Well, we started with the four tribes (young men, young women, older men, older women), which was too gimmicky and created groups too small to be all that interesting this early in the game. That said, is it wrong of me to instinctively root against tribes dominated by young men? They always bring so much arrogance to the game that it pleases me when they got knocked on their backsides, especially by groups of older players. So there was some satisfaction tonight in the success of the older-men tribe -- even if it's loaded with formidable older guys (including a former fighter pilot and a former shuttle astronaut).
Still, no matter how many gimmicks were at work (and the exile of one player to an island is a gimmick with no value tonight, since the exiled player had plenty of worms to eat!), there were moments when we had SOS -- Same Old Survivor. That was most clear when it came time for the older-women tribe to vote out a member. Cirie Fields was clearly the weakest of the four, from her remarked-upon fear of leaves, to her struggling in the challenges while flopping out of her swimsuit so much that the pixel people probably got overtime. She did not get voted out. Instead, she managed to spin her tribemates against Tina Scheer, the ''lumberjill'' who was obviously a strong contender and an asset in any physical efforts to come.
Tina may have ticked off the others with her leadership to a greater degree than the telecast at first suggested, and there was noticeable snarkiness about her at Tribal Council. Also, I think players are reluctant to get rid of African-American players too early in the game.
But it's also too soon to be worrying about who can win individual challenges; you want strong people for the tribal effort, and Tina looked like a much better contributor than Cirie. And, as if ''Survivor'' wanted to turn viewers against the other older women immediately, Tina came to the game with a dreadful personal story -- the recent death of her 16-year-old son in an auto accident. You have to figure that Tina's teary account of that incident -- though not shared with the other players -- has helped give ''Survivor'' an early villain.
But I'd rather have an early hero. And the four-tribe structure made it more difficult to start finding likable characters.