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After weeks of drama and anticipation, Survivor: Cook Islands finally premiered last night and for once, America was treated to an hour of uninhibited segregation. For those of you who’ve spent this summer in a cave (or in the Big Brother house), Mark Burnett decided to stir things up this season and divide the tribes into four groups based on ethnicity. This meant our normal gaggle of whites, blacks, Latinos, and Asians were all kept away from each other except for the inevitable challenge when they were all pitted against each other in a battle of racial supremacy that would finally set the record straight as to who was the strongest race IN THE WORLD!!!!
Or something like that. Turns out this “social experiment” was — surprise — no big deal. The general consensus amongst most the players was that they cared more about the quality of the people on their tribes, not their skin color. A good lesson for all of us. Thanks CBS!This season’s obligatory, ostentatious intro began on board a seafaring vessel. I’m not totally down with my maritime terminology, but I believe the tribes were on a schooner of some sort, specifically, the S. S. Probst. Sure enough, our khaki-clad host was on board too, and while the cast members scurried about the deck, collecting as many supplies as possible in two minutes, Jeff yelled at us about how rigorous the game was and yada yada yada. At one point, a chicken went wandering into the ocean, causing an angry Probst to bellow, “YOU NEED TO CATCH THAT CHICKEN!!!!” All poultry MUST be accounted for! Cut to later that night, as Probst wakes up in a cold sweat and laments, “I could have saved that chicken. I could have saved it. I promised father I’d always save the chickens, but I didn’t. I didn’t. He then sobs in Julie’s arms.
When he wasn’t busy coordinating a chicken rescue mission, Probst revealed to us the twist of this season: “They’ve been divided into four very unique tribes.” Yes, unique. It’s a season of uniqueness! Let’s celebrate!
In a preemptive effort to stave off criticism, Probst then tried to play up the non-racist angle. “This is a social experiment unlike ever before,” he said, sadly stealing a page from Ashton Kutcher’s Beauty & The Geek. Maybe with any luck, Richard Rubin will appear on the island and serve up more of his HI-larious high-jinks. Actually, next season, I recommend jocks vs. geeks. That would be amazing.
Anyway, time was running out for the survivors to collect as many items as possible. Everyone was in such a rush to grab supplies that even poor Jeff nearly got knocked over. Maybe that’s why he seemed particularly prickly moments later when he barked, “Thirty seconds! LET’S GO!!!” Maybe it’s too early to say, but I think “LET’S GO!!!” is rapidly becoming the “But First” of Jeff Probst.
Finally, time expired, and as you can imagine, Jeff Probst was none too shy about announcing it. “GET OVERBOARD!!!!” he yelled as if he were about to pull out a machine gun and plow them all down. We then segued into the opening credits, featuring an incredibly unflattering slow-mo shot of a woman in leggings plummeting into the sea. Ah yes. This was going to be a good season.
After the credits, we gazed upon the Cook Islands which were presented to us with the sort of pomp and circumstance befitting a royal procession. The teams paddled to their campsites, and as they braved the waves, everyone commented on this season’s wacky segregationist twist. “When I saw the tribes were split right along racial lines, I was like ‘Oh God. This was going to be hard,’” said Latino Ozzy, who added, “I knew it would be hard because we Latinos are very lazy.” Just kidding! Having some stereotype fun! Oh, don’t get mad at me. Pretend there’s moody music in the background. Then it’ll feel like I’m a deleted scene from Crash!
Sundra (black) then noted that skin color didn’t matter (oops. Pretend I didn’t just say “black”). She observed that when it comes to surviving, it’s a “human effort.” I then expected to see a shooting rainbow star fly across the screen, followed by the words “The More You Know,” but alas, it never happened. To make myself feel better, I did watch Donald Trump’s anti-smoking PSA. Smoking sucks… the air right out of your lungs! And you’re going to need them FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE!!! I could watch that all day.
But enough tangental Trump. Over on the Asian tribe, Yul noted “on the one hand, I think it’s a great opportunity… at the same time, I’m a little worried that it might play out to caricatures and stereotypes.” Caricatures and stereotypes on reality TV? NEVER!
Finally, weighing in from the crackers was a girl named Parvati (not to be confused with Pavarotti. Or Havarti cheese, for that matter). She kind of shrugged nervously and said she wasn’t sure if all this was “kosher.” Hey, was that her way of making fun of my people, The Jews, for being excluded from this multi-cultural event? Sound the shofar! I’M STARTING A LETTER-WRITING CAMPAIGN!
Anyway, the first tribe to reach land were the Latinos, who shall heretofore be known as “Aitu,” which is Survivor-ese for “Latino.” Billy, a heavy metal musician / buffet-enthusiast, boasted that the Latinos would have an impressive advantage because they all had tropical roots. And as we all know, being born in the tropics gives you an innate ability to start fire, hunt food, and gallop through obstacle courses with ease! Just like the way my Jewish roots make me a natural bagel maker. Granted, I’ve never made one before, but if I were to try, I’d surely be wonderful!
Well, Billy alerted his tribe that he knew exactly how to make a shelter and toilet. And by that, he meant he knew how to bang branches against trees — because that’s all he did. Luckily, Ozzy stepped up and took over the shelter building. He was also the first person this season to climb up a tree and kick coconuts down to the thankful people below. Oh, what a joyful day for the Aitu folk.
Over at Puka (Asian peeps), an old hippie dude named Cao Boi (pronounced Cowboy) began making Asian jokes right off the bat. “No more Asian jokes!” one girl demanded. But Cao Boi could not be stopped.
“All that rice!” he said, referring to Puka’s inability to paddle quickly or something like that.
“Don’t make stereotypes!” the girl then responded. It was so Don Cheadle and Jennifer Esposito. I wanted to hand over an academy award right then and there.
Anyway, this Cao Boi dude was actually pretty funny. He noted that he’s not first generation Asian nor is he an immigrant. He was a straight up refugee from Vietnam, and he liked nothing more than to play with Asian stereotypes. “Nobody suspects these little people with slanted eyes to see anything… people always underestimate the Asians,” he said. I can guarantee that my friend Eunnok was probably clapping enthusiastically at this point, possibly waving a flag.
Well, with his ethnic humor and hippie mentality, Cao Boi quickly became the crazy old coot that the young’ns can’t stand. This wasn’t a surprise to him though. He explained that he’s never fit in with the Asian community because of his hippie looks. He just doesn’t match the perception of the white-collar Asian male, he commented. I wonder if he’s a good driver?
Over at Hiki, the black tribe, everyone felt a desire to “represent.” A woman named Rebecca expressed pressure to show that “black people do swim. Yes, black people do know how to get on a boat and paddle. I mean, we don’t just run track.” Let’s just say, it’s a good thing that Osten wasn’t on this cast.
Unfortunately, what Hiki “represented” was total disorganization. It was a classic case of too many cooks in the kitchen, causing an affable guy named Nate told us, “Black people don’t like being told what to do.” Don’t perpetuate stereotypes to me, NATE! I am trying to learn and grow from this experience like a mighty daffodil! Don’t wilt me with your caricatures!
Luckily, a hefty man named Sekou stepped up, or so he said, and led the way towards building a shelter. Unfortunately, the little hut looked like it would probably buckle under the weight of a single raindrop. Once again — it’s been about six years since the original Survivor aired. You’d think people would bone up on this stuff before coming on.
Finally, we headed over to the Raro tribe, home to the white folk. Spirits were high over here, especially since the group had managed to procure two of those chickens Jeff Probst had gotten so riled up about. The guys stuffed the chicken in a dark crate, and then everyone assembled to pat themselves on the back. “I think we should have a coconut and toast to our victory,” one girl said, never really clarifying what victory she was referring to. Maybe their triumph over the chickens? Bravo indeed!
Nevertheless, the Raro tribe did a little toast to “the whiteys,” and just when everything seemed to be all fine and dandy, a dreadlocked girl named Jessica (or Flicka — her nickname) decided to lift up a crate, and oops! There go the chickens! Yes, those birds went running out of there so fast it was like we were at the poultry Olympics. Everyone chased the chickens into the jungle, but it was not meant to be. Flicka had fucka’d up, raising the ire of everyone, particularly one surly fella named Jonathan. He’d never forget, he said. NEVER!
We then went to commercial, and when we returned, we were greeted by a giant moray eel which graciously opened its cavernous mouth and tried to bite off the camera. Clearly, it wasn’t a fan of racial Survivor.
Anyway, there was excitement over at Hiki (black tribe) as the ladies found a giant barrel of water, which was then followed by some general female bonding. Well, at least female bonding for two people. Rebecca and Sundra instantly clicked, what with them both being from New York, but Stephannie (with two n’s, dammit!) was left out of the lovefest. Never a good position to be in.
A little later on, we watched the traditional exercise in futility: the Survivor fire-making sequence. Once again, I couldn’t help wondering why no one had boned up on their fire research. Time and time again, it’s always the same “push one stick against another,” and to this day, I’m pretty sure we’ve never seen anyone successfully execute this technique. There’s got to be a better way, yes?
Well, Stephannie may have been annoyed that she wasn’t part of the Rebecca and Sundra’s growing friendship, but she was even more furious that Sekou, the so-called leader, was taking breaks from camp chores nonstop. “I’m not going to say anything more to him right now because I’m in a state of piss-tation!” she declared, coining my favorite new phrase of the week.
Meanwhile, over at the whiteys, everyone cozied up together in the shelter, huddling close for warmth. The group complained about the frigid temperatures, but at the same time, the men all seemed to be shirtless. I’ll just have to assume their vestments were still damp and unpleasant. Otherwise, they’re all idiots (which is not out of the question yet). “This is officially a cuddle puddle,” one girl announced. Later, she found out that her cuddle puddle was merely just a pool of monkey urine.
Well, the temperature may have been cool, but things were certainly getting hot. We learned that pretty Candace seemed to like hunky Adam, and hunky Adam seemed to like pretty Candace. The first signs of a new Survivor showmance? Possibly. We’ll keep you updated!
The next morning, over at the Asian tribe, Brad (who I think might go to my gym) complained of a throbbing headache, but silly him. It wasn’t a headache! It was just a case of bad wind! According to Cao Boi, Brad’s pain was caused by a build up of “bad wind” which he proceeded to pull out by essentially squishing Brad’s face like a stress toy. I kind of wanted to laugh at it all, but then I felt badly since this was some sort of Vietnamese/cultural/homeopathic/Eastern medicine thing. Either way, when Cao Boi was done breaking wind (chuckle), Brad’s face was left with a nasty red welt in between the eyes, or as Cao Boi called it, an “indicator.” He assured Brad that it would fade away after a day or so (you know, the way MOST blemishes do), and I couldn’t help feeling like he was making up all this bad wind stuff on the spot.
When the other tribe mates snickered at Brad’s face, Cao Boi explained to us that they just didn’t understand. They had been raised around antibiotics and whatnot and had lost their Asian roots. Suddenly, Yul appeared on screen with what looked like a spontaneous mole on his nose (or it could have been a beetle). Let’s hope he rid himself of it quickly because as we’ve quickly discovered, his tribe has no tolerance for facial imperfections!
After the commercial break, it was time for our first immunity challenge of the season, and here’s a shocker: it was an overly elaborate and convoluted obstacle/puzzle course. But before we learned the rules, Probst asked Yul about the chicken he had supposedly left the ship with. Turns out that Jonathan over on the white tribe had stolen it inadvertently. Typical white man’s greed.
Anyway, today big challenge required the tribes to assemble a “puzzle boat,” get seven braces to keep the puzzle boat in one piece, paddle out into the ocean with the puzzle boat, light a torch, return to shore, remove the braces, and race to the starting mat. But wait! There’s more! At the starting mat, teams would find four puzzles in the form of North, South, East, and West. Once the puzzles were solved, teams then had to use the braces as ladder rungs, climb up a wall, placing the solved compass puzzle pieces in designated spots all along, and then light a flag on top. First three tribes with all its members at the top with a lit flag would win immunity. They’d also receive fire for their camps, and the first team to complete the challenge would get a fire-making kit. Probst then revealed that there was one more twist, which had been written on a teeny-tiny piece of paper — but he wouldn’t reveal it until after the challenge. Oooh! Maybe there was a fifth tribe! Eskimos!
Well, right off the bat, the Latinos took an early lead putting together their puzzle boat, which they had in the water in no time. The Asians held a close second place, followed by the whites, and then the blacks. Sadly, the Hiki tribe was unable to put together its puzzle boat, possibly the easiest part of the challenge. Jeff Probst soon scolded them, yelling, “LET’S GO!!!” I love when he turns into a gym teacher!
Meanwhile, in the water, the white people’s raft began to fall apart, and for a moment, it looked like Hiki was closing the gap. But alas, they were still quite far behind. Aitu and Puka arrived at the puzzle station at nearly the same time, and sure enough, the Asians rocked this section and moved ahead. For those of you keeping score, what we’ve learned so far is that Latinos are great at building rafts, Asians are great at puzzles, black people suck at water stuff, and white people steal from minorities. Yay!
(And by the way, if you’re about to write me a nasty email, save yourself the energy. It was a joke! I feel like I’m going to have to include disclaimers all season long).
Well, the Asian tribe easily made it to the top of their ladder first, securing immunity and a fire kit for themselves. They were followed by the Latinos, leaving the whites and the blacks to battle it out. Side note: the NAACP said it was going to reserve judgment of Survivor: Cook Islands until after the show airs. Something tells me they won’t be too happy with this scenario.
Anyway, the Raro folk struggled with their puzzles (obvious misdirection), but sure enough, they zipped ahead to their ladder first. But wait! They had forgotten their puzzle pieces! Silly white people! I think we were supposed to believe that this challenge was close enough that Hiki might just come from behind and win, but sadly, it wasn’t. Raro comfortably claimed the third immunity spot, which meant that this first time out, the blacks proved to be the weakest race of the week. Damn this show for perpetuating the stereotype that black people can never put together puzzle boats, secure them with braces, paddle out to a buoy and back, race to a puzzle, put it together, assemble a ladder, climb up high, and light a torch!
However, there was good news for Hiki. Probst opened up his dainty note and revealed that the losing tribe could send any one person from the other three tribes to Exile Island (yes!).
“That’s what I’m talking about!” said Nate proudly, clearly forgetting that he was about to face ELIMINATION.
Jeff Probst then reminded us that the hidden immunity idol would be back, and let there be no confusion: he said it would be good through the final four. Well, who to send to Exile? In a striking move, Nate and Sekou suddenly removed themselves from their tribe, conferred, and decided to send Jonathan away as payback for his chicken thievery. Our curious host then commented, “It was interesting to note that the two guys came out here and made the decision, and the women stayed back.” Probst LOVES social psychology!
After the break, we saw Exile Island for the first time this season, and it looked even more bare than the last time around. Jonathan wasn’t sure why he had been picked, but he surmised, “I think it was because I took the Asian guy’s chicken that the African American guys chose me.” Actually, that’s exactly what they said when they picked you. Well deduced!
Jonathan then received his first idol clue, which cryptically said, “To make a top grade, stand in a line. If the Southern isle vanishes, a salvation you’ll find.” I love how mysterious these clues start off. By the third week, they’re always like “Look under the rock.”
Over at Hiki, it was time for the game to truly begin. Sekou and Nate quickly noticed the way Sundra and Rebecca had bonded together. The guys said they’d be stupid if they were to gang up on them, only because they’d need all the brute force they could get. However, the girls were quite eager to get rid of the boys. And so began a battle of the sexes amidst our battle of the races. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Probst!
It became very obvious that Stephannie was now the swing vote in this tribe. Sekou tried to win her over to the men’s side by saying that if she were to stay with the women, she’d be the third wheel and out in two weeks (unlike if she were aligned with the men?). He then made an even more appealing pitch by saying, “When I build a fire, y’all better keep it going because y’all boot me out there, there aint’ going to be no more fire.” Stephannie quickly reminded him that he hadn’t actually built a fire yet, but whatever. Details shmetails. I love how Sekou basically just tried to sell himself on skills he only potentially had.
The gang then headed up to Tribal Council, which, this year, was housed in an old pirate ship of some sort. Nothing too exciting happened at this first Tribal Council. Rebecca noted that Sekou had stepped up as a leader right away, and then Nate praised his tribe for having a “beautiful spirit.” Probst tried to work his instigative magic by noting that Stephannie was the odd man out, but it didn’t really amount to anything.
Finally, it was time to vote. Sekou wrote down Sundra’s name, although he spelled it “Sandra,” and Rebecca wrote down Sekou’s name, although she spelled it “Seko.” Something tells me we’re going to be in for a lot of misspellings this season. When it came time for Stephannie to vote, all we saw was her writing an “S,” which is Mark Burnett’s favorite trick in the book. He loves nothing more than to fake us out with the ambiguous letters.
Well, no surprise on the voting: two for Sundra, two for Sekou. But what of Stephannie’s swing vote? SEKOU.
And just like that, we had our first Survivor casualty of the season. Which race will persevere next week? I guess we’ll just have to tune in to find out!
What did you think about the premiere? Was it a whole lot of controversy over nothing really? Or did this absolutely scandalize your soul?