Check the Fine Print, Mr. Burnett

...you're deal with the devil may have expired.

Just caught up on the first episode of Survivor's new season, which turned out to be three fascinating case studies of how returning players handle their reintroduction to the game.

Michael Skupin presents as the least threatening of the three, and not surprisingly he fared most successfully with his tribe.  His enthusiastic work ethic came off as charming, and his propensity for accidents (seriously dude, slow down and take care of yourself out there!) made him seem even less threatening.  His approach of "go with the game" instead of having a preconceived plan of how to act seems very smart, and got him into a dominant alliance where he'll be safe until the first merge (I'm expecting the 3 tribes to reshuffle into two tribes in about 4 weeks),

I'm also rooting for Lisa Welchel.  The deck is so stacked against her (famous, older woman, not part of the dominant alliance) that she's got to be the biggest underdog of the season.  Michael wants to work with her, but doesn't appear willing to risk his standing to do it.  Previews for tonight's episode make it look like she's on the rocks, but I'm hoping she lasts long enough to get a real chance.  For someone who's seen every episode of the show, though, it doesn't look like she got there with any real game plan.  As an older person, my strategy would be to forge an alliance on day one with anyone who will have me.  I wouldn't care who they were, I'd just want to get numbers on my side.  We don't know what got edited out, but we didn't see Lisa doing anything like that.

Jonathan Penner has the shadiest reputation among the three returnees.  He's shrewd, savvy, and experienced-- that makes him a threat.  Instead of rallying his tribe around him and building bridges, he's playing a more independent game that looks like it's going to get him into trouble.  His tribe already doesn't trust him and wants him out.  He needs to change that, fast.  

Russell Swan was a disaster from jump.  In his head, he knows exactly what he needs to do-- hang back, be supportive but not aggressive, don't take the lead.  Above all, don't make waves.  But it's like he's George Costanza, and all he can do is the exact opposite of what he should be doing.  He immediately began alienating his tribemates by ordering them around and taking charge.  Watching this episode was like watching a train wreck in slow motion.

And then... Zane.  We haven't seen someone this cocky since Russell Hantz, and we've never seen anyone overplay his hand so completely.  Making alliances with everyone is one thing-- it's bold, because if anyone talks it can blow up in your face so early.  But telling people about it is something else.  No good could possibly come of approaching 2 people for an alliance, and telling them that you already have alliances with everyone else and can get them to do what you want.  Immediately your credibility is out the window.

Throwing yourself under the bus after a challenge loss, however, was pure insanity.  Zane's tribe wanted to vote out Russell.  It was a foregone conclusion.  Then Zane, not content to merely have alliances with everyone, felt the need to demonstrate an ability to manipulate everyone.  It wasn't important to his game. It was important to his ego.  He talked himself right off the island.  The crazy thing is that his tribemates seemed to genuinely like him.  He was in a great position!  But when someone says, "This is harder than I thought, I don't think I have what this game takes," people listen.  After another few days, his relationships might have been strong enough to be able to pull that stunt successfully.  On day 3, he became an easy vote.  Keep the strong guy who annoys us but performs better in challenges, get rid of the funny guy who seems weaker and ready to quit.

Even as the votes were being read, I thought Russell was going home.  I literally squealed in delight as the Zane landslide thundered out of the voting box.  The guy was too cocky too soon, and I wallowed in the schadenfreude.  I wonder if Mark Burnett shed a tear, because Zane was going to be fantastic television.  As a character, he died far, far too soon.  As a player he died at just the right time.

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