American unreality on ‘Survivor: Philippines’

Karl R. de Mesa
For its 25th season, the CBS reality program goes to Camarines Sur

THE COLORFUL BANNER OF 'Survivor: Philippines' shot in Caramoan, Camarines Sur. Image from the 'Survivor: Philippines' Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines – The thing with “Survivor” is, there’s only so much innovation you can do in a program that relies heavily on the X-factor of the contestants. 

This has given rise to the anomaly and the scandal of the “scripted” reality show like “The Bachelor,” in which heavy editing and insertion of things that didn’t happen or were totally not present have become routine.

Thankfully not the case in any of the Mark Burnett productions in which, they claim, they take pride in as minimal editing as possible.  

However, that doesn’t mean “Survivor” can’t still be as boring as a dripping faucet, even with the mix of inter-tribal bickering, group failure and the angst of has-been celebs on the roster of its 25th season.

I watched the season premiere of the long-running reality franchise last week and even with the set ups (that you could spot a mile away), it was only mildly promising. 

Anyway, long-time host Jeff Probst and company had built camp over at Caramoan, Camarines Sur for this one. Yes, these were Americans spending 39 days in an “intimidating” environment.

Hmmm, perhaps these castaways should come to Manila or fly down to Sharrif Aguak? 

In this season, there are 3 tribes instead of the usual two, made up of 18 people, divided into the tribes Matsing (Monkey), Tandang (Rooster) and Kalabaw (Water Buffalo).

The press releases read that these animals are supposedly “native wildlife.” Probably chosen for their exotic sounding effect, that — and I wonder what the white people’s reaction will be when they find out their totems are actually garden variety fauna — you can, with the exception of the best of farm burden, find in any pet store worth its salt. 

Out of the total 18, there are 3 contestants from previous seasons who are billed as “returning castaways.” All of them were removed from their respective seasons early.

For example, Michael Skupin of “The Australian Outback” passed out into a fire and got severely burned, while Russell Swan from “Samoa” got the early ticket home because he blacked out twice from low blood pressure. 

In this motley collection of 9-pack abbed bartenders, tattooed hairstylists and Brazilian nannies, the two people that struck me as most interesting were Lisa Wechel and Angie Layton. 

Whelchel used to be a big celebrity in the 1980s, owing to her role as Blair Warner in the TV series “The Facts of Life.”

Now a 49-year-old mother of three, she acquitted herself adequately in the first challenge but reveals that she actually joined because she’s on a spiritual trip to find out what she’s “really capable of.” A recipe for tasty disaster? Only the American conceit of going the “Eat, Pray, Love” route via a reality show is ripe for that.   

The latter is a blonde, teen bombshell who was crowned Miss Teen Utah in 2010.

While Angie is the youngest of the castaways, she displayed a double-dealing, cut-throat attitude in the way she placated another tribe member (after they lost the challenge) that he would NOT be voted out. And then the footage post-tribal council clearly shows her voting for that same person.

So young, so devious! She didn’t even bat a blonde eyelash. I hope she didn’t learn that doing beauty pageants. Keep on like that, though, and she just might win this thing, ey?  

Aside from Wechel, another notable contestant is baseballer Jeff Kent, a 2000 National League MVP. He kept his head low in the 90-minute premiere (titled “Survivor Smacked Me in the Chops”), though.    

Other twists in the game include immunity idols “hidden” in plain sight (like in “Survivor: China”) with a clue hidden in the bottom of each tribe’s rice container, directing the finder with its vague message to the idol’s location.

There’s one idol at each camp but so far nobody’s been able to find it.

Here is the season trailer of ‘Survivor: Philippines’:

Spoiler alert! 

Things did pick up at the first challenge where Kalabaw and Tandang lorded it over Matsing, even as Russel Swan tried a hand at being chief and failed miserably. 

The first place reward for Kalabaw was a complete firestarting kit of wood, flint and lighter fluid; while the second place reward for Tandang was a flint. 

There just weren’t as many sparks and vile words flying at tribal council for Matsing; though tire repairman (with a thick redneck accent) Zane Knight did try some kind of weird reverse psychology hoodoo that eventually earned him no more than a backlash. 

Although it seems that the Monkey tribe isn’t as clever as we thought, I hope the succeeding episodes do pick up, for the good of the rest of TV-landia. –


“Survivor: Philippines” airs on Jack TV every Thursday, with a live telecast at 2 pm, and a primetime replay at 9 pm.

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