Welcome to the 804th running of Survivor, this time featuring former Hurricanes and Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson turning into a crazed hobo before your very eyes in the beachy jungle of Nicaragua, and then wandering through your scenes with a snack of live crab.
Nicaragua, host Jeff Probst would have you know because he is positively shouting it, is “STRADDLED BETWEET THE RAGING WATERS OF THE PACIFIC OCEAN AND THE CARRIBEAN SEA.” There’s rainforests. There’s volcanoes. There’s prop animals staged right in front of the cameras. There's “monkeys hanging from everything,” according to a young blonde Zoolander doll we wish was covered by monkeys hanging off his face.
And there’s also our first glance of Jimmy Johnson, who mentions his age (67), two collegiate national titles and two Super Bowl victories, and asks what could better top that off than winning Survivor?
Our first guess is eternal youth, but our second option is our next glimpse of Jimmy, as credits roll:
Yep, that’s why we’re recapping this.
One minute into the show, before any of the contestants have even been allowed to speak, they are already asked to judge one another. A biker-y older gentleman, Jimmy T., is seethingly angry at anyone who appears to possess leadership qualities. He’s going to be delightful.
Jimmy J., meanwhile, is helping a very, very attractive young woman named Brenda over some rocks. She announces she’s single, and we shortly find out she’s a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader. We’re soooo winning Survivor, Miami.
Who else is there? A young man indecisively named “Benry,” assorted old people of various accents, a Ralph Lauren ad’s worth of strapping young hunks, quiet but terrifying bald guy Tyrone, Token Sassy African-American Lady As Per U.S. TV Guidelines, and a technology executive named Marty who drips of hidden evil.
Oh, and Kelly B., who only has one leg.
Marty instantly recognizes Jimmy, and in voiceover, spits, “Okay, I want nothing to do with Jimmy Johnson in this game. I don’t even know why the hell he’s here.”
Truth is, Jimmy Johnson has been obsessed with Survivor since it premiered. He attempted to be on the show three times, and was days away from landing in Africa for season billionty when doctors discovered a blockage in his arteries. He underwent heart surgery and lost 30 pounds. His hair never moved.
It is, however, the first time an actual celebrity has appeared on the show. And judging from how much time they spend centered on Jimmy Johnson, it’s not going to last long.
The two groups in which contestants arrived are shortly sent to find some sort of trinket, the “Medallion of Power.” A shot of them running into a small valley in search shows a younger man, named “Sash,” dressed in full slacks and tie plunge into a pond. He’s not going to last long, either.
And…DOLPHINS WIN! Brenda, our former cheerleader, finds the medallion. In charming Texansas twang, Jimmy goes to work with a pat on the back.
"I don’t even know your name, but you did a great job.” Aw.
To the horror of half the contestants, the tribes are divided into 30 and younger (“La Flor”) and 40 and up (“Espada").
“I was looking forward to some of these young people carrying me!” laughs JJ. His hair begins to wilt.
Brenda is given a choice of holding to her medallion and some yet unrevealed power, or trading it now for fire and fishing gear. What she doesn’t keep, the other tribe gets.
“We want fire and fish, dude,” pipes up Blond Zoolander.
No matter, though, for Espada. Jane, a dog trainer from somewhere more incredibly hick than we thought possible, immediately makes a fire by hand. Wendy, a goat rancher from somewhere it’s pronounced, more than nasaly, “reeanchah,” immediately becomes the weird one.
In the kid’s camp, Kelly B. introduces La Flor to her prosthetic leg.
“How do you tell it to move?” asks our blonde Zoolander, appropriately named Jud but instantly nicknamed “Fabio” by his team.
We learn from Kelly B.’s bio that she is the second and fastest female amputee to finish the Ironman World Championships. And that her father, a humanitarian doctor, was killed in the Haiti earthquake. She’s going to kill this game.
“Just give her the money,” begrudges sexist Adonis Shannon, prematurely upset about a future woman president (no, really), before acknowledging that he’ll vote her off at the earliest possibility.
That night, having over-exerted himself setting up camp, Jimmy Johnson is throwing up in night vision. We are also treated to a shot right up his armpit hair. Do IV’s come in “steak?” He could use one.
In the light of morning his hair has gone full serial killer. He calls a team huddle.
“I’m here for the adventure,” he assures. Or lies. It’s hard to tell. “There’s no way in the world a jury’s gonna give me a million bucks. But the thing that I can do, I can help somebody win a million bucks. And the winner can come from one of you guys. I’d be happy to see one of you win a million bucks.
“As long as we’re psyched up for it, and we know what to do, we’ll kick their ass!”
“I just got a pep talk from Jimmy Johnson!” screams Tyrone, high-fiving Coach. OR DID HE?
The immunity challenge, in which the teams must hold sections of a wooden gutter while water pours into a bucket, goes down. The buckets fill, puzzle pieces drop to the ground, and the first team to assemble the puzzle wins.
Shocker: it’s the young team who wins, though Espada holds their own. The kids go off with the immunity idol, and the old folks tread home to vote someone off.
Jimmy T., our angry biker type, is not taking it well as several gather to discuss. “I think Jimmy’s trying to hornswaggle everybody!” And when Marty acknowledges this possibility with a nod of the head, and asks someone else what they think, Jimmy T. goes crazy-eyes.
“I’m not gonna not be heard here!" he yells, intense. "I know – I know! – that sometimes stars blind people!”
And sometimes guys named Jimmy T. shiv them in the night. It's a toss up, and Jimmy T. stalks off to "cool down."
Jimmy J., down on the beach, acknowledges to swim coach teammate Holly that he and Wendy are the weakest links, and argues that the team should keep whoever keeps them stronger.
Wendy puts on her fringe jacket and mopes about without friends.
The team eventually reaches the set at which one of them is ritually slaughtered or their fire is snuffed out or whatever. Jimmy, sporting stubble, a bandana, and a filthy polo, looks alarmingly feral. He sees the heart of darkness, and also needs a shave.
When given a chance, he repeats his previous speech. Wendy is given an opportunity to make her own appeal, and devolves into blithering about her failure to “connect” with the other tribemates, complaining that not a single person even knows how old she is, and insisting that she’s a wonderful person with whom everyone wants to be friends and some people say she talks too much and maybe she'll talk more! She clearly belongs on The Bachelor.
Tyrone gets in an amazing moment when someone finally asks Wendy's age just to shut her up. "You look so young," he says driley, to her cheery and oblivious "I'm 48!" We have a new non-Dolphins-related fave.
Then the voting begins, but Wendy interrupts, asking permission to talk more about how much people like her. "People trust me, trust is important!" she trills, as Jimmy J. tries to contain his joy at the equivalent of a goal-line fumble. Eyes roll. Voters fidget. So long, Wendy. The team may not completely trust Jimmy’s aw-shuckedness, but they certainly don’t want you needily prattling on all the time – to the point that the vote, minus Wendy’s, was unanimous.
Nicely done, Coach, nicely done. Next week: he falls in mud! And probably gets snuffed out!