Pearl Island Strategy #1:  Searching for Honey
Written by Mario Lanza on 09.19.03

"I'd never seen a saltwater catfish. I didn't know they made such a animal!"
-Rupert Boneham

Last night's episode was a very good start to the season.  The opening was truly inspired.  I loved the pirate theme, the selection of the teams, the twist, and I especially enjoyed all the pirate-like incidental music between the scenes. Pearl Islands is already shaping up to be a very distinct, very unique type of Survivor season. And I really do applaud this new format change, it was nice to add something new to the premiere this time around. The scene where they went to the village and bought supplies was great and it added a lot to the episode. It was especially helpful because we got to see a lot of character traits come out in a situation that was non game related.  We got to see what these people are really like when they aren't sitting around talking game strategy.  We got to see their true natures and their true personalities right off the bat, when they aren't concerned yet with putting on a game face or with trying to form alliances. That is going to come in very handy down the road when it comes to things like storytelling and character development.

All in all, the village scene was a very crafty way to introduce us to the players in a new and exciting way. We learned a lot more about the players this season than we usually do in a Survivor premiere episode. So kudos to Burnett and CBS.  That was a very creative way to start off the season with a bang.

As expected, the Drake and Morgan tribes look horribly mismatched on paper. It is obvious that the Drakes are going to walk all over the Morgans unless there is some sort of a twist. What is wrong with the Morgans?  Well for starters, they lack leadership, unity, teamwork, physical strength, and a killer instinct. Yeah, it's not too bad for them.  They are only missing every single thing that is important when it comes to Survivor. And to be fair, Andrew DID step up as the Morgan leader eventually (finally), but his ridicule of Ryan Shoulders and his contempt for Lillian certainly aren't very leaderlike. I think Andrew will provide a good stopgap for a while, but Morgan is essentially dead meat the way they stand now. The Drakes are just that much better. The Morgans are toast.

Over at Drake, the only problem I see is the lack of a leader. True, Shawn and Burton have stepped up, but they seem to be more of a 2-man team, not so much a pair of leaders for the tribe. In fact, there is already a little bit of resentment towards them. So I don't know what will happen with the Drakes. I think Burton will step up as leader in time, but that lack of leadership is going to be their biggest obstacle for now. At some point the Drakes will eventually be tested by the Morgans, and then at that point we will finally see who their leader is going to be.  It just might take a while for the Morgans to challenge them though.

The only real similarity I see between the two tribes is the fact that both Drake and Morgan are unbelievably male-dominated. You thought Thailand was bad? Well Chuay Gahn was nothing compared to these two boys clubs.  Drake has a whole pack of cocky alpha males (plus Jon), and Morgan already has the "naked 3" of Andrew, Osten, and Ryan O. The guys this season are either going to either walk away with this game without any competition, or they are going to tear each other apart.  Add in the fact that there aren't very many strong, significant female players this season, and I think that Pearl Islands is going to be dominated by males.

Okay... on to my initial player notes. My pre game predictions were right on for some of them, not so much right on for the others. But here is what I think of their chances this season after finally seeing everyone in action.

~~ Drake Tribe ~~

Burton Roberts
Burton is strong, he is leaderlike, he is competent... but he is just as oblivious and vulnerable as I predicted from his bio. I don't think he really sees that he is ruffling some feathers. And sure, Shawn is the biggest culprit in that particular area, but Burton is right there by his side. Like Joel and Gervase in Borneo, they are a package deal. Burton caught a fish, true... but then Rupert came in and stole all his glory.  Burton is safe for now, but I don't see him winning.  He doesn't possess the self-awareness needed to do well in this game.  Like Heidi in Amazon, I think he is just way too oblivious to the way he comes off.

Trish Dunn
Trish was very quiet this episode, aside from the fact that she was propositioned by a lesbian shopkeeper. What that means is that she will probably be around for a while (Trish, not the shopkeeper, although they DO like twists on the show so who knows.) But keep in mind that while Trish might look like a strong player on paper, this tribe isn't all that great a fit for her. She is the eldest female on Drake by far, and there aren't many older guys for her to try and bond with. She will probably do well, but don't be surprised if she exits the game early. Remember, tribal dynamics and chemistry are the key. Who does Trish possibly have on this tribe to relate to?

Rupert Boneham
Our resident quote master of the season. As my wife pointed out, Rupert seems to have several entirely different personas. There is goofy Rupert, there is angry Rupert, there is hardworking Rupert, there is scheming Rupert. Oh and then there is also Popeye's enemy Rupert, and fisherman Rupert, and shoe thief Rupert, etc. His personality is just all over the place. Which, from a Survivor point of view, means he will be as entertaining as all hell.  It is hard to peg where Rupert is going to finish in the game, but his exuberance to do well and his obsession with impressing everyone else was an ominous sign of somebody who is an early boot.  He might just run himself into the ground and run out of gas. I hope it doesn't happen, but he definitely seems like the type. Plus he is already wet and crotch inflamed and chafing. Yuck.

Sandra Diaz-Twine
Sandra gets my award for "most impressive performance in comparison to my pre season predictions." Simply put, she ROCKED in the bartering part of the episode. She spoke Spanish, she cut deals, she won an ENTIRE CHICKEN DINNER.  She basically got as much as was humanly possible with their measly 100 balboas. That was absolutely amazing.  Now, as a player, Sandra seems a bit short tempered and outspoken. So I'm not sure how long she will last in the game.  But she is definitely jumping up in the power rankings this week, simply because of the way she has impressed everyone else on her tribe.  Impressing your teammates on day one is a good way to start a game of Survivor!

Michelle Tesauro
Michelle easily fit in with her tribesmates, which is what I expected. She didn't do anything good or bad this week, and she is clearly going to be one of the understated sweethearts of the season. I love how Robert DeCanio called Michelle a "hot, naughty librarian" in his column a couple of days ago.  That is a perfect description of her persona, and I happen to agree with him one hundred percent. She is going to be around for a while.

Christa Hastie
Jeff said in a pre game interview that Christa "has a lot of Lisa Kudrow in her." Now first off, that is a bad thing. Lisa Kudrow can be annoying.  But luckily for Christa, she managed to channel the funny, quirky part of Lisa Kudrow instead.  She is FAR less annoying than I expected just from reading her bio. Christa is a narrator type.  She is very observant, she is very smart, and she has a way with words that most people don't have. I think she is going to be around for the long haul, and she could very well turn out to be a heck of a player if she has any deviousness in her. Christa is definitely one to keep an eye on for now.

Jon Dalton
First off, Jon is much smaller than I expected him to be.  But luckily, that will probably just make him play meaner. You know, Napoleon complex and frustrated small person and all that.  But Jon is my guy, he is the one I will be rooting for and (in my mind) he is going to be the unquestioned standout of the season. It is great to see someone who not only has no problem being the villain, but who will actually flat out tell you: "I am the villain. I don't play fair." When all is said and done this season, Jon won't go on to the Early Show afterwards and whine about his editing. He won't break down at the reunion show and say that he really isn't like that. Because he IS like that. And he is damn proud of it. I wish for nothing more than for Jon to rip this game apart and gleefully laugh his ass off all the way to a million dollars.  In fact, I hope people already appreciate how much he is going to add to this season. Assuming he actually gets past the first Drake vote, of course. Here is a hint: Jon, don't drink anymore. Keep your mouth shut for a week and this game is yours. Like I said in my pre game notes, we are only one episode in and he already has a spot reserved in my next All-Star story. We need more unashamed villains in this world. Go Jon!

Shawn Cohen
It was Jon who got the "He talks too much and he is annoying" editing this week, but I believe Shawn is the one who will likely get in trouble for that. He is already digging a hole for himself with the rest of his tribe, and next week's confrontation with Rupert certainly isn't a good sign either. I see bad things in Shawn's future.

~~ Morgan Tribe ~~

Ryan Shoulders
Ryan might be one of the nicest and most normal people we have ever on the show. I don't think anyone will have a bad thing to say about him when it is all over and we are at the reunion show.  But that being said, he has already been targeted for dismissal and he knows it.  He is simply over his head in this game, just like everyone predicted he would be. But I do have to point out that Ryan is less awkward and he is way less nerdy than we all made him out to be just from reading his bio. He is simply a normal guy who is about to be sacrificed by a tribe that doesn't want (or need) him. It sucks but that's just the way that the game works. Natural selection is a fact of life out here.

Ryan Opray
Ryan made the mistake of running off on his own in the village, but other than that, he will be perfectly safe for a while. Morgan is a boys club above all else, and Ryan is third in command among the all male power core. That is the PERFECT place to be. He will be around for a while, I just hope he starts to stand out a little more. When I think about the Pearl Islands cast, he is still rather anonymous.

Andrew Savage
Andrew is a good leader, a good provider, and he knows when to keep his mouth shut. Good, good, and good. Also, his decision to go naked so that Osten wouldn't be alone was actually, in a weird way, kind of touching and noble. That could be a sign that the three Morgan men are going to be close this season. However, Andrew also trashes his weaker teammates (Ryan S. and Lill) around camp, which is a terrible thing for a leader to do. Andrew could go either way in this game, but for now the Morgans absolutely NEED him.  He will be around for a while.  He is all they've got.

Lillian Morris
Poor Lill. She had a rough week and she already looks shellshocked by it all. But I expect her to bounce back. Lill may be weak, but she is also competent around camp, she tries hard, and she is loyal and unfailingly honest. You would be a fool to dump a potential loyal ally like that, unless she was REALLY really dragging down your tribe. I think Lill will bounce back and stick around for a while.

Darrah Johnson
Darrah who? Was she even there this week?  All I can say about Darrah is that she ALWAYS appears to be paying attention, and that she is smart enough to watch and mostly keep her mouth shut. It is clear that the men are going to run Morgan, and if Darrah can become the guys' favorite female (there isn't much competition), then she will be perfectly safe. Darrah is almost a lock to make the merge.  At least, unless she gets sick or something.

Osten Taylor
Big strong Osten LEAPT out to the front as the Morgan leader... and then he slunk back down to the bottom with his tail between his legs. He can barely swim, he is scared to death of the jungle, he tends to be a show off, his campsite was a complete bust. And now, to make things worse, he doesn't even have any pants! That is a rough start to the game. I think the boys club of Morgan will save him for a while, but I don't think Osten has much of a chance in the long run.

Tijuana Bradley
First off, Tijuana is a Heidi clone. They have the exact same smile!  That being said, she had a rough start to the game (yelling at villagers and being targeted by Nicole.)  But she managed to escape execution AND she managed to do it without losing her temper.  That impressed me.  However, despite the fact that she avoided execution, Tijuana really doesn't have a whole lot of allies. She also doesn't seem like a "tough, outdoorsy" type of girl. I just don't think she will get very far, despite the fact that she was very impressive this week.


* The opening credits remind me a lot of the first season. Lots of swimming and action shots and the exact same type of lettering font and style.

* I thought it was funny that the very first confessional of the season was Sandra saying "shit." Very classy, CBS.

* Burton was the first person to jump off the boat... and he tried to do a can opener when he hit the water. Now there is a guy who has a lot of inner child left in him. Go for the maximum splash at all times! Screw cannonballs, can openers are the way to go when you are trying to impress everyone.

* How excited do you think Rupert was to see that chicken dinner? He even reeled off a Chris Farley-esque "OHHHHH MYYYYY GAWWWWWWWD." It was pretty funny.

* There was a funny scene in the episode where Shawn made fun of people with beards, because you can always tell what they just had to eat. Then he pointed at Rupert and he laughed at him. Geez, how first grade is that? I'm surprised he didn't just give Rupert a wedgie.

* Was that the closest first challenge ever? It was decided by a couple of feet.

* Andrew is almost a clone of Mike Skupin. They even have the same voice. Close your eyes and listen to Andrew talk next week, he and Mike could be brothers.

* Speaking of voices, Ryan Opray almost has the exact same voice as Alex Bell. Again, listen to him next week. Same voice.

* Poor Nicole.  My hometown girl was the first one to go. She tried to scheme and she got Debbed. Or Petered.  You pick. And sadly, we may never see another contestant from Bellevue again. Oh well.  Nicole if you read this, please write me! Or maybe we will run into one another at Crossroads Mall some time.

* Speaking of Nicole, did you notice that yet again the first person who cast a vote was the person who left? That seems to happen a lot on this show. Do they volunteer to cast their vote first, is that why?

* Okay, the quotes of the week. While Jon had some funny ones ("We have a skirt for Blackbeard"), I am going to give the award to a pair of Rupert quotes. You see, there were two Rupertisms that just cracked me up this week. He has a very unique way of phrasing things, and I can see he will be a lot of fun to listen to this season. Okay, here are the quotes, with emphasis added to simulate the way that Rupert said the lines:

Rupert quote #1: "Jon just says stooooopid stuff. Like he wants to get some honey."

Now first off, I believe Jon probably said he wanted to get some "honeys", which of course is slang for cute girls. Knowing Jon, that's exactly what he would probably say. And I don't know if Rupert just misheard it, or if he really does think that Jon is after some honey. It would be pretty funny if he thinks Jon is on some wild ass quest to find honey in this game, as if Jonny Fairplay were Pooh Bear or a bee. In either case, it is a funny quote. And I agree, looking for honey would be stooooooopid.

Rupert quote #2: "I'd never seen a saltwater catfish. I didn't know they made such a animal!"

This is the quote that just killed me. I rewound it about ten times just because of the way that Rupert says it. His phrasing is so unique, he says the line very excitedly, as if he were about six years old. And then of course he says "a" instead of "an", and the whole thing just comes off very awkwardly. Rupert just has such a distinct way of speaking, he is going to be great if I ever use him in an All Star story. Rupert, I hope you stick around!


This is gonna be a tough season to predict. All the strong looking players (Trish, Shawn, Osten) have weaknesses or obstacles to overcome. And all the weak looking players (Sandra, Lillian, Michelle) either came off like underdogs or they had a good first episode. So everyone is just kind of jammed up together right now in the middle.  And it makes picking a #1 (or even a top four) nearly impossible.

But here is my best shot. Who is in the best position to win Pearl Islands right now?

1. Ryan Opray
He is simply in no danger whatsoever. I can't think of any way he goes home this week, or next week, or the week after. He has the fewest standout weaknesses out of all of the guys, and like Ethan in Africa he seems like he is fairly soft spoken. Also he is third in line among the "Three Naked Morgan Guys," so he will take the least amount of heat if they ever get targeted. Ryan rises to #1 simply by default.

2. Christa Hastie
She seems like she is going to be a player. She is also far less annoying than I predicted from her bio. Christa has a good head on her shoulders, and she seems likeable and hard working. As long as she doesn't cross the line into irritating, she will do quite well.

3. Darrah Johnson
Darrah didn't say much this week.  Darrah is always paying attention. Darrah won't get voted out for a while.

4. Jon Dalton
Jon is still a risky pick to put this high but I still think he is going to do well. I think all the talk about "Jon is annoying" is just misdirection. I think the editors are doing that to set up the great villain of the season. And remember that the girls might find him annoying, but the guys sure won't. Jon will be in good with the men of Drake, and that is where all the decisions are going to be made. We haven't seen the true Johnny Fairplay in action yet... but we will.  Just wait.

5. Sandra Diaz-Twine
Like I said, she made a huge leap in the rankings this week because of her success and her resourcefulness in the village. Hopefully she can keep this momentum going.  Otherwise she will plummet right back down to the bottom of the power rankings next week.

6. Michelle Tesauro
She did nothing great, but she did nothing wrong either. Go librarian, go!

7. Andrew Savage
He is much wiser and much more soft-spoken than I expected him to be. He was rightfully anointed as leader of the Morgans, which was good. But then he slammed Ryan and Lillian to his teammates, which was bad. Leaders don't do that. He would be ranked higher but I don't think he has the common sense to really pull off the Survivor leader thing.

8. Burton Roberts
Burton is a strong male, but he and Shawn are in trouble. He will outlast Shawn because he is the one who talks less, but he needs to work harder at blending in with the rest of his team.  You can't just turn it into a two person game out there.

9. Trish Dunn
Like I said, on paper she looks good, but on this particular tribe she sticks out like a sore thumb. If Trish is the SLIGHTEST bit annoying, they will get rid of her.

10. Lillian Morris
She is getting the underdog treatment in the editing, and I think she will stick around for a while. They all know she is honest, and they know she tries hard. And the good news is that she survived the first vote, which was probably her biggest obstacle. Ryan Shoulders will probably go next, and when that happens I expect there to be high drama (will Lill vote for her friend Ryan?) Lill should stick around for a while, although I hope we see her smile and actually have some fun at some point this season.

11. Shawn Cohen
He made fun of Rupert to his face. He has already alienated half of his team. I think Shawn is in trouble very soon, unless he learns how to watch what he says.

12. Rupert Boneham
I love Rupert. We all do. But really, where do you see him fitting in? Especially when he is sunburned, out of shape, and out of energy. Entertain us, Rupert, and I promise we will be sad to see you go one day.

13. Osten Taylor
More muscular than anyone else, very oblivious to the way he comes off, and very uneasy in both the water AND the jungle. That is a horrible combination in this game. Osten is lucky that Morgan is run by the men, so he is safe for now. But he isn't going the distance.

14. Tijuana Bradley
She seems sweet and nice, and she also didn't fly off the handle with Nicole. She handled it as maturely as she could have handled it, which is always nice to see. But she isn't the winner.

15. Ryan Shoulders
Sorry Ryan. Lillian was right in that he is "a good kid." He seems like one of the nicest and most down to earth people ever to play Survivor, and I am guessing he would be a blast to hang out with in real life. But it is evident that he is going to take the fall for Lillian. I don't THINK he is the one who wants to quit next week, but I expect him to be voted off anyway. I think he is simply too nice for this game.

Note: Be sure to read my friend Isabella's new column here at S-C, she is a good writer and she is the single most observant Survivor fan I have ever met. You will be impressed be her!

Note 2: If you liked Survivor: Tonga, or you wished you could have played, you are in luck! The sequel to it, Survivor: Okinawa, is coming in a couple of weeks. Official applications will be posted sometime this weekend, and the competition is expected to be fierce!

Mario Lanza is a programmer and writer who lives in Los Angeles. Check out his homepage for more of his writing samples, Survivor or otherwise.