Jeff Pitman's Survivor 39: Island of the Idols recaps
How to move forward from here?
By Jeff Pitman | Published: November 20, 2019
Survivor: Island of the Idols Episodes 8-9 recap/ analysis

How to move forward from here?

It's difficult to remember that just two weeks ago, Survivor: Island of the Idols had achieved the seemingly impossible with back-to-back all-time great episodes in weeks 6 and 7. That seems so long ago. This week's back-to-back pair of episodes spanning the merge took no steps forward and about eighty steps back. Difficult to watch for the audience, painful to process for the players involved, hard to write about, and just generally a repulsive, regret-drenched morass of things that should never happen.

Rather than revisiting all that again here, how about a list of some of the great discussions that took place this week? These are merely some of them, certainly there are others that have not been listed here:

  • Rob Cesternino at RHAP: "Know-It-Alls | Island of the Idols Episodes 8 & 9 Recap | Shannon Gaitz"
  • Rob Cesternino at RHAP (11/14/19): "Survivor 39 Episode 8 & 9 Recap with Kelley Wentworth"
  • Rob Cesternino at RHAP (11/16/19): "Survivor 39 Episode 8 & 9 Feeback with Nicole Cesternino, Dr. Amanda Rabinowitz, and Sarah Channon"
  • Jessica Lewis & David Bloomberg at RHAP (11/16/19): "Why ___ Lost Survivor 39 Episodes 8 and 9 RHAPup with David Bloomberg & Jessica Lewis"
  • Rob Cesternino at RHAP (11/18/19): "Survivor 39 Episodes 8 & 9 Wiggle Room with Josh Wigler and Lily Herman"

Some excellent written commentary:

  • Andy Dehnart at Reality Blurred: "Survivor proves 'there are always consequences for standing up' in a bleak merge episode"
  • Myles McNutt at The AV Club: "Survivor's '#MeToo' moment protected the game instead of the players"

Two of our own writers had thoughtful columns as well:

  • Ryan Kaiser's Kaiser Island (11/15/19): "Standing up for what was right"
  • Ben Martell's The Golden Ticket (11/18/19): "Hearing no"

How did this whole situation spin out of control, and where does Survivor go now?

This is easy, in hindsight: This mess happened because Survivor didn't step in. This was basically the trolley problem, and the show declined to throw the switch and choose the option where the trolley takes out just one person (Dan), and instead allowed it to careen forward, plowing into Kellee, Janet, and who knows how many others. To be fair, that's because trying to avoid even the appearance of throwing switches is ingrained into production's DNA at this point. Sadly, that instinct failed them here. They really did need to break free of precedent and act, and they didn't. And really, this should be their job.

It shouldn't be up to the contestants to decide when production needs to intervene. The players are starving, they're sleep-deprived, they don't trust anyone, they're locked into half-paranoid schemes to win a million dollars. Most importantly, they have limited access to information, whereas production knows everything that's happened, and has the video evidence to back it up. Kellee didn't even know that production had formally warned Dan.

Production needed to step in. But they didn't. Then everything fell into the abyss.

As the episode aired (six months after these events transpired), Survivor made a modest attempt to inform the audience that those in charge were indeed *aware* of what was transpiring, and sort of addressing the situation. Hence the title card announcing that producers had issued a formal warning to Dan. That was new, and attention-getting, because it's not normally done.

In hindsight, however, it was far too little, too late. Maybe even six months too late. Clearly, it did nothing to stop the avalanche that was about to wipe out the all the goodwill the pre-merge had painstakingly built up.

The producers' formal warning to Dan should have come much earlier in the game. Maybe after Dan and Kellee had their discussion on the beach in the premiere, maybe even earlier, such as when the Vokai women were discussing how to deal with Dan. Kellee was already worried that having that chat could jeopardize her own game. So producers should have given Dan that formal warning as soon as the Dan-Kellee conversation ended, to reinforce that his behavior was out of bounds. Then when it happened again (and it did in the very next episode, if not before), he's gone.

So to avoid this in the future: Act early, act decisively. A formal warning with clearly delineated consequences (removal) for future transgressions ought to make a major impact on a player who has good intentions but is just oblivious, as Dan claims to have been. Then, as Nick Maiorano suggested, have the mental health equivalent of Dr. Joe do the monitoring. Don't leave it up to the contestants to police themselves. Because there's always an incentive to keep someone around that everyone dislikes. That's how Survivor works, and production ought to know that after two decades of making this show.

In Survivor in general, as Kass McQuillen frequently correctly points out — but especially in situations like this — it also wouldn't hurt for production to have more women regularly interacting with the contestants on the beach, not just the nearly all-male set of producers and camera crews. Not to mention that it would be better if the showrunner who'll ultimately make the decision to pull a contestant was not also surrounded almost entirely by men.

As Josh Wigler and Lily Herman noted in the final Wiggle Room, another distressing part of all this has been the absolute silence of Jeff Probst here. He's in charge, and his pronouncements on the matter thus far have been at best boilerplate crisis management non-statements, like last week's title card, asserting that the contestants are monitored 24-7. If the monitor is asleep at the desk, and remains so half a year later, what use is that?

Do better, Survivor.

Where does this season go from here?

Going forward, there are still 11 people playing, and one of them is going to win this season. The contestants, including Kellee, Jamal, and Janet, have asked us to keep watching. Should we? The best we can offer here is: Maybe?

As tough as it was to see Kellee forced to sit in the jury box, staying silent as Dan begrudgingly tossed out a flimsy, "if"-predicated non-apology, one thing to remember about this game is that, eventually, actions do have consequences. Dan, Missy, Elizabeth, and Aaron came out of this double episode looking the worst, but eventually, the jury *will* get to speak.

Sure, it's possible that we'll end up with a final four that has just those four people in it, and that Kellee, Jamal, Jack, and the others will have to decide which of the four was the least objectionable. But it's not that likely.

Janet was the hero this week, and she's now the obvious target for the remaining majority alliance. So it won't be surprising if the short-term game remains grim, and she's picked off fairly soon. But you never know, she's already found one idol, and Kellee found two in a three-day span.

It's a double boot this week, but it's a split double boot (two teams of 6 and 5), as we had in Ghost Island, and it's possible that Janet, Karishma, and Noura could all end up on the team of 5, and maybe even pick off Dan themselves. (Again, possible, but not very likely.) Besides, we've now reached the point in the game where the buff dudes like Aaron and Tommy are normally taken out as physical threats, so maybe Janet will be in less danger because of that. So there's some hope that things in the game could recover. Maybe not immediately, but eventually.

Still, it will take a long time for fans to recover from the conflagration the show allowed to erupt here, though, and it's hard to fault anyone for no longer being interested in finding out what happens, especially anyone who has experienced similar trauma in real life. The show didn't care enough about its contestants to do the right thing in the first place, and has had a gag order on the cast ever since. Why should the viewers do all the work of sifting through the ashes and starting anew?

Do what you feel is best for you.

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, do so in the comments, or on twitter: @truedorktimes

Other Island of the Idols Episodes 8 & 9 recaps and analysis


Exit interviews: Kellee Kim (13th place)

  • Mike Bloom at (11/19/19): "Kellee Kim on Speaking Up and Idol Idling"
  • Dalton Ross at (11/19/19): "Kellee Kim speaks out on inappropriate touching incidents"
  • Gordon Holmes at (11/19/19): "Kellee - 'If Dan Had Respected Boundaries, None of This Would Have Been an Issue'"


Exit interviews: Jamal Shipman (12th place)

  • Dalton Ross at (11/20/19): "Jamal Shipman reveals what we didn't see on Survivor: Island of the Idols"
  • Gordon Holmes at (11/20/19): "Jamal - 'I Believe That It is Important to Believe Women'"
  • Mike Bloom at (11/20/19): "Jamal Shipman Talks Losing Allies, Legacy Advantages, and Listening"