Survivor: Philippines “Survivor Smacked Me in the Chops” Review

Well here we are, folks. Season twenty-freaking-five of Survivor, and we start off with a bang in tonight’s super-sized 90 minute premiere. We’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff in the last twelve years, not the least of which being some gruesome injuries and medical evacuations. That seems to be the theme of the first episode tonight, “Survivor Smacked Me in the Chops”, as we start out the episode reminiscing about some of the worst injuries that we’ve seen in the previous 24 seasons. This of course leads in to the big twist of the 25th season: three old contestants that were evacuated due to sickness or injury are returning for another chance at a million bucks!

The three returning contestants are split up into three different tribes. Michael Skupin from Survivor: Australia goes to the yellow tribe “Tandang”, Russell Swan from Survivor: Samoa goes to the blue tribe “Matsing”, and Jonathan Penner from Cook Islands and Micronesia went to the red tribe “Kalabaw”. After the tribes split up and pull the classic Survivor “Abandon ship”, we start to learn more about the rest of the contestants.

Reviewing the first episode of any Survivor season is always tough, since there’s so many new contestants and alliances to learn about. I don’t even know everybody’s names yet, and not every contestant even got a one-on-one interview! There are definitely some important beats to mention, so let’s go through the tribes, shall we? Oh man, I’m so glad this show is back!

Over on the yellow tribe, we see a pretty formidable looking alliance form with busty investment banker RC, Brazilian bombshell Abi-Marie, engineer Pete, and Michael Skupin. I really love Skupin’s strategy here, saying that he’s going to go along with the pace of the game and not try to distinguish himself from the tribe. On the other side of the coin, I’m not sure why The Facts of Life star Lisa Whelchel is keeping her identity a secret. It’s completely alienating her from the rest of the tribe, and it would really help endear her to the rest of the tribe if they heard her story about losing her money. It reminds me of Brandon Hantz keeping the secret of being Russell’s nephew a big secret. All it does is make it an even bigger deal when the truth finally comes out, and it completely breaks the trust that your tribe has in you. It turns a non-issue into a huge issue.

On the blue tribe Matsing, Russell makes a speech as soon as they get back to the camp about how he didn’t want to be a leader. However, as often happens in Survivor after somebody makes the “I don’t want to be a leader” speech, they quickly start barking out orders and upsetting the tribe. Thankfully, Russell’s boneheaded play was saved by the village idiot, Zane. Wow, what a moron. Zane quickly formed an alliance with everybody on his tribe, except he told Malcolm and Russell about it afterwards. Good idea, Zane!

There’s not a whole lot going on over on the red tribe. As a big Dodgers fan, I was pretty pumped to see MVP Jeff Kent join Survivor. He injured his knee when jumping off the boat, but he’s dealt with knee injuries his whole career, so I don’t think it will be too much of a hindrance. Jonathan Penner is really disappointing me as a third time contestant, though, as he completely blows off his tribe and blatantly searches for the immunity idol. The entire tribe is plotting about him being his back, and he should be thrilled that his team didn’t go to tribal.

So before going in to the challenge, we have the three returning players all exhibiting different strategies. Russell takes on a leadership role, Skupin fits in seamlessly into a tribe, and Jonathan has completely alienated himself from his tribe. It will be interesting to see if their approaches change at all in the next few episodes.

We then get to the great immunity/reward challenge. It was cool having a first place prize and a second place prize, as opposed to just a prize and immunity going to the winner and tribal going to the loser. I’m excited to see this continue, and I’m always a huge fan of the challenges!

Anyway, Matsing loses and Russell was not happy about it. He goes home and is in the middle of giving his pep-talk when Zane falls on his sword and tells the tribe that he’s the reason they lost. Not only that, but that he’s not made for this game and that he should be voted out. According to the rambling madman, he thought that if he threw himself under the bus people would realize how much they love him and decide to keep him. Um…what? I was terrified that there was even the slightest chance of this strategy working, but it turns out that it was just some fancy misdirection by CBS, and Zane is the first one to go home. Phew!

After 25 seasons I’m still enjoying the heck out of this show, so I can’t wait to see what happens in the coming weeks on Survivor: Philippines!

Random Thoughts:

– RIP chicken stuck in the basket. How much you guys wanna bet that PETA will be writing a strongly worded letter to CBS tomorrow for televising the drowning of a chicken?

– Do you think it was completely natural that Roxy immediately recalled Russell’s medical evacuation when Jeff asked her about her most intense Survivor memory? That just seemed a little too perfect.

– I’m not sure if I buy Lisa Whelchel being broke. I know Facts of Life is 20 years old, but it’s been in syndication for decades. I can’t believe she doesn’t have any money left.