39 days, 18 contestants, 1 Sole Survivor, and 2 horribly long mullets. And if Coach and Ozzy's hair styles don't technically fall into the "mullet" category, that's too bad, as that's what I'm going to refer to them as all season.
But enough about mullets, it's Survivor: South Pacific, season 23...let's do this!
Welcome to the Jungle. The season and the episode starts off immediately revealing to us viewers what we already know: "Coach" Ben Wade and Ozzy are returning to play Survivor (seriously, what's with the hair guys?) Both have played twice before, and know they need to make some big-time changes if they are going to have a chance at winning. Coach's plan? To "control my sense of self-righteousness," or in other words, not be himself (that'll be easy!) For Ozzy? "I'm more mature, I've learned from my mistakes." For those who saw this episode, he may be more mature, but it sure is hard for him or for anyone to change their stripes.
Introductions. The episode rolls along as we see the new contestants paddling rafts onto shore. We get introductions to many, but not all, of the castaways, such as John "Cochran," a Harvard grad and the nerdiest player ever to appear on Survivor, who calls himself "Survivor savvy." We also see the rancher with the Sam Eliott mustache, and Brandon Hantz, nephew of villainous Russell. What is it like being related to Uncle Russell? "It's like being related to Hitler," he says. He's out "to change the course of the Hantz family name." I wanted so bad to believe him, but his very first act? To lie about his name!!! "Hitler's nephew probably didn't go around telling people he was Hitler's nephew." Brandon plans to keep his last name a secret, even though he has the words "Hantz" tattooed on his arm and back. I hope others don't take him for the kind of guy to give his shirt off his back...
First Impressions. So as the two tribes arrive on island, Probst announces to them that two returning players are...well, returning. Edna whispers to Brandon Hantz, "I hope it's not Russell." Classic. Also classic, when Coach is in sight and Brandon whispers, "It's freakin' Coach." Ozzy also emerges, and before being assigned tribes, Probst decides to ask the new players a few questions. Christine, a seemingly tough cookie, calls both Ozzy and Coach "temporary players." Ouch! John "Cochran" asks Jeff to forever refer to him as simply "Cochran" from now on, explaining that all the Survivor greats...Donaldson, Penner, Mariano...Probst calls them by their last name. Cochran is not just book smart, he's Survivor smart, and to call him a super-fan would be an understatement. "I have a buff collection at home," he reveals to his laughing tribe.
Eggs in a Basket. Coach and Ozzy are asked to grab eggs filled with paint, and break them to reveal which tribe they will belong to. Coach smashes his in his hand...blue paint...meaning he is on the blue Upolu tribe consisting of Sophie, Albert, Brandon Hantz, Edna, Christine, Rick, Stacey, and Mikayla. Ozzy goes to the red Savaii tribe joining Mark-Anthony, Cochran, Whitney, Dawn, Jim, Semhar, Keith, and Elyse. Funny how it works out, but Ozzy is given an overwhelmingly warm reception, while Coach is given a chillingly cold one, very reminiscent of the different receptions Boston Rob and Russell got last season. Coach realizes immediately that he's going to need to bring "twice the Slayer charm" this time around.
Heroes Challenge. Wasn't Coach on the Villains tribe last time? Anyways, Probst wastes no time and tells them that a "Heroes" challenge will now happen, between Ozzy and Coach. Unfairly (in my opinion,) the challenge seems to favor Ozzy greatly...a player famous for climbing trees, and part of the challenge involves climbing a large post? Needless to say, the last portion of the challenge was a puzzle challenge, which quickly turned into a tribe challenge when both tribes began helping the two contestants with their puzzle pyramids. Good vibes just seemed to be in the air for Ozzy to begin this game, and he wins the challenge, giving his Savaii tribe some food, and also flint to make fire. Coach is humbled by the horribly negative vibe he's feeling, and his tribe leaves him behind at the challenge...all but one. Edna gives Coach a hand, quickly becoming Coach's only ally thus far.
The "Fun" Tribe - Savaii. At Savaii, all eyes go to Ozzy, much like they did to Boston Rob (eery the similarities in tribal dynamics early on.) Ozzy though is no Rob...he recommends they all go for a swim instead of build the shelter...Ozzy, who could sleep on the ground and be OK, seems to forget the needs of others who haven't yet experienced hunger and harsh conditions...strike One on Ozzy playing a better social game this time. They also share their occupations, and we meet Semhar, the "Spoken Word Artist" who recites some on-the-spot poetry to the delight of Ozzy, who immediately seems attracted to Semhar. As the tribe goes swimming, Cochran reluctantly joins them, calling Savaii "the 90210 tribe."
The Other Tribe - Upolu. Back at Upolu, Coach admits he is afraid with the cold beginnings to his Survivor experience. They all break the ice, and Sophie lets them know that she just graduated, with an Economics and Russian major. How could we not see what was coming next, guess who happens to speak Russian? Coach, world traveller. Upolu takes a more traditional approach and begins building a shelter, and for the first time in his 3 seasons, Coach (gasp!) actually begins to coach! He gives much needed advice on building the shelter, and gives little tips on things like how to swing a machete. Before our eyes, we see Coach as he begins to find his place in the tribe. Elsewhere, Christine is off looking for an Idol already, and the tribe notices.
Poker Face. At the beach party known as Savaii, Jim Rice tells everyone he's a science teacher. This coming from a guy who won several Poker Championships and owns a medical marijuana dispensory. I like Jim already. Mark tells the others about his sexuality (he is gay) and gives himself the nickname of "Papa Bear." Good strategy? What's more harmless than a Papa Bear? Dawn meanwhile, who also happens to be the oldest female on her tribe, is starting to lose it...her responsible style is not meshing well with "Bob Marley," the name she's given to Ozzy with his laid back approach to camp life. Oddly enough, "No Woman, No Cry" would have summed up Dawn later in this episode.
More Introductions. Much of episode 1 dealt with introducing us to the players, and the extra-long 90-minute episode did provide us with a lot of introductions. The next little segment showed Mikayla, the attractive and tough girl at Upolu who has been called the female Boston Rob. We learn that Brandon is super-religious, maybe to Matt-level devotion from last season. Maybe just due to her hotness, Brandon sees Mikayla as a person to stay away from, for the very reason that he sees trouble if he were to get close to her.
Upgrading from Coach. At the Upolu beach late on the first night, Coach throws out that an alliance of 5 could rule the game. Their just happens to be 5 people on the beach, himself, Rancher Rick, Albert, Brandon, and Sophie. They all seem to like the idea. Coach tells us via a one-on-one interview that we are witnessing "Coach 3.0."
A Mullet to Cry On. At Savaii, Dawn completes what she calls her "mini breakdown," which I call more of a full-fledged meltdown. She begins crying, worried about herself and not having anything familiar around her. She confides in Ozzy, who looked a little hesitant to help, but tried to be supportive. Crying is a sign of weakness Mark points out.
I Smell a Hantz. Day 3 begins, and Cochran asks the question of the day, which would play out later: Is charm and humor enough to keep someone around? Brandon begins fishing and catches a fish for his tribe...although Sophie "feels like he is hiding something." Good intuition is gold in the game of Survivor.
Immunity Challenge. The first challenge is one we've seen before, an obstacle course, followed by a wall climb, with the last leg involving throwing coconuts into a large net that eventually raises the tribe flag. Semhar of Savaii volunteers for the coconut basketball portion of the challenge, and this would end up being relevant. The tribes go neck and neck, with Rancher Rick and Mikayla really standing out (in a good way) for Upolu. Cochran has trouble getting over the wall for Savaii, and when they reach the coconut toss, Semhar is too tired to barely try. Wouldn't you know, Savaii comes up short by 1 coconut, giving Coach and his Upolu tribe the first round of Immunity. Asked after the challenge, Semhar tells Jeff that she felt "sorta bad," and Jim took exception, calling her out in front of everybody. With the win, Upolu tribe also learns from Probst that there is a hidden clue to a hidden Idol back at camp...they all return and immediately begin looking for it...and poor Stacey looks right past it hidden in a tree trunk.
Spoken Word Art. Semhar unleashes another poetic rhyme or two upon returning to camp, this time in the form of some choice words for Jim, whom she did not appreciate calling her out. The two exchange words, and are done with it. Out for another swim, Keith, Jim, Ozzy and Whitney begin to discuss who should go. Isn't it obvious, Semhar right, who was responsible for losing the challenge? Ozzy instead says they should get rid of Cochran, who is just too weak and not athletic enough. And with that, strike two to Ozzy...his lack of social awareness, when to talk, when not to, gets in his way here. The cunning Jim sees his defense of Semhar as a red flag, saying that Semhar's body is "mesmorizing but not hypnotizing."
Politics. Give it to Ozzy, he sees that Semhar may be targeted by the others and smartly informs her that she needs to "do some politicking." On the other side of camp, Jim tells Cochran of Ozzy's plans to target him. Cochran, the student of the game and uber-fan informs us that his Survivor "dream is becoming a nightmare," and that this would be a "very sad way for his Survivor story to end." Going into our first Tribal Council, it looks like it will be Semhar or Cochran heading to Redemption Island.
Tribal Council. Jeff explains that fire is life, and yadda yadda. We learn that Dawn is over her little breakdown, and the talk turns to who they should keep, Cochran or Semhar. I was expecting a weaker version of Semhar, after hearing Probst talk about her before the show and seeing her at the Immunity Challenge. But make no mistake, Semhar is not weak, and she fought hard and spoke a lot of truth at Tribal. She points out that Cochran may have so much love for the game that he's actually not paying attention to playing it properly. You have to admit...it's a gutsy strategy to come in and flaunt the fact that you are physically weak, in a game where only the strong survive in the beginning. But all talk aside, the votes ended up being cast...and in a unanimous 8-1 vote, the tribe sends Semhar packing, awaiting her Duel opponent on Redemption Island. Cochran avoids the embarrasment, and his Survivor dream goes on at least a few more days.
Analysis. So much to take in and talk about! Make sure that you check out my analysis of Episode 1 at TheTVKing.com (link will appear when online) for more of my opinion and less actual recap. I'll also share my thoughts on what went down on Twitter and the new Tout.com with Jeff Probst during the show...you won't want to miss out on this! Also, check in tomorrow when I'll be podcasting with Survivor Insider Gordon Holmes of XfinityTV.com, for his take on the premiere episode, and for some behind-the-scene tidbits from his time in Samoa (he was out there on the first few days of the show and has promised some inside details!)
Next Time On...In next week's preview, we see "New Cochran," who apparently is now a work-a-holic. Probst also tells us that Brandon "unleashes the Dragon" when he apparently comes clean to Coach about his relationship to Russell.
We'll be doing this all season, so get set up! Subscribe to this column above (near the heading,) and subscribe to the FilmSurvivor.com blog as well. In addition to Gordon Holmes, in the next few weeks I will also be speaking with a former Survivor...can't tell you who! For a collection of all of my work, go to tomsantilli.com, and follow me on Facebook and Twitter. And post your comments below! Who stuck out to you? What do you think of Ozzy and Coach's gameplay thus far? Smart or stupid for Brandon to keep his last name a secret? Let me know!!!