Guatemala Episode 1: Big Trek, Big Trouble, Big Surprise

In what seems like the start of a low-budgeted sequel to Scooby-Doo, the camera zooms in towards a mist-enshrouded tower thingie, the kind of typical homes for mad scientists everywhere. Wait, the inhabitant is even scarier than the usual mad scientist: it's Jeff Proboscis, freshly hair-died, freshly Botoxed (seems to be less wrinkles than usual), and freshly fragranced, no doubt. Unfortunately, the same old babble he gives about Survivors, survival, apparent dangers that await the contestants (after eleven seasons, I'm still waiting for the promised piranha attack), and how this time, the Mayan ruins of Guatemala ("mystical" - like the previously mentioned dangers and challenges - "powerful and sophisticated civilization" - um, yeah - "advanced celestial knowledge" - I bet those natives could at least start a fire" - "uncanny ability to calculate time" - dear lord, when will this season end? - "mysteriously vanished" - take me with you, Mayans!), "unforgiving environments" (here's the spa you folks will win in the next Reward Challenge) - they're all stale beyond belief. I have this vision of Probby delivering the same speech in a nursing home twenty years down the road to terrorize the people living with him.

Probby announces that right now the Survivors are divided into two tribes and hiking to their camp, or in Probby's romantic euphemism, "destination unknown", to create a "new society". Unfortunately, shagging to procreate isn't required in the foundation of this new society, which is a pity if you're a woman stuck in a tribe with Bobby Jon. "Thirty-nine days!" Probby yells in his best manly voice. "Eighteen people!" Oh boy, why can't they just bring in eight Survivors and end the season by the end of next month? "One Survivor!" Yeah, one Survivor. Because the others, they all die when they get evicted from their tribe.

Credits. There's some pretty mean female T&A shots in there because it is okay to make the straight guys watching this show happy but not the straight ladies and gay guys. As usual.

Probby now stands and watches with his trademark expression of bemusement as the eighteen Survivors walk in and take their places among two mats. I see that they are already divided into tribes. One's called Naxum. I'll go with Nookum. The other one's Yaxha. I'll go with Yowza. Probby tells them that they will find a few bare essentials in their campsite, things that are used by the Mayans, apparently. The camera zooms in to what seems like crude rock tools and some pathetic-looking pots and pans. Don't worry, I'm sure they will win the portable toilet, mini-bar, spa, and French perfumes in some upcoming Reward Challenges. Probby then announces that each tribe will get one more tool and calls out these tools. Here comes... Stephanie and Bobby Jon from the last season! Probby calls these two "proven Survivor players" and the other Survivors try to look happy because they are given two members from the Worst Tribe Ever in the history of this show to "help" them. Me, I'd rather take someone who can lead a camp to fruition, like Tom the Mighty, Burtman, or the Robfather, but that's just me, I suppose. Probby praises Stephenie as "arguably the strongest woman ever to play this game" - yeah, and she didn't even win a single Immunity Challenge - and Bobby Jon "arguably the hardest-working survivor ever". Dude, they both lost. Stephenie will be joining the Yowzas while Bobby Jon will be with the Nookums. These two will also be playing for the million dollars, by the way.

Still, the Survivors are excited, with the Brian from the Yowzas ("Ivy League student" with plenty of teeth) declaring that he's in love with Stephenie. Brianna ("retail salesperson") says that Stephenie is her inspiration. What, to lose? I like Stephenie but let's face it, she's not exactly an inspiring success story. She says that she cries at the sight of Stephenie, which makes me wonder just what kind of things she sells in her job. Jamie, a "water-skiing instructor", who looks like a Mongoloid version of Christopher Reeve, isn't too happy though because he wonders how he will get the million dollars now that Stephenie is here. Well, he'd better worry about steroid withdrawal first. Over at the Nookums, Danni ("sports radio host") proves that she's going to be cast and edited as the resident airhead when she announces that she's pleased to see Bobby Jon instead of Stephenie in her tribe because a man, in her opinion, is stronger than a woman. Go easy on the nuggets of wisdom, Danni, because it's just the first episode and I'm not in the mood to start hating yet. Danni also thinks that Bobby Jon is cute. I don't know. He looks like he has more teeth now, his eyes seem more squinty now, and he's rounder around the jowls. Then he takes off his shirt and I become a better, less nitpicky person. Seriously, he's hot, but compared to the other male Survivors, he's hotter.

Cindy ("zookeeper" - she'll have an advantage dealing with the monkeys in her tribe) admires Bobby Jon's persistence in never giving up. But Bobby Jon still remains a tragic martyr to futility in Palau, so while that's something to swoon over in our romantic hearts, I don't think he's the kind of person I want by my side in my quest for victory. Brandon, who's supposed to be a farmer but looks more like some beach bum, says that he hears that Bobby Jon is supposedly hard-working but he has reservations since he hears that Bobby Jon is not exactly well-endowed in the intelligence department. Coming from someone who speaks in a manner and in an accent that automatically brand him as a "redneck farmer", Brandon should be more discriminate with his first-impression comments.

There are many people out there weighing in on whether it is fair that Stephenie and Bobby Jon get to compete again for the million dollars. My personal opinion is that I have no objections to this provided that, like the Outcast twist in Pearl Islands, this stunt is not going to be reused again in the near future. This is Mark Burnetto's show, he can make the rules, and as long as he doesn't pull that stupid America's Tribal Council stunt again or anything else that essentially makes a mockery of the fundamental rules and conditions of the game, he can do whatever he wants in order to keep the show fresh. After ten seasons, he bloody well should be trying to keep the show fresh!

Back to the gonzos in the ruins, Probby announces that it's time for their Reward Challenge. This Challenge is simple: the first tribe to complete an eleven-mile hike to their camp wins the Reward: a choice of the better camp site and some flint to start fire. Probby says that there are snakes and crocodiles waiting for the Survivors on the trek there. of course, he doesn't add what we all know by now: these snakes and crocodiles will be spectators, not threats. The Survivors will know that they have reached the end of the hike when they come across their canoes in the water. Probby tells the two tribes to scram in opposite directions, where each tribe will come across goodies like fruits, water, sacks of grain, a map, and a compass. Each tribe will have to use their discretion to carry how much of what they think they will need.

At the Nookum end, Brooke ("law student") talks about the "mass chaos" that results when the Nookums try to decide what they should take with them. Margaret ("Nurse Practitioner") says that it's hard to strategize. Well, Brandon prefers to eat some of the fruits before telling the camera that he has never hiked for eleven miles before. To demonstrate, he falls down on his butt as he runs towards the other Nookums. Is that a desperate ploy to get screentime? Meanwhile, Bobby Jon is worried that Stephenie is right now marshalling her troops and maybe creating jet-stream engines out of wood and what-not so the Yowzas are probably half-way there by now so he'd like the Nookums to get moving now. I like Stephenie but let me be among those who will say this loud and clear: Stephenie is overrated. She is not that powerful or dangerous! Or capable, come to think of it.

Over at the Yowza end, Stephenie is getting discomfited a little by some of the lavish praises she is receiving from her tribemates. As she marshals the troops forward, she tells the camera that she is basically an outsider in her tribe because of her status as a former Survivor. She knows she could be seen as a threat. She is also aware that there is a high degree of possibility that she can't live up to the hype of being some Tough Survivor Babe and that too can get her kicked out of her tribe. I always liked Stephenie because she tells things as they are and she has self-awareness. Hopefully, she will fare better this time around.

Back to the Nookums, they are studying their map, which tells them to keep walking straight until they come to some "old archeological road". I guess an "old archeological road" is different from an "old road" because there are archeologists marching up and down that old road? Led by Jim ("retired fire captain"), they decide to send a victim to scout the path ahead each time and the others will follow in that direction once everything is A-OK. This will supposedly help the Nookums move in a straight line like the map asks them to. The Nookums never explain what will happen if this victim falls into some quicksand, though.

Gary ("ex-NFL quarterback") is leading the Yowzas, who are currently trailing behind the Nookums as the caption helpfully informs me, and he is trying to tell his tribemates that he is in "a little landscaping business" instead of bringing up his NFL career. Meanwhile, Rafe ("wilderness guide") tells the camera that while he is better suited to lead the Yowzas in this trek, he'd rather stay low because leaders tend to have targets on their backs. Rafe is happy to allow Gary to take the lead, especially since he thinks that Gary is some natural leader as Gary is so tall. I think I'm starting to like this Rafe fellow.

Gary tells the camera that he was Gary Hogeboom, NFL player some fifteen years ago, but now he wants to be known as Gary Hawkins, some landscaper. He intends to deny being Gary Hogeboom should anyone recognize him. How amusing if no one recognizes him. He's definitely dying inside to announce that he's Gary Hogeboom, NFL player, and he deserves respect now, yadda yadda. Denying his NFL career is a stupid thing to do anyway, if you ask me, because this falls under unnecessary lying and can be used as an excuse for the tribe to vote him out. No one votes out a tribemate because he played in the NFL when many of these tribemates are still preteens, but everyone can easily vote out a proven liar.

Meanwhile, Stephenie tells the camera that she and Gary are in charge of navigating the Yowzas to their camp. God help them all. Gary says that his "paternal instincts" surge forth when he sees all these supposedly young people around him. Yeah, yeah, anything to give him an excuse to be the boss. Some bossy people on this show never learn from the mistakes of previous bossy Survivors.

The Nookums are leading but they soon hit their first snag. Bobby Jon is leading the Nookums and he is positively killing the undergrowth with his mean machete. Pudgy Judd, a "hotel doorman", is complaining all this time about the exhausting trek and wonders how a show called Survivor can end up making its contestants do such rigorous physical activities. What is the world coming to? He says that he has never camped in his life. Yup, he's on the right show, definitely. Expect to see him in the Final Five, people. Margaret is becoming worried because soon it will be dark. And then Blake, a "real estate broker" who has more teeth than necessary, gets intimate with a plant with long and sharp needles. It's beautiful. Margaret naturally ends up tending Brian by pulling needles out of his shoulder while the other Nookums wait and watch. Margaret says that she has been a nurse, mostly in the trauma department, for twenty-five years now. It's a good thing that I like her because I don't think her tribemates will ever dare vote her out. Finally Blake thinks that Margaret has extracted all the needles in his shoulder and the Nookums continue on their way.

As Margaret predicted, night falls soon enough and now the Yowzas, still trailing behind the Nookums, decide to stop for the night. Stephenie explains that no one wanted to stop but they are forced to since it is already dark and no one is up to wandering around in the dark without adequate sources of light. She is sure that the Nookums are stopping and waiting for daytime to resume their journey. She also hopes that she isn't starting out this season in a losing team. I understand. Won't it be funny though if she does? Knock on wood, I know. Nookum has indeed stopped to camp out the night as well. Blake is throwing up and it sounds pretty bad. Margaret believes that Blake's wounded shoulder is hurting so badly so his nausea is a result of the "pain response". Since she's the nurse, who am I to quibble with that? Surely she won't be so wicked as to start causing accidents and sicknesses around the camp so that she will be appreciated and never be voted out, heh? Margaret hopes that Blake will feel better in the morning. It's going to be a long first night. Welcome to Guatemala, people.

Day two. Hello, Yowzas. Those poor dears don't look like they slept well though, as Amy ("police sergeant" - let's hope she knows when to stay undercover and avoid the line of fire) talks about how animal sounds remind them, or her at least, of the movie Predator. What's that? Is it... aaah, a monkey! A scary monkey! Amy is all "Oh my God! I can't believe this!" Yeah, I can't believe there are monkeys in the jungle either. Brian decides to appoint himself as the Cassandra of Yowza by telling the others to get moving if they want to beat the Nookums. He tells the camera that his "aggressiveness" doesn't go down well with people but he knows that they know he is right. That's the right attitude when it comes to winning this game! The Yowzas get going and soon enough they spot the Nookums. They have caught up with the other tribe! The Yowzas are excited, especially Morgan ("magician's assistant" - I'm not making this up), a very skinny blonde who will look really hideous when everyone starts getting thinner and malnourished. The Nookums aren't, understandably. Both tribes find the "old archeological road" pretty much at the same time.

And then, because nature sometimes have a sense of humor, it begins to rain. Cindy says that Nookums want to keep going because they are big fans of that horse Seabiscuit or something like that. The Yowzas try to keep going too but they soon fall behind the Nookums. Stephenie places the blame on Amy and Lydia ("fishmonger") who can't keep up with the others. But ahead, the Nookums encounter another snag when Bobby Jon crumples onto the ground. He explains to the camera that he feels cold while his body simultaneously cramps up. To his tribemates, Bobby Jon starts apologizing in an earnestness that breaks my heart. The ever-handy Margaret massages his legs (lucky woman) in an attempt to get the circulation going (his, not hers) while Cindy tells the camera that Bobby Jon overtaxed himself by carrying two bags of corn all the time, thus becoming dehydrated and exhausted as a result. Of course he would. Bobby Jon is the tragic martyr, not the hero, and he excels in that role. Indeed, Bobby Jon tries to stand up as he keeps insisting that he can keep going but Margaret is having none of that. She makes him lie down as she works on his legs further. Cindy says that people are probably surprised to see Bobby Jon actually taking the fall. These people must not have watched the previous season.

Morgan is trying to get the Yowzas to catch up but she'll need a truly great magic trick to pull that off as right now the Nookums are moving again. The Nookums soon realize that they are approaching the boats as they are now heading into wet grounds and their pace quickens in their excitement. Judd complains that he is "winded". Shut up, Judd. No one asked him to be on the show anyway so no one cares to hear him whine. As the Nookums reach the boats, Brooke reads the instructions attached and they all learn that they must now paddle their boat to the winner's campsite. They all get into their boat and start rowing. Look, here are the Yowzas. They aren't too behind after all. Brian says that he is shocked that the Yowzas are this close behind him, although why he should be shocked I have no idea. He believes that the Nookums have "booked" the winning campsite though. Sigh. Here's another loser trying too hard to be the new Rat Boy.

The Nookum boat is the first to reach the shore. Judd jumps out in his excitement and lands flat on his stomach in the mud. This gives Brandon an opportunity to make an unfunny joke about Judd's "premature evacuation". The Yowzas are closing in. That's when Bobby Jon realizes that his weak legs are not cooperating when he tries to get out of the boat. "I know it was dehydration but I've never felt that type of pain before," he tells the camera. But he is determined to "suck it up" so he grits his teeth and runs with his tribemates to meet Probby, who declare the Nookums the winner in the first Reward Challenge of this season. Probby's wearing a hideous green thing on his head, by the way. I think this season's theme is "endless hilarity". He hands the flint to Margaret, who will then use it when it comes to burning stumps of recently sawed-off gangrenous limbs one of these days, and gives the Nookums their tribe flag.

The Yowzas show up but Probby, after giving them their tribe flag (which does not have "L" on it, contrary to rumors), tells them that they have to get rowing again. Their camp is the inferior one and its location is indicated on the map that he also hands over to them. Stephenie tells the camera that her tribe loses again - sigh - but she thinks the Yowzas kicked butt. Besides, the challenge is the hardest they have ever done on this show, she believes, and I think she may be right there. Still, Stephenie lost. Again. I hope she is not superstitious. The moanings and groanings of Despair of Defeat come to an end when they reach their camp though, where the Yowzas then decide to reaffirm that they are best friends forever, united by the "Yowza spirit", and Stephenie gushes that she is finally with a tribe that has as much "heart and determination" as she does. I think I nearly throw up there.

But while the Yowzas are getting their spirits high, over at Camp Nookum Blake is throwing up again. He's spewing yellowish slimy gooish substance from his mouth, by the way. Thank you, editors, because I am really dying to see what Blake has in his stomach. Margaret is concerned for him and tells the camera that the trek through the jungles took a hard toll on many of them. Oh look, there's Judd, throwing up too. His vomit consists of mostly watery substance. Again, thanks, editors! This will be useful in my next The Color of Vomit write-up. Oh, and old Jim is also emptying the contents of his stomach. Lovely. Even lovelier is Bobby Jon whose eyes are rolling back in his head in a scene straight out of a demonic possession movie. He is in pain and is about to pass out. Margaret calls his name again and again and asks him to focus on her voice but he's having a hard time staying conscious. Brooke helps Margaret by pouring some water on Bobby Jon's face. That seems to help him a bit. Bobby Jon in his confessional, which is taken when he is steadier on his feet of course, says that he is indebted to Margaret for helping him when he could have fallen into a seizure and adds that his experiences in Palau is nothing compared to what he is experiencing so far in this show. Margaret tells the camera that the guys, who are supposed to be brawny and strong, are dropping down sick one by one. The camera zooms in on Bobby Jon's swollen foot. I wish I haven't made that crack about gangrenous limbs. Margaret tells Danni that the women have to keep passing water to the sick men around the camp. Cindy says to the camera that it's not worth winning this better campsite if half the tribe are incapable of doing anything but retching. I try to be nice and not wonder why only the men are affected and not the women. I like Margaret. She's not that devious, is she?

Night falls. And with that, day two is done.

Day three. Good morning, Yowzas. Stephenie and Amy retrieve tree-mail and learn that it's now time for an Immunity Challenge. Stephenie is excited to have one more chance at winning Immunity because she has never won one before. It's... kinda sad, really, but hey, whatever keeps Stephenie going is alright with me!

Cut to the beachside where Probby awaits with the Immunity Idol and the props for the Challenge. Probby is still wearing that stupid green cowboy hat thingie. He tells the Survivors the usual babble about the importance of not being voted out and how the Immunity Idol, an ugly statuette thingie I'm calling Wugu-Wugu for my own convenience, is therefore very important. In this Challenge, nine people from each tribe must paddle out to a buoy and grab a torch from there before making their way back. The other four person must then run up to sit on the top of a nearby hill after the nine people have reached the shore and use ropes to pull the boat up the hill over a series of logs that act as "wheels". The nine people will have to grab logs that the boat has passed over and put them in front of the boat in order to keep the "wheels" turning, so to speak. All this is in tribute to how the ancient Mayans built their ziggurats, only this time the Survivors are dragging a boat instead of very heavy slabs of rock and no one is whipping the Survivors bloody in the process. The first tribe to get the boat up that hill and someone from that tribe light a fire at the plinth at the top of that hill using that torch they collected from the buoy will win Wugu-Wugu. If Yowza wins, Probby will toss in the flint as well. Don't want anyone to suffer from cold, after all.

For a bunch of sick guys, Bobby Jon, Blake, Brian, and Judd (three Bs and a J, heh) manage to row the Nookum boat to keep up with the more alphabetically diversified Yowza quartet of Rafe, Gary, Brandon, and Jamie. It is with the women (and Jim) that the fate of the tribes lie on, and while Stephenie accidentally gets her leg caught under one of the logs early on in the boat-pulling phase of the match, Nookum's Danni and Cindy keep getting themselves caught under the logs so often that Nookum stumbles and falters, allowing Lydia to run and set the plinth on fire the moment the Yowzas haul their boat to the top of the hill. The Yowzas have won Wugu-Wugu. Stephenie finally gets to touch her first Immunity Idol. She is in tears because as Probby points out, this is the first Tribal Council that she does not need to attend. Poor Bobby Jon punches his own face in defeat. Oh dear, didn't he get the memo? It's not entirely his fault that the Nookums lost. Come to think of it, it's not even his fault.

Back at Nookum, people are trying to find a victim to evict. Jim is explaining to all about how he tried to haul the boat up the hill thinking that everyone else is doing it only to realize that he's the only one. Judd, amusingly enough, thinks that Jim is accusing everyone of not doing their part and says that he is pulling the boat too. Well, if he feels the sting of a nonexistent barb, he is probably not pulling the boat with Jim. Jim describes in graphic detail to the camera about how he pulled his bicep, complete with sound effects and all. Wake me up when someone describes a colonoscopy in equally great detail.

Judd and Brooke rendezvous for a "Beauty and Cholesterol" thing and Brooke seems to be telling others that none of the women should go because they have proven to have more endurance than the men. Unless these women are Danni and Cindy, that is. Anyway, she goes around telling people that Bobby Jon is the sickest one of the men. Oh no, are they voting him out? Don't leave me alone with the fugly men of Nookum, Bobby Jon! Brandon turns out to be the only man who isn't totally sick and he tells the camera that they have to vote off one of the "crippled broke-down guys" and he's not sure whether half the tribe will even pull through. He's totally relishing the idea, that twit. Margaret feels a little guilty about strategizing when half the tribe are dead men walking but feels that the best candidate for boot has to be either Jim, Blake, or Bobby Jon, the three men most affected by their sickness.

Night, Tribal Council. The Tribal Council site is some anonymous ruin, the better for the tribe decimated by their losses to contemplate the situation they are in, I suppose. The chatter is boring, as to be expected from a bunch of people for whom tribal politics haven't effectively drawn lines between them yet, and it's all about sickness and sick men's willingness to endure and go on. How touching. But there has to be a limit to how much the other tribemates will believe these sick men, so in the end, it's an unanimous vote for the sick old guy to leave the tribe. Goodbye Jim!

Probby hopes that the sick men won't die off before thirty-nine days (or at least before they can tape the special episode for rating seasons - "Someone will die! Watch tonight's episode!") and sends Nookum back to camp. Meanwhile, Jim blathers on about the typical things the first booted loser would say on this show. Oh, and he votes for Margaret to leave. After all she has done for him? He's dead to me now.

All in all, this is a satisfying first episode for a new season. There may still be some life in this geriatric franchise yet.