The last season of Survivor gave returning contestants a second chance, but Season 32, Survivor: Kaoh Rong, is giving one of their more popular themes a second chance. It’s the return of Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty with players categorized into each of these three tribes to try and determine which attribute is the most crucial to winning the game. Because people can only be defined by one single quality, right? Well, that’s true at least until a tribe swap! Let’s get to it.

Before Jeff Probst tells the 18 survivors to gather what they can and jump off a boat, he warns us that this is about to be the most grueling 38 days in Survivor history. Given how much we know Jeff loves to talk in superlatives, I’m not sure how much I buy it, but I guess we’ll see!

Meet the Brains

The Brains are the Chan Loh tribe in blue bluffs.

The first person we meet from the Brains tribe is Dr. Peter, who is an ER doctor who bears a striking resemblance to President Barack Obama (much to his annoyance). He’s afraid that even though he’s on the brains tribe, he’s still going to have to downplay his smarts. (Considering the size of his ego, that might prove to be difficult.)

Speaking of egos, Debbie is another Brain who can’t stop talking about herself. But unlike Peter, she’s not smart enough to simply keep it in her confessional. She has to tell everyone all about her military training and her current occupation as a chemist. What’s worse is that she even brags about being able to start fire as soon they land on the beach, but she’s unable to deliver when it’s time to actually start it.

Neal, an ice cream maker/entrepreneur, was worried about being the eccentric on the tribe until he met Debbie. He talks separately with Liz (an MIT grad) and Dr. Peter about getting rid of Debbie and Joe (a 71 year-old retired FBI agent) first since they’re the oldest. So they solidify a solid group of four.

But there’s already cracks in that solid group of four. Aubrey, a social media professional from Boston, is having some trouble adapting to the conditions. She’s suffering from heat exhaustion, dehydration, and anxiety. Her tribe mates try to calm her down, especially Debbie. But Liz and Neal worry that she may not be stable enough to keep around.

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Meet the Brawn

The Brawns this season are in red buffs and are members of the To Tang tribe.

True to a Brains, Brawn, Beauty season, we need a retired NBA player (ala Cliff Robinson) and former Boston Celtic Scot Pollard is here to fill that roll. Only he isn’t as nice as Uncle Cliff. He’s been known as “the thug” on each team he was on. And also in a diversion from retired athletes on this show, Scot decides to be upfront right away with his tribe mates about who he is instead of trying to hide it.

Kyle Jason (who prefers to just be known by his last name… which is also a first name) is a bounty hunter, and he’s super intense, even as far as the Brawn tribe goes. He spent six years in the military, so he knows he’s a bad-ass, but he has a softer side too. He talks about his autistic son being his motivation for being here.

Jason is also eager to start playing the game fast. He and Scot single out Alecia, a real estate planner, as the first boot. Then Jason goes around to everyone else on the tribe to make alliances with them as well.

Darnell, a postal worker, and Cydney, a professional body builder, make a connection right away. They agree to stick together and also single out Alecia as a weak player to get rid of early.

Poor Jennifer, a construction worker, doesn’t get any sleep on the first night because a bug’s crawled in her ear. She’s miserable listening to it’s legs move inside her ear. The next day, it hasn’t gotten any better and her ear is bleeding. She’s at her wit’s end when finally it too has has enough and crawls out. Her tribe mates notice it crawling out and they kill it. Wow, now that’s some nasty stuff. But as soon as it’s out, Jennifer’s back to feeling like her old self and ready for the first challenge.

Meet the Beauties

This season the Beauties are wearing yellow buffs this season and are called the Gondol tribe.

Anna the professional poker player, Michele the bartender and Julia the sorority girl all immediately hit it off. While their similarities are bring the women together, the men on the tribe aren’t having the same kind of luck. All three of them have quite different personalities.

Tai Trang is a 51 year-old Vietnamese refugee and gardener who loves plants. He endears himself to the ladies when he teaches them how to tether their chickens so they don’t escape but they don’t have to be caged. The ladies feel like he’s definitely someone they could pull over for another number.

Then there’s Caleb, an army veteran and former Big Brother star and Nick a self-proclaimed narcissist and life coach. The ladies recognize Caleb as Beast Mode Cowboy from Big Brother and that’s good news for Anna. She remembers that he was loyal to his alliance all the way to the end so they can probably trust him.

The next day everyone’s collecting firewood when Tai takes off on his own to look for the idol. Unfortunately, he isn’t sneaky enough because everyone notices he’s gone and agree to go look after him.

They catch him looking, and instead of making something up about scavenging for berries or something (which would make sense since he’s a gardener) he admits he was looking for the idol. He says he doesn’t have it but the rest of the gang doesn’t believe him.

While he keeps looking for the idol, the rest of them go back to the beach and shake on a new alliance. Now instead of being another number for the girls, Tai is on the outs.

First Immunity Challenge

For the first immunity challenge, the tribes have to swim out into the water to a boat. Then one person has to retrieve four oars. Then the tribes have to paddle back to shore, dock their boats to create a cart and push the cart up the beach. Once they get there, each tribe has to decide whether to do a puzzle or a test of dexterity that involves stacking balls while standing on a wobbly beam.

The first two tribes to finish win immunity. The first tribe gets a fire kit and the second gets flint.

Aubrey is the MVP of this challenge for the Brains (and for all three tribes, to be honest). After her shaky start at camp, she rallies to get all four oars herself and then dominates the puzzle to lead the Brains to the first victory of the season. (Yay Brains for overcoming the shadow of their flop Brains tribe forefathers from Survivor: Cagayan.)

The Beauty tribe gets off to an early lead ahead of the Brawn because Darnell drops the goggles in the ocean on the first dive. The Brawn tribe struggles to recover from Darnell’s bundle, but somehow they manage to be neck-and-neck when it comes to the puzzle.

Surprisingly enough, both tribes choose the puzzle instead of the dexterity test. Jennifer and Alecia work on the puzzle for Brawn, until Alecia taps out and Scot comes in. But it’s Julia and Anna who get the puzzle done first for the Beauties.

Brawn is going to the first Tribal Council.

The Scramble Begins

Alecia apologizes right away that she couldn’t get the puzzle done (even though she warned her team mates at the beginning of the challenge that she wasn’t good at puzzles) and Darnell follows suit. He says it was on him for losing the goggles. Even though he used to be a lifeguard, swimming in the ocean is a whole different ball game.

Jason says it’s between Darnell and Alecia (or as he calls her, “Blondie”) tonight. But Scot thinks it should be Darnell, no contest. He thinks he was dead weight during the challenge and the reason they lost.

Scot tells Alecia she’s safe, and while she doesn’t really trust Scot, she doesn’t really have another choice. She does try and bluff Jason and Scot that she has an idol though. All it does is make Scot even more annoyed that she’s being “too schemey.”

Cydney doesn’t want her pal Darnell to go home, and Alecia really gets on her nerves, but she tells the majority she’ll vote wherever they decide.

Tribal Council

Jason says his first impression of his tribe is that only some people are standing up to his high expectations. With two exceptions: Darnell and Alecia.

Alecia says it doesn’t feel good to be seen that way. She says she doesn’t see herself as the weakest link in the tribe and that she’s a “mental giant.” Maybe she was placed on the wrong tribe then?

Anyway, she points out Darnell’s shortcomings in the challenge. She says she’ll continue to work her butt off in challenges and won’t break down out here. Cydney says that Alecia talks a big game, but doesn’t back it up.

Poor Darnell is really beating himself up over his challenge performance. He says he knows he put them behind, but he tried his best. He says it’s been like a heavy weight on his shoulders all afternoon. He says things have never been easy for him, and he’s had to fight for everything he has, but it still hurts to lose.

His emotional performance (not so much a performance as it does seem genuine) is changing people’s minds. Jennifer says it kills her to hear that from Darnell and Jason wonders if they’re making the right choice.

To the Vote!

The votes come in and it’s a tie! Three votes for Alecia and three for Darnell. It looks like Darnell did change some minds.

But on the re-vote, it’s Darnell who gets all of the votes. I feel bad for Darnell, especially since he seemed more passionate about sticking around than Alecia. But it came down to challenge performance, and that’s something that is important to the Brawn tribe.

Next week: Looks like Tai tries to get up on Beast Mode Cowboy. Knowing what little things I know of Caleb, I don’t think he’s going to like that much.

Survivor airs Wednesday nights at 8pm on CBS.

(Image courtesy of CBS)

Gina Pusateri

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV