The “Survivor: One World” season premiere presented longtime fans of the veteran reality series with a lot of firsts. In a brand new twist, all 18 competitors are living on the same beach from the very beginning, divided into two tribes based on gender. But that’s not the only first: For the first time in “Survivor” history, the first contestant to leave the game was not voted out, but left due to a medical emergency. Kourtney Moon left the island after a nasty wrist-break in the opening immunity challenge — a challenge that the men subsequently won by default, by the way, after they were given the choice to claim victory early or continue competing against their Kourtney-less rivals.
Kourtney’s medical evacuation and the short-lived immunity challenge weren’t the only sources of drama. From the first minute, the male and female tribes — Manono and Salani, respectively — made their rivalry clear through theft, fire and harsh negotiations. There is no love lost on the “One World” beach, even if there’s plenty to love for the viewers at home.
For more on the “One World” premiere, MTV News joined up with well-known “Survivor” commentator and two-time contestant Rob Cesternino to cover all the blow-outs and break-ups that went down in the new season’s first hour.
MTV: Rob, this first episode was a doozy. You had thievery. You had cross-tribal bargaining. Two chickens were caught. An immunity idol was found and given away. An immunity challenge was interrupted for an emergency and called early when the guys were given the chance to proceed or suspend the game in their favor. Another “Survivor” first: a medical evacuation as the very first boot. Can you remember another season premiere where so much stuff happened?
Rob Cesternino: It was such a great first two-thirds of an episode. [Laughs] It reminded me a bit of “Super 8.” It was such a good start, but two-thirds of the way through, it took a turn for the worse. It was a lousy last 15 minutes of the episode. Very anticlimactic to have the first Tribal Council end with Kourtney leaving over a broken arm. This is the earliest ever med evac from the game, but not exactly the kind of history you want to make.
MTV: Maybe I’m not up to snuff on my “Survivor” rulebook, but it seems like a bit of a cheat — if Salani technically lost that challenge, shouldn’t they have had to vote someone out, regardless of Kourtney’s injury?
Cesternino: It’s a good question. They’ve definitely done it where a team has lost somebody due to an emergency [and has still had to vote someone out]. But I think they felt that it would have been too much of a disadvantage for the women to be down two people already on the third day. They wanted to play out this men versus women twist. I see where they could have made them vote somebody out, but this was a little bit of a different situation. I don’t think they would want to cripple their team so badly that they’d never be able to come back.
MTV: Overall, I’m pretty pleased with how the “One World” twist has played out so far. I think you get a better sense of who these people are when you can watch them engage the enemy so directly so early on. Honestly, I don’t know why they wouldn’t want to utilize this twist every season from here on out. But what do you think: Are you digging the two tribes, one beach setup?
Cesternino: I love the way that everything played out. Men versus women helps it in a lot of ways, too. Everyone has a rooting interest from the start. When it’s green team versus red team, you’re not as invested from the beginning as you are with men versus women, even if you’re a man rooting for the women. Everyone picks a side early on in this situation. Also, since it’s men versus women, you know right away which side everybody is on when there are 18 people living on the same beach. I really loved all of the built-in tension that came along with those guys living on the same beach.
MTV: So far, I don’t think your high school alliance theory is holding up. It’s very split down the middle between men versus women right now. I don’t see how they’re going to overcome the gender divide at this point.
Cesternino: See, that’s not how I saw it. I feel like the high school alliance is playing out that way. All the young, good-looking women made their alliance, the young, good-looking men made their alliance. The only thing missing is the two alliances saying, “Hey, we have the majority if we put our two alliances together. Let’s work together.” Instead, you have a situation where the young women are trying to prop up the insurgents to the hot guy alliance. It’s an interesting political thing that’s playing out. Will the opposition to the majority alliance almost be a de facto part of the other team’s majority alliance? Or could the two majorities decide they need to work together? That would be in both sides’ best interest. Instead, Sabrina finds an immunity idol and gives it to Colton.
MTV: Maybe not her best move?
Cesternino: Well, considering the previews for next week she says that “Colton is a virus,” I’m guessing that no, this isn’t a favorable move. [Laughs] I have a lot to say about Colton.
MTV: We’ll get to him in a few. But let’s talk about some of the episode’s other controversial moments. These teams are playing dirty against each other pretty much right away. Mike steals supplies from the girls’ side, the women sneak into the men’s camp in the middle of the night to steal their fire … everyone’s playing so dirty!
Cesternino: Everybody on this episode was so horrible to each other. [Laughs] Everything is so high-intensity from the get-go, but I guarantee that the person who wins this season is not going to be someone who came out so aggressively to the other team from the start. It’s not a smart way to play “Survivor.” At the end of the day, they’ll be on the jury. If you’re an ass to everybody, they won’t vote for you in the end. Nobody wants to play nice, but you can’t win “Survivor” by not playing nice. Well, you can win “Survivor” by not playing nice, but a lot of other things have to go right — or you have to be from Boston.
MTV: The other big controversy was the immunity challenge. Manono was given the choice to call the challenge early and walk away with a win, or finish the challenge out and give the other tribe a shot. They chose to walk away with the win. Everyone from [host Jeff] Probst to the women was shocked. Maybe it wasn’t great television, but it may have been a great move. What would you have done in that situation? Did the men make the right call?
Cesternino: Absolutely, they made the right decision. That would’ve been totally idiotic to give up a win in the first challenge in the spirit of sportsmanship. Could you imagine — other than some intramural sports, what other scenario would a team give up a sure win to let the other team have a shot? [Laughs] You’re playing a game for a million dollars. People have to remember that this is “Survivor.” Remember that they’re playing for a million dollars. There was nothing mean about it. They got the win. They fought for their lives that day, and they’ll see you tomorrow.
MTV: I agree — and if they’d kept going, they probably would have lost. The “Survivor” gods do not look kindly upon stupidity.
Cesternino: No. [Laughs] You don’t give a win back.
MTV: Let’s wrap up by looking at the players a bit. Right away, there are so many contestants that jump out and grab you, at least personality-wise if not in terms of winning the game. Who jumped out at you?
Cesternino: Colton. I’m not liking how he played the game. He’s the only gay man on his tribe of all men, but I felt he really gave up from the moment they said this was going to be men versus women. No one on the men’s team told him, “Hey, you’re not going to fit in with us because you’re gay.” He decided that the men aren’t going to like him, and that was it. Then you see him with the women’s team, going up to every woman on the team and telling them he loves them and giving them a hug. At no point, at least they don’t show it, do you see him going up to the men like that. His game is made up on day one. How does he know nobody on the men’s team is going to accept him? He’s already jumping ship to the women’s team for no reason. He’s proving himself to be very untrustworthy. That’s fine if he gets along better with the women, but he’s showing no loyalty to his tribe, and I think that’s going to play out much more over the next 36 days of this game.
MTV: Assuming he makes it that far…
Cesternino: Assuming he makes it that far. I don’t think he’s come out and played a good long-term game that can be won, at least on the first episode.
MTV: On the flip side, who looks good? Who looks ready to do this?
Cesternino: I think the people who looked good are the people who shut their mouths. [Laughs] Everybody that didn’t come out with vitriol towards the other tribe. You need to be a diplomat in this game. The people I liked were the people who didn’t piss anybody off after only three days of being on “Survivor.”
Get more of Rob’s thoughts on “Survivor” at his website.
What did you think of the “Survivor” premiere? Tell us in the comments or hit me up on Twitter @roundhoward!