At this point, CBS should just order an hourlong special called We Give Boston Rob a Big Ol’ $1,000,000 Check and Get It Over With Already. Math was never my strong suit – I look better in the Hugo Boss, nyuk nyuk – but if you add up all the times Rob Mariano was previously on Survivor, The Amazing Race, his televised wedding and that show where he moves to Vegas to become a professional poker player (which obviously went extraordinarily well), this is like the 3,048th time Rob’s been on a reality show. Remember when he was just a simple carpenter who misquoted The Godfather and hit on the hottest chick in his tribe? I miss that guy. Well, not so much. Still, I liked him as a player and strategist but do we really need to have him back on this season of Survivor: Redemption Island just a year after his appearance on Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains?
Same with Russell Hantz. I mean, I was one of this guy’s biggest fans. Okay, okay, I was like his only fan. Nevertheless, I wasn’t clamoring for his return. He had two back to back seasons, played two extraordinary games, and came close to winning both times. But enough already. We’ve all seen the poison gnome and his fedora of evil. Basta!
But apparently Mark Burnett feels otherwise. He and CBS believe you can never have too much of a good thing, hence CSI, Big Bang Theory and How I Married Your Mother will be renewed until the sun burns out, and Charlie Sheen will always have a soundstage to freebase on. And Survivor will keep bringing back Boston Rob and Russell until one of them wins and/or they finally kiss.
Redemption may be what the producers want this season’s voted off castaways to achieve, but let’s be real. After the soul sucking horror that was last fall’s Survivor: Nicaragua, it’s the damn show itself that needs to be redeemed. And aside from my problem with Rob and Russell’s return, the premiere actually gives us reason to hope.
And that’s because it’s got a full-force, off-his-meds, delusional wingnut named Phillip Shephard, but I’m calling Very Special Agent. Oh, he’s special alright. Just check the DSM-IV if you don’t believe me. And he was once a “federal agent,” but shhh…don’t tell anyone, because it’s a secret. Except from the whole team who he spills it to after they rigorously don’t question him at all. Hmm, wonder which branch of our nation’s security services he was in. CIA? FBI? Homeland Security? I like to think he was in SHIELD, kicking it with Iron Man and Nick Fury. And he’d still be out saving the free world today if it wasn’t for some fiendish mind ray device that scrambled his circuits and turned him into the borderline Asperger’s case who now shouts at his team mates when not giving them the spooky eye. It’s as if Mark Burnett told his casting people, “I want the tragi-comic self-mythologizing of Coach in the body of Gravedigger James.” And the casting folks replied, “The requisite insane person combined with the requisite bald black guy? Funny you should ask, ‘cause look who just got released from Camarillo this morning…”
Very Special Agent is approached by a rather strident ‘n stringy law student named Kristina Kell, who’s equally self-impressed and terrible at keeping secrets. No sooner does she find the Immunity Idol than she tells Francesca Hogi and Very Special Agent, because it’s killing her not to blab. Kristina thinks she can use it to blindside Boston Rob (they’re all on the Ometepe tribe), and it’s not a bad plan, ‘cause Rob is already charming/ordering the younger girls and boys in a way that can only be described as Manson-ish. And I gotta say here, I love Francesca. An attorney from D.C., she’s hella smart with hilarious asides and sarcastic eyerolls, especially when Very Special Agent starts in with the crazy. Francesca scores the biggest laugh of the ep when after confiding to us what a jackass that man is, she adds, “Did I mention he’s in my alliance?”
Anyway, the whole thing goes to hell when Very Special Agent decides not to follow the plan, but instead listen to the messages from Jupiter that he clearly now takes orders from. No sooner does our first tribal council begin than he calls out Kristina and “Fran-ches-QUA” and their plot. The girls have no choice but to weakly deny – what else are they gonna do – but it’s too late. Even Rob is stunned how easy these “amateurs” are making this for him, and offers Kristina a deal: “Give me the idol and you won’t get voted out tonight.” She refuses, and gets three votes, while Very Special Agent gets two from his former short-lived alliance partners. But canny Rob ordered the Mariano Family to split their votes so Francesca gets the remaining ballots and that sends her to this show’s newest gimmick, er, I mean exciting development, Redemption Island. Oooo…. Here, Francesca will have to crack wise and eyeroll to her own self while braving the elements alone, until another voted off castaway joins her. There they will duel until, theoretically, a previously voted-out castaway returns to the game to reap bloody vengeance.
In order to get you properly stoked, each commercial break begins with Jeff Probst looking back at past “favorite” survivors being voted out and wistfully wondering if their skills would’ve allowed them to best Redemption Island and return as conquering avengers. Yeah, I’m sure had Erik come back he would’ve really given Parvati some sleepless nights. And we get it, Jeff, you really, really liked Jane. But she’s gone, back to the hills and cooking meth where she belongs. Just leave it. Anyway, remember how excited this show was about Exile Island and The Medallion of Power? Uh-huh.
Over on the rival Zapatera tribe, the only castaway to get any major face time is waitress Stephanie Valencia, and that’s ‘cause Russell picks her as his first ally/victim. The behatted one tells the tribe his days of screwing everyone over are through, and now he wants to lead a team to victory. Whatev. If we have to have Russell back for a third time in 18 months, then I want to see him in pure pitbull mode. Yeah, he took Natalie and Parvati to the end…but remember what he did to everyone else in those alliances. Stephanie, you can flatter yourself all you want, but I like to think homeboy is already fitting you for a toetag. There are also some other hot but sort of infantile girls and some generically good looking but rather dull younger guys, as well as another token redneck and I think I spotted a tall old man looming in the background.
As for the rest of the show, it wasn’t bad. The direction’s slick as usual, and we’re still in Nicaragua so the scenery’s the same as last year and it really pops in HD. The single challenge of the episode, a punishing race/puzzle dealie, looked suitably grueling. And Probst placidly sitting on the back tailgate of the chopper before it barrel rolled? Without even losing his hat? Sure, why not.
I’ll be checking back in on the season now and again, but I hazzard to say we’re off to a decent start. By the way, I’m still taking submissions for a readers choice review. Eat up!