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There are long-running reality TV shows, and there's Survivor. CBS' groundbreaking competition series has been going strong for nearly two decades, showing no signs of slowing down. But given Survivor's long tenure on the small screen, the rabid fanbase has come to expect certain tropes. The premiere for the 39th season Island of The Idols threw it all out the window. It was a bit weird, but I ended up enjoying the ride by the time the 90-minute premiere ended.
But this was a process, and the uncomfortable nature of the game's changes were felt almost immediately. Namely, because host/producer Jeff Probst didn't give the new group of a castaways an official greeting, and there was no marooning. While past seasons kickstart by Jeff giving the cast a raucous speech and forcing the group to scramble and grab supplies, this time he was nowhere to be found.
Instead, the Lairo and Vokai tribes arrived on their respective beaches separately in their own boats. The castaways began getting to work on their shelters, in an opening sequence that felt a bit unceremonious. We jumped right in, and started meeting the colorful characters who will be vying for the million dollar prize.
Jeff's absence was noted by the survivors, who seemed to know the competition had some twist and turns for the group. And they were right, as Survivor royalty Boston Rob and Sandra Diaz-Twine were hidden on the titular Island of the Idols, which will serve as a bootcamp for the new castaways. The pair of winners will be mentors to the visitors of the island, and will get to watch how their game plays out as a result.
I originally wasn't sure about this change to the game's format, but Sandra and Rob's entrance didn't disappoint, and the pair of Survivor winners were quite entertaining. They have some of the quickest mouths in the game's long history, and their scenes proved what great television Sandra and Rob consistently bring to their appearances on the show.
The advice they gave new castaway Elizabeth was a mixture of practical and strategic tips. After teaching her how to start a fire with flint, Elizabeth was duped into a fire building competition against Boston Rob. She unsurprisingly lost, and therefore forfeited her vote at tribal council. This adds extra stakes to the forthcoming visits to the Island, which can be both an advantage and hindrance.
But the moment that really sold me on Survivor: Island of the Idols was Sandra and Boston Rob's inclusion during Tribal Council. The iconic winners watched it all go down from a private box, spying on the newbies and providing commentary that would put The Muppets' Statler and Waldorf to shame. In fact, one of Sandra's one liners was the title of the episode: "I Vote You Out and That's It."
So while the format change was originally uncomfortable, it ultimately paid off. CBS is getting their moneys worth with Sandra and Rob, and it should be fascinating to see how their perspective ultimately shapes the current game.
Survivor: Island of the Idols airs Wednesdays on CBS. In the meantime, check out our fall premiere list to plan your next binge watch.