Diving deep to unleash a tethered treasure chest, Denise Stapley of Cedar Rapids survived the first episode of "Survivor: Philippines," even though teammate Zane did not.
Stapley, 41, a mental health counselor and certified sex therapist, used her professional wiles and physical skills during Wednesday's launch of the popular CBS castaway game show's 25th season (9/19/12). She got lots of camera face-time as she surreptitiously evaluated her Matsing Tribe members and tested the shark-infested waters in building alliances.
It's as much a head game as an endurance test.
Eighteen players were floated to the middle of nowhere in the South Pacific archipelago, by all appearances, an island paradise. Except for all the closeups of snakes slithering about dry land and sharks circling below the surface as human feet dangled off rafts. Each team grabbed all the supplies they could muster in 60 seconds, then paddled their rafts onto the island they would call home for all or part of 39 days.
The conspiring and alliances began as soon as they set foot on shore. Three tribes of six -- Matsing, Kalabaw and Tandang -- began setting up camp by chopping down branches and fronds to create a shelter and fire -- hampered by three days of tropical rains.
The three veterans, all of whom were airlifted out of previous seasons because of medical issues, rankled the newcomers by grabbing the leadership reins, bossing everyone around. Not the best way to make friends in a competition where petty jealousies can get you voted off the island.
The first Immunity Challenge came on Day 3, as each team selected pairs to run, climb a cargo net, grab two paddles out of a box and get them back to the next pair, who then paddled to a buoy and dived down to release a 200-pound treasure chest full of puzzle pieces, then swim it back to shore for the next pair, who then assembled the puzzle.
The Kalabaw Tribe won, snagging a coveted fire-building kit; the Tandangs placed second, receiving flint but no wood, to enhance their fire-starting capabilities.
Stapley and her partner put up a valiant effort paddling against the wind, but in the end, their Matsing Tribe lost this round, meaning they would go to Tribal Council that night and vote the first player off the island. After much drama and conniving, they voted wisely, kicking off Zane, a tattooed outsider who played crazy like a fox, pitting everyone against each other in what he called a chess game. Luckily, he annoyed his teammates as much as the viewers, so we won't have to see him again.
In commenting on the bossy leaders, Stapley said she was initially dismayed at having returning players. "I wanted it to be a pure game," she said. However, their experience turned out to be a blessing. "Knowing how to keep a fire burning through three days of rain was a gift," she said.
Tune next Wednesday to see how her island odyssey plays out.
"Survivor: Philippines" airs at 7 p.m. Wednesdays on CBS.