It's A New Season Of Survivor! What Could Possibly Kaoh Rong?

A new season of Survivor kicks off with an all-new cast and a recycled tribe-dividing gimmick.

It's A(nother) Holiday In Cambodia

"Scorching temperatures and stifling humidity will punish the body," says Jeff Probst by way of welcoming us to Kaoh Rong, Cambodia. It's not only going to be hot as balls out here, he says; there are also going to be lots of fantastic opportunities for hi-def close-ups of festering sores and oozing cuts; all in all, this promises to be the "most grueling thirty-nine days in Survivor history."

I guess that superlative is to make up for the fact that this is hardly the most original season in Survivor history. As we did just four seasons ago, we're dividing these contestants into Brains, Beauty, and Brawn; also as we did just four seasons ago, we're not really hiding the fact that some of these people had to get shoehorned into wherever they'd fit regardless of dominant trait. So let's meet the contenders. There are traditional Cambodian names for these tribes, but until there's some kind of meaningful tribe shuffle (and maybe not even then), nobody's going to use them, so let's just call them what they are.

On the Brains tribe (in blue), ER doctor Peter says he has a hard time being humble and hiding his intelligence, especially in the company of idiots. Token kooky middle-aged lady Debbie says she's definitely going to be right at home on Team Brains: "Puzzles lie down for me like lovers."

The Brawn tribe features former NBA player Scot Pollard, who says his experience pushing people around should be helpful in Survivor. (No word on whether being able to imitate a Dikembe Mutombo laugh will also be helpful, but he does a credible one.) Tatted-up bounty hunter Jason announces that he's ruthless and will do anything for a paycheck.

On the Beauty tribe, of course, everyone thinks their looks will be their weapon of choice, especially pro poker player Anna and personal trainer Nick.

Everyone is given two minutes to snag supplies from a boat, and the usual chaotic scramble ensues. Naturally, to add to the chaos there are a few live chickens, several of which attempt to make a break for it. Fortunately, good ol' boy/Big Brother alum Caleb, who's been assigned to the Beauty tribe, is there to rescue them.

Let's Get To Know The Tribes, Part 1

On Brawn Beach, everyone gets to know each other. Cydney's a professional bodybuilder. Darnell's a postal worker. If the CBS website is any indication, willowy real estate broker Alecia has been assigned to this tribe mainly on the strength of the fact that her father is a boxing promoter, but she promises she'll surprise people. Scot says he feels good about the group, and then immediately demonstrates why he didn't make the cut for the Brains tribe when he miscounts the six people on his tribe.

The Brains Tribe, too, socializes while they set up camp. Quantitative strategist Liz feels great about HER tribe. It's noted that Peter looks a bit like Barack Obama, leading him to a five-minute monologue about how his presidential good looks will probably be a huge asset. Ice cream mogul Neal says that people will underestimate him because of his sweet ice-cream-print pants. Debbie starts barking orders, proving that people have already underestimated her ability to never shut up.

Meanwhile, at Beauty Beach, Caleb can't figure out what an old Asian guy is doing on the beauty tribe, and starts idly hacking at a nearby tree while he mulls it over. Tai, the old Asian guy in question -- he just happens to be a gardener by trade -- takes a little umbrage at the wanton destruction of plant life. "I'm murdalizing this tree," says Caleb gleefully. "The good thing is that it doesn't have arms so it can't hit back." Tai takes a step back and a couple of deep breaths. He voices over that if he can survive escaping Vietnam in a tiny boat as a youngster, these idiots should be a piece of cake.

Let's Get To Know The Tribes, Part 2

Brawn Beach. Lifting! Grunting! It's very, very hot. Jason's got a sunburn because he worked first and asked questions later. Alecia, the token least-brawny person on the tribe, has already drawn Jason's ire because she doesn't do anything, and it's fairly easy to get Scot and construction worker Jennifer to agree that Alecia should be the first target. He's also working an angle with Cydney since, he says, you can't have too many angles.

Darnell and Cydney also make a deal. Darnell suggests Alecia as a third alliance member, but Cydney has a gut feeling that she doesn't like Alecia. Darnell offers that he has gut feelings too: "And right now, the gut's telling me to go to the bathroom." He proceeds to wade out into the water, drop trou, and break one off in full view of everyone: another historic first for Survivor.

The Beauty tribe is chasing their chickens around the beach after they've gotten out for what appears to be the fifth or sixth time. Nick bitches that they're burning more calories chasing the chickens than the chickens will provide. After Tai figures out a way to keep the chickens tethered and subdued, Anna is impressed by his regard for all living creatures, and decides she wants Tai on her team. She and sorority girl Julia discuss who else they'd like to work with, and finally someone recognizes Caleb from Big Brother, although given that the conclusion they draw is that his previous reality TV experience implies he is good at making alliances based on the fact that he made a nine-person one, it's clear none of them watched his season very closely.

On Brains, we finally get to meet the rest of the crew. As a former FBI agent, 71-year-old Joe says his people skills will be helpful. Neal and Liz share first impressions. They are annoyed by Debbie's constant braggadocio. Neal is worried that old guy Joe, who has the best body of anybody in Survivor maybe ever, is going to slow them down. He suggests the four youngsters band together.

Let's Get To Know The Tribes And Also A Really Gross Crawly Thing

Back at Beauty, Tai sneaks off and looks for a hidden idol, and for a guy who claimed deep respect for all life just a few minutes ago, he sure doesn't seem to have a problem uprooting any sapling he thinks might have something buried underneath it. He's also not at all subtle in his search, so Anna and Nick bust him almost immediately, and everyone concludes that he is not to be trusted.

Hey, did you know it's hot out here? Over on the Brains tribe, the elements claim their first victim in nerdy Aubry, who appears to be suffering from some combination of heat exhaustion and panic attack. Debbie offers a hug and some water, but Debbie is pretty much the least nurturing person ever to go on this show, so she combines her ministrations with a few eye-rolling glares at the camera. Neal, the second-least nurturing person ever to go on this show, expresses concern that Aubry is a harbinger of the sort of batshit craziness that afflicted the FIRST Brains tribe.

As night falls on Brawn, Jennifer gets a bug in her ear -- not a unique occurrence on this show, except that this is a literal bug in her literal ear. It's evidently quite painful. Try not to think of Chekov in The Wrath Of Khan as Jen's wails take us to commercial.

Friends, Tribemates, Countrymen: Lend Me Your Ears

Jennifer and her ear have survived the night, but her ear is now bleeding, and she claims the constant burrowing sounds kept her awake and in pain for hours. Everyone's worried, naturally: if Jen gets taken out of the game, they'll be down in the numbers and more likely to lose the challenge.

But let's get some shots of that ear, shall we? The bug gets bored and obligingly climbs out for its closeup, and all of this is, of course, lovingly rendered in HD -- crawly critter, caked blood, dirty ear. Hope you weren't eating! Eventually, the offending creature crawls far enough out that Scot can snag it and crush it, and Jen undergoes an immediate and complete recovery.

You should watch the thrilling conclusion to the saga of Jen's ear critter, but you can skip the immunity challenge, which, like all Survivor challenges of late, involves a physical component (paddling a boat) followed by a puzzle (a crab).

Beauty takes an initial lead with Brains close behind. Probst reminds them that it will take some brawn to get the boat into its dock, but all the brawn in the world is not helping the Brawn tribe get their paddles, especially since Darnell dropped the provided goggles within the first thirty seconds of the challenge. Clever editing tries to make Brawn look competitive, but it's pretty obvious that it's really, really not, especially once the players get to their puzzle box and Alecia basically stands around like a dead weight while Jen works on it by herself. Frankly, the bug in Jen's ear would be doing a better job. Scot tags in, but by that point, Brains, and then Beauty, have already sealed it up.

Darnell Drops Goggles; Tribe Drops Darnell

Darnell attempts to apologize for losing the goggles as Alecia attempts to apologize for being dead weight at the puzzle. Scot and Jason assure Darnell that all's forgiven and Alecia's the only option. Meanwhile, Scot assures Alecia that Darnell's going home. It seems like Darnell's the actual target here, though this may be because Jason still doesn't actually appear to know Alecia's name. In fact, at Tribal Council, he tells Probst, "There's two people who stand out [as targets], and I have no trouble saying their names: Blondie and Darnell."

Darnell brings up his rough childhood in an attempt to garner sympathy, and it seems to be working a little bit. There's some cross-talk between Jen and Jason in which they both acknowledge they don't really want to vote for him.

After a slightly rocky start to the voting process (Alecia doesn't realize at first that she needs to take the cap off of the marker), there's a 3-3 tie, and a revote, at which point Jen reconsiders and flips back to make Darnell the first person voted out of the game.


Like all ninety-minute premieres, this is packed with filler, but already the brutal conditions are delivering on their promise to make the season miserable for the Survivors. For the viewers, not so much -- especially if you enjoy gross, schadenfreudesque sights like public defecation and ear-burrowing insects.

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