I Hate Leaves (Episode 12-1)

Survivor: Panama – Exile Island has a lot of good things going for it. Most of the cast members are slightly unhinged, and smaller tribes make it harder to hide that. As the physical and emotional rigors of the game take their toll, any number of the new castaways could crack under the pressure. If the premiere was any indication, season 12 could be the best yet.

Contestants began the adventure divided into four teams of four players each, but who knows if that structure will last beyond the first week. For that reason, I’m not bothering to learn the official tribe names until after the first few episodes. In the meantime, I’ll be using the nicknames assigned by Bobby, self-styled president and charter member of the Young Beefcakes.

Just minutes into the episode, the team of younger women (aka the Spice Girls) lost the season’s first Reward Challenge, which involved crushing skulls in search of an amulet inside. Misty, the missile engineer, lost a game of Rock Paper Scissors and had to spend the night on Exile Island.

With nothing else to do, she looked for a hidden Immunity Idol. The idol’s biggest advantage is that it doesn’t have to be presented until after Tribal Council votes have already been cast, at which point the person with the second highest amount of votes is sent home. Whomever holds the idol has final control over who’s sent home. But the idol becomes invalid when only three contestants remain.

At their home beach, the other three Spice Girls wandered aimlessly, looking for a spot to build a shelter. During their search, they found a dead sea turtle. Courtney outed herself as group weirdo when she rambled about the symbolism of the dead turtle. She reckoned that, because the turtle represents the earth in Native American creation myths, and they’re a bunch of young, fertile women, it was a sign that they were doomed. If I read Sally and Danielle’s faces correctly, Courtney’s the one who’s doomed.

Meanwhile, at Beefcake beach, the four dudes proved to everyone over 50 that, if left to their own devices, young people will always slack off. After they finished a game of island baseball, the guys built a shelter that made Rupert’s pit-in-the-sand atrocity from Survivor: All-Stars look like the Taj Mahal. And Aras’s efforts to make a fire through meditation failed miserably. Nick defended their poor performance, claiming that they just didn’t want to peak too early in the game.

The Golden Girls fared significantly better than the Beefcakes. Lumberjill Tina took over, building a fire, finding water, and constructing a shelter. She even stumbled upon a dying fish stranded in a tidal pool. Rather than ordering the other old ladies around, Tina simply did everything by herself. This left her tribemates plenty of time to talk about getting rid of her.

Like Tina, the Loveboat Crew worked way harder than they needed to. The youngest old dude, Shane, quickly tired of the work and got cranky. It didn’t help that he’d quit his three-pack-a-day cigarette habit just the day before. Every time samurai Bruce asked to use the machete, Shane repeated his mantra to himself: Don’t lash out at anyone. Shane already resembles Iggy Pop, so detoxing from a nicotine addiction while baking in the Panamanian sun should leave him looking like a shell of a man by the end.

Speaking of shells of men, Dan looks like one of the undead. CBS would’ve been well-served to make him sign a “No shirt, no Survivor” clause before they put him on the air. But his friendship with super-cool fighter pilot Terry may keep Dan in Panama long enough to give his pallid flesh a lifelike glow.

When all parties reconvened for the Immunity Challenge, both teams of men bucked gender stereotypes and willingly followed a set of directions, solving their rope puzzles just after the Spice Girls. The Golden Girls looked at their diagram like it was the instruction booklet for a VCR, and there was no way they could stop it from flashing 12:00.

At Tribal Council, all of the women acknowledged that Tina did everything for them, although Cirie protested that eventually, they would’ve found the water themselves. Jeff Probst was stunned when Tina was voted out instead of Cirie, who is deathly afraid of leaves. Only a group of women could value a gossip over a hard worker.

If the Golden Girls are lucky, they won’t remain a tribe of three for long. In the preview, Cirie spoke about Shane’s desire to quit the game. There’s a good chance that the remaining women will be incorporated into the other tribes, making three teams of five. It’s hard to imagine what Cirie could contribute to the Loveboat Crew, although they might like having her around since she falls out of her swim top every few minutes.