Before I get into this one, shout out to Chris in that reward challenge. Wow. For something I looked at and thought, “Gee, that’s going to be hard,” he blew through it—or at least did so with the magic of editing. Regardless, he made ol' Sea Bass look downright inept. Anyway.
Pregame I Said You’d be Pre-Merge… and Sometimes I Hate It When I’m Right
Firstly, it needs to be said, I vastly underestimated this woman in my pregame assessment. While I still stick by not liking someone who, at least partly, wanted to be remembered as being brightly colored, I won’t shy away from the fact that I was all in on her by Jacob’s boot. What’s more, I really thought she was going to go the distance, especially after being sent to Ghost Island. There had to be an advantage, right? Wrong, of course, and one of my favorites was sent packing. Steph’s role in the story ultimately was that of a tragic hero—as would Michael have been if he’d been the one chosen. It’s rare we see this sort of archetype this early, but given the overtly heroic edit she received, given her whole spiel in this very episode about not wanting to let her children down, and given the intimate confessional we got about her leaving her husband and Mormonism and getting to play this game, finally… damn. I’m super bummed to see her go. I hope she gets another shot at some point, and I hope her children are proud of her. They should be.
My Internal Struggle
Ghost Island’s Reality
If you’ve read anything I’ve written in these past two seasons I’ve been with TDT, you know I had artificiality within the context of Survivor. Excessive and successive advantages, I believe, are not beneficial to the game as a whole, and so, as many likely feared, Ghost Island would falter due to such advents. This, however, has not been the case. In fact, Ghost Island, as a twist, has not at all been what I’d thought it would be, even after a few episodes in.
For starters, the personal stories we hear from people at Ghost Island apparently have no bearing on longevity in the game. Looking at Jacob and Steph, two people who shared a lot of personal info for getting booted second and fifth respectively, makes me assume any person sent to Ghost Island will get a meaningful, heart-felt confessional. While Donathan may be a late-gamer (and I still think he is, if not our champ), Chris’s tears might not amount to anything more than he getting his torch snuffed at the first Tribal he happens to attend. I don’t mean to disparage this editing technique, as it’s honestly refreshing to not really be able to read someone’s longevity off of their personal content. That’s pretty rare in Survivor, and while it baffles me, I applaud it. It’s great to see an entire episode dedicated to three people on the bottom and their own personal growth, in and out of the game. I don’t want this sort of slow, predictable episode often, but if it’s going to happen, editors need to do it like they did this one—making the contestants human. I love that.
No, what really gets me is the lack of twists and advantages Ghost Island has provided us. While, yes, Kellyn gave up the opportunity to play a Ghost Game, at the present moment, we have had two idols found and one Legacy Advantage in play. To put that in perspective, by this time in Game Changers, there was a Legacy Advantage, JT had found an idol (only to go out with it), Troyzan had found an idol, and Tai had found an idol which he used to idol out Malcolm. If we add just a little more time in the mix, Tai finds two more idols. So, in roughly the same span of time, we have just as many advantages, and three more idols.
Now, my internal struggle comes into play when the majority of me actually really is into this. After all, a season predicated on twists and advantages isn’t overflowing with them (yet). On the other hand, if production was really looking to shake things up and meddle with some of the game’s integrity… you have to think Steph would’ve at least gotten a game. Sure, maybe she loses her vote, but at least the shot to play a game would’ve been an easy fix to what’s become 50% of a Pagonging. What’s more, I sort of wanted this to happen, and while I am glad it didn’t for the sake of my own Survivor principals, I’m still bummed Steph got the boot. Furthermore, I’m honestly annoyed at myself for even considering wanting Steph to just be given some advantage so she might stay. After all, that’s exactly what I didn’t like about Ben’s victory.
Regardless of my thoughts on Steph’s departure and the Ghost Game she didn’t get, I think the lack of Games is a very good thing overall. We already saw one play fail to “reverse the curse.” I don’t think we need someone to try something big every episode, despite this one being, in my opinion, the slowest and least entertaining thus far in the season. Lulls are important, sometimes.
And What’s at Stake
Last week, Andy Baker’s post revolved around the best and worst version of how this season could play out, rightly calling a swap at this juncture. While I don’t want to get into my agreements and disagreements with that specifically, I would like to take a brief moment to go over what seem to be the big storylines going in.
Up first, we have Dom vs Chris. Yes, there’s been a lot of build-up to this confrontation, but considering Dom’s only been to one Tribal and Chris has yet to see one, there’s obviously not been an opportunity for a big payoff. Still, editing and previews insist this feud is still going on despite not really seeing Dom and Chris interact in any substantial context. Given how much time the edit has put into these two, you have to figure, if they wind up on different tribes, both of them are safe until the Merge (where Dom can Legacy Chris out). If they’re on the same tribe, one of them—likely Chris—is probably not making the Merge.
Michael and Jenna’s resurgence has been teased by the preview as well, though this story seems fairly cut and dry. Michael and Jenna are obviously on the bottom and easy pickings for the Naviti-majority. Although it’s entirely possible one or even both of them find themselves in the minority once more, I think this little shake-up hints they’re able to find some way to navigate two votes to the Merge.
Donathan: thinking about Donathan, I think his is going to be a story arc we’re meant to see over the course of the season. He was obviously on the bottom initially, but he insisted while on Ghost Island that he was here to win. Then, more or less, Donathan’s been invisible the past few episodes. That’s okay, especially when he comes back in this one saying he needs to think for himself whilst he bonded with Chris. The dilemma he has about working with Chris despite what Laurel wanted to do shows some level of strategic thought within him that appeared absent in the game’s first few days. Again, I think this is going to be a slow burn of a story, but one worth noting all the same.
While other players have smaller stories and personal content connecting them to plays down the road—Kellyn, Bradley, James, and Laurel all come to mind—I don’t believe we’ve seen their arcs come to fruition just yet. Maybe one could make the case that Bradley is the early season villain, taken out right before the Merge like Colton, Varner, or Peter in Kaoh Rong, and while I hope that to be the case, I think it’s too soon to tell.
One Thing I Do Disagree with Andy On
While I may be in the minority here, I’ve grown to like Chris a great deal this season, in the same way I enjoyed watching Abi. Let me be clear, Chris is not going to win this game anymore than Abi-Maria was, but he’s got some pretty killer confessionals. Yes, I do strongly dislike Bradley even after his mellow edit this week, but Chris has this strange, slimy charm that reminds me of a substantially less self-aware Brian Heidik (again, I don’t want to say Chris is even close to as good at Survivor as Brian was). While Bradley bitches, Chris compliments himself. While Bradley makes passive aggressive comments, Chris makes himself the center of attention. They're two sides of a bad coin, but if I’m going to back one of them, sign me up for Chris.
Now, although I do think Andy has an incredibly valid point that an endgame of Chris, Sea Bass, Chelsea, Des, Jenna, and Angela would suck (and, my god, it would be heinous), I don’t think it would be because of Chris. Chris has even shown moments of compassion as he did on Ghost Island and then this episode with Donathan. No, Chris is not someone I’d ever be friends with in real life, I think, but as far as someone who can crack me up with his confessionals? Okay, Chris. I hope you find some miracle to outlast Dom. I know you probably won’t, but I can still hope.
A Closing Thought, Dearest Readers
Yeah, I Know, This One is Shorter than Normal
Sue me if you don’t like this post’s brevity, but it wasn’t a super exciting episode and it’s pre-Merge. Sorry. What I would like to draw attention to, however, is the era of Survivor we find ourselves in, one largely predicated on winning being based on idols/advantages, especially once Russell Hantz introduced viewers to not needing a clue to find them. With that in mind, let’s use a sample size of winners from season 21 to the present.
Before I get into things, I don’t mean to even remotely suggest all of these idols and/or advantages are equal. They’re not. For instance, Kim never played her idol, Tony never had to use Tyler Perry’s or his second and his first one didn’t matter, neither Rob nor Tyson had to play their idols, Adam’s idols were bust and he gave away his Reward-stealer, and Michele probably would’ve won even if Neal had been on the Jury. Some might even say at this point, after looking at the previous sentence, only Cochran, Natalie, Mike, Jeremy, Sarah, and Ben needed their idols/advantages to win to some degree or another (massively for the likes of Ben, less so with Natalie). I highly contest this is not the case.
Let’s look at one of the most famous winners in the last few years: Tony. Although it could be said Tony was always going to play erratically, it’s hard to figure he would’ve done some of the shit he did without the knowledge that he had a safety net—a massive one. The knowledge that even a blindside wouldn’t do him in allowed him to play with a virtually unbridled brutality. Similarly, with players like Rob, Tyson, and Kim, while their idols were of no consequence to who was booted, having the knowledge that, should something go wrong I have something to save me, has to help your confidence in the game. Hell, people have gone home with idols because of that confidence. Confidence in your ability to make moves, I firmly believe, is one of the most underrated and unquantifiable aspects in this current age of Survivor. The possibility of assured safety at your fingertips is a powerful, powerful thing, and although I don’t want to take away anyone’s wins, I think it’s interesting to see how almost necessary idols and advantages have become in this Survivor meta. Nine of the last fifteen winners have at least had an idol, and twelve of fifteen have at some point had something that aided them in the game.
Perhaps some of those advantages didn’t end up mattering. Perhaps most of those players were going to win one way or the other… but I’m not so sure.
Alrighty, folks. Boot prediction time. As per usual, who can really guess a bootee with knowing what the tribes will be? Alas, we must purely rely on the edit, and maybe it could be classified as a witch hunt by now, but I think Bradley is doomed to depart (though, quick honorable mentions to Chris, Des, and James). Let’s see if I can keep my wrong-picking streak alive!
Dan Otsuki has been watching Survivor religiously since season two, and is a recent graduate of the University of Puget Sound, where he double majored in English and Religious Studies. He's also applied to play on the show every time he's been able to do so.
Follow him on twitter: @DanOtsuki