Survivor returned for its 45th season this week with a slightly new wrinkle: This season’s episodes will be 90 minutes so that CBS can fill more time during its primetime schedule because the strikes have left the programming cupboards bare. Initially, I wouldn’t say I liked the idea of bloated episodes — and they may still end up being a slog by the season’s end — but for the premiere, it allowed us to get to know the players more than we might typically do during an opening episode. It allowed us to acquaint ourselves with the Lulu tribe better, maybe the worst tribe in the history of Survivor.
We don’t yet know much about the other two tribes, Reba and Belo, beyond the fact that Bruce — a genial, Dad-like figure who had to leave last season’s Survivor 44 on the opening day because of a head injury — has returned. There’s a guy named Drew Basile, who seems to have two personalities; three attorneys, one of which is determined to keep that a secret as though other players will give a damn; and a very spirited gym owner who will either be a fan favorite or a total creep. It’s too early to say.
But the real action is on the Lulu tribe, which took no time to reveal what an incompetent mess of a group it is. In the opening challenge, where the players had to jump off a boat and retrieve an item in the water and return to the ship to win flint, a 25-year-old enthusiastic Survivor superfan named Brandon couldn’t climb a fucking ladder to get back on the boat. He later claimed to have blacked out or had a panic attack. Both may be true, but based on his later performances in the episode, I think that Brandon — a “content producer” — just got tired and gave up. He forgot he was on freaking Survivor, thought he was home on his couch, and decided he needed to rest in the middle of a challenge. He cost his tribe any chance at winning. Not that they deserved it.
Brandon essentially pulled the same trick during the immunity challenge. While trying to climb a wall, he fell and lay in the fetal position. I’ve seen out-of-shape players, but I’ve never seen someone so easily give up. You could hear the exasperation in Jeff’s voice. He literally said, “Let’s go, Brandon,” and every connotation of that phrase bled through. You could practically hear the exasperation in Jeff’s voice, like, “Are you kidding me with these Gen Z kids?” while actually yelling, “You wanted Survivor, buddy. You got it, right here.”
And that’s the thing. I’m not sure that Brandon did want Survivor. I try to be empathetic and not show my age, but even before the immunity challenge, the guy wept because of a bad case of acid reflux. On Survivor, the show where a gravedigger named James once blew out his knee and tried to play through it. Brandon had HEARTBURN.
One would think, then, that once Lulu lost the immunity challenge — and obviously, they did — that Brandon would be an easy person to vote out. But that’s because you haven’t heard about Emily Flippen yet.
Emily is a 28-year-old investment analyst and maybe the most thoroughly unpleasant person ever to be cast on Survivor. She’s not a villain. She’s a complainer. She complains, and complains, and complains, as one might expect from an investment analyst who has never encountered physical adversity. But also, she just seemed to dislike everyone. Sometimes, spending time with others from different backgrounds might be challenging, but how she thought she was better than the rest was appalling. She was the most Karen player the show has ever cast. On top of that, Emily took an instant dislike and distrust to two POC who she assumed were in an alliance because I guess all people of color must be working together against the white woman. It was unbelievable. Despite the existence of useless Brandon, Emily tried to orchestrate the ouster of the tribe’s two strongest players because she thought they were working against her based on nothing. Sabiyah tried even to give Emily the benefit of the doubt, saying at one point she was merely a glass-half-empty kind of person instead of saying what she is: A monster!
Emily was so unpleasant and so toxic on the first day that there was a real question about whether she would be voted out instead of useless Brandon. I would have voted out Emily instead of Brandon, who had prematurely decided to play his shot-in-the-dark ahead of Tribal Council because he assumed he’d be voted out. Some other players didn’t want him to because they wanted to vote out Emily. I didn’t blame them.
And yet, neither Emily nor Brandon were voted out. Why? Because of Hannah Rose. Hannah Rose, a 32-year-old therapist from Baltimore, quit on her tribe. After a day and a half, she decided she could not hack it on the island. It was too hard. She was too hungry. She was too tired. She asked them to send her home.
I think we all know the real reason, however. She alluded to it earlier in the episode. She quit smoking, cold turkey, to play Survivor. She left the game because she needed a cigarette. It was a shame because she was otherwise not an unpleasant person, or at least not compared to Emily. Other players have come on the island with nicotine addictions and beat them; it’s too bad she couldn’t hold out another day or two until the withdrawal symptoms passed because it means we’re stuck with Emily and Brandon for at least another week, which is remarkable only for those of us who love yelling at the television during Survivor.
Someone needs to rescue Kaleb Gebrewold — almost immediately my favorite player from this season, so far — from the Lulu tribe before they either vote him out or drive him insane.