If I thought Episode 3 was a home run, then Episode 5 was a grand slam. This was the kind of episode that would make me fall in love with the show like I did when I was a kid. No gimmicks, no twists, no strategy centered around idols – just people. Ghost Island is all about throwbacks and the style of this episode was my favorite one of all. The emotional storytelling throughout the show this week was compelling, captivating, and in the end, crushing. I hated that, but I loved it too. Who knew a season expected to be the most twist-heavy and gamebotty of them all would have given us such a masterpiece in character growth and development? Even though I was sick to my stomach by tribal council, I didn’t want the hour to end!
FRATTY BRO NO MO’
Michael’s big play, or misplay, had everyone at Malolo taking note that he was no simple-minded frat boy to be underestimated in this game. Ironically after rejecting the title of “leader” Bradley became the spokesperson for the old Naviti alliance and gave us their perspective on that intense tribal council. Clearly it took a beating on Bradley as his confessional delivery was a bit dull and dragging – “I thought I was going home…I…was…sure of it…” And paying a compliment to someone else with his words about Michael? Maybe Malolo hasn’t actually been too bad if it’s turned Bradley soft. The show needs to bring back Bitching Bradley because I’m quickly losing interest in him being the dry strategic narrator of the tribe, otherwise known as a gamebot.
Who I’m quickly gaining interest in is Michael. I wasn’t expecting him to be a total dud, but I only thought he’d bring a little fire and mostly fizzle. Michael impressed me a lot last week and continued with a story I could be invested in this week as well. Sometimes I hate the underdogs on Survivor because they’re almost too much of a sob story to handle, but I found Michael and the rest of Malolo’s struggle compelling. Michael more than anyone will have an uphill battle for the remainder of the game, and I wouldn’t have expected this preseason, but I now see potential in him to actually come out on top. There is definitely far more than meets the eye with this model.
REWARD – PITCHING FOR PASTRIES
During this episode, I forgot how it was exactly that Naviti lost the first challenge between the two new tribes as Malolo looked miserable in comparison to them. Brendan may not have made all the difference, but at least in this reward challenge, I think he’d have been a better match for Chris in tossing those bags. Still, I don’t think there was any way Naviti was losing this challenge with Chris’s arm. He was one lucky guy because I can’t remember the previous baseball stars on Survivor being gifted with such a challenge built so specifically for them.
As the old Survivor hashtag goes, #CoffeeIsForClosers, so Chris won his tribe the set of coffee and pastries. Chris entered the game as its biggest guy so while his tribemates may love him now, he’s definitely got another thing coming for him once the merge hits. He’s been a determining factor for Naviti in all of their challenges, only losing one where Wendell and Laurel were left to solve the puzzle and blow a lead. If Chris is able to escape tribal council for the remainder of the pre-merge rounds, he could be a prime candidate to join the list of players whose first vote at the merge is both their first and last tribal council. If that’s the case for Chris, he’s at least got his career as a rap artist to fall back on, showing us in his post-challenge confessional that he can make his million another way.
CHANNELING INNER STRENGTH
I never thought I’d live to the day where I said, “Survivor needs more idols and advantages” but that day came when Stephanie ended up empty-handed at Ghost Island. All signs pointed to Stephanie getting something during her stay. She was a happy-go-lucky underdog in need of some way to flip the game around, so Ghost Island seemed all too perfect for her. Well, “too good to be true” was more how it went down as there was no game for Stephanie to play. If we hadn’t seen Jacob loot the Legacy Advantage in the premiere, I’d be wondering if Ghost Island really was just full of ghosts and nothing more.
The surprising twist of Ghost Island is that, again, aside from Jacob’s time there, the focus hasn’t been so much on the ghosts haunting the game but rather the ghosts haunting the players. Donathan, Chris, and Kellyn all had emotionally uplifting segments on Ghost Island, and Stephanie’s was another example, perhaps the strongest, of why the personal stories of the players will always be the anchor of this show for me.
We learned that previously Stephanie had been unhappy in life and chose to step away from what was causing that unhappiness by leaving her Mormon church and former husband, forcing her to become a single mother of two. Stephanie’s quote that stood out most to me was, “I believe in myself regardless of if anybody else does” because so many times in life when we may make decisions based on pleasing others or doing what’s expected of us, and thinking to do anything else is terrifying, but that’s where we find our inner strength. Being the kind of bold and daring that makes people turn heads is a pretty exhilarating feeling once you realize that you’re capable of conquering anything.
I didn’t expect Ghost Island to be the place where the show focused on reflection and growth – quite the opposite, in fact, with expecting it to be IDOLS, IDOLS, IDOLS – but it’s become one of my favorite segments each week. My only Bradley-esque bitch about a good thing they’ve got going is that I wish this level of character development wasn’t limited to just one person per episode. I’m not asking for Lifetime Original-levels of moving but four weeks in, we should have some kind of solid backstory on everyone or at minimum a reminder that, you know, they’re still there.
AROMAS FROM HOME
Having soloed the last leg of the challenge, Chris must have thought he had first dibs on Naviti’s reward, shouting “I WANT THOSE PASTRIES” immediately after winning and later announcing at camp, “I would like the chocolate.” Mr. Busta Rhymes was apparently looking to bust a gut by filling his with the entire assortment of sweets, but what selfless generosity he ended up showing when he said he’d be “willing” to share with the tribe…
While Donathan may have went crazy for cinnamon rolls, coffee wasn’t his thing, but the tears that followed weren’t due to disappointment over that. In an emotional reveal to Laurel, Donathan said that the coffee was something his mother and “mamaw” enjoyed so it hit home to be reminded of them by the reward. Donathan’s grandmother is not in the best of health, and his mother must not be either, so leaving them behind to play Survivor left Donathan with a great deal of guilt. Laurel reminded him, however, of how proud they’d be watching him on TV when he returned which seemed to cheer him up a bit.
Aw, how precious……wait, what? “Precious?” See what this episode did to me! It made me have feelings and things like that…
Laurel and Donathan’s relationship is one of the first we saw this season and it has continued to be featured throughout which leads me to believe it will remain significant all season – I don’t see either of these two voting for the other. On paper, they seem different in many different ways which makes their interactions special, and not to outshine that, but the following interaction was one that blew me away even more.
Seeing Donathan hurting, Chris felt compelled to reach out and connect through his own experience with ailing family members. Survivor’s strange because while sometimes it strictly classifies players as heroes or villains, something that came up last season as well was this unique development of “flawed heroes.” Chris is one of those who I’ve gone from finding insufferable to inspiring from week to week and in this episode alone, he moved between opposite ends of that spectrum for me.
Survivor can bring out the worst in people, but that doesn’t always mean that’s who they are outside the game. Chris has had his douchey moments, but in this scene with Donathan he again showed that he’s actually a decent guy. This emotionally vulnerable side of Chris wasn’t brand new, but I admired the show for bringing it back to us as well as fleshing out Donathan’s story a little more. If we continue to see more moments like this, then the anticipated gimmicky Ghost Island’s twist of all could be a throwback to the classic storytelling style of the early seasons when we only had one idol to focus on – hardly a focus at all. We still have yet to highlight everyone in this cast, but if they have similar stories that come to light, then this could end up a high-ranking season for me.
IMMUNITY – BOOGIE OOGIE OOGIE
Or “Survivor Surfing” as Probst calls it, evidently confusing a surfboard for its smaller cousin, the boogie board. This was one of those challenges that made me really wish I could compete in myself. Although, I do despise running, so I’d have hated having to sprint out to fetch a bag. Maybe if I’m ever on, I’ll be lucky enough to play in a tweaked version of this challenge where my job would just be to sit on the boogie board while someone else ran out and got the bag for me. I’d then be dragged back to shore and left to solve the puzzle. Win!
Still, I’d never be able to achieve what Desiree did by keeping her eyes open during her entire submersion underwater.
That was some serious “never taking your eyes off the prize” action.
Des wasn’t the only star of this challenge as Chris proved once again what an incredible asset he is to his tribe by being the first to realize that the answer to the slide puzzle was “GHOST ISLAND.” Given that the pieces were so complicatedly arranged to initially read “DNALS ITSOHG” – literally “Ghost Island” backwards – I have no idea how he figured that out so fast.
With Chris’s cranium in command, Naviti won another immunity challenge, sending Malolo back to tribal council. This was an especially disheartening outcome for me because we had been presented with no hints as to the old Malolols pulling off an upset and getting rid of a Naviti. As inconsolable as I was, Kellyn seemed to be even more upset over the loss, shrugging Jenna’s attempt to comfort her off as unwanted. The defensive bitchy look Jenna later claimed to have on her face all the time was actually warranted this time.
That’s the last time Jenna ever tries to be nice to Kellyn.
ONE OF THREE OPTIONS
All hope was essentially lost for Stephanie, Michael, and Jenna with tribal council looming. This is the point in the show where we’d usually be presented with some false hope about the underdogs overcoming their obstacle, perhaps by another attack on Bradley or maybe trying to pin the loss of the challenge on Kellyn and her sensitive shoulders. This week, however, we were given next to none of that and instead were presented with a sendoff story for each of the three Malolos with the only mystery being which story was the true sendoff.
Jenna I was least emotionally connected to so even though I didn’t “want” her to leave, I wanted it more than seeing Stephanie or Michael walk out of the game so early. Jenna had one secret weapon left to play, though, and it was her roadkill-reminiscent hair, and of course it was bound to work on someone like Sebastian. I feel like there has to be a blooper reel the editors made titled like, “Shit Sebastian Says” because from talking two kids in a candy shop to Laffy Taffy and Malolo-low-low, I am dying to know what drugs this dude was on and how they were still in his system 14 days into the game.
When Jenna lured Sea Bass in with her hair, he responded by telling her that it smelled like a dead weasel. Excuse me—a what now? A) Why did he know what a dead weasel smelled like, and B) why did he tell a woman she smelled like one too? I honestly don’t know from which dark depths of the sea Casting fished Sebastian out… but I think I’m weirdly a fan because of all the nincompoopy nonsense that spews out of his mouth. More important to the game, Sebastian was a fan of Jenna, and surely that had a lot to do with her being spared this week, so it would seem this creature of the deep (thoughts) has more sway in the game than one would think by looking at him:
Lining up the daggers straight for our hearts, Stephanie later shared her dream of winning Survivor and being able to run up to her kids at the reunion show, picking them up tightly in her arms. After letting us hear Steph talk a bit about the hardship she faced on her way to becoming a single mom, the editors were just plain dicks to us this episode. I loved it, but I hated it. This was Survivor at some of its best for me. No last-minute idol finds or fictitious red herrings, this was simply us watching three people walk to one of their deaths.
Last up was Michael who ended up shedding more tears than anyone as he opened up about moving away from home at such a young age and being independent, wanting to see this lifelong dream of his through to the end. You just wanted to hug everyone! Or punch Bradley, one of the two—maybe both. It was abundantly clear that one of Jenna, Stephanie, and Michael was leaving and I was pleasantly surprised the show went this route of building to the inevitable departure of one of the three rather than trying to trick us into thinking they had a chance. Stephanie and Michael had the much stronger swan songs which led me to believe the boot would be one of them, unfortunately.
MALOLO IN MOURNING
This tribal council felt like a funeral, and though split by some numbers, this Malolo tribe looked like a family that was saying goodbye to one of its own. It was especially hard to watch Stephanie fight for her life, and the more she brought up about her inspiration for playing and desperation the continue, the more my heart sank at the increased likelihood of her being the one to go.
When Stephanie said she was playing the game for her kids, the looks on the rest of the tribe’s faces completely gave away their votes. That would have been a tough vote for me to cast, one against a mother whose biggest fear was failing her kids. The melancholy music after the last vote for Stephanie was finally read mirrored the mood of tribal council. This was far from a happy outcome for us viewers and for the tribe judging by the looks on their faces.
Stephanie earlier told Sebastian that banana was her least favorite Laffy Taffy flavor, so she was dead to him.
From a logical standpoint, Stephanie’s boot was one I could have seen coming after last week, but the first episodes of this season had me 100% set on Stephanie going all the way or close to it. I fell in love with her preseason and I loved even more when she proved me wrong about being a first boot fodder. I was starting to think, “Watch, this woman’s going to win after I said she’d be the first boot.” I don’t believe there was much she could have done to avoid this other than drawing a different buff at the swap. It sucks to lose someone like Stephanie this early. The show will figuratively and literally be a little less bright without her.
NEXT TIME ON SURVIVOR…
Rejoice! Bitching Bradley is back! Another swap, another week to skip making predictions of what’s to come because everything’s mixed up and the tribes don’t matter. I will say, though, that I can’t believe that we’re going into Episode 6 and this Domenick vs. Chris thing is still being advertised like it’s the big pay-per-view fight of 2018. I’ll bet money that they both survive the next episode. Give me a break.
Stephanie – I love that we were given a lot to root for in someone that didn’t stick around long, but at the same time it really f***ing sucked. While I may not be a single mom (sorry, I should have spoiler-tagged that) a lot of what Stephanie said in this episode felt universally relatable and made me feel more connected to her than ever – and then she got voted out. F#$% me! She was playing an impressive game and had a huge personality with it to make her an easy fan favorite. The Survivor community can be a little too quick to call for the next Second Chance vote whenever a favorite is booted early, but I’d fully support one now. Stephanie had so much more game left to play and she needs the opportunity to finish what she started.
Michael – I was surprised to see the waterworks from Michael as he’s come across before as so cool and composed. I never anticipated seeing him break, so in a strange way, I’m happy that he did. We always see what players are doing, but we don’t always learn why, so I enjoyed learning about Michael’s deeply personal motivations for playing the game. With Stephanie and Brendan gone, Michael is the biggest remaining representative of the Malolo underdogs, and while I think my initial winner pick of Domenick is still steady, if anyone is going to beat him, I think that one is shaping out to be Michael.
Donathan – I guess the criteria for being one of my Players of the Week this week is having to have shed some tears. Donathan further cemented himself as the guy that’s going to go far, win everyone’s hearts, and crush them when he gets voted out (or loses a firemaking challenge) at the very end. Prepare to cry, America, but later dry those tears when he gets $50K from Sia at the reunion show!
Chris – Did Chris cry this week? I’ll say he kind of did to fit the theme. We got more of Chris’s softer side again this week and seeing him reach out to Donathan was both surprising and sweet. I hate Chris. Then I love Chris. Then I hate him again. Then I love him some more. That’s some incredible storytelling right there, and I wish we got to see more people the way we see Chris. These people are all human, humans who I’m sure have many sides to them, and Chris is proof to how great Survivor can be when it brings out all of those different sides and make for one compelling cast to watch.
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