Grab your buffs and light your torches, because the 26th season of Survivor has landed on the shores of Caramoan in the Philippines and there are already plenty of promises for a fiery season. (There are also spoilers in this recap — you've been warned.)
Considering just how amazing last season was in the Philippines, the new season's promises have huge shoes to fill. A good season of Survivor should play out like a season of Game of Thrones — countless alliances are formed and broken, and anyone who doesn’t play the game will lose everything.
Season 26 already has an interesting dynamic with the Fans vs. Favorites game. The Gota Tribe is made up of newcomers, while the Bikal Tribe features previous all-stars such as certifiably insane/possible ex-federal agent Philip from Survivor: Redemption Island, and Brandon Hantz from Survivor: South Pacific (who is more famous for being the nephew of the greatest supervillain in Survivor history, Russell Hantz).
The Favorites tribe also features the return of last season’s superstar, Malcolm, who may just be the coolest guy in Survivor history — meaning that if he gets voted off it may be impossible to go on with a regular recap. However, he will definitely be the x-factor in this tribe; tribe members remember others from the previous seasons, but since season 26 was filmed just a few weeks after Survivor Philippines, no one can really get a read on who he his and what is his strategy.
It’s still a little too early to gauge the individual standouts for the Fans tribe, but the first day at camp exposes some deep fissures growing among the tribe.
BMX bike salesman Matt and ex-Marine Shamar clash almost instantly over deciding whether building shelter or making fire is more important. Shamar definitely has the right idea of focusing on fire, since without it you don't have potable water, but refusing to help build the shelter by sitting around is a bad way to dissent. It’s hard for anyone who sits around to last long, and Shamar’s attitude of being an alpha dog without trying to be a leader will put a target on his back soon enough.
Shamar presents an interesting issue with some contestants of recent seasons. There is always the dude who thinks of himself as the “badass," or the guy who knows how to survive in the wild and will watch the others waste away because they don’t have the survivalist know-how.
The problem is that the tagline for the show is “Outwit. Outplay. Outlast.” Nowhere does it say “Outcamp.” The guys with big muscles are needed at the outset of the season, but after a while they become expendable if they lack any strong alliances.
Players quickly start teaming up, trying to find the right fit for those alliances, but members of both Fans and Favorites misunderstand the fine points of doing so. One of the most important rules of creating an alliance: be subtle about it, mainly by not spooning one another at night.
In the Fans tribe there is already the “Cool Kidz Club” of Hope, Allie, Eddie and Reynold, and with the group giving off a vibe of a high school clique, viewers should be excited about having some douchebags to root against. And with the alliance so obvious and exclusive, they will have difficulty finding swing votes to protect themselves.
Over in the Favorites tribe, pink-underwear-sporting Philip is already up to his “Machiavellian” machinations of trying to hold a tight grip on his alliance members and put the fear of God in everyone. It’s risky trying to take that position, but at least for this first outing it seems to pay off.
For the first immunity challenge, the Fans win the day, and the Favorites tribe goes to work deciding who will be the first to go home. This includes Francesca, who was a castmate with Philip on Redemption Island and was sent home first in that season.
Francesca at first tries to gain votes against Philip, but she loses focus on him and instead goes at Andrea, who could be a future threat.
Tribal council doesn't reach a boiling point, but the excitement really comes down to the tight vote count. Francesca loses out by one vote, making this the second time she was the first to be voted out — and making her inclusion as a Favorite rather dubious in hindsight.
This premiere episode may not have been full of high tension, but that will grow as battle lines become more entrenched. And though it lacked in Malcolm appearances in the second half, the seeds are already being planted for an epic showdown of a season.