Survivor Kaoh Rong: Let Me Put a Bug in Your Ear

Aubry takes the plunge into Survivor: Kaoh Rong (Photo: CBS)
Aubry takes the plunge into Survivor: Kaoh Rong (Photo: CBS)

Survivor Kaoh Rong Episode 1: “I’m a Mental Giant” — Season 32 of Survivor features brains, brawn, beauty, bugs, and braggadocio (not necessarily in that order).

Welcome to the 32nd season of Survivor. The intro footage features Probst promising this will be the most grueling season of the show ever, which is a pretty tall order if you consider how bad things got 30 seasons ago in the Australian outback. We see the medical team a few times and lots of closeups of pustules. Nooooope.

This edition takes place in Kaoh Rong, Cambodia and was actually filmed prior to last season’s second chance edition. Here is how this season’s twists stack up in Survivor mad libs:

  • 18 castaways: none of them are returning contestants, Caleb finished fourth on Big Brother 16.1
  • Brains, Beauty, and Brawn is back, which kinda sorta worked last time. There’s still some shoehorning that’s going on, which I’ll get into in a bit.
  • 32 seasons in and fire still represents life. Whodathunk it?

Rather than go through a full recap of the episode2, here are my first impressions of the cast. Let’s start with Chanloh, the Brains tribe.

Chan Loh – Brains – Blue

The first person we meet from this group is Peter, an ER doctor and Obama doppelganger who charms by telling us he “can’t deal with ignorant people.” If that hasn’t already caused you to give him the sideeye, would his asking quantitative strategist Liz what her regression analysis is of Survivor do the trick? Peter had very little screen time this episode, but he reads as someone who needs to be the smartest person in the room.

Debbie was the standout character from this tribe in this episode, but perhaps not in a good way. For starters, she had at least three interviews in the course of this one episode and with each one she had a different career listed in her chyron. At first I thought I took bad notes, but no, she is a chemist, a weapons expert, and a server at Red Lobster. Red Lobster is getting the best free advertising out of CBS this month. Debbie presents herself as an expert on everything outdoorsy within a Survivor context, but seems to have some social awareness issues. This tribe didn’t have to do much in terms of gameplay this week, so it will be interesting to see what she does once scrambling begins.

The oldest player this season is Joe, a retired FBI agent who is 71. I would have guessed prematurely gray early 50s, so work it, I guess. He didn’t get much screen time, other than to show him buddying up with Debbie and being in the sights of the tribe youngsters as a potential first boot.

Aside from her awkward interaction with Peter, we don’t get much from Liz in this episode. The same goes for Neal, an ice cream entrepreneur.

Aubry rounds out the tribe and is the one who experiences the brunt of the tough conditions in Cambodia. She overdoes it during camp setup and has an unfortunate combination of dehydration and an anxiety attack. This is either foreshadowing of rising from the ashes or being the actual first boot (or medevac).

Gondol – Beauty – Yellow

Anna, a professional poker player, is the first player we meet from this tribe. She doesn’t make that much of an impression, other than to say she uses her looks at the poker table and expects to use them during the game. Because sex appeal is valuable on day 26? Especially on a tribe thrown together because of good looks?

Nick is a personal trainer and maybe a model? I have to be honest, any time he was onscreen I was reminded to look up who he reminded me of, so I wasn’t paying that much attention. I did figure out who he reminded me of though: the bicyclist from Triplets of Belleville. You’re welcome.

Caleb is the Big Brother alumnus. Although he wasn’t forthright about mentioning it to his teammates, he didn’t deny it or try to hide it when asked about it later on. He doesn’t strike me as incredibly bright, but that seems to be a rallying point for the non-brains contestants so….yeah.

The standout for the beauty tribe is Tai, who is filling one of my favorite slots in Survivor casting: interesting man of Asian descent. Tai is a gardener who escaped from Vietnam during the height of the war. In his first interview, he says he doesn’t understand why he is on the Beauty tribe even though he looks good for 51. He instantly becomes one with the environment, reacting with the appropriate amount of horror when Caleb keeps hacking at a tree with a machete even after hinting that doing so kills the tree. Tai is definitely getting set up for an audience favorite story arc, but he was caught searching for a hidden immunity idol by others on the tribe, so his time may be cut short if he doesn’t find it.

Julia, a college student, and Michelle, a bartender, are also a part of this tribe but don’t make much of an impression in this episode. They were the ones to confront Caleb about his BB background, but that’s about it.

To Tang – Brawn – Red

The first player we meet is Scot, a former NBA player. I wonder if this show will ever cast a former female professional athlete, especially if we could get a “Fuck you, Brad Culpepper” moment out of it. He actively plays the “I’m not on the brains tribe” card, which…sigh.

The standout from this tribe is Jason, a bounty hunter from Detroit. I think he thinks he is trying to be a loveable asshole/badass, but he comes across as only one of those three words. He derisively refers to Alecia as “blondie” and is already trying to form alliances with every single person. He and Probst will probably be married by the end of the season.

Cydney is a professional bodybuilder. We don’t see much from her this episode, but I get a good vibe from her.

Jennifer had what could arguably be the worst first three days in Survivor history. No, she didn’t get voted out: a bug crawled in her ear. The thing is, it took its sweet time to crawl out. In the meantime, it was biting and echoing in Jennifer’s ear, agonizing her to the point that she thought she was going to be pulled from the game. The bug (or perhaps worm?) finally worked its way out on day 3, but you could see her blood in its gut as it sauntered around her ear. How she didn’t scream about sending that worm to hell once it was captured is beyond me, but she seemed to be fine after the fact. Still though, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPE.

Alecia presented herself as dead weight throughout the episode. She was useless in building shelter and during the puzzle portion of the Immunity/Reward challenge she just stood there smiling politely until Scot swapped out with her. Since there is a gender balance in all the tribes (3 women and 3 men), I wonder if she and Tai were supposed to be occupying each other’s spots. However, the tribe seems to value the uselessness, since she was spared elimination even after a tie at Tribal Council.

Going home first this season was Darnell, a postal worker from Chicago. His major contributions to this episode: using the ocean as a toilet in front of his tribe3 and losing the team’s goggles for the diving portion of the Immunity challenge. Although the tribe managed to almost take second in the challenge despite this major setback, it was Darnell’s fault that they had to play catchup the entire time. He didn’t seem to do much in terms of campaigning or scrambling prior to Tribal Council, but he did get Jason to reconsider whether to switch his vote at the end of Tribal Council. Too little, too late. See you at the reunion.

  1. He was the guy who had the racist and homophobic Instagram posts before his season started. ALLEGEDLY.  
  2. you’ve probably watched it by now if you are going to watch it at all  
  3. I’m sure that happens every season, but maybe not as close to the shelter as this instance?  

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About Mike McComb 931 Articles
Mike has been writing about TV online since 2008, when he started the blog WTF Little House on the Prairie? The blog was a project to practice writing about television analytically prior to getting an MA in Television-Radio-Film from Syracuse University, or as he likes to call it "TV Camp." After a lengthy stint at TVLatest, Mike wanted to launch a site that brought in classic TV, diamonds in the rough, and the shows everybody watches. E-mail: