samedi 30 juillet 2011 | By: Patrick

Rewatch: Survivor: Borneo "The Marooning" (Episode 1)

39 days, 16 people, 1 survivor!

Episode 1: "The Marooning"
Original airdate: May 31st, 2000
American ratings: 15.5 million viewers

It was with both pleasure and trepidation that I revisited the very first episode of the reality show which soon became by favorite TV show for years to come. I had not seen a single minute of Survivor: Borneo since the reruns aired on CBS during the summer of 2000.

It sure brought back memories to see the original castaways board that boat in that small Malaysian fishing village to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. And when the host Jeff Probst gave them two minutes to salvage whatever they could from the boat, the game was officially on and chaos ensued.

To win, you must survive the island, survive the vote, and ultimately survive each other.

Remember when Survivor pushed the contestants to the limit of their abilities and endurance? There were very few puzzle challenges back then, and every single minute seemed to be gruesome and painful. This is, in my mind, what Survivor is meant to be about. And that's how it all began.

A group of strangers forced to throw themselves off the boat and somehow make their way to their respective beaches on rafts that could not fit them all as well as the material they had salvaged from the ship. With an unforgiving sun beating down upon them, they were forced to row and swim, ever so slowly, toward their destinations. Getting there was obviously an ordeal for most of the contestants, especially Ramona. When you end up vomiting before the game has even truly started yet, it probably dawns upon you that this may not exactly be what you signed up for.

They must learn to adapt, or they are voted off.

Left to fend for themselves (this is Survivor, after all), the castaways are at a loss as to how to get organized. But this first episode, rewatched with 22 Survivor seasons under my belt, shows just how the entire production team is also learning the ropes. The camera crews are all over the place, creating a chaotic jumble of images. The picture quality isn't the same, nor is the location scouting up to par with subsequent seasons. Russ Landau's unforgettable soundtrack feels more present in this first episode, creating a musical backdrop to what is taking place. Even Jeff Probst appears uncomfortable, not quite sure as to exactly what sort of role the host is supposed to play in a reality show like this.

Day 1

With a few boxes' worth of survival supplies, both the Tagi and the Pagong tribes finally made it to their beach. Funny how the bulk of those supplies would disappear in future seasons, forcing the castaways to make to almost nothing but machetes and a bit of rice.

As a corporate consultant, Richard Hatch tried his best to get his tribesmates to sit down , talk, and come up with a plan so they could all work together. "Guys, the first thing we ought to do is talk about how we're going to do whatever it is we're going to do. Talk about the process," he opined. Unfortunately for him, the rest of the Tagi tribe felt that they had things well in hand and there was hence no need to discuss anything. At which point Susan Hawk came up with the kind of quote that would immotalize her in Survivor lore:

I'm a redneck. And I don't know corporate world at all. But corporate world ain't going to work out here in the bush.

Meanwhile, Rudy Boesch, a retired Navy Seal, tried to take control and issued orders to the rest of the tribe. Which quickly put him at odds with several of them.

Funny how such disparate men would soon become part of the first and one of the most infamous Survivor alliances in the history of the show. Funny also how Richard appears to put so much effort into creating a good team spirit and building their campsite, as he'll soon become one of the most selfish, cocky, and calculating players ever. But this was day 1. . .

On the Pagong beach, it's not Club Med either. B. B. seems to have his priorities straight, something that will rapidly put him at odds with the rest of his tribe. Along with Ramona, following the water map they'll finally manage to find their water spot after over an hour of searching. They hatch the very first strategic move the game has ever seen by considering not telling the others where the water can be found, hence forcing them to keep the two of them around if they want to survive.

As night falls on both beaches, the castaways try to get some sleep in their unfinished makeshift camps as rats prowl the premises. Both tribes get a taste of what life on the island will be like. . .

Day 2

The hardest part is hanging around with all those young kids. I don't even know what MTV means, you know.

Rudy is aware that things are not necessarily looking up for him. A hardened military man, he appears baffled by this stranded community among which he must now make his home. "If they listened to me, they'd all have haircuts and everything else, you know. We'd be in formation in the morning and all that kind of stuff. But they're not going to do that. I've got to fit in, not them. You know, there's more of them than there is of me."

God knows there's been quite a few characters on Survivor over the years. And yet, no matter how many fish in the sea, Rudy managed to leave an indelible mark on the history of this TV show.

Still, as a rule, military figures haven't fared all that well on Survivor. And Rudy is no exception. As a former Navy Seal, one would have thought that survival was second nature to such a man, and that starting a fire would be a piece of cake for one such as him. Be that as it may, as some of his tribesmates pointed out, he was pretty close to worthless when the Tagi crew attempted to create fire. With the help of Sean, Richard and Sue, Dirk gave it everything he had. But nothing short of divine intervention could have struck the sought-after spark. Alas, the Lord was busy doing something more important. . .

For her part, Sonja's only claim to fame during her time on Survivor would turn out to be singing "Bye Bye Blues" with the ukulele. Yes, she did leave her mark. . .

On the Pagong side of the island, B. B. is giving everything he has to build the tribe's shelter. To his dismay, his teammates do not seem to attach the same importance to the project. The old man's patience comes in short supply, and the Pagong widespread laziness and lack of work ethic irk him to no small degree. Tension exists between B. B. and Joel, and it's only a question of time before this kettle explodes.

Gretchen tries to reason with B. B., encourages him to calm down and take a 15-minute break. But the old man will have none of that and continues to dig his own grave. "I thought we were going to try to stay competitive. And if you work all day and you're burned at the end of the day, then we're not going to be competitive," she tells him. But as a matter of course, Gretchen's words of wisdom fell on deaf ears. On a more positive note, Gretchen did manage to create fire using B. B.'s glasses.

Back on the Tagi beach, Richard is already trying to catch some food using the fish traps and the rat traps. You can see that, right from the beginning, Richard wanted to assume the role of provider for the rest of his tribesmates.

The tribes' first tree mail summons them to their first encounter against the competition. The first challenge in Survivor history was the "Quest for Fire," for both reward and immunity. The castaways needed to swim to a raft containing fire, push it toward the beach and lighting torches along the way. At the beach, they had to carry their raft toward a fire bowl set upon some kind of statue. Pagong were the first to light up their fire bowl, getting their hands on the coveted immunity idol and a number of waterproof matches as their reward. During the course of the challenge, there was no commentary coming from Jeff and the host's silence was a bit odd compared to his active involvement in future seasons. Setting up the challenge at dusk was also a questionable call, as the lack of light made for poor visibility. The good news for viewers is that the production crew would learn from their mistake and turn Survivor in the most visually stunning TV show this side of National Geographic.

Day 3

This chick thinks I'm voting for one person, but I'm not.

Annoyed by Rudy's demeanor, Stacey tries to convince her tribesmates to vote him out. But little does she know that Richard and Rudy have bonded, and that Sue is not being honest with her or getting with the program. Still, Sonja, who was responsible for the Tagi lost of the previous day, and Rudy will be on the hot seat that night.

Dirk was the first God-fearing contestant on Survivor. He appeared to undergo a thoroughly uplifting experience while reading the Bible and praying. In any case, he was in no danger for this first council and thus did not need any intercession from God.

With Russ Landau's now mythical "Tally the Vote" theme playing in the background, the Tagi tribe entered the council area. The wooden chest containing the million dollar prize in cash was a bit overdone, methinks, and it's a good thing they got rid of it in subsequent seasons. "On the island, fire represents life," intoned the host. Once again, Jeff Probst doesn't seem quite sure about what his role should be at tribal council. He doesn't quite know how to set the tone yet.

The tribe has spoken.

In the end, Stacey's strategy is foiled by Sue. Rudy nevertheless got 3 votes cast against him, Stacey got one, and Sonja was the first ever castaway to be voted off the island with 4 votes cast against her.

All in all, though it certainly doesn't hit you with the same sort of impact it had in 2000, the first episode of Survivor: Borneo survived the test of time and still delivers. It marks the beginning of one of the biggest reality shows in the history of television, and as such it makes for a satisfying viewing experience, even more than a decade after it first aired.

As is often the case within group dynamics, strong personalities come to the fore early on. Survivor: Borneo was no exception to that rule. Richard, Rudy, Sue, B. B., and Gretchen stayed in the spotlight throughout the episode. Other castaways such as Greg, Colleen, Jenna, Gervase, Kelly, and Sean, who will come into their own at the series progresses, remained in the background and did not create any waves. It will be interesting to watch them gain confidence and take their rightful place among their respective tribes.

Stay tuned for the rewatch of the second episode. . .

To purchase the Survivor: Borneo DVD boxset: Canada, USA, Europe.

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