Hello! And welcome to this recap of the season premiere of Survivor: Edge of Extinction(!)(?)! We are here to talk all things outwit, outlast, AND outplay, so pick up your buffs and let’s get into this.
(Obviously, SPOILERS AHEAD, so do not keep reading unless you want to know whose torch gets snuffed.)
Todd: A quick rundown of our respective Survivor fandoms would, perhaps, be appropriate?
I watched Survivor when it premiered and my family fell in love with it. I watched the first 16 seasons without missing an episode. However, when I went to college, I fell off for a few seasons, until I heard that Season 20 would be full of returning players. Eager to watch old favorites play again, I fell back into Survivor and haven’t looked back over the last 18 seasons.
Mary: I’m new to Survivor, but an old fan of reality television. I usually skew towards Bravo drama like The Real Housewives (of any city, if I’m being honest), but I also enjoy reality competition shows like Project Runway and Chopped.
In terms of Survivor specifically, I was probably watching a lot of American Idol with my family and hating it while your family was enjoying Survivor. I’ve watched a few seasons very very quickly with you over the past few months, but most of those seasons were pretty old and, as you say, the game has changed! I did watch last season’s finale, but I admittedly didn’t know what was going on since I hadn’t seen the rest of the season. It seems like the show has ramped up the challenges and cut down on the random getting-to-know-you drama. I’m not sure how I feel about that yet, but I’m excited to find out!
Who ARE these guys?
Todd: With 18 Survivors, the premiere is crowded with names and faces that are often being thrown together all at once. So let’s break down who gets a stand out moment for each tribe.
Mary: Manu has Kelley and David as returning players and the rest of the team seems STOKED that they’re there. Kelley seems immediately on the offensive from the beginning, declaring that she doesn’t trust anyone, then saying that she needs to build more meaningful relationships this season. Suuuure, Kelley. More on that later. The rest of the team seems like a mixed bunch--some nerds, some overly buff dudes like War Dog. (As a side note, WHO IS NAMED WAR DOG?! It’s so dumb they let that be his name for the show because it’s promoting an image I don’t think he can maintain at all.) Some standouts to me (and particularly important to this episode) are Keith, Reem, Wendy, and Rick. Keith is a sweet young guy who doesn’t know how to swim and eagerly accepts Reem’s mothering--until he realizes other people don’t really like her. Reem is our token older women who spends most of the episode trying to dry everyone’s clothes on the beach. She’s helpful, but when pushed she gets REAL mad. Wendy is my FAVORITE. She has cool hair, the best clothes of the bunch, and gets a narrative about her experience with Tourette’s. I think it would be nice to have a disabled person on the show and normalized, but knowing reality TV the normalizing part isn’t likely to happen. It’s a shame, because Wendy seems really cool! Rick is an enigma to me. He’s a news anchor and self-professed dad-bod-wielder, but for a lot of the episode he kept saying “Oh yeah!” like the Kool Aid man. It was very confusing. There are some other folks on the team I don’t really know yet, too. They’re taking a back seat for now. Honestly, sometimes it takes a whole season before the quieter contestants speak up.
Manu’s time at camp was mostly spent getting things going by building shelter and doing a little crafting. (side note, both teams seem to have experienced crafters! I love that!) When Keith, Reem, and Wendy begin to spend time together--teaching Keith how to swim, which is sweet--the rest of Manu gets suspicious and begins talking about how they’re singling themselves out and separating themselves from the rest of the tribe. You know, you told me that things started quicker now than they used to on Survivor, but BOY I was not expecting all this sudden drama. There’s very little in terms of getting to know everyone and a lot of suspicion IMMEDIATELY. Most of Manu’s real juicy stuff comes later, though.
Todd: Yup, the game starts fast...and furious! (Cue Vin Diesel here.)
Mary: Vroom vroom.
Todd: On Kama, Joe and Aubry are the returning players, and they both have similar strategies: lay low. (Aubry talks about being a cobra in the grass who...strikes! at the right moment.) However, things don’t go exactly as they planned. They immediately help make fire (a rare feat for tribes on Survivor before they get flint), and are generally seen as fonts of information around camp. Aubry is already aware that they can’t coast by on their fire-making abilities for long. They seem determined to stick together as long as they can, but it’s not clear if they have made any inroads with any of the other players on their tribe yet. Hopefully Joe can secure some more victories (Jeff tosses off the fact that Joe’s tribe has won 16! challenges before the food scramble on the boat). Otherwise, he and Aubry (and his curly mustache and manbun) will be on the chopping block.
Specifically, Aubry will be on the chopping block, it seems. Eric and Gavin (or Tennessee Gavin as I will call him) feel like they can trust each other because Eric is a firefighter and he has a sense for people. Of course, he also immediately asks Gavin what he does that is country, and Gavin says, “I eat fried pickles. Is that country?” Is that country, indeed, Gavin. Still, Eric wants Aubry gone, and wants to use Joe as a shield for he and Gavin. It seems like an alliance has been born!
In a confessional, Gavin says he might use the $1 million to buy his East Tennessee town a fourth stoplight. Gavin seems funny and sociable, and honestly he could go far in this game. The charming Southerner worked as a strategy for Nick last season, and who’s to say it could not work again?
Mary: I DIED when he said, “uh, I fry pickles.” I mean, hard same, Gavin. Hard same.
Todd: Elsewhere, Julie, a mom from New York City, is having trouble adjusting to life outdoors. She can’t braid a palm frond, and she immediately gets a splinter in her big toe. The most outdoorsy thing she has done is pee in the bushes of Central Park--and that was an emergency! But when she helps chop some bamboo with the machete, everyone cheers! You go, Julie! Honestly, life does seem pretty good at Kama, all things considered.
But I hear you asking, are there other people on Kama? There are! Victoria has dreamed about being on Survivor since she was 8 and I can only imagine the toll that hearing contestant after contestant say that for the last 30 seasons has had on Jeff Probst. Victoria asked Santa Claus for a Survivor buff, and she is ready to start playing! Okay!
Also, in the Good News for Joe Department, Aurora says she wants to work with Joe in this game. “I’m gay and I’m still on Team Joe!” she says, once again proving that Joey Amazing cannot be put away, no matter how hard he tries to hide that manbun under his buff.
Julia (not Julie, the NYC mom with a splinter in her foot) does not get a confessional, but at least she can braid a palm frond. Come on, Julia!
On Day 2, the men of Kama wonder what Edge of Extinction means. No one knows! But Joe believes everything has a reason.
Mary: Duh, Joe. Of course it does.
Todd: Also, Ron Clark is on Kama. Look, I don’t want to talk about Ron Clark. But here we are. On the boat before everyone reached the beach, Ron Clark found a sEcReT aDvAnTaGe. He opens it once he is alone at Kama camp and it immediately tells him to dig by the well. Not wanting to waste time, Ron Clark runs to the well and starts digging. He talks about how it is okay for him to lie and cheat even though he’s a teacher because his kids aren’t stupid and they will understand it is a game, and it sounds like a way to cover his butt when he does really shady stuff later in the season. Once he has dug up the sEcReT aDvAnTaGe, it is revealed to be an “Advantage Menu,” which sounds much cuter than it has any right to. Basically, Ron Clark can choose between three different options, but only up to the 3rd tribal council. The options are: 1) steal another tribe’s reward even if they lose 2) receive an extra vote or 3) get individual immunity. Ron Clark thinks that with this advantage he can win Survivor. Ron Clark, please cool your jets. The game has just begun!
Mary: As a side note, Ron Clark owns a school in Atlanta (there’s an Atlanta Journal Constitution article about the school that is pretty interesting). I’m not really qualified to comment on the school itself, but I know that it’s very expensive and that it spends a lot of money on each individual student to provide them with solid, rich classroom environment. He seems, from the articles I’ve read, to really love teaching, so that’s nice. I felt really taken aback when he said that the game allows for lying and that his students would understand that, though. It’s not a great example, IMO. There’s also a MOVIE ABOUT HIS LIFE. It honestly seems wild to me that he’s on this show. But I still don’t like him so far.
Come on in, guys!
Todd: The challenge is long and seems particularly grueling. Let’s break it down:
First, both tribes must go through a tangle of ropes. Then, one player from each tribe must climb a rope and ring a bell. This mechanic of the challenge seemed like the producers designed it with Joe in mind. They know he’s good at challenges, and they know that if his tribe loses because of him, it could add more drama to the premiere. Not a bad idea, in theory. Of course the other possibility is that Joe dominates all of the single-Survivor aspects of the challenge and Kama rolls easily to victory. Hmmm…
But the tribes are pretty evenly matched to this point. Both tribes have to climb rope ladders. Wentworth helps people up Manu’s ladder. Then Joe heads across a balance beam to then begin untying knots. And this is where the challenge starts to fall apart for Manu. Wendy tries at first then quickly realizes she can’t do it and tags in Lauren, who falls halfway across. Then Rick, the anchorman (who Probst immediately starts calling “Devens” for no apparent reason), also falls. It is kind of sad to watch. Eric and Aubry also make it across Kama’s balance beam and help Joe untie knots, allowing Kama to sail through the balance beam portion, while Manu lags behind. Chris falls, then David, who is notably not the most athletic member of Manu, makes it across! You go, David! Devens falls again on his 2nd attempt, then Lauren makes it across, helping David with the knots.
Meanwhile, Eric crosses a rope ladder, climbs a crows’ nest, and pulls a lever which releases a slide. The rest of Kama follows after, one at a time. Back at the knots, Chris and Devens make it across, and Wentworth tries to follow after but has a huge fall and hits her head on the balance beam. It looks pretty nasty but the angle we see doesn’t give us a great perspective on what actually happened. She makes it back to her tribe and kneels in what looks like great pain. Jeff asks if she’s okay and she says she is, but she sports a noticeable bruise for the rest of the challenge.
Eventually, Manu gets the rest of the knots untied and the rest of their tribe follows across, but Kama is already at a GIANT SLIDE PUZZLE that looks extremely painful. Only six members of each tribe can work on the puzzle and Joe takes a leadership position, telling the tribe where to push and pull the very heavy puzzle pieces. Manu makes it across the rope ladder and David takes the lead as Manu begins work on their puzzle, in what ends up being a very tightly edited final section of this challenge. The tension builds as Kama stops to examine the puzzle and figure out the best path forward while Manu keeps working on their puzzle. “Manu has a shot to get back in this,” Jeff says, but then Kama has a moment of inspiration and keeps working. Cut to: gratuitous shots of people grunting as they push the puzzle pieces. But then: Kama wins!
As ordained, Joe keeps his tribe (and himself) from tribal, and Jeff almost forgets to give them their reward: fire in the form of flint. He flips it to Joe, who effortlessly catches it in one hand. Jeff turns to Manu and really rubs it in: “I think Wentworth’s face says it all: nothing about this game is easy.” He’ll see them tonight at tribal.
I’ll see you tonight
Mary: This is really where Manu got the limelight, and I gotta be honest--I’m excited my team lost week one. I think you can tell a lot about a group based on who they want to eliminate first and how they handle pre-tribal talk. And lemme tell you. Manu isn’t on my nice list right now.
Once everyone arrives back at camp, the TALK BEGINS. Immediately, Reem, Wendy, and Keith begin talking to Rick, asking him who he thinks he’ll vote for. Keith seems fed up with this conversation and walks away. In a confessional, he talks about how he realized he had to play the game for him, not for anyone else, and the edit shows him walking back to the majority of the tribe to snitch on Reem and Wendy. The group seems PUMPED to vote out Reem, in pretty much universal agreement, but they want to talk to Wendy first, just to see where she stands.
This is where my true dislike of War Dog began. Before now, he wasn’t really a presence on the show. He was in the background, just doing stuff, with a bad bio that talks about how much sex appeal he has. But around this point in the game, War Dog refers to Wendy as a “whirling dervish.” I’m not entirely sure what he means by that, but I can only assume it has something to do with her Tourette’s, and how her verbal and physical tics make her appear to him. I think--at least from her edit--that Wendy seems incredibly earnest and helpful, and it’s a shame people are counting her out so early in the game. Once he talks with Wendy, War Dog says he’s actually thinking they should vote her out instead of Reem. COULD THIS BE OUR FIRST BLINDSIDE?! At this point in the show, I felt angry on behalf of Wendy. War Dog talks about her in a blatantly misogynistic way, saying that they need to vote her out because she’s too “stubborn.” On Survivor, sexism and racism are usually unspoken topics, but they’re also on the surface of many decisions. War Dog wants to get rid of Wendy because she’s a young woman he’s not sexually attracted to--at least that’s what it seems like. Did Lauren help out and show her strength? Did Kelley?
I don’t think he’d be saying this if a man on the show stood up for himself, yet he readily calls Wendy stubborn and begins to plan a way to vote her off.
Reem gets wind from Wendy that the group is considering voting her out and goes BANANAS. She’s offended that they want to vote her out and assumes it’s because she’s old (it is). I’m kind of on Reem’s side here. Reem makes the point that Kelley fell during the challenge and hit her head and that she didn’t fall. I don’t agree that falling makes Kelley weak, but I do think that Reem is on to something. The tribe doesn’t want to vote Kelley out because she’s Kelley, and because (I suspect) she’s young and attractive.
Manu mopes around camp a little bit more before heading out to tribal.
Todd: You are spot on here, Mary, and it is honestly hard to see David letting Wardog take any initiative whatsoever, especially after the last hour where both Wentworth and David were touted as legendary Survivors. And yet, they still take the easy way out, deciding between either an old woman, or a woman of color, two of Survivor’s favorite scapegoats. I think Linda Holmes sums up this segment of the episode nicely, here:
Because in this game, fire represents your life
Mary: Reem comes in HOT and ready to argue at tribal. Jeff senses her anger (hard not to) and asks her what’s wrong. She then launches into how she knows they want to vote her off and how she doesn’t understand it, that it’s agism. War Dog tries to debate with her, telling her that--more or less--she’s annoying because she touches their things and constantly tries to dry their clothes. Reem admits that she didn’t want to talk about being a mother on the show because that gets people voted out, but she is a mother. I think it’s sweet that Wendy sticks up for her, even though it’s clearly a lost cause, and talks about how Reem has helped her deal with not having her own mother with her on the show. It’s nice that Reem’s been a surrogate mom to the younger contestants, but that’s not enough to keep her in.
The group talks a little bit about how ANYONE--or any girl that is--could be on the chopping block this week. Kelley insists that’s “just how the game’s played,” which seems like a cop out answer. I admit I’m very disappointed with Kelley this week, and I hope she behaves better in the future. I think it’s trashy for Kelley, as a woman, to justify all the dudes C L E A R L Y allying to vote out women as “this is just how the game is played.” That’s like saying sexism is ok because “that’s just the way it’s always been.” If everyone believed that women wouldn’t even have the right to vote now. This is kind of my soap box where Survivor is concerned, and Kelley walked right into it. I expected better from her, as a beloved veteran of the show.
Reem pointedly asks everyone to provide examples of when she’s been weak, and SURPRISE, no one can really give one. Voting begins!
And when your fire’s gone, so are you…or are you?
Mary: Bye, Reem. I liked you okay and you were really concerned with drying people’s clothes, and that was nice. The votes were kind of all over the place--with Wendy and Reem getting the most votes of course.
When Reem walks away from camp, she finds out she can opt to go to EXTINCTION ISLAND (hey remember that name?) and keep playing. So she gets on a creepy boat and goes to a deserted island to do...we don’t know yet! That’s it! Todd, what did you think of the votes and tribal?
Todd: Honestly, going into this tribal, I think the tribe was probably evenly split on who to vote out (though the final vote tally makes it seem like Reem was always the first choice), but after Reem’s performance at tribal council, it would be hard for almost any majority not to vote her out. While I don’t agree with the choice they made, and they are obviously being sexist and ageist, as you rightly point out Mary, from a gameplay perspective it is hard to argue with, which is sad. I expected better from returning players, but when Keith revealed Reem and Wendy’s plan to take out Kelley or Lauren, it didn’t really leave either of them many options. If David split from Kelley this early it would almost certainly signal his ouster soon after, and they didn’t have the votes to take out someone like Wardog or Rick.
As far as the actual votes, I am a little confused as to why Wendy and Reem didn’t coordinate their vote. But the split can probably be chalked up to an early fear about hidden immunity idols, which is definitely fair, but also weird because this episode didn’t feature ANYONE on Manu trying to find a hidden immunity idol. I understand Reem not wanting to down without a fight, but if that is the last thing you say or do before tribal, it gives the impression that you think you can be really persuasive, and most of the times that is not the case. I would have loved to see Wendy or Reem look for a hidden immunity idol (or even an “advantage menu”) or try to pull another player aside and talk to them. But instead, Reem went into tribal with her head held high and went out swinging. Now, onto whatever the Edge of Extinction is!
Todd: Here are some stray thoughts that Mary and I had about the rest of the episode!
The way that the new players reacted to the returning players feels a little overblown, and also, it feels like the mini-bios that Jeff gives each player could be boiled down to: Kelley and Joe are athletic and cool; Aubry and David are nerds with anxiety but I guess they are also smart. Not a great look, Jeff.
Mary: The music is bonkers this season. Every cut back from commercial break had some weird sigh noises and I guess that was supposed to give me a vague “tribal” feeling, but...it was a lot.
Todd: Totally agree. So many overly dramatic music choices. Also, Wardog is studying law but doesn’t want to tell his tribe, which is fair. But can you imagine if your lawyer’s name was Wardog? Can you?
Mary: I can. You talked about Joe’s mustache a bit in your recap bits, and I too noticed it. Look, I love a curly-ish mustache (hey, Todd your mustache is kind of curly!), but it seems like Joe is going for a particular aesthetic I don’t care about. I know in my heart that fashion choices don’t matter on the island, but please prepare for me to continue talking about what everyone is wearing.
Todd: My body is ready. Speaking of Joe, someone immediately calls him Manbun when he arrives on the boat, which made me laugh. Also, should we maybe track nicknames? Mostly, they are Jeff calling people by their last name, like Wentworth and Devens, but I suspect we will get some more new nicknames (sorry Joey Amazing, you are old news) before we reach the edge of Edge of Extinction.
Mary: Jeff loves calling people by their last name, like a weird high school coach. Can we talk about the EPIC FIRE SNUFFER for this season?! It looks like a dinosaur talon and I love it.
Todd: The snuffer always has to have a bit of flair, and I guess the dino-talon fits in with the “Extinction” theme? Feels like a stretch but I will accept it.
Mary: NO I LOVE IT.
Can we talk about how Rick looks like Jared from Subway commercials, or is that bad?
Todd: I mean, you are not wrong. He mentions having a dad bod and wanting to burst in like the Kool-Aid Man, so Rick is definitely bringing a lot of...something to this season. Also, he immediately tells Manu that he is a news anchor and that his station is the 115th market out of 130, so...good for him?
Mary: I honestly admired that. It was funny. But why does he have to SAY “Oh yeah!” so much?!
Todd: I didn’t notice that? But it is a...choice. I also love that David talked about how the sound of chopping wood freaked him out last time and then the editors immediately cut to David being startled by Wendy chopping wood. I feel you, David.
Mary: Me too, David. Me too. The editors had a little joke and I loved it.
Todd: I also loved when David told Reem to put the machete down while they were talking. That was a relatable moment for sure.
Mary: YES. I have been that person, holding a knife and talking aggressively before (just at dinner, just a butter knife). I think we could go on for blog eternity chatting about the show, but we should probably leave off for now! UNTIL NEXT WEEK. ON. SURVIVOR!