3 min

Carrying a flaming torch

An obsessive's guide to Survivor

Credit: Xtra files

I don’t care that it’s freezing outside. I don’t care that I’m broke. I don’t care that my toilet just backed up. Survivor: All Stars begins on Sun, Feb 1 and all’s right with the world.

Now don’t scoff. At one time I, too, was a non-believer. Then I caught episode three of season one in summer 2000 and I was transformed. The brilliant structure, the inspired editing, host Jeff Probst’s virtuoso torch-snuffing… they thrilled me. Survivor is part game show, part documentary, part travelogue, and it’s the best thing that’s happened this century. Survivor rules. All other reality shows (except for Amazing Race and Idol) can kiss its royal ass.

For all you virgins, here’s the skinny. There have been seven seasons so far. Each season began with 16 contestants stranded in a remote location and divided into two “tribes”. Every few days, the two tribes competed against each other in a physical or mental challenge, and the defeated tribe would vote out a member. Once there were about 10 competitors remaining, the tribes merged and it was every competitor for him- or herself. The last person standing won a million bucks.

Cunning producer Mark Burnett made sure that in each season there was some sort of twist, like a fake merge or a tribe member trade-off. Survivor: All Stars is no exception. This time there will be 18 contestants divided into three tribes of six. These assorted champs and audience favorites will brave the tropical elements and vie for the title of Ultimate Survivor.

Let’s meet our new friends.

First, and most important, we have Richard Hatch. This gloriously gay, 43-year-old corporate trainer can spear a fish, dance a fire-jig and sneer into a camera like nobody. He loves the villain role and you can’t help rooting for him. He won the first Survivor by figuring out that to win a voting game, one must control a voting alliance. His chief ally was Rudy Boesch, the irascibly bigoted 76-year-old ex-Navy Seal who barked, “Me and Richard got to be pretty good friends… not in a homosexual way… that’s for sure.” He’s back.

So is Sue Hawk, the 42-year-old trucker whose lesbianesque crush on a tribe member went sour in the final episode. Sue is the one who growled, “If you were laying there dying of thirst, I would not give ya a drink of water. I would let the vultures take ya and do whatever they want with ya… with no ill-regrets.”

Our fourth contestant from the original series is the chatty, pink bikini-clad single mom Jenna Lewis. When Richard sashayed in his birthday suit, she chirped, “If he had, like, something to cover the butt crack area, I’d be cool with that.” I felt the same way.

Next we have our five pals from Survivor: The Australian Outback. Raven-haired minx Jerri Manthey became infamous for planting beef jerky on a lummox tribesmate and accusing him of sneaking in food. Wispy Amber Brkich was Jerri’s obsequious accomplice. Alicia Calaway was the finger-waving, straight-talking, fitness-trainer. None of these gals went the distance. The winner was Tina Wesson, the 40-year-old Tennessee mom whose Oedipal relationship with Texan stud Colby Donaldson dominated this very southern season. Let’s hope the “Colbster” goes far. He gets cuter the longer he starves.

Speaking of cute, say “hello” to our fellows from Survivor: Africa. Nice Jewish soccer-player Ethan Zohn (whom I ogled at a Toronto synagogue and who looks exactly like a young John Shea) won the million thanks to his alliance with tattooed drummer Lex van den Berghe and illiterate sheep farmer Tom Buchanan. My heart belongs to these three guys. Especially Lex. He’s got a cool, tattooed wife and two kids. And if he doesn’t stress out, he might win the million this time.

Twelve down, six to go. From Survivor: Marqesas we have Godfather – quoting Bostonian hunk Rob Mariano (who couldn’t stomach the smelly fish) and pee-on-request real estate broad Kathy Vavrick-O’Brien (who was defeated when a wily Mormon distracted her). Survivor: Thailand gives us hip Shii-Ann Huang who tends to let the mean girls intimidate her. From Survivor: The Amazon we have mischievous every-fan Rob Cesternino, and million-dollar winner Jenna Morasca (the Pittsburgh swimsuit model who might intimidate Shii-Ann).

Finally, there’s Rupert Bone-ham of Survivor: Pearl Islands. Big-hearted, bear-like, pirate-king Rupert delighted fans when he sewed himself a lovely sarong. He’ll most likely be the audience fave and, as All Stars is also set in the Pearl Islands he may have an edge.

Got all that?

Okay, meet your three new tribes. “Saboga” is Rudy, Jenna L, Jerri, Tina, Ethan and Rupert. “Mogo Mogo” is Richard, Colby, Lex, Kathy, Shii-Ann and Jenna M. “Chapera” is Sue, Amber, Alicia, Tom and the Robs.

I predict Rudy will be the first person voted out of the game. I anticipate “Mogo Mogo” prevailing. I foresee a magical winter. Tune into CBS on Super Bowl Sunday and on every successive Thursday till May. The scribe has spoken.