“I Can’t Wait to See Jeff” – Immediately upon reaching the beach, the three tribes go full throttle in their first challenge to earn crucial camp supplies. The remaining two tribes must choose between a mental or physical challenge to earn their camp essentials. Then, as castaways begin to get acquainted with each other, each tribe must choose one person to take a journey and make the first big decision of the game, on the two-hour season premiere of the 44th edition of SURVIVOR, Wednesday, March 1, (8:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network, and available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+. Pictured (L-R): Claire Rafson, Kane Fritzler, Matt Blankinship, and Brandon Cottom. Photo: Robert Voets/CBS ©2022 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Survivor 44 Premiere Recap: Blood, Sweat, Tears, And Injuries

And just like that…we’re back! Survivor – the longest-running and inarguably greatest Reality Television Competition Show of all time – has officially entered into its 44th (!!!) season and 22nd year on-air. If you’re a Survivor fan – and I know you are if you’re reading this–Welcome back! If you are just returning to the show after a long break (I’m assuming every living soul at least watched Season 1 way back in 2000), or if this is your first time following, welcome as well! But for those newbies out there, let me also say: This is not normally how the show goes.

While we all know Survivor is real, it doesn’t usually come across as so real, so fast. As Kane said during the episode, there was “unprecedented body damage on Day 2 of Survivor.” And it led to a somewhat disjointed, dare I say “unpleasant” viewing experience. The circumstances took away some valuable air-time that could have otherwise helped us get to know this new cast of characters.

Before we dive in, let’s set the deck! This particular “recap” that I do – and have been doing for RealityTea.com since Season 33, “Millennials vs. Gen X” – is spoiler-heavy and is more of an overall “analysis/reaction” than a straight-up “recap.” It’s meant for those that have already seen the episode, and I won’t be providing “blow-by-blow” details as to what happened each week. There are so many other Survivor recaps out there that do play-by-play, and that doesn’t particularly interest me. What I will do is comment on and share my opinions as to what we just saw. I will put what we just saw into some sort of Survivor-Historical-context, and break down for you my perspective on what we just all collectively witnessed. Scroll to the bottom, and you’ll see I also will provide clarification on any voting that took place, and who has what in terms of Idols/Advantages.

I’ll try not to contain any direct spoilers in the very first paragraph each week, but from there on, it’s a head-first dive. You’ve been warned!

So why should you care what I have to say? That’s a great question! I encourage everyone to sound off in the comments section below. Because as much as I have stuff to get off my chest following each episode, I’m always interested in your thoughts and opinions as well! Keep it clean, keep it fun, and know that I read everything and that I’ll try my best to respond when I can! Writing a Survivor reaction column is fun, but interacting with fellow Survivor fans? Aahhhh, that’s the good stuff.

For those that are interested though, I’ve been covering Survivor professionally since Season 20 (“Heroes vs. Villains”), when I was the national Survivor Examiner. That season aired back in 2010, so this is now my 13th year and 24th season of coverage. But my love for Survivor goes back to the very, very beginning. Episode 1 of Season 1, which I watched live in the basement of my mom’s townhouse. My life has never been the same. I’ve never missed a single episode since (for real), and strip everything away, I’m just a huge Survivor fan, much like you. Since covering the show I’ve interviewed nearly every major Survivor player (I was the first interview Richard Hatch gave after his legal tax troubles that stemmed from the show), I’ve appeared on Rob Has a Podcast with Rob Cesternino, and I was one of the very few press members to officially vote in the official Survivor Hall of Fame. I’ve even interviewed Jeff Probst himself. For many, many seasons, I provided not only recaps but also exit interviews with the cast, although I sadly won’t have any this season.

Perhaps coolest of all, I am once again honored that these pages are the exclusive home to weekly new artwork from the legendary two-time Survivor contestant, Erik Reichenbach, who contributes an all-new Survivor comic related to each week’s episode. What makes Erik a “legendary” player, you ask? Well…Google it. Or just take my word for it.

Erik‘s artwork will appear within this recap each and every week, but if you don’t see it, that might just mean you need to stay tuned. Usually by the weekend following each new episode, it will be added and shared on social media. And I encourage all of you to check out his site, DabuDoodles.com, where you can actually purchase his work and take home some of his amazing creations all for yourself. You’ll see his first work of this season a little bit later in this article (or scroll down quickly for a peek!).

With the formalities out of the way, I can honestly tell you that in all my years of watching Survivor, I don’t remember a start to a season quite like the start of Survivor 44. We are now knee-deep into the “new era” of the show that started back with Season 40– when the show began numbering the seasons instead of using fancy and often way-too-long subtitles. Other important changes mark the “new era”: The most impactful has been the new casting requirements handed down from CBS, which that mandate at least 50% of each reality TV cast be of a minority. This has resulted in some of the most diverse – and also some of the absolute greatest – casts in Survivor history. And while the show is still primarily shot in Fiji, the contest has been shortened to 26 days (when the norm had been 39 days), and a much tougher, more grueling game was promised. “The game was coming to eat you!” was basically (and literally) the message of the past few seasons.

RELATED: Survivor 43 Finale Episode Recap: The Greatest Move In Survivor History

Yes, we had four (!!!) medical visits and an unprecedented Day 1 medical evacuation, but I’m not exactly sure that it was the “game” that was brutal to these poor contestants. Mainly, it was adrenaline and a little bit of “first-day jitters” that led to all of the mayhem that we witnessed. Bruce banged his head while trying to climb underneath a beam during the challenge…maybe a bit too excited to finally be competing. Matthew (an Episode 1 stand-out) fell off of a massive rock, separating his shoulder, slicing up his hands and arms, and severely injuring his foot. Even Matthew would tell you that was a pretty dumb thing to have attempted, as he just got caught up in that feeling of “Oh my Gosh I’m on Survivor!” Of all of the medical emergencies we witnessed, Brandons was perhaps the most “normal,” in that we have seen the heat and dehydration get the best of many players, leading to a stoppage of the challenge, or in severe cases, evacuation. Brandon’s light-headedness can be squarely traced back to the Sweat “coconut-carrying challenge” from the day prior. That, mixed with his body size and the lack of food, was enough to bring the big man to his knees.

We get it: Survivor is no joke. It’s real. But from a viewer’s perspective, it was a bit disappointing that these injuries kept interfering with us trying to get into this new season. I still love that the premiere episode is now almost always two hours long, but unlike previous seasons where this time was well-spent on getting us to know many of the contestants, Season 44‘s premiere left us feeling that we still don’t know a lot of these people. Really, between a slew of new advantages and in-game twists, to all of the medical stoppages, a lot of valuable time was lost. And nobody likes watching people suffer from physical injuries and having their dreams snatched out from right in front of them. Needless to say, Survivor 44’s premiere wasn’t exactly an “entertaining” two hours of television.

That’s not to say that Season 44 isn’t without promise. This cast was crackling with “electricity,” as Probst had promised when we did get to spend some time with them. Over at the Green Tribe (sorry, I don’t do Tribe names), there’s a budding showmance between awkward and nerdy Matt and awkward and nerdy Frannie. We didn’t get much time with Josh other than to hear that he wasn’t supposed to live past childhood…there’s a story there! Danny the firefighter seemed interesting and Heidi gave off some serious Sandra Diaz-Twine energy as one to watch. Claire stood out in the little screen time she had, communicating with Matthew while on the sit-out bench during the Immunity Challenge. This led perhaps to not only a future alliance between the two but to instant chaos at Matthew’s camp once it was discovered that Lauren wasn’t being completely honest with the rest of her tribe.

Speaking of Matthews tribe, they ended up at the first Tribal Council where they sent home Maddy, a player that had oodles of potential but seemed to play the game too hard, too fast. She really suffered from the simple fact that Former NFL player Brandon viewed her as an immediate threat, for reasons we didn’t quite see. Brandon was at the center of almost everything that went on at the Orange Tribe, bonding with Matthew during their Sweat challenge and then finding the key to the mysterious birdcage-thingy that was found in the jungle near camp. Opening the birdcage publicly, Brandon scored the season’s first Immunity Idol as a result (along with a production-made fake one to boot!), which made him an immediate target.

RELATED: Ranking The ‘Most Memorable’ Seasons Of Survivor – Updated Through Season 43

Maddy and Lauren weren’t necessarily “wrong” in wanting to target Brandon. He was a huge threat and they had the chance to flush an Idol had their ruse worked. Lauren actually dodged a bullet as she was the intended target before Brandon realized how hard Maddy was coming for him. Lauren not only got the target off of her back, but was able to utilize her “Bank Your Vote” advantage that she had won earlier, to give her a powerful second vote in the future. If she wanted to work with Kane let’s say, who found himself on the wrong side of the Brandon vote, with just five remaining in her tribe, her two votes along with Kane’s vote could force a tie, should Brandon, Matthew, and Jaime all stick together. So don’t count out anyone over at the Orange Tribe just yet.

With Jaime, it was perplexing as to why she decided to use her “Shot in the Dark” at Tribal Council. In doing so, she became the first player to successfully use it (the Shot in the Dark makes you lose your vote but if successful, keeps you safe at that Tribal). She was portrayed as paranoid and really had no good reason to waste her Shot this early in the game, but maybe it was part of the overall strategy? Matthew ended up using his (unsuccessfully), which in theory was just a way for both of Brandon’s allies to “abstain” from voting at this first Tribal. The viewer knows that Matthew and Brandon are bonded, but maybe Jaime is tight with them as well and was just portrayed as a scared, paranoid player? Now that they technically didn’t vote against Maddy, Lauren, or Kane, they can still play the middle, although I doubt Lauren or Kane will believe them.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve gotten this far in the article before even mentioning Carolyn, or a scene-stealing Puerto Rican who goes by the name of Yam Yam. Carolyn was the first person we saw to begin the season, in an unprecedented confessional clip where we hear her chatting with one of the producers. Sure, some have commented that this might have been a way to establish how loony of a character she will be on the show, but at the time, I took it to mean that nothing – and I mean nothing – was going to come easy this season. Not even stating your name and occupation during a confessional.

Yam Yam and Carolyn’s Purple Tribe lost Bruce to the medical evacuation, but their tribe was bursting with personalities and potential major players. Carson might be everyone’s favorite geek to root for, in a season full of them. He gave off a real Clark Kent vibe to me, a NASA virgin who just so happens to look like a hunk once the glasses (and the shirt) came off. Helen seemed incredibly savvy but low-key enough to make a real impact in the game. And Sarah – despite losing her vote – is someone to watch, given that she has a brand-new advantage at her disposal…one that literally utilizes Idols and advantages that others dispose of. Her “Inheritance Advantage” allows her to secretly collect all advantages that end up being played at one Tribal. This is an interesting new advantage, one that could be a complete dud or one that could change the game completely. Imagine, for example, that there is a massive Tribal Council right after merge where two or three Immunity Idols are played, along with an Extra Vote and a Knowledge is Power advantage. Hey, it could happen. If it did and Sarah survived it and played her Inheritance Advantage, she would now possess ALL of these. Just Woah.

Then of course there’s kooky Carolyn, and instant icon, Yam Yam. Yam Yam had me at “poop in the ocean” and his energy never wavered. He also showed some real savvy around camp starting fires with ease and whatnot. Yam Yam’s social prowess will either be his best asset or his downfall, especially if this tribe ends up at Tribal a few times before the merge. We already saw that Carson, Sarah, and Helen have aligned, which could mean Carolyn and Yam Yam are in trouble. Maybe that’s why the first episode went heavy on both of their air-time? Squeezing out as much as they can before they leave prematurely?

Survivor 44‘s premiere episode made history, not just because of its earliest-ever elimination, or because Brandon’s Idol was the earliest-ever to be successfully played. But it’s also the first episode to ever be followed up by an official Survivor podcast, hosted by Jeff Probst. “On Fire with Jeff Probst,” if you haven’t heard, is a new podcast “companion piece” that will have a new episode following each and every new episode this season. It’s not a recap podcast but instead will give you interesting perspectives and tidbits from the production side of things.

I listened to the first episode, and it was great! Not only was it very interesting (especially for long-time fans of the show), but it contained some real newsworthy moments:

  • Jeff Probst announced that Bruce HAS been officially invited to compete on Survivor again in the future! That’s unprecedented. He mentioned there wasn’t a specific season for Bruce at the moment, but that he will 100% be invited back to play. Good for Bruce!
  • Probst went on and on again about how much he loves this season and thinks we will too. He mentioned that Season 44 has lots of “Second Chance players, for sure.”
  • I also found it interesting that Jeff revealed he suffers from anxiety, around the show, and in his personal life, and that he’s always angling for ways to make Survivor better, even as he goes about his personal life.
  • For Survivor nerds, there was also some cool intel that was revealed, where they mentioned that contestants arrive in Fiji one week before the game starts, and while they’re not allowed to communicate in any way, many of them begin either bulking up (eating as much as they can) or weaning themselves off of their “normal” diets. Interesting!

I hope you make “On Fire with Jeff Probst” part of your weekly Survivor regimen, as well as this very column!

Premiere Episode Take-Away. It was a rocky start, and not just for Matthew. I feel a lot of promise because this cast did show to have a lot of interesting characters, and some of these new twists – like the public birdcage and getting rid of the “Risk/Reward” journey in lieu of a much more interesting “lose your vote vs. win an advantage” choice – seem like welcome additions. But the constant medical emergencies and the stopping of both challenges mid-way through didn’t allow the show to build up the usual momentum.

Probst does of course love every season of the show, but he rarely goes on and on so publicly unless he really thinks he has something good. He believes Survivor 44 is great. He’s earned at least our trust to follow through and see if this is in fact true!

Erik Reichenbach DabuDoodles Art. As mentioned at the top, we’re honored here to be associated with Survivor legend Erik Reichenbach, who just so happens to be an amazing artist. As always, we’re thrilled and honored that he shares his talents every week in my column and with my audience. His latest piece 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 can be found and purchased on his site, DabuDoodles.com, and I urge you to support this fantastically skilled former Survivor player!

“Where’s the Key?”

Art by Erik Reichenbach – DabuDoodles.com

Out this week: Bruce (medically evacuated due to head injury), Maddy

Won Immunity: Purple Tribe and Green Tribe

Vote Result: Lauren successfully played her “Bank Your Vote” advantage, giving her two votes at a future Tribal Council. Jaime successfully played her Shot in the Dark. Matthew unsuccessfully played his Shot in the Dark. Brandon played his Immunity Idol.

1 – Maddy (Brandon), 0 – Brandon (Kane and Lauren’s votes negated by Idol). Jaime and Matthew lost their vote due to Shot in the Dark.

Current Advantage/Disadvantage List:

  • Sarah – Inheritance Advantage
  • Lauren – Extra Vote
  • Matt – Cannot vote for the next two Tribals

Next Week’s Episode: Hopefully the injuries are behind us and the game really begins. We get more zaniness with Carolyn. And is Matt and Frannie’s showmance for real?

Quick Note! I appreciate that you are reading this recap! Those that have followed me also know that I am also a TV personality and Film Critic in the Detroit area, as well as a RottenTomatoes-approved film critic. 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.


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