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Survivor New Zealand Episode 1 Recap – First Impressions


New Zealand’s own Chuck Cunningham recaps the season premiere of Survivor New Zealand.

I’m honestly surprised it’s taken seventeen years to get a New Zealand incarnation of Survivor. The landscape of Kiwi reality TV is interesting. From time to time there’s an original concept with its own unique charm, but for the most part, it’s mainly made up of local versions of established franchises, that lack the drama of the originals. You’re not going to have New Zealanders lie, cheat, and steal to win; as oddly as it sounds most participants are there to make friends.

I never really hear about people searching out New Zealand shows. That’s probably due to the fact most people don’t even know New Zealand is a country. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been mistaken for British or Australian when I’m overseas. However, the main reason for the lack of interest in Kiwi reality shows is that as a people we lack a killer instinct. We’re a country content with a bronze medal as at times we feel that’s the best our little country can do. This attitude towards competition is ingrained in us all, making us decent people who believe winning isn’t the only thing, but that same attitude makes us terrible reality show contestants. It’s these kinds of factors that made me very skeptical of Survivor New Zealand.

After seventeen years of not having a New Zealand Survivor, why now? It’s quite simple really. The catalyst that made Survivor New Zealand happen was that Australia put out their own version last year. I’ve always thought of New Zealand as the annoying little brother to Australia. We’re not that evenly matched on the sports field and are desperate to be seen as equals to the Ozzies. So when Australia came out with Australian Survivor, I’m sure producers felt obligated to make a New Zealand version happen. We’re just as great as Australia! Why can’t we have Survivor too??!!!

Hermosa in disbelief (photocredit Scott McAulay)

Photocredit Scott McAulay.

Let’s actually get into the episode and stop dwelling on how crappy a people we are for having a soul. Australian Survivor was ruled by “mateship” which often handcuffed players ability to maneuver within the game. So I thought it would be important to establish context as this aspect of our culture could shape how this version of Survivor is played.

The episode opens with the castaways being driven through the streets of a Nicaraguan town they’ll most likely never spend time in. It’s nice to see the culture and country the castaways are playing in. The seasons of the show that stick out in my memory are the ones with a strong theme or celebration of the host country. Other than Survivor: Second Chance which at times highlighted Cambodia, I can’t recall the last American season that even acknowledged the unique culture of the country they were playing in.

We’re only fifteen seconds into the episode, and I’m already questioning my entire world view. Have I been saying Nicaragua wrong my entire life? Every time it’s said by the host or the contestants I think they’ve had a stroke. While we’re at it what’s the correct pronunciation of gif? Americans, please feel free to educate me on proper spelling and pronunciation, the rest of the world love when you guys do that.

mogoton win (photocredit Scott McAulay)

Photocredit Scott McAulay.

The first contestant we are introduced to is Lou, the small town farm girl that seems awfully green. She knows nothing about Nicaragua, has no idea where it is and has no idea where South or North America is. Well, at least she’s prepared. Lou isn’t the most worldly of people, yet she’s very personable, which goes a long way in this game. Lou might not know basic geography (seriously, how bad is New Zealand schooling?) but she might have what it takes to win. I for one am rooting for Lou, just so that she can buy an atlas with some of her prize money.

My concerns for boring contestants are quashed when Dee enters the frame. Working in customer service, Dee seems like she would be right at home with Vince Sly on the No Collar tribe from Worlds Apart. “This is my passion. I know how to mess with people but I also know how to get them to trust me, and I’m funny. I’m charming. I’ve got it all.” These are big promises, but I’ve never seen a reality tv show contestant overestimate their ability. Next, we see Tony, a former soldier. It’s not that easy to understand the bloke, but I gather he’s talking about dangerous wildlife. I would love it if the editors are slowly building up to a Twilight Zone reveal that the most dangerous thing on the island was man. Sala, a youth worker, says he’ll take on any gang member but won’t take on spiders. If I were a betting man, I’d say Sala could win this thing. I’ve now put that in writing, so I look forward to being publicly shamed when I’m wrong.

Hermosa (photocredit Scott McAulay)

Photocredit Scott McAulay.

The truck pulls up to the beach and Matt Chisholm, our host, is still posing like a superhero. There’s something about him; it’s like he’s doing Jeff Probst Cosplay. He’s a bit robotic in his movements. I very much doubt this is part of Skynet’s master plan. You can tell some of these contestants have been dying to play this game for years. They have beaming smiles and can’t wait to get their buffs and start their Survivor adventure. Zookeeper Shannon is excited to start playing and has to pinch herself to make sure she’s not dreaming. “I dream of being in a tribal council,” says Dee… if that’s not a GG quote, I don’t know what is. It’s the Survivor equivalent of a movie character coughing and subsequently dying later in the film. At that point, I’m getting nervous for my new favorite player.

We get some much-needed mat chat with Matt to put faces to names and to get to know the contestants. Matt lays a trap by asking the contestants: “Any of you more than happy to be labeled the villain, if it means winning this game?” Both Dee and Shay raise their hands. Nobody acknowledges that Shay also raised her hand and all of the attention gets put on Dee. Matt is surprised even though there were probably months of production meetings planning how to get this very outcome. Dee responds that she’ll generally be labeled the villain because of her looks, so she’s going to own it and do whatever it takes to win.  A good rule for Survivor is to never volunteer for anything. Don’t raise your hand when the group is asked a question, don’t volunteer to be on the puzzle, don’t get chosen to go on tests, just lay dormant until the merge and come out swinging. No good can come from drawing any attention to yourself.

Mogoton's loot from the first challenge (photocredit Scott McAulay)

Photocredit Scott McAulay.

The orange tribe is known as Mogoton, named after the highest point in Nicaragua. Hermosa, the purple tribe, is named after the bay, and it also means beautiful. One by one each contestant collects their buff. It’s a huge moment for a player, and it’s always powerful seeing someone’s Survivor dream become reality. Sala lets out a yell when he receives his, the opposing tribe all smile brightly not yet in game mode. Shay and Sala embrace happy to be playing together. She calls Sala her brother from another mother, which worries Tom about the connection those two could develop. Every word matters in Survivor, so you should choose them carefully.

The jovial atmosphere is cut short when Matt informs the group that “Two of you will no longer be in these tribes.” The contestants are left speechless and can’t comprehend what was just said. “Day one and we already got to vote someone out – that’s so stink,” says Georgia. It warms my heart to hear some Kiwi slang on Survivor. We’ve had Sandra bartering in Spanish in the Pearl Islands, Abi-Maria translating for her mother and Tony speaking Llama and finally after seventeen years we get cringe Kiwi accents and slang that will baffle some international viewers. I’m slowly coming around to the fact New Zealand does need a Survivor series.

Hannah Digging in the first challenge (photocredit Scott McAulay)

Photocredit Scott McAulay.

We are finally introduced to our first challenge. Both tribes have two minutes to gather supplies off a boat in the sand and bring it to their mat. Why didn’t they use this challenge in Millennials vs. Gen X? There’s no winners or losers, and everyone gets a pat on the back for participating. It’s not a challenge as such; it’s more of a marooning. There’s the usual assortment of supplies: pots, pans, knives, fruit, and for some reason what looks like a decorative statue. What possible use could that be? Unless you’re antiquing with a neat lady I don’t understand why you would waste your energy collecting it.

Izzy tests the boundaries by stealing provisions from the other tribe’s mat. All’s fair in love, war, and Survivor and Izzy didn’t break any rules. It harkens back to Rupert pillaging Morgan’s supplies in Pearl Islands. It was those antics that secured Rupert winning America’s hearts, but the reaction to Izzy is not as positive. I also have to question Nate’s skills as a police officer as he witnessed Izzy stealing and it doesn’t register with him. It all comes back to that Kiwi mentality, nobody expects that kind of behavior, so they overlook it, make excuses or are unable to grasp the concept of someone playing dishonestly.

Izzy (photocredit Scott McAulay) (3)

Photocredit Scott McAulay.

Izzy feels bad about her actions and wants to give Hermosa a knife. They’ve got enough knives in their backs I think they’re all good with cutlery. The damage is already done, so giving a knife won’t do much to get rid of Izzy’s negative first impression. Izzy is an oil rig steward. I have no idea what that job is but I can’t help but picture Ben Affleck and animal crackers. And goddammit I’ll have “I don’t wanna miss a thing” stuck in my head all week.

The tribes make their way to their prospective camps. Tony takes charge at Mogoton. He has years of experience but is open to input. This is a great strategy for Tony to use his knowledge to help the team set up camp and make life easier for them. He is a valuable resource his tribe should utilize. Tony instructs them to gather wood and palm fronds as well as warning them of the dangers of the local wildlife. Avi is clever enough to let Tony take control as it only increases the target on Tony’s back and takes the focus off himself.

The consensus right away is that Hannah, the plus-size model/power lifter, is the first target, seemingly based on nothing other than first impressions. It’s pretty hard to turn the game around in an afternoon especially when nobody knows each other. Shay, Izzy, and Hannah walk into the bush to discuss their options. Hannah is upset with Tom for not giving her enough respect and thinking of her as a weak link. All three ladies are sketched out by Tom and plan on taking him out. “He’s the first person on my hitlist,” says Shay. I don’t know what kind of teacher Tom is, but maybe his reputation can be improved by educating Lou on world geography. There’s a pattern of teachers being seen as snakes on Survivor. Both Evan and Nick Iadanza on Australian Survivor and now Tom. Teachers earn peanuts and are forced to deal with teenagers on a daily basis; they should get our support.

Mogoton Tribe (photocredit Scott McAulay) (2)

Photocredit Scott McAulay.

Shay is worried Tom has strong connections with the other tribe and there’s a possibility he would flip given a chance. I doubt Tom would betray his entire tribe based on a few passing glances that were exchanged on the truck. Am I the only one that would be taking in the sights and miss those crucial alliance building moments? I feel like this truck journey needs a ten part prequel series of graphic novels to explain the nuances missed from the show. Hannah, Shay, and Izzy don’t find Tom trustworthy, and all pinky swear not to vote each other out. Two sides are forming, one against Hannah and a counter-alliance against Tom. Hannah does more than her fair share around camp, collecting rocks for the fire pit. Her effort doesn’t go unnoticed by her tribe mates, Avi remarks, “Hannah is strong as hell, mentally and physically, she’s really tough.”

Shay and Sala catch up and talk through voting scenarios. Shay floats Tom’s name to see if it will gain traction and Sala proposes either Hannah because the tribe’s thinking about who’s going to be weakest in challenges or Izzy because Tom thinks she’s planning several moves ahead. Shay is conflicted about voting for Hannah or Izzy, but at the end of the day, Sala is her number one alliance.

Hermosa Tribe (photocredit Scott McAulay) (2)

Photocredit Scott McAulay.

Over at Hermosa, Dee tells us how she prepared for the show by running, swimming, juggling, and standing on one foot. Dee must have gone to the Debbie Wanner school of Survivor. Dee goes on to tell us how she meditated thinking about how she was going to act friendly and convince people that she’s a pleasant person. I can relate. I’ve yet to figure out how to give off the vibe I’m a pleasant person to this very day. Self-deprecation and sarcasm rarely win the hearts of lowly commoners. Georgia, Shannon, and Dee have a powwow leaving five back at camp to plot against them. There’s a growing epidemic of Culpepper math on Survivor. Three into eight is out. I was joking earlier about the state of the New Zealand educational system, but more and more red flags keep emerging.

Georgia and Shannon are hesitant to join an alliance with Dee. Georgia sees where Michael’s head is at and he’s keen to get Dee out also. Dee’s words are coming back to haunt her as the tribe aren’t confident she will stay loyal. Michael brings up his concerns about Dee to Nate. “When she put her hand up for the villain I was like alright you’re out.” Michael makes a strong pitch saying he’s a man of his word and believes Nate is the same way. He proposes a four person alliance consisting of Nate, Shannon, Georgia and himself. If you’re Nate you’ve got to be slightly skeptical of this. It’s like Sesame Street, “Which one of these things is not like the other, which one of these things just doesn’t belong?” There are three ridiculously good looking young people and a grizzled cop too old for this s**t. You know he’s going to get voted out two days from retirement.

Mike (photocredit Scott McAulay)

Photocredit Scott McAulay.

Mike is eager to enlighten Georgia and Shannon about his final four deal with Nate which is immediately met with overwhelming hesitation. “No!” x1000 says Shannon. Shannon goes on to explain that she heard that other people in the tribe were targeting the pair (Georgia and Michael) for becoming too close. It’s uncertain from the episode whether this is truth or manipulation on Shannon’s part to keep her core three tight. It’s shown earlier in the episode that Lee has noticed the budding showmance of George Michael (that’s gotta be their couple name doesn’t it?) Lee is wary of the budding showmance between the pair but will keep an eye on it in future. I got a sense Shannon was playing them and manipulating the situation to her benefit. Shannon and Georgia appear to be the tightest pair on that tribe, Michael is loyal to them both and they could use him as a loyal number and meat shield getting rid of him at the final three if they needed to.

Meanwhile, on Mogoton, the two names still being debated are Hannah and Tom. Hannah could become a liability later down the line and the tribe wants to get rid of the weak. This perception isn’t really based on anything in the game. Hannah got as many supplies as anyone else in the first “challenge” and is shown doing more around camp. Hannah could be an asset to the tribe later in the game with strength-based challenges or any number of different things, it’s made very clear that the tribe also trust her a lot more than they do Tom. Izzy and Shay would love to keep Hannah in the game but not at the expense of their own position. Sala and Shay touch base before tribal council and agree to keep their distance as not to appear as a pairing. Smart gameplay on both of their parts, George Michael on Hermosa have already been seen getting too close and in a numbers game pairs are more dangerous than a single.

Mogoton_Hannah_TribalCouncil (photocredit Scott McAulay)

Photocredit Scott McAulay.

Mogoton is first to experience tribal council. Hannah sees the writing on the wall and pleads her case. She says she’s got a lot to prove and that the tribe shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Hannah knows she’s in danger and is doing all she can to stay alive in the game. Matt asks who’s playing the game with honor and Sala raises his hand. This action could act as a double-edged sword for him. It could gain Sala allies in the short term but in the long term how can he stay honorable in a game of deceit. I’m loving Sala so far but I’ve seen many a good man corrupted by Survivor. That is the American version though, where they’re playing for a million dollars instead of a packet of pineapple lumps and a couple Crowded House CDs, the stakes just aren’t as high to break a person’s moral compass.

The decision has been made, the votes are collected and are read by Matt. Hannah gets the majority of the votes and is the first person voted off of Mogoton, leaving with a sniffle.

It’s Hermosa’s turn at tribal council. Dee tries to shake her self-imposed villain label at the bemusement of her tribe mates. When Dee speaks, the tribe nod behind her and smirk; the scarlet letter of “villain” that followed her through her afternoon of Survivor is her undoing, and she is swiftly booted. Hermosa receives the flint from Matt and return to camp still slightly shaken from their first tribal council but in brighter spirits. Dee, the cause of their paranoia and the source of my joy, is gone. The tribe works together to make fire, chipping in where needed, each castaway having a voice. They rejoice and bond further as the sparks ignite into a roaring fire cutting the cold Nicaraguan night.

www.scottmcaulay.com +64(27)6241733

Photocredit Scott McAulay.

Conversely Tony on Mogoton monopolizes the flint as the tribe stands frustrated unable to help. I feel for Tony a bit; he has these skills, a vast knowledge and he’s just trying to prove his worth to the tribe. He wants to be their hero, yet I feel Tony is tilting at windmills with his attempts at the fire. He isn’t accepting help which is isolating him to the rest of the tribe. Izzy’s pleading “Can I try?” and the clapping of thunder are muted by Tony’s need to be the provider.

Hermosa makes efforts at improving their shelter and all sit around picking at the lone rotten fruit Mogoton left. None of them are enjoying it but are so desperate for sustenance that they go back for more. It reminds me of a simpler time in Survivor where we could have interesting moments centered around camp life and not endless talk of vote splits. It harkens back to Survivor: The Australian Outback where the Koror tribe find fruit and are disgusted by the insects living inside. Definitely the most memorable thing about Skupin and Varner.

Back at Mogoton, Izzy is curled up in a ball, and I’m wondering if we will get our first medevac this season. On day two you probably haven’t finished digesting the inflight meal, so it is a bit of a shock to see Izzy on the brink of death (slight exaggeration). Lou consoles her and questions whether she wants to stay. “I would want to stay, but I feel like it’s not up to me, my body is telling me,” Izzy responds. The tribe rightly question their decision to vote off Hannah instead of Izzy.

Sala (photocredit Scott McAulay)

Photocredit Scott McAulay.

Hermosa read treemail which makes it fairly obvious there will be a chance for the two eliminated castaways to get back in the game but it’s inexplicably going over everyone’s head. It’s not the DaVinci Code so anyone with reading comprehension should crack that riddle. The two tribes enter the challenge arena and are asked to sit on the freakishly large benches. I’ve been skeeved out by over sized furniture ever since I saw Dan Lembo swinging his feet on that gargantuan chair back in Survivor: Nicaragua. It’s unnatural and ungodly! Is Nicaragua the home of Kaiju-esque furniture?

Survivor New Zealand went back to basics compared to the Aussie version. 16 players, 40 days (Kiwis can’t count?), so it’s puzzling why they would include Redemption Island as it is a twist the vast majority of the fandom despise. I’ve got a confession to make; I’m a closeted RI fan. The one positive in implementing it is that we get more time with our favorite castaways. Some might say it’s an unfair twist but the great players know how to neutralize obstacles or use them for their benefit.

Tribes at Redemption Island (photocredit Scott McAulay)

Photocredit Scott McAulay.

Dee and Hannah enter the duel arena and are met with shocked faces. The duel is a classic Survivor challenge and one of my absolute favorites. The contestants must use sticks and twine to build a pole which is long and strong enough to collect three keys and open three locks. The winner is the first one to walk through the gate.

Dee and Hannah both implement different strategies. Hannah makes her pole as she goes adding length when she needs it, Dee, on the other hand, lays all her sticks out first and creates one big pole. Interesting tactics but her plan falls through when her pole isn’t long enough to collect a single key. Dee goes back to the drawing board and readjusts her pole. Dee rallies, closing the gap to two keys each, but it’s too little too late. Being spurred on by her former tribemates that backstabbed her the night before, Hannah opens all three locks winning the duel and sending Dee back home.

Hannah and Dee at Redemption Island (photocredit Scott McAulay)

Photocredit Scott McAulay.

Dee, on the way out the door, explains how much Survivor means to her: she listens to hours of podcasts every week, listened to 500 hours of audio books (would it kill you to plug RHAP?), and says she follows all the Survivor bloggers. Hey Dee, if you’re reading this say hi! It’s hard to lose a player like Dee so early. I love seeing fans of the show do well; every second Dee was on screen I could tell how much she loved the experience. It’s too bad she created an uphill battle for herself on day one. I’m sure given the opportunity she could have done some great things.

It was a fairly entertaining premiere. There were some interesting characters, and I enjoyed Dee for her one episode. The theme of the episode revolved around perception. Dee and Hannah were both voted out because of the negative perceptions surrounding them. Dee never really got the chance to change that Day 1 image of herself which is unfortunate, but hopefully, Hannah can stay on Redemption Island and win a few more duels, making the Mogoton tribe regret sending her there. Moving forward how can players change their perception? Can Tom shake people’s nagging doubts about him? Or will he be dueling Hannah shortly? It’s still early days, so anything is possible.


Chuck Cunningham hails from the lackluster country known as New Zealand. He was an aspiring writer until the harshness of reality crushed his soul. When he's not picking up the pieces of his shattered dreams, he spends his time far too concerned with the trivial goings on of reality TV. A super duper fan of Survivor that would most likely be the first one voted out for his awkwardness, lack of fitness and being too "real"



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  • Shambo

    Great review. Survivor fan from USA here. Glad New Zealand stepped up, looking forward to season. Hopefully we see some good game play. $100,000 is not chump change. So ya, what is the story as to no Canadian Survivor?