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Survivor 27.1, “Blood is Thicker than Anything”: Family twists pay off in weirdly satisfying premiere

Survivor-27.1

Survivor Review, Season 27, Episode 1
“Blood is Thicker than Anything”
Airs Wednesdays at 8pm (ET) on CBS

When the many twists was announced for the new Survivor season, it felt like the producers were over compensating for a flimsy premise. Besides having a silly name, the Blood vs. Water concept introduced elements that didn’t mesh with the formula. How could family members vote each other out and truly compete for a million dollars? The challenge is selling that concept without making it feel cheap. When it’s added to Redemption Island and its related twists, the danger grows larger. This baggage makes the success of the premiere a surprise. There are some lunkhead players who get too much screen time, but the cast is more interesting than the normal group. Even returnees who weren’t inspiring on their original season like Laura and Monica seem more confident this time. The loved ones are mostly likable and aren’t just excuses to bring back popular returning players. There are smart competitors within the tribe that should go a long way in this game.

Right from the start, Jeff Probst sets the stage to put this cast through the ringer. They spend the first night together on “Day Zero” and prepare to battle the other pairs. That prospect quickly fades away when the tribes are split into returning players and their loved ones. This isn’t enough for the devious Probst, however. He forces each group to immediately send a member to Redemption Island. This is a brutal move that starts the game on nasty footing. Is this a fair way to begin? Laura Boneham is the obvious victim because of her association with the divisive Rupert. It’s less one-sided for the others, but Candice loses as an unknown who isn’t that friendly. The smartest vote comes from Aras, who uses a trivial reason to pick Gervase and not make a real choice. This season is arranged to draw out moments like Rupert taking his wife’s place on Redemption Island. He’s been irritating in the past, but it’s an admirable move regardless of its effect on his game. Despite his good intentions, it’s clear that Rupert believes he’s a true hero and can hear the triumphant music playing behind him as he walks up the beach. His story may not have the thrilling ending that he expects.

Survivor-27.1-Rupert

This opening seems contrived yet works out because most players are struggling with competing against their loved ones. This isn’t Russell Hantz territory. Monica’s husband Brad Culpepper (who Probst irritatingly calls by his last name) even claims he might slow down to help her out in a team challenge. The former NFL player may get the man-crush treatment from Probst, but he’s hardly a master strategist. His men’s alliance may work for a few votes, but being the leader is rarely a wise choice. Brad’s screen time dominance suggests he’ll get an early blindside. The guys stick together and vote our Marissa, but this feels like a marriage of convenience more than a long-term alliance. Her look of death is understandable since the culprit is clearly her uncle for showboating after the challenge. That feels like a strange reason to go home, but that’s not a surprise in the early stages. Players are looking for any reason to vote someone out, and getting stepped on by the guy who couldn’t swim is enough to do it.

The immunity challenge is a grand affair that includes swimming, paddling, and the required puzzle. The family members rock through all the physical sections but fall apart putting the wheel together. The highlight (or lowlight) is watching Gervase unable to swim even half the distance. Aras valiantly carries him through the water, which is no joke. Couldn’t Gervase have learned to swim in 13 years? The difference is the incredible puzzle work from Tina, Laura, and Monica as they blow past Ciera, Katie, and Caleb. Gervase’s gloating after their win is comical and shows he’s unlikely to win this game. It’s like a football player doing a touchdown dance after fumbling the ball to a teammate. His arrogance makes his niece an easy boot despite her strong performance in the challenge. Katie’s failure in the puzzle makes her the predictable choice, but that doesn’t compete with Gervase’s silliness. Brad seems like the ring leader making the pick, but it’s Vytas who does the leg work behind the scenes. He’s the guy to watch from that tribe.

Survivor-27.1-Tribal-Counci

The premiere is enjoyable because it can breathe within the 90-minute format. While some players barely speak, there’s time to learn about Ciera’s background as a teen mom and Vytas’ drug addiction. That personal connection feels like old-school Survivor and shows that it’s more than twists and strategy. This also gives time to hear from Colton, who’s determined to redeem himself after his  first appearance. The stirring music and crying really try to sell his story, but it will certainly be short-lived. He struggled emotionally during the first few days of One World, and those challenges return. His fiancé Caleb has a much-different personality and wisely stays in the background. It’s also refreshing to see the Tina doing so well and ready to take charge. She’s the only winner besides Aras, and they shouldn’t fall victim to the stigma of their past success. The prospects look dimmer for Candice and Rupert, who spend their time angry on Redemption Island. Could there be a worse way to start Survivor than being stuck alone with Rupert for three days? It’s going to be a huge challenge for either of them to survive long enough to return. That’s a bonus in a season that could prove the doubters wrong and transcend its twists to deliver another memorable competition.

Dan Heaton


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