Survivor: Cagayan, Episodes 1-4 Recap

by Julian


So if I were more organized, I’d have started this blog right as this Survivor: Cagayan premiered. But well… I’m not, and I didn’t, so let’s catch up on the first four episodes I didn’t recap due to this blog not existing.

For its 28th season, Survivor, apparently forever marooned in the Philippines and never planning to base a season on its location again, has instead decided to shake things up with an Interesting Twist ™. Fortunately, it’s actually a good one this time. And all without returning players, too!

And can we talk about that for a moment, please? Part of what makes Reality TV interesting in the first place is that it mirrors society–the people are transient but the structure is constant. Getting returning players used to feel like a “Thank You” card from the network, rewarding us for our devoted fandom. Now returning players feel like a sloppy crutch and a mockery of what this show can be at its best. If I wanted to watch the same bitter people do the same show over and over again I’d watch MTV’s The Challenge.

Anyway, the 18 castaways of Survivor: Cagayan have been split into three tribes of six, based on their possession of one of three primary traits that seem to be an important factor in Survivor success–Brains, Beauty, and Brawn. Each of the three tribes has had a unique journey in the first 11 days, with a common factor being that the label each tribe has been given has most certainly affected how its players think. As well, all three were born from the same nexus at the start of the game.

Each tribe was brought to the Marooning Site via a different form of transportation, indicative of the nature of each tribe. The Brains flew in via the practical helicopter; Brawn was carted in on a truck, ripping through the terrain; and the Beauties raced in on a motorboat, entering the game in style. After being greeted by the one and only Jeff Probst, he dropped the first twist of the game on them. Each tribe was asked to vote, based on nothing but first impressions, for a leader. And once that leader was elected, boom–second twist bomb! They alone, again, based on nothing but first impressions, had to pick someone to kick out of their tribe.

Now if this seems familiar it’s because they’ve done it before, except by tribal vote, not by a leader alone. It was on Survivor: Tocantins, where Sierra and Sandy were chosen “not to partake in this journey” with “this journey” referring to the brutal trek to camp. Instead, they were whisked to camp via helicopter where they were given a choice–improve your standing in the game by getting a head start on the camp, or use this clue to find a hidden immunity idol and save yourself. Lo and behold, the same dilemma befalls our banished players this season, though more straightforwardly–upon arriving at camp, each of them will be forced to choose between a second bag of rice for the tribe or a clue to the location of the Hidden Immunity Idol.

It’s this twist gets the ball rolling for all three of our tribes this season. Let’s take a look at each of them individually.

By far the most tumultuous and prominent journey belongs to the green-clad Brains, the Luzon Tribe.

The Luzon Tribe- (From top left) J’Tia Taylor, 31, Chicago, IL- Nuclear Engineer; David Samson, 45, Plantation, FL- MLB Team President; Kass McQuillen, 40, Tehachapi, CA- Attorney; Tasha Fox, 37, St. Louis, MO- Accountant (from bottom left) Spencer Bledsoe, 21, Chicago IL- Student; Garrett Adelstein, 27, Santa Monica, CA- Professional Poker Player

It’s David, hiding the fact that he is the president of the Miami Marlins, who is elected leader on the first day, due to his professional looking “suit” (which he points out isn’t a suit, it’s a sport jacket, it’s not a suit if you aren’t wearing the whole thing and he’s wearing shorts!), and when tasked by Jeff to kick someone off the tribe, David set the tone for Luzon by starting what would be a chronic case of insane overthinking.  Instead of doing as the other tribes did and eliminating someone who appears to be a weak link in challenges, David kicks out musclebound douchebag stereotype and pro poker player Garrett. (Seriously, check out his official bio. It’s like a scene from a college comedy.)

Unsurprisingly, Garrett does not take this well, and makes the choice to take the clue over the rice. He immediately susses out that the idol is hidden in the Tribe’s waterfall, strips down to his tiny underwear, and finds the idol within minutes. He doesn’t know it now, but he’ll regret not taking the rice.

When the rest of the Brains arrive at camp Luzon, it’s model-turned-nuclear engineer J’Tia who takes center stage. In a shocking twist for Survivor, J’Tia is one of two black women on the Brains Tribe, the other being accountant Tasha. The fact that the casting directors of this show picked two black women to be labelled as “Brains” is, quite frankly, something that I never saw coming, if only because for as much as I love this show, it’s hard to deny that there have been some problematic elements to the casting and/or portrayal of women of color in its past. This is something that could consume a whole entry in and of itself, (and probably will at some point int he future) so we’ll just cut to the chase and reveal that in an un-shocking twist, J’Tia proves herself to be a complete negative stereotype within a matter of minutes. Confident in her abilities as an engineer, she has already worked out  a plan for the shelter in her head, and, in turn, how building the shelter will put her in a good position with her tribe. The problem is twofold–one, J’Tia doesn’t actually know what to do at all. And two, she makes no actual attempts to physically assemble any part of the shelter she’s planning. Which she admits is intentional. All she manages to do is piss everyone off and come across as a bossy bitch. We could stop for a moment to unpack how maybe, if J’Tia were a white male who behaved in the same way, his behavior could potentially have been interpreted differently, perhaps even positively–but we won’t. Like I said, that’s an entry all of its own. Regardless of whatever larger reasons why, J’Tia fails spectacularly with her impression management at the start. So when Luzon loses the first immunity challenge by a giant margin, it seems pretty clear that J’Tia is going to join the ranks of so many black women before her who were the first ones out of their tribes. For both David and Kass, an attorney with a gift for snark, it’s a done deal.

But for Garrett… not so much. He’s still pissed at David for voting him out on the first day, and he wants nothing to do with someone who he knows is targeting him. And yeah, J’Tia screwed up, but being bossy/annoying and openly targeting someone are two different kind of screw ups, and Garrett is having none of it. He’s quick to get University of Chicago student Spencer on board, and then puts down a deal with Tasha and J’Tia, who have started to bond. Not wanting J’Tia to go, Tasha is more than game to join Garrett, and, well, J’Tia can’t vote for herself… so at the first Tribal Council, it’s 4-2 with David becoming the first castaway voted out and Kass being left completely blindsided.

For the remaining Brains, surviving the first vote is nice, but they are still far from out of the woods. Having zero percent body fat means Garrett is starting to starve and it’s giving him a major case of, as Boston Rob would put it, Crybabyitis. Garrett whines a lot about being cold and hungry and wanting to go home and be back at his poker table with a beer and air conditioning or whatever. Despite the fact he claims he’s not having fun, he’s still got his head in the game enough to decide that Tasha and J’Tia won’t turn on each other so he and Spencer have to switch it up and align with Kass instead. Kass, having been left on the outs of the previous vote, is more than willing to jump on board with the guys.

At the second immunity challenge, the Brains actually have a solid lead over the Beauties, and seem poised to ensure that someone else is going to Tribal Council. Of course, when they get to the puzzle portion of the challenge, they make the brilliant decision of putting J’Tia in the designated puzzle-solver role. It is in this moment that J’Tia debuts a new character trait to accompany her raging delusion–a complete ineptitude when it comes to everything challenge related. She’s slow to get started on the puzzle but more than quick to get flustered and start freaking out as the Beauty Tribe gains on her. Sure enough, Beauty wins out, and poor Luzon has nothing to look forward to but Tribal Council and a dramatic shot of J’Tia sobbing in the rain.

When the tribe gets back to Camp Luzon, Garrett, further infected by his crybabyitis, makes the brilliant (read: moronic) decision to have an “open forum” because he doesn’t feel like scrambling. Garrett’s definition of “open forum” turns out to be that everyone sits around the fire and explains, right then and there, to her face, why they’re voting J’Tia out. Spencer is mortified by his ally, fully aware Garrett is making a horrible error, and Tasha is outraged, furious that Garrett is essentially trying to forbid strategizing amongst the tribe, as if it’s his place to decide. Taking matters into her own hands, she invites Kass down to the beach to “wash their feet.”

In the water, Tasha implores Kass to spare J’Tia, as Tasha knows that if J’Tia goes now, she’s next on the chopping block. Before Kass even has a chance to truly consider her options, Garrett flies down in a flurry of paranoia with Spencer in tow, leaving J’Tia stewing alone at camp. And no sooner can Kass say “Do you think it’s a good idea for her to be alone?” than do we cut to J’Tia, who casually grabs the bag of rice and empties it right into the roaring fire. I can only assume that in her outrage, she decided that if she was going to get voted out, she was going to make the tribe suffer for it. I told Garrett he’d want that rice. Anyway, when the rest of the tribe returns, J’Tia plays innocent, blaming the Rice Fairy, and any plans to turn the vote otherwise have completely melted away. J’Tia has set her fate in stone. At tribal council, Spencer casts his vote for her, saying that “The fact that you’re a nuclear engineer is genuinely, genuinely scary.” In a unanimous vote, J’Tia is sent home.

Or at least that’s what would have happened on a normal tribe. But Luzon is far from normal, and, as I said earlier, prone to overthinking, which Garrett proves he has an aptitude for as he overthinks aloud to the entire tribe. He sloppily manages Jeff’s questions and can’t help but slip up every time he tries to correct himself. He digs a deeper and deeper hole for himself as it becomes apparent he and Spencer have made conflicting promises to each of the women. Tasha and Kass both realize that neither of them are content to try their fate at Garrett’s hands, hoping that they’re the lucky one to whom he was being honest with. So in a 3-2 decision, Garrett is the second person voted out, and an astonished Spencer is left at the bottom.

Let’s just let that sink in: Garrett was literally so bad at Survivor that he got himself voted out over someone who tossed 98% of the tribe’s food into the fire. (Statistic is courtesy of Garrett.)

Fortunately for our Brains, they get a reprieve in Episode 3, where they manage to come in second on the only challenge they ever win.

But come Episode 4 and we’re back on track. Luzon has a lead over the Brawn Tribe in the first reward challenge, a Survivor classic in which a caller has to navigate their blindfolded tribemates across an obstacle riddled game field in search of various items. Unfortunately for Luzon’s lead, J’Tia happens, and her inability to put a flag on a lift allows Brawn to catch up and surpass them. In the immunity challenge, J’Tia happens again, as she, along with the other two women, are unable to release any buoys from an underwater anchor. This forces Spencer, a pasty white kid who you know has never before been relied on for his athletic ability, to do all of the legwork. After collecting all the buoys and bringing them back to their starting platform, they then must toss them across the water into a basket, a task which again falls to Spencer, who does his best. Shockingly enough, it’s (who else) J’Tia who can’t manage to get the buoys back to Spencer in a timely fashion whenever he misses a shot. And just like that, it’s time for a third Brain to bounce.

Tasha, who has clawed her way into the top spot of the tribe, is the one who holds most of the power going into the next vote. Kass knows she is beholden to do whatever Tasha decides on, as someone has to go, and it’s not going to be either of them. At camp, Spencer pleads with the two of them to abandon their alliance with J’Tia and keep him around so they can have something resembling a fighting shot in the challenges. Tasha and Kass know he has a solid argument, but Tasha is indecisive about what to do, and goes back and forth between deciding to keep Spencer or J’Tia. At Tribal Council, it appears that she’s finally made up her mind–and all signs point to the women rewarding loyalty, but an impassioned plea from Spencer gets Tasha and Kass to whispering, and sure enough, they change directions, and J’Tia, the cat with nine lives, fails to hang on and is ousted in a unanimous vote. Spencer is elated to have been spared and tells Tasha that she won’t regret keeping him. They show us this with subtitles, so you know they want us to remember it.

And believe it or not, with all of the drama and madness happening with the Brains, there’s still enough airtime to show us what’s happening to the two other tribes trying to survive in the Philippines. In purple, we have the Beauties of the Solana Tribe.

The Solana Tribe- (From top left) Brice Johnston, 27, Philadelphia, PA- Social Worker; Jefra Bland, 22, Campbellsville, KY- Former Miss Teen Kentucky; Morgan McLeod, 21, San Jose, CA- Former NFL Cheerleader (From bottom left) Alexis Maxwell, 21, Addison, IL- Student; Jeremiah Wood, 34, Dobson, NC- Model; L.J. McKanas, 34, Boston, MA- Horse Trainer

Shaking what your mother gave you is a time honored strategy on Survivor, even if it is a rarely successful and oft misused one. Many a Survivor hottie have come and gone, attempting to flirt their way into an alliance and use their sex appeal to manipulate any ally who is short-sighted enough to fall for it. But in a larger sense, the concept of “Beauty” as a Survivor asset is kind of nebulous and not fully encapsulated by a single word. It’s about more than just good looks–it’s the way in which good looks often influence the way people carry themselves. It’s about charm, charisma, and confidence. The Beauty Tribe, in theory, are the masters of the social game. This, of course, in practice, proves to not really be the case.

On Day One, Solana, much like Luzon, is tasked to elect a leader, and the role falls to horse trainer L.J., an L.L. Bean Boyfriend who sprung to life to be this season’s iteration of the Standardized Leader Who’s Good At Everything ™. For his first boot, he kicks out buxom ex-Cheerleader Morgan, citing her as seeming the least equipped to hack it. He also suspects that she’s a conniving bitch, and surprising exactly nobody, he’s absolutely correct. I’ve talked with people before about the nuance of good-looking people–the fact that there are differences between pretty, cute, beautiful, sexy, hot, etc. Morgan is the quintessential Hot Chick–mean spirited, conniving, petty, and used to getting her way. Much like Garrett, she does not take being booted by her tribe’s leader well, and also like Garrett, she opts for the clue to the idol instead of the extra rice. As Morgan wastes no time stripping to her bikini to search the rocky coastline for the idol, the rest of Solana arrives at camp, catching Morgan in the act. She’s able to brush it off with a lie, claiming that she not only didn’t take the clue to the idol, but that all the standard starting supplies, such as the pot, machete, and rice, were procured by her as a result of not picking the clue. Fortunately for Morgan, everyone buys it, save for L.J., who doesn’t believe Morgan for a second and is wary of her, pegging her as the type to carry a grudge. He’s not wrong. With that, the tribe sets about building their camp–and building their alliances.

There aren’t a lot of surprises as people start cliquing up. L.J. is quick to buddy with Southern fried model and obvious Jeff Probst wank casting choice, Jeremiah. Plucky farm girl and former teen beauty queen Jefra buddies up with ditzy psychology student Alexis. And as every Queen Bitch is wont to have, so does Morgan find her mate in social worker Brice, Survivor’s first black, gay contestant. Though effeminate, Brice is not shallow, and has his eyes on the game. He’s observant and sharp, and is quick to notice that Jeremiah is into Morgan. So like any good GBF, he sets Morgan up man-fishing and plays wingman, and Jeremiah agrees to stick with Morgan and Brice.

Led by self proclaimed “puzzle freak” and ambiguous homosexual L.J., the Beauties breeze through the challenges, loftily floating in Beautyland while the Brain Tribe suffers Tribal Council. Or, at least that’s how it goes the first few times. In episode three, the Brains miraculously manage to get it together for half a second and it’s Solana who takes the fall in their stead, drawing the lines as Beautyland becomes Battleland.

Standardized Leader L.J. has secured his numbers, rallying Jeremiah, Jefra, and Alexis for a majority of four. Hesitant about a possible idol, Alexis suggests that the foursome split their votes–two on Morgan, two on Brice. What Alexis doesn’t know is that neither Morgan or Brice could have the idol, because who else but L.J. has already snagged it. L.J. doesn’t particularly want this information out in the open, so he keeps up the pretense and agrees to split votes. And as we’ve learned from seasons past, split votes always leave room for a lot to go wrong.

For Morgan and Brice, the vote split is a perfect opportunity–they no longer need to attempt to court a 4th vote. With Jeremiah’s vote, three will be enough to send someone else home–and the target is Alexis, L.J.’s favorite pet. While L.J. is an acknowledged threat, Brice and Morgan are both aware that they need him for challenges going forward, and hope to cripple him by removing one of his weaker allies.

There is a problem with the plan, however–and that problem is that Jeremiah has lied to Morgan and Brice. At Tribal Council, we learn the Talk of the Town ™ and the talk of the town is that Jeremiah is playing both sides and is going to have to commit to one, and he’s committing to the more boring alliance. He helps L.J., Jefra and Alexis in setting up a tie vote between Brice and Morgan, and then votes out beloved Brice in the revote.

This leaves Morgan alone and on the bottom, but no Hot Girl with a Grudge is worth her salt if she sits back and takes that. The second Jeremiah is out of earshot, Morgan throws him under the bus, revealing his double dealings to the entire tribe, including the fact that he had promised to eventually help Morgan and Brice take out his buddy L.J. Whether or not she succeed in turning the tide, however, is a moot point–sure enough, the Brains resume their spectacular string of losses right on schedule, and peace is restored to Beautyland. Not even L.J. walking crotch-first into obstacle after obstacle while blindfolded can keep them from winning a reward of four chickens–three hens and a rooster. And we, the audience, also win a reward, as the Beauty Tribe falls to the stereotype of being brainless beauties as they attempt to solve the mystery of how chickens lay eggs. Somehow, even farm-reared tomboy Jefra has no idea. The only person who gets it is (you guessed it) L.J., who delicately explains to Alexis how much like she produces eggs that might not be fertilized regardless of if she has been penetrated by a male, so does the female of literally every other animal species. L.J. having to explain 8th grade biology is deliciously awkward, especially given the fact that you can tell he’s kind of into Alexis even though she’s maybe 13 years younger than him. And with an immunity win at the next challenge, the Beauties of Solana ensure that, for now, the chicken-egg dilemma is the biggest issue they have to face.

But while the Beauties have been doing well in the challenges, they don’t compare to the orange-clad Brawn Tribe, Aparri.

The Aparri Tribe- (From top left) Sarah Lacina, 29, Cedar Rapids, IA- Police Officer; Woo Hwang, 29, Newport Beach, CA- Martial Arts Instructor; Tony Vlachos, 39, Jersey City, NJ- Police Officer; Lindsey Ogle, 29, Kokomo, IN- Hairstylist; (Bottom, from left) Cliff Robinson, 46, Newark, NJ- Former NBA All-Star; Trish Hegarty, 48, Boston, MA- Pilates Trainer

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the tribe that was assembled based on their athleticism is the only tribe that has yet to lose a single challenge. Unfortunately for them (and fortunately for us, the viewers), this means that they’ve had plenty of time to get on each others nerves and no way to relieve the steadily building tension, almost ensuring that the tribe will rip itself to shreds at the first opportunity. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

For Aparri, it’s Sarah, a police officer, who is voted the leader on the first day. Sharp and perceptive, her choice is the one least likely to ruffle any feathers, and she chooses to eliminate pilates trainer and single mother, Trish, by virtue of her being the oldest.

Unlike Morgan and Garrett, Trish, a theoretically positive person who believes Helen Keller is an “Earth Angel”, and she decides to do the right thing by picking the rice instead of the clue to the idol. Sidenote–it’s also quite possible that this is another big reason Aparri never loses a challenge. Trish greets her tribe with a great big ball of understanding, ready to bounce back from first impressions by supporting her team.

Alas, it doesn’t really seem to work for poor Trish. Instead, the majority of the tribe unites around Former NBA All-Star Cliff aka Uncle Cliffy, who dazzles with a combination of generic leader-ness and magic celebrity mind melting dust. In particular, Cliff earns the trust of laid back surfie and (and total hottie) Woo, as well as that of Lindsey, a tattooed, dreadlocked hairdresser who claims in preshow interviews that she is a “slave to [her] emotions,” which is exactly the type of person that production wants on the show but you never would want to play with yourself. With Sarah on board, a majority of four is born, leaving Trish on the outs along with astonishing Jersey meat head cliche Tony, who, like Sarah, is also a cop, but unlike Sarah, is lying and claiming otherwise. Sarah immediately picks up on the fact that Tony’s a cop based on his mannerisms, but he continues to deny it. Instead, Tony attempts to scheme himself into power by building a “#SpyShack” and finding the idol that Trish never searched for.

Rather than an idol, all Trish gets is into fights with Lindsey. Trish finds Lindsey to be lazy and obnoxious and isn’t afraid to call her on it, and Lindsey isn’t afraid to get defensive and abrasive in response. Having little to contribute in terms of having anything useful to say, Lindsey is relegated to being a ridiculous background character who is always armed with eye rolls, barred teeth, and a gripe with someone or something. In a single character defining moment, Lindsey rants to no one in particular about her hated rival, “Malnu-Trisha.” Meanwhile, Woo and Cliff flip over in the boat and everyone laughs.

Together on the outs, Tony and Trish unite, and Tony seeks to secure numbers by coming clean to Sarah and sharing his not-so-secret secret–yes, he is, in fact a cop. After swearing on his badge with every intention to lie through his teeth, Tony pulls the wool over Sarah’s eyes and ropes her into an alliance by telling her that Cliff and Lindsey have been conspiring against her. Tony crosses into total villain caricature territory and Sarah follows along, all but inevitably poised to eventually realize that something is amiss.

Of course, if and when Sarah realizes that Tony has lied, it won’t be for a while. Now mistrustful of Cliff, Sarah becomes hellbent on getting him out–but the curse of being the Brawn Tribe is that you’re always winning challenges. You know, like how the curse for the Beauty Tribe is the pressure of just always having to look pretty and how the curse of the Brain Tribe was always being told “you’re so smart” as a kid and never learning how to fail or whatever. So come episode four, Sarah decides that it’s time for Aparri to visit Jeff at Tribal Council, and hatches a plan with Tony and Trish to throw the challenge. Of course, going to tribal means nothing without numbers, and Sarah has no choice but to try and rope in Woo. In an unexpected scene of strategic competence, Woo is forced to weigh his options, and eventually convinces Sarah that he’ll follow her lead. Come challenge time, however, Woo gives it his all, unwilling to throw the match.

Even though Brawn is ready to lose a challenge, it just doesn’t end up working out for them. You see, over on Luzon, J’Tia happened, and despite the best attempts of Sarah and Trish to throw the challenge, they eventually reach a point where there is little else they can do when Luzon proves just how bad they are at challenges. At the last stage of the challenge, the glorified free-throw contest, it comes down to pasty white boy Spencer vs 6’20” former professional basketball player Cliff. Aparri wins immunity and makes it past episode four as the only tribe to yet have attended Tribal Council, standing intact with all six of their weird, wacky members.

So that’s it–the first four episodes–but there are still 14 castaways remaining and a lot of game left to be played before we reach the final three and learn ONCE and FOR ALL what you really need to win Survivor– Brains, Beauty, or Brawn? (results are likely to be inconclusive.) Also, episode five is a tribe swap, soooo…..  yeah.