The Puppet Master
By David Mumpower and Kim Hollis
September 17, 2009
Previously on Survivor, two exceptional seasons were followed by one that was...solid, but largely over-hyped. The early buzz from the producers had indicated that they had a series of blindsides that made for spectacular reality television. In reality, the final two people were exactly who we expected to see. We're hoping for less of a foregone conclusion this season. As much as we enjoy it when the best players win, the reality is that it makes for dull television (last year's excellent final Tribal Council notwithstanding).
This season is set in Samoa, a land of volcanos, mountains, ocean, several world champion wrestlers and a significant percentage of the Southern Cal defense. We're a little concerned that the first episode is titled "The Puppet Master". While we're sure that evil villains are what most Survivor fans want, we've had enough of the Coach storylines for awhile. We mean it when we say it makes us want to watch less.
Tonight's episode begins with a series of canoes paddling to shore. There is interspliced editing that displays first opinions of some of the contestants, with the initial focus on a woman who has Davy Crockett's hat as her natural hair. It looks like a small woodland creature is attached to her skull. There's a guy who claims that his primary goal on the show is to make everyone else miserably unhappy. Usually, these are the easiest goals to achieve, but it also proves to be poor Survivor strategy.
The producers of the show are not wasting any time this season (yet). The tribes are already divided by the time they reach shore. Anyone in purple is now a member of Galu. The people in yellow are Team Foa Foa. Before they even identify themselves to each other, each team is told to elect a leader. This is an interesting exercise in the importance of appearance and first impressions. For Galu, the first vote goes to a shaved-headed dude named Erik, while the second goes to Mrs. Davy Crockett, who identifies herself as Shambo. At this point, the light goes on for us. She explains that she was a US Marine in 1986 and her fashion accessory of choice, the bandana, was being used by the Hollywood star of the time, Sylvester Stallone in Rambo. She became known as "Shambo" and adopted his hairstyle to boot. It's a bold move to keep the same hairstyle for 25 years, folks. Especially when Stallone couldn't run away from it fast enough.
A very aggravated man named Russell gets the next vote. He's clearly done his homework about the dangers of being perceived as a leader and wants no part of such a high-profile assignment. This is unfortunate, because he edges out Shambo to become the new leader of his tribe.
On the Foa Foa side, Dr. Mick (Hi, everybody!) is much less concerned about being a leader. In fact, he clearly relishes the role and is mollified to learn that he edges out Jaison. This happens to the chagrin of Ben, a self-proclaimed country boy who sounds as though he may have a fetish for taxidermy. "I've shot and killed and cleaned about everything you're allowed to in Missouri and probably a few things you're not...I think of these people are kind of candy asses," he says. His grapes are clearly sour.