801: They’re Back!

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Airdate: February 1, 2004
Boot:
Tina Wesson
Quote:
“They could think I’m just cocky and arrogant and think I could last the whole game. Hmm, imagine that.” – Richard Hatch
Rating: 10 + Tier D (2) = 12

The universe and Google’s random number generator have thrown me a bone here and allowed me to review one of my absolute favorite episodes of all time. I realize that I’m defying all the rules of Survivor fandom by generously affording All-Stars a coveted “Tier D” slot and not ranking it dead last, but this was the season where my obsession kicked into full gear, and, by virtue of it being released on DVD just a couple months after airing, it’s quite possibly the season I’ve rewatched the most. And even if you absolutely hate the season overall, be honest, was this not the most exciting episode ever? It’s Rudy! It’s Kathy! It’s Rupert! And they’re all on the same season! That’s awesome!

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“It’s Caleb! It’s Culpepper! It’s Sierra! And they’re all on the same season! That’s awesome!” – Nobody, ever

 

For context, this is back in the days where the idea of returning players was a tantalizing fantasy, not a frustrating constant. In his pre-season promotion for All-Stars, Jeff Probst warned the players to make the most of their second chances, because they certainly weren’t getting a third. (Well, except five of them did, and two of those got a fourth.) The concept had been floated around as a serious possibility since after Marquesas, but it took another two years and hundreds of fan wishlists before it became a reality. It was basically like asking your parents to buy you a Playstation, but they tell you if you earn it yourself it will be more rewarding, and then you finally scrape up the money and you get it and you’re super-excited, and then after a couple weeks you get bored and don’t want to play with it anymore. That’s All-Stars in a nutshell.

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“This game kind of sucks after the level where you beat the fat naked guy.”

 

Once you get past the over-the-top military escort–“if you see Snewser, shoot to kill!”–it saddens me to report that this premiere is objectively not as entertaining as I remember it being. There are a ton of repetitive and frankly not all that interesting scenes of the tribes trying to get fire. So why, pray tell, am I still giving it a perfect “10” rating? Because the interactions here are priceless. These are truly some of the most iconic players of all time: all but two of the 18 contestants made it to at least one finale episode in their Survivor careers, which percentage-wise just edges out Heroes vs. Villains (89% vs 85%).

Of course we all remember the Rob and Amber origin story and the alliance between Rudy and Rupert–possibly the two most popular players ever at the point; I’m sure I wasn’t the only person squealing in delight back in the day when Rudy casually pitched the idea to Rupert. (Incidentally, Rudy is every bit as effortlessly funny here as he was in Borneo.) But there are so many other fun moments, like a stubborn Sue Hawk irritating everyone on Chapera and Richard putting the brakes on Mogo Mogo’s all-female alliance by happening to eavesdrop on the conversation.

Speaking of Hatch, the guy is an absolute caricature here, dropping trou almost immediately and gleefully calling attention to his complete lack of effort in trying to get fire. I literally laughed out loud when he says he knows he could start the fire without blinking, a statement so blatantly arrogant and ridiculous that becomes hysterical knowing that the dude smuggled matches in his butthole. (Probst’s “Hatch, I know you have fire” comment at the challenge is even better.) Also, can we give Cesternino points for his this-would-never-air-today quip, “That must be Richard Hatch,” after Tree Mail promises a “man of flame”?

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Sadly, it didn’t come to pass, because this was the days before Survivor did stunt casting.

 

My biggest surprise in rewatching is realizing how entertaining Alicia was. She’s one of those people who you almost forget played twice because it’s been so long and both times she went pretty far but not far far, but I liked watching her take charge here and lay the foundation for her rivalry with Boston Rob. Less surprising but equally noteworthy in a post-Heroes vs. Villains world is Jenna L’s insistence that under no circumstances would she vote for a past winner to take the money once again. I don’t remember for sure, but I do think the overwhelming sentiment among fans was that we wanted to see someone who missed out the first time nab the title, but suffice it to say that people were thinking more Colby and Lex than Amber.

“All-Star Survivor is gonna be so cutthroat it’s not even gonna be fun,” Boston Rob mused at the start of the episode. He was right (although the finger has to be pointed at him for that more than anyone else), but after the premiere, the excitement was still alive. For now.

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