“Survivor” is back and still going strong on season 42. Fans tuned in enthusiastically to the season premiere on March 9, which sees a new batch of 16 castaways enter a game of social manipulation and physical exhaustion. Each player joins one of three tribes: Ika (Drea, Rocksroy, Romeo, Swathi, Zach, and Tori), Taku (Marya, Maryanne, Jonathan, Omar, Lindsay, and Jackson), and Vati (Chanelle, Daniel, Hai, Mike, Lydia, and Jenny). Coming off the heels of a diversity initiative led by “David vs Goliath” star Davie Rickenbacker, this cast is “Survivor’s” most diverse ever. Additionally, the cast is entirely made up of fans of the show: a huge breath of fresh air.
To begin the premiere, host Jeff Probst said that many of the “twists” — unexpected changes to the rules or additions to the game — from the previous season would remain, leaving many fans worried that contrived surprises would once again replace gameplay and social manipulation.
In the first reward challenge, Drea, Hai, and Lindsay all ran the same leg on different tribes. Upon arriving at their destination, they were presented with the opportunity to each earn an advantage by working together. They made that easy decision, but later learned that all choices in “Survivor” have consequences — it turns out that the advantage becomes more powerful the fewer of them are in the game, and becomes an immunity idol (a game piece that saves a contestant from elimination if presented at Tribal Council) if only one of them remains.
At Ika beach, the lines were drawn based on age, as the three older castaways (Drea, Romeo, Rocksroy) and three younger castaways (Zach, Tori, Swathi) grouped together initially. It isn’t uncommon for people to cling to those who remind them of themselves initially. As seen later, these types of bonds don’t always last in the show.
Rocksroy fell into the age-old trap of being overly bossy while building the shelter. Throughout “Survivor” history, this has been the easiest way to get booted early, and as a fan of the show, Rocksroy should have known better. Even so, he struggled with the generational divide as one of the season’s older contestants
Unlike Rockroy, Romeo overcame the divide and built a self-proclaimed “skinny guy alliance” with the younger Zach. At the same time, Tori was caught looking for an idol, which painted a target on her back.
Representatives from all three tribes (Drea, Maryanne, and Jenny) were taken to the same summit as in season 41 and presented with the same choice: the prisoner’s dilemma. Each could either protect or risk their vote at the next Tribal Council, where players are voted off the show. If they all protected their vote, nothing would change. If they all risked their vote, all their votes would be lost. Anything in between and the players who chose to take a risk would be rewarded. Drea and Maryanne risked their votes and received advantages in the form of extra votes, while Jenny protected her vote and consequently did not receive an advantage.
Following this, Probst visited Taku beach, and his appearance at the contestants’ camps is never a good sign. Jackson was removed from the game for medical purposes, as he didn’t disclose the fact that he was on lithium until the day before they left. He had started while taking care of his sick mother and had hoped to quit his addiction by the time he left, but wasn’t able to. Lithium can cause a reaction when not eating, drinking, and being constantly stressed, so his usage of it became dangerous when mixed with the inherent conditions of the game. It’s sad whenever a player has to leave for reasons outside of the game, and hopefully he gets a chance to play again. But for season 42, 15 players remained.
Ika lost a close immunity challenge, forcing them to attend Tribal Council. The targets to vote off were quickly narrowed to Zach and Tori. The younger alliance had collapsed, and they had no intention of continuing to fight together. Despite Romeo’s pleas, Zach was voted out. This ended the premiere with 14 players remaining.
This first episode had the same pratfalls as much of season 41. There were so many twists that they could not all be mentioned in this article, somewhat overshadowing the strategy of the game. That wasn’t the case in episode 2.
At Vati, Mike found an advantage. It was a three-way immunity idol, the same as in season 41. He needed to say a phrase at an immunity challenge to activate it, with members of the other tribes needing to say theirs as well. He decided to share this information with both Jenny and Daniel as a way of building those relationships. Unfortunately for him, Daniel was much closer to Chanelle than he was to Mike. He told Chanelle and began scheming with her about how to remove the threat. Daniel told Mike that it’d be safer not to activate the idol for now, but if it came to voting Mike out to get that idol out of the game, Daniel seemed willing to do it.
At Taku beach, the tribe began to tire of Maryanne’s constantly hyper energy. In a game as exhausting as “Survivor,” this type of trait can become frustrating for other contestants. At the same time, Jonathan and Omar further developed their friendship, with Lindsey already aligned with Jonathan. In a five-person tribe, three is a majority, so Maryanne and Marya found themselves on the outs.
At Ika, Drea pitched flipping on her alliance to Tori and Swathi in favor of an all-girls alliance. However, Swathi considered the idea of getting Drea out instead with Tori. Just the day after being on the wrong side of the numbers, the two remaining young Ika women had a path forward.
In a funny moment at the immunity challenge, Maryanne revealed that she had a crush on Zach, and was disappointed that he was voted out. Her tribe subsequently lost the challenge. Taku decided between sending Maryanne to meet up with Zach in Ponderosa (where eliminated players are sent) and voting out Marya, who hadn’t really meshed with the group from the start. They opted for Marya, meaning Maryanne would have to wait at least a couple days to meet Zach. The episode ended with 13 players remaining.
Following the premiere, episode 2 was a much needed breath of fresh air. It showed that tigers (and producers) can in fact change their stripes. With an endearing and remarkably diverse cast of “Survivor” fans, it only made sense to focus on relationships and strategy instead of twists. One could easily confuse this start with that of “Survivor: China,” “David vs Goliath,” “Millennials vs Gen X,” or other fantastic seasons with all first-time players.
The game has evolved in both positive and negative ways since Richard Hatch won the show's first ever season in Borneo, all the way back in 1999. But it’s safe to say that we’re in for a fun ride.