribe. Can't wait to see who I like when it's all said and done.

Next time on Survivor: The Ravu tribe sucks water off of plant leaves, Rocky starts to lose it and Earl starts killing snakes. Meanwhile, Boo begins what might turn into a pattern of injuring himself as he cuts his hand with the machete and manages to fall to the ground while lying in a hammock. Hmmm...he seems like a big strong guy, but apparently he's pretty oafish. That should be fun. And with that, I'm outta here. Thanks for coming back and joining me for another season of Survivor and I'll catch y'all next week. Til then, take care.