Last night's first wrinkle was trumpeted in advance in the show's promos: Both teams were thrown overboard days before they expected to be, and were stuck wearing whatever clothes they had worn on the journey to the islands off the coast of Panama.
The second wrinkle was just as clever. Each team was given 100 balboas - Panamanian currency - and told to shop and barter in the nearby village for all the supplies they needed and wanted. One team scrambled, and wheeled and dealed; the other team stole, panicked and quit prematurely. Fishing hooks, spear guns and machetes were purchased; so was homemade liquor and fire-roasted chicken.
Take, for instance, 39-year-old Rupert Boneham, who could be taken for Bluto from "Popeye." With a scraggly beard and sizable belly, he not only looks and sounds like a pirate (he even says "aargh"), but acts like one, too. No sooner did he arrive at the local village than he stole belongings, even shoes, from the other team, and traded them for additional goods.
No matter how familiar the "Survivor" concept gets, it still seems to work.
Starting fire, this time out, was no big deal - but building a shelter that could keep out the elements, and the beach crabs, turned out to be a lot trickier. And this time there was nudity, lots of it, during the very first immunity challenge.
Another reason "Survivor" continues to work so well, edition after edition, is that Mark Burnett and company continue to cast the shows with such an unerring eye for eccentricity and potential volatility.