‘Survivor’ Summer Book Club – ‘Survivor: Vanuatu’ Episode 1

Let’s hit on a couple of orders of business before we jump into this… first of all a big thanks to @Survivor_BUFF for hooking us up with the sweet graphic you see to the left. Hopefully my resizing didn’t screw it up too much.

Second, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that anyone willing to participate in something this nerdy is well aware of how “Survivor: Vanuatu” turned out. If you’re looking to avoid spoilers on a TV series that happened eight years ago, this might not be the place for you.

Third, our friends at True Dork Times are getting in on the fun with stats, awards, and more.

And finally, this whole Book Club process is kind of a work in progress. If you have ideas on how to improve the proceedings, please let me know.

My Big Question: Back in 2008, Jeff Probst and I did a video segment called the “‘Survivor’ Question of the Week” where we’d debate the merits of a specific topic. One of those topics was, “Who was the least deserving winner in ‘Survivor’ history.” I chose Chris Daugherty because I felt like he was lucky that the female alliance fell apart when it did and I didn’t like how he misled people like Eliza before voting them out. The lying struck me as very unnecessary.

However, that was based on a four-year-old season I had watched before yapping about “Survivor” was my actual job. So for this rewatch, my main goal is to critique Chris’s performance to see if he deserved my worst-ever ranking.

Buy Survivor Vanuatu – The Complete Season on Amazon

Episode Thoughts:

The brown shirt is a good look for Probst. He should consider working it back into his repertoire.

How long was the ceremony at the beginning of this episode? The sun was out when it started and it was very dark when it ended.

The strategist in me says; retrieving a lucky rock isn’t worth showing everybody that I’m strong and agile enough to climb a greased pole. At least the Medallion of Power had a use.

“Soon as he got that rock it starting raining like pouring pee out of a boot on a flat rock.” – Travis Sampson

Was it a coincidence that the editors had Scout saying, “We’ve got a really sturdy rack for a shelter,” as Ami was bending over?

What is a document manager?

Chad’s lucky NaOnka Mixon wasn’t around to push him over after he revealed his prosthetic leg.

Before every challenge, the tribes are given quite a bit of time to strategize. It may sound silly, but little game plans do make a big difference. Right off the top of my head…

  • The fastest people should have gone under the mud crawl first. This is an obstacle where a slow person in the lead can hold everyone else back. When the fastest are out, they can help others up.
  • The maze team should have been the second group under the mud crawl. It’ll give them a chance to gather their bearings while the fastest help the slowest out of the mud.
  • People should have been kicking off their shoes immediately before attempting the balance beam.

Not many people can make the mud-in-the-teeth look work, but Ami pulls it off.

The Yasur tribe chanted, “Fire, water, and immunity” after their victory. That’s mean. You didn’t hear the guys chanting, “Magic rock” after their win.

Matt Quinlan had an excellent point during our “One World” exit interview when he said that whenever the tribe is divided between young and old or men and women, that it puts young, muscular guys at a severe disadvantage. This is twofold because you’re on a tribe with three or four other buff guys and the challenges are designed so everyone can compete and strength is less of an asset. Brook (and “Nicaragua’s” Shannon Elkins) would probably agree with this statement.

This Tribal set is really cool. In fact, I’m really digging the stone, skull, and volcano motif of this season. It’s like a Megadeth album cover.

Discussion Questions:

Has an eventual winner ever been in as much trouble in an opening episode as Chris was in this one?

Is anyone good at “reading the edit?” Because, I’m not. What are some of the signs that Chris was going to be the eventual winner?

Travis’s Bob Barker shirt, best non-bikini piece of “Survivor” attire ever?

Are Men vs. Women seasons unfair to physical challenge threats?

Some people are always talking about wanting a return to classic “Survivor.” Is there a sweet spot between the simplicity of “Borneo” and the idol-finding, big-name-returning, Redemption-Islanding insanity of “South Pacific?”

Your turn, I’ll do my best to approve comments as quickly as possible…

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24 Responses to “‘Survivor’ Summer Book Club – ‘Survivor: Vanuatu’ Episode 1”

  1. jacobandrewwilson Says:

    I thought this episode has huge editing signs for how the season will turn out. Chris saying “the game is outwit, outplay, outlast; not outbalance” I thought was a great sign of his Survivor skills. Ami also had a couple of lines talking about how the women could be strong, which is essentially her thing all season long as well.

    I think Chris’ ability to get out of these dire situations (screwing up the challenge yet not being voted out, being the last remaining male but winning in the end) is a great testament to his social skills, he may not be a strategic mastermind, but he’s gotta be up there with the best social players.

    There are so many enthusiastic people in the confessionals. Chris, Eliza, Rory, Travis, and so many others are so good in their interviews. I think it really is a testament to how good casting used to be.

    The opening scene really sticks out to me, has there ever been this much interaction with the locals to start a season? Can’t think of any other time.

    Love this episode and this season. The Fat 5 is up there with my favorite alliances ever.

    • gordonholmes Says:

      Was Gabon the last time the cast was greeted by locals before the game?

      • jacobandrewwilson Says:

        When was the last time locals were involved at all?

      • Survivor Buff Says:

        Gabon is the last time I recall that happening.

        I miss visiting locals for a reward, typically an overnight. Having duels helped screw that up, but it would have been the same locals over and over again, anyway. I also miss having locals come to camp to show them how to live off the land.

        Here’s hoping we get to see a Filipino guy like in the logo for some type of something!

  2. ILuvSurvivor Says:

    Well, I hadn’t heard anything about this starting, so I guess it was a coincidence that I got tired of waiting and watched the first episode last night. I was surprised at how much trouble Chris was in because of his performance, or lack thereof, in the challenge. I think having shoes off for the balance beam is not a good idea, because it seems that it would hurt your feet. The only reason I would say to kick off your shoes is because the mud can make you slip. Okay, I have to go do laundry. LOL

    • gordonholmes Says:

      Chris’s was probably a case of “He just had a bad challenge, he’s not bad at challenges” like Kat in “One World.” Scout is someone who seems like she’d struggle in any physical challenge. And the shoe thing, maybe that’s just me. I’m a barefoot balancer.

      • ILuvSurvivor Says:

        Scout has the knee replacement, so I can see why she would have trouble in challenges. And the shoe thing, it just seemed painful to even watch it. Also, one more thing, I laughed when I saw Chad’s mouth in an O when he saw the natives coming, since that was so prevalent in Mario’s Funny 115. Now when I rewatch, it’s with an eye toward the funny countdown and it’s brand new to watch. Luv it 🙂

  3. Drew M Says:

    I can’t think of anyone in the first episode, let alone the eventual winner, that in 10 or so show minutes went from being the clear cut consensus first boot to being (essentially) the LEADER of the dominant alliance! Quite a feat. We’ve seen challenge liabilities avoid the first vote in the first ep, but they usually fall soon after. And Rob C wasn’t the obvious first challenge liability but he certainly improved his lot in the 1st ep. Chris not only reversed but greatly improved his fortunes, I think a testament not only to his social game, but strategic too. He read the situation, saw what needed to be done, and made it happen. Did it help that it was a men vs. women season and that it was obvious to even Travis that the old guys needed to stick together? Certainly. But Chris led that movement and made it work.

    I also thought the interaction with the locals was awesome, it took up most of the first two segments right? I remember watching this in 2004 and noticing the sharp contrast between All-Stars, which was virtually all character driven, and Vanuatu’s beginning which focused so heavily on the environment and culture. Even the men vs. women thing is quite related to how Vanuatu life seems to be. I remember really liking the contrast.

    And quickly, agree with Jacob that Chris had a great first show quote that foreshadowed his win. Winner’s edit often depends on the core nature of the person. With guys like Chris, Tom, JT, much more clear to see a win or at least success in the 1st ep. A Natalie White or Sophie, less obvious since they’re just subtler personalities.

  4. Andy Baker Says:

    To answer your questions:

    GH: Has an eventual winner ever been in as much trouble in an opening episode as Chris was in this one?

    ** Can’t think of anyone… there was some talk of voting out Hatch first in Borneo, but it never got very far (more pressing targets moved to the fore). I didn’t remember Chris’s immunity challenge ineptitude; in another season, without a gender split or an exploitable age rift, without a doubt Chris goes first.

    GH: What are some of the signs that Chris was going to be the eventual winner?

    ** At the heart of any “winner’s edit” are early confessionals. First law of the winner’s edit: Anyone who doesn’t get a confessional in the first episode isn’t gonna win. Second law: The winner will be shown uttering a killer confessional quote. Case in point: After losing the immunity challenge, Chris tells us that he isn’t in any danger — he’s got a plan. In an episode which is relatively thin on strategy, this confessional (along with the others he provides throughout the episode) makes three things abundantly clear: 1) Chris is part of the dominant alliance, 2) Chris was likely responsible for putting this alliance together, and 3) Chris is playing the game on a level that the other men aren’t. (He even tells us early on that he’s happy about the gender split, because he can manipulate men…)

    GH: Travis’s Bob Barker shirt, best non-bikini piece of “Survivor” attire ever?

    ** Gotta love that shirt. It’s one of the small details that reveals how much the show has changed over the years: everything the castaways wear now is all colors and patterns (for licensing reasons, I imagine) and/or “character uniforms” (think Jonas’ sushi chef outfit or Cochran’s sweater vest — both chosen by producers). And yet, there was some manipulating even back in Vanuatu: Chris has said in interviews that the producers cut the arms off of his t-shirts to make him seem more like a stereotypical road construction worker.

    GH: Are Men vs. Women seasons unfair to physical challenge threats?

    ** Absolutely. I wrote a One World pre-season essay about this (“Matt Quinlan and the Inevitable Alphacide”) — once you remove the competitive need for alpha males, they become an immediate target. With a gender split (and for Matt, Redemption Island being retired), strength becomes a liability; alphas, who normally become targets immediately post-merge, become obvious early boots when challenges focus on balance and puzzles. Interestingly, Chris refers to this reality in one of his many “narrator” confessionals, pointing out that J.P. “has the brawn but not the brains” — alliances will win the day in Vanuatu, yet another way Chris, like many Sole Survivors before him, benefitted from the shape of his season (as I wrote in Matt’s essay, “sometimes you play the game; sometimes the game plays you”). Luck — ever the 19th Castaway.

    GH: Is there a sweet spot between the simplicity of “Borneo” and the idol-finding, big-name-returning, Redemption-Islanding insanity of “South Pacific?”

    ** I certainly hope so. This is the first time I’ve gone back to re-watch a season, and even though we’re only one episode in, I find my faith restored: there is a way to do Survivor well. Vanuatu isn’t perfect — no season is — but they do a number of things right: they set the stage (I love the incorporation of local culture — like any good story, placing the narrative in a knowable world gives the tale more substance), raise the stakes (I prefer seasons when the castaways have to work to survive: long walks at night to their campsites, with only a machete and cooking pot waiting for them; palpable excitement over getting flint so that they can boil water), and cast “real” people (more body fat than body builders; even many of the supposedly “hot” castaways are more interesting-looking than blandly beautiful).

    Thanks again for doing this… looking forward to next week!

    • Survivor Buff Says:

      What talk was there of voting Hatch off? All I can recall from the show itself is Hatch saying, “I’ve narrowed it down to four people… I’m one of them.”

      • Andy Baker Says:

        I’d have to go back and re-watch — could be that I’m remembering interviews (many of which were long after the fact)…

    • Sarah Freeman (@ChannonSarah) Says:

      “Case in point: After losing the immunity challenge, Chris tells us that he isn’t in any danger — he’s got a plan. In an episode which is relatively thin on strategy, this confessional (along with the others he provides throughout the episode) makes three things abundantly clear: 1) Chris is part of the dominant alliance, 2) Chris was likely responsible for putting this alliance together, and 3) Chris is playing the game on a level that the other men aren’t. (He even tells us early on that he’s happy about the gender split, because he can manipulate men…)”

      Actually, what struck me was that it was Lea who warned Chris that he was in danger, had *already* come up with an alternative, and it was his choice, not Chris’ that got booted.

      I’m not saying that Chris shouldn’t be given due credit, because I think he certainly has been making moves, but I don’t think he should be given all credit. I certainly wouldn’t assume he is responsible for putting the alliance together nor that he’s playing on a level above the other men. Right now, I’d be leaning towards Lea being ‘in charge’ (although, honestly, there are probably about three or four people who think they’re running the show and they’re all right, depending on which perspective you follow), though Chris is definitely a player.

      Of course, edit-wise, he’s certainly getting strategy highlighted!

  5. Jeff Pitman (@truedorktimes) Says:

    My wife’s reaction in watching this with me was: “These are all normal people.” They came from all over the country (Yasur had a grand total of zero people from California, even, let alone the Los Angeles area). And yet, every person got at least one confessional, and for the most part, everyone was engaging. And there was still conflict, and there were still big characters, there was still drama.

    I miss this Survivor, and thanks for getting us to go back and revisit it, Gordon.

  6. Survivor Buff Says:

    Thank you, Gordon Holmes. You didn’t have to credit me.

    There are so many points of discussion, but I’ll only hit a few.

    I’m happy to see someone else recognize Bubba’s quote. Speaking of Bubba, (I also find it interesting that you only referred to him as Travis.)

    Re: Chris
    I agree that he shouldn’t have kicked Eliza and Julie in the butt on their way out. (Or, rather, maybe you *should* piss jury members off, then say America should the winner. I guess that’s another discussion.) But his win seems to be too often credited to episode 11’s power shift, and people looking to discredit him try to poke holes there. Pay attention. Listen to little bits, like him talking about Sarge with Rory or talking about John K. with Chad. Chris did plenty else, working to put himself in the best position possible at every turn.

    He seemed to be in trouble, but Parvati may have actually been in more danger. Chris was on the right side of the numbers, and we didn’t see them say anything about considering taking him out. I would have to look it up, but I think Jonny Fairplay may have said he was going to side with Jonathan/Ami/Eliza/Yau-Man. (So, Danny Bonaduce may have been the most influential person of the season!)

    Re: Men vs. Women
    It does put the strong guys at a disadvantage, but is it unfair? Absolutely not. Just because challenges *tend* to have components that require strength doesn’t mean they always *have* to be that way.

    Would you say that most challenges are unfair to (most of) the older crowd for not playing to their strengths? Probably not. They’ve got to able to hack it one way or another, right? So, why would it be unfair to the strong guys just because their tribes don’t have to rely on their strength? The game still comes down to voting, and if they can’t make it through without relying on that one, completely non-social element, it seems silly to cry foul.

    If I had actually had any strength and I was on Survivor in a gender battle season, I would say, “Look, the challenges aren’t so physical this season. I’m not so threatening.”

    Re: Sweet Spot
    Some of it is happenstance, but Pearl Islands is probably right smack dab where everyone can be pleased. Interesting to note that Vanuatu was the first season without player introductions. (You know, the such-and-such tribe, which will always wear this color, consists of…) Also, before All-Stars, confessionals listed occupation or hometown, jumping back and forth between the two. After All-Stars, it was occupation only. I don’t think it’s a problem so much as it’s a symptom of the problem.

    • jacobandrewwilson Says:

      I agree with you on Chris, especially if you know he’s the eventual winner you can see that he is working every single person out there with great skill.

      This is why I think you must rewatch a season in order to judge it and its winner.

      • Survivor Buff Says:

        Absolutely, I’m all about rewatching, but especially to make a well-informed judgement on a season. I didn’t catch some of the Chris stuff the first or even second time. He’s way too savvy and focused to be the worst player of the winners.

    • Andy Baker Says:

      SB: It does put the strong guys at a disadvantage, but is it unfair? Absolutely not. Just because challenges *tend* to have components that require strength doesn’t mean they always *have* to be that way.

      ** While I agree that the game comes down to voting, I do think the gender split is a bit unfair to the alpha males. Every group has strengths and weaknesses, reasons to keep them and reasons to vote them out — and periods in the game when they’re targets and when they’re assets. In One World, Kim mentioned this as the beauty of a merge — former liabilities like Tarzan suddenly become useful. Alphas have tended to be safe in the early going, thanks to the physical nature of some challenges (while the challenges don’t have to be physical, as you point out, the players anticipate that at least a couple of them WILL be, and thus keep alphas around for an edge in those as-yet-unknown IC’s); Alphas later become a focal point of voting strategies post-merge, to keep them from going on individual immunity runs. Without that early edge, however, alphas are targets at EVERY stage of the game — the same can’t be said for any other group. Older players are targets early (they’re the flip side of the alpha coin), but become goats/loyal alliance members later… weaker players can float/stay off the radar during every phase of the game… alphas are the only ones with major hurdles throughout a game set up like Vanuatu/One World. The best players could overcome such an obstacle, of course, but it’s a much tougher road than they ask of any other type of castaway. (On a related/unrelated note, I write this as someone who would love to play Survivor, but is not, by any measure, an alpha — I just like a game with as even a playing field as possible.)

      • Survivor Buff Says:

        If you really want the most even playing field possible, that’s the how gender battle seasons are inherently by design. Across the board, I would imagine that physical strength (as broad as that is) is the single most important attribute required to do well in challenges. As such, those who are physically strong are the ones with an advantage.

        Of course, that’s how it is on paper. We know that what’s on paper doesn’t necessarily amount to anything. Even survival skills, in and of themselves, get you nothing on Survivor. It doesn’t matter how things are on paper, but it also doesn’t really matter how the paper is perceived to have been rewritten.

        Sarge seemed to know to get rid of the strong guys. They’re his competition. Why wouldn’t he? Well, maybe that’s because when he eliminated his competition, he became everyone else’s competition.

        What Survivor really comes down to is playing the hand that you’re dealt. Winners have found themselves on the wrong side of the numbers in roughly half of the seasons.

  7. Drew M Says:

    I have no idea why I called him Travis. He’s such a Bubba. This will not happen again.

  8. Sarah Freeman (@ChannonSarah) Says:

    For the record, I haven’t seen Vanuatu before. I know more or less how the end-game goes, but I’m very hazy on the pre-merge details.

    I think the ‘winner quote’ for me was when Chris was saying that he could outsmart and manipulate men but women were harder. He will, of course, end up having to take on both… and he’ll succeed.

    As a player, I’m impressed with Chris so far. He got himself into a secure enough position that he didn’t have to worry about singlehandedly losing the immunity challenge, and could even joke about it afterwards. As I replied to Andy above, I’m inclined to think that Lea was at least as responsible as Chris for turning the vote against the younger men, but Chris still deserves kudos for having that safe spot long before the challenge.

    Actually, the thing that made me sit up and take notice most was how he handled Jeff at Tribal Council. He went into this cheerful diatribe about team spirit (including throwing Rory under the bus) and generally made himself out to be a good guy who was playing for the tribe not himself. Well played.

    Not much to say for the women, except they did seem organised enough in the challenge. I know Scout lasts, but it’s hard to believe given her struggles. I’ll be curious to see how that works out. Mostly I just want to see more Eliza, because I loved her in Fans vs Favorites.

    Regarding the overall edit. I started watching Survivor with Exile Island. Recently, my husband and I have been watching Australia, and we have been very taken with the simple approach. I’ll give Vanuatu a few more episodes before I comment directly, but it *is* a huge relief not to have the producers’ idea of the most interesting player shoved over and over in our faces.

  9. Drew M Says:

    What a difference too between this season and a certain season filmed in Central America that also had an amputee. Chad shows everyone his prosthetic (is that the right term for his?) leg, “Hey that’s great Chad! You’re good for challenges? Fantastic.” And that was that. Other season? “GET HER OUT RIGHT NOW!!! NO CHARITY CASES ALLOWED!” Now I think that season was an anomaly in that it contained so many outright negative spirited people, so it was a bad storm of things. But stark contrast in how the two were treated. Needless to say this is much better.

    • gordonholmes Says:

      The thing that always got me about the reaction to Kelly B. by La Flor was, they were worried about her jury cred on day two. We’ve come a long way from alphabetic voting.

      • Survivor Buff Says:

        Re: Kelly B.
        Watching Nicaragua, I couldn’t help but ask “Where’d it go? Why’s it missing? What happened to it??” I’m talking, of course, about her screen time. She seemed like a perfectly likable person who’s overcome some obvious adversity. Why was she only shown when NaOnka was yelling at her? Maybe I can bring this tangent back around.

        Re: Chad
        It’s much better seeing the reaction to Chad after seeing how different things could be. I think it could sound harsh to some, but I really don’t think it is when you listen to it.

        I really like Chad, and most people seem to, also. He’s not the most thrilling guy, but he’s interesting enough, likable enough, and was given enough screen time for that to count. I wish we could have heard some of Yasur’s reaction beyond seeing a look or two. I’m sure plenty will go off the deep end and say that everything about editing was better back then, but I appreciate that they eventually stopped being afraid to throw in the occasional confessional at challenges. Mind you, I don’t want confessionals to permeate the actual challenges. That would just inadvertently give things away.

      • Sarah Freeman (@ChannonSarah) Says:

        Somebody (one of the Johns? I forget) did say that Chad was going to win, because he was a nice guy with an underdog story. But they certainly weren’t outraged about it, which does make a difference. Mind you, La Flor *was* a tribe picked for its youth. Perhaps the men’s tribe would be different if most of them weren’t over thirty.

        Although, I have to admit, the fact that they don’t seem to be casting people because they’re crazy probably helps too.

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