Brains vs. Beauty vs. Brawn
Eighteen Strangers were marooned in Kaoh Rong in the 32nd season of Survivor. This season comes on the heels of Survivor Cambodia: Second Chance which included an all-star cast of returning players. The newbies on this season have very big shoes to fill. In the intro of this premier episode, host, Jeff Probst points out that the cast will be divided into 3 separate tribes: Brains, Beauty, and Brawn. Probst also tells us that the scorching Cambodian heat will be a huge factor in the health of some of the players. The survivors are vulnerable to both dehydration and heat stroke if they aren’t careful. And for the first time that I can remember, Jeff even alludes to infection of minor cuts as one of the dangers out in Kaoh Rong which I found to be pretty odd. There have been survivors who have been evacuated from the game in the past but never do I remember Jeff having to highlight that danger in the introduction to the season. I’m pretty sure every other season had an equally good chance of the players getting infections but I could be wrong. To me, this seems like Probst is trying to prepare us for a season full of surprise injuries and medical evacuations that could greatly affect the outcome of the game.
So this season begins as many other seasons have in the past. The Castaways are instructed that they have 2 minutes to gather as many supplies for their tribe that they can off of a large fishing boat then paddle their individual tribe rafts to each of their separate beaches. Right away people are scrambling to secure fruit, chickens, and other useful items to take to camp with them. As the tribes paddle away toward their separate beaches, one of the female members of the Brains tribe announces that she is an “excellent swimmer”. Spoiler Alert: She has plenty more to say during this episode as well.
The first tribe we are officially introduced to is the Brawn Tribe also known as To Tang. This tribe consists of Darnell the Postal worker, Alecia the real estate agent, Cydney the professional body builder, Jennifer the construction worker, Kyle the bounty hunter, and former NBA Basketball player Scot Pollard. Cydney comments on how her physical and mental strength are her biggest asset while Kyle tells us that he may be intimidating and strong but he has a soft spot for his two daughters. Alecia has an adventurous spirit and considers herself fearless. Scot identifies with his tribe’s strength and feels very good about his fellow tribemates.
The Brains Tribe or Chan Lo consists of Liz, Aubry, Joe, Neal, Peter, and Debbie. Liz, the quantitative strategist from New York believes that being on the Brains tribe is an advantage because they will be able to think outside of the box when they are faced with problems. Quickly Debbie points out that her tribemate, ER Doctor, Peter, looks a lot like the current President of the United States, Barack Obama. Aside from announcing that she is an excellent swimmer when the tribes were paddling to shore, Debbie reveals that her experience as a Captain in the Air Force will help her get the fire started without the use of flint. She also says she has extensive training in building shelters and surviving in the winter and summer. Oh, and did I mention she’s a chemist, and electronics expert, bartender, and red lobster server? Needless to say, there isn’t much Debbie thinks she cannot do. She pulls Neal, the owner of an ice cream business, to the side to show him the trick to making a fire without flint. Neal describes himself as eccentric but he doesn’t think he’s nearly as crazy as Debbie. Debbie pretty much insists that she can get the fire started but for some reason, she isn’t able to effectively get one going.
At the Gondol beach, the Beauty tribe gets right to work creating their shelter. The tribe works really well together pretty much immediately. Tai, the 51-year-old gardener says that his inner and outer beauty is the reason why he was placed in this particular tribe. The Beauty Tribe organically divides two groups. The three women, Michele, Anna, and Julia, work on weaving palm fronds and sizing up the men as their competition. Michele, the bartender feels like aligning with the other two women was just a natural strategic and social move. Meanwhile, the men are doing their part to build the shelter as well. There’s a moment when former Big Brother contestant, Caleb discusses tree etiquette with Tai. Tai has a soft spot in his heart for trees but Caleb doesn’t share the same sentiment. Tai doesn’t really push the issue about the tree because he knows that survivor is a social game. He, Caleb and Nick, the personal trainer, get continue working on the shelter as a team.
The weather is already taking its toll on the beauty tribe. Kyle is visually sunburned but he continues to move heavy rocks while Alecia isn’t quite as good at keeping the work going. Kyle tells us that “Blondie” (Alecia) doesn’t do anything productive. He and Scott quietly conspire against her. They plan on taking out Alecia if they are forced to go to tribal council. Actually, Kyle appears to be making alliances with pretty much everyone on the beach. Elsewhere, Cydney and Darnell began to talk about their own alliances. Darnell wants to team up with Cydney and Alecia but Cydney’s plan is to take out the other two women first. Darnell says that as long as he follows his gut, he will do fine in the game.
Although a couple of their chickens escape from their cages, The Beauty Tribe continues to work as a cohesive group. Anna, the poker player, identifies that she would be able to align with Tai and work with him and the three women moving forward. Anna seems to connect the most with Julia. Julia, the college student from Boston, reveals that she recognizes Caleb from his stint on the television show Big Brother. Caleb just wants everyone to know that he is much more than “Beast Mode Cowboy” from season 17 of the hit CBS show and plans on showing that he is mentally strong enough to do well in this environment.
Joe, the brawniest member of the Brains tribe is a 71-year-old, former FBI agent. He and Debbie are the two oldest members of the tribe and they continue working on the shelter as a team while the 4 younger members relax in the water. Neal and Liz discuss targeting Debbie for being annoying and Joe for being old and a possible liability. Peter agrees that the older tribemates should be targeting first should the tribe have to vote someone out.
Hunting for Idols
When the Beauty Tribe is out gathering wood for the shelter, Tai decides to take a moment to hang back and search for a possible Hidden Immunity Idol. Funny enough, Tai, the tree-loving gardener, takes off into the woods and quickly starts uprooting small trees and throwing them left and right as he digs around for the Idol. He does, however, apologize to the trees as he tosses them out of his away and continues his search. After a while, the rest of the tribe notices that he has disappeared and they correctly guess that he’s hunting for the idol. When they approach Tai in the woods he comes clean and asks for about 5 more minutes to continue searching. Annoyed at Tai’s sneakiness, the other tribemates identify Tai as the initial target for elimination.
At the Brains tribe beach, Aubry the social media marketer is having a hard time dealing with the elements. She is physically and mentally exhausted by the humidity and the heat to the point that she can barely function. Debbie and Neal try to comfort her and bring her fruit and water to help her feel better. Debbie correctly assesses that Aubry is more mentally exhausted from anxiety than anything else. Liz thinks that Aubry could be a liability and Neal wonders if she could be the first sign of bad things to come for the Brains tribe.
A Bug in the Ear
By night 2 at the Brawns tribe, Jennifer is dealing with turmoil of her own. A bug has crawled into her ear and started to eat the inside of her ear canal. Yikes! This is definitely the first time anything like this has happened on Survivor and it’s a little terrifying. I have to admit, at first, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal but when Jennifer was not able to sleep from the pain of the insect digging into her ear I realized that she was in real pain. The next day her tribemates are worried about whether or not Jennifer will be able to continue in the game or effectively compete in the challenges. After a while, they are able to help Jennifer remove the insect from her ear and with high spirits, the Brawn tribe is officially ready to compete.
The Immunity Challenge
The first challenge of the season involves the castaways diving underwater to collect oars to paddle a boat to land. Next the tribes have to push the boat up the beach then complete a crab-shaped puzzle to win immunity. Two tribes will be immune from elimination and the tribe in last place will have to go to tribal council and vote someone out of the game. As the Brawns tribe strategizes, Darnell insists that he should be one of the divers and the team elects Alecia to do the puzzle. Alecia seems reluctant to do be assigned with puzzle duty but someone has to do it. Anxious Aubry on the Brains tribe knows her challenge will be to not let her nerves get in the way of her doing well in the challenge. The Brains and Beauty tribe take a quick lead over the Brawn because on Darnell’s first dive under water he loses the snorkel mask. The water is much too murky to see without the mask and it makes it very difficult for the Brawn tribe to locate the paddles. Aubry, who was nervous about her doing well, has an outstanding performance as a diver for the Brains tribe. The Brawn tribe is eventually able to make up some ground on the other two tribes but ultimately arrive at the puzzle second, passing the Beauty tribe that arrives last. The Brains tribe is well ahead as the other two tribes fight for second place. The Beauty tribe is able to make a huge comeback due to Alecia’s inability to help Jennifer with the puzzle for the Brawns tribe. The Brawns tribe loses the challenge and now they have to decide who they will be voting out at the first tribal council of the season.
When the Brawn tribe arrives back at camp, both Alecia and Darnell own up to their mistakes in the challenges. Darnell tries to convince the rest of the tribe that if he is the one they choose to keep in the game, they will forever have his loyalty. Kyle assures Darnell that the plan is to vote out Alecia because according to Kyle the “can only take so much stupid.” Scot tells us that Darnell is the person he wants to vote out most because he made the biggest mistake of the challenge. Scot informs Alecia that he would like to keep her in the game but his biggest problem with her is that she seems like she is constantly scheming. Kyle and Scot ask her if she has an immunity idol but she does not give them a straight answer. Alecia thinks being manipulative will work in her favor but it may be doing more harm than good. Scot seems completely turned off when Alecia is not able to come clean about whether or not she has found the hidden immunity idol. The duo of Scot and Kyle approach Cydney with the idea of voting out Darnell and while she says that she won’t be bothered if he is the one the tribe eliminates, she tells us that her plan is to bury Alecia at tribal council and see if she can sway her other tribemates to change their minds about voting out Darnell.
As night falls the Brawn tribe arrives at the first tribal council of the season. Probst starts out the tribal council by asking about first impressions. Right off the bat, Kyle throws both Darnell and Alecia under the bus. He has no problem saying that Darnell and “Blondie” don’t live up to his expectations. Alecia defends herself by saying that she doesn’t believe she is the weakest link in the tribe. Darnell, once again, owns up to losing the mask in the challenge and contributing to the tribe to lose the challenge. He insists that although he did make a critical error, he feels like he did his best and he never gave up. Scot points out that Darnell was the one who volunteered to dive in the first place. Alecia believes tells Probst that she is a “Mental Giant” and choosing to keep her over Darnell would be the best move to keep the tribe strong. Darnell looks almost disgusted at Alecia insinuating that she is the bigger asset of the two. Cydney is also noticeably annoyed at Alecia’s claim to be mentally strong. Alecia acknowledges that in the tribe she may not have been able to help out with the puzzle and in her defense, she did tell them she wasn’t good at puzzles in the first place. Darnell tears up when he thinks of how he feels about letting the tribe down. In his life back in Chicago, he always had to fight and losing this challenge for the tribe really hurts him. Jennifer says that she empathizes with Darnell and she totally understands how he feels. There’s some whispering amongst Jennifer, Scot and Kyle that causes Probst to wonder what is going on. Kyle, Scot, and Jennifer have all been debating whether or not they are making the right decision. But as the end of tribal council nears, it’s time for the tribe to vote for the person they want to be eliminated from the game.
No one plays a hidden immunity idol so Jeff reads the votes. Darnell and Alecia receive three votes each. The tribe has to revote, this time without Darnell and Alecia. When Jeff reads the votes the second time, Darnell is eliminated in a unanimous vote. The tribe has spoken and Darnell is forced to exit the game.