From the onset, the tribes are divided into two teams, who await two returning players in the arena of – oh no! Redemption Island. Most pray Russell Hantz isn’t one of the new arrivals.  Nope, it’s Benjamin “Coach” Wade and Ozzy Lusth.  Upolu, the Blue Tribe, are not thrilled when Coach is made one of them. Ozzy is enthusiastically embraced by Savaii, the Red Team.

Harvard Law student and complete Survivor geek John Cochran nearly wets himself as he interacts with Jeff, Coach and Ozzy.  He did a thesis in university on the game/reality show, and has never missed an episode in eleven years. Knowing that he needs to make an impression, and that the best players have always been referred to by their last names, he asks Jeff Probst to call him “Cochran.” Jeff smiles, but agrees.

Time for the first challenge: A Hero Challenge.  Ozzy against Coach.  They must climb a 12 foot pole, retrieve a wooden turtle, tunnel under a log, then solve a complicated puzzle. Easy Peasy, right? Both teams shout out encouragement and help to their leader, but Ozzie wins quickly. The reward is flint for fire, and a huge wheel of taro, a South American starch similar to potato or rice – an important food staple. Jeff proclaims the Hero Challenge a Team win, handing woven kit bags to Coach and Ozzy. Savaii stride off triumphantly while Upolu glumly abandon Coach to his own devices. Only Edna, an anesthesiologist in an improbable  business suit,  lingers to walk with Coach to their new home. Based on his teams’ reception Coach thinks he’s going to be the first person leaving the lsland.

Ozzy’s team hail him as a God, expecting Ozzy to have all the answers. Not so fast, my neophyte islanders … Ozzy is nothing if not a good time dude. The Savaii team introduces themselves; John Cochran, a Harvard law student; Elyse, dance team manager; Whitney,  a Nashville songwriter; Mark, a gay retired NYPD detective; Dawn, an English professor; Jim, who cheekily hides his entrepreneurial background as a medical marijuana dispenser;  Keith, a water technician; and  Semhar, a beautiful spoken word poet, to whom Ozzy takes an immediate shine. Ozzy tells the team to chill out, and have a swim. Most jump in enthusiastically, but Cochran, with his translucent skin and geek body, is reluctant. Apparently, no one thought to pack a swimsuit for this tropical adventure, so they are all stripped down to their undies.

Coach, on the other hand, is busy placating his new tribe mates; Albert, a baseball/dating coach; Edna, an anesthesiologist;  Sophie, a medical student; Stacey, a mortician;   Christina, a teacher; Mikayla, a lingerie football model; Rick, a rancher;   and Brandon, Russell Hantz’ nephew. Other people have their jobs listed under their names, but not Brandon, so apparently, being Russell Hantz nephew is a full time job. Who knew?

The team may not love Coach, but they do know he has experience , so they turn to him for help with building a shelter. Christine, however, takes the time to search for an immunity idol, turning her into Target #1. Later, Coach and 4 of his team members – Albert, Rick, Brandon and Sophie -  bond over a campfire, and Coach takes the opportunity to begin putting together an alliance.

The next morning finds the Red Team, Savaii, bumbling through the preparation of water, having slept without shelter the night before. The two eldest, Dawn and Mark, aka ‘Papa Bear,’ bond over their possible exclusion from the younger set. Dawn finally breaks down while talking with Ozzy, which other team members see as a weakness. Ozzy’s not sure if Cochran can handle life on the Island, but Cochran’s young Woody Allen persona is already winning me over.

Russell Hantz’ nephew, Brandon, interviews about his wild youth, when he tried to emulate Russell’s bullying ways, and how he then returned to his faith. He likens himself to ‘Hitler’s nephew.’ He has no intention of revealing his connection to Russell, hiding two tattoos that would give away his real name by never completely removing his shirt. Although he seems to have the tribe’s best interests at heart, he is also shown to be both attracted and repulsed by Mikayla, a football lingerie model, denouncing what he feels is her flaunting of her fit beauty,  while unable to take his eyes off her. Shades of the Salem Witch trials!

Brandon takes the lead in fishing, and catches the tribe’s first fish, a tiny capture, but a sign of his need to be a provider to the tribe. Sophie is skeptical about Brandon, sensing that he is hiding something.

The first challenge is very physical, a zig zag through winding passages, then through a web of coconuts, to a 10 foot wall the entire team must scale. Then one team member will dig in a sand pit, uncover a machete, cut through a series of ropes, to release a bin of coconuts, which three tribe members will then shoot into a basket until the basket weighs enough to raise their flag. The winning tribe will have immunity, and one word to help them find the immunity idol. And they’re off! Upolu wins! Immunity, flint, and a clue that somewhere at their camp is a clue to finding the hidden immunity idol.  Wow, that’s a big help.

Jeff asks Semhar how she feels about letting her team down with her inability or unwillingness to push hard enough for the win. She says she feels ‘sorta bad.’ Jim is obviously angered, saying that ‘sorta bad is how I feel when I run out of milk. I feel like crap now that we’re going home and have to vote somebody out.’ Semhar wizzles and winges about ‘trying her best,’ while pouting and twiddling her hair.

Back at Upolu, Christine and Stacey begin to search for the clue to the hidden idol. At Savaii, however, Semhar apologizes for being ‘one of the reasons’ the tribe didn’t win, but points the finger at Jim as having let down the team by making them look weak. Huh? Yeah, Jim was surprised too. Semhar interviews that she’s just too honest, but probably shouldn’t have called Jim out in front of the tribe. You think? The challenge was lost because Semhar threw two coconuts, and then declared herself too tired to go on. I think Jim may have had a point.

Papa Bear and Dawn confide that they won’t vote for each other, but Semhar deserves to go. Ozzy, however, begs to differ, as he swims with his faves on the team. The three young girls are an advantage, he says, while Dawn pulled her weight on the challenge as well. Cochran, however, is not as coordinated and a potential liability. Jim interviews that it’s blowing his mind that Ozzy may have already decided that Semhar’s awesome body and snugability factor outweigh his chances at a million dollars.

Ozzy warns Semhar that it’s going to be her or Cochran going that night, so she had better get politicking. Semhar feels that Cochran may be a huge fan of the game, but not necessarily  a great player. The younger crew seem on Semhar’s side. Jim, meanwhile, tells Cochran of Ozzy’s plans, hinting that Ozzy may be trying to see how much clout he has with the tribe. Papa Bear reassures a paranoid and depressed Cochran that it won’t be him. In full Woody Allen mode, Cochran interviews that his dream has turned into a nightmare. The tribe leave for tribal council with a despondent Cochran dragging his heels to his doom.

Jeff welcomes Ubolu, and then asks Dawn if there’s been much talk at camp about Redemption Island. She says she’s thought about it, but the first three days are a time of building shelter, organizing food, and preparing for the challenges. Dawn admits to crying over the reality of a whole different lifestyle, and how daunting it has been. Jeff then asks Elise who else might be worried about having a rough start, and she says that Semhar might be concerned, after the challenge loss, and the talk Jim and Semhar had back in camp. Jeff says that he’s a competitor, and hates losing. Semhar wanted to prove herself, but failed. Jeff asks Whitney if there was any part of her glad that the attention was off her, and she admits to feeling that Semhar seemed so vocal and confident in her own abilities that there wasn’t a chance for anyone else to jump in and play. Semhar angrily says that she knows she would have been safer if she hadn’t stepped up and taken a chance, but she has heart, and will give it all that she’s got. Jeff asks Ozzy if he’d rather play with someone who says, “I think I can do this,” or the guy that says, “better you than me.” Semhar smirks as Ozzy says he’s more interested in playing with someone that can harness their passions, and try. When asked, Dawn says that Cochran might also be worried, based on just strength, that he might be another target. Cochran admits that he may have the glasses, sweater vest, and pale skin of a nerd, but if you look at his game play, he flew like a hummingbird through the obstacles. Papa Bear mentions that Cochran had a moment of indecision in the game, but that the team covered quickly. Sometimes Cochran may need direction, but that shouldn’t be a fatal mistake.

Cochran, although nervous, asks for some time to make his own case. He mentions that Semhar’s provision of sticks for toothbrushes has hardly been an enormous contribution, and that he is learning every day how to best help the tribe. He assures the tribe that he will be their ‘genie in a bottle’ should they keep him on. In fact, he just kept talking and talking and talking, until even I wanted to vote him out. He’s a smart guy, but he was talking himself out of a win. The team remind Cochran that they’ve all only had three days to make their worth known. Jeff says it’s pretty clear that it’s either Cochran or Semhar going home, and it’s time to vote.  

 Semhar gets five votes, and that’s enough to send her to Redemption Island. She crys as she leaves, while Ozzie whispers that he should have taught her how to make a fire.

After a brief peek at next week’s show, where Cochran is shown variously as a klutz and a work machine, and Brandon makes the fatal mistake of confiding his identity to Coach (yep I knew he’d do that), we cut to the dark and stark Redemption Island, where Semhar is crying over the lies and cold heartedness of her team members.

So that’s our premiere, folks. In my opinion, the unfortunate manner in which Ozzy is most often interviewed, sitting behind a bush and only shown from the chest up, looks like he’s been caught while taking a ‘nature break.’ But I’m weird like that.

Was the team right to choose Cochran over Semhar? Do you think Semhar can win any duels, and finally get back in to the big game? What are your thoughts on this season’s players? I’d love to hear what you think, so please do leave me a note! Until next week, Survivor out!