Survivor was back this Wednesday night with a bloated 90-minute episode. “Survivor: Kaoh Rong,” the show’s 32nd season, started with a scramble and did well at introducing us to its all-new cast of 18 contestants vying for the million dollar prize and title of Sole Survivor. From the previews and the pre-season build-up, we know that this will be a brutal season full of medical evacuations, and right out of the gate, Jeff Probst confirmed this, calling Kaoh Rong “The most grueling 39 days in Survivor history.” It didn’t take long for the game to begin, as the contestants were given two minutes to scramble and salvage as many supplies as they could from a boat, before having to paddle their way to their three distinct camps. Split in groups of six, this is the show’s second-ever “Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty” season, and like the last time, some contestants fit their tribes perfectly while others seemed oddly placed.
A quick note for those who don’t know or who are new to my Survivor Examiner column: Each week I offer a full episode recap (what you are reading now!), so read no further if you are trying to avoid any spoilers! This recap gives you the full gist of what happened on the show this week. Near the bottom of this article under the heading “Analysis,” you will see a link to another article of mine each week…that Analysis article is more “opinion” than “recap,” where I will dive into the episode, breaking down strategy and offering up my take on what we all just witnessed during the show. Each week, you will find a “recap” and an “analysis” article, so that’s the difference! And then each Thursday afternoon, check back for my exclusive weekly interview with the voted-off (or medically-evacuated) cast-away.
With that out of the way, let’s dive right in – tightly gripping our mask, of course – and get to the recap!
Introductions. As mentioned, the season began in chaos as the contestants scurried around a ship grabbing as many supplies (and chickens) as possible. Inter-cut into this sequence, were one-line introductions to several cast members. There is the ER doctor Peter. There is Debbie the chemist who tells us, “Puzzles lay down for me like lovers.” There is former NBA bad boy Scot Pollard, who shows us he possesses a deep, evil-sounding laugh…a villain in the making? There is Detroit-native Jason, a bounty hunter who would capture much screen-time through this first episode. Before all was said and done, the tribes were paddling ashore, and more formal introductions were awaiting.
Meet the Brawn Tribe. Scot and Jason were joined with Cydney (a professional female body-builder), Darnell (a postal worker from Chicago), Jenny (a contractor) and Alecia (real estate agent). Upon first glance, Alecia’s “Malibu Barbie” appearance made her seem like a better fit on the Beauty Tribe, while Darnell seemed a bit too scrawny to be a Brawn when standing next to the other muscle-bound statues on his tribe. Scot summed up the Brawn mentality when he said, “We’re not beautiful, we’re not smart, but we’re strong.”
Meet the Brain Tribe. Deb the chemist has a bunch of self-proclaimed “worldly experience” and points out that Dr. Peter is pretty much an Obama look-alike…something I’m sure he’s never heard before (sarcasm). They are joined by Neal (Ice Cream Entrepreneur), Aubry (social media marketer), Liz (quantitative strategist) and Joe (former FBI Agent), who impressively at 71-years-old, believes he has what it takes to go all the way this season. Liz at one point, isn’t too sure about that, naming Joe “the most likely to get med-evaced” (perhaps some foreshadowing?). Of all of them, Deb seems to be standing out like a sore thumb early on, and literally rubs them the wrong way when she is unable to start a fire, despite claiming she has vast experience in doing so.
Meet the Beauty Tribe. Anna (pro poker player), Julia (19-year-old student) and Michele (bartender) all bond early on as the three women on the tribe. They assess that the boys must have a lot of ego among them, but Michele can’t help but go ga-ga for the tall and handsome Nick (personal trainer). The tribe is rounded out by former Big Brother contestant Caleb “Beast-Mode-Cowboy” Reynolds and the gay 51-year-old Vietnamese gardener, Tai Trang. Tai loves all living things (including trees) and is instantly at awkward odds with good ole boy Caleb. Caleb wonders why Tai is even on the Beauty tribe, but Tai reminds us that beauty can exist both externally and internally.
Brawn Camp. With the pleasantries and introductions over, the game began. The Brawn camp seemed to get strategic a bit faster than the other two tribes, with Jason in the middle of things. He made the game’s earliest alliance with both Scot and Jenny, and then separately with Cydney. As for “Blondie” – the name he has given to Alecia – he says, “I have zero faith in that girl…she doesn’t do anything.” Others seem to agree. Darnell and Cydney form an alliance as well, and Cydney informs Darnell that her targets are the other two women (Alecia and Jenny). Things got really sh**ty when Darnell waded out in the water to “do his business” over by the “poop rocks,” or so they were called. This provided the episodes biggest laughs, when the others were heard calling out, “Watch out for the brown trout!” Hope floats, but apparently on Survivor that isn’t the only thing…
Buggin’. Normally when your ears are ringing on Survivor, it means someone is talking about you, but for Jenny (Brawn Tribe) it was something much more grotesque. A small worm-like creature actually found its way into her left ear, burrowing deeper and deeper into her ear canal. This (obviously) was unpleasant and caused her excruciating pain, and even bleeding from the ear. Luckily for her, the others were able to spot the creature when it wiggled into sight, and Scot crushed it between his fingers. Fortunately for Jenny, she seemed good to go following the removal of this pesky earworm. That’s one song that Jenny is unlikely to ever get out of her head (see what I did there?)
Brains Camp. And while something was actually going on inside Jenny’s head, Aubry over at the Brain Tribe was also dealing with something far less real that was eating away at hers. She basically had an anxiety attack after getting a bit light-headed due to the heat and dehydration she was experiencing, resulting in her apologizing over and over to her tribe-mates. Her little episode did throw some doubt into the heads of others who now feel the need to keep a close eye on how Aubry is coping with the conditions in the game. On a strategic level, a clear separation was happening as well at the Brain Tribe. The “older folk” Joe and Deb seemed to bond, but that left them in the minority as the younger foursome forged an alliance. Neal called Joe and Deb the “low-hanging fruit,” so they would naturally “get eaten first.” So although Aubry may be struggling, she appears to still be in the majority on her tribe.
Beauty Camp. Julia is the first to recognize Caleb from Big Brother and she shares this with Anna, but Caleb soon tells them all anyways, hoping that his Reality-TV past isn’t held against him. In fact, it could work in his favor, as the girls note that on Big Brother, he was extremely loyal to his alliance. Caleb wants to show America that he is “more than just Beast-Mode-Cowboy” and that he believes he is “mentally stronger than anyone in the game.” It wouldn’t take long – Day 2 to be exact – for a rift to begin within the Beauty Tribe, when Tai sneaks off to search for a hidden Idol…and is caught red-handed. Anna had felt loyal to Tai, but has now lost all trust in him. Tai realizes he has screwed up and even worse, doesn’t end up finding anything.
Immunity Challenge. The first challenge of the season was a grueling one, involving diving down in the ocean to retrieve four paddles, using them to paddle ashore and then pushing their boat onto shore. Once there, they would attach wheels and then had to push their extremely heavy vessels even further ashore, where they then had a choice to either complete a puzzle or compete in a challenge of dexterity (all three tribes chose the puzzle). The Brawn Tribe was off to an immediate disadvantage when Darnell volunteered to dive for the paddles, but then lost their underwater mask upon jumping in. Although the Brawns fought back into contention, they ultimately fell short and were the tribe that would be going to Tribal Council. The Brains won first place, scoring them a sick fire-making kit, while the Beauties got flint as a consolation prize. Alecia – who was pretty useless for the losing Brawn Tribe, tells us that her only hope in the game is to get her tribe to vote off Darnell, hoping that his big error during the challenge was enough to give him the boot.
Darnell or Alecia? It is pretty clear that the target will either be Darnell or Alecia. Darnell publicly took the blame for losing the challenge and the mask, but knew that something was up when people were being quiet with him. “When people in this game are not talking to you, they’re talking about you,” he said. As we learn, the word is that Darnell will be the one to go home. Scot tells Alecia this, but she continues to scramble and act paranoid, and that does not sit well with Scot, who flat-out tells her he doesn’t like her scheming ways. Cydney chimes in that she is willing to vote for Darnell, but because of their alliance, she secretly would rather vote out Alecia.
Tribal Council. You’ve got to love Jason through Episode 1, who isn’t afraid to say it like it is, and who also seems to be likable in an odd way. When asked about his tribe mates, he tells Probst that a few of them don’t live up to his standards, and when pressed, plainly says, “not even close to everybody.” He then points out the weak links by name: “Blondie and Darnell.” Alecia doesn’t even get called by her name! Much of the talk at that point is between Darnell and Alecia as they argue and fight to secure their place in the game. Darnell at one point gets emotional, and it causes Jason to whisper to Jen and Scot, “Are we doing the right one?” Jen replies, “I don’t want to vote for Darnell.” With that, the votes were cast.
The Vote. Alecia – who through the episode is called useless and appears to be clueless – does nothing to help that reputation when she starts writing on the parchment with the cap still on the pen. She eventually figures it out. We see that Cydney votes for Alecia, seemingly staying true to her alliance with Darnell. No Idols were played, and the votes were read: Alecia – Darnell – Alecia – Darnell – Alecia – Darnell. A 3-3 tie! As per Survivor rules, a tie-vote means a re-vote, with everyone voting except for Darnell and Alecia. The votes were read again, and in a unanimous 4-0 vote, Darnell Hamilton becomes the first person voted out of Survivor: Kaoh Rong (it appears that the tie-vote might have been a strategy by the other four to flush out any potential hidden Idols that either Alecia or Darnell might have had). Jeff Probst summed up the Tribal by stating that the theme of the night seemed to be, “If you want to talk the talk, you better be able to walk the walk.” Or at least be more discrete when adding to the brown trout population of Cambodia.
Analysis. As always, I will post a separate article with my personal thoughts on the game, you can find my Episode 1 analysis here (link will be active once analysis is live and online).
Next Time On…Debbie continues to not fit in on the Brains Tribe, while Tai tries to sneak a kiss with Beast-Mode-Cowboy…or in other words, not much is going on in the game? We will have to wait and see…and hold our breath as we await the inevitable medical-evacuations that will eventually come to fruition this season.
Be sure to check back tomorrow for my exclusive one-on-one interview with Darnell, and be sure to follow me,@tomsantilli.
Next week I will be podcasting with Gordon Holmes of XfinityTV.com, so look for that early in the week as we discuss this first episode in great detail, amongst other Survivor-related things. You won’t want to miss it!
Also, be sure to check out one of my favorite Survivor sites, SurvivorFever.net.