Survivor Autopsy Episode 1 “Premonitions or Lack Thereof”

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“See, this is why my friends call me Nostradamus.”

-Todd in the Shadows

Final First Reaction

Figures that just after the affront to music that was the awarding of the last Grammies two nights ago, that I should also give awards that end up being just as accurate and meaningful in anticipation for Survivor night. It’s hard not to feel like Todd proclaiming loudly that Adele is a flash in the pan in 2008 before being forced to play on piano her three biggest 2011 songs slumped over in defeat, or conversely the people who gave Best New Artist to Meghan Trainor, but… come on, give me some credit here. I’m going to assume that there was more to Darnell, possibly more socially troublesome stuff, that we didn’t see. I guess Survivor assumes that their black stereotype fetish and him pulling a BobDawg in the water would be enough.

But on the other hand, Jason came off as a dick, Cydney was as bad as I feared, and Scot was equally as annoying, though by default he cracks the top 3 of the remaining Brawns. Tonight was a tough choice in general because while Alecia seemed to fail at everything, Jason and especially Cydney rattled off an uncomfortable level of anger and vitriol at her- Jason refusing to acknowledge she has a name, and Cydney running straight to the vat of judging women based off of not being as strong or awesome as her and never climbing up. Scot fed into these ciphers with as much annoyance and aggression as he could to match, and it all felt very much like they weren’t just voting someone out, they were crucifying them. Jennifer was the only one who seemed the proper level of both compassionate yet frustrated- the only one close to a functioning human being after the four in power.

Still, I think up until the last minute the Darnell vote was a surprise to me. For one, I avoided spoilers like the plague and there are always, always first boot spoilers out there. Even if you’re not outright spoiled, if someone suddenly loses a lot of winner picks and fans and people start describing esoteric reasons they’d be a first boot, best to assume you have just been spoiled. I call it the So Kim factor. For another, they threw Alecia under the bus hardcore, but the same has been said for J’Tia, who looked even worse. But for J’Tia’s survival to make any sense, you’d need to understand that both David and Garrett, the relatively athletic men she survived despite showing just barely above nonzero qualities of survival, were both overplaying, cocky alpha douches. Darnell’s portrayal was surprisingly sympathetic. A little flighty and a little rough with the sense of humor, but owned his mistakes and stood up for his character. Maybe that was perceived weakness that had him sent home by the high, high standards of Jason and co., but this bucks a long tradition of throwing first tribal boots under the bus that, maaaaaaaybe Marissa of BvW aside, has been going on since after the first Francesca.

That’s a good thing, right, Cameron? you say, or at least my friends have. There’s some quality storytelling going on. Tragic first boots are rare. Darnell is unique! To that I say, yes, it’s always nice to mix up the formula and a tragic first boot does that. Still, I can’t say this scenario feels unique. In fact, it feels like several very recent scenarios I can point to many examples of, especially in Worlds Apart and somewhat in Cambodia as well. The Lindsey vote, the No Collar vote-outs, the Kass vote-out. Just some of too many recent examples where production works to convince you it’d be borderline immoral, or at least a huge disappointment, if someone were to go home over someone clearly made to look inferior to them, then rips the rug from underneath you and throws you out the door.

I’m not saying that Darnell vs Alecia was the same as the angelic Patriotic Hali vs the idiotic, condescending, sexist Dan, but it had a lot of the same vibes of a majority that felt unmerciful and arrogant, a target that looked entirely incapable of even writing her own name, and someone who had reasons for being targeted, somewhat their own fault, but who also didn’t deserve to go nearly as much. When Darnell gave his emotional speech about how life reflected his guilt in this game, I saw Cirie in the F15 of Panama breaking down crying at the idea that she gets voted out instead of Melinda despite really putting so much on the line to complete. And, at the end of it all, this feels like if for some reason Melinda stayed. I don’t hate Melinda Hyder at all (in fact I love her probably more than anyone else aside from WhereDidMaryComeFrom) but the edit she got ended her storyline in the second episode. It’d have felt really out of nowhere if Cirie gave that speech that got everyone on her side, then she left and Melinda flopped around to our surprise.

The purpose of the article I post on Wednesday or Thursday, as compared to the one I plan on releasing later on in the week, is to eulogize our weekly boot, track down how they ended up here, and then giving itty bitty character post-mortems of those remaining. Strategic, I’ll get to that later on, because I am not good at breaking down strategy in the heat of the moment. I am, however, great at parsing my immediate thoughts on characters when the show first airs, and so that’s what I’m going to do tonight.

The Autopsy

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So, King Darnell. An early character favorite, I think I first got a bad vibe about his future when Cydney announcing that she was a bodybuilder made everyone shit their pants and jump off a cliff in excitement, but Darnell announcing he was a postal worker and student basically got him the Amanda Kimmel golf clap. Still, he built an alliance with Cydney, learned that “Blondie” was the target, and made everyone laugh with what should have been a straight up faux pas by dropping a deuce in the middle of the ocean.

Things took a turn for the worse, however, when in the challenge he volunteered to dive down into the ocean for the oars and botched it early on, losing the goggles and trading out with Jennifer. This was not taken lightly in the eyes of the power structure in Brawn, which prided itself on physical prowess and did not take a first challenge loss well. Noticing this and feeling embarrassed for his own faults, he apologized for his mistake while Alecia tried to defend and cover hers up. Alecia seemed like a very likely candidate to go home as she botched up social bonds and looked a fool, but Scot and Jason still showed extreme disgust for the goggle loss.

At Tribal Council, Alecia was ranted against by Cydney, who was aligned with Darnell and never seemed to give a fair shake to Alecia because of her already-disclosed bias against women who aren’t strong enough for her standards. However, it was Jason’s high, high standards that won out. Though the tie was played up, the immediate 4-0 revote against Darnell suggests that despite Jason’s inability to call Alecia by her name, Darnell’s mistakes couldn’t be forgiven. Showing genuine remorse and guilt for his mistake earned him empathy from Jennifer, but did nothing to change the outcome.

So why was Darnell the first one out? I think for one, you gotta know your audience. Scot, Cydney, and especially Jason seem to take the spirit and the purpose of the tribe very seriously. Darnell, on the other hand, is more of a class clown type. He wants to make everyone, including the teacher, laugh. This is all well and good, but when it’s compounded with making mistakes that are seen far less as charming and more as obtrusive, it compounds the “can’t move too far into the ocean for his aquadump” appearance and makes it look incapable and inconsiderate rather than rascally and humorous. I would wager that Jason’s pride was significantly hurt by not winning the first challenge, and Darnell and Alecia never had a prayer due to that.

Because of this, it was Darnell and Alecia for the bottom two. To some, Darnell’s decision to show humility for his mistakes would be seen as respectable and classy. However, with people like Jason and Scot in charge, it could have been seen as not fighting for your right to stay- a sign of weakness. Again, Darnell possibly did not read the people in charge- those who held his fate- well enough, and he paid the price. It did not help that Darnell might not have ever been taken seriously. The show certainly didn’t at the challenge time, going out of its way to hint at some of its favorite black stereotypes- haha look it’s a black guy messing up the swimming thing! Here, we’ll show Gervase being lazy again to put the point in further. When Darnell got crickets to his declarations of being a postal worker and student, I think everyone saw him as “the kid”- someone not as impressive as a bounty hunter or bodybuilder or professional survivor of all things tragic. As such, it came down to “the kid” vs “the ditz” and they chose to boot the kid.

I’m very disappointed to lose Darnell- we saw glimpses of his greatness, he was a great first boot character, and I think unlike most first boots given another chance he could do pretty decently at the game and be a fantastic character. It’s a shame the last to be discovered is the first to leave, but he didn’t leave having given us nothing. I think his story was pretty good and he seems like a chill guy. I just hope that this isn’t indicative of a trend of disappointment that doesn’t even wait until the post-merge to really start letting us down.

Pity The Living

Now that Darnell’s sendoff is over, I’m going to run through the other seventeen characters in order of the pretty snazzy official intro to give my thoughts on them. If I super loved them this episode, I’ll honor that by posting their intro shot. Usually, this will probably be a paragraph long at most, or even just a line or two. However, since this is the premiere, I got a lot of paradigm shifts to digest so I’ll be going a bit longer with some people.

Chan Loh

Liz- I honestly didn’t get much from her. I know she got a considerable amount of confessionals but I couldn’t tell you one thing she said in them. As I anticipated, she’s probably good at the game, but I also probably won’t care.

Neal- I get the sense that Neal’s role is to help provide opposition to Debbie, Joe, and Aubry, who seem like the “good guys”. I feel like the “get rid of the old people” stance is pretty archaic and plays into Survivor’s natural unfairness, but he doesn’t play it as obnoxious as others do, and he at least has reason to be frustrated at Debbie’s magnificent awfulness since he saw how her techniques don’t work. I think he was actually quite attractive in his suit- like a young Bill Nye- but he didn’t give me the best impressions as a character here.

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I was concerned that by comparing herself to Coach she would come off as a try-hard. Not at all. She seems genuinely a little loony, and socially unaware, and says things that I can’t believe human beings say. The fact that her first confessional was a rap-esque way of comparing her puzzle game to her dope-ass sex game makes my life a better experience, and her interrupting the Probstian intro to proclaim she’s great at swimming is remarkable. I get the feeling she will bomb either a puzzle, swimming, or both.

However, I don’t think we’re supposed to be against her because of who I think is the character crux of Chan Loh. That is to say, Debbie showed some self-awareness, some sympathy, and some genuine pathos. I think this makes her somewhat less funny than Coach, but also strangely rootable. The fact that they kept changing her careers in confessional was a brilliant touch. I get the sense that editing and production loved her as a character as well.

Joe- This close to having his intro shot. I reserve intro shots for characters that seriously wow me on almost every level, and Joe almost makes it but I still like him because he’s kind of charmingly normal. Plus, doing it this intensely also saves me screenshots to upload so there’s that. Joe is someone whose hype from the second he was announced had me dancing on the ceiling, but I really like the fact that despite being a badass FBI agent he’s a polite gentleman who thanks you for following him on Twitter and apologizes for typos, who handles someone’s inability to do camp work well, who calmly hangs out on the boat as others run around like chickens with their head cut off. I really hope Joe continues to have this sort of storyline as the nice normal one in a sea of freaks. If he keeps it up, he’ll get intro shots because it’s a character type I don’t think I expected to see.

Peter- Told you he was an ass. He seemed constantly condescending from his first confessional and it made it easy to laugh at him when again he was compared to Obama by Debbie because of course Debbie, because he fulfilled basically everything I expected. I don’t care for him.

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Slay girl! I honestly thought Chan Loh (see this, CBS, this is a tribe name, try using them) was going to Tribal Council until Aubry rose from the ashes like a phoenix and slayed the first challenge. Aubry. The one with a frame closer to me than Anna Khait. The one who had a distressingly relatable mental breakdown over just having a mental breakdown and feeling ashamed of it. She rises from that and genuinely, no exaggeration, slays the challenge. I want her to succeed, and that’s good on the editors for setting up her arc with panache and not neon signs. It also makes me afraid it might be a figment of my imagination.

Gondol Tribe

Julia- She talked about being young and in a sorority and was part of the women’s alliance being formed. I didn’t get much bad, but not much exceptionally good either. I think people might be too hard on her for being young and in college, because, gasp, how awful, but she hasn’t really bugged me at all. She seems nice and fun.
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Oh, Tai. Oh… oh, Tai. Tai had an amazing episode as a character. He got to talk about his profession as a gardener in a much more character driven way than anyone else. He talks a mile a minute just like in his video and it’s all really engaging. He also got set up as a semi-underdog, but was shown as someone to respect for his outdoor skills and his ability to survive, which is great for the person who seemed most likely to be voted off for being “weak”. He even got included in a four person alliance against Caleb which was a great sign.

Then the idol hunt.

It was hilarious watching Tai tear through dead trees like they were bad weeds to find an idol that was hidden under trees, I guess his plan was, especially after his adorable tree scene with Caleb. Then he got caught and basically could say goodbye to his alliance. Furthermore, he seems to not know this, and seems to think he’s in good with everyone. It was a bummer to likely kiss his fate in the game goodbye, but at least it’s in more organic ways. If Tai goes in 16th, I want it to be his fault rather than him being a victim.

Though, speaking of which, he tries to kiss Caleb next episode. As much as I’m sure Tai is an earth angel and Caleb has not disproven himself from being rotten, that’s not a really okay thing to do to anyone. It’s too invasive and creepy. Just another hurdle Tai has to overcome. Still, he’s very very fun to watch.

Anna-

My general reaction to Anna:

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Got six confessionals, and I’ll admit it was cute/relieving to see her bond with Tai early on because her love for animals trumps all. Otherwise, I still got Anna mixed up with Elisabeth’s smart strategy. I’m not as offended by her Survivor character as I thought I’d be, but I am just as bored. 

Nick- Keep trying, honey, and maybe you’ll almost be controversial.

Michele- Probably played the best game this episode and if someone’s gotta give a lot of strategy confessionals I wish we had more Michele, less Anna. She’s a good speaker and has her head on straight. I’m not huge on her as a character but as a winner pick I was impressed. I hope her plans work moreso than anyone else’s, not the least of which because it goes against people I dislike.

Caleb- This episode he basically tried to get Tai to admit he was gay, as if to have a reason to distrust him (you’re from San Francisco, right?) and he also compared him to Mr. Miyagi because I guess Asian? They’re not really alike. Just another day for Caleb, I guess. I hope he goes soon.

To Tang

Jenny- Just misses my best characters and lands next to Joe. She could have used a little more development though they certainly hinted at it. She’s the only one of the Brawn Majority that doesn’t seem like they’re a Dystopia Villain, having a conscience, a lot of natural personality, and just being a badass. The bug in her ear picked the wrong woman to mess with considering all she went through prior, as she hinted with Darnell. I think as great a start as she had, she has better episodes in her.

Scot- Well, he’s not boring. Just annoying. Props to him for blending in very well for a sports star but that doesn’t make him more entertaining.

Cydney- Immediately and swiftly proving all my fears about her correct. I think she was more disgusting and obnoxious about Alecia than anyone else, though she had competition. Alecia was never getting a chance with her because of her biases and it made her more unlikable than righteous.

Kyle? Sarg? Jason?- Also hit the low side of my high, high standards. I was uplifted by his semi entertaining confessional in the beginning, and his confessional about his autistic daughter, but then he ran the tribe with all the entitlement, severity, and charmlessness of Catcher in the Rye. He definitely brought out the “dick” side rather than the “human” side. I feel like his strategy will backfire immensely so that’s a mercy.

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I believe I predicted her to be the female Tom Westman. In retrospect, I might end this season zero for eighteen. Still, an absolute trainwrecky delight. It’d have been great if she went home here but maybe we haven’t even reached the depths of her insanity.

My First Final Thoughts

There was a lot of pervading ugliness in some parts of the episode. Some, like with Caleb, was under the surface. Some, like Peter’s, was condescending foreshadowing. Some, like the To Tang tribe, was immediate and uncomfortable. This was contrasted by a lot of focus on survival both in the physical and mental aspect with a great little story about Aubry and lots of laugh out loud moments you can see becoming in-jokes over time. However, with recent seasons being what they are, the shock and the off-feeling the vote-out gets me thinking that the ugliness might win, and that’s a hard feeling to shake. I hope I’m wrong and we enjoy this season for all the right reasons.

-Cameron

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