Survivor: Vanuatu

Episode One: They Came at Us with Spears

By Kim Hollis and David Mumpower

September 23, 2004

A cannibal eats what? Get out of here. Really?

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Fire! Explosions! Dust everywhere! Unless Michael Bay is making another movie, that probably means the new season of Survivor has begun.

God help us all.

We kid because we love. The reality is that we adore this particular reality show. Nobody gets fired and there is 100% less Mr. Toupee, Donald Trump, hanging around. That suits us just fine. At some point over the past few seasons, our mocking of Survivor turned to genuine admiration. Truly, this is the king of all reality television. And we are back to mock/revel once more.

As referenced above, this season starts with the proverbial (and literal) bang. One of nine island volcanos is given a close-up in order to assure North American audiences that this season's dangers are quite real. No, really! A contestant could get nuked by molten lava at any second, they swear. Whatever you do, do not turn the channel and watch that Matt LeBlanc spin-off series. Nobody is in mortal danger there.

Never one to pass up the opportunity for a dramatic appearance, Jeff Probst appears at the top of Mt. Yasser. As a cloud of smoke billows behind him, our host explains that the final journey of the dead culminates at this particular resting spot. As lousy as Survivor: All-Stars was, we consider this fitting.

Probst Blue Ribbon (hey, we have been on vacation for four months, so we are entitled to recycle a few chestnuts here and there) states that the island is a haven for dark deeds. Cannibalism was once practiced here, so it's a damn shame that they picked the season after Big Tom's return. Or two seasons after Lillian. Heck, if you ever want our $49.95 for a Survivor Pay-Per-View, Iron Chef Battle Treacherous Scoutmaster is the way to go. Also of note is the tidbit that sorcery and black magic are still practiced daily. Survivor wants to be Doom 3 so bad the producers can taste it.

With regards to the opening credits, does anyone find it odd that they paint Vanuatu as a place full of cannibalism and voodoo, but the opening credits start out with a dude maxed out on his Pilates bungee jumping off what looks like an electric tower? Why not just show them at the Vanuatu Starbucks, sipping coffee and checking e-mail on their notebooks?

Our contestants are first shown approaching the beach of the island where they will be residing, when suddenly, an entire fleet of locals? natives? insurgents? stunt actors? Mark Burnett's family? casts off in their direction. Look at all the frightened white people! C'mon, the enemy can't be that intimidating. They're led by Probst, after all. The contestants feign excitement when he comes on board, and several request a change of underpants.

This season is going to start a trifle differently from past endeavors. Rather than disembarking from the sea vessel and immediately making camp, this season's suckers, er, players, have to go through a "rite of passage". We can't help but wonder if any of the guys are uncircumcised. You can learn a lot about a Survivor from the initial scream of pain. Our favorite part of the segment, though, is that Probst announces without a hint of irony that Chief More More will preside over the festivities. We demand that he be given an afternoon talk show for the name alone. Free Pontiacs for all!

The first contestant to speak is Mia, a bookkeeper, who inexplicably pokes herself in the breast while she is in the "confessional". It's the second guy who really stands out, though. Every season has the requisite hillbilly, and Travis's accent gives him away instantly. Our favorite thing about Travis is his Bob Barker shirt. We can only see the front so far, but we definitely hope the back says, "The Price Is Wrong, Bitch." Attention potential felons: Travis is a security officer. As soon as you find his place of employment, you've got yourself an easy target.

Unfortunately, poor Cooter doesn't know how to swim. When his boat tips over, he clings to the rope ladder on the boat like it was Bessie's nipple on milking day.

The Survivors arrive on land and disembark from their boats, only to be attacked by spear-wielding locals. Sure, their lives are in danger, but it still beats EuroDisney. Sales manager John P, the Ashton Kutcher lookalike, says, "Dude, there were like spears pointed at us and stuff! Uncool!" Right now we have John P. pegged as the Robb of the group. We bet he says "dawg" a lot.

Unquestionably the funniest comment comes from the lone African-American contestant this season, Rory. "They're jabbing spears at absolutely everybody, except me. Nobody jabbed a spear at me in any way, shape or form. Which I took as, oh, a black man coming on the island is not particularly unwelcome." If Rory could just figure out how to give them the signal to slay all intruders, he'd win the million dollars in the first minute of competition. Nobody ever thinks strategy anymore.

Ignoring an opportunity to go on a murderous rampage, the natives have their own agenda. They coerce the women to sit off to the side whilst the menfolk do some talking. The incongruously named drill sergeant Lea (yes, he is a man) commits a party foul by trying to wash his hands in some sort of sacred mud basin. Oh, wait. That's actually there to quench their thirst in a ceremonial manner. Still, if Michael Jordan advertised it, we'd buy it.

Everyone with a penis is given the opportunity to imbibe in this foul-looking liquid. Gomer Pyle aka Travis immediately shows more weakness by vomiting up his share. Free advice for Travis: don't unpack.

While the men receive the honor(?) of drinking ceremonial mud, the women are left to wonder why they are not being included. Ami, a "coffee barista," states her frustration with being left out. We're surprised that someone so well-versed in the fine art of beverages would not recognize glop when she sees it.

The 18 Survivors are next treated to a ritualistic dance, at which point Probst steps in to give what equates to a "viewer warning" about what is to come next. He notes that the upcoming events are a tradition for this tribe. Real estate agent Lisa adds her commentary by saying, "Apparently the Vanuatu people really honor pigs. Pigs are, I think, sometimes better than women." You know what, let's just stop right there and remember never to quote Lisa again.

The "shocking event" that upsets the contestants involves a pig, an axe, and later, some pig's blood. You can probably put two and two together to suss out what happened in step two. Carnivore Eliza, a pre-law student and resident drama queen, claims to have literally gasped. We don't buy it for a second, but believe she was instead trying to find a way to emphasize her cleavage on national television.

Cut to Dolly the sheep farmer, who explains that she's not shocked because she does this kind of thing for a living. We're going to repeat that because it's important: Dolly. The sheep farmer.

Next, the men are smeared in pig's blood, and we swear it makes the women jealous. But there's no time for that, as Probst introduces a very serious element into the game - more phallocentric nuttiness. Those who possess twigs and berries are given an opportunity to earn a spirit stone. Allegedly, this token will afford the bearer good fortunes throughout the coming 39 days. Realistically, it affords the show an opportunity to embarrass a number of grown men as they attempt to climb a pole greased with pig fat.

Dolly. The Sheep Farmer.

As wordsmith Travis states, "Ever who possesses that stone, the spirits are supposed to be in favor. Even though that's not my beliefs, I wanted that stone. Just so the girls wouldn't get it." The man's been on the island ten minutes, and he's already disavowed himself of all accepted North American customs. It's totally worth it, though, if he can stick it to those vagina bearers.

Drill sergeant Lea fails to be all that he can be as he wimps out when approached by Chief More More to be first up the pole. Instead, the chief calls in the feds. FBI agent Brady is first up, and gets the stone with no sweat. It's a good thing, too, as a downpour immediately ensues, quickly ending the evening's festivities. As was the case with Survivor: Amazon, the tribes are divided into hoohas and no-has. If you've got a penis, you're in the Lopevi tribe. If you're capable of childbirth, you're a Yasur.

A very intense young man named Chris has this particular moment to make his debut. He goes on a rant. "I can outsmart eight men a hell of a lot quicker than I can outsmart eight women...Men are deceiving, mischievous, untrusting human beings. Men I can manipulate." A quick glance at Chris's Survivor bio explains a lot. His favorite actor is Kevin Spacey and his favorite drinks are listed as "Beers: Coors Light, Bud Light; smooth bourbon, Seagram's, Jim Beam". Apparently, the only thing that stopped him from continuing to name other beloved potent potables was the fact that he ran out of space on that part of the form. At least drinking helps to ease the pain, eh Chris? Well, ours, anyway.

The women get off to a rocky start. One of the older women, Scout, has an artificial knee and doesn't want to walk all the way to camp in such treacherous, rainy conditions. The younger women, who we'll just call Heidi II, Jenna II and Shawna Jr. until we figure out how to tell them apart, violently disagree. Shockingly enough, they consider the idea of sleeping on rocks in a rainstorm unappealing. Go figure.

The men all have penises, so surely they're doing better, right? Nope. They're lost and hostile, but still feeling smugly superior about the power of the spirit stone. As Rory says, "Nine of us walking in a group like a bunch of ladies ain't helping." What the hell happened on that boat to make the sexes hate each other so much? And to make Chris hate his own sex as well?

Dolly. The. Sheep. Farmer.

Brook the Document Manager chooses this moment to make his Survivor debut. His unique line of thought is that since it's dark anyway, they might as well wander aimlessly rather than find the camp. They don't have anything better to do, really. Hey, they've never been to cannibal voodoo country late at night before. Why not take in some sights? What could possibly go wrong?

If you're scoring at home, odds against Brook winning the game just increased by a factor of ten.

In the first huge upset of the new season, both tribes reach their camps by daybreak. Truly, it is better to be lucky than good. Predictably fake group hugs break out at the women's camp while the men's reactions must have been so muted that they were not even aired. Nice job with the casting, folks.

Day 2 of the competition begins at Yasur camp. The normal rift develops between the workers and the socialites. The older women struggle to make their living conditions more tolerable. Meanwhile, the younger women join together to mutually relish the initial joy of this once in a lifetime opportunity. As always happens, the workers bitterly rant against those they deem less useful.

Dolly. The. Sheep. Farmer.

Scout, the women's answer to Chris, immediately stands out as the anti-social member voted most likely to go nuts and slaughter all the competition. If that does happen, Kim owes David a Coke. You might think we are exaggerating about her hostility, so we will let Scout back us up on this. "Some of the gals are down there on the beach basking in the sun chitty-chatting. I call all these sorority girls 'Bow Heads'. I mean, that's what we call them back in Oklahoma. They all like to hang together. They are like cattle. I mean, really. Cattle, they just cluster. And those sorority chicks, they aren't paying attention to any damn thing but themselves. You know? They are their favorite subject." Do you get the feeling Mr. Scout left Mrs. Scout for a younger woman?

To be fair, Eliza does not do herself any favors when she tries to state her case about the lack of effort. It's her argument that Twila's constant hard work and dedication to the betterment of all makes "those who have taken reasonable breaks look bad." Some brutal editing further drives home the point that CBS has chosen Eliza to be the duplicitous drama queen of the new season.

Twila cuts to the core of the situation. "We had too much chatter and not enough moving. Their mouths are working but their hands ain't." She later adds, "Get off your ass and get the done or don't bitch about it tonight when you freeze your butt off." Twila immediately moves to the head of the class of the new Survivors.

Dolly. The sheep farmer.

Day 2 at Lopevi is deja vu all over again. They cannot get fire started, but we do not understand how this is possible. They have the mystical spirit stone! They should be able to trigger volcanic eruptions with that thing, much less spark a piece of bark. Malcontent Chris dogs sales manager John P. for having the audacity to try to start the fire. How dare he try to make the water consumable and the camp warm??? Damn pretty boys! Seriously, how is Chris not in prison at the moment? There are goth chick concerts that don't contain this degree of rage.

The only real surprise comes when the previously quiet Chad, the most likable of the male contestants thus far, reveals his shocking secret. He has a prosthetic leg. The other men are supportive (one even offers up a painful "Good on ya, mate!"), but their camera confessionals are more honest. As Brady the fed surmises, "The guy with the mechanical leg is going to win for sure. He's nice, he's smart, he's quiet and you know, he's got the underdog thing going on. So, we're screwed."

Tree Mail!

Yes, it is immunity challenge time, and anybody who caught the Amazon season feels like they are witnessing a repeat episode. That's right, the fix is on. The contest involves several phases including a foot race through an obstacle course, a puzzle solution, and - wait for it - a walk across the balance beam. The men will have to cross a narrow piece of wood, and they will have to perform this duty better than their Amazon counterparts managed. If not, the women will take home the immunity idol. Sure enough, one of the fellas struggles at this task. More amusingly, misanthrope Chris is the guy who cannot accomplish the most simplistic of schoolyard games. He fails no fewer than seven times as the women slowly accomplish their tasks and cross the finish line. It's one of the most pathetic performances in the history of the show.

Dolly. The. Sheep Farmer.

Now is the time on Survivor when we play the It's Anyone But Chris game. To our surprise, though, it appears that despite his utter failure in the competition, Chris stands a decent chance of surviving this vote. The young guns acknowledge the inferiority of Chris. Lea, however, has plans of his own. When the vote comes, Chris receives three votes and Rory receives one. The other five are directed toward the brattiest member of the group, Brook. Unbelievably, the man who single-handedly stopped the men from receiving immunity survives the first vote. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.



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