What a Difference a Season Makes: Survivor 42 in Review

It really had no right to be as good as it was.

I’m referring, of course, to my breathtaking book of poetry, on sale now.

Survivor 42 was, in essence, a carbon copy of its predecessor, a season plagued with an abundance of game-breaking advantages and underwhelming storytelling. But somehow, despite literally repeating just about every element of Survivor 41, this season was clearly Continue reading “What a Difference a Season Makes: Survivor 42 in Review”

Blood Vs. Water Episode 10: Big Bad Wolf

Airdate: November 20, 2013
Aras Baskauskas (eliminated from Redemption Island); Laura Morett
“We’re always going to be mother/daughter…it’s now morphed into the role where I’m trusting her decisions.” – Laura Morett, on Ciera
Rating: 8 + Tier C (3) = 11

The random number generator has hooked me up with two iconic episodes in a row–first, Kel’s beef jerky saga in season 2, and now the immortal “She voted out her mom!” episode of Blood vs. Water.

For better or worse, this episode is the ultimate culmination of the Blood vs. Water concept, and it’s not just because of Laura and Ciera. While I’m loath to give any credit to Redemption Island, the brotherly duel between Aras and Vytas is compelling, especially with the nail-biting finish between Aras and Tina. The first female winner actually had pulled ahead at the start of the challenge, but a devastating setback allowed Vytas to overtake her, and Aras nearly did the same. Here’s the real treat though: getting to see Tina (and her daughter) curse. Heavens to Betsy!

It’s the rawest mother/daughter video this side of Pornhub.

Back at camp, Tyson tests the waters for a Laura blindside, adamant that Ciera not be informed so she’s not put in the precarious position of having to vote out her mom. Oh, you’re so naive, Tyson! Ciera is Continue reading “Blood Vs. Water Episode 10: Big Bad Wolf”

The Australian Outback Episode 2: Suspicion

Airdate: February 1, 2001
Kel Gleason
“Mike thanked God for making him the leader of the tribe. I don’t know when he was anointed. Apparently my back was turned at that moment.” – Kimmi Kappenberg
Rating: 10 + Tier B (4) = 14

Launching a sequel to a phenomenon is a high-stakes effort, and Survivor: The Australian Outback faced the ultimate test. Was the success of Survivor the previous summer an ingenious fluke, or did the show have legs? The premiere was destined to be a big deal due to the hype and a post-Super Bowl slot. The second episode was perhaps the more pressing guinea pig. How would the show fare in its new, competitive time slot against Friends?

On Thursday, February 1, 2001, about 22 million people tuned in to see what Ross and Rachel and the gang were up to, while a whopping 29 million watched a nearly flawless episode of Survivor.

The first two seasons of Survivor can often coast on a wave of nostalgia, as the show was fresher and more in the spotlight than it would ever be again. Many old-school fans, myself included, can be seen as too forgiving of slow pacing and politically incorrect behavior that hasn’t exactly aged well.

Survivor 41 cast, I want to be of the moment. Should I stop saying ‘fat naked fag’?”

But nostalgia be damned, the second episode of Outback boasts Continue reading “The Australian Outback Episode 2: Suspicion”

Survivor 41: A New Error

“Drop the 4, keep the 1.”

That was Jeff Probst’s oft-repeated advice to contestants and viewers this season. The idea was that, following season 40’s battle of the titans and an unprecedented hiatus, Survivor had been reinvented as a new, wildly unpredictable game that would push players to the limit and keep audiences on their toes.

In reality, it turned out to be a mantra that savvy players adopted throughout the season to guarantee themselves some airtime. I don’t blame them. Between the staggering number of twists and Jeff Probst’s ham-fisted and often borderline bizarre commentary, it was hard for anyone to make their mark outside of obligatory, overripe sob story packages.

“I once watched a dog get shot right before my eyes.”

That said, while there was plenty to dislike about this season, I didn’t hate it. Mainly because the contestants neutered many–but not all–of the potentially problematic elements. Back when I reviewed Ghost Island, I did a pros and cons list, but this time I’m just gonna go down the roster of twists and format changes that defined Survivor 41…mainly because almost all of them have pros and cons. But before I do that, let’s discuss the reason we all watch Survivor in the first place…

Continue reading “Survivor 41: A New Error”

Cagayan Episode 4: Odd One Out

Airdate: March 19, 2014
Cliff Robinson
“We’re not the brain tribe. We’re the crap for brain tribe.” – Kass McQuillen
Rating: 6 + Tier A (5) = 11

Somewhere around the 20-season mark of Survivor, season rankings went from a fun debate to an arduous exercise. When I joined the online fan community around All-Stars, I had no reason to expect that we hadn’t even come close to hitting the show’s halfway point, and somewhere along the line, juggling the nuances that make China better than Panama lost its appeal. And yes, I realize the irony of writing that on a blog dedicated to rating and reviewing every Survivor episode.

I’m not a brain writer. I’m a crap for brain writer.

While it’s been quite some time since I’ve compared and contrasted every season, I’m pretty sure that Continue reading “Cagayan Episode 4: Odd One Out”

South Pacific Episode 2: He Has Demons

Airdate: September 21, 2011
Christine Shields Markoski
“It’s gonna go one of two ways. It’s either gonna be Coach Wade duped once again on Survivor or it’s gonna be redemption for the Hantz family. I hope it’s the latter.” – Benjamin “Coach” Wade
Rating: 5 + Tier D (2) = 7

From the first season all the way to Winners at War, one of the few constants in Survivor has been the producers’ willingness to fabricate sexual tension for the sake of a good storyline.

For contestants like Colleen and Greg in Borneo, it was a matter of dialing up some playful flirtation and oddly phrased metaphors about snapping a kitten’s neck. In the case of Wendell and Michele in Winners at War, who had in fact kicked it before the game, the editors spun Michele into a scorned ex-lover holding a grudge that A) was allegedly presented in a way overblown fashion, and B) never actually paid off from a dramatic standpoint.

I can relate. I’m still bitter that Taylor Swift never returned my calls after accepting my promposal as a publicity stunt.

All that to say that I think the way Brandon Hantz’s creepy obsession with Mikayla Wingle is portrayed very deliberately Continue reading “South Pacific Episode 2: He Has Demons”

Guatemala Episode 11: Everything is Personal

Airdate: November 24, 2005
Gary Hogeboom
“There’s a winner and a loser in this game, and if you’re going to be jealous then you’re an idiot.” – Stephenie LaGrossa
Rating: 8 + Tier D (2) = 10

“It just feels like all is right in Survivor world.”

“It is…just for a minute.”

Guatemala remains a truly monumental yet simultaneously neglected chapter in Survivor history. It introduced the inarguably most impactful twist the show has ever seen in the hidden immunity idol, paired new and returning contestants together for the first time, and might stand as the single greatest example of the power of editing, which I’ll get to a minute.

But its legacy couldn’t be summed up any better than in Continue reading “Guatemala Episode 11: Everything is Personal”

Blood vs. Water Episode 11: Gloves Come Off


Airdate: November 27, 2013
Vytas Baskauskas (eliminated from Redemption Island); Caleb Bankston
“Teenage mom. Hellraiser. She can look you in the eye and lie better than anybody.” – Tyson Apostle, on Ciera
Rating: 7 + Tier C (3) = 10

Moms are supposed to be the most trustworthy people in our lives. They know us better than anyone else. They’re the first people we turn to when we need comfort. And they lead the family band with a bassist who’s a couple decades away from leaving Jonny Fairplay in such unbearable pain that he will ask to be voted out three days into Survivor: Micronesia.

I like “Come on Get Happy” as much as the next guy, but I’d rather have had a second full season of Fairplay, thank you very much.


But moms can be ruthless. And when they team up, you’d better be on high alert. That’s the takeaway from this solid but unremarkable episode of Blood vs. Water. Despite my unwavering belief that structures like Redemption Island and Edge of Extinction have no place in Survivor and automatically worsen a season, I have to say my favorite part of this episode is when Laura joins Tina and Vytas on the loser beach. As Tina nervously worries that her daughter Katie had just gotten voted out, Laura coos, “Mom?” It’s not until they’re about to hug that Tina realizes it’s actually her fellow mother using the secret code word that moms use to suss out one another. It’s cute. And yet when I Continue reading “Blood vs. Water Episode 11: Gloves Come Off”

Africa Episode 11: We Are Family


Airdate: December 20, 2001
Frank Garrison
“I can bid better with a little drink in me.” – Tom Buchanan
Rating: 6 + Tier A (5) = 11

Watching an episode of Survivor from 2001 is a pretty jarring experience 19 years later. You’ll see disturbing things you would never see on TV these days, such as:

  • Good ol’ boy Big Tom taking pleasure in bathing the ladies, and everyone laughing it off
  • A giddy Big Tom celebrating that he gets an extra share of ham because he pooled money with a “Jew boy”
  • Frank lamenting the liberal stranglehold on American media…on CBS
  • An extended, poignant solo scene of Frank staring in awe at a beautiful Kenyan sunset

Holy crap, that last one is shocking enough to Continue reading “Africa Episode 11: We Are Family”

Cambodia Episode 13: Villains Have More Fun


Airdate: December 9, 2015
Abi-Maria Gomes
“If people would’ve asked me, ‘You know, hey, where’s Keith been for the last 30 days? Is he sitting in a temple in Cambodia or [did] he just get off the shuttle back from Mars?’ Well, they’d say, ‘Oh, he just got back from Mars cause he damn sure ain’t in Cambodia.’ That’s how amazing this is.” – Keith Nale
Rating: 6 + Tier C (3) = 9

While nobody in their right mind could ever classify Cambodia as “old-school” Survivor–it’s often considered the precursor to if not the start of the convoluted, advantage-heavy modern version of the show–the quote highlighted above inadvertently reveals two factors that separate it from the seasons that followed: Continue reading “Cambodia Episode 13: Villains Have More Fun”