Survivor: HHH Episode 1 Recap: The Mom Squad

So is that an Idol in your pocket, or are you just happy that Survivor is back? Not only did the show kick off its 35th season Wednesday night, but the premiere episode also gave us an impromptu strip search! Woohoo! Add that to the more than one reference about getting into people’s pants, and you’d have to agree that this season got crazy real quick. It looks to be that kind of cast, apparently.

But not everything was loose and care-free tonight, as the first three days in the game have already produced a few confrontations, a “Super Idol” and a head-scratcher of a Tribal Council. If you’re just starting to follow this column, I welcome you and hope you join us all season! Please remember that this recap assumes that you have already seen this week’s Premiere Episode of Survivor: HHH, so if you have not and don’t want to be spoiled, please come back later! It’s important to add too that while we WILL hit on all of the important developments of the episode, this is not a linear “blow-by-blow” recap, and is more of a discussion and reaction of what we just witnessed together. I’m stoked to be back, so let’s get to it!


I'm Not Crazy, I'm Confident

First off, it’s so cool that Survivor still manages to make me feel all tingly inside. Has this show really been on the air now for over 17 years? As my niece would say, that’s just cray-cray. I didn’t quite care that Probst‘s opening message of “39 Days, 18 People, 1 Survivor,” seemed oddly out of sync, or that we’ve come to expect much more dangerous or exhilarating opening shots (really Probst? The top of a mountain is all you got?). I was just happy to see that we were about to embark on this adventure one more time.

The show began as it often has: With a series of introductions to the people we’ll be spending the rest of the season with (for names and background, check out my previous article here). Probst also explained the way that the contestants would be divided this season, by the players’ “Positive traits most associated by others.” We are given the Heroes, the Healers and the Hustlers. Each tribe seemed to have some unique characters, so let’s break-down what we saw from each of them:

I'm Not Crazy, I'm Confident

The Heroes. The Blue Tribe (yeah they have an official name, but nobody will care) seemed to be the most fragmented of the three initial groups. Divisions had already been formed, with the two “older” women, Chrissy and Katrina, being dubbed the “Mom Squad” by the cowboy, Ben. The firefighter JP and the lifeguard Ashley seemed to like each other, leading former NFL player Alan to label them a “power couple.” Ben and Alan definitely seemed in the middle at first, but Alan showed that he is most likely not going to be long for this game. Paranoid much? He tells us in a confessional that he plans to hit the ground running and that he will play an aggressive game, but in deciding to call out JP and Ashley for hiding an Idol (which they did not have) and then doubling-down on his accusation, Alan really has put the early target on himself. Forcing JP to do a strip search (#IdolStripSearch) on the beach was not a proud moment for anyone involved, especially because Alan still wasn’t convinced despite being flashed with a bare ass. Thank God #IdolCavitySearch didn’t start trending.

I'm Not Crazy, I'm Confident

The Healers. Over at the Yellow Tribe, there were too stand-out characters that I think may have early “All-Star” potential. The first is the “sex doctor” Mike, who told us that not only is he out there to win the million, but he also wants to become the best Survivor player EVER. OK, pump the brakes Dr. Mike. I do like that he seems aware of himself, and he also made a comment about perception being 90% of reality, which is a greatly important thing to consider when playing Survivor. Dr. Mike made this comment in response to Joe – the other player to take note of on the Healers squad – who seems to be some sort of Tony Vlachos and Russell Hantz love child. He looks like Tony, seems to have an aggressive game mentality like Tony, but like Russell, referred to the others on his tribe as “all of my victims at this point.” Joe doesn’t like Dr. Mike and vice versa thus far, and it’ll be interesting to see how this develops. Elsewhere at Healers camp, we have the budding show-mance between Cole and Jessica, and then Roark and Desi, the latter two of which we did not get to spend much time with during this first ep.

I'm Not Crazy, I'm Confident

The Hustlers. Of the three initial groups, the Red Hustlers Tribe may be packed with the most characters. Carrot-top Patrick looks like he may have a few different shades of crazy in him, and the show’s first real strategic power couple may have formed when Ryan told Devon about his Super Idol…at first I wasn’t sure if this was a good move on Ryan’s part, but Devon really seemed on-board with it. They’re a pair to watch for sure. The celebrity assistant Ali got a lot of air-time tonight and seems likable enough, although Simone and Lauren did not.

So the big question of the night became: Why didn’t Chrissy use the Super Idol to save her fellow Mom-Squad-er, Katrina? Not only did she not use the Idol, but she also cast her vote for Katrina, so there was clearly more to what went on than was shown on TV. It’s pretty clear to me that Ryan chose Chrissy to receive the Super Idol based on her little vomit episode at the end of the Immunity Challenge, maybe thinking that she would be targeted because of that perceived show of weakness. All I know is that it was a major bummer as a viewer that the Super Idol didn’t come into play…I really liked the idea of it, but alas, it wasn’t used this season. That really took the air out of what was otherwise a pretty compelling, yet jam-packed, first episode.

I'm Not Crazy, I'm Confident

Episode Take-Away: Split up the players any which way you want to, but one division always seems to occur: That between young and old. I haven’t been a fan of how Survivor has gotten younger and younger over the years…that’s perhaps my biggest gripe with the show’s evolution. Where are the Rudy Boesch‘s of the world? Granted, there’s only one Rudy, but Survivor used to represent a much wider cross-section of America. When you are the only one, or one of the only “older” people in the cast, you face nearly insurmountable odds…just ask Kevin on Big Brother. I put “older” in quotations too, because both Chrissy and Katrina – who are the oldest cast members this season – are both only 46, which is not usually elder stateswoman status on Survivor. Yet, the two “older” women seemed to get lumped together. I also think it was evident tonight that Survivor really benefits from an extended Premiere Episode, either 90 or 120-minutes like many other recent seasons…with an all-new cast, we need the extra time to get to know these people and try to remember just who they are. Tonight’s hour just seemed over-stuffed, and dare I say a bit sloppy…it was just too much to cram into a single episode.

And as a result of this, poor Katrina not only became the first boot, but got very little screen time in the process. This Olympic athlete deserved more, but she was also overshadowed by the dramatics of her fellow tribe mates. It is sort of ageist (or sexist? Or both?) that the others talked about getting rid of the “weaker” physical players like Katrina, when in reality, she could most likely swim circles around any other player out there, even at age 46. It’s always harsh to say good-bye so soon to somebody we just met, but even more harsh is the reality that we’ll probably all forget her face by next week.

As to the season as a whole? I do feel confident – not crazy – about this cast…they provided a lot of drama and intrigue in only three days on the island. And there seems like there could be a lot of players to root for, which is a key ingredient of most great seasons. Still, the no-play of the Super Idol felt like a giant thud, and really dampened my excitement level…I mean, who didn’t want to see that thing played? Survivor is still better than anything else on TV, but let’s hope that HHH isn’t Survivor’s version of Big Brother 19, where a flock of sheep were afraid to rock the boat or make big moves the length of the season. Maybe I’m still just sleepy from that show, or I’m just starving to see a “big move” on a Reality TV Competition…it feels like it’s been too long, and tonight could have been the perfect time. Oh well. Here’s holding out hope that the best is yet to come.

I'm Not Crazy, I'm Confident

Strategic Move of the Week: I’ve got to award this to Ryan this week, for sharing the knowledge of his Super Idol with Devon. Not only was Devon receptive to it, but there really was no reason to keep this knowledge a secret…after this week, the Super Idol is useless anyways. Ryan made the most of an advantage he was given, and it may have gained him a serious ally…and a big physical threat that the mousy Ryan can handcuff himself to to go deep into the game.

Voted out this week: Katrina

Won Immunity: Healers (1st Place), Hustlers (2nd Place)

Vote: No Idols or advantages played. 5 – Katrina (Chrissy, Alan, Ben, Ashley, JP), 1 – Ashley (Katrina)

Next Week’s Episode: We may have to wait until next week Wednesday to get answers from Chrissy, but it looks like she is going to be just fine. The preview for next week shows her solidifying an alliance with Ben, while over at the Hustlers beach, Ali and Patrick seem to be moving in different directions.

Remember to return right here to RealityTea for my FilmSurvivor Podcast Thursday, where you can listen to my full exit interview with Katrina. Last but not least, I encourage you to check out my weekly movie reviews. And as always, the easiest way to get all of my Survivor coverage and movie reviews is to follow me on Twitter – @tomsantilli – or on Facebook.


Photo Credit: CBS/Monty Brinton/Robert Voets/Timothy Kuratek/Jeffrey Neira