'Survivor: Philippines' Recap: The Return of the Wounded Warriors
'Survivor: Philippines' Recap: The Return of the Wounded Warriors
Gina Pusateri
Gina Pusateri
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV
Here we are and it's the 25th season of Survivor and we're celebrating it with the sweeping high-definition shots of the island and the clear blue waters of the Philippines. I think it's important that we take a moment to appreciate how much HD has changed the Survivor viewing experience. If you're not watching the waterfalls and exotic animals on your flat screen, you're not even watching the same show.

This season the contestants are divided into three tribes instead of the normal two (think back to when they did more tribes in All Stars and Cook Islands). The twist is there are three returning cast members who were medically evacuated from their season.

Russell Swan, evacuated from Samoa after severe dehydration, joins the Matsing tribe with Malcolm, Zane, Denise, Roxy and Angie.

Jonathan Penner who was removed from Micronesia (which was already his second time playing) when a wound on his knee became infected, is going to be on the Kalabaw tribe with Jeff Kent, Carter, Dana, Katie and Sarah.

Michael Skupin, known for falling asleep in the fire and air-lifted out of Outback with severe burns on his hands, is on the Tandang tribe with Lisa Whelchel, R.C., Pete, Abi and Artis.

In addition the return of these reality TV "stars" they are joined by two other "celebs." Jeff Kent is a former Major League Baseball player and Lisa Whelchel was the star of the 1980s sitcom The Facts of Life. Both of them have a similar strategy to hide their careers because they think it would be a disadvantage for them. Michael recognizes Lisa right away, but the rest of her tribe members are too young to have even been born while her show was on the air. And only Dawson recognizes Jeff, but she decides not to tell him she knows until it's to her advantage.

As is the routine in most recent seasons of Survivor, the contestants are making alliances almost immediately that they will most likely use to hold against each other when they are either on the jury or justifying themselves to the jury.

Hidden immunity idols are in play and the veteran Jonathan wastes no time searching for any sign of the idol. Fortunately, he finds a clue hidden in their bag of rice but unfortunately his tribe mates notice his scrambling and are none too pleased. Russell also finds the clue in the rice, but his discovery came about by the mere coincidence that he was the one who was scooping the rice for that meal.

On Matsing, Russell insists that he does not want to be the leader but then immediately starts barking out orders like a drill sergeant. He is already that guy who everyone hates for being too pushy on the first episode. Target, meet Russell's back.

Zane, a tattooed tire repair man from Virginia immediately starts making alliances with every person on his tribe. Not only that, but he discloses to everyone that he is making an alliance with everyone and by the laws of Survivor math, that leaves him alliances with no one.

Over at Tandang, Michael is already getting himself into trouble. He's scraped his head, sliced his foot and cut his finger all in the matter of two days. Suddenly everyone is understanding how he could've fallen asleep in the fire, even he admits that he often acts first and thinks second.

Abi on Tandang is a Brazilian dance teacher and she thinks she can use her sexuality to manipulate Pete. And Pete notices her staring at him a lot, so he thinks he can use his sexuality to manipulate Abi. Either way, it looks like things are going to get freaky on Tandang.

Immunity Challenge

Because there are three tribes, two immunity idols will be given to the first two tribes to finish the challenge. In addition, the tribe that finishes first gets a complete fire-making kit and the tribe that is second will win flint. Losing tribe gets nothing and has to go to tribal council.

The first challenge is a relay of sorts with each tribe split into pairs. The first pair will be tied together and have to race into the jungle to retrieve two paddles. The second pair will use the aforementioned paddles to race a boat into the water to unhook a large, heavy chest. Then the final pair will use the pieces in the chest to complete a puzzle.

Before the challenge, Russell immediately goes into dictator mode to assign his teammates their positions and takes absolutely no input from anyone else. He takes zero time to consider or even listen to the strengths of his new friends and makes all of the decisions himself.

Angie and Roxie quickly fall behind on the puzzle even with Russell micro-managing over their shoulders (after specifically saying before that he was bad at puzzles) and it is a race between Tandang and Kalabaw. Kalabaw manages to eek ahead of Tandang for the victory and the fire-making kit. Tandang finishes mere seconds after winning immunity and flint.

And none for Matsing... see you at Tribal.

Loser Camp
Seeing what the losers do back at camp after a challenge is always an intriguing part of the show. There are no outside hosts to bother them with questions, no trivia and no audience participation involved in who gets voted out. Just pure unadulterated politics between a handful of strangers. And it's still intriguing after all of these years because of all the endless possibilities and strangeness of human behavior.

Russell starts to take responsibility for going into "chief mode" as he describes it when he is interrupted by Zane. Zane basically tells them all to vote him off, because he is not as strong in the challenges as he thought he would be. Russell thinks he's been given a gift from the Survivor gods and proceeds to tell everyone who will listen to vote Zane off.

But oh, it's not as simple as that. Zane has it in his head that he is actually strategizing. He thinks that his tribe mates would rather keep him around at less than 100 percent than deal with Russell. He seems to actually have his tribemates going for a while, especially the girls who are really miffed at Russell's behavior from the challenge. But instead of pulling back when his allies encourage him to stay, Zane keeps insisting on how weak he really is.

Tribal Council

Zane wastes no time in popping off to Jeff Probst by equating his experience on Survivor to an onion: the more layers you pull back the more you start to cry. Russell admits to making his mistake and acting the fool by calling the shots at the challenge, but Zane sticks with his whole "I'm too weak to go on" strategy.

In the end, the Matsing tribe members unanimously vote off Zane for over-selling his lack of strength to go on. It was a risky move, and it obviously didn't pay off. No one has unintentionally intentionally signed his own death warrant quite like Zane did, especially when his tribemates would have in all likelihood voted for Russell if Zane hadn't made himself into a walking, talking target.

Gina Pusateri
Contributing Writer

(Images courtesy of CBS)

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