Survivor: Guatemala Recap

Episode One: Big Trek, Big Trouble, Big Surprise

By David Mumpower and Kim Hollis

September 16, 2005

In my day, we had to walk 11 miles in a Guatemalan jungle after dark. And we liked it!

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Welcome to another damned season of Survivor. This time around, it's in Guatemala – the Mayan Empire, to be exact. We can only hope that this means that various warriors, Pleiadians and super mathematicians/architects will be making guest appearances throughout the season. Or at least Brett Favre.

Probst sighting! Everyone's favorite reality show host discusses the backdrop of the ruins, but the motion sickness-inducing camera effects largely overshadow him. All we need is some peyote and a little Dark Side of the Moon to complete the effect. The conversation takes a turn for the ominous when Probst pointedly notes that the Mayan tribe mysteriously vanished. Oh, how we wish that this were the case when Lill's season was running.

After a brief rundown of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Mayan Kingdom's Top Five Deadliest Threats and a local weather forecast, Probst advances the plot. There's not going to be any beating around the bush this year. They're going to get to the twist straight off the bat. The group has already been split into two tribes, Nakum and Yaxha. They're informed almost from the get-go that they've been given a very useful asset to assist them in their coming travails.

Bobby Jon and Stephenie, two of last season's strongest contestants, will be the special "tools" used by each tribe as they learn how to survive. This particular duo wouldn't even come close to making our top ten list of tools from previous Survivor seasons, but we applaud this attempt from the producers to reward two of the show's hardest-working competitors. It's not their fault that their tribe sucked so hard, after all. Of course, the darker thought here is that getting advice on how to win Survivor from this pair is like being coached on how to pick up chicks from the 40 Year-Old Virgin.

Bobby Jon and Stephenie offer each other a warm embrace before going their separate ways. Steph winds up with the Yaxha (pronounced, oddly enough, "Tim"). We immediately lose respect for a contestant named Brianna, a retail salesperson who breaks down with tears of joy (yes, we're serious) over Stephenie's inclusion. We suspect that Brianna also cries when the newspaper arrives, when she makes three straight stoplights, and when the barista at Starbucks gets her order ever so right. Hey, what's Ami from Survivor: Vanuatu doing these days, anyway? Other than being jealous of Stephenie for getting to come back on the show, that is?

At this point, water-ski instructor Jamie's cathartic self-absorption unveils the more important aspect of the presence of the past Survivors. As he whines about his odds of winning the game being reduced, a notion forms in our heads. The show's host quickly confirms this inkling as Bobby Jon introduces himself to his Nakum tribemates. Bobby Jon and Stephenie are not just there for show. They are once again competitors, making them the envy of any previous contestant who was voted off the show...except for Burton...and Lill...and pretty much everyone from Survivor All-Stars. Everyone else, though...

This decision creates strange ripples in each tribe's dynamic. Philosophically based alliances are accidentally created. Some of the new players are huge fans who feel honored to play with a previous season's heroes. Others hate them the way the world hates Uwe Boll films.

Before the Survivors can finish processing this revelation, a second unexpected announcement is made. The first reward challenge is starting soon. Like in 20 seconds soon. And it's a doozy. Each tribe must make its way on an 11 mile trek through a jungle full of poisonous snakes, crocodiles, and other hazardous creepy crawlies. They're already stunned, some of them are old, and many of them are probably pussies. These guys are being forced to play Pitfall – and they've only got one quarter.

"Being a farmer and everything, the last time I hiked 11 miles was, uh, never." – Brandon the non-sheep farmer, Nakum Tribe

This is not just any hike, either. The producers have once again forced contestants to make an early decision on acquiring supplies vs. getting to the finish line. Players have the option of carrying consumables such as fruit, water and corn, as long as they accept the handicap of having to lug them on an 11 mile trek through the jungle. Neither tribe's members have had the opportunity to converse as of yet, so their initial interactions are in the heat of battle. People who watched Bobby Jon last season will not be surprised to learn that he is a bigger fan of the grab it and go plan of attack, while Steph is a bit more of a strategist. She realizes that her best long-term play is to establish friendships quickly.

Consider, for example, if you were playing Survivor and Colby was unexpectedly added as a member of your tribe. You, like most of America, like Colby because he's a strong player and he's sweet to his mama. No, we're not making a Freud joke here. Anyway, despite the fact that you dig Colby, you would be conflicted by his presence. You could be Tina and ride him to the finish line (still no Freud jokes, folks), but there's a pretty good chance he's figured that trick out by now. So, even though you enjoy his company and think he is great on Joey (hey, it could happen), you still don't want him as one of the final six or so competitors in the game. That is, unless you thought his performance in Red Eye was sublime and you have cleaned eBay out of all Colby-related merchandise. If that is you, you are creepy and we don't want to know you. But we digress. The point is, the producers have cleverly created a new dynamic wherein fanboys are forced to decide how best to interact with their heroes from a previous season. It's like Survivor Fantasy Camp, but real. This twist gets a huge thumbs up.

Apparently, the challenge isn't hard enough on its own. The tribes have been archaic compasses and must find their way through the woods using some fairly complex maps and directions. If only we'd known ahead of time, we could have tracked their progress on Google Maps and laughed at them. If we're writing our first horror film, this would be the perfect way to start it.

Sensing the Nakum tribe's peril, a retired fireman named Jim uses his Marine training to maximum advantage. He sends a lowly private off into the woods, possibly to his doom. When nothing jumps out of the woods and eats him (rats!), another person is sent behind him, and then the rest of the tribe follows one by one in an extended conga line. "We're not going to die here! We're not going to die here!"

Another old white guy is claiming authority over at Yaxha tribe. This one bears an uncanny resemblance to former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Gary Hogeboom, but we're sure it's just a coincidence, because when he is asked what he does for a living, he replies that he has a "little landscaping business". Our bad. Had it been Gary Hogeboom, we could point out that he had a Kyle Boller-esque season in 1984, completing 195 passes for 2366 yards, but with only seven touchdown passes versus 14 interceptions. Can you imagine how Kyle Boller would do on Survivor? Well, better than he would in a football game, but still.

But hey, wait a minute! As this landscaping Gary chap goes aside for a confessional, he tells us that his real name is Gary Hogeboom! He's lying when he says his name is Gary Hawkins! He does suck like Kyle Boller! And he knows Roger Staubach! It seems that the 47-year-old Mr. Hogeboom is worried that his status as a former NFL starter will paint him as a huge physical threat. This is a great moment in reality show history. Steph, a 20-something girl has more celebrity and is viewed as more of a physical threat than an 11 year NFL veteran who played for the Dallas Cowboys back when it still meant something to play for the Dallas Cowboys.

"I'm just a freakin' doorman from New York, man. I've never even been camping." – Judd, Nakum Tribe. Boy, is he ever on the wrong show.

At the 14 minute mark, the long trek has its first casualty. Nakum's Blake runs into a spiked tree limb, and is impaled by some of the tendrils. Nurse practitioner Margaret tends to him, but it drives home what a harrowing challenge this is. It's starting to remind us of an adult version of Battle Royale.

Hey, what could make this whole affair more difficult? Nightfall! Stephenie complains that she seems to be stuck on the losing team (again). Little does she know that her situation would be enviable to Bobby Jon at the moment. The aforementioned Blake has not recovered from his encounter with the porcupine tree. To the contrary, his situation is best described as perilous, and that's not hyperbole. He is throwing up so much that he's already down to dry heaves. Even the nurse attending to him appears freaked out. As the show cuts to commercial, we debate whether the show's producers should step in to get him proper medical care. It's almost as if Survivor isn't going to be happy until someone actually dies during a challenge.

"Soon as the sun came up, we started hearing some noises that reminded me of, um, Predator." – Amy, Police Sergeant, Yaxha Tribe

At this moment, the only reason the contestants are sure that they are not a part of some weird Island of Dr. Moreau-type experiment is that they already saw Jeff Probst once. That's it, though. Every other piece of evidence suggests they are involved in an elaborate psychological exam administered by a mad scientist. After all, they've been stuck in a jungle with little other than a map – which may or may not lead to leprechaun's gold. They've been forced to trudge along with two Survivor ringers and a guy everybody over the age of 15 watched play football on Thanksgiving several years ago. One of them has been pierced through the flesh by some form of demon tree. It's hot, it's dark, they're lost, there are crocodiles and snakes everywhere, monkeys are having an orgy in the branches above them, and they still haven't even been able to figure out what's in that mysterious hatch. But hey, at least they're on TV!

Awakened by the unusual alarm clock noise of hot monkey sex, the Yaxha tribe begins day two of their Aztec adventure. Or is it Mayan? Like the Durham Bulls, we always get confused. A surprising reunion occurs as Team Yaxha encounters the denizens of Nakum. There is a distinct needle in the haystack feel to this development. Both parties kick it double time as they finally find a trail, but to Stephenie's chagrin, not all members of Yaxha are as fit as she is. Forced to wait for Lydia and Amy, her tribe is forced to watch Nakum disappear in the distance.

These are not days of wine and roses for Nakum, either. As Stephenie complains about her tribe being only as strong as its weakest link, the strongest chink in Nakum's armor collapses. Bobby Jon experiences cramps and dehydration stemming from overexertion. Anyone who watched him last season is unsurprised by this result as the young man is willing to work tirelessly, at times to a degree that becomes detrimental to the group cause. His tribemates have the same look of shock at his collapse that onlookers had in Tokyo when Buster Douglas knocked Mike Tyson down. Later on, they'll take pride in the fact that they handled this challenge better than their more accomplished counterpart. That's little immediate solace, though.

Finally, the Nakun tribe emerges from the jungle to discover a canoe waiting for them on the other side. As they begin to row, the members of Yaxha also spill out onto the beach. The editing makes the race to the finish look close, but in actuality there is probably 15 or so minutes between the teams. Nakun arrives to the "good" camp first, which means that their reward is to stay in this location rather than having to hike even further. They also get some flint. Before Probst can even finish describing the spoils of victory, Yaxha's contestants enter the camp. The show's host gleefully states that they should not get unpacked, as they will not be staying in this location. The only way the mood could be more effectively stated would be a thunderclap in the distance.

"I think it was the most difficult challenge the game has ever had." -- Stephenie

Winning isn't everything, though. The next segment demonstrates this fact. While the members of Yaxha are contentedly working together to build their shelter at the "lesser" camp, the men of Nakum seem to be in desperate need of some emergency critical care. Every last one of them is vomiting, with recently impaled Blake struggling. Bobby Jon, though, is the most in need of the Florence Nightingale treatment.. As the camera impassively films his dire straits, the young man's eyes repeatedly roll back in his head. We are genuinely scared for him – and he is one of the strongest competitors the show has ever had.

"Palau was recess compared to Guatamala." – Bobby Jon

Probst arrives back on the scene as it is time to award immunity to one of the teams. Unfortunately for Nakum, it's a physical challenge. The contest involves rowing their canoe around a buoy, and that portion of the race ends in a dead heat. Next, they have to select team members to pull their boat up over some logs using a rope. During this process, Steph's foot gets stuck under a tribe, causing her tribe to lag behind a bit. That doesn't last long, though, as Nakum's Danni gets caught under a log. That's enough to cost them the race, as at long last, Stephenie wins a team immunity challenge (and some flint). Meanwhile, Bobby Jon's losing streak continues. He is now officially the least successful Survivor player ever. Even worse, he might be the first person eliminated this season.

We don't think we need to play it's Bobby Jon, though. Jim, the elder statesman of Nakum, was injured during the challenge. His arm is in a makeshift sling, and when he takes off his shirt, there is unmistakable discoloration. Barring something unforeseen, he's either going to volunteer to be voted off or get volunteered by the rest of them. The editing certainly makes all five guys appear vulnerable.

The Tribal Council set is revealed, and it's nothing more than a campfire in the middle of the Mayan North Acropolis. The conversation is little more than stating of the obvious. The men suck, the women rule, and the old guy has a bad wing. Stating the obvious, retired fireman Jim is the first person voted off of Survivor. No votes are even revealed for the other contestants.



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