With my finishing of Survivor: Panama – Exile Island, I have finally caught up on all the seasons of Survivor I haven’t seen, which I am very thrilled about! It’s great to finally be caught up on the history of this show I love, and I’m caught up just in time for the start of season 31, Survivor: Cambodia – Second Chance. Panama was a great viewing experience on many different levels; it was a thrilling game and an even better show, featuring some really out there characters and some really over the top drama, rivaling any scripted show on TV. Panama was a great season to end this round of my Survivor Rewind series on; it kind of brought me back to the simple joys of the show, and why I really love watching it…the crazy factor and the unpredictability. Here are some of my thoughts on this fascinating season of Survivor:
- Survivor: Panama started off on an interesting note with the game introduction being done simultaneously with the introduction of the big twist; Exile Island. Seeing Exile Island done over and over again, it was hard to be too intrigued by the twist, but for the sake of the viewing of this inaugural use of it, I tried to take an interest in the newness of Exile Island for the game. It really was a fun twist for Survivor, adding a wrench in most people’s game plans, and coupling that with the knowledge that a hidden immunity idol would be hidden on Exile Island made for a really exciting opening sequence. As a whole, Panama was a really well constructed season because of the twists, but I have to admit it was really off-putting seeing the show open with four tribes, instead of the standard two. Four tribes of four really didn’t work too well, it made every tribe seem a bit underwhelming at first, and it was definitely noteworthy that Survivor immediately dropped the four tribe concept for a tribe swap into two after only one vote. Even though the four tribe concept was a bust, I did appreciate why they did it, because it went back to something I mentioned in my posts for Vanuatu and The Amazon. When Survivor has tried to split men vs. women, there’s always been a big emphasis on age differences within the tribes, so like the good social experimenters they are, the producers made sure they were going to control for age and gender in the tribal makeup. The results were much different on this season because of the four tribe format and the length of days of segregation, as unlike the first two seasons, gender difference had no lasting impact on the game or alliances. The show continued to tweak with their format this season, and I think they really got it right with the twists and the format.
- I think what made Panama an amazing season was its cast. Some seasons end up working out great because of twists, because of a few strong players, or because of great game play, but Panama’s shining grace was its vibrant, eclectic cast that kept everything interesting. After the tribe switch, two very different tribes were left to battle it out on the show, and they each brought a little something different to the show. La Mina was kind of the All-American tribe; it featured Terry Deitz, the fearless leader of the tribe whose background as a fighter pilot led to him being dubbed ‘Captain America.’ Deitz lead a strong man’s alliance featuring astronaut (yes, an actual NASA astronaut!) Dan Barry, and the resident young men of the tribe, Nick and Austin. This tribe was built to get along, with really good leadership and athleticism, and while they did have a few disagreements, mainly over which women to vote out, they were relatively drama free throughout. Then there was the Casaya tribe. Casaya was an amalgamation of some of the most eclectic personalities we had seen on the show, a group that was ruled by an alliance of people who kind of despised each other. There was Aras, a young, athletic yoga instructor, Danielle, a spitfire who was often called out for not giving her all around camp, Shane, whose withdrawal symptoms related to nicotine and caffeine lead to some of the most infamous blowups the show had seen, and Courtney, a free-spirited fire dancer, who tended to get on everyone’s nerves. This group of four sort of led the Casaya tribe, even though the blow-ups and antics of Shane acted to keep the tribe in disarray. Casaya was so dysfunctional, but it was their dysfunction that made them one of my favorite tribes in the history of the show. Between Shane’s meltdowns, Bruce’s care for his zen garden, Courtney’s free personality, and Bob Dawg’s wine-hogging ways, Casaya’s story would’ve been great all by itself without the competition at all. Adding in the fact that they were all playing Survivor and competing for a million dollars, this cast made watching this season so very worth it; they played great games, and they were great TV at the same time.
- The game ended up tipping the way of Casaya in time, and they merged with a 6-4 advantage over the La Mina group consisting of Terry, Nick, Austin, and the surprisingly feisty Sally (someone who I think doesn’t get enough love from super-fans). Terry did have the hidden immunity idol from one of his stays at Exile Island, but decided to hold that secret and try to make plays to break up the dysfunctional, yet epic Casaya 6 alliance. Terry tried his best to play the game, but he was truly bad at it. He tried to sway Bruce, but his arguments could not win him over, and he made a laughable attempt to sway Shane and Cirie, which really kind of blew up in his face. One by one La Mina got pagonged (Survivor speak for one team being taken one by one) until only Terry remained. But, an amazing storyline was forming around Captain America as he went on one of the most epic immunity runs the show had (and has) ever seen. Terry won every immunity challenge there was until the final four, staying in the game well past the time when he was going to be voted out, and doing so with sheer determination. Terry was one hell of a competitor, and his fierce rivalry with Aras became the dominant storyline of the last few episodes. Terry’s winning ways forced Casaya to turn on each other earlier than expected, even though Bruce’s unfortunate medical evacuation made it a bit easier. Courtney’s willingness to play with terry got Cirie concerned, and she was voted out, and then Shane exited soon afterwards as Cirie, Danielle, and Aras bonded together. It was such a tense buildup to the end of the show, and even though I loved the Casaya 6, I found myself really rooting for Terry to pull off the win, because that would’ve been such a great story, especially considering the way the other 3 kind of became the villains at final four. But alas, Terry could not keep up his streak and with his idol gone, Terry was voted out at final 3, leaving Aras and Danielle to face the jury. At that point it was basically a no-brainer, Aras played a strong physical and social game throughout, and while he may have been overshadowed by the antics of his tribemates, Aras shined above most of them by playing smart and keeping focused. Aras was neither hero nor villain, and he didn’t solely dominate any function of the game, and because of this his win kind of gets overshadowed in Survivor history. While it wasn’t flashy, I really like Aras’ game and I think his win was the icing on the cake that was this season (delicious and fulfilling TV).
Survivor: Panama was a really fun time in Survivor history to go back and watch. It was the introduction of Exile Island, a twist that has been integral to the game for the last ten years, and the first season to be centered on the pursuit and paranoia of the hidden immunity idol. Panama signaled a shift in the game, a shift in strategies, and a shift in the way we the viewers perceived Survivor, as the strength of outlasting became secondary to the strength of outwitting and outplaying. The cast for this season could not have been more enjoyable to see, and the fights, the craziness, the confessionals, the candid moments all added up to make this sort of a cult classic within the realm of survivor. This is definitely going to go down as one of my favorite seasons of the show, worth a watch if you’re a big fan of the