Watching reality television in real life is awesome.
Last August, I traveled to Nicaragua for the kick-off of Survivor, Season 22—I was on the beach when the castaways landed and were met by Russell and Boston Rob. I got to spy on both camps as they finished their shelters and began conspiring against one another. Best of all, I was there for that trippy Tribal Council.
Last night, I watched the premiere of “Redemption Island” and was amazed at how those first few days’ worth of real-life Survivor drama got squeezed into a one-hour episode. It’s a masterful edit, but like all good television, a few things got cut. So do you wanna know what you missed?
On the first day of play, it was pouring rain off and on—if you remember, Survivor host Jeff Probst warned the castaways to build shelter and fire fast. After reaching their camp, Ometepe (under Boston Rob’s instruction) put up a large, strong shelter fairly quickly and was able to keep out of the rain. In Zapatera camp, though, it felt like there was a large dark cloud hanging overhead. The tribe’s half-assed shelter showed a lack of team spirit—last night’s episode accurately depicted the wary emotions brewing around camp. Right off the bat, Dave, Michael and Sarita were forging a definite alliance against Russell—all three of them were smart enough to keep their collaboration a secret and play it cool.
That was not the case in Ometepe, where former federal agent Phillip revealed his one big secret way too soon. Subtlety is key in Survivor, and Phillip is anything but. Similarly, Kristina feels so threatened that she just overplays herself. I remember watching her in camp and noticing how she failed to connect with anyone else in her tribe. She just hung back and did nothing to contribute to any group efforts, be it building fire or gathering food—she was too hung up on watching her own back. Unfortunately for Francesca, Phillip’s crazy aggression and Kristina’s selfish insecurity served to bring her down.
Last night’s episode foreshadowed Francesca’s departure from the start. Honestly, down in Nicaragua, it was quite a surprise to see her get voted off so quickly. In real life, she is likable and such a strong character that I was sad to see her go. But, what you didn’t see is that Francesca had a tough time adjusting to life in camp. The first night she barely slept—choosing to sit by a smoky fire and swat at mosquitoes in the dark rather than huddle up with her fellow tribe members on the shelter’s bamboo floor. Early on, the other castaways questioned her willingness to stick it out for the long haul, and Francesca made little effort to show her own physical resolve.
Following their loss in the first physical challenge, Ometepe’s conversations back at camp were focused on the need to be strong and rigorous. As the two older women in the tribe, Francesca and Kristina both felt targeted. Experienced and savvy Rob merely hedged his bets and played the two women off one another. His strategy worked brilliantly.
What Rob may have not anticipated was the wild card that is Phillip. Jittery and nervous, Phillip just can’t sit still—his early outburst in Tribal Council and his revealing of secret conversations set off a downward spiral that turned the night into a comical nightmare.
On screen, Tribal Council lasted less than seven minutes. In real life, it dragged on for over two hours. There was an out-and-out fight between Phillip and Francesca with plenty of outrageous shouting and finger-pointing. Kristina played the coward, trying desperately to look like she was on the right side of wrong. Phillip’s inability to correctly pronounce Francesca’s name was a sticking point, and there were even some silly racial remarks between the two African-American castaways. Phillip just couldn’t let it go and got hotter and hotter in his outbursts. If anything, he revealed himself as the show’s raging lunatic. This first Tribal Council could have been a special episode in and of itself, one that made you laugh, gasp and cringe all at once.
On-screen, Jeff Probst said, “This has been one of the most amazing Tribal Councils.” In real life—the poor guy was exasperated, “This is the craziest Tribal Council I have ever seen,” he said, shaking his head. Probst has overseen every Tribal Council for the past 21 seasons of Survivor, so that’s saying something. Despite his best efforts—and let me just say, he is the king of cross-examination—this Tribal Council lacked candor. Phillip quickly took over and tried to pull everyone into his world of crazy. Francesca failed to extract herself by being too quick to respond—Rob was right to say she should have kept her mouth shut. Perhaps Phillip should listen, too.
One last note: One man who understands the old saying "less is more" is David, over in Zapatera tribe. In real life, the pyramid puzzle in the physical challenge took both tribes much longer to complete. On screen, it seemed to be Russell who took charge and led the tribe to victory. In actuality, it was Dave and his exceptionally high IQ who quietly directed his teammates as they assembled the tricky puzzle. The difference with Dave is that he gave Russell credit for the victory—even high-fiving him after the two climbed back down from the pyramid. As a criminal defense lawyer, Dave understands Russell and his ego all too well. Watch this space, people—I know I am. I have no idea where this one will lead, but as last night’s premiere showed, this season might just promise a few more surprise broadsides.