By Josh Wigler
The game of "Survivor" is afoot once again, with sixteen new competitors — and two familiar ones — setting sail to the "South Pacific" in last night’s premiere of what's sure to be a cutthroat and hungry journey for the million dollar prize. Already we've met an eclectic cast that includes a medical marijuana dispenser, a spoken word artist, the nephew of one of the game's most notorious players, two returning alumni and a self-described "student of the game" who very nearly flunked out during the very first exam.
So what's going down on the new season of "Survivor"? How did Coach and Ozzy do? Who broke down and cried first? Which contestant gave us the most awkward description of human flesh possible? We've got all that and more in our "Survivor" recap after the jump!
The Redeem Team
In last season's "Redemption Island," notorious "Survivor" veterans Boston Rob and Russell Hantz returned for another shot at the title (the former for his fourth try, the latter for his third). It was an intriguing premise because of the duo's old rivalry from the "Heroes vs. Villains" days (where Russell took credit for Rob effectively tripping over Tyson on his way out the door), and though the rivalry never really played out in full, the pitch was justified in that we got to see Boston Rob clean up a game of "Survivor" like no previous winner had ever displayed previously.
This go around sees another attempt at recapturing that same lightning in a bottle, but this time our returning players don't have an obvious hook: in one corner we have immunity magnet and social moron Ozzy Lusth, "Cook Islands" runner-up and "Fans vs. Favorites" blindside victim. In the other corner is the Dragon Slayer Benjamin "Coach" Wade, one of the best "characters" the show has ever known, but not somebody who has ever been famous for his actual gamesmanship.
It's fun to see Coach and Ozzy in their natural habitats again, but unlike "Redemption Island" where there was actual history between Rob and Russell, the lack of any tangible connection between our two latest veterans leaves us without any real stakes. Why Coach and Ozzy? Individually, they're great contestants to watch, even if neither one has a legit chance of taking the grand prize. Together, though, they're like chocolate without peanut butter; they just don't make any sense. For the hardcore fans, it would have been nice to see returning players with some mutual baggage, like Tom Westman versus James Clement or Rupert versus Johnny Fairplay. As it stands, we're stuck with two players not just without any notable rivalry, but whose skill sets are so far off the map from one another: Ozzy is a born and bred challenge winner, and Coach is just a joke machine. The split is hardly even; let’s hope it at least makes for some fun television.
"I'm (Not) Russell Hantz!"
After two back-to-back finals-placing seasons and a third year with a significantly poorer showing, Russell Hantz still looms heavily over "Survivor." This time, Russell is out, and in comes his nephew, happily married nineteen-year-old Brandon, who wants to prove that there’s more to the Hantz family than his uncle’s brutish, aggressive strategy — so much so that he refuses to tell anyone about his connection to Russell.
But editing from last night's premiere suggests a darker path for the Hantzspawn. Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about — you saw him giving the shifty eye to all those pretty young girls! Even though Brandon is actively keeping a distance between himself and his family legacy, one wonders if that very same tarnished reputation is what he's heading for.
Let's assume that Brandon is a do-gooder, and that the tribe never learns who he truly is (spoiler alert: they will). Even then, from an audience perspective, this poor sucker will always wear his uncle's stink around his neck. It's no coincidence that he has two, count 'em, two tattoos that specifically identify him as a member of Team Hantz; his very own Scarlet H, if you will.
Dawn Breaks, Words Sting
Only one episode down and we already have two cases of crying contestants, though both broke down for very different reasons. In the case of Dawn Meehan, tears came when the 41-year-old English professor realized just how far out of her comfort zone she is in a tribe dominated by bikini babes and muscle men. With a little help from Ozzy, she managed to calm down and wasn't even a target for elimination in the long run. Breaking down early isn't always the best sign of things to come, but hey, it's not always the worst, either. Don't forget Holly from "Survivor: Nicaragua," who had a severe mental collapse in the early days of the game but rebounded for a fan-favorite fourth place finish. I don't think Dawn's fate is sealed quite yet, not by a long shot.
Poor Semhar, on the other hand, is boo-hoo-hooing all the way to Redemption Island right about now. The spoken word artist couldn't dig deep enough in the final basket-shooting portion of last night's opening immunity challenge, resulting in a loss for the red-wearing Savaii tribe. She felt "pretty bad" about the loss, but pretty bad wasn't good enough to stop her from getting voted out of the tribe in a unanimous decision. Given the effort she put on display in her first challenge, I don't think Semhar has it in her to go on an immunity tear the way Matt did on last year's "Redemption Island." Though maybe if she can stop crying long enough to focus on the game in front of her, she'll have a few more cycles of life in her yet.
"Call Me Cochran!"
Semhar was the first to get her torch snuffed, but she won't be the last. Indeed, the next person to go could well be self-identified Survivor know-it-all John Cochran, who spent the majority of his first episode worshipping the ground Coach and Ozzy walk on, spouting off random "Survivor" factoids and complaining about his "translucent flesh." Gross. When he first lands on the beach, John rightfully calls Jeff Probst out on one of his familiar tropes: when Probst recognizes a player for his or her greatness, he tends to refer to said player by their last name. (Donaldson for Colby, Mariano for Boston Rob, for example.) John therefore requests to be called Cochran, and with tongue firmly in cheek, Jeff obliges: and thus, "Cochran" is born.
Suffice it to say, "Cochran" hasn't shown any signs of greatness yet. He was on the chopping block last night — though one measly vote didn't really hold too much danger — and his declared intentions to "reinvent" himself for the tribe came off as genuine, yes, but grating as well. Super fans like "Cochran" can fall into one of two categories, typically: he'll either get voted out in a grand display of stupidity ala Erik Reichenbach from "Fans vs. Favorites," or he'll find a way to steer the game forward like Rob Cesternino from the days of the "Amazon." Right now, it's hard to see him following the latter path. But as a fellow "Survivor" super fan, I'm certainly rooting for him to be able to realize his dream and achieve greatness in the game… as long as he keeps his shirt on.
Tell us who you're rooting for on this season of "Survivor" in the comments section!