Survivor: Pearl Islands

Episode One: Beg, Barter, Steal

By Kim Hollis and David Mumpower

What a pretty mess on my dress.

It's that time of the year again as Mark Burnett needs a vacation villa in Tuscany. That means a new season of Survivor, and this time they have spared no expense in making their 16 victims...err, contestants miserable as quickly as possible.

The fun begins in Panama City, Panama, the place where Pierce Brosnan gets all of his tailoring done. Adrift in the water is the Rembrandt Van Rheine, and there on deck is Jeff "Can You Believe I'm Famous?" Probst. The Svengali host proceeds to gleefully describe all of the tortures planned for this season's crew, starting with the already-legendary Big Lie.

The latest group of contestants has been informed that they are doing some publicity shots, and a quick shot of the group seated below deck demonstrates many of them have gotten their formal wear on in order to properly celebrate these 15 minutes of pseudo-fame. Cut back to Probst and what do we hear? The carefully packed luggage of these poor suckers is going to be dumped overboard right in front of them; moreover, they are going to be stranded in the middle of the nefarious Pearl Islands. The sweet 16's only goods will be the gaudy clothes on their backs. You have to really hand it to Burnett. He takes his hatred of humanity and uses it to turn borderline sociopathic tendencies into quality reality tv.

The credits roll and Jerry Bruckheimer must be pleased to notice a number of gunfire-based explosions added to the normal world music mix. The first surprise cast member is Sir Francis Drake, who has apparently been raised from the dead in order to compete. That, or he was a member of Captain Jack Sparrow's crew who stole the Aztec gold. He is only shown in painting form, so we assume the CGI animation will be added in later on.

There is Christa, an attractive blonde with an impossibly large mouth. We assume that this will help her in getting the male members of the crew to make alliances with her.  One such *ahem* member is Burton, a cross between Colby and Silas but certainly the winner of the most pompous name contest.

The carefully placed skull and crossbones beside Trish as her name is flashed on the screen seem a likely harbinger of her impending doom.  Meanwhile, Shawn sports a smile that shows off a chin that would put both Bruce Campbell and Jay Leno to shame.

Trying to give Christa a run for her money in the gigantic mouth category is Michelle.  She doesn't even come close (which means she loses).  The banshee wail in her action footage is a nice touch, though. Next up is Rupert, voted Most Likely to Keep Fellow Survivors Hostage in His Basement.  Sandra looks very tired in her brief clip and is an early frontrunner for the Survivor who gets voted off after vomiting.

The next guy's name reads Jon, but we're pretty sure that they're lying and that this is really surprise guest star Leif Garrett.  More uh oh's for Girl Scout Uniform wearing Lady Lillian. Her clip makes it appear as though she is desperately swimming to escape a shark that may or may not have been sent by fashion crime prosecutor Mr. Blackwell. Memo to Lillian: you're 51 years old, for God's sake. If you haven't gotten the Animal Husbandry badge by now, it ain't happening (though we're pretty sure Rupert is available).

Osten gets only a minimal amount of screen time in the credits because viewers would clearly rather see a cute blue lizard that will be sharing the environment with the castaways.  We debated taking a cheap shot about Osten's nose but decided to give him the benefit of the doubt about it being a bad photograph. Darrah should be insulted that her bit comes before a clip of a whale. We assume it's just water weight. Ryan is the fairly nondescript nerd straight out of the Rob mold, which makes him our early favorite to lie, cheat, backstab and lose then proudly proclaim himself to be the winningest loser after all is said and done.

Nicole looks to be the first Pearl Islands Survivor to pose for Playboy.  It's a crying shame she chose to wear her prom dress, though. There's another dude named Ryan, who is practically indistinguishable from the next contestant, Andrew.  Tijuana is crying, which makes her the early candidate for most annoying.  More cannons, skulls and crossbones, and we're through the credits!

We're now ready to proceed and Probst decides to yank the bandage off quickly. The survivors all have the look of post-concussion syndrome victims as they are informed that what they are wearing is their clothing for the next three to 39 days.  The indistinguishable male mannequins are bitter that their Armani look is more permanent than expected, but it's Nicole who is really screwed. She is going to be the Sue Ellen Mischkie bra-less wonder of this season. Her strapless dress demonstrates understated elegance and style but even the Girl Scout uniform was a better call.  Even Burnett has his limits before guilt sets in, so the Survivors are given their tennis shoes but are otherwise plundered of all their worldly possessions.

Osten has the most clever luxury item, a bottle of liquor, but his attempt at opening an island package store is thwarted.  They are divided into two pirate tribes, one representing gentlemanly buccaneer Sir Francis Drake and the other based on rascal Henry Morgan.

Shawn, who looks so much like John Stamos that David will be resisting the urge to call him Uncle Jesse through the show, is the first member of the blue-buffed Drake tribe. Darrah, the world's sexiest mortician not currently cast on CSI, is the first member of the orange-clad Morgan tribe. The makeup of the tribes is as follows:

Shawn (advertising sales)
Christa (computer programmer)
Rupert (troubled teens mentor)
Trish (sales executive)
Burton (marketing executive)
Michelle (student)
Jon (art consultant)
Sandra (office assistant)

Darrah (mortician)
Osten (equity trade manager)
Lillian (scout troop leader)
Ryan S. (produce clerk)
Tijuana (pharmaceutical sales)
Ryan O. (electrician)
Nicole (massage therapist)
Andrew (attorney)

During selection, there are three noteworthy things that happen: Osten calls Tijuana a "nubian princess," Nicole shows herself to be a color blind ditz who doesn't want to hand over her personal items, and Jon demonstrates a basic failure to understand the English language.  He calls himself Jonny Fairplay because...wait for it...he doesn't play fair.  We're guessing that Jon's cap smells like Otto's jacket.

In order to better represent the trials and tribulations experienced by Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins in The Blue Lagoon, the group is informed that they will not be given *anything* along the lines of shelter or food.  Instead the two tribes each receive 100 modern-day doubloons, which the Panamanian economy now refers to as Balboas. They will use this money along with the clothes on their backs (and Nicole's "massage therapy techniques") to barter with residents of a small fishing village for survival goods. Survivor turned into a role playing game so gradually I hardly noticed.

The two tribes are then given maps and informed that it's in their best interest to arrive by sundown. As we all know, the moonlight causes Geoffrey Rush to turn into Callista Flockhart, and nobody wants that. The shoes and life rings(!) are tossed overboard...and we're off!

Once on the island Ryan S. is stunned to discover that everyone doesn't immediately gel as a unit.  Exhibit A is Ryan O. (who in the future we will refer to as Cute Ryan as opposed to Nerd Ryan), who has clearly always relied on a travel agent to get where he's going in life.  He stuns three natives by trying to negotiate their services despite the fact that he lacks the two key ingredients required for such an endeavor -- a destination and the financial wherewithal to get them there.  After being laughed out of the meeting in his first encounter with the indigenous culture, Cute Ryan accurately sums up the encounter.  "I screwed up this one."  At least he's self-aware.

Rupert, proving that sometimes appearances don’t lie, becomes the first Survivor to embrace the criminal customs of the pirate when members of the other (Morgan) tribe drop their life ring directly next to him and then leave the area. He develops a shoe fetish for sizes six through eight and judging from his tie-dyed shirt, we’ll predict that he trades them for hemp bracelets at a Phish concert at some point in the future.

Since he has to get rid of the hot merchandise quickly, the hairy man opens Crazy Rupert’s Everything Must Go Emporium and immediately begins to barter the stuff he’s stolen from Tribe Morgan. In case you’re wondering what you can get for four pairs of stolen shoes, the answer is a knife and a pineapple. Here’s hoping those shoes weren’t Jimmy Choos.

After the commercial break, we see the Morgan team’s answer to Rupert. Osten gets down to his BVDs faster than Denzel Washington in Ricochet as he sells the clothes off his back plus one shoe (yes, only one) in order to get more goods for the tribe’s benefit. He also manages to alienate the women of his new tribe by suggesting that they turn this village into Mardi Gras. Osten is a firm believer in the boobs for beads bartering system. Amusingly, bra-less Nicole, who would have the easiest time implementing such a strategy, is the most offended.

Sandra interrupts the betting for a cock fight to demonstrate two of her strengths as a Survivor: she speaks fluent Spanish, the official language of Panama, and she is also a ferocious negotiator. Her most impressive maneuver is pimping out Trish to a new lesbian lover in exchange for a kerosene lamp. Her shrewdest investment, though, is the exchange of a necklace for what's behind door number two. For her final trick, she somehow convinces a woman to give her an entire barbecue (chicken, aluminum foil, several condiments including catsup and hot sauce, a cutting board, and a knife).

Members of the Morgan tribe are noticeably jealous of their counterparts’ success at winning friends and influencing people between Rupert’s skull and crossbones behavior and Sandra’s magnificent performance. The Drakes definitely have fired the first shot across the bow. The Morgans flee, lift up their mast, and sail away, leaving a host of unspent doubloons in the wake.

The conquering tribe loads up its ill-gotten booty onto a hired boat and celebrates with a picnic of barbecued chicken and fruit.

After being kicked off of Ebay with negative feedback from the fishing village, the Morgan tribe arrives at its new temporary home. Nerd Ryan takes his place on Bitcher’s Cove and lists a litany of complaints about his fellow teammates. Osten in particular is damned for being muscular, hardworking and strategic. For his part, Osten, who should never ever be allowed to drink coffee, enlists other tribe members to run up and down the beach to find the best spot for shelter. They finally decide to lean it up against a shale rock wall, which works well even if it is a bit slanty. Osten also happens to knock down about 20 percent of it with a bamboo stick so its sturdiness is questionable at best.

Over on Drake Island, GQ Twins Shawn and Burton have apparently never watched Survivor before. Unaware of the inherent dangers of being the alpha male of the tribe, they form a love connection of testosterone and then set out to systematically alienate every single other member of their tribe. First they hog some coconut milk, then they bark at Christa for her firewood gathering ability, and finally make fun of Rupert and his beard (though you can hardly blame them for that). The tribe members next make the mistake of rubbing themselves in honey before going to fetch their water and wind up looking like Evander Holyfield after a fight with Mike Tyson. Next time they barter for goods with the locals, I bet they get some bug repellant.

Osten, a student of the game of Survivor, says the following: “I think water’s gonna be real important.” As of yet, he’s unwilling to commit on the topic of food and shelter. Walking sight gag Lillian leads the group in search of a functional water supply, but all they come across is a nasty, rust-filled morass.

Under the shelter at night, team Morgan realizes that their makeshift home isn’t so secure as rocks are falling on their head. If a heavy rain occurs, a veritable landslide seems likely. Nicole gets her ass pinched by a crab and then a snake appears to have plans for her front side, but it turns out to be a simple palm frond and a huge false alarm.

Back at Drake Island it’s ho ho ho and a bottle of rum as the group had apparently decided to eschew a more important survival item for some bottles of moonshine. Jon stops worshipping at the altar of Tony Hawk long enough to establish himself as the class clown. While axe-murderer-in-training Rupert is alienated by the younger man’s sophomoric sense of humor, several others in the group are charmed by his Beavis look and laughter. Already we can see that the numbers in this tribe seem to be stacked up into two coalitions of four each.

Day two starts with fashion adjustments as the Drake tribe turns dresses into skirts, sarongs and blouses. Rupert becomes the first transvestite in the history of the show (though it’s still better than the Richard Hatch approach) as he goes from the extreme constriction of denim to the freedom of a floral skirt.

Over with the Morgan group, they’ve discovered the joy of maps, and finally realize that they have one that will lead them to their water source. They also realize that the wall where they had built their shelter is home to many a hermit crab, and determine that the best course of action might just be to move elsewhere.

Random aside: do you remember that idiot who showed up at the first day of the Whitewater jury selection wearing a Star Fleet uniform? We wonder if she is related to Lillian.

We return over to the Drake camp to find Chip and Reichen -- err, Burton and Shawn “spear fishing.” Burton shoots first and kills one of Nemo’s brothers to feed his tribe some dinner. Rupert, concerned that they don’t have enough food, takes it upon himself to get one fish for each tribe member. He doesn’t quite succeed, but he does catch several fish before an extreme case of sunburn forces him to call it a day.

Day three brings the first tree mail, or in this case, treasure chest mail, giving the whole thing a Legend of Zelda vibe. The awkward limerick about the challenge ends with the unfortunate phrase, “No booty will be had if you’re voted out first.” We think this means, “R. Kelly fangirls need not apply.” Especially since none of them can vote.

The girls giggle nervously as they ask Andrew to be their leader, which is fitting since he bears a striking similarity to Michael Skupin, the Survivor Outback member who was burned so badly he had to leave the show (though admittedly Andrew’s hairline isn’t receding quite so prominently). His first act as leader is to form an alliance of trou-droppers with Ryan and Osten. Our hero.

Today’s immunity challenge is a combination of strength, strategy and stamina, and basically is comprised of an obstacle course from hell. The immunity idol, which looks to have been lifted straight from Astaroth of Soul Caliber, is an axe with a skull embedded on the hilt. The pantsless pals of Morgan eventually all hold true to their pact, but despite a hard-fought and dramatic race, Drake emerges victorious in the final moments of the end sprint. The strategy of “drop trou” has failed, leaving the Morgan tribe bruised, battered, and nekkid.

The post-victory celebration at Camp Drake is taking place, but oddly, winning seems less enjoyable to the tribe than the fact that three of their opponents had their junk cut up. Sandra in particular appears to worship at the shrine of Lorena Bobbitt. The other tribe has a schism as dutifully elected leader Andrew looks to embrace a no-nerds strategy. He labels skinny Ryan as the weak link in the more physical challenges and seems to have it in for the kid in general. Several of his counterparts want to get the freak in the Halloween costume out of there as soon as possible.

Prom Queen Nicole overplays her hand by trying to turn Lillian and Ryan against Tijuana. Lillian follows the chain of command by promptly reporting her to Officer Andrew. Shyster Andrew sees this as a perfect opportunity to incite distrust among the group for his benefit. He informs Tijuana about the situation, and she immediately confronts Nicole with a “No you didn’t just,” complete with neck bob. In this encounter, we see both elements of the catfight, as Nicole exhibits the classic back stabbing, gossipy technique, while Tijuana goes with the “she who shouts louder and talks faster wins” gambit. We score the round to Tijuana but continue to support Nicole for the way she looks in her blue dress. We don’t have high hopes for her long-term prospects in this game, though.

Tribal council arrives and young Ryan (nerd version) receives a solid scolding from finger-wagger extraordinaire Andrew, who seems uptight even by attorney standards. The usual tribal council subjects are addressed: leadership, hardships, immunity challenge incompetence (in this case, gratuitous male nudity), and distrust. It’s clear by the disgust in Andrew’s voice that his recommended choice is going to survive for at least another three days. With Nerd Ryan off the hook, it’s easy to infer that Nicole has made the same mistake that Survivor Amazon Ryan did in episode one of that series. Just like him, she tried too quickly to form an alliance to shiv a seemingly strong player and it came back to bite her on the ass, hermit crab style. Her vote for Nerd Ryan is the only one not cast against her.