Season Premiere — Survivor Nicaragua, “Young at Heart”

I don’t imagine that I’ll be posting my thoughts on Survivor Nicaragua each week, but it seemed logical to check in on the season during its premiere. This is especially true because of the season’s young vs. old gimmick and the participation of the famous football coach Jimmy Johnson.

As expected, Johnson takes up a good portion of the episode, both in his own right and the other castaways’ reaction to him. The episode runs the gamut of the Jimmy Johnson Survivor experience. Other castaways are shocked to find that he’s one of their competitors, some like it, others do not. Then there’s a concern about whether or not he deserves to be there — a validated one, in my opinion — and a discussion about whether or not he deserves any of the money. And intelligently, by the episode’s end, Johnson has more or less convinced all of them not to be concerned about any of those things. He goes out of his way to say that he’s not here to win, he knows he’s not going to win a jury vote, but he can certainly help someone else win. And then after the challenge, he smartly notes that he’s one of the two weakest competitors, but not the weakest, in an attempt at humility.

While the castaways have calmed to Johnson’s presence, I’m not so sure the viewers will feel like he’s just another person out there in Nicaragua. The first episode is almost required to focus on him because there needs to be almost a validation for why they cast him, but I’ll be interested to see how he’s handled in the future. Each season of the series tends to focus on a certain number of people who the produces have decided create the best narrative, but with Johnson, it’s going to be difficult to determine how artificial his relevance is to the story. We know the producers pick their favorites to highlight, but already, we know that Jimmy is going to be a favorite and thus, his inclusion in the cast is problematic, despite the kind of drama it will create.

Moreover, while the premise of young versus old is not as offensive as dividing the castaways up by race, it’s complicated in other ways that could make for compelling television. As viewers, we’re going to be inherently rooting for the older group of people, no matter what they do. They’re the underdogs. In that way, it might be a little more difficult to separate where the reality of their circumstances begin and the highly manipulated editing begins. The first examples of this are apparent in many of the talking head segments with the younger folks, all of which seem exceptionally douchey, dumb and arrogant. This also brings up an interesting complication for the jury and the finals because that event seems to be coming down to being a good person more and more, and I find it hard to believe that anyone is going to vote against an older person. That’s particularly true because the younger people will surely have more people headed in to the merger and thus more people in the jury, which will definitely lead to some bad blood and bitterness that drags down every final jury.

Nevertheless, the premiere was typical Survivor in the sense that despite the gimmicks, things are still slow-moving until we get a few weeks into the competition and we know the people (and their names) much better. There’s no reason to suggest these above elements will derail the season or anything like that, just a few things to look for in the coming weeks.

Other thoughts:

  • Yikes, that Wendy sure knew how to talk herself into a corner and out of the game, didn’t she?
  • I am totally ambivalent on the Medallion of Power at this point. It feels very, very gimmicky, but not in the best of Survivor ways.
  • For more great analysis of the premiere, check out Myles McNutt’s discussion of Jimmy Johnson and how it changes the narrative.

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