Jeff Pitman's Survivor 36: Ghost Island recaps

The limits of idol power


For all Michael's outstanding use of history to mask the idol's actual powers, his move fell flat in two ways: 1. He didn't convince any ex-Navitis to flip, and 2. He guessed wrong on who they were targeting. Oh well.


There have been a lot of suggestions that singling out Bradley as the target was a bad move. That's not actually as clear as it seems. First off, it was highly unlikely *any* of the Navitis would flip. That's because this was the first Tribal Council any of them had ever attended. That's likely terrifying just on its own, and it's a journey ("truly into the unknown") that they all shared. For another thing, the other half of their original tribe, who had also been up 5-4, came away from the previous Tribal Council minus Morgan. Not to mention that Kellyn had just sacrificed a chance at individual power in the game (via an advantage) in order to preserve that edge for the good of the other four.


The ex-Navitis all knew they had superior numbers if they just stuck together (just as the ex-Malolos now on Naviti had the previous episode), so they were bound together by this combination of confidence in numbers and fear of the unknown. No matter how great Michael's or Brendan's or Stephanie's salesmanship was, what possible advantage was there for a Sebastian or Chelsea to gain by flipping from the alleged bottom of this group of five, to the bottom of another five (or six) that's full of their enemies?


In reality, Malolo's only plausible shot was guessing right on the idol play. That was a 1-in-4 shot. For all the complaints about too many idols in modern Survivor, this was a low-probability play. Usually, idols are successfully played when the minority group is much smaller, say two or three people. Or as we saw last season, just one. Four is a gigantic number of people to try to protect with one idol.


What made Michael's attempt to double his idol's power so impressive was, in part, those formidable odds, and that this was a credible attempt to lower them. First, his fabricated story seemed plausible, because it was built on the idol's history. James's idol was part of a pair! And it was probably the only pair of idols that anyone playing would remember. Second, his story took part of its script from the actual letter the idol was wrapped in (the part about reversing the curse). Michael just made a few slight tweaks, and sold his double-immunity story spectacularly well. All in all, a tremendous Survivor move.


Except that, well... it didn't work.


That's because there are limits to idols' powers. They can't protect everyone. Unless a player has some sort of intel about where the votes are going (as David did when he played his idol for Jessica in MvGX), it's very difficult to play them correctly in a large, evenly split tribe like this. Russell Hantz only guessed right one out of two times in Samoa, playing as part of an alliance of four. And he whiffed the first time. While Michael's play would have been one of the greatest plays in Survivor history if it had worked, his attempt has moved the strategic game forward*, and is absolutely worthy of all the praise it has received.


(*At least it will have the next time there's a James Clement idol in circulation, which very well could be next season, for all we know. And now that Michael raised the possibility of an idol protecting two people at once, odds are probably 50-50 or better that at least one real idol in the future will actually have that power.)


Kellyn nopes the Ghost Island game

Kellyn's choice


Survivor seems to have found their ideal contestant in Kellyn, someone seemingly thrilled at the opportunity to bask in the "Survivor gods" jibber-jabber, with barely the slightest provocation. On the whole, it's difficult to assess whether her decision to forego the Ghost Island "game"—and keep her vote at the next Tribal safe—was really a good one or a poor one. Yes, of course, it can be two things. And maybe it is.


In the short term, as she pointed out in confessional, she absolutely made the right choice, because the ex-Navitis needed her vote for their 5-4 majority to hold. Sure, they could have gotten fancy and tried something else, like actually talking to the Malolos, or something. But this was their first Tribal ever, and they going to play like Boston Rob and Kim Spradlin at least once, dagnabbit. (Even if sticking with a majority while stonewalling a minority is super boring to watch.)


In the long-term, however, given how infrequently Ghost Island visitors are given the opportunity to even try to win advantages, Kellyn was probably right to fret that she'd angered the "Survivor gods" by not playing their guessing game. The most important Survivor gods are the ones wearing Survivor logo baseball caps and/or shirts, and maybe some of the ones lugging around microphones and cameras. They're probably not terribly excited to be boating someone out to this elaborately relic-decorated set, replete with its own personal camera operator, only to have the visitor decide, "Eh, no thanks. I'm good," when it comes time to make a Big Move™ and wager a future vote.


Even though opting out in this way makes logical sense when someone's holding firm to a razor-thin, single-vote (5-4) majority, sticking with a Day 1 alliance is far from a "big move." So maybe that's why the camera intentionally focused in on the "bad decision" sign hanging behind Kellyn as she made her rice, hinting that there may be consequences to Kellyn's taking the safer option. Because, as you know, it's Episode 4 and there have only been three idols-plus-advantages introduced into the game so far, and more is always better, obviously, and what are they supposed to do, just start hiding them under an orange-painted rock in the middle of camp? (Relax, that'll be at least Episode 8 if the pace doesn't start to pick up.)


If there were consequences to Kellyn's choice, they certainly didn't show up this episode. Although the fact that the editors also chose to include the shot zooming in on the "bad decision" sign argues that Episode 4 may not be the last word in this.


Easily one of the top two Brendan S.'es in Survivor history



Before the season started, we looked at Brendan's tribe draw, and came to the following conclusion:

Probst says Brendan was passed over for MvGX. This is tragic. Brendan would have been so much better off there than here, where (at the ripe old age of 41, which would have placed him in the younger half of the Gen X tribe)  he stands out by being more than a decade older than the next-youngest man on his tribe

Four episodes later, we're disappointed that this cruel prophecy proved accurate. Who knows which slot Brendan missed out on there (Ken McNickle's?), but it doesn't really matter. He was here, on this season.


On the plus side, Brendan actually had a much firmer footing in this game than we were expecting, or at least he did right up until the swap screwed everything up. He didn't really do anything wrong... except be on this particular swapped tribe. That's a tough pill to swallow when you tried for 16 years to get on the show. The whims of Survivor casting entice with one hand, and punish with the other. Brendan played a lot stronger game than his placement indicates.


Let's hope in the not too distant future there's a Millennials vs. Gen X 2, but with returning players. Brendan could team up with the likes of David Wright, Jessica Lewis, Mike Zahalsky, Chrissy Hofbeck, or maybe even the newly jobless David Samson, and really do some damage. At the very least, Brendan could stand out for something other than being seen as the token dad. Hopefully it'll take fewer than 16 more years to get that second shot.


Shorter takes



  • You may remember Chris (above), the guy who has been itching to go to Tribal Council to vote out Domenick since Day 1. Well, it's now Day 12, and Chris is now the only person remaining who has still never been to Tribal Council. But if you stop your jabbering for a second, we're sure he'll talk loudly at you about what has to happen when he does.


  • Chris's first response to asking Angela about what happened at the last Tribal Council was about what you'd expect. Angela: They all voted against m... Chris (interrupting): They were voting against ME! (Then, in response to seeing that the Malolos pulled off a coup by sticking together, saving themselves, and voting out a Naviti: I should work with them! Maybe they'll help me vote out Domenick!)


  • It was Caramoan X MvGX week for the challenge department, apparently. The reward challenge ("Water Slaughter") was the exact same as the Ep.1 RC in Caramoan and the Ep.4 RC in MvGX. Meanwhile the immunity challenge ("Cell Block Sea") combined the first half of the Ep.3 RC/IC from Caramoan (also called "Cell Block Sea") with the final stage of the Ep.7 RC from MvGX ("Matt Finish"). Keepin' it (26 x 33).


  • It's also worth pointing out that both the reward challenge and the immunity challenge favored people who are tall and have superior lower-body strength. Since that describes both Laurel and Chris, we're at least 50% okay with it.


  • Again, for half the Malolo tribe, this was their first Tribal Council. Credit to those five for voting out a white guy, instead of a woman of color. Although, technically, voting out a woman of color wasn't really an option for them, unless they targeted one of their own.


  • With "Brendan," "Brenden," and "Brendon" appearing on ballots, it's pretty disappointing the ex-Navitis didn't go all in and try "Brendin" and "Brendun" too. (And sometimes "Brendyn".) Sigh, maybe next time.




Eh, that's enough of all that. It's time for a vidcap gallery (below).


Jeff Pitman's recapsJeff 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


Ep.4 - Jeff requests wrestling or whatever
Survivor: Ghost Island — Episode 4 vidcap gallery

Other Ghost Island Episode 4 recaps and analysis

  • Gordon Holmes at "Not Resting on Her Laurels"
  • Dalton Ross at "Trust Your Gut" (recap)
  • Dalton Ross & Jeff Probst at (Q&A)
  • Josh Wigler at The Hollywood Reporter: "Jeff Probst Reveals Why He Was Blindsided at Fourth Tribal Council"
  • Andy Dehnart at Reality Blurred: "On Survivor: Ghost Island, a famous idol becomes a possible life ring"
  • Stephen Fishbach at "Why 'You Have to Know Your Type and Play Against It'"
  • Martin Holmes at "Trust Your Gut (recap)"


Exit interviews - Brendan Shapiro

  • Gordon Holmes at (3/15/18): "Brendan - 'It's a Game Built on Conflict, So I Thought There Would Be More Jerks'"
  • Dalton Ross at (3/15/18): "Brendan Shapiro says Kellyn accidentally revealed he was target"
  • Josh Wigler at The Hollywood Reporter (3/15/18): "Brendan Breaks Down Malolo's Big Move"
  • Mike Bloom at (3/15/18): "Brendan Shapiro on Lions who Conspire, Lies that Transpire and Lines that Inspire"
  • Rob Cesternino at RHAP (3/15/18): "Latest Exit Interview - 3/15/18"



  • Rob Cesternino & Stephen Fishbach at RHAP: "Ghost Island Episode 4 Recap"
  • Rob Cesternino at RHAP: "Ali Elliott Recaps Week 3 of Survivor: Ghost Island"
  • Andy & Emma at The Purple Rock Podcast: "Episode 4: Trust Your Gut"
  • Dom Harvey & Colin Stone at The Dom & Colin Podcast: " -- Episode 4 Recap/Analysis"