'Survivor: Caramoan': Déjà vu all over again
As the fans take on the favorites, old rivalries die hard -- and take a casualty
Season 26 of “Survivor,” set in the lovely but treacherous Caramoan island, pits longtime fans of the shows against their very favorite players for the second time in the game’s history.
And while the newbies got shipped in on a giant catamaran, the returning vets were already getting preferential treatment – flying in on a pair of copters. The old school players: From “Redemption Island,” there was Andrea, Francesca and Phillip. From “South Pacific,” there was Dawn, Cochran and Brandon Hantz. From “Nicaragua,” there was Brenda. From the previous “Fans vs. Favorites” in “Micronesia,” there was Erik. From “Gabon,” there was Corinne. And last, but certainly not least, from “Survivor: Philippines,” Malcolm.
Host Jeff Probst wasted no time separating the players into their fans versus favorites tribes, handing the vets purple buffs for the Bikal tribe, and the newbies orange ones for the Gota tribe. He then announced the first challenge, a water-based obstacle course – with the reward of fire, and 20 lbs. of beans, which could go a long way for those grumbling stomachs.
Erik and Dawn were up newbies Shamar and Julia. Erik made quick work of getting the ring, but then former Iraq war vet Shamar tackled him on the way back, scoring a point for Gota. Next up, Andrea and Brandon versus Eddie and Hope. There was a four person pile-up in the middle of the ocean, but eventually Andrea made it to the goal, tying it one to one.
Next up, Sherri and Michael for Gota versus Phillip and Brenda for Bikal. No pile ups this time – Phillip wasn’t having it. He dragged the ring – with three people still attached – all the way to the goal himself. Make that two for the favorites.
Then it was blondie Laura and hillbillie Matt versus Francesca and Cochran, who scored again for favorites. That made it 3 to 1 for favorites, which meant they could win in the next round.
And it was a fight to the finish for Malcolm and Corinne versus Reynold and Allie. “Two of the biggest guys out here squaring off,” Probst pointed out, “and Malcolm is losing his shorts!” But it was worth it – because the favorites scored again – and won the flint and beans.
The challenge over, Probst sent the tribes their separate ways to go make camp.
At Gota, Shamar was suffering his first blow: “To me the challenge was very disappointing,” he said. “It made me realize I don’t have full control over this game. I have to do my best to inspire my teammates to do a better job.” To that effect, he instituted theme music for the tribe, trying to keep the mood light. The ten tribemates got acclimated, gathering water, building shelter. But then Shamar called everyone out – saying that fire was the most important. Matt was annoyed. He’d been working on the shelter since they got to camp, “and I ain’t seen Shamar lift a finger. I had higher expectations from a Marine.”
To survive the next challenge, “we’re going to have camaraderie as a camp,” Reynold pointed out. “Or things are going to get ugly.”
Shamar sat around on his ass while the others worked hard on shelter and tried to make the fire. “I’m going to be the Marine who came in at the end and just smashed them!” he said. And that’s exactly what he did, giving a bit of advice at the end that got the fire going. “I had to make it happen. It was like being in Iraq and having to get home.” Even Matt had to give the man the benefit of the doubt.
Meanwhile, at Bikal, it was déjà vu all over again. Except Malcolm felt like the odd man out, since no one had seen him play.
They all got straight to work. Hut Phillip insisted that they built with an ocean view in mind. “I pretty much stand by my initial assessment of him as a crazy person,” Francesca said. But her low profile meant she didn’t appear as a threat. And she sure as hell wasn’t doing a minority alliance again. So she immediately hooked up with Andrea and Dawn, who said maybe an alliance with Cochran and Brandon – and perhaps Phillip – would give them a strong six.
When Francesca went to talk to Phillip, he noted, “she’s stuck in a time warp. She annoys me greatly.” Yup, things were off to a great start. But Francesca said: “If I am voted off first a second time, I will eat this rock. It’s not going to happen.”
Phillip was already working it. He wanted Corinne, Malcolm and Andrea. He wanted a tribe of winners. Corinne was the Dominatrix. Andrea was the Strategist. Malcolm is the power. Dawn is the soft touch. Cochran is the intelligence. And Phillip, of course, was the stealth. Except he wasn’t stealth at all. He went straight to Erik and said he already had the numbers, and said he’d like to bring him in, but he didn’t need him. “He pretty much said to me that you’re with me or you’re out,” Erik said. “The fact that he came to me with this Boston Rob mentality, it makes everybody crazy.”
At Gota, Reynold was working it, too, with Allie. “She’s the not-obvious choice. She’s not the cutest, she’s not the anything. She’s just cool and likable.”
Eddie and Hope were teaming up, too. “Me and Hope are the best looking people here,” he said. “So we’re sticking together. We’re just going to have fun.”
That night, everyone piled in close together to stay warm. But Laura and the others noticed a bit of extra-coziness between Reynold and Allie. “Not a smart move! Romantic alliances do not work on ‘Survivor,’” she said. “You’re going to get targeted right away.”
In the a.m., Reynold, Allie, Eddie and Hope were a happy quartet. “High school all over again,” Eddie noted. “It’s like the cool kid lunch table – you gotta work your way in. But I don’t think anyone else is going to be at our table.”
Sherri noted that alliances were already forming. So she moved on forming her own – with Laura, Julia, and Michael – at least in theory. Michael was playing the swing vote already, but his tightest bond was with Matt. And he thought they could work it either way. “You and I will just decide together which way we want to go,” he told Matt. That strategy, they decided, could take them pretty far into the game.
Day two at Bikal, and the sun was beating down. “Weather-wise, this is not my environment,” Cochran said. He was tomato-red. And his feet were totally swollen. “I’m actually in horrible pain. I actually feel like crying. But I’m trying to be strong. My new persona is strong with a swagger. I can’t be the same freak I was last time.”
Immunity Challenge Time! First thing Probst did was call out Cochran on his sunburn. But then he got into the game – a bigtime obstacle challenge that entailed climbing up a big five-story course, and then tossing down crates, which had inside a sandbag each. Then it was game of beanbag toss.
First up, Cochran and Phillip for Bikal versus Sherri and Laura for Gota, with everyone making good time. Then it was Francesca and Corinne versus Michael and Hope, going up two stories. Still about even. Then Erik and Brenda versus Julia and Matt. Still dead even, three floors in. Probst: “This is neck and neck.”
Brandon and Andrea versus Eddie and Allie, who slowed things down. “Favorites now take the lead,” Probst said, “and fans falling behind.”
Target time: Dawn and Malcolm were tossing for the favorites, and already had three in by the time Reynold and Shamar got to work. Reynold had two, then three, and four, and five, while Malcolm still struggled. And with six, Reynold took it for the fans before Malcolm could get that fifth one in.
“Fans, nice way to start,” Probst said. “Immunity and flint.” They got the night off.
Not so good news for favorites – three days in, and someone was going home.
Back at the Bikal camp, morale was down. Francesca was trying to save herself. She asked Cochran about Phillip. Or maybe Corinne? “It’s not that I don’t like her, because I do,” she said, but she was suspicious of the woman’s lack of strategizing thus far.
Cochran, meanwhile, was digging everyone. “They’re basically the aloe to my sunburn.” When Corinne and Brandon and Andrea all gathered, Francesca told them Phillip. “She has her own agenda,” Andrea said – and she thought Phillip might be a more strategic alliance for her. So she went straight to him.
“I like the idea of voting Francesca out first again. You need to be like Machiavelli,” Phillip rationalized. “If you come at me once, I will burn your village, I will kill all your aunts, uncles, children, so that none of your kind will exist again.”
Erik, too, was strategizing – against Phillip. “Maybe he does have the numbers,” he said. “He’s not scrambling at all.” He talked to Brandon, who talked to Francesca.
“I could be voted out first twice,” she said. “Which would be the worst thing ever.”
Dawn was talking to Cochran. She said she trusted him, which came as a surprise, since he’d screwed her over the last time. But she was talking strategy. She said she didn’t trust Francesca because she was going to play to win. “I’m willing to work with her. She’s honest to a fault,” he said. “Unless she’s reinvented herself over the past year. Maybe this is a new Dawn.” He chuckled.
But Dawn was serious – she planned for herself and Cochran to be the swing vote, and go to the end together.
The odd man out? Malcolm, who hadn’t said a word.
Francesca, worried about herself, said to split the vote. Something was not right. Andrea was the one who seemed to be one who was flip-flopping. Erik came to Francesca and told him what was up. “She’s playing both sides,” he said. So he suggested that the five of them – Erik, Francesca, Brenda, Dawn and Brandon – switch their vote to Andrea without saying a word to anyone else.s
Cochran, meanwhile, was feeling like voting off Francesca would be “inhumane,” he said. “There’s an emotional aspect. I have a sense of shame.”
Tribal Council Time! Everyone marched in, their faces grim. They grabbed their torches, got fire. Probst: “This is part of the ritual of tribal council, because, as you guys know, fire represents your life. When the fire’s gone, so are you.”
Brandon’s take on the tribe: “We’re all ten chiefs, there’s no Indians here,” he said. “Everyone’s out for themselves. Nobody’s going to get done like they got done last time.”
Probst begged to differ. “Oh, somebody is!” That prompted some laughs. “Tonight!”
He asked Francesca about her rivalry with Phillip. She said Phillip had learned to pronounce her name. He said that she was still strategic, and she didn’t have much experience. Probst agreed. But Francesca said she wasn’t the only one who should be worried. People were paranoid. That touched a nerve. Several people raised their hands when Probst asked who’d heard their name tossed around.
Andrea said she couldn’t get comfortable. “Working hard and being strategic, sometimes it doesn’t mean anything.”
Probst pointed out that, with experienced players, the game moved much faster. “That’s the excitement of a returning player season,” Cochran said. “We’re already playing the game, right of the bat. It’s so exciting!”
Time to vote! Francesca, writing down Andrea, said: “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean someone isn’t out to get you.” Andrea, writing down Francesca, said: “You’re going to be so upset with me, but you’re getting voted out first again because you are a huge threat.”
No immunity idols played. The votes: First: Andrea. Second: Andrea. Third: Andrea. Fourth: Francesca. Fifth: Francesca. Sixth: Francesca. Seventh: Andrea. Eighth: Francesca. Ninth: Francesca. Tenth: Francesca.
The first person voted out of “Survivor: Caramoan” is Francesca Hogi.
Francesca’s final words: “I cannot believe I got voted out first again. I mean, I’m not going to cry about it. But I did make ‘Survivor’ history. And the good thing about being voted out first again is that I know how to deal with being voted out first. And I guess I’m not cut out for ‘Survivor.’ It’s over. It’s done. And so now I’m no longer rooting for the favorites. Now I’m rooting for the fans.”
"Survivor: Caramoan" airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.