Blurry Denzel and Barbara Anderson heed Wanda’s siren call and begin the Watch-Along of Survivor: Palau with Episodes 1-4.
Quick reminder: this Watch-Along will have spoilers for the entire season, so tread with caution if this is a concern for you.
Let’s Start at the Very Beginning
Barbara Anderson: As Maritimer noted in the comments last week , Palau is the “last season of the non-gimmick era of Survivor” and I tend to agree. After all, it is the last season before the introduction of the Hidden Immunity Idol. But, Palau is also a very important transitional season that will lead into the start of many twists/gimmick that we will see return in seasons to come. The first of which is the first 20-person cast in Survivor history, although that does not last very long at all.
Blurry Denzel: Cutting the cast from 20 to 18 is the only criticism I have with how Palau opens this season. It may be one of the few I have with the season, so we may need a running counter on that. Anyway, I love them paddling to shore when Probst dangles this prize for them, in this case immunity, and forces them to make a decision. It guarantees a rush, an exciting start. It’s a more subtle way of getting people to “play the game” from the jump. I love that the schoolyard pick in this season is not off first impressions but after a whole night together. Another good move on the show to let a little bit of social bonding and strategy play a part in this decision making. Though I think it sucks that Jonathan and Wanda went home. I get that Survivor wanted to have stakes for these picks but I believe they already succeeded in creating a moment with how the tribes were formed that this seemed unnecessary.
BA: Another gimmick Palau softly introduced is the whole “One World” twist where the cast is together on one beach for a period of time, which I think leads to a lot of great character moments like the outcasts getting water and Janu actually showing off her rock-climbing skills by climbing up the tree to help with the shelter (which will pay off fairly quickly in this episode). I think the fight for those necklaces as well as everybody living on the same beach for a while to start the season is also great because it does highlight one of Palau’s strength – playing to the location-based theme of World War II. War isn’t always physical, it’s mental and sometimes personal as well. Speaking of that balance, let’s talk about the schoolyard pick. If you had to ask me who was the number one pick, I would have never guessed it would be Katie.
BD: The picks yielded a lot of interesting results. Just looking at how the tribes were set up, Ulong is the younger, more athletic group in a season that has very long, physical challenges that you really don’t see in modern Survivor. I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking Ulong would have the advantage, so where does it all go wrong?
BD: I think a lot of the issues start with the ouster of Jolanda. Ulong was a tribe that struggled with anyone seeming like an authority figure. Jo is someone who was a natural leader and needs to vocalize what the tribe should be doing. She also was self aware that she could be outspoken at times and seems open to rectifying that potential issue. This seems like a small issue to suddenly boot one of the strongest, most intelligent players from their tribe. Could it be a case of miscommunication? We saw in the opening immunity challenge when they couldn’t get on the same page with what supplies to take and when to leave. Could it possibly be a case of egos? Stephenie seemed most bothered by Jo and it makes me wonder if this was more of a power play on her part.
BA: I wonder if Steph is bothered by the fact that Jo wants to take out Angie so badly for a bad performance in the challenge that wasn’t really there in the edit. What is interesting is that Steph tries approaching Bobby Jon to take out Jolanda, but he’s not game and she immediately backs down. It isn’t until the people that you do not remember being on Palau got bothered with Jo’s tone that the ball started really moving to get out Jo and save Angie.
BD: I didn’t see a bad performance from Angie in that first challenge either and we see in later challenges that Angie is a competitive badass. This seems more like Jo pulling off that classic Survivor move of finding a reason for getting rid of the outcast. She thinks it will be an easy vote. After Jo is gone it seems like there wasn’t any organization with the tribe because no one wanted that role of being that one to vocalize tribe needs. Also, it has to be mentioned that Jo is one of many women of color that end up leaving the game first or extremely early in Survivor‘s most troubling trend. She wasn’t seen as a leader the way someone like Tom was. It remains a struggle for to play the game and “fit in” for someone like Jolanda.
BA: Much like Gonzalez in Ghost Island and many other WOC first boots, the language used to justify Jolanda’s boot is super coded. She is too “loud” and “bossy” Of course, it does not help that Jolanda was the oldest on her tribe by a bit of a wide margin, so once she was gone, no one (not even Steph) wanted to step into the leadership role. It also destroys the majority that the women had on Ulong, which the remaining women don’t realize until a couple of episodes down the road.
Ulong vs. Koror
BA: We are starting to see that Ulong just cannot get on the same page about anything without someone at the helm to make the hard decisions. Should they work to improve their shelter (since they clearly did not improve the shelter at all once Koror left the beach) or rest to save their strength for the challenge? Who do we vote to make our tribe stronger? What is fascinating is that with this mentality, Ulong has a lot of shifting alliances that changes from day to day, but this isn’t strategy. This is pure stupidity of not knowing how to play the game, which is the biggest advantage that Koror has on Ulong and everybody knows it.
BD: The only consistent alliance from the early days of Ulong seemed to be Jeff and Kim before whatever power they held went away once there Jeff encountered that rascal loose coconut. Kim seemed like an obvious first, second, or third boot but she had Jeff behind her while everyone else changed minds every time the sun sets. Koror seemed more solid. They had plans of how to approach challenges. They had people who would hunt for food and people who would work on the shelter. They had someone in Ian who had a skill set that translated to the island and they had a leader in Tom that would set the pace. They didn’t always get along but they feel like a cohesive unit.
BA: Many disaster tribes in Survivor history have the similar leadership issues (either due to a lack of leadership or just bad leadership in general) that Ulong does. Think about Matsing, Luzon, Maraamu, and so many of the other bad tribes. This is something Production and Casting cannot necessarily predict on paper, especially in seasons that begin or include a schoolyard pick. In an unfortunate circumstance of the schoolyard pick, most of the leaders in the cast ended up on Koror.
BD: What really impresses me about Koror is their preparation, especially in challenges. They really take advantage of that “minute to strategize.” The immunity challenge where they used to buddy system to pull that heavy crate or knowing when to pick up the pace in water course challenge to catch the other team are examples of them being many steps ahead of Ulong. I also like how Koror adjusts throughout these early episodes. They learn where each players’ weaknesses are and put them in places where they can give maximum value, sometimes it’s on the bench. Ulong seems to rely on their speed and strength and this idea that they can just barrel through obstacles with that but there are so many steps to these challenges that they just end up tiring themselves out. Koror is working smarter than Ulong.
BA: Let’s not take away from Ulong because they are winning reward challenges which keeps the morale up for a bit before Jeff’s exit. These early victories along with what may be Koror’s worst mistake in the entire season, capsizing the boat on the way to their new home that they share with roughly ten million rats, lead to Ian saying that Koror is The Bad News Bears, which is crazy to think about in hindsight because of how truly dominant Koror ends up being. All they needed was to kill some wild animals, I guess.
How Is The Season Going?
BD: Revisiting this, I’m liking some of the long-term building the show is doing. There are a lot of pieces being set up to be put in place later that I think will be fascinating to watch. The cast is very underrated. One spot where they stand out is that they give really good confessionals. I really get a feel for their thought process and I think they help craft a good story. I love Palau already, but as someone going through this for the first time, I’m wondering how is the season going for you, Barbara?
BA: I mostly agree with you. I think you have a decent sense for almost all of the 18 contestants that made it past the schoolyard pick (Jenn, Ibrehem, Willard, and Ashlee are still fairly purple at this point). I also like how they do the check-ins with Koror because they are giving us enough to know who almost all of these people are since they will be the majority of the jury. They also do a great job of highlighting the differences between Koror and Ulong. My only issue is how they edited Ashlee’s exit. Before tribal council, they were looking at a 4-4 split between Ashlee and Kim. After Tribal Council, almost all of Ulong vote out Ashlee because she seems “ready” to go. Yes, Ashlee wasn’t eating and didn’t socialize, but she was still trying and doing decently well in challenges, unlike Kim. I suspect this was a decision she made on the way to Tribal Council, which is why it couldn’t be aired, but it still feels extremely weird as edited. Other than that, I am excited to see how the rest of this season plays out
BD: It’s weird that Willard is so purple since he represents immunity.
BA: Get out.
After being an off and on viewer for 14 years, Barbara watched the season premiere of San Juan del Sur and the rest is history. And by history, she means winning two Survivor fantasy leagues, becoming the resident Cambodia contrarian and Survivor gossip queen and lurking in discussion forums. Oh, and she’s totally not a witch.
Favorite seasons: HvV, Philippines, Australian Outback, China, Cagayan
Favorite players: Sandra Diaz-Twine, Jerri Manthey, Denise Stapley, Aubry Bracco, Courtney Yates