[19 February 2009]
In its 18th season premiere last week, Survivor: Tocantins: The Brazilian Highlands dominated the ratings, averaging14.2 million viewers. As always, the show delivered an exciting location, fresh faces, and imminent plot twists. And the first episode followed the well known formula: establish conflict, introduce characters to love or hate, and show plenty of skin juxtaposed with lurking animals and dangerous scenery. We also learned that temperatures in the Brazilian Highlands are often in excess of 120 degrees.
Host Jeff Probst says that this season’s cast is exceptionally likeable.” Indeed, in his PopWatch blog about Episode One, Probst seems to be in love with “Coach” (Ben Wade), even though the man is already looking arrogant, dedicated as he is to his own “theory” of the game, which he shared with us immediately. Other contestants are potentially more likeable. Jerry, for instance, downplayed his physical fitness and hid his military experience and recent return from Afghanistan. And, Debra, an “older” woman about whom we learned very little in the first episode, appeared intriguing.
Other introductions suggested a focus on those who are perceived (by others or by themselves) as weak. Stephen is afraid he won’t fit in as the “anxious New York Jew” and “Coach” Ben shows little concern about fitting in, as he’s so busy standing out and on top. Sandy was immediately deemed the “older lady,” and Sierra, suffering from a fever. Both were voted out—not out of the game as we were led to believe at first, but out of “this adventure,” as Probst put it. (Certainly anyone who has seen Survivor should know to listen carefully to what he says.) Both tribes looked disappointed that their votes were not votes out.
The episode began much like past seasons, but rather than pillage a local village (like in “The Pearl Islands”), contestants stripped everything and anything they might need from the vehicle transporting them. One tribe, Timbira, ended up with all of the food and water and both tribes had to transport their goods to their camps about four hours away (like Survivor: Africa). Timbira won the immunity challenge over Jalapoa. Unlike many initial challenges, this one allowed six members to do the most physical part of the challenge, reserving two tribe members to put together a puzzle staircase. Thus, it was not simply a matter of dragging along the one or two physically weakest members. The new rule also added a more equitable dimension to the first test of teamwork. In fact, the team members initially voted out for their perceived weakness led their teams through this part of the challenge.
If there is nothing particularly new Survivor: Tocantins, the first episode promised more revelations. Some of Probst’s predictions fell short immediately, like his guess that no one would be getting rid of Carolina any time soon since she is so darn cute. No doubt, the departure of Carolina’s “nice rack” left many Survivor fans disappointed while Sandy’s ability to survive past first impressions had other fans cheering. And certainly we’ll be seeing a lot more eye candy, conflict, and wilderness scenes from this “deserted and unforgiving section of Brazil.”
What we didn’t see was “advance team” member Alton Desiree, who died helping to prepare this latest Survivor location. Instead, the first Survivor: Gabon episode was dedicated to his memory. But we’re not surprised that our reality TV leaves out reality. That is, after all, why we tune in.