Episode 9 of Ghost Island probably marked the last gasp of a chance for the original Malolos to take back over the game. Entering the episode, they had five people and an idol, to counter Naviti's seven (and two idols), having clawed back from a 9-5 deficit over the past two weeks. As the credits rolled, however, they found themselves idol-free and down a seemingly insurmountable 7-4. Those four included a semi-obvious power couple, half of a showmance power couple, and an obvious physical target. Not great odds for future success.
This was disappointing, because a valid path forward had been proposed. Michael's plan took advantage of the same dynamics as the Morgan vote: With Naviti planning to split their votes 4-3 on Michael and Libby, if Malolo simply held together five strong, they could again blast past the split and take out a Naviti of their choosing, without Michael even having to play his idol. It should have seemed like a plausible gambit, since Libby, Donathan, and Laurel all participated in the Morgan vote. But it didn't happen.
So why did it all fall apart? It's unclear. For one thing, there didn't seem to be a coherent consensus target. Michael insisted on blindsiding Wendell, with whom Donathan and Libby had a secret alliance. Having just seen him play an idol, everyone was skittish about targeting Domenick. Given his flirting with Jenna, Sebastian wasn't an option to target. Michael may or may not be secretly working with Kellyn. Angela was immune. That left just Desiree and Chelsea, so... apparently nobody could be bothered enough to push for that instead.
As Dan Otsuki pointed out, sticking together also didn't make much sense for Donathan and Laurel personally. Following Michael's lead here still leaves them down 6-5, and would likely have had the effect of galvanizing Naviti in opposition to any further Malolo cross-tribal alliances. Thus, no more cracks, no more split votes, just pure Pagonging. That's not great. Furthermore, Donathan and Laurel were probably #4 and #5 in the Malolo alliance, since Libby, Michael, and Jenna seemed closer to each other than to Donathan and Laurel. In contrast, those two had been promised top four with Domenick and Wendell. That's a vastly superior deal, if it holds up, especially with fire-making now standard at F4.
Moving forward, Jenna still has a connection with Sebastian, Donathan and Laurel can still bank on their ties to Dom & Wendell, while Michael... needs to find another idol, probably. As Donathan said at Tribal, "It's not Malolo and Naviti any more, it's Lavita, and it's a whole new game."
Let's hope that's accurate.
What do we want? More equitable treatment at the hands of management! When do we want it? Soon!
It's no secret that, in the Big Moves™ era of Survivor, people who find and/or play idols get a lot of attention. Similarly, few fans would be surprised that as idol play has ratcheted up in recent seasons, and four of the last six winners have saved themselves with idols (Mike in Worlds Apart, Jeremy in Cambodia, Sarah in Game Changers, Ben in HvHvH), idols have increasingly surpassed alliances and the social game in overall Survivor strategy. Mike and Ben made it to the end despite the wishes of the majority, as opposed to more traditional winners like Richard Hatch, Tina Wesson, or Tom Westman, who won while leading a dominant alliance.
That's how the game is played now. That's fine. But have we also reached the point at which screen time on the show itself has now also been dramatically redistributed in favor of idol holders and -players? Obviously, idol finders have always carved out a portion of the episode in which they discover their lifesaving trophies. But increasingly, it seems idol holders also seem to be seizing the narrative focus from more traditional strategists. It's just "You have to make Big Moves™ if you want to win" any more. Now you have to make Big Moves™ if you even want to be seen. Maybe it's just the Russell Hantz effect, except times four. But it sure feels like we're seeing less of key parts of the story.
Take, for example, the Michael vs. Chelsea dichotomy. Michael is an impressive young player, and a true fan, who has given sincere, appreciative descriptions of the historic artefacts he's found and played. We've heard his thoughts on the game, his ambition to succeed against all outs, and so on in every episode. That's great. The problem is, up until this week, his attempts at using those items to turn the game around haven't worked. He's voted wrong three of the seven times he's attended Tribal Council. Including this week, where he correctly played his idol, but it still sort of backfired, as his ally Libby was booted instead.
In contrast, we've barely seen anything of Chelsea the entire season. She's had just three confessionals (by buff's count at Sucks), total, in the entire nine hours of the season so far. Michael has had at least that many per episode in four of the last five episodes. When we do see Chelsea, she's actually playing the game, such as suggesting this week's vote split, which ended up sending Libby home, instead of Wendell. You know, literally changing the outcome of the game. Furthermore, Chelsea has been successful: a perfect five-for-five in voting people out, with zero votes against her. (Michael has picked up one vote against him, not counting the seven he canceled out with his idol play this week.) Maybe Chelsea isn't the ringleader, maybe she isn't actually making the decisions, maybe someone like Kellyn really is (she's also 5-for-5 with no votes against). But how would we ever know, if we never hear Chelsea talk about her thought process? For reference: Michael has now found and played two idols this season, Chelsea none.
Similar problems arise with Laurel, who is clearly smart, knows the game well, and thinks deeply about how voting and alliances affect her position in the game. Her decision to stick with Naviti, instead of staying Malolo strong, as Donathan preferred, changed the outcome of this episode. Again, literally changing the course of the game. Laurel's had nine confessionals this season (thanks in part to a big uptick this episode). Like Chelsea, Laurel is also five-for-five in voting people out, with zero votes against. But her screen time pales in comparison to Domenick, who's clearly a lot louder, a lot more aggressive, and a lot more idol-hold-ier. But he's also been less successful, voting out just two people in four tries. His closest ally Wendell? Similar, with one successful vote in three trips. All three are great narrators and interesting characters, but we've primarily heard from the two guys (Domenick has 34 confessionals so far, Wendell 20), who just happen to also be holding idols. Laurel? Idol-free.
To be fair, given that we still have five episodes to go, it's possible we're jumping the gun a bit here. Maybe Domenick and Wendell do end up controlling the game, and we're seeing a lot more of them because of that. Maybe Laurel and Chelsea are the next two people out, and neither has much impact on the strategy going forward. That would be a plausible explanation for why we similarly hadn't heard much of anything from the just-booted Libby after the Morgan boot. Still, in thinking back to HvHvH, most of the most prominent characters of that season (Ben, Joe, Lauren, Dr. Mike, Ryan) held idols at some point. Only a few others, like Chrissy, Devon, and Ali, managed to wrest the edit away from the idol holders for any significant amount of time.
There's nothing wrong with idol holders getting screen time, especially this season's ones. But wouldn't it be cool if some effort could be made to tell more of the contestants' stories?
Contrarian counterpoint, in honor of eating eyeballs this episode:
Considering that Casting seems to go overboard in selecting non-brown-eyed people this season, we're pleased to report that a huge proportion of the actual show has been dominated by people with brown eyes. Domenick, Wendell, Desiree, and Laurel have 72 confessionals between them. The other seven? Just 86.
Take that, biased, eye-colorist Casting!
By the numbers: Michael's not-just-a f***ing-stick play
In finally guessing correctly with an idol play, Michael reversed a season-long curse (the curse of Cagayan?): he actually voided some votes. Sure, it was only the third idol play of the season, but it seemed like it had been a while (nine full episodes). Even if he head-scratchingly dedicated the play "for Ozzy," who made the f***ing stick with the specific intention of tricking the person who found it into playing it as a real idol and looking foolish. (Hint: "for Eliza" or even "for Jason" would have been better.)
More importantly, Michael's play was historically successful. He erased seven votes against himself, meaning his idol play is tied for the second-most votes voided on a single play, behind only Kelley Wentworth's nine in Cambodia. If only the vote split had been smaller (like the two stray votes for Chris), Michael might have tied or broken Wentworth's record. Even so, he's also now in the top 10 all-time in career idol plays, votes voided, and so forth.
Not bad for an 18-year-old who claimed he is "probably only going to play once."
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 9 recaps and analysis
Exit interviews - Libby Vincek