If there were any questions whether "Survivor: Guatemala" would lack the same drama that has been a trademark of previous seasons, those doubts were erased within the first 10 minutes of the first episode. There were excruciating injuries. There was inter-tribe bickering. And there was vomiting.
"Survivor: Guatemala" got off to a fast start as 16 new strangers descended upon ancient Mayan ruins to battle the elements — and each other — in the jungle.
The adventure got rolling with the much-anticipated arrival of two former Survivor players. "Superwoman" Stephenie LaGrossa and Bobby Jon Drinkard — teammates from last season's "Survivor: Palau" — emerged from the Mayan ruins to join the fray. This time, the two were sent to competing tribes, with Stephenie going to Yaxha and Bobby Jon joining Nakum.
The newcomers seemed thrilled to see the battle-tested competitors. So was Stephenie.
"I am so psyched," she said. "I'm finally on a tribe that has as much heart and determination as me."
The tribes' first challenge was a grueling 11-mile race though the jungle. The stakes were high: a "luxury" camp site and flint to make fire. The hurdles even bigger: Intense heat, poisonous snakes and, as one competitor would soon discover, thorny trees.
Nakum tribe member Blake, who sells commercial real estate in Dallas, discovered the real estate in the jungle in north Guatemala a bit less accommodating. A spike-covered branch fell on his shoulder, rendering him incapacitated, dehydrated and nauseated.
His male tribe mates didn't fare much better. Bobby Jon collapsed from dehydration, his eyes rolling in "Exorcist"-fashion to the back of his head. Judd, a New York City doorman, was on his back, delirious with fatigue. And Jim, a 63-year-old retired fire captain, suffered a torn bicep.
"I heard it pop," he said.
And there was more vomiting.
Said Margaret, a family nurse practitioner who tended to her fallen tribe mates: "They're strong as oxen — and they're all down."
As for the Yaxha tribe, things were not much better. The tribe got lost amidst the thick brush early and looked to Gary, 47, to lead the way.
"It was clear at beginning that Gary was our leader," said Rafe, a 22-year-old student from Rhode Island. "He's taller and he has gray hair."
Primitive logic (perhaps even ancient Mayan) but no one else seemed eager to take the helm. For his part, Gary (Hogeboom, former NFL quarterback who is hiding that fact from his competitors) seemed a bit fed up with his teammates.
"I don't want to be a leader but my paternal instincts will kick in with these kids," he said.
The father figure couldn't work miracles, however. The Yaxha tribe lost the jungle race and, with it, the better campsite and the chance for fire. They tried to console themselves that they closed the gap and came close.
But host Jeff Probst gleefully reminded the dejected tribe: "In Survivor, close gets you nothing."
The Yaxha tribe did get shot at redemption. Probst announced that the first immunity challenge would be a Mayan re-enactment of sorts. After retrieving a torch in the water, the teams would roll their canoes on logs — uphill — to the finish line. That's the method the Mayans used to transport materials thousands of years ago.
The challenge proved equally as hazardous as the jungle trek. Stephenie got her foot caught under a log and Danni, a sports talk show host from Kansas, got herself caught under a log.
But this time the Yaxha tribe prevailed. Immunity (and fire) was theirs.
That night, the injury-depleted Nakum tribe sauntered to the first tribal council. It was held at the North Acropolis — the very same spot where Mayan leaders would decide the fate of people thousands years ago.
No clear alliances had been formed and the tribe members told the camera they were undecided on whom they would vote for. "With at least a third of your team out, strategizing is tough," said Margaret.
But apparently there was an unspoken consensus. Jim, who, at 63, is the season's oldest competitor, was swiftly voted off.
As Jim handed off his torch and hobbled away, Probst gave his hallmark adieu: "The tribe has spoken."
Jim will speak about his early exit on The Early Show Friday morning.
By Stephen Smith