'Survivor' Review: “I’m A Mental Giant”

Meaghan McDonough ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Survivor returned Wednesday night for its 32nd season, Survivor: Kaoh Rong. This season our contestants arrived at the island of Koh Rong, Cambodia in three teams divided based on their everyday use of Brains vs Brawn vs Beauty. This is the second season of Survivor to use these personality traits to divide up teams, and was probably picked due to the fact that Survivor: Cagayan, the first season to use these same categories, was one of Survivor’s best seasons to date. Apparently, dividing people up based on their intellect, athleticism, and attractiveness makes for good reality TV. This season’s characteristic mix of personality dynamics combined with the sheer number of potential issues that the location presents — from heat exhaustion to infectious insects — present great opportunity to returning the show to it’s former glory. How does this set up the season to come? You’ll have to read on to find out!

Photo Credits: CBS
Apparently, dividing people up based on their intellect, athleticism, and attractiveness makes for good reality TV
Photo Credits: CBS
Contestants were thrown into Survivor from the get go, forced to bring themselves and their supplies to the island from the arrival boat via bamboo raft. Many contestants fumbled and dropped supplies in the water, but arriving at the island left the tribes no choice but to forget what had been lost and focus on what they had left. While most of the day was supposed to be spent building shelters and figuring how to best take care of themselves, a lot of people went immediately into looking for alliances. This is a strange turnaround from last season, which had contestants using voting blocks rather than looking for long term alliances. As has been the case with the Brains vs Brawn vs Beauty contestants, alliances tend to form along lines of commonalities–such as all female contestants, or all young contestants–and isolating the odd ducks of the group. We spent the first half of the episode watching a lot of this play out, which, while interesting, seemed to be a bit pointless, especially when considering last seasons voting blocks.
That being said, we got to learn a lot about each of the tribes and it’s members as they did this.
Photo Credits: CBS
Photo Credits: CBS
The Brawn team is made up of anyone from bounty hunters to bodybuilders, and many of whom seem resigned to their own lack of beauty or intelligence. They seem to plan on relying heavily on athleticism, which may not be the best idea in this physically challenging environment. The Brawn tribe was also really hasty in actively in antagonizing each other. The two tattooed muscle men, former NBA player Scot Pollard and bounty hunter Kyle “Sarg” Jason, bonded immediately, calling the shots, and easily picking out realtor Alecia Holden as the weakest link, with Kyle only bothering to refer to her as “blondie.” Kyle’s aggressive and sexist dislike of Alecia was really disappointing to watch, especially considering how much this team will need to rely on each other to get through the season.
Brawn Camp Photo Credits: CBS
Brawn Team
Photo Credits: CBS
At the Brains camp, chemist and renaissance woman Debbie Wanner was eager to take charge and try teaching all the younger players what’s what in terms of surviving Survivor. This was a turn off for several of the other contestants, especially Neal Gottlieb and Liz Markham, who both got annoyed with Debbie’s chatter pretty fast. During breaks from building, the younger half ot the group — Liz, Neal, Cambridge native Aubry Bracco and Obama-look-alike Dr. Peter Baggenstos — discussed the potential of an all-youth alliance. Meanwhile, Debbie grew closer to former FBI agent and super-jacked grandpa Joe Del Campo about sticking together as the “senior citizens” of the group. This instantaneous division seemed a bit forced and wasn’t necessarily backed up by dislike of each other, as was the case in the Brawn tribe, so it didn’t seem to affect the challenge later in the episode.
Brains Camp Photo Credits: CBS
Brains Team
Photo Credits: CBS
The Beauty camp got off to a rocky start despite their easy going attitudes. Chickens got loose and many players were confused by 51-year-old gay Asian gardener’s Tai Trang’s inclusion on the Beauty team. The girls — Michele Fitzgerald, Julia Sokolowski, and Anna Khait — started talking strategy ASAP, debating whether Tai or former Big Brother contestant Caleb Reynolds were trustworthy enough to include in an alliance. While the girls make a lot of Nick Maiorano’s model good looks, they didn’t seem to have much interest in forming an alliance with him, which will either make him easy pickings when it comes time for tribal, or will mean that he’s a bigger manipulator than they take him for. While they were initially enamored with Tai’s gentle nature, his very obvious search for the idol turns them against him. Tai’s fervor in searching for the idol came as a surprise from such a nice player, but considering his backstory as a survivor of the Vietnam War, he’ll probably be one to watch.
Beauty Camp Photo Credits: CBS
Beauty Team
Photo Credits: CBS
The brutal conditions of Koh Rong were apparent throughout the episode, and many players struggled with both the physical and mental strain. Brawn team member Jennifer Lanzetti was plagued by a bug burrowing into her ear while Brains team member Aubry struggled against heat exhaustion. Both of them had pretty serious mental breakdowns, though Aubry’s appeared much more as a result of her lack of mental strength. The fact that Jennifer did not ask for the help of the medical team was a real show of her willpower, and the fact that we actually saw the bug crawl out of her ear was horrifying.  Considering that this is the first season in Survivor history to have reported three medical evacuations for the season, these issues aren’t surprising. While we don’t know who was medically evacuated yet, the current status of the contestants–and the producer’s response to their struggles–is a sign that whatever the med evacs were about, it’s bound to be for pretty serious conditions.
The challenge of the episode was three-pronged and incredibly draining, offering the prize of fire starting supplies. Contestants had to dive into the ocean to retrieve oars for their team boat, row the boat to shore, drag the boat up to the beach, and then complete one of two options for the final piece of the challenge: a puzzle or a dexterity test. All this in the Cambodian humidity.
Photo Credits: CBS
Photo Credits: CBS
The Brawn team lost the goggles given to them for the challenge (due to a mistake by contestant Darnell Hamilton) before retrieving the first oar and were stuck at the back of the pack initially. However, their determination, combined athleticism, and surprisingly good use of team work allowed them to catch up with the Beauty and Brain teams, who struggled to get their heavy boats onto and up the beach. All teams chose the option to do the puzzle, which the Brain tribe got a start on ahead of the pack. The Brain tribe completed the puzzle quick and easy, which was unsurprising considering their steady lead and that the puzzle is an intelligence challenge. They took home the bigger prize of the fire starting kits and won immunity from tribal council, which was a good amount of stress off a team that was struggling to get their fire started.
Brawn and Beauty were neck and neck right until the end, with both of them having team members seriously at risk. For the Brawn team, Alecia was already an obvious target, and Darnell didn’t help himself by hindering their chances at the challenge. Beauty had Tai, who, while nice, was clearly a suspicious character for seeking out the idol so early on.
Photo Credits: CBS
Photo Credits: CBS
In the end Alecia’s slow puzzle-solving skills as well as Darnell’s fumble with the goggles cost Brawn team the win. The Beauty tribe took home a flint and tribal council immunity.
Before tribal council Darnell attempted to make a case for himself as Alecia attempted to manipulate her teammates. Darnell seemed sincere but lacked charisma, while Alecia proved herself an attentive manipulator. Many of the Brawn team dislike Alecia for her apparent laziness, but Darnell’s loss of the goggles was a dead weight for the challenge.
During tribal, Scot and Kyle were absolutely ruthless with their two teammates. Darnell and Alecia argued about who would work harder if they got to stay. Though the team initially decided to vote off Darnell, Darnell’s teary-eyed explanation of his life’s struggle had the Brawn team giving each other looks and whispering during the tribal meeting. Were they making the right decision?
Photo Credits: CBS
In the end, Darnell couldn’t stir up enough sympathy and he was voted out. Darnell was, inherently, an uninteresting character for the show and also not a good team member, so it makes sense that he was voted off. It’s unclear how he ended up on the Brawn team, and it was really apparent that he didn’t belong there. Even though Alecia survived this week, it’s unsure how much longer she can last if she continues to be such a source of derision. Ultimately, Alecia will either need to prove herself to the Brawn team or otherwise find an idol or just pray that a merge happens sooner rather than later.
Will the Brawn tribe be able to make up this week’s poor performance next time? Tune in to CBS Wednesday at 8/7c to find out!
Overall Episode Grade: B

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