Josh impresses early, but another pre-show favorite doesn't last on the season premiere

By Stephen Fishbach
Updated September 25, 2014 10:50 AM
Credit: Erik Reichenbach Comics

Stephen Fishbach was the runner-up on Survivor: Tocantins and has been blogging about Survivor strategy for PEOPLE since 2009. Follow him on Twitter @stephenfishbach. Erik Reichenbach is a Survivor fan-turned-favorite, a comic book author and artist. He placed fifth on both Survivor: Micronesia and Survivor: Caramoan. Follow him on Twitter @BloodyAmer1can.

“Your ability to connect with idiots who can’t process things properly is a large part of what this comes down to.”
– John Fincher, Survivor: Samoa

On Wednesday’s season premiere of Survivor: San Juan Del Sur, a long-standing debate was settled once and for all. Which reality show is harder, The Amazing Race or Survivor? When Jeff Probst snuffed the torch of Nadiya, you could see the entire story on her face: This game of strategy, endurance, and social skill had bested a former all-star player from the Race – aka, Who Can Find the Best Cab?

To be fair, Nadiya was probably voted out in large part for her Race reputation. Tribe grandpa Dale, concerned that his age and frailty would make him an early target, rallied the men to vote out the duplicitous Racer.

The women tried to create a female alliance, and pull in swing vote Josh. And they might have succeeded, if Nadiya hadn’t made a homophobic comment. “I’m counting you as a girl,” she tells Josh as he winces out a smile. “The gay guy – we’re already counting him as a girl,” she repeats at Tribal Council.

Wasn’t John Rocker supposed to be the one to offend? Even he shuffles uncomfortably. Josh throws away his vote, and Nadiya exits the game.

The Social Linchpin

I was super impressed with Josh, and not just because of his voting strategy. Josh quickly established himself as the social linchpin of the Coyopa tribe.

“I wanted to be the person who – people are coming up to me and saying, ‘I want to work with you,’ ” he says. Of course, everybody wants to be the center of the tribe’s strategic wheel, but to play that role, you have to work hard to connect with all the spokes.

Josh puts in the effort. You can see his social strategy in action early on in the episode: As Dale struggles to make fire with his glasses, Josh encourages him and works to include him in the group’s conversation.

Country boy Wes, who’s like a miniature and even harder to understand JT, says it best: “Everybody talks to him You tell him something, he’s like, ‘I feel you man, I feel that pain too.’ ” (Maybe Wes is referring to the pain of trying to count to six?)

Basically, Josh is the Bill Clinton of the Coyopa tribe. He wins the season’s first Fishy for making himself indispensable to strategy and forming emotional bonds with everybody.

Hunahpu Tribe

On the Hunahpu tribe, Jeremy is learning the age-old adage that showing emotion can really play well with the ladies (even if his dudes are going to kill him back home). After breaking down in tears at the first challenge, Jeremy finds that suddenly all the girls want to make sweet, sweet alliances.

He and Kelly form a “strong two.” Natalie decides he’s her “designated twinnie.” Missy says, “You seem like you’re super, super honest.”

“Everybody wants to date the prom king,” he gloats. I like Jeremy, but I worry that he’s switched from dejected to overconfident too fast.

The Return of Blood vs. Water

Of course, as we saw in the original Blood vs. Water, the emotional entanglements of playing with and against your loved ones mean anything can happen. Survivor gets personal quickly even when you’re playing with strangers. This season, family members will be forced to compete against each other, and even send each other to Exile Island.

Will we see the creation of a true cross-tribal alliance? Will Natalie go to the end, like Gervase and Tyson did, because her loved one was ejected so early? Will Keith ever figure out that the clue to the hidden idol had to be the same for both beaches?

I can’t wait to find out.

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