I’m still trying to decide whether or not it’s a good thing that the first image I associate with Survivor: Guatemala is vomit. Seriously, we’ve seen a lot of barfing on reality TV, and one beef-laden episode of Road Rules: Xtreme featured nubile, young MTV stars puking their guts out for minutes on end. But the season premiere of Survivor showcased so much wretching (and the accompanying sound effects), that I’m pretty sure Mark Burnett has successfully won the crown of Vomit King. What’s that, you say? This season is supposed to be about Gary Hogeboom, the ex-NFL star masquerading as a landscaper? Well, until he upchucks on some shrubbery or perhaps a passing monkey, his presence means nothing to us. The big premiere started with exotic images of Guatemala. Ooh! So entrancing! And just in case we weren’t sure how entrancing and mysterious Guatemala is, Mark Burnett was sure to overload us with as much lingering fog as he could possibly cram into a ten second segment. Soon, we came upon Jeff Probst who stood amongst ancient ruins with his typically proud smirk. “These ruins are a monument to a once powerful and sophisticated civilization: The Mayans,” he said, adding, “And now I will desecrate them like so many white people before me.”
Okay, Probst didn’t say that, but he did give us a brief history lesson on the Mayans, concluding, “The Maya Tribe thrived and then mysteriously vanished.” And wouldn’t you if you realized your architectural triumphs would someday be used as the backdrop for a reality show?
Nevertheless, we then caught up with our new survivors who were presently walking through the jungle. Hey, what happened to the usual jump-off-the-boat montage? Worst Survivor opening EVER! Luckily, the wildlife footage was as thrilling as ever as we saw a scorpion attacking a giant spider. You know that Mark Burnett jizzed himself when he saw that. Are scorpions the new go-to critters to start the show? Surely we can’t lose the sight of crabs scampering on a beach? Man, this new season has really jumped the shark.
Well, after Probst yelled “Thirty-nine days, eighteen people, ONE SURVIVOR!!!!” from atop a Mayan temple (does the winner get to rule an ancient civilization?), we then watched the opening credits and returned to our hikers who were still trekking through the Guatemalan jungle. Look, there’s the tall guy from the NFL. And there’s a cute, actress type. And another. And another. Oh, and hey! It’s Artie Lang! Oh wait, no, it was just Judd.
Anyway, the contestants all reached some Mayan ruins where Jeff Probst eagerly awaited. He said that each tribe would get some basic Mayan tools, as well as one former Survivor star. A brief tremor of fear pulsated through my body as I half expected Rupert to appear out of nowhere and let loose one of his signature (READ: annoying) growls. Luckily, Rupe was nowhere to be found. Instead, Pulau’s favorite set of losers, Bobby Jon and Stephenie, appeared atop the ruins and awkwardly descended down to their new tribes. Yes, these were the tools Jeff spoke of, and it’s really too bad I like them so much because otherwise this would have been ground zero for any number of “tool” jokes. Still might happen. I’m a bit tired as I write this though, so unfortunately, my highest level of wit would be, “Bobby Jon’s a tool!” As you can see, not my best work.
Well, Stephenie joined the Yaxha tribe (pronounced “Ya-SHAH!”), much to the delight of Ivy League student Brian who could barely contain his excitement. Brian LOVES Stephenie! Bobby Jon, meanwhile, was sent to Nakum where the abs-tastic Danni commented, “A man is just stronger than a woman is.” Meanwhile, Gloria Steinhem is bleeding from her ears.
Danni may have liked Bobby Jon, but not everyone was such a fan. Brandon, the creepy farmer guy who may or may not have killed a family of four earlier that day, noted that BJ was kind of, well, “dumb.” Hey now. Just because Bobby Jon is a little rough around the edges and just because he tends to literally beat himself up over failures and just because he enjoys the occasional snot rocket doesn’t mean that Bobby Jon is dumb. Just caveman-ish.
Anyway, with both tribes newly assembled, Probst revealed the first challenge: an eleven mile race through the jungle. Listen, Mark Burnett. We know you love your Eco-Challenge, but these poor people aren’t equipped for this madness. Whatever happened to the simple days of swimming out to pontoons on the water? Nevertheless, Jeffy detailed all the hardships these people would have to face — poisonous snakes, scorpions, crocodiles, not to mention the dense terrain. Honestly, I was already exhausted, and the race hadn’t even started yet (and I was sitting on a couch).
Well, Jeff did his little “Survivors ready? GO!” thing with his arms and everyone went scampering for some supplies. Literally, Judd was already drenched in sweat after twenty feet. This was gonna get nasty. Brandon, meanwhile, may have looked like a creepy (or creepier) version of Tim Blake Nelson, but that didn’t stop him from being the first player to show a sense of humor: “Last time I took an eleven mile hike was, oh, NEVER.” And Brandon takes the lead as my favorite Survivor (a title previously held by Lydia, solely for her squat, peppy appearance).
Anyway, the two tribes hit the jungle which meant huge opportunities for wildlife cutaways. My early fave was watching a bunch of ants march around with giant leaves. It was fairly metaphorical. Plus, it looked cool. Anyway, like a hapless ant that had dropped its leaf, Yaxha found itself trailing relatively early on. Somewhere around here we met Rafe (not to be confused with Ralph Fiennes) who spoke in a soft, hippy voice that was the utter definition of the word “pansy.” Lo and behold, he was a wilderness guide. Of course. How could I have thought he was anything else? I guess his vaguely Woody Allen-ish appearance had me thinking that maybe he was just a neurotic filmmaker.
We also met the tall Gary who played in the NFL for eleven years; although, he’s not going to tell anyone that little secret. To the campers, he’s just Gary Hawkins the landscaper. “If somebody does recognize me, I’m just gonna say… that’s not me.” Good plan, Gary! Good plan!
Anyway, Gary may have been “a landscaper” but he sure stepped up to lead the group. Almost like… a quarterback would. Cut to Gary calling audibles and passing the compass for fifty yards.
Meanwhile, over on Nakum, the survivors were trekking through the underbrush with newfound enthusiasm. Judd in particular was feeling full of brio as he pushed through the thicket: “Here I come, baby! Coming full force at ya!” Yes. I’m sure those plants were really intimidated.
Actually, maybe Judd was onto something. Turns out the plants were pretty dangerous as Blake quickly found out when a thorny branch snapped over his shoulder. “Thorny branch?” you say. Yes. When I say thorny, I mean this piece of wood was like the shark of trees. It made medieval torture objects look like loofa sponges. Luckily nurse practitioner Margaret was on hand to save the day as she plucked the thorns from Blake’s injured shoulder. If ever there was a season to have a nurse on hand, this would be it. You know, the one time I met Jeff Probst, he said I should be on Survivor. This is exactly why I told him NEVER.
Eventually, night fell on our exhausted hikers, and with no light, the compass was rendered useless. So what else to do but set up camp and go to sleep? Here’s the thing. I would already be freaking out to simply walk through the Guatemalan jungle during the day (scorpions, snakes, spiders the size of tennis balls), but I say hell to the no for SLEEPING in it! I mean, yeah, the idea of entering a world of slumber while monkeys dance above your head sounds all whimsical or fun, but I would be petrified. These people are officially nuts. And by the way, I hope the poor cameramen get paid a handsome amount.
Well, turns out going to sleep wasn’t the easiest thing of all. First off, Blake quickly devolved into a vomiting mess as he reeled from the pain of those thorns. And just in case we couldn’t imagine well enough what an old-fashioned barf sounded like, the producers were sure to ratchet up the sound effects so we could hear what sounded like Roger Ebert purging a gallon of milk. Needless to say, it was lovely.
Amy, meanwhile, explained to us that she kept hearing noises that reminded her of Predator. Yes, because I’m sure there’s an alien stalking them in the jungle right now. Oddly enough, the next day Cindy had another cinematic comparison: “It’s like the movie Seabiscuit.” Except, you know, without the horses and Tobey Maguire and stuff. So basically, this season of Survivor is a mix of Predator and Seabiscuit. Worst movie EVER. Or actually… maybe it’s the best.
Anyway, the thankless trek continued in the morning, and as both tribes caught up with each other, the race became more intense. That is, until slowpoke Lydia caused her tribe to slow down to a snail’s pace. If it was any consolation though, Nakum was hampered too. Out of nowhere, a dehydrated Bobby Jon suddenly felt cold as ice and cramped up. Again, goddess Margaret saved him, and again, I remembered why I would never try out for this show.
Despite this setback, Nakum still reached their canoe first (the final part of the journey) and paddled out across a lake or a river or whatever to their destination. Once they arrived, Judd had a “premature evacuation” (as Brandon called it) and jumped into some mud where he sloshed around for a few minutes. I really didn’t want to make a Judd/piggy reference, but seriously, he makes it too easy…
As for the Bobby Jon Cramp Update: the alert level was at red. The poor guy literally could not even move his legs, which was why it was so nice of his tribe mates to simply watch as he struggled out of the canoe. Nevertheless, he did eventually overcome the cramping, and the team surged towards the finish line where — what the? — Jeff Probst was already waiting. He was already there?? Are you saying there was a faster, easier way to get to this place? Not fair!
Well, since Nakum arrived first, they won the nicer campgrounds located in (archeologists, anthropologists — close your ears) Mayan ruins. Ah yes. A fitting tribute to a once great civilization. After the commercial break, we finally got to see those favorite Survivor traditions: building the shelter, getting the water, etc. Unfortunately, since we’d spent so much time on the damn hike, we didn’t get to see those most beloved of pastimes: people trying to start a fire and everyone giving the lazy girl passive-aggressive glares. Instead, it was Rah Rah Rah! in Guatemala. Stephenie exulted: “Finally, I’m on a tribe that’s got as much heart and determination as me!” Yeah, that’s the way everyone’s like on the first day. I give Stephenie seven days before she’s hating on her group. Ah, but she wasn’t alone in her optimism. “All we had left was, you know, this Yaxha spirit!” said Rafe happily. Go back to Brat Camp, Mountain Wind.
And then the sequence that had America twittering (or booting) Friday morning: the Survivor: Guatemala Tournament of Vomit! Yes, over on Nakum, everyone was booting. Well, not so much everyone. Pretty much just the guys. Or actually, just Blake, Jim, Bobby Jon, and Judd. Either way, four guys throwing up was about four times as much as anyone else on network TV this week; so it was pretty impressive. I don’t know if I need to describe this bile-filled scene, but needless to say, imagine the last time you barfed. Now imagine it louder and on your TV. Yeah, that’s what it was like.
Meanwhile, Bobby Jon continued to struggle with dehydration, and as he lay on the ground on what could have been his deathbed, his eyes actually rolled back into his head. You know what? He doesn’t need water. He needs an exorcism. Luckily, Mother Theresa, I mean, Margaret was able to help him out, and just when we thought things were getting better, BAM! More vomiting. I think I need to put a tarp around my television.
Once the always welcomed boot montage had run its course, we then moved onto the immunity challenge, which was more of the traditional, paddle in a boat and carry heavy things variety. Basically, the tribes had to hop in boats, paddle out around a buoy, return to the beach, and then haul the boat up to a certain point on the beach using ancient Mayan techniques. Yada yada yada… first tribe to light their fire wins immunity.
Well, the first part of the challenge went on without incident, but once those boats came back ashore, man, it was just painful to watch. First the boat rolled over Stephenie’s foot. Then Margaret got hit in the gut. Then Dannie took a nasty spill and got caught under a log. Then Cindy’s foot got caught under a log. Then Jim’s biceps snapped. Okay, who doesn’t get hurt on this season? I already have about ten bruises just from watching these people.
In the end, Stephenie’s Yaxha won immunity, meaning that for the first time, the former Ulong member would not have to go to Tribal Council (yes, there were tears). Bobby Jon, meanwhile, took the loss hard and punched himself in the face. Hey Bobby Jon? Why you punching yourself? Why you punching yourself?
As for Jim, well, let’s just say a snapped biceps is not what I call a savory injury. The old guy was sidelined in a makeshift sling, and even though he had the aid of Jesus-ette, a.k.a. Margaret, not even a nurse could make a biceps magically repair itself. Judd, however, had rebounded from his earlier hurling as he announced, “I’m really starting to adapt to this jungle. Jungle Judd!” Hmmm… I was gonna suggest “Jackass Judd”, but I guess Jungle Judd works too.
Later, the girls of Nakum talked about all the ailing guys, which was amusing, but seriously, this was just a lame attempt to create some misdirection and suspense. If Ulong dumped muscle-clad Jeff with his ankle, there’s no way Nakum’s gonna keep Jim — the old guy with the gimpy arm in a SLING.
Finally, it was time for Tribal Council — also known as “Go F*ck Yourselves, Archeologists!” Yes, this season’s TC was held amidst even more Mayan ruins, which were beautifully lit with various torches and candles and the radiance of Mark Burnett’s power. It wasn’t a particularly compelling elimination, and for the most part, it felt like Jeffy was mailing in his performance. There was a brief moment of testiness though when Probst asked Judd if he thought he was in trouble once he began throwing up. “Not at all,” replied Judd, “I mean, I was only on my back for like an hour at most. I mean, I got right over it. I puked, and I got up, and I went and do [sic] what I had to do. I mean, I don’t know what to tell you. I’m ready to do a backflip if you want me to. I mean, I feel great!”
“Wow, I just asked a simple question!” responded a smiling but testy Jeff. Chuckles were had by all, but honestly, had Jeff not been so sullen that night, Judd certainly would have received quite bashing from Jeffy-Boy.
Well, eventually it was time to vote, and this was a no-brainer. Everyone picked Jim across the board (we didn’t even see anyone’s parchment because it was such an obvious blowout). The old guy happily had his torch snuffed out and so ended this first episode of Survivor: Guatemala. It wasn’t great. It wasn’t terrible. We’ll just have to see how it develops. I did enjoy Jim’s message from his wife though. That was worth the price of admission.
What did you think?