I started off my 10 bazillion-word Survivor premiere recap last week explaining how I don’t believe in ghosts or other supernatural beings, because I am not an idiot. I have to be honest about something else: I also don’t believe in curses. Curses, jinxes, superstitions — it’s all a load of Hong Kong Phooey if you ask me. And I say this as someone who has not watched ANY of the sports teams he roots for win a championship of any sort this entire millennium. I just don’t buy into that nonsense. Even the fact that I have not correctly picked a Survivor winner in over 20 seasons can be chalked up more to failure as a reality TV prognosticator than any sort of mystical mumbo-jumbo. That said, maybe there is something to this Legacy Advantage curse.
First, Sierra gets voted out with it as soon as she tells someone else about it in Game Changers. Then, Jacob finds it on Ghost Island and is immediately voted out. And then the person he gave it to, Morgan, is also immediately voted out after receiving it at her first Tribal Council as well. I suppose all of this is conveniently ignoring the fact that Sarah went on to WIN Game Changers after using it, but still, this particular twist is off to a shaky start for whoever possesses it in season 36.
And its new possessor, Dom, looks to be on shaky ground after the old Malolo folks refused to go along with the plan to vote off Angela and instead took out a much bigger target in Morgan. That was a “shots fired” moment and definitely makes things a lot more fascinating heading back to the Naviti camp. Think about it: Once Chris returns from Ghost Island you will have four original Naviti and four original Malolo. However, it is far from that simple.
Angela had rebuffed Chris’ attempt to get rid of Dom, sticking with her original Naviti…only to watch them all try to vote her out. But the Malolo folks did not go along with the plan. So what happens now? Do Dom and Wendell try to find a way to reconcile with Chris and Angela to force a 4-4 showdown? Do Chris and Angela jump ship to Malolo and become a minority in their new alliance? Or do Dom and Wendell tell the Malolos, “Hey, we told you the truth and stuck to the plan and voted for Angela — that proves you can trust us,” and hope that their new overlords deem Chris the shadier person who must be eliminated next?
And if you are the former Malolos, what do you do? On one hand, Dom and Wendell did what they said, so maybe you should feel better aligning with them. Then again, you just screwed them over, so there could be a decent chance they could be out for revenge at some point. Chris is more of a wild card, but you can go to Noble when he gets back and say, “See, we said we were with you and we proved it by voting out one of Dom’s allies.”
That’s probably the direction I would go, and the one they will as well. I don’t think Angela and Chris are nearly as game savvy as Wendell and Dom, so by siding with them, you now have a new six-person alliance with the clear majority of four in it, and the two people not in your core four (Angela, Chris) are a lot less likely to find a way to flip it, so you can manipulate them more easily. It’s why what Malolo did in ousting Morgan instead of Angela was a tactically smart move.
God, I can’t tell you how much I want Naviti to lose the next immunity challenge RIGHT NOW just so I can find out what happens. Patience has never been my virtue, let’s just say. But we can’t look forward too much to next week’s episode. We’ve still got to recap all the inanity and insanity that went down this week. So let’s do that right now.
Drop Your Buffs
The episode begins with the Malolo tribe licking their wounds after their second straight Tribal Council. James continues to take the heat for his epic challenge failure, while Stephanie is sick of the tribe’s competitive ineptitude. “It’s time to win,” she announced. “I’m done losing.”
But fear not, oh Queen of All That Is Neon, because since we are down to 18 players, that is often when Survivor producers like to reshuffle the deck. And as if the number itself is not enough of a clue that it is about to happen, it then becomes plainly obvious when Probst asks each tribe how they’re getting along. So as soon as Libby talks about how Malolo is still “growing into that best tribe ever” — which I suppose is possible if the only other competition for that title is Ulong — and as soon as Bradley brags about how strong Naviti is, and as soon as Probst notes that “it sounds like both tribes are feeling really good,” we know what comes next. Drop. Your. Buffs.
Tribe switcheroo time, people! But instead of expanding to three tribes — which the show often likes to do at 18 — we’re sticking with two. I actually wondered before the season if they would wait until 17 to do the tribe switch and have eight people pick Naviti buffs, eight pick Malolo, and one pick a Ghost Island one (Collectors Alert: rarest buff ever!) that would send them there immediately…but they didn’t, so I don’t know why I am bothering telling you that now. I guess I just thought it would be cool if they made up a singular black Ghost Island buff. Anyhow, they don’t, so let’s take a gander at the new tribes.
Both tribes have five former Naviti and four former Malolo, which has to make the Naviti majority happy on both sides. Kellyn even tells us how she’s “excited to open new treasure boxes of love,” which I’m pretty sure is the dirtiest thing anyone has ever said on this show that did not involve balls and poles at a challenge. Let’s check out the new tribe beaches to see what’s what. (Recap continues on next page)
Malolo, Or: Sit Idly By While Idols Are Found
Once everyone arrives back at the beach, Sea Bass tells us he’s as happy as a banana-flavored piece of Laffy Taffy, which, if I’m being completely honest, sounds like one of the most disgusting candy options imaginable. You could get me on board with Nerds, Spree, Zotz, M&Ms, Reese’s Pieces, Pop Rocks, Smarties, Skittles, and even Andes Chocolate Mints, but Laffy Taffy? Get that junk out of here. And banana Laffy Taffy? That’s just for suckers. NO SALE, SEA BASS!
But the rest of the former Naviti seem considerably less enthused by their new surroundings. Kellyn is shocked by how much the Malolo shelter sucks, dubbing it “one big hot mess” and comparing seeing it to having to compliment a friend’s ugly baby, which I wouldn’t really understand because my two babies were the most perfectly adorable babies in the history of the entire world. But Kellyn’s complaining is nothing compared to Bradley, who acts like he is auditioning for Joe Piscopo’s part in a reboot of “The Whiners” from SNL’s deep catalog of early-’80s nonsense. (Seriously, I went back and watched a bunch of Whiners sketches and I can’t believe that was actually considered a go-to sketch at one point.) It saddens me to no end that Bradley is so young that he most likely has no idea who Joe Piscopo even is. But it does not sadden me as much as the clip below saddens me.
Suffice it to say, Picsopo’s union with Kimberly — who was his son’s former babysitter and was 18 years old when they began dating — did not end well. But I think we can all agree that the song certainly stands the test of time even if their love could not. But anyway, back to Bradley, who provides the second best Survivor juxtaposition ever. The first being this:
While I may have created that particular juxtaposition myself on a now obsolete social media platform (R.I.P. Vine), this one comes courtesy of the brilliant show editors, who give us Stephanie sitting all Zen-like there on a Fijian beach talking about how beautiful the sunrise is and how it could never, ever get old…followed immediately by Bradley complaining about the cold and how dirty it is. “I feel dirty and just…gross,” he whines.
For their part, Stephanie and Brendan are flummoxed by their spoiled tribemates. “Survivor is supposed to be hard,” notes Brendan, echoing something every single former player has said at one point or another on social media when they accuse the show of now being too easy. (Incidentally, to that I would argue that while the show now may be indeed by physically easier for contestants with the amount of food, water, and items they get, coupled with the less oppressive climate of Fiji, it may be mentally more taxing due to the rapid-fire rate of strategy, twists, and backstabbing involved on a daily basis.)
But Bradley’s sin is not complaining about the conditions. Almost everyone does that at some point. No, it is getting comfortable and complacent. “This could not have worked out more perfect,” he tells Desiree. “And they’re fun to talk to, while we vote them out.” Why Bradley would be so confident with a million idols and advantages lying around, or when one of them could easily be sent to Ghost Island — thereby evening the vote — is beyond me.
And Kellyn is doing something very odd as well, telling Jenna and Stephanie straight out that none of the Naviti are going to flip. While I admire her honesty on a personal level, I despise the incentive she is giving them to go idol hunting to save themselves. And that’s exactly what they do. All the Malolos go searching, with Michael finally uncovering one of James’ two unused idols from Survivor.
Now, it is worth pointing out how we, as viewers, can only judge on what we are shown. It is entirely possibly that the Naviti folks were out idol hunting as well, but it simply never made the final edit. However, if they weren’t, then that is a severe miscalculation. While going so hard on idol hunting at the start of the game — as Jacob did — is a social faux pas and can put you immediately in the crosshairs, team searching after a tribe swap is not only acceptable; it should be expected and actively encouraged. It’s all about numbers and control at that point, and you need every weapon at your disposal. If you ain’t looking, then you ain’t trying hard enough. Okay, let’s see what’s what at the other tribe.
Naviti, Or: How to Watch Tribe Pride Self-Destruct in 3 Easy Steps
Remember what I said a few sentences back? Okay, let’s see what’s what at the other tribe? No, before that. All that nonsense about Joe Piscopo? No, after that. By the way, that was my bad on the Piscopo stuff. I get a little carried away sometimes. Then again, you should consider yourself lucky. You have NO IDEA how close I was to doing a 10,000 word treatise on Piscopo’s ill-fated 1980s Miller Lite ad campaign that featured such characters as “Rappin Fats” Piscopo, “Python” Piscopo, and his wildly offensive kung-fu alter-ego “Bruce” Piscopo.
In any event, the sentence I am referring to is the one where I said, “It’s all about the numbers.” Wellllllllll, sometimes it’s not. Because when two people on a tribe are feuding and stay together on a tribe swap, it becomes a case of who can sell the other one out first — even if they are in the majority. Ladies and gentlemen, the store is officially open and Chris is selling. After barking out orders to Angela (her words, not mine), Chris informs Libby and James that Dom has the idol and they all need to unite to get him out. “You live in New York, you get it.” he says to James, although as someone who has lived and/or worked in NYC for 25 years I certainly don’t. (You know who else has lived and/or worked in the NYC area? PISCOPO! The man is an institution!) (Recap continues on next page)
But that damn New Yorker Domenick doesn’t want Chris beating him to the proverbial punch, so he and Morgan also begin working on the Malolos. Morgan goes and bonds with Libby, explaining that “Catholic girls have to stick together,” which, incidentally, also sounds like a title you’d find in a porno shop, a few rows over from “Treasure Boxes of Love.” It seems to work, though as Libby tells us how much she loves Morgan and wants to work with her. So what could possibly go wrong?
Immunity Challenge, or: Parkour for the Course
Time for our first post-swap immunity challenge, and it is a big build indeed as both tribes must race through a series of ramp walls, dig up a ladder from a sand pit, climb it to get a rope, and use the rope to get to the top of a tower where a puzzle needs to be solved. Teams are also playing for reward in the form of a tarp and the chance to send a loser to Ghost Island.
As for the ramp walls, I can only assume they were designed by professional parkourer (is that a word?) Frosti from Survivor: China. They don’t look that difficult, so when James — fresh off his debacle in the last challenge — goes and immediately falls off them, I get really worried. Poor James. He handled his last failure with such grace and class, I can’t bear to see him cost his tribe again, so I do the only thing I can think of: I root for everyone else to fall off as well. And it kinda works! Down goes Desiree. Down goes Angela. Down goes Libby. (Of course, athletic superpower Donathan has to show up James once again by making it through unscathed. Not cool, Donathan! Not cool at all.)
The challenge is very close the entire way, sending Jeff Probst into orgasm-overdrive mode as he watches the teams ascend the final wall. “This is how you do it on Survivor!” he yells to no one in particular. “Right there!” I love it when Probst gets jacked up watching everyone compete. And why shouldn’t he? This thing is dead even. But then we get to the puzzle. Naviti begins with a slight edge with Wendell and Laurel as solvers, but Malolo has their not-so-secret weapon: The Puzzle Destroyer Formerly Known As Kellyn.
Two things make Kellyn so effective on puzzles. First off, she is really smart. You have to start there. But she is also a great communicator. I was out there for the first puzzle, and it wasn’t just that she figured things out, but she was able to cut through the noise in an authoritative — yet not annoying — way. That is key and very hard to do. Yet she does it here again with Bradley, and not even Naviti’s blatant copying can save them. Malolo easily gets the win.
But what if Kellyn hadn’t been on the puzzle? That’s right, folks, it’s time for yet another Unsolicited Dalton Ross Show Suggestion™. Not content to merely Thursday Morning Quarterback every single minute of this show, I have also taken it upon myself to cause Survivor producers to roll their eyes with my annoying show suggestions from time to time — because clearly the creative team that has Wednesday’s most watched television program in its 36th season needs some help from a guy who watches the show from his couch surrounded by three cats and an equal amount of beers.
I have a history with suggestions and it’s not altogether terrible. I pushed producers for years to hide idols in challenges and they finally did that in Second Chance. I then sent them my daughter Violet’s suggestion to have a challenge with choices where the first tribe gets first choice, second tribe chooses from between the other two options, and then last tribe gets stick with whatever’s left, and they actually did that for the first immunity competition in Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers. So that’s the good.
But then I sent them two ideas last season to which I have yet to hear any reply whatsoever, and I am guessing no news does not mean good news in this instance. My first idea was to hide an individual immunity in the tribe immunity idol. So say you find a clue back at camp telling you that part of the tribe immunity idol can be removed — say something some Tiki dude is holding in his hands — and then used for individual immunity. Now, you have to win tribe immunity, get it back to camp, remove it when nobody is looking, then see if anyone even notices that it is gone. And what if someone from the other tribe has gotten the same clue and sees when the idol returns that the individual section is gone? That person then knows someone else has it, but has no idea who. Not bad, right? Or maybe it is. (Recap continues on next page)
My second idea was in relation to Lauren finding the first half of an idol at camp last season that told her she had to pick up a shell in front of her platform at the next immunity challenge to make it a complete idol. Picking up that shell was way too easy and offered next to nothing in dramatic dividends or stakes. Why not have some more fun with it, add some stakes, and force a player to make a difficult decision? My pitch was instead of just picking up a shell, next time a person finds the first half of an idol they are told they must be, say, the third person to drop out of the next immunity challenge to make it active.
Now you are forcing a decision: Is it worth dropping out of the challenge to get the idol? You could also decide that on the fly once you see what kind of challenge it is, who is still in the contest, and who has dropped out. It’s at least a little more interesting to see how someone might play that. Or again, maybe not.
Okay, that was some background for my recent pitches (my first one is admittedly probably better than the second), but here’s my latest. Instead of allowing tribes to pick their best puzzle solvers for a challenge, what if you allowed each tribe to pick the other team’s puzzle solvers for once. There are a lot of reasons why I think this could be intriguing. For one thing, it tells the contestants — and the viewers — right off the bat what the players think of each other and where certain people stand. And the truth can often hurt. And when the truth hurts, that makes for good TV. And, of course, it also offers another level of strategy we haven’t seen before.
But this scenario also offers something else entirely: a guaranteed redemption arc. Two of those four people chosen as not mentally strong enough to compete are going to prove their detractors wrong. Cue the swelling piano music and tears (and perhaps smack talk) as the winners jump into each other’s arms after solving the puzzle the opposition deemed them too dim to do. The questions from Probst after the challenge practically write themselves. Not saying I want to see this every time, because you still need that drama where someone asks to be on the puzzle and then screws it up, but it could act as a nice change of pace. Anyway, there’s my latest Unsolicited Dalton Ross Show Suggestion™. I’m curious what you all think about it. Hit me up on Twitter or the comments section and let me know how stupid it is!
Anyway, yeah, so Malolo won.
Unleash the Ghosts!
So in addition to the immunity idol and a tarp, Malolo gets to send someone from the losing Naviti over to Ghost Island, and this is where it gets really interesting. Because now it is not so simple as let’s-just-send-their-weakest-member-so-they-can’t-vote-them-out. Now it is a numbers game between former Navitis and former Malolos. Every Tribal Council vote may prove crucial, and the person sent to Ghost Island won’t be there to cast that vote. Once again, all the creative elements this season are really clicking so far.
So when the Navitis on Malolo — God, this is confusing — nominate Donathan, Stephanie wisely steps in to veto it. And that’s all you need is one veto, because the selection must be unanimous. It’s the smart move, and even the foiled Bradley says he would have done the exact same thing. (I’d be curious to know whether Donathan wanted to be sent to GI then — because it was guaranteed safety — or if he preferred to stay and risk being ousted to cast a potentially vital vote. Or maybe he had such a swirl of conflicting emotions on the matter he didn’t know what to think, which is actually the most probable scenario.)
So the new Naviti tribe must all pull rocks, and when they reveal, it is Chris who has picked the white one. According to Dom, that was a lucky break because Mr. Noble otherwise would have been heading to Ponderosa in a matter of hours instead. But is he lucky? Chris doesn’t seem too excited at first about it, informing us that “I’m spooked” about his visit. Unfortunately for him and us, Chris does not get an opportunity to play for an advantage.
Look at me! Am I actually asking for more advantages in the game? Me, the guy who has droned on and on about there being too many advantages in the past two seasons now wants more?!? Black is white! Up is down! Cats and dogs living together! But as I said, I’m all in on the theme of this season so want to see as much of it as possible. That said, it’s a good call by producers to hold back again so there are not too many things in play. We already have two idols and a legacy advantage in play so it is truly a Freaky Friday situation here in that here I am wanting more, while the producers are the ones showing some restraint.
But the solitude plays mind games with Chris nevertheless. All of a sudden, one of the most self-confident people I have ever interviewed is crying and struggling. He talks about his mother being diagnosed with MS at 27 and how 10 years ago she was told she had two months to live and yet is still fighting. “I’ve made it my duty to remain strong for her,” he says.
Before the game, those of us in the press who spoke with Chris were, frankly, not that impressed. He seemed like the kind of guy who was used to being the center of attention and might not be so aware of everyone and everything else happening around him. And we’ve seen some of that on the show — the way he immediately volunteered to be the leader yet then told Probst that “there are some things they saw in me they liked” even though he appeared to basically ask for the title, and the way even his biggest ally in Angela (whom I saw him huddling with on day 2) says she did not like the way he was barking orders at her. (Recap continues on next page)
But we’ve also seen something else. Chris was astute enough to pick up on the fact that something was off when Domenick lied with the fake idol, and we saw some candid emotion right here that a lot of tough alpha males would be afraid to show on national television — yet Chris went there. And I also like the way Chris framed his emotional moment in terms of the game, taking about how Ghost Island had given him a chance to get rid of all his negative energy to reboot and how it was crucial to recenter himself. I’m not yet convinced that Chris is a good player (and Probst also had his doubts before the game began), but he has shown me some things I wasn’t sure he had in him, and I respect the clear love and admiration he has for his mother and appreciate him for allowing himself to be vulnerable and laying his emotions bare for us to see.
The Double Cross
With Chris bawling his eyes out over on Ghost Island, that makes four original Naviti and four former Malolo back at the beach. Deadlocked. And while Chris was gung-ho to flip on Dom, his ally Angela is not. She tells Wendell all about Chris’ plan but how she is staying Naviti strong and is willing to go to rocks for anyone on the tribe. Instead of Wendell being relieved to hear that Angela has no plans to defect and would give up her life in the game to protect him, he has a completely different reaction — telling us that he has no plans to go to rocks for her!
He still sees Angela as Chris’ right-hand lieutenant and is willing to sacrifice numbers over the Malolos to fire the first shot in this escalating Naviti civil war — even though said lieutenant just told him she was ready to disobey a direct order. Much like a forgotten Foreigner jam of yesterday, that is cold as ice.
And then Morgan tells Wendell that Libby is with them. (She’s not.) And then Dom shows Malolo the fake idol to limit the damage of what Chris had already told them and to show how trustworthy he is. (Instead, James now worries they may have another Russell Hantz on their hands.) So just like that, the Malolo minority has all the power without having done a single thing. James had a super rough go of it last week with his aquatic freak-out, but props to him here for recognizing an opportunity and taking it.
Sure, they could have played along and joined with Naviti to take out Angela, but why risk being played by them? Why not hit them where it hurts, especially since there is still division they can exploit. If you are Malolo, you can get rid of Wendell or Morgan and still come back to Angela and Chris and say “See, we saved you! They wanted you out.” It’s a perfect set-up.
The only question is who will go, so we head to Tribal Council to find out. The whole thing is kinda confusing as everyone talks about how the tribe is deadlocked 4-4 when they and we know that is not the case. Then Angela starts talking about the “immense amount of pressure” she’s gotten, which freaks Dom out: “I am stunned by what you’re saying right now. When were you pressured?” But it’s not him she’s talking about as pressuring — it’s Chris, the guy she is breaking with to support the people who are about to break with her.
The votes comes come in and Angela is confused when she sees her name pop up three times, but then it is time for the other Navitis to be flabbergasted as they see Morgan’s name repeatedly, sending her out of the game. “Don’t trust the cute blonde,” she says on the way out, but that appears to be giving Libby way too much credit. From the edit, it seemed that James was the one who spearheaded turning on the Naviti three, while Laurel was the one who argued to dump Morgan so they could keep Wendell for the challenges. Libby even told us she wanted Morgan to stay, so this was more her going along begrudgingly with the others’ plan rather then skillfully playing puppet-master.
So Morgan is gone, which means she has to will her Legacy Advantage to someone else, and she chooses Dom. “Hopefully this isn’t a curse,” she says. “If it is, I’m really sorry.” Reverse the curse! Love the way Morgan is hammering home the season’s theme. Way to be a team player, Morgan! So, 3 Survivors down, 17 left. I’m so happy that so far this cast has delivered all the promise I saw in them in the pre-game. All the creative decisions so far have panned out perfectly. And once again, it’s season 36! This show has no business being this good still. It’s absurd, really. Almost as absurd as me once again spending 5,000 words talking about it.
But just in case you wanted to read some more, we have our weekly Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst. And we have our exit interview with Morgan as well. Don’t forget to take a gander at an exclusive deleted scene from the episode above. And for more Survivor scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode? Are you Team Chris, Team Dom, or Team Neither? And who has played the best so far after two episodes? Hit the message boards to weigh in and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the Piscopo…I mean, crispy!