Survivor Season One: The Marooning
By David Mumpower
July 8, 2005
BOP appreciates your patronage over the years and since you have demonstrated such loyalty to our Survivor recaps, we wanted to do something nice for you, the readers. For the rest of the summer, we will fill the gap between seasons by offering a recap of one of the two we missed. That's right. BOP is going to spend the next dozen weeks talking about Richard Hatch, a chain of events that should assuage even his massive ego. Check back every Thursday just like you would for new episodes. Enjoy!
CBS has been advertising the debut of Survivor for months now. Will the show's pilot prove to be worthy of the hype? I doubt it. I mean, come on, would they be debuting a program in the summer if it were any good? And let's face it here. The only reality series that will ever succeed is MTV's The Real World. Every other copycat is doomed to fail, and I am certain that network execs agree with me. That's why Survivor is being given this limited 12 episode run in the summer. The show's got no hope, man. None.
But there is nothing else going on here and the humidity is 100% for the 50th straight day, so I figure I might as well stay inside and recap this for you. Not that you will ever care. Watching 16 strangers out in the jungle trying to survive for a month should prove to be roughly as exciting as reading an eight-month old copy of People Magazine at the dentist's office. This is never going to work.
"From this tiny Malaysian fishing village, these 16 Americans are beginning the adventure of a lifetime. They have volunteered to be marooned for 39 days on mysterious Borneo. This is their story. THIS is Survivor."
Well, at least CBS isn't going to be pretentious about it. They're only promising it will be better than ten Super Bowls combined.
The pilot starts with a bunch of folks dumping crates into the sea. Some fresh-faced Boy Scout pretty boy begins describing the process. He promises that the adventure will change the people's lives. But first, he states that they have only two minutes to unpack and salvage as much gear as possible before they are forced to walk the plank. After being left for dead, the soon-to-be shipwrecked crew will be forced to "fend for themselves with no creature comforts." So, is he one of them or what? If he is, I'm guessing he gets voted off first, because he isn't doing anything to help. It might mess up his hair.
Sixty seconds later, the group is dumped overboard and forced to swim to land. In the process, they attempt to drag to safety the flotsam and jetsam they have mistaken for gear. That's thoughtful, but it will be all kinds of waterlogged. I am not seeing the appeal. It doesn't help any that it takes both groups a couple of hours to make it to shore. Let's hope for their sake that this Survivor contest doesn't involve any further swimming.
Hmm, the 16 contestants have been divided into two tribes comprised of eight members each. That's a novel approach. The teams are named based on the beach where they will be landing, presuming that none of them drowns along the way. Judging from the struggles of someone named "Ramona", that's not the safest of bets. But I digress.
Team A is the Tagi tribe, and for color coordination purposes, they will always wear orange. Perhaps sensing that it's hard for the viewer to tell the nobodies apart, a role call is offered. Their group includes the following:
Sean Kenna, a neurologist from Long Island
Kelley Wigglesworth, a river guide from Las Vegas
Rudy Boesch, a retired Navy Seal from Virginia
Sonja Christopher, a 63-year-old cancer survivor (get it?) from San Francisco
Richard Hatch, a corporate communications consultant from Rhode Island
Susan Hawk, a truck driver from Wisconsin
Dirk Bean, a dairy farmer from Wisconsin
Stacey Stillman, a litigation attorney from San Francisco
The Pagong tribe aka The Yellow team is:
Gervaise Peterson, a YMCA basketball coach from Philadelphia
Colleen Haskell, an advertising student from Miami
BB Anderson, a real estate developer from Kansas City
Ramona Gray, a biochemist from New Jersey
Gretchen Cordy, a pre-school teacher from Tennessee
Greg Buis, a recent Ivy League graduate from Colorado
Jenna Lewis, a single mother and full-time student from New Hampshire
Joel, a health club consultant from Little Rock
What a motley crew. It's equal parts youthful pretty people, aging ugmos and...Wisconsin-ites? Did Brett Favre handle the casting?
That guy appears again, and it seems that his name is Jeff Probst. Since he wasn't listed on either team, I am going to speculate he's either the host or in violation of a restraining order. Enamored with the sound of his own voice, Mr. Probst continues describing the rules of the show. Apparently, four hours ago, the tribes met and were told how to play. The "game" (?) is a test of social as well as survival skills. One tribe will meet at something called Tribal Council (who names this crap?) every three days and vote off one of their teammates. What a wonderful way to promote team chemistry! Since there is some sort of democratic voting system in place, we can safely determine that minorities such as gays, blacks and women are screwed. Hey, if you don't like it, move to Malaysia. Oh, wait...
At Tagi beach, the swimmers finally reach land and chaos promptly rules the day. With no firm class system in place and complete strangers meeting for the first time, there are too many kings and not enough serfs. The Navy Seal, Rudy, offers instructions on how to safeguard the camp from Russkies and Krauts. This irks Kelly, who states (with no irony) that just because the guy is a Navy Seal doesn't mean he knows anything survival. River guides from Vegas, on the other hand, are revered throughout the world as experts in, well, using an oar as a paddle. The initial impression is that Ms. Wigglesworth has a name made for porn but not a brain made for Survivor.
The mood at Pagong is much more celebratory. Hulking beast of a man Gervaise, who has a wingspan which would make Tayshaun Prince jealous, offers a hug to Ramona. Since he provides the seasick woman's first stationary landmark, she hangs on for dear life. Based on her camera comments, Ramona is used to being in a lab. Survivor has proven to be a much more outdoorsy affair than the egghead had envisioned. Also, you dirty minded folks take note: she is more a size of the boat girl instead of a motion of the ocean sort. Ramona confesses that she has vomited multiple times already, but that's okay. I boldly predict that throwing up in front of your fellow contestants will never prove to be an eventful mistake. Who cares if you're weak and pathetic, after all? This is a -team- game.
At Tagi, the real fun begins. Rudy continues to bark out orders to what he presumes to be the 37th Fleet. His eyes ain't as good as they used to be, but that's beside the point. What matters is that he's an elderly white male, so he is used to getting his way in all things. To his surprise, a mutiny occurs. Private Richard Hatch, one of those Don't Ask, Don't Tell sorts (thank you very much, President Clinton, you liberal softy) has a different idea. He thinks that the group should work together to determine the best way to make decisions as a unit. As a corporate strategist, he feels that foundation-building is the key to success.
At this point, white trash-types across the world are shamed as their chosen representative, one Sue (Ellen?) Hawk chimes in. The trucker, a woman we can safely say will never ever never be sexually assaulted by one of her fellow Survivors, doesn't believe in any of that "planning" crap. She's a doer, not a thinker, and she isn't comfortable talking to any other non-doers. Or something like that. Just imagine an outraged woman from Fun with the Klan day on TV's most popular talk show, Jerry Springer, and you have the right idea about Sue's behavior at this moment. If social interaction is required for safe advancement, Sue's stay on the island can be timed on a stopwatch.
Breaking out of character for a moment... Sue to Richard: "Sometimes things can't be that planned out." -- Oh, how America came to wish that were so.
Sue continues with this gem. "I'm a redneck and I don't know the corporate world at all. And corporate world ain't gonna work in the bush." Is Sue coming on to Richard? She's just begging for him to grab her goodies in some future immunity challenge, but it's 100% safe to say she's got the wrong guy.
For his part, this Richard Hatch guy is not the same dude I remember from Battlestar Galactica. He's smug and pouty and has a chest so furry that it makes me reconsider the argument for evolution. And his tribemates take an instant disliking to him. That is what makes it so funny when he monologues to the camera, "I've got the million dollar check written already. I mean, I'm the winner." Good luck with that.
To his credit, Hatch does continue, "It's that kind of cocky attitude that makes people really hate your guts. So, that's the kind of thing I have to keep under wraps." Finally, we agree on something. Under any circumstance, the body of North America knows what this whiny brat has yet to figure out. He is doomed to be one of the forgotten early victims of this show rather than a memorable player.
After the break, several members of Tagi recklessly attempt to turn random pieces into useful tribe items. Sensing his opening, Mr. Hatch dives down from his tree fortress of solitude and starts shouting, "HA! I told you so!" He goes on to sternly lecture the group about making decisions as a team. Rudy's expression seems to exemplify the tribe's thought process. "Group decisions? That sounds like commie talk! Are you a pinko, boy?"
Over at Pagong, a cantankerous old man named B.B. is wandering into the forest with Ramona. The duo is ostensibly searching for the tribe's water supply. I strongly suspect that Ramona is just trying to stay as far inland as physically possible.
Surprisingly, BB and Ramona's quest proves successful. During a later group conversation, BB confesses that he is 64-years-old and jokes about the benefits of Viagra. All the while, every fabric of his being appears to be fighting the urge to tell these lousy kids to get off his lawn. A clever piece of editing shows the even older Rudy making similar comments during a monologue. The retired Navy Seal takes the line of thought one step further, suggesting that if it were up to him, all these lousy kids would get a haircut. I spend a few moments waiting for the Scooby Gang to appear and reveal him to be the so-called Ghost of Tagi, but it never happens. These kids apparently don't meddle enough, so Rudy will be able to get away with it, whatever it is (I am never quite clear on that).
Not all the ageless wonders are unhappy, though. Cancer survivor Sonja is predictably high on life. She is having an island adventure and every part of it makes her giddy with joy. Handsome doctor Sean has just patched Sonja up, and she's still heady from the May/December romance playing in her head. This leads to an unexpected display of "talent" involving a ukelele and some caterwauling. It's not pretty, but it's still better than anything Star Search has ever produced (sorry, Arsenio).
Richard Hatch, worried that he is being supplanted as the crazy one, takes drastic measures. He sets out a fishing trap late at night except that his target isn't fish. He is targeting rats, and successfully at that. The question is, why has he already developed a taste for rats? Is this some elaborate prank by the show's producers? Is Hatch in on the CBS joke and attempting to trick others into eating rats for ratings?
Back at Pagong, Ramona has not slept well and she has no qualms about complaining to the camera about her plight. Mayhap she's angling for interference/assistance from the cameraman but like a good Starfleet officer, he does not meddle in the affairs of the locals. If a guy ever caught fire on the show, I am not certain anybody would step in to help. They would probably try to film the whole thing straight down to the guy getting flown away for medical assistance. If they don't have 911 in the jungle, these people are in a world of trouble. And phones. 911 isn't much good without phones.
B.B. is proving to be as popular within his tribe as Rudy is on the other one. All he does is work hard and offer instructions on how the group could join together to improve their overall quality of life. Needless to say, they hate this workaholic. Joel in particular is developing a feud with Grandpa Ihateyourassface. At this point, schoolteacher Gretchen moves to the forefront. She assists B.B. with some of the construction while politely suggesting to him how to better relate with the kids of today. A worker bee through and through, B.B. is having none of this. "I'm gonna keep working, sweetheart." Right until they vote you off, Misanthrope Man.
There is one recurring theme with each tribe. Both are attempting to start a fire, thereby securing themselves clean water and a hot meal. Gretchen takes B.B.'s glasses to assist her and 30 seconds later, Pagong is the envy of cavemen everywhere. Tagi tries for the body of the episode without success. Clearly, Gretchen is the brains of this entire 16 person group.
Sue enlightens and educates with her Mutual of Omaha moment. "All a rat is is a squirrel without a fluffy tail." Don't forget the "riddled with plague" part, ma'am. On second thought, knock yourself out. Just don't come home after your Feast o' Rat.
For the first time since the tribes were dropped off the boat, they all meet again. This is something called an "Immunity Challenge". The winner of this contest will not have to vote off one of their eight members tonight. The losing tribe will be forced to choose "the first person voted off the island". It is unclear whether said person will be given airfare home or if they are forced to fend for themselves afterward. That would make for a better show than what this has been, though. Crazy rat eaters are not good television.
The challenge itself is a visually pleasing quest for more fire. The two tribes of eight carry a huge semi-floating vat of fire out into the ocean. Once there, they use torches to light a series of buoys. After this task is completed, the teams must return to land and light a victory flame. The twilight hour makes it difficult to see a lot of what occurs in the water. What is clear is that Sonja falls a lot, costing Tagi victory. I am still vague about a lot of aspects of this game, but that seems bad for Sonja.
Desolate over their defeat, Dirk spends the time after the challenge getting high on Jesus. His happiness from this simple act is a refreshing change of pace from the selfish tactics displayed thus far by all the other contestants save clumsy Sonja. Meanwhile, an odd relationship is developing between Rudy and Richard. Rudy seems to appreciate the cerebral behavior and maturity displayed by Hatch thus far. Conversely, the corporate shark sees Rudy as a loyal ally who has based his entire life upon keeping his word.
This relationship foundation building is particularly important since the least liked member of the community does not get to come home with the rest of tribe tonight. Hatch has made the same basic determination I have about his popularity. He has narrowed the night's victim down to a quartet of people, and he knows he is one of them. I suspect that the others on his list are Sonja, brash trash Sue and aging Rudy. It makes sense to eliminate the weakest teammates early on in the game in order to strengthen their stature as a group. I am certain that this will prove to be the case in future shows. It simply wouldn't make sense to force stronger members to leave early in the game. None of the players will ever be that stupid.
"Tribal Council" involves a Jeff Probst sighting. He stands in a sea of mist overlooking an oak and rope-intensive series of planks. It is an impressive set design, causing me to immediately speculate that Survivor is like the first lunar landing. It's being filmed on a backlot of MGM Studios. I think you can catch a live Tribal Council next time you visit Epcot.
Probst talks for two more minutes, making him the most boring human being not hosting a show on PBS. Eventually, Probst introduces the concept of the lit torch. An eliminated contestant will see their failure physically represented by the extinguishing of a torch. Seriously, if I want to watch somebody this pretentious, I will find some TV appearance of Donald Trump. Why not go ahead and give him a reality show while you're at it?
The tribe members line up to vote against the person they dislike the most. I am going to refer to this as the Hatch Maneuver. There has been some discussion that Rudy's sexist behavior is off-putting to the women, but even allowing for that, he's Mr. Popularity compared to Tricky Dick Hatch.
The first voter is white trash icon Sue. She votes for someone named Souna, which I am going to translate as Sonja. Sue's explanation is that she is voting off the weakest link. Rudy follows suit, explaining that she was the reason they lost yesterday. See? I was right about voter strategy earlier. Hatch, a man who loooooves being on camera, votes for Stacy. His introspective explanation is "for subtle reasons". What a wordsmith. Rudy notches a vote at this point for his inability to start a fire. Why he was singled out, I am not sure. Sonja also harbors a grudge for Rudy's outspoken behavior.
So, all of the sucky players are in jeopardy. Everything is exactly as it should be. In the end, Sonja gets four votes, Stacy gets one, and Rudy gets three. Sonja goes down in Survivor history as the first contestant ever voted off the island...not that anyone will ever remember this or care. The next two episodes will see Rudy and Richard Hatch eliminated and there will be no surprises whatsoever from there. This show is far too predictable to prove successful.