We just might have the best season before us since Survivor Pearl Islands. Let's take a look at why this is so.

Do you recall Rupert's million dollar move? He took some shoes from the other tribe's boat, in the opening episode. In explaining that he was a Pirate, he created an image. Burnett played to that image, keeping Rupert a major theme. Rupert returned to win the million dollars as America's Choice.

You see where I'm going with this, I think... but first, let's look at some other elements in the first episode of Survivor Guatemala.

Survivor Pearl Islands - Rupert, again - showed the folly of throwing an Immunity Challenge. Survivor Palau - Stephanie and Bobby Jon - showed the flip side of that possibility with all its angst. Based on the preview for next week, we could easily have one tribe lose two in a row due to injury (pulled muscle this time, the shoulder wound next time).

I forget the tribes' real names... but they sound like Yee-Haw and Nagini to me. Nagini, with Bobby Jon, won the reward challenge, injuring two of their men in the process, and temporarily incapacitating another two. Yee-Haw, with Stephanie, won Immunity and fire. The tribes are now uneven in numbers; one Yee-Haw gets to rest from the next challenges while the injured Nagini must compete. We thus have the strong possibility of watching Stephanie win immunity challenge after immunity challenge.

Everyone loves Stephanie, formerly the Last Loser Standing... how can we possibly not all cheer her on as she avenges the most losing tribe in Survivor history?

I like to look at a season of Survivor like a game of chess. We have the opening moves, the middle game, and the end game. Burnett kindly eliminated for us, some of the poor openings we have recently seen. No playground picks to create the most losing side in history. No gender separation mandating lightweight physical challenges. No boredom due to not yet knowing anyone in the cast. And, no all star cast who has been there, done that, don't need to be bothered with doing it again.

Instead, during these opening moves, we can focus on Stephanie and Bobby Jon. We can be offended that they, the most losing-est players in all of Survivor history, are being tossed in for a second chance. We can see if Bobby Jon has learned *anything* since Palau. We can thrill to Stephanie's determination. And doggone if her tribe didn't win the first Immunity Challenge.

We began the season with undoubtedly the most difficult challenge in Survivor history. Nobody was allowed to leave on a boat, singing. They had to figure out how to get the weakest person there, same as the strongest. They had to use map and compass in a jungle. They had to actually focus on survival - and on getting there first. It's this sort of exercise which will undoubtedly bring each tribe together more quickly, and help to bring out strengths and weaknesses. This was an excellent opening move on Burnett's part, helping us to move quickly to the middle game.

I would love to have had a two-hour opener. But, sorry to say, it wasn't necessary - not in the sense of strategy and sequencing. That 24-hour Death March saved us a couple of episodes at least, of people getting it together and becoming a tribe. Likewise with Bobby Jon and Stephanie present as seeds around which the tribe can coalesce.

That football player, like Tom in Palau, might be the one to watch. Like Tom, his instinct is to not reveal too soon, what he can do. To call himself a landscaper? Priceless! I can't wait to see peoples' faces, when they learned he played professional football. "That's why I said I'm a landscaper. What I meant was, I've done a few yards in my day."

Meanwhile, the players are in motion... I can't wait!

I have the feeling that, this season, it's all about Stephanie. That is, Stephanie is being pushed forward as the star. Jeff pointed out that she finally missed her first Tribal Council. She has her chance; in that one fact, her "luck" has already changed.

In fact I *do* expect great things from Stephanie. She knows how to out-think the other tribe to win the challenges, thanks to learning the hard way. She knows it's the immunities that count. (There's an outside chance that Bobby Jon has learned the same lessons; we'll see.)

Let's not forget that Stephanie has *survived* more Tribal Councils than any other person in Survivor history. At first blush, that might seem to be the most valuable skill of all. But I'm reminded of George C. Scott's opening speech as General Patton in the movie Patton. It was to the effect that, "Your objective is NOT to die for your country. Your objective is to make the other poor dumb bastard die for HIS country."

Let's hope that Stephanie has learned Tom's skill from Palau... how to *avoid* more Tribal Councils than any other tribe in history.

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