Jeff Pitman's Survivor 36: Ghost Island recaps

Cheers to the merge episode


Fear may keep you sharp, but fun predominated on Ghost Island's merge episode, which finally brought the long-simmering Domenick vs. Chris feud to a boil, and a conclusion. Part of the fun was the liberties the show's editors took with conventional merge episode storytelling, focusing in depth on the big-ticket conflict.


For example, the show dispensed with any pre-merge footage, and leapt directly into the two boats arriving at Naviti (now Lavita) beach, presumably to make room for Chris rapping, or playing the Ghost Island game, or something. More ground-breakingly, they broke with almost all past precedent by splicing together the bickering duo's confessionals and various camp footage to have them artificially "debate" each other mid-episode, although the back-and-forth was mostly Domenick complaining about Chris, with the editors helpfully adding supporting footage to back up Dom's complaints. It played as a light-hearted moment, and as a whole, helped to elevate the episode to a level rivaling some classic previous merge episodes, such as Roger Sexton's boot in The Amazon. This one had a little more suspense, due to Chris finding an idol, and a late-breaking almost-move suggested by Kellyn (and actually followed through on by Desiree and Angela) to vote for Libby instead. Overall, it was fun, none of the underdogs went home, and the conflict that dominated the pre-merge reached a satisfying conclusion. Survivor at its best, and most rewarding.


While we're praising the more flexible, fluid editing guidelines, why stop there? Immediately after the episode ended, released Chris's Ponderosa video, which included a 1.5-minute rap video, also titled "Ponderosa." Which makes us wish that the TV show itself included fun bits like these, at least once in a while. Community ended each episode with a standalone joke segment. Why can't Survivor do that occasionally? (Or, you know, maybe we could have that breathlessly awaited The Genius-style flash-forward/ flashback edit? Just once?)


Wendell's (valid) criticism about Chris's rap skills aside*, The Noble One's video is a worthy addition to the Ponderosa pantheon, right up there with The Dragonz. It's reassuring to see Chris is comfortable with playing along and poking fun at himself, because a lot of times, Survivor sets up contestants as comic relief (Drew Christy, for example), and it's not always clear that they're in on the joke. Survivor often teeters between laughing at and laughing with over-the-top characters like Phillip Sheppard and especially Coach Wade, the latter of whom serves as Chris's most obvious archetypal precedent. But the show did its best to present Chris in a balanced light, even as his character careened from postive to negative territory from episode to episode. Chris had some raw, humanizing moments at Ghost Island and with Donathan, he had some comic foibles (including his rapping), and even some strategic content, with his aggressive attempted ousting of Domenick. He was an entertaining, albeit hubris-hobbled, quasi-villain. Maybe if more of the lighter stuff, like "Ponderosa" by The Noble One, could have made it into the show, he'd be more of a fan favorite.


*Wendell was absolutely right about this, if only because of the explosion of cringeworthy copycat follow-on raps in the week that had followed. Seriously. It's like a virus or something. Worse than the Wandoffs.


Freedom! Horrible, horrible freedom!

Freedom, horrible freedom!


Did the Ghost Island game directly screw over Chris? (Short anwer: Yes, absolutely.) Longer answer: Still yes, and in at least two key ways.


The obvious downside of playing the game was that Chris lost his own vote at the merge Tribal Council. His choice was understandable: He wanted to power up his idol as much as possible, and gain more opportunities to use it. That made sense, and potentially losing one measly vote didn't seem like a horrendous risk. After all, there were 13 people left, and everyone else wanted Domenick out too, right? Maybe Wendell wouldn't be on board, but there were still at least 10 other votes if Chris lost his!


That calculation was clearly in error, though. Chris knew Domenick had an idol. So he needed the vote split against Domenick *and* Wendell to happen. But still, 5-5-2, even if Chris can't vote. No problem! Hindsight, however, tells a different story. In the end, no votes were cast for either Domenick or Wendell, and the loss of Chris's vote really didn't matter that much. Although it might have, had it actually been a close vote.


Where the Ghost Island game really hurt Chris, though, was in extending the lifespan of his idol. Had he just had a single-use idol, as it was originally presented, he would obviously have played it, and would now still be playing Survivor. Even after winning the option to use it at one of the next two Tribal Councils, he *should* have played it here, because he had a solid chance at winning regular immunity the next time. (He was a key factor in winning eight out of ten tribal challenges, and finished second in another!) That would have made his expiring idol pointless. Did his having risked (and lost) his vote to gain that extra power force Chris—subconsciously, perhaps—to hold onto the idol until the next Tribal, making the penalty seem worth the effort? Probably.


Whatever the reason, the idol's alluring siren call of guaranteed safety at the next Tribal took Chris's eyes off the prize, and tricked him into doing exactly what he had pledged not to do when he picked up JT's Game Changers idol: Leaving the game with the idol in his pocket.


Apparently nighttime Ghost Island has darker powers than we thought.


By the numbers: a triply historic merge boot

A triply historic merge boot


Chris was voted out on Day 22, at his very first Tribal Council attended, and he left the game without ever casting a vote himself. (Thanks again, Ghost Island!) This event was historic for a number of reasons:


  • Chris has now tied Nick Maiorano for the coveted title of latest boot at a first Tribal Council (Day 22). Since we covered this back in Episode 6, we'll limit the revised leaderboard to just the top five (baby):


Latest first Tribal Council boots
Rank Contestant Season Day Post- swap? Post- merge?
1-t Nick Maiorano Kaoh Rong 22 Yes Yes
1-t Chris Noble Ghost Island 22 Yes Yes
3-t RC Saint-Amour Philippines 19 Yes Yes
3-t Jessica Johnston Heroes v Healers v Hustlers 19 Yes Yes
5-t Richard Hatch All-Stars 15 Yes-ish No
5-t Monica Padilla Cambodia 15 Yes No


  • This was the first time someone blocked from voting was ever voted out. Finally, a victory for the vote steal/ vote block advantage! Well, except that it was Ghost Island that did it. Oh well. To recap, there have been three previous vote blocks: (1) when Stephen Fishbach stole Joe Anglim's Ep.11 vote in Cambodia, only to be voted out himself; (2) when Sarah Lacina stole Tai Trang's F7 vote in Game Changers, then used it to vote out Michaela; and (3) when Jessica Johnston remotely blocked Devon Pinto from voting at post-swap Levu's Ep.4 Tribal in HvHvH, which ultimately ended in Alan Ball being booted. Again, all of those were examples of someone unable to vote because someone else played an advantage. Here, however, nobody played this against Chris, rather, it's more that he played it against himself. Whoops. (Side note: This had a 50-50 chance of happening to Jacob Derwin earlier this season, since he was voted out at his first Tribal. Luckily, though, he won the Ghost Island game, and was able to vote at his first Tribal.)


  • Chris is also the only person in Survivor history ever voted out at Tribal Council without ever casting a vote himself. Again, this almost happened to Jacob, and if production had deployed the vote steal advantage at the Cambodia merge, maybe it could have happened to Joey Amazing or (gasp!) Keith Nale. But it didn't. Chris takes the title all for himself. Although, side note again: Thanks to Desiree and Angela splitting the vote, we were again deprived (as with Jacob's and Stephanie's boots) of an actual unanimous (12-0) vote-out. Thanks to the Ghost Island game, we may still have a few shots at such an historic event this season. Fingers crossed!


Final side note: JT's Game Changers idol has now been found twice, and both times the holder has been voted out (without playing it) less than 48 hours later. The most cursed idol, ever? (Apart from JT's HvsV idol that he gave to Russell, sending himself to the jury.


(Additional, more final, side-side note: Why wasn't that idol used here, instead of yet another already-forgotten Game Changers relic? Oh, right, because it came from Ghost Island, which is the world's exclusive source for the misbegotten detritus of Survivor 34. Urgh.)


Potential factions going forward

Naviti women


With the Chris vs. Domenick narrative finally ended, how will the remaining players recombine and divide against each other in the coming weeks? Will Malolo regroup and dominate the game? (Unlikely.) Will Sebastian swim and fish his way to success atop Naviti's heap? (Also unlikely.) Okay, fine. But where are we headed? There seem to be several groups of varying relative strength.


1. Domenick & Wendell: There's nothing to suggest they won't stay together... but will they? Eventually, you'd think they would have to turn on each other, because if there's one thing Survivor doesn't love, it's an alliance of two strategists. If they do eventually fall apart, it's important to remember that each still has an idol, as they are fond of telling anyone within earshot. There's a good chance they'll now be targets, with Chris out of the way. How effectively their two idols end up being played could determine the balance of power in the next few episodes.


  • 1a. Donathan & Laurel - Each has had solo content (both for and against Chris), but they've been shown together as an unlikely pair since the very first episode. Here, they were shown, together again, reporting the water well group's plans back to Domenick. It's unclear if they will stay together moving ahead, or, for that matter, if they'll stay with Domenick (and Wendell). Each individually seems to have the tools to be making moves and changing the game. Based on the edited story so far, though, they seem close to each and other and to Dom, but less so to Wendell.


2. The ex-Malolos: Apart from Laurel and Donathan, the remainders of the original doomed tribe now seem scattered and isolated. As such, they're not much of a threat. If they could come together again, they'd form a potentially powerful group, numbering five against the seven-person Navitis, who have exploitable divisions amongst themselves. But if that's going to happen, there was no hint of it in the merge episode, since all the Malolos were either shown solo or in pairs. That leaves:


  • 2a. Michael - If there's a flag-bearer for the doomed Malolos, it's definitely Michael. He was unheard from after the actual merge feast, and the reaction shots when he dropped out of IC were universally ones of disappointment, suggesting his fate in the fame will not be as the youngest-ever Survivor winner. Still, what's his path forward? He has no connection, really, to any of the other Malolos. He may be working with Kellyn, since he did get a "he betrayed James" mention in the next episode's "Previously On..." segment. Michael's only real ally appears to be his idol. He's received an inordinate amount of attention so far, but perhaps that's to be expected for a two-time idol holder.

  • 2b. Libby - After a rise in prominence in the Morgan boot episode, she's been largely unheard from, except as the decoyboot in the last two episodes. Historically, racking up stray votes tends not to lead to overall longevity (except for Phillip in Redemption Island). Sooner or later, that's bound to catch up with her.

  • 2c. Jenna - She was shown with Libby in the merge episode, but previously had been shown with Sebastian. She's still getting screen time, but has no consistent narrative purpose from episode to episode.


3. Kellyn (and the Naviti women?): Kellyn's closest and most reliable ally thus far has been her gut. (Also Bradley, who is no longer here.) In Kellyn's last tribe (Malolo 3.0), she was maintaining her connections to Desiree, and seemingly forging new bonds with Angela. That makes a solid-seeming alliance of three. Kellyn also seemed to have pulled in Michael as well at the last Malolo iteration. But this group of four voted on opposite sides of the split on the Chris vote (perhaps as a failsafe against an idol play). Kellyn still has her extra vote advantage, but she may have unintentionally placed herself in peril by convincingly winning the very first individual immunity.


  • 3a. Desiree and Angela - Again, they voted together (for Libby) this time. They were working together, more or less, at the last Malolo camp. Otherwise, they have no clear connection. But they might be together. So we might as well list them as such.


4. The innocent until proven guilty remnants: These two have no real connections to each other, nor to anyone else.


  • 4a. Chelsea - Like the above three, she's one of the four remaining original Naviti women. Apart from that, though, she has no clear connections to anyone. She was sort of with Dom at Naviti (both the first and the third variants). She was also sort of with Desiree and Sebastian before that at Malolo (the second version). Several Kellyn-liking pre-merge boots like Bradley and Stephanie seemed rather anti-Chelsea in their exit interviews, though. Hard to imagine that keeps up if Chelsea becomes Kellyn's closest ally. So some sort of anti-Kellyn move must eventually take place.

  • 4b. Sebastian - When we last checked in with Sebastian, he was enjoying his hair-braiding and canoodling with Jenna. After also enjoying Wendell's conch gift. Maybe a Jenna-Sebastian-Wendell group will eventually coalesce to counter Domenick and Laurel/Donathan? Who knows? No confessionals and no tongue shots for Survivor Seb this week, though. Not even a mention that he and Chris had a special, deep-seated Florida bond in the premiere! Sad.


Quick hits: Tribal Council highlights

Tribal highlights


  • Domenick brandishing his fake idol, then switching over to the Legacy Advantage: There were so many variables here, he *had* to play at least one of his idols. Using the one that nobody knew about, that's only good at two Tribals, and that he might not otherwise be around to play if he doesn't here? That's just good, solid gameplay. If Chris had used the same logic with his idol, he'd still be in the game.


  • Domenick practically yelling 'Chris Noble' as he casts his vote: The shocked reactions of everyone in attendance were hilarious. Domenick promised pre-game that he wanted to try a lot of things that hadn't been done before. This hasn't (*actually it has a couple of times, see Robb Forsyth's comment below), at least not intentionally, and it's hard to figure out why it hasn't. Why don't people more publicly own votes everyone knows they're making? Great moment.


  • Wendell's (less public) epic vote confessional: As thorough a takedown as you're likely to see in modern Survivor. (Mainly because we almost never see vote confessionals any more.) Up there with Rob Cesternino's Casey Kasem dedication to a mean old man. Perhaps a bit mean-spirited in hindsight, but he did preface it by mentioning his respect for Chris's (and his) tandem role in demolishing almost all of the pre-merge challenges. Sometimes you have to be a little cruel to be funny.


  • Cagayan redux? With Chris's idol-bearing exit, and Domenick's whiffing on erasing any votes with the Legacy Advantage, this season's streak of failed idol plays keeps pace with Cagayan, the last season in which idol plays voided zero votes. (Well, also Kaoh Rong, but that was partly because none were ever played.) Fine company to keep. Can the curse continue? Let's hope?


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


Other Ghost Island Episode 8 recaps and analysis


Exit interviews - Chris Noble

  • Gordon Holmes at (4/12/18): "Chris: 'My Impulsive Behavior Sometimes Costs Me'"
  • Dalton Ross at (4/12/18): "Chris Noble says Wendell showed 'no class' with Tribal Council takedown"
  • Josh Wigler at The Hollywood Reporter (4/12/18): "Chris Noble Raps About the Ghost Island Merge"
  • Mike Bloom at (4/12/18): "Chris Noble 'Raps' Up His Time in Fiji"
  • Rob Cesternino at RHAP (4/12/18): "Latest Exit Interview - 4/12/18"