Survivor 42 Premiere Recap: Strategy, Surprises And A Shot In The Dark

And we’re back! There’s no stopping Survivor and it feels so good to once again be recapping and discussing TV’s best reality competition show! Survivor 42 (!!!) kicked off on Wednesday night with a two-hour premiere that was full of surprises big and small, and ended with a player using their “shot in the dark” in a desperate attempt to stay in the game.

After the pandemic robbed of us two full seasons of the show, Survivor came back last Fall with a new numbered title (gone were the show’s subtitles like “The Australian Outback,” “Heroes vs. Villains” or “Winners at War“) and with it, a new slimmer and more “dangerous” version of the ground-breaking show that started all the way back in the Summer of 2000. Survivor 41 was just 26 days long (compared to the 39 day format that the show had adopted for nearly two decades) which meant that the pace was a bit faster and the challenges a bit more brutal. To compensate for the shorter in-game time-frame, the contestants were not even given rice to begin the game, and losing challenges would result in severe penalties like having to sacrifice all-important items like fire-making flint. Jeff Probst and the producers made it a point to let us know that last season was the “hardest” season of them all, and the show’s format was tweaked ever-so-slightly (like with Jeff occasionally talking directly into the camera, or the inclusion of “flashback” scenes to help contestants share their stories). These changes were tough for many long-time Survivor fans to swallow, but those that stuck with Survivor 41 were rewarded with a good season, made great by the likable, diverse cast that it was built around.

Flash-forward to Survivor 42 and we still find ourselves in the “new era” of Survivor. Once again the show takes place in Fiji and several of the twists from last season are still intact (this season will be 26 days for example, the players were given no rice and face penalties for losing challenges, and we witnessed a few of the new twists from last season already in 42, like the “shot in the dark” as well as the “prisoner’s dilemma” summit). But since Survivor shoots two seasons back-to-back, that means that Survivor 42 – shot last Summer – came directly after the conclusion of Survivor 41, and that means that while the TV audience might now be accustomed to the “new game,” the 18 contestants of Survivor 42 did not get a chance to watch 41…therefore many of the changes, for them, will be brand new.

I’m happy to report that Survivor 42 felt familiar, and way less jarring than last season. But following in last season’s footsteps, this diverse cast (a result of new initiatives for diversity in casting at CBS), through the first two-hours seems promising…heck, I’ll go a bit further and say this cast already feels special. If there was one major surprise from 41, it was that Survivor showed us what’s possible when nearly the entire cast is worth rooting for, and the characters of 42 already seem to have a great mix of chemistry and potential.

Season 42 began creating differences from last season right from the get-go, when this cast was boated right up to the beach, instead of last season’s “mad dash” for supplies and goods on the deck of a boat (Survivor often jumps between these two types of opening season segments). The rest of the episode – per usual for a premiere – was spent allowing us to get to know the 18 new contestants, beginning to plant seeds for storylines that will play out over the next few months of the show, and allowing us a peak at some of the dynamics that are starting to form on the island. We even had a near medical-emergency when Daniel dislocated his shoulder during the opening challenge and needed the Survivor medical team to pop it back into place (he’s OK…for now). But by far the most alarming and unexpected element of the premiere was how Jackson Fox, a transgender healthcare worker from Pasadena, Texas, was pulled from the game after just two days…a Survivor “first” after 42 seasons in that he was pulled out for failing to disclose to the producers (until the day before shooting) that he was on the drug, lithium, prior to the game starting.

Look…it’s never, ever good news when Jeff Probst shows up in the flesh at camp. It almost always represents the show intervening in the game in some way. But when Jeff pulled Jackson aside, you almost knew that that would be the last we’d see of Jackson this season. As it turns out, the show gave him some great moments, discussing his journey and transition from female to male, and how his mother being on her death-bed brought him closer to both of his parents. He seemed like a very intriguing player, even if we didn’t get any “game” moments or strategy from him. It sounds like the show had their hands tied with the situation, as Jackson’s disclosure of the drug usage was given to them too late to pull him and replace him with an alternative before shooting began. It also sounds as if Jeff and the producers really tried to figure out a way to keep him in the game, but ultimately they made the correct – the safest – decision for Jackson. Imagine the liability if they had this information, left him in the game and then he did something terrible to hurt himself or others later on. It was a risk too big to chance, and instead, as Jeff and company often do, they turned it into a learning moment and a gut-wrenching, eye-opening few minutes of television.

Jackson‘s exit means that technically the pressure of being the “first boot” was off the rest of them, and it definitely altered how the first Immunity Challenge may have played out, had all six members of each tribe been able to compete. As it turns out, the youngest male contestant this season, Zach Wurtenberger, was unanimously voted off after his tribe (the blue “Ika” tribe) finished in last place. Knowing that he was in trouble, Zach took his “shot in the dark,” a twist that was only used once last season (on Day 14, also unsuccessfully), but it failed. Zach seemed like a “Cochran-type” but really created the circumstances for his own exit, by first spilling some info to tribemate Tori that came back to bite him, and also by making a big deal out of the fact that he blew the puzzle-portion of the Immunity Challenge (even if true, he didn’t have to help paint the target on his own back by making such a dramatic fuss about how bad he did). Just like that, we’re down to 16!

So who among the 16 stood out? Several of them, if not all of them! The least screen-time probably went to Omar, Chanelle, Lindsay, Marya, Swati and Lydia (don’t worry, you’ll learn all of their names as we go), but even in their passing moments, they all seemed likable, witty and with a high-probability of being memorable once we do get to spend more time with them (Swati’s offering up one of her fingers in exchange for getting to leave Tribal Council was quite hilarious, for example). That almost entirely encompasses the orange “Taku” tribe, minus the overly-excited Maryanne, who seems like quite the character thus far. She provided enough energy in the premiere to be thought of as “cute” for the time being but with the real possibility of devolving into “annoying” sometime soon. The other orange tribe stand-out was the absolute beast-of-a-man, Jonathan, who seems physically unmatched on the cast and charming to boot. Especially having lost Jackson and considering the make-up of the rest of his tribe, he almost certainly will be kept around to compete in challenges until the merge, and then, well, look-out.

While Lindsay didn’t have that much screen-time she was one of three players that received an advantage right off the bat…a new advantage that was not part of Survivor 41 or any previous Survivor season for that matter. During the opening challenge, Lindsay, Hai and Drea – all from different tribes – agreed to earn an advantage that the rest of the players wouldn’t know about. It turned out that this was the new “Amulet Advantage.” These Amulets become more powerful the fewer of them remain in the game, and they must all be played at the same time in order for them to reap an advantage. With three of them in the game (if they all were to choose to play them), they would earn an extra vote…with two of them in the game, they would earn a “steal-a-vote.” If there is just one amulet in the game, then the amulet would essentially become an Immunity Idol. This new twist creates some interesting new dynamics…will the Amulet-holders become allies in order to wield their collective power? Or will they try to blindside each other because fewer Amulets in the game mean that there’s become more powerful? I like this twist I must admit…but it’s very unlikely that they will become playable at all until post-merge, unless by some miracle, a tribe-swap or game-twist puts all three Amulet holders on the same tribe. We shall have to wait and see how this new twist plays out.

Retired firefighter Mike Turner was one of the stand-out players from the premiere, in that he acts as a reminder to not judge a book by its cover. Sure he’s a big strong guy, but that isn’t his personality, and as we heard from him he’s overcome a lot. On his green “Vati” tribe, it appears that he and Chanelle had bonded, while two other pairs – Hai/Lydia and Jenny/Daniel – formed as well. That’s an interesting dynamic on a tribe of six, but we’ll have to see how things begin to change as the game progresses.

Last and also least – as far as the Immunity Challenge was concerned – is the blue “Ika” tribe. There’s always one older gentleman who comes out every season and gets all crotchety about the “kids at camp” and the importance of building the shelter, and this season that old codger is Rocksroy Bailey. He’s just 44 but you’d think he went to high school with Rudy Boesch or B.B. Anderson the way he was portrayed this episode. His general curmudgeon-ry isn’t going to bode well for him in this game and he was greatly benefited by how Tori chose to play this game over the course of its first 48 hours. Tori seems like a nice person, but has possibly overthought her game to the point that it has become a detriment. First off, she decides to lie about her occupation (sorry, but telling people you are a “caregiver” when you are really a therapist seems…unnecessary?). Then she went off on her own early in the game to look for an Idol, a huge no-no as we all know. She was able to shift the vote from herself to Zach in the end, and that may be all she needs: A few more days in this game. As next week’s preview shows, you can go from zero to hero pretty quick in the game of Survivor, and sometimes surviving one vote is all that matters in the long-term.

I’ve saved Romeo and Drea for last, because of all of the contestants this season, they struck me as the two major players to watch, based on the premiere. Romeo seems very well-liked and with a strong social game. He’s physical but in a non-threatening way. And he seems very strategic, and was able to get Drea to switch her target away from Tori (he was unable to save his “Plan B” in Zach, but that may not be a big failure). Drea on the other hand was perhaps my favorite so far. She came to play! And drawing the short straw at her camp led her to gain her second advantage in just three days in the game. As any eventual winner will tell you, luck is always a big factor, and so far Drea has lucked her way into two situations that have given her the early leg-up…we’ll see what she can do though, as her tribe will need to stay away from Tribal Council or else she may become a target herself, and soon.

Episode Take-Away. Phew! That’s a lot to digest. I was struck by how strong I felt this cast is despite not getting to know them all. The show itself was less jarring to me than the beginning of last season. I was sad to see Jackson go the way he did, but also he may end up being the most memorable person to ever leave the game first. I can’t wait to see what this season has in store, the tweaks that the show will make based on what worked (and what didn’t) last season, and the new twists and advantages that are going to inevitably be introduced. I hope people tuned in and that they still have a place set aside in their hearts for Survivor! Oh and by the way, Survivor isn’t going anywhere: On the same day in which Survivor 42 aired, CBS announced that the show has been officially renewed through the Spring of 2023. That means at least a Season 43 in the Fall and 44 next Spring. Accept it haters, Survivor is king! And the tribe (meaning its audience, mainly) has spoken!

Who the heck am I, anyways? These opinions and thoughts in this column are of course my own, but who am I you might ask? I’ve been a long-time fan of Survivor, having watched every single episode since the show’s debut in the Summer of 2000. Beginning with “Heroes vs. Villains,” Season 20, I began covering the show professionally for various sites, and have been the resident Survivor recapper here at RealityTea since “Millennials vs. Gen X,” Season 33. I’m also the film critic for ABC-affiliate WXYZ in Detroit and the producer and co-host of the half-hour show “Movie Show Plus.” I have appeared as an “expert” on Rob Cesternino‘s “Rob Has a Podcast” podcast, and was one of the few members of the press to vote on the inductions of the “Survivor Hall of Fame.” I appreciate all of my long-time followers and readers as well as any new fans of Survivor that have stumbled across this column. I love more than anything to interact with fans of the show, so I look forward to your comments, critiques (constructive, hopefully!) and thoughts on the show as we progress through the season!

Erik Reichenbach DabuDoodles Art. For those that followed this column the past few seasons, you also know that this page is the EXCLUSIVE home to new artwork from none other than two-time Survivor contestant and legend, Erik Reichenbach. Each week, Erik contributes a brand-new, original piece of artwork relating to the new week’s episode. It will appear here usually in the days after the show’s airing, so if it does not appear here now, check back usually by the weekend following an episode and give this page a refresh. All of Erik’s work as well as past works can be found and purchased on his site, DabuDoodles.com, and I urge you to support this amazingly talented former Survivor player!

“Amulet Alliance”

Art by Erik Reichenbach – DabuDoodles.com

Out This Week: Jackson (removed from the game for failure to fully disclose medical situation), Zach (voted out)

Won Immunity: Orange Tribe (Marya, Lindsay, Maryanne, Omar, Jonathan), Green Tribe (Jenny, Chanelle, Lydia, Mike, Daniel, Hai)

Vote : Zach used his “shot in the dark” but it failed, no idols/advantages played. 5 – Zach (Romeo, Rocksroy, Swati, Tori, Drea). Zach voted out unanimously (Zach had no vote due to using “shot in the dark”).

Next Week’s Episode: What a difference a few days make: Tori seems like she’s wiggled her way to the top of her tribe, while Mike seems to be in trouble over at his. Tune in!

Quick Note! I appreciate that you are reading this recap! Those that have followed me also know that I am also a RottenTomatoes-approved film critic and I encourage you to check out my past movie reviews and my movie show (episodes are also available online at the website, www.MovieShowPlus.com.) 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.

TELL US – WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE NEW “ERA” OF SURVIVOR? WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON JACKSON’S EXIT? AND WHICH PLAYERS ARE YOU ROOTING FOR/AGAINST?

[Photo Credit: CBS/Monty Brinton/Robert Voets/Timothy Kuratek/Jeffrey Neira/Michele Crowe/David M. Russell]