The premiere of Survivor: San Juan Del Sur brought back a recent, yet seemingly classic twist for a new season of CBS’ long-running reality contest series; blood vs. water. This season, instead of pairing a returning cast member with a loved one, Survivor introduced eighteen new castaways to fight for the title of sole survivor. With one episode in the books, I’d like to share some of my thoughts on the premiere episode, on the cast, and on the season going forward.
- The ‘Day Zero’ concept is an awesome edition to the show for a second time, even though I understand why it only works with the loved one pairings. Those scenes offer some nice pregame commentary on the players, and are able to delve into the back story of why each pairing is playing this game together, and what they expect to get out of it. It’s fun to see, from an emotional perspective, why these contestants are playing, and what playing with a loved one means to them. Anything that can humanize the game of Survivor a little more will be good for the sustainment of the brand, in my opinion.
- Right off the bat, the twist that the loved one pairings will have to square off for reward is one of the more emotional twists survivor could put into the ‘Blood vs. Water’ concept, and I have to applaud the producers on it. The first pairing, where firefighter Jeremy beat his wife, police officer Val, to send her to Exile Island showed all of the emotion the producers could have ever expected out of this twist. Jeremy, who comes off as a clear alpha male despite his wife’s seemingly strong independent nature, was very emotional about hurting his wife’s chances in the game by beating her at a reward challenge. This sort of emotional twist could have some really exciting effects on the game, as it will show the contestants loyalties to their tribes and to their loved ones pitted against one another, and with the added foil of an Exile Island stay with a member of the winning player’s tribe, strategic cross-alliances could be in play to shake things up even more. These reward duels will likely be a fun focal point of the show, and the ramifications of them could be vital to determining the outcome on Day 39, which makes it an incredibly exciting feature of this season.
- The cast as a whole seems surprisingly evenly matched across the board, compared to most seasons of Survivor, with no real clear cut hero, villain, or favorite coming out of the bunch over the first couple of days. Sure there is Jeremy, who showed to be a strong physical and social player, winning reward and forming key alliances with his new tribe mates, but he doesn’t come across in the edit as the kind of mastermind leader or crafty dark horse who usually steals the show. Josh seemed to make a name for himself with his personality, but his position in between what potentially are a girls and guys alliance could find him in trouble, very much like the position Sarah from Cagayan was in when she got voted out. John Rocker clearly has the brawn to carry his team through challenges, but his widely publicized temper may be his undoing, and the celebrity of twin sisters Natalie and Nadiya of “Amazing Race” notoriety has already proven to be a crux. With all of this said, I can’t pinpoint a single person to zone in on as being the obvious potential winner, which is actually quite a fun thing. I think a lot of variables will come into play with this group in determining the winner, and the loved one pairings may be much more critical in this ‘Blood vs. Water’ season then on the first one.
- The first vote of the season was, as usual, a very crucial pace setter for how the game will be played, and I think the Coyopa tribe made the right decision. In the lead up to the vote, it seemed like the women of the tribe wanted to take some clear control of the tribe, by getting rid of the older Dale, who notably got the first fire started by breaking his glasses in half and using them as a magnifying glass. It was a standard Survivor idea, seemingly perpetrated by Nadiya, to get rid of the oldest tribe member due to what could be perceived as physical weakness. However, the men of the tribe became fond of Dale for sacrificing his glasses for the good of the tribe, and saw Nadiya as being far too big of a strategic threat to keep around, mostly thanks to her previous reality game show experiences. In between these two factions were Josh, a Broadway performer from New York, and Baylor, a student and songwriter from Nashville. Baylor seemed less interested in trusting the default girls’ alliance and instead decided to go with Josh’s decision on the vote. The two of them seemingly agreed that voting out Nadiya was the best course of action, and with Baylor’s defection, Nadiya was voted out 5-3-1. The vote clearly showed this tribe was thinking about stability and teamwork, and without a veteran strategic reality contestant to shake things up, the Coyopa tribe has the ability to gel as a factionless unit (at least for the time being).
- It has to be noted though, while the vote seemed like the right outcome, a very puzzling decision was made by Josh to throw a vote towards Baylor. Nothing shown on the TV edit indicated that was going to happen, and while it was a puzzling thing to see, I’m somewhat certain there has to be an explanation of it in the next episode. Either way, that vote might come back to haunt Josh, because a critical downfall for Survivor contestants over the years has been flip-flopping on votes and alliances. Again, maybe there’s a good explanation for Josh’s vote, so I guess I’ll wait ‘til next episode to see how it plays out before I definitively call it a huge blunder.
Above all, one thing is apparent about Survivor: San Juan Del Sur after one episode; it’s anyone’s game. This should be a pretty interesting season with all the twists and turns associated with blood vs. water, loved one reward duels, and Exile Island mixed in with all of the other classic Survivor twists and turns. Buckle up your seatbelts guys, Survivor is back in all its glory!