By: Josh Wigler
Between a retired Super Bowl winning NFL coach, a young amputee with a ton of heart and an amazingly unintelligent male bimbo aptly nicknamed Fabio, it’s clear that SURVIVOR: NICARAGUA is off to an entertaining start. It’s the new kids on the block versus the old folks home, but who will reign supreme when the dust finally settles? It’s too early to say — for now, let’s just dive into the highlights of the premiere episode, titled “Young at Heart.”
The Coach with the Most: Retired football coach Jimmy Johnson of the Espada tribe was the undisputed star of the premiere, curiously informing his tribe that he’s not competing to win the game (“nobody’s going to vote for me to win the million dollars, I know that”) but simply wants to help them to win. Few people are buying what Jimmy J. is selling, especially the decidedly unbalanced Jimmy T. Is Coach Johnson implementing strategy here — trying to play up his celebrity as an open weakness, thereby removing the target from his back — or is he really that naive? If his “strategy” doesn’t bite him in the end, Jimmy’s self-proclaimed status as the second weakest person on Espada and his obvious struggle with the Nicaraguan jungles will likely snuff his torch before too long.
The Dumb Blonde: There are some real gems emerging at La Flor, with Jud “Fabio” Birza leading the pack. Fabio injured himself twice on the same day, impaling his foot on a stick and getting a crab claw stuck in his hand. He later asked amputee Kelly Bruno about her prosthetic leg: “Like, how do you tell it to move?” Dubbed by his tribe mates as the neighborhood dumb blonde, Fabio definitely doesn’t have the smarts to last long in SURVIVOR — a fact that could actually carry him very deep into the game if he remains underestimated by his peers.
One Leg Up: Another notable player on La Flor is the aforementioned Kelly B., who is missing one leg below the knee due to a birth defect. Kelly clearly has a lot of heart, a lot of hustle and an incredibly compelling story, making her an enormous threat to win the game — something that every other competitor out in Nicaragua is undoubtedly aware of. With such a huge target on her back, Kelly could have a difficult time progressing through the season unless her strategic and social games are as sharp as her self-determination.
Misuse of Power: Other than its laughable name, the Medallion of Power certainly adds new depth to SURVIVOR. La Flor made the right call in trading the Medallion for the fire and fishing gear — they’re younger and fitter than Espada, after all, and should have little trouble dominating physical challenges. But did Espada make a mistake in holding onto the Medallion at the immunity challenge? I’m not so sure. Hindsight is 20/20, and this early in the game, losing your weakest link isn’t the worst tragedy in the world. But if Espada held onto the Medallion “to make a statement” as opposed to wisely waiting to use it during a more physical challenge, then the tribe’s collective head is much deeper up its collective you-know-what than they realize. Making a statement for the sake of making a statement means nothing in SURVIVOR; unless your name is Boston Rob or Russell Hantz, fear tactics lose to forward-thinking every single time.
Wendy Jo, Gotta Go: Her husband predicted that she would be the first one voted off, and goat rancher Wendy Jo Kohlhoff did not disappoint. Interrupting Jeff Probst to offer one of the most awkward displays of self-destructiveness in Tribal Council history, Wendy Jo effectively cut off her own head and served it to her tribe mates on a silver platter. There is no doubt whatsoever that Espada made the right choice in cutting her loose.
Next Time on SURVIVOR: Na’onka comes after Fabio, Holly sabotages a tribe mate’s shoes, and Probst declares that he’s never seen “an opening question open up that much whoop-ass” in 21 seasons of SURVIVOR. That’s what I like to call “a good start.”
Josh is an entertainment reporter based out of New York City. He is commanded with ruthless efficiency by his office manager, Pardo the cat, and writes regularly for MTV News, Comic Book Resources, Spinoff Online and more. He’s a SURVIVOR fanatic and wonders if Jimmy T. needs a time out to cool off. Follow him on Twitter: @roundhoward.