Overall, this was a mere wisp of an episode. The primary action was basically a self-contained narrative arc, in which Desiree made her strategic debut and exit in a single, two-day period. All of which already seemed obvious in the preview that aired at the end of last week's episode. She made a big attempted move, it fell apart and backfired, she fought tooth and nail to extricate herself from the mess, but ultimately failed.
Desiree had largely been unseen for most of the season. She would show up occasionally in camp while groups of people were discussing strategy, make a suggestion, then disappear again. We finally heard some of her personal backstory—about her time being homeless—in the opening minutes of this episode, which (coupled with her appearing in last week's preview) should have set off alarm bells for most viewers that Desiree was on her way out. By the end of the hour, she was. Last week, Libby's sudden appearance and dismissal followed largely the same pattern.
Angela's another player who's been all but invisible so far. Last week, she seemed like a credible boot candidate, since she had a massive narrative breakout as an active player. As it turned out, this was a red herring, because she was the immunity winner. This week? Angela was shuffled right back to the unseen player category. So much so that she was sent to Ghost Island, lost the game, and was basically unheard from after that. No self-reflection, no discussing strategy with anyone back at camp. Nothing. Would she really have been on board with Desiree's plan? Who knows?
Same with Chelsea, same with Jenna, same even with Sebastian (who at least has had some amusingly odd moments here and there). We have just four episodes left of this season, one of which is the finale. If the first three are just Angela, Chelsea, Jenna, and Sebastian leaving the game unceremoniously, that's almost as dull as a Pagoning. And if that happens, that is extremely poor decision-making with the season's editing.
In spending most of the season building up the stories of the people who will probably make up the final endgame group (Domenick, Wendell, Laurel, Donathan, Kellyn, Michael), the show has all but ignored these mid-to-endgame players. It's frustrating, because the audience has been given no opportunity to get to know them as characters. We know they're there, because they take up spots at Tribal Council. But we have no investment whatsoever in their journey through the game.
Jeff Probst publicly stated several years back that he was aware of audience complaints that the "coronation edit" for people like Mike Holloway, or Tyson Apostol, or Cochran, had made it too obvious that those people were going to win; there was no suspense as the season neared its conclusion. Presumably, this new pattern of giving outsized exposure to a small group of late-gamers was generated and deployed in an attempt to rectify that.
While it's definitely an improvement that, four weeks out, there still appears to be more than one person who could feasibly win this season, we're still faced with a similar problem. Instead of one person we know won't be booted, now it's four or five. While we're happy that solid players like Wendell, Domenick, Kellyn, and Laurel are all still with us, it would be nice to also feel something when these second-tier characters depart. For example, Desiree had an interesting personal history, she was involved in some major decisions, and she played extremely hard at the end. Why couldn't she have been seen more often before this week?
As currently framed, the post-merge has felt like a month or so of treading water, just to get to one blockbuster two-hour finish. That's following the dreary pre-merge Malolo death march. Sure, the ending seems like it will be exciting, but can't we have at least a little fun before getting there? (Apart from the merge episode.)
There has to be a better way to do this.
Tiny little changes
Since Desiree was not clearly part of any major power structure apart from "Naviti Strong," her departure didn't really lead to any major power shift. Despite that, the episode did include several small changes, which together may alter the strategic landscape going forward. Let's look at some of these:
Did Donathan screw up his game finding an idol?
Let's get into that last point in greater detail. On the one hand, hooray! Donathan now has an idol! On the other hand, oh no! He enlisted his fellow Malolos help in acquiring the second half! (Mostly Michael and Laurel, but with a minor distraction assist from Jenna.)
That creates a lot of potential problems for Donathan. He's been thinking about turning against Domenick and Wendell for two straight episodes. An idol might assist him in doing so, but to use it, he'd have to cross Laurel, who helped him find that idol. That would be seen as a betrayal, on par with, say, Tai refusing to waste his own idol making a super-idol to save Scot Pollard (just to pick a random correlate).
Another likely scenario: People again decide to target Michael. Michael looked like he actually touched the second idol half first, and handed it to Donathan. Michael might reasonably have an expectation that Donathan would save him, if he knew a move against Michael was coming. Should Donathan fail to come through... it's Tai and Scot all over again.
Most risky for Donathan: three other people already know about his idol, and that puts him at risk of having to play it. Laurel's connected to Wendell and Dom; Michael has some past ties to Kellyn and this week, Dom. Jenna has ties to Sebastian. Someone is going to leak this information. That is especially worrisome in light of the post-episode preview, which showed Jenna trying to pull some move against Donathan.
All in all, while post-Caramoan winners all having played idols/advantages would suggest Donathan should now be listed among the potential winners, actually playing it seems like it should have major negative consequences for Donathan's standing in the game, especially with potential jurors, no matter how he carries it out. (Unless it's just blindsiding Chelsea, or something.) Hard to imagine how he can reverse the alleged curse.
Ghost Island, now cursing the show with weird continuity errors
Ghost Island continued to be a time-wasting, payoff-free irritation this episode, as Angela somehow lost her vote despite 2-out-of-3 odds of winning an advantage. This time, though, Ghost Island also messed things up previously unseen ways: Because the story beats of Survivor episodes are required to go in a particular order, and because Angela was stuck on Ghost Island for half of the two-day episode, things were somewhat confusing to follow, especially if you were paying any attention whatsoever to what people were wearing. As presented on TV, the order was:
1. Donathan finds his idol (in two pieces)
2. Immunity challenge
3. Blow up between Desiree and Laurel, scrambling by Kellyn, and then
4. Tribal Council.
But in all the post-immunity scrambling, Angela was noticeably absent. Also, during the big Desiree-Laurel argument, everyone was wearing jackets and/or long sleeves, which seemed a bit odd after an IC in the hot sun. Similar overdressing is evident when Kellyn confronts a coffee-sipping Domenick, denying Desiree's betrayal and demanding Michael's ouster. Obviously, this all took place in the early morning, while Angela was still at Ghost Island. Before the immunity challenge.
Similarly, who knows when the two halves of Donathan's idol search actually took place. During the initial discussion where Michael and Donathan leave to go idol-hunting, it's sunny and warm (Michael is shirtless), and Angela is present in the Naviti huddle they're hoping will break up soon. Later, everyone (except Donathan) is still lightly clothed for the heat of the day during the final scene where Donathan retrieves the second idol half. Given Angela's presence and the clothes, all of this probably came after the immunity challenge, not before. Not a huge deal, just out of place, chronologically, and weird that Angela is both at Ghost Island and right there, in camp.
It makes some sense, narratively, to re-order everything. We expect the period between the IC and Tribal to be consumed with strategic machinations. But it did seem odd that, with all the potential ways votes could be coming against Desiree, Michael, or maybe even Laurel or Kellyn, Angela's input was never sought. Also how the minor problem of her not actually being able to vote never came up.
What's a little medical disaster between friends?
Survivor has now made it through three and a half seasons since the medevac-fest that was Kaoh Rong. So what are they do ing to celebrate this newfound resistance to dehydration/ pus-filled sores/ severe gastrointestinal distress? Why, they're trying to starve people to death instead, of course!
This episode, we saw people like Desiree, Domenick, and Wendell stumbling around, noticeably winded and/or feeling faint in the middle of the Reward Challenge (on Day 26). The next day at the Immunity Challenge, the entirety of which was standing in one spot without moving, the top four finishers were *all* people who had attended the reward feast the day before. That seems fair.
Why is everyone so hungry? Because production decided it was not cool that contestants were voting off Ozzy-type providers at the merge, and decided to cut the rice rations in half this season. (Note: Also each camp was given chore charts, which for some unknown reason [internet ridicule?] have not appeared on-screen.) So here we are at Day 27, barely two-thirds of the way through the season, and people are already about to keel over, and/or are barely able to compete in challenges. All this despite the fact that Sebastian is still around, catching as many fish as can be humanly caught, presumably. Excellent planning!
Speaking of which, where have all the epic underwater scenes of Seb fishing been? Probst told him pre-game that could be the greatest Survivor fisherman of all time! Bigger than Ozzy! So far that promise, plus the intentional starvation, has added up to approximately zero fishing footage.
Bang-up job all around, guys.
Jeff Pitman is the founder of the True Dork Times, and probably should find better things to write about than Survivor. So far he hasn't, though. He's also responsible for the Survivometer, calendar, boxscores, and contestant pages, so if you want to complain about those, you can do so on twitter: @truedorktimes
Other Ghost Island Episode 10 recaps and analysis
Exit interviews - Desiree Afuye