Survivor: Nicaragua - Young at Heart (Premiere)

Filed under: Recaps & Reviews

So here we are -- fall has come, and another season of Survivor (its 21st!) is upon us. Another group of strangers, a mix of young and old regular people have once again been sent to a tropical locale (this time, the Central American country of Nicaragua) and forced to survive the elements, the challenges, and each other in an attempt to win $1,000,000 as the Sole Survivor. Okay, so they're not all "regular people" -- there are some models, singers, and aspiring actors in the bunch, not to mention 2-time Superbowl Champion coach and current NFL analyst Jimmy Johnson. (Though, if you've seen any of the promos CBS or Global are running for this season, you would've already known that, since they've been promoting him like nobody's business!)

Those network executives were probably freaking the hell out as legendary coach and leader Jimmy Johnson told his tribe that the weakest member of the tribe should be voted out to make them stronger, and he included himself as one of the 2 weakest on the tribe! Luckily for him and CBS, the other weakest member, Wendy Jo, got sent home instead in one of the least surprising tribal council votes.

But before we get to the rest of this episode, I'll break down the tribes for all of you. For the second time (and the first time starting with the traditional 2 tribes), the tribes are broken down into young (30 and under) and old (40 and over). The younger tribe -- La Flor -- is made up of a couple alpha males (Shannon & Chase) who are tired of women winning Survivor, a woman (Brenda) using flirting to get her way, another girl (Kelly B.) who lost her leg due to a birth defect, and a dumb blonde guy (Jud) immediately nicknamed Fabio. Plus other less-featured typical Survivor types. The older tribe -- Espada -- features the aforementioned Jimmy Johnson, a slightly neurotic and easily-angered fisherman (Jimmy T.), a naïve and talkative Montana ruralite (Wendy Jo), and a no-nonsense North Carolina woman (Jane) who started a fire without flint.

Again, it's the usual mix of Survivor character types, but these kind of personalities and backgrounds are what we love about the show, right?

As for the premiere itself, I thought it was pretty good, though I still have no idea how this season is going to go. Unlike 2 seasons ago in Samoa, where we were introduced to the extremely outspoken Russell and his crazy ways, none of the castaways have so far shown to have even close to the stand-out personality that he did. And coming off of Heroes vs. Villains, where there were many memorable returning players, it's going to probably take a few weeks until we start to see the kind of personalities that we're going to want to root for or against.

There are some people that could end up being quite interesting and engaging, however. The previously-mentioned Fabio is a bit of a dolt but should provide a bit of comic relief this season, while Kelly B. -- who everyone seems to want to vote out ASAP because they think she'll get sympathy votes as an amputee (when has a Survivor jury ever given the million bucks to someone they feel bad for?) -- should have some interesting perspectives on things. (And remember, she's not even the first amputee on this show -- Chad from Survivor: Vanuatu already holds that distinction.) Jimmy Johnson, already being a household name, will be someone people will keep their eyes on, and they should -- not because he's a celebrity, but because his success as a coach and leader is something that could be very beneficial to his tribe and his alliance (you know, because his skills are actually proven, unlike a certain "Coach" that we've seen a couple times before).

Besides the old vs. young angle, the other "twist" in this new season of Survivor is the "Medallion of Power". It's an absolutely ridiculous name, for sure, but it does add another interesting element to a tribe's decision-making, and I can see it being an extremely divisive topic of conversation before each challenge. In case you missed it, whichever tribe has possession of the Medallion prior to a challenge, can choose to use it for some sort of advantage in said challenge (in the premiere, where the Immunity Challenge involved pouring water down a make-shift drainage system to release pieces of a puzzle to be solves, it meant a significant head start in the water department) and then give up the Medallion to the other team for the next challenge, or hold onto it until a further challenge.

Espada, believing that this particular challenge didn't seem to have any kind of advantage to youth and strength, decided to keep it for another time. Unfortunately, that decision was probably the wrong one, as La Flor was able to get out to an early lead and end up winning Immunity. Despite what we've seen in previous seasons (and especially last season in Heroes vs. Villains) when the losing tribe seems to talk about targeting someone who cost them immunity, that conversation never seemed to come up at all. Holly was the water pourer for Espada, and started off really badly compared to her La Flor counterpart, NaOnka, yet her name was never mentioned as possibly being sent home (at least in what we saw as viewers). I actually agree that snap judgments shouldn't be made about a single performance when voting someone out, but it was uncharacteristic of a tribe to not do so.

Wendy Jo was the most likely person to be going home once Tribal Council began, as most of the chatter around camp was about her, and I just couldn't see Jimmy Johnson being voted out first. But when she opened her mouth at Tribal after discovering she may be on the chopping block, she easily solidified her fate. She yammered on about not talking too much at camp despite her not being that way in real life, and then when Jeff called for everyone to vote, she butted in and babbled some more about why she should stay in the game (such as everyone always wanting to be her friend and her not having blisters on her feet yet). The last thing you should do when you're already on the chopping block is personally start to annoy your tribemates, because that will just give them more reason to get rid of you. Oh Wendy Jo, we hardly knew you... and I'm okay with that.

Other things of note:

  • I can't even imagine how cool it would be to get a pep talk from Jimmy Johnson! I'm not even a big NFL fan (I prefer my Canadian football, thank you very much) but the man is a legend. Of course, nobody bought his line that he would be a good asset to keep around because nobody's gonna give someone like him a million dollars at the end, and I don't blame them.
  • I'm not sure where they're going with the Hidden Immunity Idols this season, but the way they're distributing the clues is a bit weird, and the clues themselves seemed even weirder. We'll see if it plays a larger part as the season goes on.
  • Do castaways not realize that people are going to be watching their confessionals? Unlike many other reality TV shows, Survivor does take its toll on the contestants to the point where they may act irrationally, but what was Shannon thinking on Day 1 when he talked about someday soon having a female President as an unfortunate loss of male dominance?
  • We've already got people backstabbing and breaking alliances -- Holly publicly talked about and broke her alliance with Wendy Jo, while Chase told Brenda about his alliance with Shannon while making a new alliance with her. This is bad for the players, most likely, but good for viewers.
  • Nicaragua, so far, looks exactly like Samoa. And Fiji. And Palau. And nearly every other place Survivor has gone. I like when they do something different for locations, like Gabon or China, because that location can often be another character on the show.
  • I'm not sure why more people don't study how to make fire like Jane did. Probst has said it so many times on the show, and many of these people are fans of Survivor and should know how important it is, yet so often we see people without flint not being able to start a fire. Kudos to Jane for getting the glasses and starting one up with relative ease so early on.

It's too early to give any kind of assessment on what kind of season this is going to be. In 20 previous incarnations, the show has given us so many different versions of the show and personal dynamics that it really could end up anywhere. However, the splitting up by age -- which will probably not end up lasting until the merge, though I hope it does -- should give us some good tribal bonds (which is something that really helped Heroes vs. Villains), and 2 entirely different camp dynamics.

I know I'll be enjoying every minute of it, but do you think you will? And do you have any early favourites after the first episode is now in the books? The only person on La Flor I have any kind of inkling about right now is Kelly B., who I do think could go far if she makes some good alliances and survives the early chatter about booting her to avoid sympathy votes. She seems like a tough chick, and smart as well. On the Espada side, Marty's the only one who seems to be talking a lot about the game itself, and has also been getting a lot of screen time, so based on that, he could end up doing well. Who do you like?

Tags: Survivor, Nicaragua, Jeff Probst, Jimmy Johnson, Kelly B., Marty, Fabio, Jane, Chase, reality

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Paul Little is the founder and Managing Editor of When not interviewing his favourite musicians and comedians, he can also be found putting on and promoting music and comedy events with The Purple Room in Winnipeg, or co-producing the live comedy game shows Pants on Fire and The Great Patio Showdown. (@comedygeek)

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