Episode One: They're Back! - Recap Part One
By Kim Hollis and David Mumpower
Survivor, the linchpin in the CBS Thursday evening cash cow, has returned for a new season. Mark Burnett apparently had difficulty luring new suckers onto a deserted island, so he produced incriminating negatives of 18 former players. The resulting footage is simply known as Survivor: All-Stars. We will be your hosts through another season of misadventures as such memorable contestants as Richard Hatch, Rudy Boesch, and our beloved Rupert compete to determine which player is the best of the best. Note that we don’t do easy humor, so we are going to avoid the obvious notation of calling this A.S.S. (All-Star Survivor). If that disappoints you, Us Weekly probably does a wrap up as well (and we hear something incredible might have happened involving Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Demi Moore and/or Ashton Kutcher! Check your local newsstand for more information.).
The season starts off with an unusual amount of overbearing drama, even by Burnett standards. The entire military force generally charged with protecting the Panama Canal is pulled away in order to escort 20 pampered Americans to their destination resort. Democracy really put the whupping on communism in the Cold War, didn’t it? Our victory laps grow more ostentatious with every passing year. It makes us wonder what Tom Brady is going to be like in a decade. Err, it makes us wonder what President Tom Brady is going to be like in a decade.
The 18 contestants have been divided up onto three separate boats, all guarded by any number of soldiers with high powered rifles. We can’t help but wonder if Survivor has decided to drop the pretext and officially become a real-life, adult version of the controversial Japanese movie, Battle Royale. If Jerri Manthey immediately pulls a gun on the much cuter Jenna Morasca, we’ll know for sure.
As is the precedent, Jeff Probst shouts over the noise of the helicopter he is riding in order to let us, the viewers, know exactly how serious the situation is. It is important that we realize that last season’s group was regrettably coddled. That bunch was given the opportunity to barter for goods, and it allowed them to grow fat and complacent. No such sanctuary will be offered to the returning players. Instead, they will be placed in a situation even the Donner Party would find unpleasant.
Each of the three tribes will be given a machete, a map and a pot. That’s it. That’s the prize package. They will have to use these items in order to prepare the food and water needed to sustain themselves for 39 days. Because of these uniquely harsh conditions, we are setting the over/under bet for cannibalism at an all-time low eight days. And don’t think the other contestants aren’t aware of just how much succulent fat Richard Hatch has on him. We recommend you stay fully dressed at all times, sir. Shii Ann Huang is back, and we know she is not above eating necks.
The first group of six contenders is the Mogo Mogo tribe. Jenna Morasca, winner of Survivor: Amazon, is first off the boat. Widely perceived as a fluke winner, Jenna’s first priority on this show will be to prove that her overcoming incredible odds to win the last couple of immunity challenges and earn her way to the final was truly representative of her skill. During her interview junket after the show was over, Jenna appeared to have greatly matured. As she pointed out, she was one of the youngest contestants in the history of the show, and her tribulations there impacted her. Without uber-bitch Heidi standing over her shoulder at all times, this is an opportunity for Jenna to prove that she is more than just a coat tail-riding winner with a very pretty face.
Kathy Vavrick-O’Brien of Survivor: Marquesas is mentioned next. Kathy’s main claim to fame was showing demonstrable improvement as her season went along. There were any number of times she appeared to be one of two candidates for elimination, yet Kathy bobbed and weaved her way to the final show. In the end, she pulled off a huge upset in getting to the final three but was unable to win the final immunity challenge, leaving Neleh and Vecepia to fight it out for the million dollar prize. While obviously a very smart woman who learned from her mistakes, she was in our opinion an unremarkable woman from an unremarkable season. Her presence doesn’t do much for us.
Richard Hatch of Survivor: Borneo won the first season of the show and was a complete jackass. He won’t survive long, so we won’t waste any effort describing him. Mock n’ Run is all he deserves.
Colby Donaldson, runner-up of Survivor: The Australian Outback, made the cardinal mistake of taking Tina Wesson with him to the final. At the time, a nation winced at the uncomfortable bond forged between man and mommy figure. The feeling was even more extreme when his real mother showed up, and Colby took a shower with her. Kim wants to make sure that we mention that she still likes him anyway. Women will put up with any amount of nonsense as long a man sports a decent six pack. Colby is definitely the hottest male Survivor ever.
Lex van den Berghe, third place finisher of Survivor: Africa, has single-handedly carried the tattoo industry for the past several years. If you cut him open, we suspect ink would ooze out. Lost in all of the hero worship of Ethan that season was the fact that Lex played the game on a level few have achieved in the history of the game. He was both a solid strategist and an impeccable physical threat. We really like his chances to go a long way this season. He is impressive.
The aforementioned neck eater, Shii Ann Huang of Survivor: Thailand, is known for something else in addition to her questionable Fear Factor-esque eating practices. She is widely considered to have made the worst mistake in the history of the game by boldly (and loudly) deciding to turn against her tribe at the merge. When her former teammates gained a position of power, who do you think was the first to go? Shii Ann is a very bright woman when it comes to educational background and debate skill, but she has a *LOT* to prove when it comes to playing Survivor well. As much as anyone here, she is playing to save face. She’s still hot, though.
The Saboga tribe’s six members include Survivor cult icon, Rudy Boesch. The former Navy Seal is a Republican icon for his Get Things Done mentality. He can gut a man, save a village and build a bridge by 9:30 a.m., all while thinking “God, I wish that fruit Richard Hatch would put some clothes on.” Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell might work for the military, but on Survivor, all it did was frustrate an old man. Rudy’s neck waddle has gotten more pronounced in the past few seasons, but he still looks like he could overthrow most fascist regimes. A man of honor on a show predicated around betrayal, Rudy’s fate will be determined by whether he places his trust in the right set of people. Otherwise, he’s a puppet rather than a player.
Tina Wesson, sporting a University of Tennessee hat, hops out next. The subject of Colby’s Freudian fixation is widely considered to be one of the most fitting winners the show has ever seen. Her ability to manipulate vote after vote while never winning an immunity challenge firmly established her place in the annals of Survivor. The first woman to win on the show is local to us as we are based in her hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee, so she will be the people’s choice. For reasons to be fully fleshed out below, though, we don’t like Homegirl’s chances very much. But if you ever want to have dinner some time, Tina, call us!
Jenna Lewis is widely remembered as The Babe of the first season. The mother of two spent an entire summer being the Survivor Illustrated Swimsuit Edition cover girl. Jenna, who may or may not have been the sexual plaything of original Survivor cult icon Greg Buis, is not considered much of an intellectual heavyweight, so this season is her opportunity to either A) Prove the world wrong or B) Get more gigs as Pretty Girl in Bikini. With that bitch Colleen out doing Rob Schneider movies, the coast is finally clear for her to be the star.
Men don’t come any swoonier than Ethan Zohn. As soon as the restraining order is lifted, Kim will be back to watching him up close and personally. The soccer player is more than Hunk O’ the Month material, though. Much more. He is arguably the only winner to ever successfully play the game by showing honor and heart. Ethan’s biggest problem is that he was so impressive during the course of his season that his work is really cut out for him in surviving this time around.
Jerri Manthey is the female equivalent of Ethan when it comes to looks. When it comes to brains, though, she must have been at the chocolate factory that day. The rumored wedge in Jeff Probst’s marriage has the perceived personality of a slithering snake. Despite getting an incredible amount of attention as Survivor’s first Model/Actress/Whatever, she was only able to use her press from the show to get special appearance work in forgettable (but fun) garbage such as The Joe Schmo Show. Jerri loves her some confrontation, and that is the aspect of her personality that simply must change if she is to have any hope in going deep into the tournament. But she still looks fine. This is proving to be a very attractive cast.
The final member of the tribe is some fellow named Rupert Boneham. If you read any of our recaps last year, you might have noticed we have something of an affection for this gentleman. If you don’t like him, you are probably not going to like the constant spew of compliments we are likely to throw his way in the coming season. We are unabashedly fanatical about the big guy. Of course, he is probably the most popular Survivor ever, so we are clearly not the only ones.
The third and final tribe at the start of this season is Chapera. Their first member is the wildly overrated Rob Cesternino. During discussions of the show, someone will inevitably list Rob as the best player ever. While a large part of what All-Stars looks to determine is who that really is, the reality is that Rob was the only person trying hard on a season made up of media whores. While vastly superior to last season’s even more overrated wrestling wannabe (What was his name? We’ve already forgotten.), the reality is that Rob got an incredible amount of attention for simply demonstrating the willingness to lie. It’s going to take a lot more than that for him to get anywhere this season. On the plus side, the computer nerd is generally good for a quip, so he makes for good television.
Speaking of good television, reality’s most famous Masshole, Rob Mariano is back in the fold. The self-proclaimed Robfather is the very definition of confrontational prima donna, but he is always fun to watch. On a show comprised of liars aplenty, the straight shooter is often afforded the best lines and the most insightful commentary. It wouldn’t surprise us if Boston Rob winds up being the star of the season if he is able to last long enough.
Alicia Calaway is the hard-bodied big mouth who always managed to find a way to tell someone off while simultaneously rubbing oil on her impossibly flat stomach. Where she manages to find said oils in the middle of nowhere is the subject of some speculation. But we guarantee that anyone who uses this knowledge to create a drinking game will be plastered each and every week. On a sidenote, if Survivor does drug testing during the season, Alicia is a sure thing to suddenly drop out of the competition. Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa think she juices too much. Alicia is like a living institution to the training practices of the East German Women’s Olympic program. We imagine she has to shave her back on a routine basis.
Even Cletus the Slack Jawed Yokel thinks Susan Hawk is white trash. The woman who gave Survivor its defining sound bite (I’ll take Snakes Eating Rats for $200, Alex) is never going to win a Nobel Prize for anything (unless truck driving is made a category), but like Boston Rob, she is willing to speak her mind. Whether what she says makes any sense is another story (Wiglesworth whipped your ass and it’s about time you deal with it), but she can be quite funny when she’s not being so disgusting to look at. We’re guessing this is a woman who spends a lot of money on taxidermy.
And even Susan Hawk thinks Tom Buchanan is white trash. Big Tom, a good ol’ boy from an area very close to where David grew up, is something of an enigma. At times, he surprised people with his insights on his way to finishing fourth in Survivor: Africa. At other times, he demonstrated exactly the sort of zealous ignorance and misogyny which gives the south a bad name. Tom has what can only be described as poker skills. He has demonstrated an innate understanding of when he is being lied to, and he can bluff very well. Since the entire contest of Survivor: All-Stars is little more than an elaborate of Liar’s Poker, Big Tom is a fascinating dark horse candidate to go very far in the game.
Considering how little we think of Jerri Manthey, how high an opinion do you think we have of her little toady, Amber Brkich? Amber’s lone responsibility during Survivor: The Australian Outback, was to play the bongos while Jerri demanded sexual acts from Colby. She has claimed in interviews since then that she was not the puppet the production team painted her to be and felt this was proven by her being one of the final six players that season. Of course, a lot of that success was due to the fact that she was never perceived as enough of a threat to target in the early days, but on the plus side, that’s exactly the sort of below-the-radar reputation needed for the upcoming challenges.
Now that we’ve named all of the contestants, let’s discuss just a little bit more about our game theory for this season. It was best represented above in our comments about Tina Wesson, Ethan Zohn and Amber Vowel-less. Survivor has historically been a game about eliminating the biggest threats. This has bastardized the process to the point that many of the finest players in the game are eliminated much earlier than is befitting their talent. We call this The Rupert Effect. In a game of returning contestants, no mysteries exist. Everyone has already seen the footage of their opponents with Rupert possibly being the lone exception here since his season hadn’t ended yet. What this means is that exemplary players such as Tina Wesson, Richard Hatch, Rob Cesternino and Ethan Zohn are really up against it this season. No one is going to give them the opportunity to get a long ways into the proceedings if at all possible. The less gifted players are likely to band together in order to prevent this from happening, so we expect an early season coup against the established Survivors. Jenna Morasca may be safe from this effect to a degree, because only Vecepia Towery is perceived as a less deserving champion of the show.
But if it were up to us, Lillian never would have been inflicted on an unsuspecting public in the first place last season, so what do we know?
Tomorrow, we'll take an in-depth look at the season premiere. Be sure to stop back by then and also Thursday, when we'll recap the second episode.