“Slay Everyone, Trust No One”
by Ian Walker
Anniversaries are meant to be celebrated, and when Survivor’s 20th season rolled around, commemorating its 10-year anniversary, the show threw quite a celebration.
Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains was a tribute to the 19 seasons that came before it, bringing back players from all eras of Survivor history, and the hype was real. The buildup before the season, from the moment the first preview aired at the end of the Samoa finale to the night of the premiere, brought a palpable excitement to the Survivor fanbase. Looking at the entire cast of 20, any fan could find a castaway they enjoyed, whether by making them laugh with their quirky and endearing personality or making them pump their fists and look on with awe with their great gameplay.
After this nice, little reintroduction, the players get right back into the action with a phenomenal opening challenge meant to stoke the competitive fire between the two tribes. The Heroes and Villains engage in a full contact battle that has the players grappling with each other for control of a bag that they must grab and race back with to their mats, and it gets ugly. Several injuries are suffered, as Stephenie LaGrossa dislocates a shoulder (which Courtney Yates takes great joy in), while Rupert breaks a toe during his scuffle.
In another round, Coach Ben Wade frog-marches Colby down the beach to score a point for his team, earning the Dragon Slayer a little redemption early on by besting a legendary challenge beast – followed by Tyson’s amazing “Colby must be thinking… I might as well just become a woman. Because there’s no point in trying to maintain my masculinity now…” confessional.
There’s even a little topless action, when Sandra Diaz-Twine, being true to the villain name, undoes the bra of Jessica “Sugar” Kiper. However, this doesn’t bother Sugar in the slightest, as she bravely runs down the beach bare-chested, scoring the point for her tribe and, in the ultimate sign of “Suck It!” flips the villains the double bird. It was an epic way to start what was surely going to be an epic season.
The remainder of the episode does a great job of reintroducing all of these great characters into the world of Survivor, as they settle into their respective camps.
Over on the Villains beach, Russell is back up to his old tricks. Having just made the finals the previous season, presumptively believing that he had won that game, he has dreams of being at the top again. He proclaims, “I’m the best player to ever play this game, now guess what, I get to prove it” in a confessional, believing this season is his chance at claiming Survivor glory for all eternity. Having thought things went great the first time, he decides to stick to the same playbook, which consists of running down the beach looking for any pretty girl he can find and forcing them into a final three alliance.
For Russell, however, this episode is really the height of Russellmania. His arc, going from a great player who was robbed of a victory to a disgraced two-time loser, is one of the defining storylines of the season. The groundwork is laid here, as he doesn’t realize the path he’s embarking on this time is only going to lead to the same result he’s encountered before.
There are also two blossoming relationships on the Villains tribe, both involving Coach. In a match made in Survivor heaven, The Dragon Slayer and the Maneater hit it off, as Coach and Jerri Manthey unexpectedly form a close friendship early on in the game, bonding over their misunderstood status as villains. This kind of interaction illustrates the fun of having all of these players from all of these different eras of Survivor interact. The fact that Jerri, one of the biggest villains in the history of not just Survivor, but of reality TV as a whole, and Coach, who just showed up to the Survivor scene a year ago, can even talk with, let alone flirt with one another, is pretty awesome.
Coach’s flirtmance with Jerri, however, has nothing on his full-on mancrush on Boston Rob. He immediately sees Rob as the perfect sparring partner, somebody who he can match wits and strength with, the embodiment of his “iron sharpens iron” philosophy, while Rob sees Coach as just Coach. Their dynamic leads to a phenomenal scene in which Rob, after deeming climbing to the top of a coconut tree to grab some palm fronds is too dangerous, seeks out somebody to do the job for him.
“I could probably go up there and get them but why would I risk falling and getting hurt? But I know somebody who’s so full of themselves that whenever you give them a challenge they just have to do it because they’re the greatest and the best, and you know every day they’re out here they get stronger,” Rob tells us in a confessional.
Luckily, he has that person in Coach, who jumps at the opportunity to prove he’s just as tough and cool as Rob is. It’s a moment that perfectly illustrates the two players’ roles in the season, establishing Rob as the experienced and respected veteran and Coach as the walking joke that nobody takes seriously. After giving it a try, Coach backs down much to Rob’s disappointment, mostly because he lost a bet he made with Sandra over whether Coach would do it. Coach laments his “hero to zero” status, but Rob puts it more accurately, dubbing him “from the villain to the never-was” giving this scene the perfect capper.
As for the vote, that distinction goes to the Heroes tribe, who suffer a defeat despite getting out to an early lead, only to be thwarted by the puzzle god that is Boston Rob.
As the discussion on who to vote out ramps up, it’s no surprise that the three best players on the tribe are the ones driving the discourse, as Cirie and Tom Westman entrench themselves on opposite sides, with JT Thomas using his “aw, shucks” charm to play the middle. Tom is worried about Cirie striking up a Micronesia 2.0 alliance with James Clement and Amanda Kimmel, while Cirie, suffering from her chronic fear of alpha male types, sees Tom as the biggest threat.
While both sides put in some good effort in shoring up their respective sides, they ultimately decide to make the easy decision for this first vote and send home Sugar, who had spent the previous night cuddling up to Colby (much to his chagrin), giving the season the perfect first boot and kicking off one of the most electric seasons in the history of Survivor.