Friday, February 12, 2010

Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains, "Slay Everyone, Trust No One": Favorites vs. favorites

Okay, I've been sucked back in - at least until the NBC comedies return after the Olympics - to watching and writing about "Survivor." A review of the premiere of "Heroes vs. Villains" coming up just as soon as I strangle a chicken...

Absence tends to make the heart grow fonder for "Survivor," doesn't it? I skipped Vanuatu after the first All-Star season left a bad taste in my mouth and loved Palau when I returned. (Though Palau was, of course, one of the best seasons ever.) And I skipped Fiji and China and mostly enjoyed Fans vs. Favorites until it turned out that all the "fans" were morons. And now having skipped every season in between that one and Heroes vs. Villains, I find myself re-energized, happy to see challenges and fire-building and scheming and all the rest. I may burn out eventually (and/or the hellacious Thursday scheduling crunch may mean I have to drop this so I can focus on shows I enjoy more, like "Community" and "Parks and Recreation"), but when "Survivor" is good - as this episode mostly was - it's very good.

The wrestling challenge was a ton of fun, even if it predictably led to nasty injuries for Stephenie (tough as nails, as always, with the way she handled the shoulder dislocation) and Rupert (a melancholy drama queen, as he was for the first All-Star season, after busting his toe and then failing to make a fire). Colby getting owned by Coach would have been less shocking if I hadn't also seen him physically struggle against equal competition in All-Stars (in Australia, he was far and away the strongest person there), but it was still entertaining, as was a topless Sugar flipping Sandra a double-bird after winning her heat.

I think I may already be tired of Russell, and I didn't even watch his season, but I loved seeing him try to cut the same deal with Danielle, who's stupid enough to buy the sales pitch, and Parvati, who immediately did a talking head in which she said she knew that he was making that offer to everyone. I don't much like Parvati as a person, but she's a good player, and right now the collection of egos, quirks and (in the case of Coach and possibly Russell) absolute psychosis on the Villains team makes them the more entertaining bunch to watch, even if I'm cheering for most of the Heroes.

(I do, by the way, like Fienberg's idea that the tribes should have been integrated from the start, with only the audience knowing who was identified as a Hero or Villain so we could see which approach worked better. Then again, as I've said many times, I find a lot of these Hero/Villain distinctions silly.)

A couple of disappointments, though. First, when Rob talked about how much he's changed since the last time he played the show, what he really came across as was kind of complacent. In some ways, he's coming across like Colby and Jerri and some of the other people did back on All-Stars: he's back because he knows everyone expects him to be back, but he's not particularly hungry about it and he's not hustling like he did back in the day. On the other hand, he did manage to make fire without flint, and it's kind of funny to see Rob as the most industrious one on a tribe after he was introduced to us in Marquesas as a guy whose strategy revolved around being lazy and getting rid of hunter/gatherer Hunter.

Second, I was annoyed when Sugar did, in fact, wind up being a near-unanimous vote-out after all the talk of Cirie or Stephenie going. I recognize that this is a "Survivor" staple, and one they feel they need to use to maintain suspense when a vote seems like an incredibly foregone conclusion, but I think it's something they should have ditched years ago (after we all understood how the game/show worked) in situations like this in favor of giving us a more concrete understanding of how the game is playing out. I'm sure next week will open with Cirie and/or Tom (or their respective alliance-mates) explaining why they decided to go with the obvious boot rather than taking out a threat, but I like watching the strategizing more than I like being surprised at this stage.

Let me remind you, as usual, that discussing the previews (even obliquely) is against the No Spoiler rule for commenting, and then let me ask, what did everybody else think?


Adam said...

Loved it. And the problem with taking out someone unexpected like Tom or Cirie at this point is that it then puts a target on whoever organized such an effort as being the next too-good player who needs to be eliminated.

According to EW's Dalton Ross, Stephenie's even more badass than we saw: this was actually a best of nine reward challenge, and she dislocated her shoulder in an earlier, unseen challenge -- the one we saw her do was after her injury.

forg/jecoup said...

I love Sugar! Too bad to see her the first one to go. Well, she is really like that, drama queen but she is a good player she could have won her Survivor Gabon but her personality was really polarizing.

How I wish they picked Rupert instead, sorry just tired of the guy and they could have use his injury as excuse.

The reward challenge was really intense and very good TV I must say.

I like Tom but it will be a miracle if he will make it in the merge. He is an easy target but he clearly has aged base on the challenges, still good but not as competitive as before.

Yeah way too much exposure on Russel. Sure he is a good talking head but back to back Russel is just too much. But he will make it far I'm sure since the castaways don't really know him and how he could play the game.

Jerri and Coach "thing" was kinda odd haha.

I'm rooting for Sandra and Parvati! But I bet the less memorable ones like Danielle, Candice and Tyson may make it in the end.

Spot said...

I'm returning to the show after not watching for a few years as well. I think Guatemala was the last full season I watched. What I liked in particular was the lack of emphasis on the "winners."

I was very disappointed during the early part of All-Stars that so many people seemed to be operating under the assumption that a former winner should absolutely not be allowed to win the game, but at least in the editing, that doesn't seem to be much of an issue so far... though there was the Tom/JT conversation where they implied the jury still wouldn't award a previous winner. Hope the winners at least get more of a chance this time.

Chris said...

Russell is the best. It's a shame you missed last season Alan, he put on one of the best performances ever (multiple blindsides, finding two hidden immunity idols without any clues)... Any of us who watched last season know he got jobbed by a bunch of sour-grapes losers and deserves to be the one rooted for this season. It was great to hear him say "I'm finally here with people who respect the game." I can't wait for him to start hunting idols. Go Russell!

Adam said...

Chris, we all had this argument at the end of the last season so I'm hoping it won't sidetrack this thread, but just to respond briefly: Survivor consists of two games -- (1) survive all the other tribal councils and make it to the finals; and (2) convince the jurors that you should win. If you fail at (2), you lose the game, and it's just as valid a part of the game (and needs to be gameplanned in advance) as (1).

Yes, you can convince your rivals that being a bad-ass trickster means you deserve to win at (2), but each season creates its own narrative and moral universe, and it's up to the competitors to decide what attributes to value.

Anonymous said...

I watched Survivor from about season 3 until 1-2 after the All-Stars, but I'm back with this one mainly b/c of Boston Rob. He's the best. I loved him in All-Stars. He's smarter than he looks (as he proved making fire and easily working the puzzle), and has more charisma than any player on the show IMO. People just can't help but like him. He was definitely a villain in Marquesas, but when he returned for All-Stars he was awesome. He effectively put down those against him while manipulating enough people to make it to the end. Very happy to have him back on my TV. I hope he lasts a while.

I didn't watch Russell's season, but I can't imagine his "super genius" act will work against these veterans. He's too transparent in IMO.

I think Cirie wanted to get rid of the threats only b/c she is one of the weakest. When there are two tribes it makes the most sense to keep your tribe as strong as possible so you have numbers going into the merge. If you boot all your best and brightest you could easily end up getting voted out one by one after the merge.

forg/jecoup said...

Russel was really good in Samoa and a deserving winner if he won BUT he really messed up the final tribal council. He was way too arrogant. Previous winners like Todd and Parvati had manipulated a lot of the castaways like Russel did but they still managed to win (and they both beat the very likable Amanda on their respective seasons) because of their excellent social game which Russell lacked

Jim Teacher said...

Russell made a lot of headway in the previous season based purely on the element of surprise. I don't see how he can adapt to a game where everybody recognizes him as a threat. He is the game taken to its logical extreme.

Your previous post on how the game's conventions are compelling is spot on, Alan. At this point, the rules of the game are so well known that strategies are evolved and sharpened to a point. There are only certainly ways to play, given these rules, and these players, all "students" of the game, know the book. It's kind of like football.

Carrie said...

Anonymous, I'm right there with you on the Boston Rob love. He might seem complacent when it comes to some aspects of the game this time around, but he definitely proved his worth with the fire and especially with the puzzle. He and Sandra won that challenge for the Villains.

Unfortunately, I think Russell is going to be Rob's downfall. Since none of these people have seen him play they don't know how his mind works, and Russell's ego cannot STAND to have someone else be considered "top dog" strategy-wise. Operation: Get Rob Gone will be on Russell's to do list, pronto.

Carrie said...

My last comment makes the assumption that they filmed H v. V before Russell's season that the case? I assumed so, but reading Jim Treacher's comment makes me doubt my assumption.

ezc23 said...

Only people who have not watched last season will think Russell won't last against the veterans. I don't think anyone thought Russell would have lasted long at the beginning of last season but he ended up proving everyone wrong. As much of an obnoxious "villain" as he is, he will wind up winning you over.

My question is, do the other castaways know who Russell is? I'm assuming this season started taping right after Russell's season. That is, before they actually aired last season's survivor. But Parvarti's interview made it sound like she knew EXACTLY who Russell was and what his strategy is. Just smart insight on her part or has she seen Russell in action? I was kind of confused by it. And if the others haven't seen or heard of him before, wouldn't they be kind of curious why this random dude is there?

Anonymous said...

@Carrie: I believe they filmed just after Russell's season ended (not even packing up the Ponderosa or production sites), so nobody there would know who he was. When the finale aired he had completed the second game already. On one hand, that's a disadvantage for him, otoh, it's a big disadvantage for them. If the Villians had lost I would have been disappointed if they hadn't immediately voted him off. Always cut loose the guy whose game you don't know.

I was surprised by how much I liked it only because I'm beyond tired of Colby and Coach and Tyson and still have no idea why Candice is there or who Danielle even is. But, it turned out well and after two seasons of either actively disliking him or not caring about him at all, I'm suddenly a fan of Boston Rob.

I was bummed that Sugar went home, partly because I have a soft spot for her, partly because I don't want to see the vile, vile Randy smirk at the next challenge and partly because it would have been nice to see something different. Get rid of Tom. Get rid of Colby. Keep Sugar. As annoying as her chit chat and Colby stalking was, and as much as she's prone to crying constantly, I'll take that over Colby's whining, which he's been doing since All Stars. Plus, that topless win was awesome.

Jeff said...

I got giddy when I saw you were going to start posting about this last night. I've been out of Survivor for a while now, but these All-Star seasons always suck me back in. I like the Legion of Doom vs. Superfriends mentality. There also is something to be said about having preconceived notions about the cast. It gives you a rooting interest from the very beginning.

Jim Teacher said...

Good point, Carrie & all. I assumed people knew his game based on Parvati's comments about him.

Also, that's Jim Teacher, not Treacher (not misrepresentin here).

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure they filmed HvsV before the finale of last season, so Russell has a clear advantage of being unknown - thus, I can see him getting very far, even though I hate the way the show focuses way too much on him. I actually like watching his strategize, but I wish the cameras would stop circling around him when he's doing nothing except to talk about how great he is.

I like how Tom and Cirie has already placed their targets on each other - which is too bad because I really like both of them and wished they'd work together instead. Unless their team gets a string of wins, I can't see them coexisiting for long.

I have a strange fascination with Pavarti, purely on how badly she did in CI and how well she did in FvsF where she was practically safe the entire game not by being a nonthreat but by being in everyone's main alliance. Curious to see if she'd pull it off this time around too. Hey, at least she's already onto Russell, which might be one step ahead of everyone else on that team.

bgt said...

HvV definitely started taping before last season aired, so none of the prior Survivors saw Russell in action.

IIRC, HvV is also being filmed in Samoa (same location as last season) with only a short break in between. They've done this for the last few cycles to save money by only traveling to one location to shoot two "seasons" (or "cycles," whatever you prefer to call them). I think Russel only had 2 or 3 weeks off between seasons.

bgt said...

I wasn't quite right about them filming in the same location back-to-back for the last few cycles (although HvV is indeed being filmed in Samoa), but they have done back-to-back cycles in the same location before. Both Pearl Islands and the 1st All-Stars were filmed in Pearl Islands, Panama (and a third season was later shot there).

Susan said...

Does this mean Russell is playing this season assuming he won the last one? He said something about being on top or number one or something. I wondered what he was talking about since he lost, but I think as this is being taped, he still assumes that he is the big winner.

fgmerchant said...

I would've much rather had Sugar stay, but I was glad that it wasn't Amanda or Cirie. Cirie, I don't particularly care for, but I love Amanda enough that I can deal with Cirie being around as her ally and confidant.

I would actually have like to see Tom go, I never like him on his season and it hasn't changed.

I'm more a fan of the backstabbing type of play that occurs, and I love so many of the Villains, but I find myself partially rooting for the Heroes right now.

The thing is, the Villains will stay Villains throughout the game, but the Heroes are going to try and be Villains now since everyone already knows their Heroes strategy. That could create a much more interesting storyline, so I look forward to seeing that.

Who I Like (Most To Least):
Amanda Kimmel
Courtney Yates
Russell Hantz
Parvati Shallow
Stephenie LaGrossa
Rob "Boston Rob" Mariano
James Clement
James "J.T." Thomas, Jr.
Rupert Boneham
Jessica "Sugar" Kiper--OUT

Who I Could Go Either Way On (Most Possible Likability To Least Possible Likability):
Cirie Fields
Colby Donaldson
Candice Woodcock
Danielle DiLorenzo
Tyson Apostol

Who I Don't Like (Most Disliked To Least Disliked):
Sandra Diaz-Twine
Randy Bailey
Jerri Manthey
Benjamin "Coach" Wade
Tom Westman

Myles said...

Russell, like Amanda before him, is going into this season with no knowledge of how his performance in the final tribal council went over. And based on how broken he seemed by his loss in Samoa, I'd guess that Russell doesn't get quite as far this time around, even if his status as a relative unknown would likely get him a bit further than some others.

As for why Parvati seems to know something about him, my guess is either that the producers told her that to try to create the illusion of his reputation preceding him, or he might well have told them about his success (which is dumb, but fits his ego) before the game started.

Benjamin Standig said...

As someone else said, Russell was unreal last season. His cockiness was tough to take at first, but his overall game play made him very like able as time went on.

Totally agree about your Boston Rob take, but not terribly shocking for a guy who has been on like 4-5 reality shows and more or less already won. Still, he looks to be running that tribe already. Hope he sticks around a while.

The guy who we should keep an eye is Tyson, though not to closely when he has those horrid leopard speedos on. He reminds a lot of the Boston Rob we saw in All-Stars, a guy who is cunning and off the radar.

fgmerchant said...


The last season hadn't aired by filming time, so Russell has no idea. While the thought that he had won probably impacted Russell's game play, I don't think the producers will put in any video of him talking about his "win" last season.

srpad said...

I have watched every season of Survivor and I still couldn't tell you who Candice and Danielle are.

I see what you are saying about mixing Heroes and Villains but I find it an interesting social experiment by segregating into two tribes. How does labeling them as Heroes and Villains effect their game play or how they think of themselves? It's fascinating to watch.

tribalism said...

Although I’m rooting for the Villain tribe, I do like JT from the Heroes most out of all the contestant they brought back. What I’m really looking forward to as the season progresses is how the Heroes will react when they eventually have to start betraying people that they’ve aligned with. I’m glad that JT understands that maybe he won’t be able to play the same way he did last time. I also can’t wait until the Villains act incredibly indignant when someone in their alliance betrays them. What I love most about Survivor is how much it exposes hypocrisy in people. We’re all hypocrites in some way, but at least I have the luxury of not being on camera for five weeks straight to catch me acting like one. By its very nature, I know that Heroes vs. Villains will be a season that will not disappoint in that regard.

If anyone is interested, you can click on my username to find a link to my blog where I go into more details about the latest episodes.

fgmerchant said...

You should head over to and read Dalton and Jeff's blog posts.

Dalton was actually there through the first vote and he has some interesting behind the scenes knowledge.,,20343684,00.html

And of course Jeff Probst is the host so he always has something interesting to say!

Adam said...

At a minimum, what they know about Russell was that he was successful and villainous enough in his season to merit being placed in this season right away -- I believe in place of Shane Powers.

Unknown said...

I'm typically not one to go all mushy and hyperbolic about people on the teevee.

But having said that... man, Stephenie is still a goddess. Smart, tough as nails, and naturally gorgeous (see just needs to avoid the make-up and Jersey hair they slap on her at the reunions).

Annie said...

Hear, hear Adam! I have been making the same argument.

On this season...great first challenges, loving the game, I am sick of Russell already, I don't really have a clear favorite yet but have a natural tendency to side with the Heroes.

Anonymous said...

I think that I'm siding with the heroes, too. The only problem is that I dislike some of them a great deal (I always hated Tom, Colby and Rupert annoy, I didn't like Candice in her season) and I like some of the villians (Rob and Parvati, against my better judgment). I guess the level at which I like JT, Amanda, Steph and stupid, stupid James cancels everything else out. It should be interesting to see how things settle in the next couple of weeks, because it's easier to pull for those I want at the merge rather than one team over the other.

ezc23 said...

Come on now, for those that are routing for the HEROES, have you not realized it's mostly muscle and not a lot of brain over there? I actually think Sugar is smarter than most people think, she was a HUGE factor in her season in shifting the powers to JT & co because Randy basically pissed her off.

I think all the brains and strategists are on the Villains. It was evident yesterday when the Heroes destroyed them in the physical element but totally flopped in the mental part. I think it's going to be a pattern going forward.

I also thought that the villain's camp was much more entertaining than the boring Heroes, as much as we want to route for them. Everything from Coach's developing relationship, to Boston Rob making fire without flint, to climbing the coconut tree. Shockingly, it looks like the villains are all getting along pretty great! And it's the heroes more so that are having some internal issues.

Indeed said...

When they first announced this season and I saw JT on the list for heroes I kind of wished they had picked his buddy Stephen (and runner-up I think) instead. But seeing JT again, I remember why he was a great winner.
I'm rooting for him on the heroes and Boston Rob on the villains.

Anonymous said...

@ Hong: I'm pulling for who I like. Brains aren't everything in Survivor. Neither are muscles. I'd say that if you dumped about half you'd have a nice team on both sides, but as long as useless, pointlessly vile Randy is around on the Villians side it's a little hard to root for them.

I actually think Sugar is smarter than most people think, she was a HUGE factor in her season in shifting the powers to JT & co because Randy basically pissed her off.

Are you thinking of Bob? Not that he's a guy I usually get confused with JT, but JT wasn't on her season.

Laura said...

Come on now, for those that are routing for the HEROES, have you not realized it's mostly muscle and not a lot of brain over there? I actually think Sugar is smarter than most people think, she was a HUGE factor in her season in shifting the powers to JT & co because Randy basically pissed her off.

You're mixing up Gabon and Tocantins. Sugar threw her season to Bob, the skinny old physics teacher. And she did it because Kenny and Crystal pissed her off, not Randy.

There's some smart strategists on the Heroes tribe. Cirie, Sugar (RIP), Amanda and JT come to mind. I don't think it's a battle of brain vs. brawn at all.

Anonymous said...

Especially when you consider that the alleged brains are working with Coach, Randy and Tyson. I have no doubt that Tyson actually *is* smart, but since he has, so far, used his previous season and this first episode strictly as an excuse to snark one people he hasn't bothered to show it.

I wish Stephen had been back too. Put Stephen on the villians team and have him and JT battle it out when (if) they made it to the merge.

Anonymous said...

Ouch, a picture of Stephenie's dislocated shoulder.


Michael said...

Yeah, I think you can delete the comment immediately above mine. It's not Stephenie's shoulder.

My favorite comment via Twitter, someone called our new couple "Ben & Jerry".

WV: squisio, I don't know what that is but it sounds awesome.

the Stanfield Org. said...

I'm another viewer who has seen more or less every season (missed the Colby/Australia and the Johnny Fairplay seasons while overseas), both the good ones and the boring, barely memorable ones, who can barely place either Candice or Danielle, not sure how far they got in their respective seasons, definitely seem like poor "All Star" choices.
Agree that most of the brains seem to be on the Villains side, the Cirie-Amanda-Sugar-Rupert puzzle team was not exactly a brain trust, Cirie has the social/strategic smarts, but not sure about her puzzle acumen, while Amanda managed to blow two final councils that she looked to have in the bag going in due to dumb, vapid responses to her tribemates' questions. Was personally glad to see Sugar go, grew to like her in her season because, while she could be annoying at times, most of the other people in that season were generally real a-holes, if I recall correctly.
Think at this point I'm rooting for JT, despite the prior win, glad to see he plans to mix up his game the second time around, he was a likable, easy-to-root-for winner in an otherwise forgettable season. Could definitely see a relative unknown like Candice winning it. Colby looks like a paper tiger. Don't particularly care for Rupert, not sure why he's such an alleged fan favorite.

survivormuch said...

Survivor:Heroes vs Villains nailed it on its first episode. Love the intensity the villains are showing. Of course let's see how the heroes bounce back

Tyroc said...

I think this is the first time outside of comic books (and cartoons) that I've heard people refer to themselves as Villains.

It's kind of fun. And as someone above pointed out, they do seem to growing into the part quickly.

Anonymous said...

Survivor has been dead to me for about 6 or 7 years. I forget when I stopped watching exactly - I think it was the one with the made up sexual harassment issue in the first few episodes.

With that said I watched on yesterday and it was like seeing an old friend. I fell right back in to loving the plotting and scheming.

I will say the first challenge was too over the top and the producers should know better than putting so many players in harms way right as the series starts. 2 significant injuries that could influence the outcome of the game - just stupid.

Robin said...

I just loved having Courtney and her ever-rolling eyes back.

Jill said...

I agree Robin, I'm glad Courtney's back too. She's not a strong player, but she's sarcastic and that gets you pretty far in my book!

Wade Kwon said...

Alan, glad to see you picking up Survivor to recap.

I have to give a shout out to JT. I recapped his season in 2009, and I'm doing it again this season.

Here's the first recap.

Anonymous said...

Hey Alan -
Thanks for the recap and checking in on Survivor this season.
So wondering what you think of EW's Dalton Ross's comments (,,20343684_2,00.html) about the different nature of the wrestling challenge "live" versus what we saw? I knew reality television wasn't really reality but never knew it would go this far. While true the final result wasn't changed, I thought Dalton revealed enough to make me not believe in anything I see on Survivor anymore. Still really like the show but makes me question everything. It is like I just found out that Santa Claus isn't real.

Mike F said...

Very glad you decided to start watching/discussing Survivor again.

Re: Russell...its not all talk, he's walked the walk...and he's really really funny. And that's the truth. You can google it!

BTW, I've watched every single season except the first and admittedly don't have the best recall of past seasons. But I recognize everybody except for Danielle and Candace. If they couldn't get enough identifiable past Survivors to sign up, they should have just reduced the roster size of the show to 16 or 18 instead of 20.

ezc23 said...

Yah I definitely meant to say Bob rather than JT, sorry for the mix-up. Point is, Sugar basically gave BOB the win that year as they had the numbers to vote him off and she didn't. My opinion she was the strongest strategy player in her season.

But going back to JT, I don't think he's all that great of a "brain" or strategist at all. Not to rain on your parade but if he didn't have Stephen in his season and working with him to plot all the backstab votes, JT would have never made it as far as he did.

Anonymous said...

Russell mentioned in an interview that he was home for 10 days before heading back to Samoa for HvV. He claims that he knew he didn't win S19 following the final Tribal Council because he's an expert at reading people. Interesting since if he could actually read people, he wouldn't have failed so miserably at the social game! But I do love Russell - he makes for good TV.

He's the only unknown in the group since his season didn't air before HvV filming. There is some talk that he came into S20 with a ready made alliance with Parvati thanks to production. (Say what? Manipulation by production in a "reality" show?) Who knows? Based upon Parv's confessional in the premiere, it sure sounds like she's very aware of how he plays the game.

Jayme said...

I think the thing I noticed when watching the first episode was that the Villains have a distinct advantage over the Heroes: They know they're all snakes. Every villain knows that every other villain can't be trusted, while many of the heroes mistakenly believe that they may be able to trust each other.