Throughout this week’s show, I had a longing for…something more, and while we got a lot of excitement at the end, the thrill level before that point was a little Malolo-low for me. Last week had so many new dynamics and stories coming to light while this week we were a bit lacking on original content. Chris and Domenick were still at odds at Naviti; Domenick told more people he had an idol; no games were played on Ghost Island – I was starting to wonder if I was watching a clip show. Luckily, by the time we made it to Malolo, the battle between OG Malolo and OG Naviti intensified and provided for a satisfyingly nail-biting finish.
A WOLF IS A WOLF
It must be one of the most uncomfortable feelings to come back to camp on the wrong end of a vote, even more uncomfortable when the failed blindside was against a close ally. Angela did not look like she was going to accept an apology from Domenick and Wendell, but they still tried to give her one. Wendell told Angela he was sorry he voted for her, but, come on. That was only a half-truth. The whole truth was that he was sorry he voted for her and that she didn’t leave.
Sensing no love lost with Angela, Domenick and Wendell decided to go on a non-discreet walk because that’s what you should do when you land in the minority after a vote – further separate yourself from the tribe. After that vote, Domenick was down, but not totally out since he had an idol which is what he wanted to reveal to Wendell in private. Unfortunately for Wendell, the idol could not be used to save two people so he while the news was great for Dom, if I was Wendell, I may not have been super thrilled, or I would have started lobbying for my boy to hand the idol over to me.
With Domenick finding the inherited Legacy Advantage in his bag the following day, he now has two powers to play, though the Legacy Advantage may only be used when there are 13 or 6 players left in the game. Something also tells me that Dom isn’t done finding these tokens and trinkets, potentially on track to make his way to the end like the battering ram Ben. That, or at the final six, Domenick will become Saint Nick and pull a few idols out of his bag and gift them to his allies, bringing us the second coming of Advantagegeddon. With the whole Ghost Island thing, that’s totally coming, right?
Despite being such a huge target, I can’t see Domenick leaving soon. His “type” the last few seasons has seemed like one that is in danger of going before the merge but manages to find a way (or an idol) to get him there and beyond. Domenick has consistently been the biggest character thus far, finally surpassing Jacob in confessional count this week, and I believe will continue to drive this season’s narrative. A few seasons ago, I’d have predicted a Domenick type flaming out in the early merge stage, but given recent trends, I still feel optimistic about my winner pick even though he’s the biggest blip on the radar.
REWARD – NO TATAS TODAY
We’ve seen this challenge on the show before, same beach even, but any Survivor fan looks forward to a good physical smackdown, so we’re okay with a repeat – the more broken teeth, twisted ankles, and popped-out shoulders the better! This time around, however, there were no such injuries, nor tatas and tops or trunks lost to the tide. Needless to say, it was frustrating, AND I’M PISSED! On the bright side, we finally heard two words from Chelsea, and Jenna’s face perfectly mirrored our own as we thought, “When did she show up?”
The tribes seemed pretty evenly matched on paper, but Naviti had far and away the MVP in Laurel. The Malolo men and Naviti men each won a match, but Laurel secured Naviti winning the two more needed in the women’s heats by being an absolute beast in the water. It took two different sets of Malolo women just to barely slow her down. On top of that, Laurel dominated even with the burden of being the only woman to have to compete twice. “TWICE!” emphasized Abi Maria.
With that, Naviti won themselves an enormous reward of…some milk and sandwiches. Obviously, Survivor isn’t quite what it used to be and can no longer send winning tribes on cruises or buy them an entire Target aisle worth of home goods, but I do wonder if the effort to win something as small as a sandwich and a glass of milk is actually worth the effort. Is the caloric intake of the reward greater than the caloric output to win it? I’d like to see that data.
On top of the PB&Js, Naviti won the power to decide who from Malolo would go to Ghost Island, or rather won the power to decide Malolo should draw rocks to determine who’d go to there. This season is all about these kinds of big decisions! The Survivor gods did as they often do and sent the person who wanted to go the least, Kellyn. Kellyn saying she was most afraid of going to Ghost Island and then seconds later drawing the unlucky rock really doesn’t do us superfans favors with having to defend that the show isn’t rigged, but we gotta love cruel twists of fate like that.
After two trips to Ghost Island with no games, it was “meant to be” that Kellyn would be made an offer she couldn’t refuse – but, uh, refuse she did. With the numbers as tight as they were on Malolo, Kellyn was too spooked by the ghosts of Ghost Island to risk losing her vote over the chance at an advantage. Granted, the first two people to touch something that came from Ghost Island were voted out, so I suppose I can’t blame Kellyn too much for avoiding any curse.
I’m sure on the island, my mind would think a little differently than it does when I’m sitting on my computer judging people and the choices they make, but it would be so difficult for me to pass on taking part in a Survivor twist. “Screw it!” I’d want to say and wager my vote for a potential bigger win, but once Kellyn explained her logic, I reluctantly accepted it, although I still won’t believe that the Ghost Island inhabitants aren’t guaranteed to win the games they play until I see it happen.
Kellyn, like Domenick as I mentioned earlier, will be another important player this season given that she’s been one of the few to be getting consistent content each week. Even though this week hers was only a reminder of what we’d heard before about her motivations for Survivor, we were meant to connect with Kellyn emotionally, and as one of those millennials trying to figure out their own way through life, I honestly did.
It may have been another teary-eyed trial on Ghost Island but learning more about someone on the show that goes beyond just what moves they’re making is always satisfying for me. Still, like Kellyn, I was left only to speculate on what that game could have gotten her. If this ends up a curse on Kellyn, I’d wager a piece of parchment that we’ll be seeing her unopened Ghost Island game when they inevitably bring this concept back in a few years on Survivor: Poltergeist Peninsula.
I LIKE YOU, I LIKE YOU, AND I LIKE MYSELF
What were advertised as PB&J sandwiches looked more like straight-up loaves of bread with a just a small sliver of the PB&J shoved in the middle, but food is food on Survivor so no one was complaining, though had Malolo won, Bradley likely would have spun a different story. “They gave us Skippy instead of Jif. I can’t eat this s#!%,” he’d have protested. Production can’t please everyone—or Bradley, ever.
After munching down, Chris finally walked off with Angela to find out how the hell Morgan ended up getting the boot. Angela revealed that her own family had slit her throat with the old Navitis trying to vote her off which signaled Chris to realize they would have tried to vote for him had he not been away at Ghost Island.
Chris’s move then was to keep the old Malolos’ target on Domenick and Wendell. Chris made his intent to work with them clear by telling the Malolos he liked them but made it especially clear that he liked himself which shockingly didn’t seem like brand new information to anyone. Malolo had to be loving how much of a mess this side of Naviti was. Malolo has maybe solidified themselves yet as “the best tribe ever” but Naviti’s building a strong case as one of the worst, a case that may not even require a fantastic lawyer for them to win.
NAME ON THE GAME
There was nothing new about Chris wanting Domenick dead, so the more important scene that followed was a conversation between Laurel and Donathan expressing their feelings about the two Naviti nemeses. Not as in love with Chris as he was with himself, they talked about siding with Wendell and Domenick in this spat. Laurel also opened up a little about her game thus far, stating that she wasn’t used to being under the radar and that she wanted to have her name on the game.
Laurel revealed to Domenick that she didn’t want to target him or Wendell as Chris was suggesting, and Dom responded with an even bigger reveal that he did, in fact, possess the real hidden immunity idol. Surely this couldn’t have been his first strategic conversation with Laurel – at least I hope Domenick wouldn’t be so quick to let slip a pretty substantial secret.
The good news for Domenick was that it didn’t seem like Laurel was going to use that information against him anytime soon. Laurel has surprised me so far in that she’s been a much quieter personality than I thought she’d be. I had no doubts about her strength and strategic savvy, but I did worry about her not being able to blend in with the social politics of the game. I stand very corrected as Laurel has managed to land herself the spot that seems to be the most well-connected at least in this Naviti tribe, being the bridge between old Naviti and old Malolo. If that bridge holds and Laurel, Donathan, Wendell, and Domenick last as an alliance, then signs may point to these four making up our endgame players.
IMMUNITY – BAD LUCK BALLS
If not for the Malolo tribe having no scenes at their beach prior to this challenge, I’d have 100% thought they were winning just a few minutes into it. Never before had we never ignored a tribe completely until the last third of the episode, and if they won, then with the way the show is edited, the hour would have ended with nothing from Malolo for the week which would have been UNPRECEDENTED. Plus, we saw in a preview last week that Michael would tell his Malolo mates about his idol, so thanks to careless editing job, we should have known that Naviti would win here.
But man, did they really make us doubt that. Having the non-sh**hole beach clearly hadn’t given Naviti any sort of advantage. Malolo was on the last stage of the challenge while Naviti was barely out of the water. While Sebastian and Brendan tried landing their balls in the right position, Naviti was trying to get away with Chris and Wendell completing the entire rope tug portion of the challenge by themselves – trying and failing. Even though the astute Survivor fan in me knew that Malolo had a scene yet to air, meaning they would be the tribe that went to tribal council, watching Naviti’s pathetic performance had me questioning the show’s relatively strict 43-minute formula as I’ve known it for all these years.
Fortunately for Naviti, Malolo sucked at tossing balls as much as Naviti sucked at tugging rope or as much as Denise sucks at life (just kidding – Denise is awesome). Malolo’s balls were clearly not lucky ones and seemed so cursed that they belonged on Ghost Island. Chris soon landed the last ball for Naviti and won them their major comeback victory. The tribe thanked Chris by proceeding to suffocate him under the weight of their bodies—death by dogpile.
Walking out of the challenge, Kellyn confirmed that OG Naviti was sticking strong and she felt vindicated in her decision not to play the Ghost Island game and keep her vote because with a 5-4 split going into tribal council, she’d be needing it. The writing appeared on the wall for the other side, OG Malolo who was not one with the numbers for this vote, but since the swap they’d been developed into rootable underdogs while the old Navitis were the yappy dogs barking orders. Kellyn kept repeating, “trust your gut” and seeing this type of story play out tons of times before, my own gut was saying we were in for our second upset of the night with a Naviti getting nixed.
MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN
After getting the Chelsea edit all night, we finally got to see what Malolo had been up to for 3 days –apparently it must not have been much to only show us their few hours before tribal council. Ironically, having something legitimate to bitch about after his tribe blew a massive lead in the challenge, Bradley was grinning from ear to ear over the upcoming vote which later had me rolling from side to side in laughter when he admitted he was aiming to be the next Boston Rob or Kim Spradlin. Sure, Bradley, and Chelsea’s the next Rupert.
Bradley majorly upped his “being a dick” game by promoting the strategy of stonewalling the old Malolos and giggling about it. If this dude plans on being a “fantastic lawyer” he may want to study those details on jury management. I appreciate Bradley as a character, but this edit was setting him up to be quite the high-and-mighty d-bag about to get dethroned. Bradley may have declared Brendan as a leader, adding “the leader never wins” but Bradley looks to be setting himself up as a leader too – the lead goat.
The Navitis debated over who they should vote out, fearing an idol of course, and it was the so-far soft-spoken Chelsea and Desiree that provided some words of wisdom, steering the group in the direction of either Michael or Brendan – a vote the Malolos would less likely see coming. I’m not sure where these girls have been these last three weeks, but evidently, they know how Survivor should be played.
Gifting us with his own words of wisdom, Sebastian said that the “Malolo can go no further low low than the Malolo low.” How prescient. Sebastian did have a point – the Malolos were looking pretty low, but Michael gave them a glimpse of a high when he shared with Stephanie and Jenna that he had an immunity idol. The challenge would be to guess which Malolo would be getting Naviti’s votes, but at least their 0% chance at survival had each been bumped to 25%.
The one thing the Malolos were certain of was that they were all voting for Bradley which came as no surprise because…well, duh. If there was one player in the game that needed to be knocked on his ass by an idol, it was Bradley. I was really impressed with Michael’s game here as he casually absorbed the “leader” title from Brendan by driving the strategy behind the idol play. If I was in his shoes, I’d have had a hard time not playing the idol for myself, so it took serious balls for him to be totally willing to play it for someone else. I’m continued to be astounded by the fact that Michael is only 18. Still waiting on that birth certificate any day now, CBS.
CLAWS COME OUT
This was the first tribal council of the season where the players weren’t playing around – they laid out the tribe dynamics exactly as they were and no one in the majority was afraid to point out who was in the minority. The claws certainly came out as Malolo launched a full-on attack on Bradley, not only throwing him under the bus, but running him over with it…repeatedly. Bradley didn’t think he was the ringleader, but that’s what Malolo chose to make him out to be in an attempt to turn his allies against him.
Malolo made it abundantly clear – they even said outright – that they were voting for Bradley. While a well-played idol could have still won them the night, this is the point where they made a mistake if they were seriously trying to sway one or two of the Navitis to vote with them. Once Naviti knew Malolo was voting for Bradley, it removed any incentive for someone to flip as in their minds the vote became “either a Malolo or Bradley, neither of which is me.”
Michael’s double-stuffed idol bluff was brilliant and easily sold to Naviti given the history of the particular idol he held, but I’m not sure I understood the pitches for Sebastian and Chelsea to flip after proclaiming their votes for Bradley. There’s a number of different ways Michael and Malolo could have played that differently with the simplest of which being to tell Naviti that two idols would be played. Left to scramble, at that point, one Naviti may have cracked under pressure and made a deal with Malolo.
I wanted Bradley’s journey to continue so his asshattery could bring me more amusement, but watching him squirm after Michael displayed his idol and declared Bradley their target would have been enough of a satisfying sendoff for me. Besides, given that Malolo’s main story last week was Bitching Bradley and this week he was even more of an ass, his rump seemed roasted. When Naviti’s votes for Brendan were finally revealed, I actually felt more blindsided than any of them. Curse you, editors. Curse you to Ghost Island!
Ah, the leader never wins. Brendan’s early departure isn’t a complete and utter shock to me as he was an easy person to make the figurehead of the original Malolo tribe and thus an easy vote in the event of an unfortunate swap which is exactly where he landed. We’ve had players emerge as “a” leader during a season, but often “the” leader doesn’t make it to the end and win, as Bradley aptly put it. Brendan seems like a supremely positive guy, even if Bradley thinks his pep talks were crap, and knowing he’d been applying for the show for over a decade makes this sting a little, but if this means Bradley lives to bitch another day, then so be it. In a game with heroes and villains, sometimes the villains win. Sorry Brendan.
NEXT TIME ON SURVIVOR…
OH BOY, A SHOWMANCE – MY FAVORITE! Fair warning, I’ll definitely become a Bitching Bradley about this storyline, or I won’t if Sebastian’s just playing a savvier game than I’ve credited him for and he’s sniffing Jenna’s hair because it’s full of secrets – no wait, that would be Stephanie’s hair. It’s bigger. To anyone who’s on Instagram, Sea Bass and Jenna are totally a thing, so Sebastian’s probably smelling her hair for reasons other than gameplay. He likes his sugar, so will Jenna be able to sweet talk Sebastian into flipping? I don’t know, but I think it will at least save her from being voted out which means Malolo needs to win immunity because Stephanie and Michael’s time don’t deserve to be up. I’m thinking Chris will finally get cut and my fantasy team will take its first heartbreaking hit.
Michael – I didn’t take him to be a total dud from pre-game press, but I didn’t think he’d be able to take this much charge in the game and actually do well with it. His move may not have worked out perfectly this week, but his composure at camp and at tribal council has finally got me eying him as a real contender in this. He’s sharp and coming from a career in real estate, he knows how to sell. If he can make it out of these messy Malolo numbers, Michael may prove a lot more successful than I predicted.
Laurel – Like Michael’s, Laurel’s gameplay finally stepped out of the shadows for me and showed that I shouldn’t have written her off thinking she’d self-destruct quickly. I took her for a sprinter, but she may actually be capable of running the long-distance Survivor race. I didn’t think I’d end up saying she needs to come out of her shell more but if she’s at the end with Domenick, Wendell, and Donathan those could be some tough personalities and players to face, but if she can put her “name on the game” like she recently set out to do, she could be the perfect balance of all three and really own this game.
Domenick – Will he go all the way or will he go all out and go home? I’m still baffled, but the more story he gets, the less I think he’s a short-timer. Especially with the scene between him and Laurel this week, I think he’s being set up as a star of this season. If he does end up winning, I think it’ll have a lot to do with the new relationship with Laurel, so I’m interested to see how they play together. They also don’t seem like the typical pair *cough*Sebastian-and-Jenna*cough* which makes the prospect of them in this thing to the end all the more exciting.
Stephanie – Especially with Brendan out, I think Stephanie will rise to be this season’s biggest underdog. I love a good mom giving it her all to stay alive in the game and casting usually fills that spot for me with at least one, so I hope Stephanie continues to make me look like the biggest idiot in the world for calling her the first boot. If there’s ever a time I’d accept being wrong, it’d be when Stephanie comes from behind to win Survivor: Ghost Island.
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