[Warning: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for the Survivor Season 44 premiere, “I Can’t Wait to See Jeff.”]
Jeff Probst promised that the Survivor 44 cast was “electric.” The Survivor Season 44 premiere proved as much. CBS‘s two-hour episode was a game of numbers from start to finish, from Tribe Tika losing a player after the first challenge to the odds being in one player’s favor in the first tribal council (for the first time, the shot in the dark actually worked). If things only get wilder from here, Survivor 44 will be a memorable one.
Viewers rarely see the Survivor medical team. In the Survivor 44 premiere, it was seen three times. The injuries started quickly in the episode, with Bruce Perreault suffering a gnarly head wound in the first reward challenge. After receiving oxygen and a bandage, he was back in the game. But his symptoms worsened that night, and he was sent home.
Matthew Grinstead-Mayle at Ratu was the second to injure himself. As seen in the promo, he toppled off of a tall rock and injured his shoulder and foot but was able to continue after medical attention. The third medical emergency was in the immunity challenge when Ratu’s Brandon Cottom nearly passed out from heat exhaustion. Again, he recovered and could move forward.
You’d think this three-time need for the medics would be the episode’s main event, but you’d be wrong. The hidden immunity idol and summit challenge twists led to a banner first tribal council.
Hidden immunity idols’ fate was left in the air for much of Survivor 43. The series did away with that by making the hidden immunity idols public knowledge, at least for one tribe. A canvas bag was left hanging in a locked birdcage for the players to find upon camp arrival.
Only Ratu found their key in the premiere. Brandon found it, but he opened the cage in front of his teammates, making the “hidden” immunity idol inside anything but. The other teams still don’t know what’s in store in their cages (and perhaps the contents differ for each). But the power of a hidden immunity idol is certainly diluted at the start of Survivor 44.
Lauren Harpe from Ratu, Matt Blankinship from Soka, and Sarah Wade from Tika did the summit challenge. But here marked another change. The risk or protect your vote choice was not on the table this time around.
Instead, they were instructed to pick one note out of a bag of three blindly. That note either took their votes away (two of the three results) or gave them an advantage (one of the three results). After pulling the first, they could choose whether or not to pull again.
Matt had bad luck; he pulled two losses, nullifying his vote at his following two tribal councils. Lauren and Sarah, however, unveiled two brand new advantages.
Sarah lost a vote first, then pulled the inheritance advantage, which can be played at one tribal council. When used, the contestant inherits every advantage or idol that was played at that tribal council.
Lauren didn’t lose her vote at all. Her first pull was the bank your vote advantage. It allows one to secretly withhold their vote at one tribal council and keep the voting parchment to use as an extra vote in the future.
They each had different strategies for telling their teammates about the summit challenge. Sarah withheld all of the truth, saying it was a “risk or protect” your vote choice and that she didn’t yet know the results of her choice. Lauren told Ratu half the truth about the vote losses or advantages. She lied and said she lost her vote when she actually gained one. Matt also told half of the truth, only saying that he lost one vote, not two.
While Ratu won the reward challenge (Soka came in second, Tika in third), they lost the immunity challenge, sending them to the tribal council. When deliberations began on the beach, it was Brandon vs. Maddy.
The two were searching for the birdcage key as a pair when Brandon found it and pocketed it, hoping Maddy Pomilla wouldn’t see. She did, but she didn’t tell him that. He told her about it anyway, and she suggested they keep it a secret between them. Brandon didn’t want to do that, which led to him publicly finding the hidden idol. It also sowed division between these two.
Matthew, however, learned some interesting intel while sitting out in the immunity challenge. Soka’s Claire Rafson revealed that Lauren might have been withholding information about the summit challenge. Brandon and Matthew started campaigning to vote her out immediately. Maddy was gunning for Brandon to flush out his idol, bringing Lauren and Kane Fritzler into the fold.
Heading into tribal, no one was confident about where the vote was going. This indecision led to some unexpected but ultimately savvy strategic moves, making us understand why Probst told TV Insider that this cast was a group of “sophisticated Survivor players.”
After the votes were cast, Jaime Lynn Ruiz decided to play her shot in the dark — an idea she floated earlier but no one thought was necessary at this point in the game. Matthew followed suit. It didn’t pay off for Matthew, but it did for Jaime, marking the first time a shot-in-the-dark move has been successful since it was introduced. With Lauren secretly banking her vote and Jaime and Matthew sacrificing theirs, this meant that only three votes would determine who was eliminated.
Brandon didn’t like his odds, so he played his immunity idol (an immunity idol found and played in one episode and during the premiere, no less?!). Now, only two players could receive votes that counted.
Brandon protected himself to see who he could trust. Jaime and Matthew abstained from voting to show they could be trusted (they weren’t at risk of getting votes — the shot in the dark was used to signal their refusal to pick a side in this tribal). Lauren secretly didn’t vote at all.
The first two votes went to Brandon (cast by Maddy and Kane), which meant only one vote counted: Brandon’s. He voted for Maddy, making her the first person voted out of Survivor 44 and the second sent home, with just one vote to her name.
Welcome to Survivor 44!
Survivor, Wednesdays, 9/8c, CBS