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Survivor 38, Episode 1 (Warning – Spoilers!)

"Returning Players and Newbies Try to Not Become...Extinct?"

“Survivor is unpredictable and that’s why it’s so great and that’s why you are here,” Survivor host Jeff Probst warned the contestants at the beginning of season 38, the latest installment of the constantly changing show.

It doesn’t take him long (about a minute into the show’s running time, in fact) to reveal one of the (very obvious) twists to the 14 soon-to-be-abandoned-on-an-island contestants: there are four players coming back to create the typical cast of 18.

18 contestants. 39 days. 1 Survivor.

Yes, we can invert the word order a bit on the famous phrase: the more things stay the same, the more things change on Survivor, and that’s a very good thing. For a show that is known for constantly reinventing itself and is coming off one of the most critically lauded seasons in its history (season 37, David vs Goliath), this season, the season's major twist is rather dramatic and interesting:

Unbeknownst to those playing the game, once you are voted out you will be secretly offered a chance to go to the Edge of Extinction… where somehow you may be allowed to return. (This is similar to Exile Island from Survivor Panama, season 12, but viewers will have to wait to see in just what ways it will be similar and in what ways it will be different. It appears that the island will test a contestant’s ability to handle being exiled in new ways and in difficult conditions, but again, it’s unclear what happens when a second person gets voted out. Will they be equally isolated? Have to battle person #1?)

Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment

The returning players this year are all veterans who didn’t win, but could have. Jeff practically screams at the 14 newbies, “vote them out and here’s why” in an opening speech lauding these four, noting that they’ve brought back:

  • David Wright, who was a dominant strategic player
  • Aubry Bracco, who overcame her initial fears of the game to last 76 days (out of 78 possible days) in her two seasons
  • Kelley Wentworth, the first woman to find two immunity idols
  • Joe Anglim, who led his tribe to 16 challenge wins

The 14 newbies seem half star-struck, but a few glances among them show they know the danger is real. You don’t keep around veteran players.

The two tribes, Kama and Manu, then jump into the water with some supplies and the customary “let’s build a shelter” episode one begins. Ron Clark, a teacher, finds an “immunity advantage menu” where he has the choice of a few things: a reward steal he can use on the other tribe, an extra vote at tribal council, or a typical “individual” immunity idol. The trick here: it expires at the third tribal council. So it’s a brief advantage that must be played, and likely guarantees another one will cycle into the game soon. That’s good, because it will keep everyone on their toes once they know it exists…

The Kama tribe seems to be getting along nicely. Victoria, a waitress, waxes poetically about how as an eight year old girl she asked Santa to bring her a Survivor buff (in order to make us all feel old), divorce lawyer Aurora looks dreamy at Joe (almost like the Bradley Cooper-Lady Gaga moment at the Oscars) and then adds humor by saying, “I’m gay and I’m still on Team Joe,” and Etsy shop owner Julie gives us a customary “I’m from New York City so I’ve never seen nature in my life” type speech. (It was something even more boring than that and probably referenced Central Park, but watching city-folk whine about not having seen a ladybug never comes off well).

The Manu tribe seems to give most screen time to Rick, a morning news anchor from an “unimportant” media market (and based on how much he over-talks, I fear his attempt to become a major city star may not be in the cards). They also give a lot of screen time to the returning stars Kelley (who promises to be more “human” this time) and David.

Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment

On another positive note, we also have the inclusion of Wendy, a swap meet vendor and someone with Tourette Syndrome. Sadly, she was pretty insistent on not “going with her tribe’s plan” of voting (later in the show) and became an early target for a possible removal from the tribe.

Meanwhile, mother-like Reem created a stir by randomly taking everyone’s clothes to dry on the sand. What possessed her to do this is a bit unclear. Her defense at tribal council of, “If they wanted me not to touch their belongings, they should have told me” seems woefully inadequate. I mean, it kind of sounds like a robber telling a detective, “If the bank didn’t want me to rob it, they should have told me not to take their money away” and the tribe’s response was about as skeptical as the police might be with that bank robber scenario.

Meanwhile, one of the more likable newbies, 19 year-old medical student Keith admitted he could barely swim (which is, of course, about one of the biggest problems you can have on Survivor). Wendy and Reem tried to help him with some ocean swimming lessons, and the rest of the tribe grew jealous (way to ruin a sweet moment, Manu tribe!)

The first immunity challenge presented a giant obstacle course with slides and chutes that kind of resembled Chutes and Ladders but ended in a giant, movable puzzle (yes, one of those) and the Manu tribe lost in order to continue the seeming theme of episode: show the Manu tribe as much as possible in episode 1. More importantly, the immunity idol looked pretty cool--a thin, dragon-like sea creature thing. (Alas, the CBS press website had hundreds of pictures of this episode and didn’t have a single closeup of the immunity idol! Perhaps they’ll hire me as a photographer in a future season since I know what critics really want to include in their reviews!)

Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment

The Manu tribe went back and until the final verdict came in… 5-4 in favor of kicking off… Reem! Reem stormed off to scatter more laundry around the island (okay, not really, but you might have got a Tide product placement if you would have tried harder, CBS) to instead discover the Edge of Extinction twist. After a solitary boat ride and some even creepier horror-movie music, she reached an abandoned island, uttered “Oh my God? There’s nothing here. What’s going on??” and a few unmentionable things and… the camera cuts out on the season premiere almost like we’re in Scream (but on an island).

It’s not like there’s a T-Rex (please let there be a T-Rex), so I’m not sure what type of momentum or suspense they’re building (please let there be a T-Rex!) for a pretty much remote, empty island, but since there’s never any real excitement from a first week tribal council vote, I admire the show’s attempt at creating some unique suspense.

Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment

“No matter how good you are, you are always hovering on the edge of being voted out,” Jeff warns the players at the beginning of season 38 of Survivor… But of course, this season apparently it means if you’re voted out, you might not be out. And with interesting returning contestants, a decent crew of newbies and the unknown element of the Edge of Extinction, we all should be in for some fun. So grab your torch and I’ll see you next week…

  • It. Always. Reinvents. Itself. (To stay the best reality show on TV)
  • Nice mix of returning players with newbies promises suspense
  • Menu idea for Hidden Immunity was cool
  • Interesting new idea of "Edge of Extinction" (island experience)
  • Not sure what Edge of Extinction really means yet
  • Opening puzzle seemed more of the same. Would be nice to have more variety.
  • Not sure if we had quite enough time with the Newbies in episode 1


Meet the Author

About / Bio
A TV critic for entertainmentfuse.com with a passion for network and cable TV, I have been writing about TV for more than 20 years. I teach English and Journalism/Media studies to high school students and community college students in the Boston area. I'm a crazed sports fan of the Cubs, Red Sox, Patriots, Bears, and Illinois Fighting Illini. This month's funny claim to fame: Once Googled myself and saw college student in NC used me as a source and called me a "Reality Television Theorist"... like all day I would sit in a room and ponder the great life mysteries of reality TV. If only I could. 🙂

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