Survivor: Welcome Back to Redemption Island

Written by Daniel Anderson on . Posted in TV

It’s back — the granddaddy of all (network) reality television. And not a week too soon, either. Survivor returns (yes, along with the unfortunate Redemption Island wrinkle), with a brand new group of castaways. Brand new, that is, except for the two returning “heroes” Coach (the self-proclaimed Dragon Slayer) and Ozzy (he of the indomitable immunity challenge record), who are playing for their third time each.

And the show wastes no time pitting the two “heroes” (sorry, I can’t ever actually call them heroes without the quotes — it’s just too ridiculous) against each other in a reward challenge, which Ozzy predictably dominates. At this point, we’re thinking “Oh, poor Coach” since his whole tribe is giving off an undeniable “Ah crud, we’re stuck with Coach” vibe. To make matters worse, Savaii tribe thinks Ozzy is a complete rockstar, blowing off building a shelter in order to just swim and “kick it.” This in turn causes Dawn to flip out and break down emotionally, marking her as early elimination bait.

But Dawn is saved by one of the single worst immunity challenge performances I’ve ever witnessed. Semhar adamantly volunteers to throw coconuts into a net, then when it comes time, sort of just underhands them straight up into the air while mumbling “sorry” and saying “I’m so tired.” The net she’s aiming for is about 8 feet in front of her. Spoiler alert: she gets sent to Redemption Island.

Besides the end result, some interesting story lines developed. First, Russell “Pure Evil” Hantz’s nephew has made his way into the game. Contestant Brandon carries with him a big bulls-eye by virtue of his sinister uncle. He’s so nervous about this connection to the biggest Survivor villain ever that he refuses to let anyone know about it. He even goes swimming with his shirt up over his neck and back where “Hantz” tattoos are visible. Whatever. At this point I’m not sure what to make of this.

Second, Ozzy turns out to be all brawn and no brain. Apparently he’s here to play strategically and not just own immunity challenges. Well, in that sense he’s not off to the greatest start — basically he gets John the Harvard law student to question everything he’s ever known about himself because he offers his (John’s) name for elimination ’cause he (Ozzy) wants Semhar to stick around — he thinks she’s pretty. So he starts drumming up all these unfounded doubts about John’s viability just so the girl he’s in love with will stick around. To his credit he, along with the rest of the tribe, vote Semhar in the end. But why the trip down anxiety lane for John? Pointless.

Plus, Coach turns the tables in one of the biggest surprises so far. Working from a very natural place, he forms an alliance with four other Upolo tribe members and leads the team to an immunity challenge victory. And the organic nature of everything is what is so shocking. For as you know, Coach has historically been the least natural person on the planet. His social skills were, you could (should) say, lacking.

After an eventful first week, Survivor: South Pacific starts to (already) hit its stride. Kudos to the show’s producers for uncovering the hidden formula to success, i.e. land contestants that are increasingly crazier with each passing season.

Case in point: Tonight’s episode begins with about two minutes of Semhar on Redemption Island going what appears to be quite literally insane. It doesn’t help that she freestyles all this poetry at random, all the while sort of rolling around on her bed of bamboo and swatting at bugs. If the show wanted to show you how crazy people go on Redemption, they did a fairly decent job of it here. (This all serves to put Matt’s run on RI last season in even more impressive context. How did he do that?)

Who else joins the ranks of the crazy? Well, where do we start? How about with Brandon “I’m a Married Man” Hantz? He feels close enough with Coach (!) to share his deep dark secret — that he’s the nephew of Russell “Pure Evil” Hantz. Coach responds with the appropriate amount of alarm, but eventually realizes it’s no big deal, and the whole affair seems to serve as a bonding moment for the two, complete with a closing prayer.

But what makes Brandon so particularly crazy is his unfounded paranoia regarding tribemate Mikayla. Completely unprovoked, Brandon has marked her for elimination. He is unyielding in his quest to send her to RI, and his rationale is, you could say, suspect. Basically he finds her attractive, is married, and has made up his mind that she’s nothing but trouble. This despite absolutely no advance from Mikayla. In fact, when tribal blew up (thanks, Coach), and Brandon admitted he’d stirred the pot against Mikayla, she looked genuinely puzzled as to who this kid even was. It was like a “Wait, what was your name again?” type thing. Just bizarre.

On top of that, since everyone was pretty much decided on Christine after Upolu lost the immunity/reward challenge, when Brandon went on this Mikayla Must Go kick it sent the entire camp into the proverbial tizzy. This culminated in Coach absolutely loosing his stuff at Tribal, indirectly calling out Brandon and contradicting himself too many times to even think about firing up the DVR and recapping here. In the end, sanity somewhat reigned as Christine went to Redemption and no one cast a vote for Mikayla. Thank goodness.

Pretty quiet night from the Savaii tribe, with the exception of Ozzy finding the hidden idol up in a tree that was completely unclimbable by anyone in the tribe but Ozzy. So someone’s going to have to get up pretty early in the morning if they’re going to try and convince me that the show’s not giving Ozzy a little help here.

Also, John Cochran is just a titch neurotic and he’s breaking the cardinal rule of early round Survivor (borrowed from Ocean’s 11, of course): You’ve got to make them like you, then forget you. Well, Cochran might be failing on both accounts. Let’s hope for his sake that the next couple weeks allow him to sort of sink into the background. If he doesn’t, he’s next in line for an all inclusive stay at the looney bin on Redemption Island.

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