Wednesday’s two-hour premiere of “Survivor” included some major milestones, like the first ever successful draw of a Shot in the Dark scroll, and the introduction of three new twists. But as welcome as those milestones may be, the moments still swirling in our heads are the bruises, blunders and baffling decisions made by the Ratu tribe that all together made the season 44 opener one of the most brain-boggling episodes in series history.
Let’s start with the bruises — all three of them that in total amount to what Kane Fritzler aptly referenced as “unprecedented body damage” at such an early stage of the game. On Day 1, Bruce Perreault busted his head open within minutes of starting a reward challenge that kicked off only moments into the players meeting Jeff Probst for the first time. Despite attempting to finish the challenge with blood still gushing from his scalp, Bruce was seen by the medical team who determined that after oxygen and some rest he could resume playing in the game. Later that night, Bruce’s mood changed and medical was brought in again where the decision was made to pull him from the game to seek more extensive observation at a hospital. That bruise was a blow to the purple Tika tribe, but as they recovered the downward spiral for the orange Ratu tribe was only beginning.
On Day 2 at the Ratu beach, Matthew Grinstead-Mayle was living his best explorer life, but an attempt to climb a shoreline cliff ended in him tumbling down against sharp rocks and landing precariously in a shallow pool. Matthew knew immediately that his shoulder was dislocated and later realized that he had also sliced open his hand and had a gash in his foot. He, too, was seen by medical who popped his shoulder back into place, created a sling for him and warned him to not bear too much weight for as long as he could. On Day 3, Brandon Cottom gassed out during a relentless immunity challenge involving heavy lifting and after a pause in the game by Jeff had to sit the remainder of the challenge out in the shade for early signs of dehydration.
SEE ‘Survivor’ medevacs: See all medical evacuations through the years
Brandon and Matthew’s bruises came after they successfully recovered from one of their tribe’s three blunders earlier in the episode. After getting second place in the reward challenge, Ratu was given the choice between SWEAT or SAVVY to earn Day 1 supplies and chose SWEAT. The decision put Brandon and Matthew in the position of having to drag a net full of coconuts back and forth across the beach for nearly four hours while the Tika tribe was left with the calmer SAVVY challenge of having to solve a brain teaser in 15 minutes. Though Ratu did succeed in SWEAT, the decision can be seen as a blunder because they knew Tika lacked the obvious strength to be effective in the SWEAT challenge, but still opted against it.
Ratu’s next blunder came at the hands of Brandon when he found the key to the mysterious birdcage advantage in front of Maddy Pomilla. Instead of taking her up on keeping the discovery a secret between just the two of them, Brandon opted to bring in the entire tribe to watch as he opened the birdcage and claimed the advantage. After unraveling the advantage, Brandon was the keeper of an immunity idol that was now public and the decoy idol that was also in the package was neutralized. Brandon immediately knew that his choice to try to earn trust with his tribe had derailed toward putting a target on his back with a public idol in his possession.
Meanwhile, Brandon’s teammate Lauren Harpe was returning from her advantage journey deciding how she’d present the story to her tribe. Though she originally planned to tell them the truth behind earning the Bank Your Vote Advantage, Lauren caved at the last minute and decided to lie to them. She said she didn’t earn an advantage and instead lost her vote at a still-to-be-determined Tribal Council. At the time, Lauren’s tribe believed her, but she couldn’t predict that when Matthew was with Claire Rafson on the sidelines of the immunity challenge that she’d tell him how Matt Blankinship had actually proven to the Soka tribe that he lost his vote by showing them the parchment that said so. Without her knowing, Lauren’s lie had turned into a blunder that Matthew was now privy to and later shared with the rest of the tribe.
While those decisions that resulted in blunders for Ratu may have been bad ones, they were no where near as baffling as the decisions that Matthew and Jaime Lynn Ruiz made later at their Tribal Council. Despite not coming up as a target option even once at the Ratu camp, Jaime announced just before voting that she was forfeiting her vote in order to play her one-use Shot in the Dark advantage in the hopes of a one in six chance at last minute immunity. She declared that if everyone was telling the truth about their votes that her vote wouldn’t matter anyway. For some reason, the tribe let her take that route knowing full well she wasn’t in danger.
After the votes were “cast,” and that can be said loosely because Lauren also did not cast a vote, choosing instead to bank it with her advantage, Matthew showed that he also went the route of the Shot in the Dark advantage, forfeiting a third vote among the six. Jaime and Matthew’s baffling and completely useless decisions to forfeit their votes spooked Brandon into playing the immunity idol that they were trying to flush. Strangely though, the group of five planning to blindside Brandon had just forfeited three of their votes with no backup plan in the event that he played his idol. Sure enough, Brandon played his idol, cancelling the votes thrown his way from Maddy and Kane and leaving his vote as the only eligible one that sent their fearless organizer Maddy home as the first player eliminated.
Where Ratu goes from here is anyone’s guess. Matthew and Kane made it clear to Brandon that they’re willing to send him home, Jaime put her worst paranoid foot forward, and Lauren has been rooted out as likely having lied about holding an advantage of her own. Can they rebound as a tribe after having amassed so many bad decisions in such a short amount of time? Well, the good thing is they can only go up from here.
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