Survivor: Cambodia – Episode 1: “Second Chance”

20 people you vaguely remember come back and manage to be slightly less annoying this time. Except Vytas. Gee, I wonder who goes home?

I’m excited about this season, because this is my first proper all-star season of Survivor. I’ve yet to watch All-Stars or Heroes Vs Villains, so at best I’ve only ever watched seasons with half a cast of returnees before. As I said in my season preview, a few of these people were previously unknown to me because I hadn’t seen their respective seasons (Peih-Gee, Monica, Stephen) but fortunately my boyfriend has watched every season – several of them more than once – and so was able to give me a quick primer on each of them.

What’s interesting to me about having a group full of returnees is to look at the strategies they all deploy. In theory, this should be a cast full of people who are students of the game and turn up ready to get going on day one (bear in mind that this is a cast that contains Keith Nale, that’s why I said “in theory”), so I’m intrigued to see how a group of 20 type-a personality players doesn’t just implode immediately.

The answer to that, as far as I can tell, is not to draw attention to yourself, but to quietly try to lock in your alliance as quickly as possible. (I’m sure the groundwork for most of these alliances was laid before the cast had even been confirmed, but at least everyone had the good grace to pretend that they were starting afresh.) In general, it was the alpha-male types who flocked together here, presumably because alpha-types are likely to get targeted early on in an all-star season, so by all joining forces they at least gave themselves a fighting chance. It was interesting to hear people like Terry Deitz straight-up admit that they knew the tactics of yore (be a challenge beast and immunity-blitz your way as far into the game as possible) aren’t going to work any more – partly because the game is very different now, and partly because Terry isn’t as young as he used to be.

Mostly I’m intrigued by people’s attempts to reinvent themselves: Spencer is keeping a low profile, not doing too much scheming, not falling out with anyone, just sorting out alliances and trying not to draw attention to himself; Kass is embracing her earth child and weaving palm fronds; Shirin hasn’t completely stripped off or told any stories about animal sex. Everyone’s playing a waiting game: stand back, and wait for someone else to fuck up first, then go after them.

It’s also been fun to see people who didn’t get much airtime last time latching on to this second chance with both hands: Kelley Wentworth got more screentime in this episode than she got in the whole of San Juan Del Sur, craftily wandering off to hunt for an idol under the legitimate guise of searching for firewood (and actually fetching some firewood while she did it to maintain her cover story). Of course, she was to discover that the idols work differently this year: all you’ll find in the usual idol hiding place is a clue that will tell you where the idol is hidden at the immunity challenge, where you’ll have to be brave enough to snatch it in front of everybody. Kelley almost missed her chance, positioning herself in the wrong place to grab it and then finding herself standing agonisingly close but unsure if she had enough cover to go for it. In the end, in a beautifully-filmed sequence, she lunged and tucked the idol into her shorts without anyone noticing, so well done for that. I like this new twist on the idol so far: it adds an extra layer of jeopardy and hopefully means that people will have to really earn them rather than stumbling across them. I’m sure it’ll wear thin eventually, but for now I’m enjoying it.

Compare and contrast Kelley to Stephen Fishbach, who went off looking for an idol so conspicuously that back at camp, Kimmi cheerfully announced to everyone in earshot that he must be off looking for an idol. Stephen did not receive a positive edit in this episode, which I’m assuming is because the producers couldn’t resist the urge to make someone who makes a living out of telling people how to play Survivor look incredibly inept at it. Just ask Max. However, Stephen’s edit paled in comparison to Abi-Maria’s, as she repeatedly insisted that she’d learned from her mistakes and wasn’t going to be as hot-tempered as last time, only to fly into a rage when her bag (and the bracelet) within went missing, ranting about it to anyone who would listen, eventually finding it in Peih-Gee’s bag, then ranting to anyone who would listen about how Peih-Gee PROBABLY ISN’T A THIEF so she’s giving her the benefit of the doubt. Note to Abi: this is not how the benefit of the doubt worse.

However, nobody fucked up their opening salvo more than Vytas, who seemed to completely overestimate how charming he actually was and spent his first three days totally skeeving everyone out and using yoga as an excuse to press himself up against everybody. I mean, when even Shirin finds your behaviour socially tone-deaf, you must know you’ve gone too far? I think Vytas thought he could get away with it because he was liked, or even just because Abi was so loathed, but in the end the other members of Ta Keo decided that it’s better to deal with an annoyance who doesn’t repeatedly press their genitals into you, and voted him out while Abi survived to irritate another day. It was the right choice.

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