Survivor: One World Review, Season 24, Episode 2, “Total Dysfunction”
Airs Wednesdays at 8pm (ET) on CBS
Generally speaking, most seasons of Survivor follow a similar pattern. The opening episodes are exciting as the players are introduced and alliances are formed. Getting closer to the tribal merge, a few dull episodes appear with predictable exits and few fireworks. The characters start getting irritable, and the merge arrives at just the right point to inject much-needed life into the proceedings. This is the basic formula, but there are outliers that disprove this model for good or evil. The most recent South Pacific season sidestepped this trend because the cast was mostly interesting. Even when the votes were predictable, intriguing players like Cochran, Sophie, and even the ridiculous Brandon helped the show. If tonight’s episode is any indication, this group might not share that same entertainment value.
“Total Dysfunction” is only the second episode, but it already suffers from issues that usually don’t arrive until much later. The screen time’s dominated by unlikable contestants who’ve already grown stale after only a few hours. It’s not a good sign when the night’s best scene involves Tarzan dancing around the fire with a spear. One of the top offenders is Colton, who meanders around the beach like a kid whose parents forced him to spend a week at summer camp. His reluctance to hang with the alpha males is understandable, but it seems like the others accept him just fine. He gets so frustrating that Sabrina calls a fake meeting to get him to leave their camp. In the night’s strangest development, he irritates everyone yet actually gains a foothold in the Manono tribe. Yes, the men’s tribe is actually called Manono. Colton reveals the idol to the foursome of Jonas, Troyzan, Tarzan, and Leif, and they immediately jump on board. While his move seems foolish at first, it actually is wise given the tribal dynamics. Colton unites this group of five against the unknowing alliance of four, which is not good news for Matt and Michael.
Another strange element is the Probst-less reward challenge, which feels even stranger when Bill says “worth playing for?” while reading the explanation. Furthering the summer camp feeling, the tribes compete to untie a series of ropes. The winner gets a tarp, and the guys take the challenge easily. Honestly, it’s hard to remember anything about this challenge except for Tarzan’s cringe-worthy small underwear. This tarp gives them the “best camp in history” according to Michael, which might be a stretch. He obviously never saw the camp for the “haves” on Survivor Fiji. While it’s refreshing to see the return of reward challenges, not having Jeff involved feels like a cheap imitation. No one’s around to say “got nothin’ for you” at the end, and it’s an odd experience. It’s not clear how Jeff’s absence is a good move for the show. The budget savings can’t be significant. Another possible explanation is that he actually left Samoa during that time for other pursuits. If that’s the case, these cutbacks may be setting the stage for his eventual departure in a few seasons.
The immunity challenge involves a clever balance beam placed over the water that requires teamwork to move everyone to the other side. The women struggle mightily to get even a single player to the end, and the primary culprit is Kat, who’s ridiculously inept and leaps into the water twice for no reason. The young timeshare salesperson seems completely out of her element here, and it leads to disaster. She shouldn’t take all the blame, as only Monica seems to understand the basic concept. The guys have no problem and again roll to the victory, showing a surprising chemistry in the process. The ineptitude of the Salani tribe (at least it’s not Womano) is a theme of the episode. They elect Sabrina as their leader (not a wise choice for her), but few truly want to follow her directions. Alicia and Kat sit in the ocean and confidently discuss their laziness, which is painful to watch. While Monica calling their tribe “sad for women” is too much, there are a few examples that might fit that description. Alicia is trying way too hard to be an over-the-top villain, and while the meanness is there, the likability is definitely missing.
Following their loss, the women try to decide whether to stick with their alliance or take out Kat for being weak. Although the editors spin the idea that Kat will go home, it’s obvious that Nina will be voted out. She makes the right points at the Tribal Council, but it’s too late by that time. Her personality doesn’t fit with the younger players, and they’re not going to break the alliance for her. Christina seems like the obvious next bootee since they don’t seem to like her much either. Monica has a best chance to make a dent because of her strength. It’s unlikely the season will go that long without a tribal swap, however. If tonight is any indication, the producers will take their first opportunity to shake up the game. This could happen as early as the fourth episode if the current trends continue.
The severe drop-off after a promising opener raises questions about the ability of the One World twist to overcome the poor casting. Colton was cast to be the lovable underdog, but he is no John Cochran. Each tribe has three or four players who seem prepared to play the game, but the odds of that group reaching the end are pretty slim. “Total Dysfunction” reveals dangerous cracks that could produce one of Survivor’s least effective outings. It’s still very early, so it’s possible this is just a blip that will be forgotten quickly. However, there are major warning signs that haven’t been present this early during the past few seasons.