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'Survivor: Nicaragua' recap: Former NFL coach Jimmy Johnson emerges as early favorite

September 16, 2010 |  7:14 am

99280_D00893 OK, I don’t want to start this season off on a bad note, but I have to admit: I found it somewhat more challenging than usual to get into the premiere of “Survivor” Wednesday night. Sure, the first episode always includes the necessary introductions, but I found myself striving to form a quick feeling of love or hate for any of the castaways. (One exception being Jimmy Johnson. Love at first sight.) It makes sense that it’d be harder to connect to the show after last season, where old favorites were showcased on “Heroes vs. Villains.” But even the season before that -- when the evil Russell Hantz stole the show -- set a high bar. I can only hope that once we learn more about the new tribe members in the coming weeks, my “Survivor” obsession will be back in full swing.

This season, the tribes have been divided into young (La Flor) versus old (Espada). It’s a split I don’t know I’m all that excited about. For one thing, without sounding ageist, I think it seems inherently unfair. The young tribe is more physically fit. And let’s face it, even though there are a couple of puzzles thrown into the challenges, the majority of them involve some pretty rigorous physical activity. Not to mention the toll that simply living on the island has on the body. And those with older bodies -- like Jimmy J., who dry-heaved dramatically on only his first night -- already are showing signs of wear and tear. But beyond the potential unevenness, I don’t like the dynamic that typically emerges when young and old players are divided. In past seasons when the younger players have bonded together, they’ve quickly become obnoxious and egotistical, bragging about how strong they are and spending most of their time flirting. Meanwhile, the older players come off as pathetic underdogs, bitter that they’ve lost their youth.

There are already a handful of contestants on La Flor who I’m finding annoying because of their bravado.

Shannon, the ignorant eye candy. “It’s important that we don’t let these girls take over,” he told Chase, the second-most-muscular guy in the tribe and with whom he immediately formed an alliance. “I mean, we already get owned in marriage. Pretty soon we’ll have a woman president.” I know this is the kind of trashy remark the “Survivor” producers must love, but really? Gross. One plus? He referenced Boston Rob's and Russell’s game on “Heroes vs. Villains” last year, which means he’s at least paid attention to the game in the past and might have a strategy he wants to employ.

Jud, the blond surfer dude, a.k.a. "Fabio." First of all, what did this guy get stuck on his thumbnail? It looked brutal. Second, why isn’t he defending himself against the horrible nickname "Fabio," which doesn’t even seem to fit him, because his hair isn’t all that long and he couldn’t seem less European.

Brenda, the flirt. OK, she seemed somewhat endearing, and she’s certainly beautiful. But I never like the girls whose only game-play is using their sexuality to get ahead, especially when that’s the first thing they say out of the gate. “I’m kind of used to having guys do what I say,” she shrugged coyly. Blah.

Meanwhile, for whatever reason, I’m totally loving some of the older players.

Jimmy Johnson: This guy is awesome. He’s got great spirit and seems to be up front about his physical weakness at 66, which is a smart move. And I love how his tribe mates are alternately starstruck by him and repulsed by his celebrity. But I’m not sure if I buy his “there’s no way I’m going to win a million dollars, so I’m just here to help all of you win a million dollars” line. I can already tell that he’s a man many of his tribe members respect for what he’s done in the past, and if he takes on a leadership role in the game, the jury could feel he deserves the prize despite the fact that he’s already financially sound. 

Jane: She's something else. She took Jeff Probst’s comment about learning how to start a fire to heart and quickly got a flame going within hours of setting up camp. “If they think I’m some middle-aged housewife that toodles around the house all day long, they’re in for a surprise, because that is not me,” she said, adding that she recently lost her husband. I’m a sucker for a tough broad who’s an emotional softy at heart.

Other thoughts: 

-- I like the newly introduced "Medallion of Power," though its name is pretttttty hokey. 

-- Why do the producers allow guys to wear boxer shorts if they have to awkwardly blur out their nether regions for the entire season?

-- Wendy was the perfect person to go home first. Her painfully awkward speech at tribal council really clinched it. “I just want to make sure you get everything off your chest,” Probst chimed in, reading all of our minds. 

So what do you think -- can “Survivor: Nicaragua” live up to its past two stellar seasons? Vote in our poll.

-- Amy Kaufman

Photo: Jimmy Johnson carries things back to camp on "Survivor: Nicaragua." Credit: CBS


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