Survivor 42 Premiere Recap: An Advantage Amulet & A Lot Of (Fake) Blood

The season 42 premiere of Survivor was similar to the season 41 premiere, except it was better in almost every way. The personal stories felt like more a part of the storyline instead of random anecdotes. The contestants didn't just come to life; they jumped off the screen, especially Maryanne Oketch, who couldn't contain her smile when she stepped off the beach. Jeff Probst wasted no time setting the stakes: “Either you slay this game or the game will slay you.”

Jeff's intense description of this season turned out to be appropriate. It was a rough start for the contestants. They were visibly gassed after the initial reward challenge and bummed to learn they wouldn't be given rice. Jeff paid a visit to the Vati Tribe camp to send a struggling contestant home before the first immunity challenge. Jackson Fox was removed from the game after it was revealed he didn't disclose medical information beforehand that put his safety in danger. He told his tribe he was transgender on night one, a touching moment and a necessary one for representation given the brutally dehumanizing raft of anti-transgender legislation being passed in Republican-led states throughout the country. It was the third time, following Pat Cusack and Kourtney Moon, that a contestant was removed for medical reasons in the premiere episode. But Survivor has learned by now—well, except that one time last season—that all episodes should end on a vote-out because that is the bread and butter of this show. It's what keeps people tuning in for 20-plus years.


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And the best part of tribal council is that, no matter how long this show is on the air, it's still next to impossible to always be right about who is going home. Sometimes it's the person everyone thinks. Other times, it's someone no one had on their radar. The premiere was full of triumphant highs and emotional lows, none of whom experienced the full gamut of this quite like the eventual first player to be formally voted out, Zach Wurtenberger.

Wildest single-episode edit: Zach

If you spent most of this episode believing you knew who might win this season, you weren't alone. Zach, the 22-year-old lovechild of Adam Klein and John Cochran, looked like he had his fingers on the pulse of the game from the onset. There was even a part of the edit when Jeff talked about winning the game and the camera panned to Zach. That's a dead giveaway! And then Zach got in tight with most of his tribe. He was close with the younger people on Ika and then made a skinny guys alliance with Romeo Escobar; they weigh a combined 230 pounds, or one Jonathan Young. Despite being such a die-hard fan of the game, he had a strong grasp on the mood of the tribe and appeared primed to make a deep run.

Early on, it looked like Rocksroy Bailey was going home first. Zach said he had assumed the "most leader-like role" of any contestant in 40 seasons of Survivor, a claim that would make former overzealous shelter-builders like Natalie Cole and the late B.B. Anderson blush. Rocksroy, despite his badass first name, exhibited all the signs of someone who goes home first: He overemphasized a team-first approach in a game everyone else knows is individual and was so abrasive to the other contestants that Drea Wheeler had to remind him to “Take it down just a little bit.” Credit the editing for telling Rocksroy's personal story, giving fans context to why he was acting that way. Often, Black men and women are portrayed as arrogant and aggressive, and the editing of the past few seasons has taken measures to paint a more complete picture of the characters on screen to avoid reckless stereotypes.

Related: Survivor 42: Meet Rocksroy Bailey, Stay-At-Home Dad From Las Vegas Survivor 42 Premiere Recap: An Advantage Amulet & A Lot Of (Fake) Blood

After Rocksroy was dismissed as a potential target, the focus shifted to Tori Meehan. Tori had gone looking for taro root and the rest of the tribe thought she was looking for an idol. After the immunity challenge, she tried to assure everyone she didn't have an idol, but it didn't take the target off her back. At tribal, the vote was supposedly between Zach and Tori, but it still seemed like Zach had the votes on his side. He played his Shot in The Dark and the bleak one-out-of-six odds determined he was not safe. Then, every vote was for Zach. What?!? Wherefore art thou Romeo, his closest ally? It didn't make sense. But it was also great TV. We'll miss Zach, the most superfanny of all the superfans on this season. As he was walking out, Zach said, “I just got voted out of Survivor. That’s kind of cool.” It was cool.

Worst use of props: Hai's fake blood

In the reward challenge, three contestants from different tribes meet at the second leg of a relay to retrieve paddles. Hai Giang, Lindsay Dolashewich and Drea are prompted to team up to each receive an advantage in the game. They would be fools not to say yes because this is SURVIVOR! Fortunately they didn't watch last season when Xander Hastings took a risk for an advantage early in the game and it cost him his vote until the merge. This roll of the dice pays off, however, as the cross-tribal alliance wins an Advantage Amulet, which, if you're keeping count at home, is approximately the 576th name for a twist across Survivor's 42 seasons. This one actually sounds like fun because it leaves it up to the players whether they deem it advantageous to work together to use the Amulet or cut each other's throats to increase its power. Hai calls it a “complex web of game theory.”

Related: Get to Know Hai Giang, Data Scientist & Travel Lover

Speaking of Hai, he goes a little overboard at the challenge here. While these three contestants are making the decision, the rest of the cast assumes they're running a really long time, which wouldn't make sense. Survivor has a lot of camera people, but surely they don't have enough to stretch a mile across the beach and cover a long-distance race. To trick their tribe, Hai, Lindsay and Drea are expected to cover themselves in fake mud and blood. Hai, initially hesitant — “I’ve been on such a strict skincare routine,” he says — throws caution to the wind and rubs his entire body in fake blood. Lindsay and Drea take a more methodical approach. When Hai returns, he looks less like he'd gotten cut up by some branches and more like he'd soaked in a bathtub of blood. His tribe is shook. Lydia Meredith, incredulous, asks him, “Are you ok? You’re bleeding a lot.” Fortunately, they were headed toward water, where Hai could rinse off and deny any evidence that he'd just inexplicably lost gallons of blood from sprinting in the sand.

Funniest comparison: The dislocated shoulder

Forty-two seasons in, it's hard for superfans to stick out. They are everywhere, no longer outliers and more so the lifeblood (real blood) of the game. It's less likely that someone will be targeted for knowing too much about the show because everyone knows too much about the show at this point. This creates a level of understanding among the cast and Jeff: they can reference past players at will, knowing that the rest of the cast will know who they're talking about and much of the audience will remember too because we're still watching 22 years into this social experiment.

Related: Survivor: Get to Know Daniel Strunk, Lawyer & Movie Fanatic

Daniel Strunk is one of those crazed superfans, and he recognized his place in Survivor lore during the first challenge. When he was returning from the rope obstacle, Daniel face-planted in the sand and dislocated a shoulder. Afterward, he told Jeff, “I think I pulled a Stephenie LaGrossa.” It's true that Stephenie dislocated her shoulder in the premiere of Heroes vs. Villains—and if you're a real fan of the show that's the first thing you thought of when Daniel suffered a similar injury—but she had it ripped from the socket in one of the more physical challenges in Survivor history. Daniel kinda, just, you know, fell. What's more: Steph shoved it back in the socket herself, while Daniel needed a little help. (I would have sobbed and asked to go home.)

Medical came out to check on him and warned Daniel not to aggravate it. We don't hear about the shoulder again, but Daniel is clearly still laboring in the immunity challenge, at one point grabbing his shoulder. He wasn't a physical competitor to begin with, but he's a really likable guy with a nice story of overcoming leukemia as a child. If he can get past the tribal portion of the game, his hanging left arm will be less of a liability. Unfortunately, the merge isn't right around the corner and it's difficult to help your tribe win with a bum shoulder. Daniel might be hobbled, but he's already lasted longer than Steph did in Heroes vs. Villains, making him officially the best performing contestant who dislocated a shoulder in the premiere.

Next: Million Dollar Island: 100 Contestants Will Compete In Survivor-Like Show

Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8pm EST on CBS.

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Justin Fedich is a reality TV editor based in Washington, D.C. He has reported on the need for increased representation in the Survivor franchise and has interviewed stars from Netflix hit shows The Circle, Too Hot To Handle and Love Is Blind.