‘Survivor’ Summer Book Club – ‘Survivor: Cook Islands’ Episode 1


EP01Let’s hit on a couple of things before we jump into this…

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

Second, “Survivor: The Amazon” came in a very close second place to Cook Islands in our re-watch poll. If you’d like to tackle that season by yourself, Mr. Rob Cesternino is very generously offering his “Survivor: The Amazon – Unauthorized DVD Commentary” at an exclusive DISCOUNTED RATE for Summer Book Club members.

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

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

My Big Question: Parvati Shallow, “Boston” Rob Mariano, Russell Hantz, Richard Hatch, Sandra Diaz-Twine, Ozzy Lusth, Cirie Fields, Tom Westman, Amanda Kimmel, Rob Cesternino, and Ethan Zohn.

That’s the full roster of“Survivor” Hall of Famers. All eleven have appeared on the show more than once.

Whenever the topic of worthy one-timers comes up, Cook Islands champ (spoiler alert!) Yul Kwon is always a popular pick. However, many seem to think his (spoiler alert!) over-powered immunity idol should count against him. With this re-watch, I hope to get to the bottom of that mystery.

And with that, let’s start this bizzle…

Episode Thoughts:

Standard definition?! Is it too late to vote for Gabon?

You know they mean business when the marooning is before the credits.

Parvati is Caucasian? I thought she was made of pure light.

Why are the tribe names in quotes? Because the actual names are longer?

I’m pretty sure splitting into four tribes is a ploy to sell more buffs.

Yul is right, it’s nice to have so many diverse faces in one cast.

Parvati’s occupation is listed as “boxer.” Tell me there’s YouTube footage of this somewhere.


So glad Probst learned the tribe names for this season. In Nicaragua he’d just say “old tribe” or “young tribe.”

Why didn’t “karma is a bizzle” ever catch on? (Quick Aside: If you want an easy laugh out of people at “Survivor” base camp, yell “Albert, drop your damn stack!”

It is ballsy to use being the fire maker as a reason to stay around when you haven’t made a single fire.

Booooring Tribal Council, awesome Tribal Council set.

I wasn’t against the ethnically divided tribes concept when this first aired, but re-watching it, there sure is a lot of “black people don’t like this,” and “Asian people don’t like that.” I could see where it freaked people out a little.

Also, I’m not sure exactly what the point is supposed to be. “Survivor” used to promote itself as a bit of a sociological experiment, but what are we supposed to be learning with this twist? Maybe it’s more or a Rorschach test where if you respond to it by saying, “Ha! I knew that ethnicity acted that way!” it says more about you than that group of people.

Discussion Questions:

Did you find the twist offensive? Why or why not?

With four returnees, two Hall of Famers, and a hunky winner, is this the most memorable original cast behind “The Australian Outback”?

Do you like it when there are more than two tribes? Is it too hard to follow?

Edit readers: Any early clues that Yul is going to win the whole thing?

Post your answers and questions below, and be sure to swing by True Dork Times for awards, stats, and more…

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57 Responses to “‘Survivor’ Summer Book Club – ‘Survivor: Cook Islands’ Episode 1”

  1. Jeff Pitman (@truedorktimes) Says:

    I actually liked that they took the time to explore the different Asian cultures within the Puka (Puka) tribe: Yul and Becky are Korean, Jenny is Filipina, Brad is mixed Filipino/Hawaiian, and Cao Boi is a Vietnamese refugee. And Yul and Cao Boi’s observations were spot on in pinpointing both the generational and immigrant-vs-distant-heritage differences separating Cao Boi from his tribemates. But they could have done a little more with the Aitu tribe, beyond pointing out that Billy is from a Dominican family. As far as “race” goes, the cultural differences within the Puka tribe were more compelling than the supposed ethnicity that put them together.

    Still, I argue this cast was NOT all that interesting, on average. For every standout character like Cao Boi or Billy, all-around great player like Yul or Penner, there was a lot of dead weight as well. Rebecca? Becky? J.P. Calderon? Candice? (Oh, right, she was on twice, for some reason.) Person-for-person, I would argue that Guatemala had a better cast than this season, and not a one of them has ever been allowed to play again (except Stephenie, who doesn’t count).

    Three tribes works well, four is one too many. They actually did a decent job of showing them all, but it just makes the challenges awkward. Puka and Aitu finished long before Raro and Hiki, but Aitu got no more reward than Raro. Maybe they should have done the double boots here, by having the two last-place teams go to Tribal?

    As for Yul’s edit: Yes, he really stood out in this episode as someone relaxed, confident, and already thinking about how everything fits together, both in-game and as a TV show. The Cao Boi/Brad headache thing demonstrated this: Yul expresses doubts about Cao Boi fitting in. Cao Boi worries about fitting in. Cao Boi “cures” Brad’s headache. Jenny/Becky/Brad laugh about Brad’s forehead spot, but Brad admits he has no headache. Cao Boi privately touts his old country mystical healing powers (the implicit position of the edit – this was in the days when Burnett was a pro-mysticism producer, before The Bible). Yul gets the final word, pointing out that maybe Cao Boi has some untapped wisdom and value, after all. Yul’s position is as the calm, official voice of the edit, and thus is a plausible winner.

    • Drew M Says:

      My favourite part of the headache scene is when Cao-Boi is done working on Brad’s forehead, and Brad meekly says “….it wasn’t that bad.” Hahaha. Cao-Boi blindly moving ahead with his behavior, not stopping to think how it might affect other people.

    • Sarah Freeman (@ChannonSarah) Says:

      I like you idea of doing double boots at this stage, apart from how harsh it is to have two people go home first (I know, they’ve done it before, but still!).

      Candice was the one who mutinied! She *had* to return. She was certainly one of my favourites this season (aside from the whole showmance) and I’m curious to see how that holds up on the rewatch, but for my money she was easily the most dynamic female player.

      If memory serves me correctly, she was asked to come back for Micronesia, but turned it down because she couldn’t get leave from her studies. Am I right in thinking that Parvati took her place on that season? There’s a whole AU season right there (not least because I suspect Candice would have aligned with Penner’s lot instead of Ozzy’s).

  2. Justin Hane (@JRHane) Says:

    I’ve never really minded the racial split in this season. First of all, I don’t think anyone within the cast had any negative thoughts towards the other races. This may or may not have to do with the fact that 3/4 of the cast are minority, and may therefore have sympathized with each other. Also, what little internal stereotyping there is within the tribes themselves, it doesn’t last long, if I recall, because they bail on the twist by episode three. Once the four tribes become two it goes back to the usual “Us vs Them” mentality.

    I agree with Jeff, this really isn’t a great cast. It might not even be good. None of the women this season outside of Parvati and Flicka are very interesting. Compound that with the fact that this is a season that sees a lot of males go home pre-merge, most of those boring women get deep into the game. I’ve always liked this season simply because it’s one of the few seasons where the person I was rooting for ended up winning. As athletic as he is, Yul is this season’s nerd, meaning he’s the one I relate to most, and it’s fun watching him because he’s got a great read on people. (As an aside, Australia probably doesn’t have a spectacular cast in retrospect either, it’s simply the most well known because they got the most viewers. Africa, Vanuatu, Exile Island, China, Tocantins, and Philippines [recency bias?] are probably the top casts in my opinion. Guatamala’s right on the cusp, too, Jeff.)

    Four tribes isn’t necessarily too many, but they never fully commit when they do it, so they might as well not. Say Hiki had continue to lose the next three Immunities. Oh well, right? They’d already had a tribe of one in Palau, and Exile Island was in play, so why not leave someone stranded alone for a night or two if a tribe continually loses.

    As for reading the edit, that’s something I actively try to avoid doing. Unless it’s painfully obvious (RI, OW), I like to think any number of people have a chance at the end.

    • Max Zambrano Says:

      Cook Islands might not be a great cast, but it is definitely memorable. Maybe that’s the amount of times so man people have played from it, but I’m not sure. It’s a tough question!

  3. Sarah Freeman (@ChannonSarah) Says:

    The thing that stood out the most for me about the racial divide on a rewatch is that of the season’s four returning players, three of them were Caucasian–and the fourth, Ozzy, follows Caucasian standards of beauty.

    The flipside of that is that there weren’t many characters, as Jeff said–certainly not that made it to the merge. (Although I can’t imagine that Parvati was brought back based on personality or any one move she made on the show). But it leaves me with a slightly icky feeling realising that on the most racially diverse (joint with Fiji) season, on a cast that’s seen so many players return, the Caucasians were given preference.

    Let’s redress the balance by having Yul back on!

    Otherwise, I think the thing that bothers me is seeing how the players felt obliged to represent in a way that they might not otherwise have done. It seems like an unfair pressure to exert on them–especially when, if Sundra is to be believed, Manahiki was understacked from the start consisting of entirely city-dwelling people, and at an athletic disadvantage too, with Nate being the only real stand-out physical player. (Compare to Aitutaki or even Rarotonga, the other tribe with three women, but all of them were strong.)

    You know what I would be curious to see? Four tribes equally split between five ethnicities: One Caucasian, one African American, one Asian American, one Hispanic and one Indo-American. How do races work when you remove the minority aspect? I think it would also take the pressure away from the players to represent as well, because instead of each race becoming a collective, they’re split up. Rather than comparing a given tribe to our pre-conceived stereotypes, we’d be comparing the tribes and their component ethnicities against each other.

    Regarding Yul, I don’t know about the edit, but Yul was the standout long before the season ever aired. On the RNO roundtable (http://www.realitynewsonline.com/cgi-bin/ae.pl?mode=1&article=article6442.art&page=5), four out of five writers picked him as the winner pre-season. He’s the only winner I’ve ever correctly guessed pre-season too (unless you count my guess for Parvati winning Micronesia on the basis that she was the least ‘deserving’ returner). Very smart, very athletic, very likeable guy…. It’s hard *not* to consider him as a likely winner.

    I like having more than two tribes–but I think three was the sweet spot in terms of numbers. I like the fact that we don’t get the dominant majority asserting itself in the first episode, but it doesn’t feel *too* small. There’s something too fragmented about being down to four or five people per tribe in these early episodes.

    No real surprises watching the players so far, except that I’d forgotten how Sundra and Rebecca were so tight on Manahiki, and were controlling that tribe at this point (making them this season’s dual Sherri?) Interesting that they (and/or Stephannie) did not inform Nate how the vote was going down–I don’t recall any solidarity between the Hiki tribe post-swap, even though three of them ended up on Rarotonga.

    Other observations–Penner struggled on his first ever Survivor puzzle. That’s something I’d completely forgotten!

    The Shipwreck Tribal Council set was *awesome*.

    • Max Zambrano Says:

      I love that idea of how you proposed the racially divided tribes to be, with one of each on every tribe. That would’ve worked much better.

    • Jeff Pitman (@truedorktimes) Says:

      Agreed on Tribal: Despite the minor quibble that the voting booth is not in the sight line of the people being voted against (a more recent innovation), you can really see how spectacular the Tribal Council set could be before the budget cuts.

      The political dynamics on Hiki were interesting, too. While Sundra and Rebecca emerged with the power, it really was a case of Stephannie, as the swing vote, really deciding which way to go. Sekou made a smart move in pointing out to her how tight the other two women were, but failed (as far as we were shown) to give her any incentive for sticking with the guys.

      One more Hiki thing: they showed the tribe failing to make fire on day 1… why did they only obliquely reference that they eventually succeeded (without flint, even) in their group prayer before Tribal? It seemed a bit heavy-handed in making them look incompetent.

      • Sarah Freeman (@ChannonSarah) Says:

        Did Hiki really make fire without flint? I totally missed that! And yes… this is actually the problem with the racial tribes in that you have to build a story around one tribe losing, and that means the negative edit gets dumped on one race.

        Yeah, Stephannie knew she was in a sucky spot in that she was third either way. The two other women were closer in age to her as well, so it just made more sense for her to stick with them.

      • Max Zambrano Says:

        Stephannie was unfortunately in an impossible situation. I agree with Sekou doing the right thing in saying why she shouldn’t go with Sundra and Rebecca, but there wasn’t much reason for her to go with Nate and Sekou. Had Sekou said,”If we get down to 3 on this tribe, I’ll vote with you if we lose and take out whoever else is with us (most likely Nate).”

    • vegetablecookbook (@veggiecookbook) Says:

      I would have liked to see another diverse cast where each tribe was mixed like you described. Was this the original plan for Fiji, or was that going to have the same kind of tribe split as Cook Islands?

      • Sarah Freeman (@ChannonSarah) Says:

        Fiji also had five representatives of each race, so I assume it would have been the same as Cook Islands. To do it as I suggested, they’d need to have five tribes of four, or bring in another ethnicity.

  4. Max Zambrano Says:

    1)Who gives a crap if the tribes are divided by race? There was way too much overreaction to this twist. However, Survivor should have known what at twist like that was going to cause. I don’t think it matters at all, and people who do give a crap about it are probably not for minorites anyway, which is their problem, but let’s not get too much into that. I’m happy that the people on the season seemed to be okay about it and willing to represent their ethnicity. That’s pretty cool. I think that some cast members (I can’t remember who) were a little uncomfortable with it, but I’m sure that got resolved by the time Day 7 rolled around. Not offensive at all to me, but Survivor should’ve known that it would offend millions of people.

    2)I do enjoy watching a good number of people on this season. I like Yul, Ozzy, Jonathan (I will refer to him by what they call him this season, although I like Penner better), Parvati, Cao Boi, Sekou, Billy, Nate, and Flicka. Also, I didn’t enjoy watching her that much, but Becky is one of the most underrated players I think that has ever been on Survivor, but I’ll explain why at the end of the season if I feel the same way then. In a cast of 20 however, I listed 9 enjoyable people to watch. Not 50% of the cast. It’s a tricky question. Obviously we remember more people from recent seasons, but is that just because of recency? Probably. Cook Islands had a good number of memorable people, I guess, but is that because a lot of them have played multiple times? I would say this is one of the more memorable casts in the pre-Fans VS Favs era, excluding All-Stars from that group. Memorable ones in front of it would probably be Borneo, Australia, Africa, and as much as I love Guatemala and wish people would be brought back from that season, is it really a more memorable cast? I would say 4th most memorable cast pre-Fans VS Favs era. I’m not sure how to mix it with the original Fans VS Favs onward. Not necessarily an amazing cast, but I do think more memorable.

    3)Survivor did a pretty good job showing all the tribes. The only person I believe who didn’t get a confessional this episode was Christina of Aitu. I appreciate them showing 19/20 new people. In the only seasons they’ve done the twist, which are Exile Island and this one, they had a particular theme to the seperation of the tribes. In Exile Island it was based off of age/gender, and of course in Cook Islands it was ethnicity. So for me, it was very easy to remember who is on what tribe because of those specific characteristics they used. I don’t really like the twist all that much. Nowadays it might be used to make sure large 6 person alliances don’t form and Pagong the other tribe at the merge, but I’m not sure if that had anything to do with it when the season aired (I was only 8 at the time). Also, sicne they get rid of the twist so quickly, does it really help that going away? We saw a Pagonging of sorts in Exile Island at the merge. The twist seems like a good idea, but I think three tribes is better than four.

    4)Yul did get a bit of a winners edit I think. A bit of a stretch was that Yul was the first member of his tribe to get a confessional (Ozzy, Sundra, and Parvati got the others. Almost everyone outlasted their whole tribe, with Parvati coming in 2nd behind Adam). Yul got a lot of screentime this episode, and appeared very aware of his surrounding, who he was dealing with, and how to deal with them. Those are great signs of a Survivor winner.

    • Sarah Freeman (@ChannonSarah) Says:

      I agree about Becky being under-rated, and I think that should be a talking point in episode three if memory serves me. Candice too–I’m a pretty big Candice apologist, and one of the things that interests me most about the rewatch is the lead up to the mutiny and beyond, bearing in mind what we know now. There are a lot of ‘what if’s for this season that are worth exploring.

      • Drew M Says:

        Agreed on the what ifs. The amazing flip situation at F9 is going to be another fun one to talk out.

  5. vegetablecookbook (@veggiecookbook) Says:

    I didn’t love the idea of the twist but feel like it was handled pretty well. I know minority members of the cast have mentioned how they felt more pressure to police their own behavior because they were put in the position to represent their race. Yul has said in post-game interviews that he was even more reserved and afraid to let loose because of this, and it comes up from a few different people in the first couple episodes. The Raro members have the privilege of totally ignoring this, and can focus on chickens and getting warm.

    I think the show was cast well in light of the twist. At least here in the first episode, everyone looks like a nice, positive person. I think if we had a really unlikeable or controversial character emerge, it would have been very uncomfortable with this season’s setup. If you somehow drop Dreamz and his Fiji storyline into this season, or someone more combative like Naonka or Lisi, it would have been WAY more controversial here just due to the focus on race.

    There were a couple things that might be seen as problematic – Nate says “Black people don’t like to be told what to do”, Cao Boi’s jokes which come up more later, lots of shots of Sekou lying around – but I felt they worked in the context of the episode and weren’t gratuitious. What we ended up with was a situation where the tribes were divided by race, got to talk about their own tribe’s diversity, and it was pretty much a non-issue after the first couple episodes. I think that is as ambitious a social commentary we can expect out of a show like Survivor. It could have been a LOT worse.

    I think this season just has too many forgettable boots to consider it a really memorable cast.

    I didn’t like this tribe setup at all. One thing that is overshadowed by the twist was the fact that the tribes had uneven gender divides and it just felt like there was no room to maneuver strategically. Tribes of six are hard enough to start with, tribes of five are just not worth doing in my opinion. I think the three tribe setup can make for a really interesting post-merge, but it feels like we have to suffer through a less interesting pre-merge game with small tribes to get there. I’d really like to see a season with three tribes of seven, or even eight.

    Yul looks very strong in episode one but I don’t think he is the only one with a winner’s edit. Stephannie also gets a lot of level-headed confessionals and screen time here, and I believe she was my winner pick on my original viewing. Oops.

    • Max Zambrano Says:

      Stephannie did appear very smart in this episode. I think if Nate didn’t read so much into her infamous mashed potatoes comment in episode 5 she would’ve went far into the game and done quite well actually. I don’t think she would’ve won, but I believe she would’ve survived a few post-merge boots.

  6. Drew M Says:

    I am so excited to delve in to this season, and I’m glad Gordon’s main question was about Yul and his God mode immunity idol, because as he said this is the big issue tainting Yul’s strong, strong win. We get a chance to point out all the small, social and strategic things Yul did on the way to victory (many of which I ascertain were in fact social, and not purely strategic or numbers based as many would be led to remember). But enough about what’s to come! Here’s what I thought about Episode 1.

    -Two locations that I wish they’d began HD filming for earlier are the Cook Islands and Micronesia. Look at that water, it’s like a pool.

    -That marooning was absolute mayhem! Every time they do a marooning off a boat like that, its a nice call back to Season numero uno. And that season had 16 people on two tribes battling for supplies, here it’s 20 people, and 4 tribes! Even more intense! Poultry theft ensued!

    -I always thought that Exile Island was a twist that worked much more often than it didn’t. There was plenty of room to get creative with it, in regards to who sent who, how many people went, immunity idol locations, clues etc. I don’t think Exile Island was ever a twist that hurt a season, only ever was neutral or helped. For example, I don’t think Fiji was hurt because of Exile Island, if anything its presence livened up an otherwise weak season and cast. And Exile Island in Micronesia played a big, big part in how that season unravelled. Cool twist, wouldn’t mind at all if it returned in some form.

    -Agree with what everyone has said above regarding the cast. It’s one of those top heavy ones where the stars were strong stars but there was a lot of boring fodder along the way. For my money, Tocantins will always be one of my favourite casts, not only for the top heavy stars, but the rest of the players along the way integrated so nicely in to the story. China is another one like that. both 16 person seasons too, go figure!

    -I have always wanted a season beginning with 2 or 4 tribes to be split in to 3 new ones with 18 people left. I think 3 tribes is a really interesting number to play with. I get that it wouldn’t always be possible because of available beaches, gender balance, original tribe balance, and so on. But how much would that throw players off, getting ready for an integration in to 2 tribes with 18 left only to see 3 different colours of buff drawn.

    -If anyone needs a toilet built, Billy is your guy. On that same note, the contrast between Ozzy and Billy in this opening episode is striking, and is certainly meant to be shown that way. Sets up Ep 2 nicely.

    -It’s such an interesting phenomenon what happens when a tribe is labelled by CBS as the “blank” tribe. As said, Yul and others felt a lot of pressure to live up to this tag. The same sort of thing happened in Heroes vs. Villains I remember, and in both Fans vs. Favourites seasons there’s no doubt the Favourites were cockier if only because they were pointed at as just that. This goes a long way to shaping the narrative of a season.

    -Already we’re seeing Jonathan’s A++ narration skills. The guy is a storyteller by trade and it certainly shows. He emotes so well and it goes a long way to communicating the story’s progression to the viewer.

    -The vote seemed pretty straightforward. Sekou doesn’t do much around camp, home he goes. His plan to split the pair of Rebecca and Sundra wasn’t totally off base, I don’t think. Unfortunately, he got to Stephannie second. The two girls had already bonded with her and made their case, so no amount of rational salesmanship was going to work on her at that point. Gotta start your seed planting a little earlier than that, Sekou.

    -Plenty to say about Yul’s edit that I’ll leave until later because I’m rambling now, but the one scene that stuck out to me was his straight acceptance of Cao-Boi’s eccentricities. No hesitation, no mocking, and he got right to the bottom of why Cao-Boi was behaving as he was (a generational gap thing). This is the core of Yul’s success as a player. It’s easy for him to go a layer or two beyond people’s surface behavior and see why they’re acting as they are. This is going to come up again and again as we move on in the season.

    Time for me to stop talking and go dig up dirt clumps in my yard that I can yell “The idol!” at.

    • Sarah Freeman (@ChannonSarah) Says:

      Actually, I agree about Exile Island. I quite liked it as a concept (perhaps because Panama was the first season I watched), and it’s not something I’d mind seeing again over some of these other contrived twists–and definitely over Redemption Island.

      Also, I totally want a season going from a two split to a three split. I really hoped they would do that in Caramoan, since we knew they had the beaches for it, but no… Sigh.

      Sekou’s problem was that Stephannie knew she was third either way, and if nothing else, Sundra and Rebecca were at least including her in their strategy discussions!

      • Max Zambrano Says:

        I’m not a big fan of Exile Island. I feel like it adds practically nothing to the show except less screen time for who ever is sent in later episodes. It’s better than Redemption Island, but I think in more seasons than not it doesn’t add much affect.

    • vegetablecookbook (@veggiecookbook) Says:

      Exile Island was especially great in Tocantins, The setup for the cross-tribe Exile Island alliance was unlike anything we had seen to that point, and it was so disappointing that it didn’t materialize.

      • Max Zambrano Says:

        I agree. Tocantins had my favorite Exile Island I can remember, even though it was definitely more of a sand dune. Anyways, that was most entertaining for me to watch, and like you said, it’s disappointing nothing happened from it.

      • Katie Bieber (@Dithyrambic) Says:

        You all have much better memories than I do and points like this make me go “Oh yeah!” and want to rewatch all these seasons (although I don’t think I could make it through OW again, painful).
        But I think you are totally right, Exile Island worked most of the time for many reasons, and the potential was tremendous.

  7. Josh Wigler (@roundhoward) Says:

    I rewatched Cook Islands a few months ago, and I’m happy to do it again now — thankfully, at a slower, weekly pace than I was going!

    I really dig this season. The cast is huge and it takes a while to trim the fat and get to the good stuff, but the good stuff is gooood. The location is absolutely stunning; agreed with what Drew M says above, really wish this one was in HD. Cook Islands are flat-out gorgeous. Interesting that Ozzy, Sundra, Yul and Parv get the first confessionals for their tribes — they go the furthest of any of their tribe-mates, if you look beyond CI and ahead at Parv’s later games. Just a coincidence, but a fun one.

    Looking forward to playing along with you all! Thanks for organizing, Gordon.

  8. mattfoulks (@mattfoulks) Says:

    I actually think hands down the funnest part of watching old survivors like this season is to watch the returning players initial attempt at the game. Crazy interesting to watch how some players like Pavarti made monumental changes to herself and her maturity in order to win S16 and get to the end of S20. And then to watch other players like Penner who was already fairly mature his first time out be a confident player that just didnt seem to find himself on the right side of the numbers. The twist was novel and interesting for one season but it’s good they havent tried it again. Looking ahead, excited to see Billy’s confession. Never stops making me laugh…

    • Drew M Says:

      Watching Penner this first go round is so interesting, because the image I’m guessing most of us have of him is his recent stint in the Philippines. Before which, he had a big talk with who else but Mr. YUL KWON about how to best go about playing the game, interacting socially etc. In this his first appearance, it is downright hilarious how little self awareness he has, really at any point (at least he’s edited to look this way). He really changed a ton between now and S25. S16 in the middle we didn’t see a lot of him to judge much, but I’m recalling now a big blowup he had with Cirie and others. But he’s so much this jovial, boisterous guy that plows his way through social situations here. Fun to experience knowing we’d discover a lot more about him in the seasons ahead.

      • Katie Bieber (@Dithyrambic) Says:

        I think this season is kind of a happy medium in the game – It had been going on long enough by this point that people knew the general idea, came into with a strategy, and knew what kind of game they were going to try to play (some more self-aware than others, obviously, and twists notwithstanding) but before the game got too predictable and some people started coming in already jaded. It’s a nice halfway point between Borneo where no one really even knew what an alliance was yet and say, One World, where they all came in honestly thinking they were going to win and started aligning from minute one.

  9. Richard T Says:

    Great initiative this! I only recently got into Survivor (I’m not from the U.S.), but the first season I watched was Cook Islands about 2 years ago. Great to revisit this season. Couple of random observations:

    – Nate looks much more intense in this edit than later episodes…especially pre-tribal council.

    – Typically jazz musicians have to be able to think quick, but Sekou’s persuading Stephannie on why she should not vote him out (because without him there would be no fire…though they hadn’t yet made one!) was just hilarious.

    – At least for the first challenge I don’t agree that being physically less fit is a major disadvantage. In this challenge Hiki mainly lost out because they couldn’t get their boat together. Surprising how they seemed to catch up from Raro (Adam weighing Jonathan down? ; )

    – During the Raro night scene (aka snugglefest), anyone else noticing Penner (?) tapping one of the girls?

    – Also, great job Jeff on the True Dork Times. Discovered it via this site, amazing to see all the data you collected.

    • Katie Bieber (@Dithyrambic) Says:

      I did notice Jonathan tapping one of the girls but in the poorly defined night vision it was hard to tell which, haha. It was like he was going to say something and then never did (or it was edited out). I am planning to make “cuddle-puddle” my word of the day tomorrow.

  10. Rebecca (@Not_a_Criminal) Says:

    My thoughts:

    – At the time, I thought the race twist was offensive. Now, it’s just simply a gimmick. Once the game was underway, it just didn’t matter. The “problem” with the race twist is that the tribes are so small – only 5 members 0 that the results and activities don’t reflect race, but only the individual’s differences. If dividing by race was supposed to “do” something, other than generate interest in the season, they’d need a larger tribe size. So, upon the re-watch, it just feels like a gimmick, rather than my recalled outrage over this outrageous producer manipulation.

    – While the tribes might be divided by race, the Asian tribe was quick to point out just how diverse they were. People essentially lump Asians together, not realizing that there are vast differences between the groups that define that “race,” and the even the generational gap that exists between those born in Asia and those not. It was interesting to hear the contestants discuss the matter. It would have been interesting to hear the other tribes’ assessment of their own intra-group diversity.

    – I’m now firmly convinced that the race twist also hurt some people’s games. I know that it impacted Yul. He expressed some trepidation in his talking heads, but he certainly outright said it on RHAP. He was so conscious of representing, that he played a very careful game. He may have played with a little more emphasis if he wasn’t so conscious of his need to “represent”. And I certainly heard those same thoughts in that first Tribal Council. Representing became a big deal – and a burden.

    – I didn’t see any obvious edit about Yul’s win, but we certainly saw, for the most part, the one from each tribe who is going home first. I did think that Yul’s quiet commentary did draw one’s attention to him as a narrator. I know Jonathan is likely the assigned narrator, but I prefer to listen to Yul’s commentary.

    – At the time, I thought Cao Boi was really annoying. Now I wish I had been out there learning about alternative medicine. Seven years later, I’m far more conscious and accepting of alternative medicine and the like. But, I think I might be back to annoyed for Episode 2.

    – I love seasons with more than two tribes. I love the small size of the tribes, because no one can float or hide. You might be able to hide for a vote, but that’s it. Annoying personalities are amplified, as is laziness, bad leadership, gluttony, and stupid mistakes (like letting the chickens go).

    – I thought it was a solid season opener. I felt that I was introduced to a fair amount of contestants, which we don’t see as much in the newer seasons.

  11. Max Zambrano Says:

    It’s hard to say the racial twist hurt Yul’s game since he won. Had he played a harder game would he have just been a better winner, or have his idol flushed out at 5 and voted out at 4? By the way, the decision to not flush his idol out at 5 is one of the dumbest moves ever. But we’ll wait till it happens to discuss.

    • Rebecca (@Not_a_Criminal) Says:

      Certainly hard to say. If he had played more aggressively, he may not have won at all, or made the FTC.

      Ten hours later, I wonder if Yul would have really played any differently? Was it in his personality to play harder? I’ve never thought Yul was “bad” winner (for lack of better phrasing at 5:45 a.m.) but simply played a careful game. What if careful is simply his nature, and his comments on RHAP are more a reflection of the Survivor community’s desire for a “better” win and his explanation as to why he didn’t play “harder”?

      • Max Zambrano Says:

        I feel like it’s more of Yul’s personality to be calm and not play overly aggressive. Listening to him talk on RHAP, just his voice makes it sound like he would’ve played a very similar game.

  12. Max Zambrano Says:

    I would like to post another question for you guys to answer and think about. Stephannie was in a VERY tough spot here. We could safely assume she was 3rd either way, but let’s put ourselves in her shoes on Day 3. What would you have done? Would you have voted for Sekou like she did? Or would you have voted out Sundra? I would have voted out Sundra. It would keep the tribe stronger I feel, and she could potentially still work with Rebecca afterwards if they had lost again. It was a tough call however. What would you guys have done?

    • Drew M Says:

      Tough call, I think. You can definitely make the strength argument, that voting Sekou out loses them some muscle power. But if Stephannie has any sort of Survivor knowledge (I’m actually guessing she didn’t, since she was probably recruited), she has to think there’s going to be some sort of merging or shuffling coming, especially considering the nature of the racial segregation twist. You’d have to assume there’d be some grand race integration coming not long in to the game. After that, she’d gain a whole new set of athletes and challenge competitors on whatever tribe she ended up on. But her bigger deciding factor I’m sure was, who is more willing to work with me in the future? It’s the girls, hands down. Voting with Nate and Sekou this round probably doesn’t give her much assurance at all they’d continue to do so for the duration of the game. She had a much better chance of voting in tandem with the other two women for the foreseeable future.

    • vegetablecookbook (@veggiecookbook) Says:

      I think voting out Sundra would have worked out better for Stephannie. She splits up the obvious pair and Rebecca is an easy target to go next. Presumably the guys would be closer with Stephannie going forward since she chose to side with them.

      It’s just frustrating how few options everyone has with these five-person tribes. I think the key is to prioritize loyalty over challenge ability when making voting decisions, because you have to assume there is going to be some kind of tribe shake-up within the first few boots. At that point, it’s more important to have strong allies with you than strong physical players.

    • Rebecca (@Not_a_Criminal) Says:

      Agree with Drew and Max that it’s a tough call.

      I think it might have worked out better for Stephannie to boot one of the female pair. I do think that Sekou was not a great leader – he was just bossy – but, I thought their tribe was one of the weakest physically. I found the other tribes to be more balanced with physical players, or at least fit players, and I simply didn’t see that with this tribe. Booting Sekou put them at a bigger disadvantage, and with tribes of 5, that is quite risky.

      I don’t think the bond with the men was nearly as tight as the bond between Rebecca and Sundra, and it might have been in Stephannie’s best interest to keep some muscle and break up this “couple”.

  13. Zach Says:

    While I understand why the twist is controversial, at the same time, I liked it. And sometimes, you don’t have to learn anything from an experiment, you just do it to see what happens.

    Tribes. I do like the seasons where there are more than one tribe. but I prefer the 3 tribe dynamic over 4. Seasons with 4 tribes dissolve the tribes too early. I think it Philippines could have had a tribe shuffle at 15 rather than a dissolve at 14.

  14. Brandon~ @bamabrandonj Says:

    I actually liked the race twist. It seems like some if the media tried to make more out of it and act like it was a bad thing. I like that it gave a chance to see more minorities in the game, although recruiting seemed to be key for this. They did a good job of finding some quality contestants for the most part though. The cast has some great contestants and memorable characters, but there were a lot of forgettable castaways lumped in there as well.

    I feel like the Hiki tribe was destined to fail. They had three women that were not physical standouts, Sekou, and they were all “city folk.” They did seem like they might have been the most fun tribe to hang out with out there though.

    When the season first aired I didn’t really mind Ozzy, but I grew to really dislike him over his next two appearances. Then while watching Ozzy this time I noticed the things I hate about Ozzy are definitely there in full force this time as well.

    I really enjoyed Cao Boi and Billy this episode. I feel like Cao Boi was some form of Coach before Coach. Maybe he is some kind of long lost Vietnamese relative of Coach.

    Yul was Yul from the beginning. He was very calculated and seemed to be very controlled and assessing everything everyone was doing at all times. He seemed to be the calmest one in the midst of all of the usual chaos at the beginning of the game.

    I loved the challenge. Exile Island was beautiful and desolate. I like the concept of Exile Island as well. The ship was a nice touch on Exile. I guess Penner was the easiest choice to send to Exile but I have to think sending someone else would have made more sense at the time. (Maybe one if the younger guys like Adam, Ozzy, JP, Brad, or Yul)

    Tribal was amazing! (The set not the actual council.) The crew did a excellent job with the wrecked ship! I think Stephannie made the wrong choice in voting out Sekou over Sundra. I think the would have been stronger and she would have a better chance of getting between Nate and Sekou than Sundra and Rebecca. It is fun to wonder how the season would have played out had Sundra been voted out instead of Sekou. It could have changed a lot or it could have changed very little. Who would have been the 4th Aitu Four member? Would the Aitu Four have made it to the end? What would have changed in the final four? Oh well, the what ifs in this game!

    Looking forward to next week!

  15. Julia Ashleigh (@jzeroth09) Says:

    This is my first time watching this season and I thoroughly enjoyed the first episode! Here are some of my initial thoughts:

    1) The ethnic division was interesting because I felt that the intra-group diversity and dynamics (the differences between Cao Boi and his other tribe mates, Flicka as an “alternative option” in a crowd of “pretty people”, the Billy/Ozzy conflict) would make for far more compelling storylines than the “African-American vs. Asian vs. Hispanic vs. Caucasian” gimmick that we were originally being sold on. As for people feeling that they had to represent their race, I can understand where that pressure came from for the minority groups. However, from what I have seen so far, I think this season should do a good job of reminding people that we are all more similar than we are different – we are all people struggling with the same overarching issues. And in what world do Parvati and Candace represent the average Caucasian female? I like seeing diversity highlighted, but I think casting directors could do a better job of tapping into it.

    2) I thought the Exile Island selection was something worth discussing. It was interesting that the men of Hiki felt it was their responsibility to ensure Jonathan did not get away with stealing chickens (from a different tribe!) without paying the price. It was also fascinating that the three women were content to let the men make this decision, and that the men did not think to solicit the women’s input. Do you think this was strategic from any angle? I recently finished rewatching Survivor: Micronesia, and the strategy in that season was always to send the weak players (Kathy, Chet, etc.) so that they would be less likely to find the idol. Jonathan appears to be strong and capable. Was there any strategy present in either the decision to send him to Exile or the decision-making process itself?

    3) As someone who has never seen this season before but has seen all of the seasons that the returning players have returned for, I didn’t think this cast particularly stood out. It usually takes me two episodes to learn names if I haven’t already watched and read the promotional videos and bios, but I only feel any type of connection with a fairly small group after watching this episode. I’ll have to watch a few more episodes before I can make a judgment about how memorable this cast is, but it would be pretty hard to top the cast of Philippines. If you ignore the fairly invisible edit of the Kalabaw tribe (excluding Penner and Kent) pre-merge, I thought there was a fairly compelling story for everyone except for Artis, would was still somewhat memorable for being a grumpy member of the alienating Tandang alliance.

    • Katie Bieber (@Dithyrambic) Says:

      I agree, I did think the choice of Penner for Exile Island was a bit odd. It has been about 2 years since the last time I watched this season so my memories of it are fuzzy and I was sure they were going to pick Yul. Obviously I was very wrong. It made me mad that the women didn’t weigh in on the decision. They seemed so opinionated, and they were very strategic and decisive back at camp, so my only explanation is that maybe they were trying to save face? If only the two men picked, the women couldn’t be viewed as the bad guys who sent somebody to Exile. Maybe I am giving them too much credit there, though.

      Also, thanks for bringing up Kathy! Rewatching this season and reading everyone’s posts has made me really wistful and pining for some old Survivor. The new seasons just have a different feel to them. It’s not the same emotional connection you got from Australia or Africa.

      • Rebecca (@Not_a_Criminal) Says:

        I laughed at the selection of Penner and the men’s reasoning. I don’t remember what I thought originally.

        I’m doing the summer re-watch with my spouse. He’s is a college prof (Ph.D. in Psychology), and he had to laugh at the selection, but for slightly different reasons than my own.

        His take is that in social psychology, it’s reasonably well established that people are punitive. We like to judge. We like to punish wrong-doers even more.

        So, here’s a tribe who has a decision to make on the fly as to who to send to Exile Island. The problem? They really don’t know anyone or their story, so how do you decide? What is the right move? For all but one player, there’s no particular reason to send someone over (leaving logical game play out of this – we are talking basic psychological reactions at the moment).

        But, there is that one player, Penner, who was just outed as having taken a chicken that did not belong to him. In psychological terms, the team was handed a gift of an easy decision that falls in line with the need to punish wrongdoers.

        It worked out for them in the end because Penner didn’t find the idol, but it was likely not a sound strategy. But it was a very human decision.

        That all being said, we were both kind of “why aren’t the women participating?” The spouse had no real answer to that besides our usual gender issue analysis.

      • Drew M Says:

        And is there anything to the idea that they wanted to “punish” Penner publicly, in front of the other two tribes, in order to build some good will? Conscious decision or not, I bet that was in play. As you said, there was really only one obvious decision, just because the pool of info to draw on was so small.

      • Rebecca (@Not_a_Criminal) Says:

        Great point. I’ll bet it was too.

        And your comment makes me wonder if Yul’s choice to publically discuss the loss of chicken and identifying Penner as the chicken-taker was also a conscious, deliberate game choice. It was before the “twist” was revealed as to Exile Island and who would make the choice as to who to send. But it certainly may have given everyone in the game pause as to whom would be trustworthy or who might be playing hard. And Penner got targeted immediately as one to warily watch.

  16. Katie Bieber (@Dithyrambic) Says:

    The episode thoughts made me laugh out loud like a maniac and now my husband is even more sure I’m crazy.
    Just watching the opening scene made me really miss Survivors gone by. There is none of the “off-the-ship scramble” in the new seasons which is depressing. It makes me miss watching Rupert steal things in Pearl Islands.
    I thought it was interesting Ozzy thought they would get along worse because they were all the same ethnicity.
    I was reminded really early on, also, how much and why I love Penner. Billy was immediately irritating in the same way! I thought it was funny how much he stereotyped his own ethnic group. Cao Boi did kind of the same thing but was even more offensive! It’s one of those awkward “It’s okay if they’re saying it about their own race” type things I think. Definitely one of the more awkward set-ups, though.

    I think the edit points to Yul as a winner only in how diplomatically he comes across right from the first moments. I have never been too good at reading into that sort of the thing though.

    I do love this cast but Australia is still my favorite season. These standard definition seasons are cringe-worthy though on my flat screen!

    I think when there are more than two tribes it’s easier to get to know the contestants and learn their names. Some people get lost in the shuffle when there are only two I think. It also allows you to root for more people as you watch because you can have more favorites. Also, on a larger tribe, it’s easier for lazy people to fade into the background. When there are fewer people, it’s harder to hide. It does take something away from the tribal council though, to have so few people there.

    The challenges also used to be so much more elaborate. I really miss the complex, multi-stage challenges but I know they weren’t really cost-effective.

    I honestly couldn’t remember who got voted out first because I had pretty lasting memories of all of them as players but it was still no surprise after rewatching the dynamics of the episode. The plea to Stephannie from the guys was just silly because she was no more on the bottom with the two women than she would’ve been with the two men. They had nothing more to offer her than the idea that maybe they wouldn’t lose the next challenge. If I were her, i would’ve stuck with the girls.

  17. gordonholmes Says:

    I thought the women were smart for letting the men make the Exile decision. No blood on their hands if Penner becomes a power player later on.

    • Katie Bieber (@Dithyrambic) Says:

      I completely agree. Especially this early on, perception is everything. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, that is a good explanation for why they didn’t weigh – I am just not sure they deserve that much credit. I was leaning more towards what Rebecca mentioned – conventional gender roles – than anything strategic. If they were deliberate in staying out of it, then it is good strategy. I am just not sure if that was the case.

  18. Stephanie Says:

    The racial split in the game did not bother me. I can see how the majority felt a sense of pressure and obligation to “represent” their people, but in my opinion that was an unnecessary aspect and social experiment because in fact the show did not actually carry it out and the separation only proved that they are human and character and personality are what draw us together. With that being said I believe they cast was very well put together with the goal they had in mind and I enjoyed the diversity.
    I like many of you am not a fan of the four tribe split. I must admit however one benefit for us as the audience of having the fewer people on each tribe is the dynamic of seeing them working together as a team and therefore getting to see more of the whole cast. Where as the bigger tribes there is much more of the half working people while the others are already off plotting and especially in the first few episodes people get lost in the mix or you have no introduction to them whatsoever. One downside is there aren’t as many people to “pair up” with. One of the many ways to read people is noticing who they gravitate towards and with less choices it is harder to determine what they would do in certain situations because they may have just chosen someone for lack of better options.
    Also the four tribe scenario for this first episode challenge was a joke and waste of time. The challenge itself was was pretty great. However after the first two tribes were done it was over for me and waiting on the other two tribes was long and boring quite frankly.
    I do like that out of the 20 cast members all but two were shown in some sort of confessional. Obviously some more than others but its always nice to hear that person individually whether they are simply stating facts or giving opinions.
    Also I wouldn’t say the whole cast is the most memorable. In fact I would say that only a handful actually stand out and the rest are basically normal individuals. With the exception of a few big personalties over the years, People tend to stick out in my mind for plays they make rather than their actual presence. I enjoy this season but I think there are certain people that are memorable because we have seen them so many times. Not to mention three of the returnees were on twice within a year and a half.
    I am no edit reader but because we know the outcome we could try to say they were giving extra light to Yul, but honestly I believe the edit was showing who he was. Others actually had more time than he did. I do find it interesting that Becky was the only final four that we did not hear from the entire show.

  19. Max Zambrano Says:

    For next week I will be hosting a live spreecast for the Survivor Book Club. We can discuss the questions Gordon posts, and also post out thoughts here. I might not do it until later in the week so that way people can still post ideas here. If any of you are interested in this idea let me know. Also, Gordan, would this be alright with you?

  20. Christopher Says:

    I do think the tribe split affected nearly every group but one. So many of the contestants felt a need to “represent.” However the one tribe to “play for themselves” included three returning “all-stars.” Once your conscious of a responsibility to represent a whole group of people, your gameplay changes. I would argue this is a consciousness that Parvati, Candice, and Penner did not possess.

    The multiple tribes lead to more drama, and Yul receives a hero’s edit (which he clearly earns). This also might be the most memorable cast who do unmemorable things. (Good thing the producers have their eyes out! Some of these people turn out to be amazing!)

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