New dynamics, power shifts and struggles, an unexpected blindside at the end, even for viewers—all of these were the makings of a high-quality episode of Survivor. The premiere felt very lopsided in terms of time spent on each person, and for the most part, the ones with little to no voices last week got to speak up a lot more this week (was Jacob just that much of a screen hog?) This episode had impressive strategic plays, compelling character development, and most importantly, provided me with some laughs. I felt like we got back to some of the basics that make this show so fantastic, and while idol talk still made its way in, the focus was much more on the players and less the props.
DON’T HATE YOURSELF
Seeing how quick James was last week to own up to performing horribly in the second immunity challenge, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that James took receiving two votes at tribal council so nonchalantly. He was practically short of thanking the Malolo tribe for letting him know that he was the #2 target behind Jacob. In a way, he should have been thanking them for opening his eyes to where he stood on the tribe. I hope for James’s sake, he doesn’t attribute the votes to his challenge performance alone—as witnessed with Gonzalez, this game is much more than simply keeping those who are physically strong. James needs to take the votes as a major red flag that he’s expendable to the original Malolo tribe.
I chuckled when Libby told James, “Don’t hate yourself” for getting votes. Why should James hate himself? He should hate the people that voted for him! James is way too polite of a person to have given Libby the response I would have loved to see which would have been telling her, “Nah, I’ll just hate you instead!” and laughing it off like it was a joke but then shooting “the look” letting her know that it wasn’t.
IT’S BEEN REAL
“Who the hell is that!?” you may be wondering. That’s Angela, and if you go back and watch the premiere, you’ll actually see that she was, in fact, in it and wasn’t just a player whose flight to Fiji was delayed a few days. Jeff went to her, Libby, and Bradley for comment before and after the “drop your buffs” reveal which was either just a coincidence or the editors’ way of apologizing for giving them such a crappy edit last week. Chelsea was sadly left on the editing room floor yet again. I hope someone in production sent her a letter in advance saying, “NOPE. NOT TODAY. NO SCREEN TIME FOR YOU” so she didn’t go to the expense of throwing a viewing party.
Originally when I saw that a swap was happening after only two votes, I hated it (I hate a lot of things, but I’ll never hate myself, Libby). However, I had to eat my words given the dynamics that played out as a result of this early swap. They ended up being much more up in the air, I think, than anything that could happened at the original Malolo or Naviti tribes. The early swap did make initial tribes almost seem just a liiiittle obsolete, but at the same time, it made the players much more fluid given that they weren’t as locked into their tribes as they would have been, for example, on Day 12 opposed to Day 6. The tribes ended up as follows:
MALOLO – Kellyn, Bradley, Sebastian, Chelsea, Desiree, Stephanie, Brendan, Michael, Jenna
NAVITI – Domenick, Chris, Angela, Wendell, Morgan, Libby, James, Laurel, Donathan
Every time Jeff delivers new buffs in a basket to each tribe, it means that the tribe swap is sort of manufactured. Pitman’s more of the pro at spotting things on-screen that the naked eye can’t, but if one basket had 10 buffs for Naviti and the other had 8 for Malolo, then the 5-4 Naviti-Malolo split on each tribe wasn’t all that random, in which case Malolo received a pretty raw deal. At the same time, a random draw that gave the lesser performing tribe a numbers advantage on a new tribe would have also sucked, so no matter what, some were bound to be screwed. Welcome to Survivor!
NOT A GREAT SWAP
For those fluent in Latin (which is most everyone, right?) this camp evidently put the “mal” in Malolo. While the new abode looked dreadful to the former Naviti members, their new pain and suffering turned out to be wonderful comedy, particularly in the form of Bradley the brat. Idols and BIG MOVEZ are all the rage in modern Survivor, but somewhere in the rough we can still find a diamond which this week was the start of a (hopefully long-running) bit I’m dubbing “Bitching Bradley.”
Soon after his arrival, Bradley called the Malolo camp an expletive that I’m guessing rhymed with “spit-hole,” bitched about the weather, bitched about the dirt, bitched about the sand – I mean, the gall of a beach to be covered in sand! I can relate to Bradley’s need to let the world know when it’s not meeting his standards, and I fully agree that it’s important to do that; however, as much as I relish a good vent sesh, I’m usually pretty good at not complaining about situations to which I voluntarily submit myself.
I believe I read that Bradley went into the game posing as a Geography major in college, so his “character” would have been well aware he’d probably get a little dirty on a remote island in the South Pacific. That said, Survivor’s always looking for new ideas, so maybe they’ll take Bradley’s and hire a good maid next season. I know someone who’s undoubtedly got the kind of resume to lead an island cleaning crew.
SUCKS FOR YOU
Along with Bradley, Kellyn of the former Naviti tribe was also not shy in pointing out Malolo’s sucktitude. Kellyn entered this new tribe with the mindset of eliminating the old Malolos one by one (say “old Malolo” ten times fast and you’ll sound like you’re speaking Llama). She gloated about how epic that would be – for her, not for us since a Pagonging is about as boring as it gets on Survivor. She even was so arrogant as to tell Stephanie and Jenna directly, “sucks to be you guys.” That’s killer, Kellyn.
Even before Kellyn told them they were on the bottom, Stephanie, Brendan, Jenna, and Michael knew where they stood. I felt especially bad for Stephanie who, as she said during the swap, was in a power position and found herself on the bottom post-swap. Down 5-4 in numbers left them old Malolos with just one play to dig up that could turn the tide in their favor, and it was buried somewhere in the dirt, meaning they should have at least been assured that Bradley wasn’t going to find it.
No Michael, it’s called a hidden immunity idol, but you’re close! Michael was the lucky man to dig up one of James’s idols from China, leaving me to wonder if the other is buried at that same camp or on another island. Perhaps even more than the underdogs finding an idol, my favorite moment of this segment was the cameo of the iconic Courtney Yates who I realized had been ghosted from our TV screens for nearly 8 years too long (longer if you count her grossly under-edited appearance in Heroes vs. Villains thanks to that little troll).
While the new Malolo tribe was strictly “us vs. them” concerning original tribes, new Naviti was quick to cross enemy lines. We had another surprise Angela sighting, but this time we got a glimpse of who she was closest to from her former Naviti family. Chris was still dead-set on Domenick and confided his entire plan to get rid of him in Angela. Angela felt Chris was doing a little mansplaining, talking “to” her rather than “with” her. Chris told Angela she needed to put her heart aside and go with an Army instinct, and while Angela said she was used to men barking orders at her, she didn’t like the way they were coming from Chris.
After telling Angela, Chris soon revealed to Libby and James that Domenick had an idol. We didn’t see this story from Domenick’s perspective, i.e. Domenick going to the other Malolos with a pitch to vote out Chris, and if that was the case, then Chris’s strategy made sense, but I don’t think he went about this the right way. His intent was likely to build trust with the Malolos by offering them an in with him, but the way he was strong-arming everyone to go along with him was uncomfortable to watch, and Angela’s expression as Chris talked to James and Libby indicated she wasn’t a fan of his approach as well.
I was super impressed with Morgan and Libby this episode after they both seemed rather irrelevant to the developing story of the season, aside from Morgan being gifted the Legacy Advantage last week. In response to Chris rallying the troops against Domenick, Libby said, “I’ll play dumb, but I’m not going to be dumb” which was a pretty sharp strategy, especially in regards to handling Chris.
Morgan sensed that Chris wasn’t exactly chanting “Naviti will never die!” so she built a connection with Libby. One commonality that sparked their relationship was their religion, Morgan touting, “Us Catholic girls gotta stick together.” Libby mentioned in pre-season press how her faith was important to her, so one would perhaps have thought that Libby would stay true to her fellow former Catholic schoolgirl, but as we’d later find out…everybody lies. Even Catholics. After Libby’s fibbing, she will most definitely be saying some Hail Mary’s.
IMMUNITY – FIJIAN NINJA WARRIOR
The start of this challenge had me wondering for a split second if I had accidentally changed the channel with those platforms looking like they were borrowed from Matt Iseman and company, but at least they were an element new to Survivor. The subsequent sandpit may have been a little too sandy for Bradley’s standards, but Malolo managed to take a bit of a lead at the obstacle, making me lose hope for a more evenly matched set of tribes than the last, but the puzzle would still potentially prove to be an equalizer.
The tribes were a bit closer when they reached the puzzle, but Laurel and Wendell trying to power through for Naviti was no match for Kellyn and Bradley on Malolo, who secured their third straight victory and the first for the four original Malolos on their tribe. Jeff handed over the winning tribe’s new tarp and immunity idol, which Bradley reluctantly held on to at the risk of getting a splinter.
With the numbers situated the way they were, Malolo couldn’t come to a unanimous decision on who to send to Ghost Island, so Naviti was forced to draw rocks. Like most rock draws in Survivor (except that sad excuse for a reward challenge last season) this would have a major impact on the game. Chris had his sights set on Domenick and Domenick on Chris while Morgan and Angela were trying to maintain a Naviti majority over the old Malolos, but who would ultimately have the numbers advantage would depend on who was sent to Ghost Island.
That lucky individual was Chris, and lucky is indeed the appropriate word to use here because without this save, I’m not so sure Chris would have survived the episode. We’ll find out next week if the old Malolos would have sided with him or against him. I think the Malolos will be more afraid of Domenick than Chris, but Chris is still a large threat himself.
REBOOT AND RECENTER
Chris came up short like Donathan (in fortune, not in frame) and would play no game at Ghost Island for the chance at an advantage. On first thought, I applauded the show’s restraint in not handing something out every or every other time someone visits the island, but then on second thought I realized this just means we’re going to end up with another endgame “Advantagegeddon” with all the idols coming out at once, leaving some poor soul to get Cirie’d.
What I did remain in applaud for was Chris’s story being fleshed out as more than just the guy with a grudge against Domenick. I don’t think Chris breaking down into tears and sharing about his mom’s illness is necessarily indicative of another heroic path to victory, and especially if it’s not then even more kudos goes to the editing team for taking a break from the game to give us a glimpse of raw, human emotion pouring out of someone. Chris was kind of being a bit of a douche earlier in the episode, so this was perhaps the biggest twist yet on Ghost Island for me. I love when we see people as multi-dimensional rather than a 2D stereotype. Heroes and villains are great, but when someone is a complicated combination of both, that’s something special on the show.
THE WINDS CRY ANGELA
After getting zero content last week to being a significant focus this week, I thought I heard the storms screaming “Angela” as this episode’s boot. With the numbers at 4-4, a tie vote and a rock draw seemed on the table, but no one from old Naviti was willing to let their fate be left to rocks this early in the game—except Angela. Angela was 100% committed to Naviti, even though Chris wanted to flip with her to Malolo. However, Domenick, Wendell, and Morgan weren’t ready to go to rocks for Angela, so they prepared to sacrifice her. Morgan and Wendell also confirmed that the target would have been Chris, so the next best choice was to vote out his right-hand man, Angela. I’d wager Sebastian will feel more like a Sour Patch Kid than a Laffy Taffy when he learns he’s been replaced.
A pitch was made to the old Malolos about getting rid of Angela as a way of taking a hit at Chris, but perhaps the pitch was made by the wrong person, Domenick, who after revealing his fake idol in attempt to earn trust, James designated as a He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named 2.0. Unsure about whether the fake idol was actually fake or if Domenick had a real one hidden elsewhere, James proposed blindsiding all of old Naviti and voting for Wendell or Morgan. Libby of course pushed to keep the target off of Morgan, but we were left to wonder what the Malolos would eventually decide.
This lead-up to tribal council was excellent! Old Malolo was split on whether to go with a unanimous vote for Angela or blindside another Naviti, and most of old Naviti themselves was nothing but a motley crew with what little loyalty they had to each other. The only one who was set to “stick to the plan” was poor Angela who was unwavering with her allegiance to Naviti, the same supposed family that was quick to disown her. No one was fighting to keep Angela, so if I were a betting man, I’d have lost a lot of money going all in on her exit.
ACTORS AND ACTRESSES
Most of old Naviti put on a charade before the vote with Morgan being a big spokesperson for the tribe staying divided at 4-4, expecting full-well for the vote to be unanimous for Angela. Morgan also pointed out that the tribe was full of actors and actresses, but Angela remained as the one person speaking the honest truth, oblivious to the two different plots swarming around her.
The biggest actress of all was Libby who continued to appear solid with Morgan as the two exchanged some playful banter. Libby, of course, seemed like the girl who couldn’t tell a lie, but Morgan correctly assessed that Libby too would lie or may have already lied in the game. Unfortunately for Morgan, it was the latter, and she was about to learn that the hard way.
The first vote being for Libby and the next three being for Angela seemed all too expected, but when the next vote came up for Morgan, I squinted my eyes to make sure I saw correctly, and when the next read Morgan I went full Michaela on my couch with a big ol’ “WHAAAAT?” I knew James threw out her and Wendell’s names, but I didn’t think they’d actually go through with the vote, especially for Morgan if Libby had any say. Libby evidently lost out to James and went through with the blindside on Morgan, causing Morgan to caution, “Don’t trust the cute blonde” on her way out.
I’m still in disbelief that Morgan left after all of that. The episode seemed like a classic build-up for Angela to go—someone with no story going into the episode and all of the sudden become a major player, a bit like Lucy in Millennials vs. Gen X but way less extreme. That, paired with the fact that I thought Morgan would get to the end in this made this one hell of a blindside for me, and I love it. Morgan was full of a lot more personality on screen than I thought we’d see as well as more active in strategy than I anticipated. This girl had a lot more game in her, so I’m definitely whaling over this premature departure.
NEXT TIME ON SURVIVOR…
The idol focus seems to be coming back next week with Domenick showing more people his, a staple of the season at this point, and Michael revealing to the rest of his old Malolo allies what he inherited from James Clement. I’m guessing we’ll be in for a big idol play if Malolo goes to tribal council, and given the setup this week, I fear Bradley may have his own fatal blindside to bitch about soon. I’m not sure what Stephanie’s emotional over, but I HOPE she can stay strong and help Malolo execute a move.
Libby – As I said earlier, I was extremely impressed with Libby this week. I figured she’d be getting the same Chelsea treatment and only pop up around the time of her boot episode, and perhaps that could still happen now that the Morgan story is over, but at least I know now not to underestimate her ability to read and react to a situation.
James – James isn’t a huge personality, but this week’s huge move was mostly his doing. Had he not spoke up about his feelings about Domenick and the idol, I think we would have indeed seen the Angela boot I was anticipating. James was a big piece in the move to blindside Morgan, and he was also able to convince Libby to let loose of a friend. I’m still not sure if I see that killer instinct in James to see him winning, but he executed this recent move perfectly.
Chris – Started off this week a little too hot with his shots fired at Domenick when I think Naviti could have benefitted from some civility at least for a few rounds, but Chris had a cooldown when he made it to Ghost Island which I thought was a really incredible scene for him. It’s rare we see the big guys break down, and when Chris did, it ignited a small spark in my cold heart. I much prefer the latter Chris, but we’ll see which side of him comes out when he returns to Naviti.
Angela – THIS. POOR. WOMAN. I can’t even wrap my head around the thoughts that must be going through hers. Undying loyal to her tribe who tried to leave her for dead, stuck as an ally to someone who bosses her around, she has to feel completely alone. I can’t really say she did anything this week to save herself as it was more of the others playing the game around her, but I’m really invested in her story as someone who survived it all. I don’t think Angela’s a great player, but here, that makes her all the more compelling to watch.
Bradley – He’s fun to make fun of, so I’d just like to finally thank him for delivering to me the quality material I was expecting from him preseason. Never change, Bradley!
Ryan Kaiser has been a lifelong fan of Survivor since the show first aired during his days in elementary school, and he plans to one day put his money where his mouth is by competing in the greatest game on Earth. Until that day comes, however, he'll stick to running his mouth here and on Twitter: @Ryan__Kaiser