Survivor 45

Premiere Recap – United We Suffer

What went down in Episode 1?

Photo: CBS

Survivor is back yet again! Only this time, we have 90-minute episodes all season, main titles coming back, a rework of the Survivor Auction, and all the bells and whistles of the New Era we’ve come to know and… mostly dislike. But with Survivor 45 sporting some long-awaited upgrades, I’m pretty excited to see how it comes together, and the premiere didn’t shake my faith in this season being (for better or worse) very entertaining TV.

To kick things off, we have another barge marooning, but what sets this opening apart from others is tangible drama on the mat, because last season’s unfortunate first casualty Bruce is back, and Emily is not having it. She’s not buying his attempt to downplay his 12-hour advantage, so she channels her inner Christine Shields Markoski and calls the returnee out in front of the entire cast. Probably a terrible move if she wants to win, but it’s fantastic TV in this era of Kumbaya Survivor.

Drama aside, there’s a reward challenge for flint and supplies. Despite taking the early lead, Lulu falls apart when superfan Brandon struggles and suffers a panic attack, letting the Reba tribe score the first win of the season as Brandon stays behind for medical evaluation. And as always, the losing tribes must overcome Savvy vs. Sweat to earn their supplies, but this season, the concept has been reworked for the better.

Two members of the losing tribes are taken to another beach where it’s not Savvy versus Sweat, but Savvy and Sweat. Both options (moving logs across the beach and solving a brain teaser) must be finished within the hour, and to make the stakes higher, it’s a head-to-head competition between both duos for one set of supplies. For Belo, Jake and Brando compete. For Lulu, it’s Sabiyah and Kaleb. While both pairs manage to finish the Sweat portion, the Savvy side completely stumps them, leaving both Belo and Lulu as big losers.

On Belo, Bruce is the talk of the town for obvious reasons. Being the sole returnee, he tries to lower his threat level by framing himself as the crazy, drunk uncle rather than the bossy father figure… only to immediately give orders and direct people with the shelter building. It’s not at all the start I envisioned for Bruce, and it’s only looking worse for him when Kendra, Katurah, and Kellie form an all-female alliance to counter the early eliminations women typically face in this show.

Assuming this doesn’t go the way of Survivor 43, where every attempt at a women’s alliance collapsed at their first votes, this trio could be a force to be reckoned with. And their first target? Grandma’s boy Jake, who has done the exact opposite of Katurah and talked openly about his law career, making him an easy target if Belo loses. And Katurah herself is more than happy to use it against him, cleverly asking about a career she very much understands to keep his lips moving and his ship sinking.

Across the sea, Reba is a stacked tribe with brains, brawn, and morale galore. Lawyer Julie pulls a page from the Katurah playbook and hides her career, posing as an art teacher instead. Sifu introduces himself as the goofy martial artist as a means of throwing people off his potential strategic game. And Drew fills us in on why he’s made for this game, explaining that he has both a nerdy, introverted side and a sociable, extroverted side that he can switch between in any situation.

But back to Sifu. Because, oh boy, messiness is afoot. Figuring nobody is taking him that seriously as a player, he runs off to hunt for idols, leaving everyone else back at camp. But Tony Vlachos this man is not (well, maybe Game Changers era Tony), because everyone else on Reba immediately clocks his game and hunts him down. Finding him hiding in the brush, Dee wants to unleash the beast but knows she has to bite her tongue and settle for simply voting him out when the time comes.

Though Sifu’s attempt at idol hunting fails miserably, Austin finds Reba’s Beware Advantage on a firewood trip. Like usual, the Beware Advantage eventually nets you an idol at the temporary expense of your vote, but this time, it’s reworked to be like old-fashioned idol hunts where players must follow a series of clues to get their prize.

The first task on Austin’s to-do list is solving a puzzle printed right on their tribe flag. It’s not as socially interesting as the bead collecting from 43 and not as amusing as the wacky phrases from 41 and 42, but in a season where production is going old school to some degree, multi-stage idol hunts are a cool blast from the past. Now let’s just hope they don’t include the professionally made fake idols that plagued 44, and we’ll be good!

Last and certainly least among these tribes is Lulu, a tribe so bad across the board they almost make Cagayan’s Brain tribe look like pros. Right away, nobody has any clue about building shelter and just meanders around camp. Hannah and Brandon bond over how miserable and unfit they are for the game despite their initial excitement, while Emily rubs people the wrong way with her cynical, glass-half-empty personality. And just to start more trouble, she casts doubt on Sabiyah and Kaleb when they return without supplies, assuming they chose an advantage instead of supporting the tribe and will be a tight duo moving forward.

And she might just get her chance to break them up because Lulu flounders at the immunity challenge, barely even making it to the puzzle before Belo and Reba steamroll their puzzles. Once again, Brandon is the clear weak link holding them back in a physical portion of the challenge, making him an easy first boot if Lulu wants to vote for tribe strength over laughs.

But Brandon might have a saving grace because Hannah feels nothing but relief about their loss and wants to be voted out. The game is way tougher than she expected; she’s not holding up mentally or physically with her sudden nicotine withdrawal, and everyone else wants to be there more than her. Seems like a clear-cut 5-1 vote, right? Wrong. Because Brandon pulls a page out of Gabler’s playbook and vows to use his Shot in the Dark, feeling responsible for the loss and suffering from multiple health issues just three days in.

However, the Lulu losers will continue to complicate things. Emily tries to rally the would-be quitters to target Kaleb, hoping to break up this super-tight duo she’s envisioned. But Brandon runs off to leak her plan to Kaleb and Sabiyah, forcing them to consider targeting Emily instead of the woman who literally wants to quit and a man willing to risk his game on dumb luck. Even with Hannah campaigning against herself and Brandon throwing his game away with a roll of the dice, Emily is so on the outs and playing so badly that she’s turning a godsend scenario for her into a potential all-time choke.

As Tribal arrives, Emily holds no punches in calling it like she sees it. Sabiyah and Kaleb are a tight duo running the tribe (something Sabiyah firmly pushes back against to shut her down), and Brandon is their weakest link (something Brandon firmly admits with a smile on his face). But with the vote seeming to be the end of Brandon or Emily’s dream, Hannah steps up and says it straight up: she’s tired of her offer to be voted out being ignored, so she’s not even banking on the votes taking her out anymore.

She’s quitting, not just because she can’t hack it out there, but because it wouldn’t be fair for Brandon, Emily, Kaleb, or whoever to go home first over her. So, after a short and somewhat tearful concession, the rest of Lulu honors her wishes and lets her go, cementing Hannah as the first boot of Survivor 45 and the latest member of the infamous quitter club.

So… Hannah quitting three days in when they had alternates and casting finalists desperate for a chance to play is definitely a bad look on her part. I’m sure Hannah will be meme’d on and mocked for years as one of the biggest casting duds of all time (or icons if you’re like me and ironically appreciate a total trainwreck season where the show falls apart to production’s chagrin). But I’d still like to wish Hannah the best, given she simply realized she wasn’t cut out for the show and left in a mature fashion to not rob anyone of a spot in the next round.

This isn’t a Colton situation where Hannah quit upon realizing she was getting outplayed. This isn’t a Julie McGee situation where she stole and ate the tribe’s food on her way out. This isn’t a NaOnka situation where she quit after taking a reward from starving players deep in the game. Of the non-medical quits, this is about as inoffensive as it gets. A quitter gets to leave first so none of the other 17 feel robbed, and it’s handled with respect so as not to totally dehumanize her on the way out.

But with Hannah’s meme of a quit behind us, the rest of the season awaits on the horizon. Whether you hated the premiere or not (I personally loved it, but I know many out there completely despised it), there’s still a ton of game to be played. Lulu is a Luzon-level disaster in challenges and on the beach, Bruce is making a mess of his return on Belo as the women plot to upset the status quo, and Reba will offer a first look at how this upgraded idol hunt will work as Sifu digs his own grave with a faux-Tony game.

And above all else, I’m just interested to see how the 90-minute episode format pans out. It’s something fresh after four nearly identical seasons in a row, and there are plenty of old-school throwbacks coming to make the New Era scent a little less pungent for those who hate the radical format shifts. Whether or not the cast impresses us beyond being absolute disasters, at the absolute least, we have a season with actual identity again. Maybe not as much identity as we’d like, but it’s still a start and a fun, messy one at that.

Written by

Cory Gage

Cory is a writer and student from Texas. He's a die-hard Survivor fanatic who's seen over 50 seasons worldwide, hosted his own season in high school from scratch, and hopes to one day compete on the show himself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.