Everyone’s favorite reality show about contestants who remain unbathed for 39 days returns for season 26 with Survivor: Caramoan – Fans vs. Favorites. Or what I’d prefer to be known as out of work actors claiming to love Survivor against returning players that we kind of remember. Oh OK, maybe it is actual fans, but does anyone in the world actually consider Brandon a favorite? Does anyone really even want to remember Survivor: South Pacific, despite there being three castaways from that season? Though in defense of the casting team, the favorites may be the “most likely to entertainingly implode” tribe ever.

A Less Than Glorious Welcome

The popularity of the Bikal tribe (favorites) is proven right off the bat when the initially super pumped Gota tribe (fans) sort of politely clap for the majority of the reveals. I do love Sherri’s remark of “Hey, it is the stupid guy” when poor Erik, the reliever of immunity necklaces, comes off the helicopter. The lack of awe from Gota may actually give them a chance to be competitive since they won’t spend 10 days wandering around starstruck when they finally merge. The need to be competitive becomes important immediately since they jump right into the first challenge.

Classic Water Challenge

It is a good, old-fashioned full contact in the water game, which is a real favorite on Survivor. It ends up being two pairs battling it out to retrieve a giant inflatable hoop and then drag it over to their tribe’s pole. The battle is for flint and 20 pounds of beans, which seems like overkill for making a fire. Gota gets the early lead when Erik shrieks when he runs into the human wall known as Shamar who then powers the hoop to his tribe’s pole.

But a tribe needs to get 4 points to win the fire-making kit, and since Gota only has one manbeast, they lose the next four straight. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Cochrane actually wins his portion of a challenge, because miracles sometimes do happen. Other notable events are that Phillip immediately sports the legendary pink underwear and Malcolm apparently doesn’t wear underwear as he moons everyone in his battle. Malcolm also makes a good first impression as the new guy as he wins the challenge by getting the final point for his team.

Gota’s Beach

Gota goes to their beach without the power of fire-making, which makes Shamar less than cuddly and cheery. He demonstrates his grumpiness by chewing out his tribemates for even daring to build a shelter when he wants a pretty fire. He then proves how much he wants a fire by sitting and sulking in the corner. Matt, the man with the Beard of Power, seems less than thrilled by this strategy since he has spent several hours working on shelter. But then Shamar suddenly realizes the best way for there to be a fire is to actually make one, and shows his tribe how to create fire without silly things like flint. This deed seems to be enough to now make him buddies with Matt.

The handsome and ab-sporting duo of Reynold and Eddie shock the world by teaming up with two pretty blondes, Hope and Allie. I have to confess that I can’t tell the pairs apart, but then again, they make a decision that has me believing I may not need to bother getting to know them.  Eddie (or was it Reynold?) declares their group the cool table and doesn’t want anyone else from the tribe to sit with them. This is obviously the most “brilliant” strategy ever, because that makes them an alliance of four against six other members of their tribe. While they play in the water, the rest of the tribe already makes it clear they aren’t their biggest fans and may not be too heartbroken to see them go.       

Bikal’s Beach

Over at the Bikal beach, they may be victors, but they aren’t one super happy family. Almost immediately it seems like every single player forms about a thousand different alliances and are jumping all over the place. Of course, this is what actually makes Survivor awesome, and so hopefully most of them keep up this merry game of flip-flopping.

Francesca and Phillip both attempt to become leaders of their own alliances. Francesca also hopes to patch things up with Phillip after their less-than-joyous first time together on Survivor: Redemption Island. After the conversation, Phillip blurts out the title of this episode, “She Annoys Me Greatly,” which makes me believe they won’t be making s’mores together any time soon.

Francesca quickly aligns herself with Dawn and Andrea, and is confident enough in her group that she declares she’ll eat a rock if she is voted out first this time. Meanwhile, Phillip claims he is going the Boston Rob strategy by doing a bunch of things that Rob would never do but gives out cool nicknames like Dominatrix (to Corrine) and Eliminator (to Andrea) instead.

Cochrane is apparently aware he was a neurotic nerd last time out. He declares he’ll be cool and full of swagger this time around. He also admits this may be a little hard now that the sun has made him look like a walking tomato. But California Raisins were once really cool, so it could be possible to be a hip tomato, maybe.

Bikal’s Hopes Get Sandbagged

The immunity challenge is a race between pairs. This time around the competitors race up a large structure and chuck down crates full of sandbags. After all the sandbags are scattered on the ground, they are collected by another pair, and then one member tries to land six sandbags into six different holes. It seems like a fine way to spend an afternoon, and hey, what else do you do with sandbags?

The two tribes are neck and neck through most of the first part of the challenge. Brandon then proves he can offer something to his tribe rather than distrusting beautiful women and having mental breakdowns by getting ahead of the Gota tribe. This leaves Malcolm with a chance to win it again by throwing the sandbags in the holes, and even has a three-sandbag lead before Reynold starts. Reynold apparently is a wizard with bags of sand as he quickly gets all six in the holes. The Gota tribe remains intact for three days, and I might actually get a chance to start caring about the members in it.

Alliance Mania at Bikal

With the challenge over, we now get the fun of the members of the Bikal tribe scrambling around like headless chickens. Francesca immediately breaks her “I’m not targeting Phillip” promise by telling everyone he is the man to vote for. Andrea just as quickly betrays any alliance with Francesca by reporting things to Phillip. Maybe Phillip should declare her the stealth of his team? Phillip is so mad with this news that he threatens to burn Francesca’s village, which he may not be aware would also be his. We don’t love Phillip for his awareness.

It becomes about 30 minutes of everyone jumping from different alliances. In the end, it looks like Francesca, Erik and Brandon are tight. I love Francesca and her humor, but she definitely didn’t stack her team with the ability to outwit. Phillip gains a tight alliance with Corrine and Andrea, which at least has one person who seems to be aware how to use her brain. Dawn and Cochrane then make their own “to the end” alliance, which I’m sure will at least last one whole episode. It does seem that Dawn is ready to be far more ruthless this season, and I’m predicting she goes deep with that mindset.

Tribal Council Rock

Tribal council starts with it being obvious it is Francesca’s alliance against Phillip’s. Francesca also discovers from Brandon that Andrea flipped, so she becomes the target rather than Phillip. Brandon also brings his “pretty girls are untrustworthy” attitude from last time, and doesn’t trust anything about Andrea. Despite all the friction between the two sides, there isn’t any real drama during tribal. Phillip does reveal that he always knew how to say Francesca’s name, but just chose to mispronounce it, because maybe that is what Special Agents do or something.

The votes get cast, and it is clear the fate will be decided by the Dawn and Cochrane alliance. Poor Francesca needs to find some ketchup, because she has a rock to eat. A 6-4 vote makes her the first ever player to be the voted off first in two different seasons. She can be happy in knowing that may be a record that never gets broken on this show. 

Compete in Fantasy TV: Make your picks on who you think will be going home. Hurry, you have until February 20 at 12pm PST to cast your vote!

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(Image courtesy of CBS)

Chris Spicer

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV