How 'bout that Jimmy Johnson! Survivor returned for its 21st season last night, and this year's most buzzed about contestant, two-time Super Bowl winning coach Jimmy Johnson, was unsurprisingly front and center for the majority of the hour. The battle lines were drawn between ages, and we got a taste of this year's Medallion of Power, as well as a clue to this season's first hidden immunity idol.
Before the recap begins, a little disclaimer. I was on location for the three day filming of this first episode, so I'll try to include some personal anecdotes from my time with the contestants and Jeff Probst. The 20 new contestants gather on the beach in what they believe to be their tribes and immediately get their first challenge from Probst for the Medallion of Power, an unknown element that could bring an advantage to whichever tribe possesses it. A mad scramble down the river has the players looking in the water, underneath rocks and through bushes, but only Brenda looks up and sees the Medallion hanging from a tree. After hearty congratulations others in her presumed tribe, Probst drops the bombshell that the tribes would now be split by age: 30 and younger on the left, 40 and older on the right. Both tribes are confident that they have what it takes to win: the older claiming wisdom and the younger strength. Probst offers a deal to Brenda and the younger tribe: Keep the Medallion of Power without knowing what the power consists of, or trade it for fishing gear and fire. After deliberation, the tribe decides on taking the known reward and gives up the Medallion to the older group.
The teams head back to their camps to start construction on their shelter, and the older Espada tribe is still a little starstruck by the Coach's presence. Even Dan doesn't believe that Jimmy Johnson would be in the middle of the jungle. But Jimmy loves it, calling himself Survivor's No. 1 fan and revealing his strategy of essentially forfeiting the million dollars and claiming he's there for the adventure. Marty, for one, isn't buying it, and the former Yahoo executive is keeping a close eye on Johnson while trying to stay as far away from him as possible. When the younger La Flor tribe arrives at camp, personalities quickly emerge and nicknames are formed. Blond surfer dude Jud, fresh off the California beach (who told me he brought his surfboard as his luxury item), starts stepping on thorns and getting attacked by crabs. Kelly B., who was born with a birth defect leaving her with only one leg, tries to hide her disability as much as possible, but is forced to reveal her specially made prosthetic leg to the camp. Kelly is a very likeable contestant, and she will no doubt garner some sympathy from her tribe, but the tribe must be careful to not take her too far because she's a slam-dunk for the million dollar prize.
A few observations from spending time at both tribe camps. For one, the Espada camp was extremely well constructed and more organized than the La Flor beach. The Espadas had a spacious, solid shelter that took advantage of the natural canopy and had room for two fire pits. Speaking of fire, the emerging Survivor all-star has to be Jane, who successfully started a fire on Day 1 using reading glasses (the advantage of being deemed "older"). Jimmy J., on the other hand, was feeling the pain of his adventure as he quickly got sick and put the target on himself as a weaker member of the tribe. Nevertheless, he gathered his teammates together for a pep talk about his strategy in the game and what they needed to do to win the first immunity challenge. Johnson's pep talk went on for roughly 20 minutes, and during that time not a single other tribe member spoke, a fascinating display of social skill for any Survivor player. Espada had all the momentum going into the first challenge: camaraderie, comfortable conditions at camp and a proven winner as their leader.
But all that would change at the immunity challenge. Entitled "Getting Tanked," the tribes navigate a series of gutters to control the flow of water into a bucket. Once the bucket is full, a net containing puzzle pieces drops and the four remaining tribe members must solve a puzzle. Now, the Survivor production team runs a dress rehearsal of all challenges to ensure there are no shortcuts or unfair advantages for either team. However, they did not anticipate having the tribes form a straight line of water, cutting back on the drama of navigating the gutters successfully in a zig-zag pattern. The gutter portion of the challenge was designed to last longer, with more sloshing colored water, but the tribes were quick to solve that problem. Even Probst was extremely disappointed, claiming he would not rank this competition in his top 100 favorite challenges.
At the challenge, the Medallion's true power is revealed, and Espada is given the choice to use it now, and take a one-bucket advantage in the challenge, or save it for another time. They refuse, and the challenge is neck and neck until the puzzle, where La Flor blaze through and claim victory. Espada is forced to make their first trek to Tribal Council and choose the first person to send home. It's down to Jimmy J. and Wendy Jo, who many Espada members claim is weakening the tribe and is just not gelling with the rest of the group. At Tribal Council, her fate is sealed when she rambles on and on about being accepted, getting to know her, even getting upset that nobody asked for her age! This Tribal Council lasted two hours and when you add the elements of the 95-degree temperature, studio lights above them and the fire pit directly in front of them, the Espada tribe was being worn down by Probst's questioning that when Wendy Jo wouldn't shut up, they just had enough and knew it was time for her to go. Adios, Wendy Jo! (One more behind the scenes fun fact: About halfway through her graveyard walk of shame, Wendy Jo stopped, got confused, and started asking for help as to where to walk. She then wandered aimlessly for a minute before continuing to the confessional booth.)
What did you think of the Survivor: Nicaragua premiere? Who are your early favorites, and do you think Coach Jimmy's time is almost up?
How 'bout that Jimmy Johnson! Survivor returned for its 21st season last night, and this year's most buzzed about contestant, two-time Super Bowl winning coach Jimmy Johnson, was unsurprisingly front and center for the majority of the hour. The battle lines were drawn between ages, and we got a taste of this year's Medallion of Power, as well as a clue to this season's first...