A comeback at the immunity challenge falls flat

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Trust Your Gut
Credit: Robert Voets/CBS
S36 E4

Traditionally, teenagers — not unlike Rodney Dangerfield — have not gotten a lot of respect. And there’s a reason for that. Teenagers are convinced they know everything when they, in fact, know nothing. I was a certified idiot when I was a teenager. I was utterly insufferable back then, making me only slightly more sufferable now as an adult. And if teenagers back in my day were not being insufferable, they were busy putting out weird music videos about how cool it was being a teenager.

As Exhibit A to this last point, I will direct your attention to the “Teen Steam” video that Alyssa Milano starred in. In the following video showcasing the theme song from Milano’s surreal home video cassette, you will see the Who’s the Boss? actress meld magic, celebrity impressions, some sort of programmed Casio keyboard beat, a confusing exercise routine, and a super hip way to hold studio headphones into a intoxicating blend of VHS nonsense.

I swear I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that — due to an incessant advertising campaign — Alyssa Milano’s Teen Steam was a touchstone of teen culture at one point. So teenagers were not exactly thought of super highly back then, is what I’m getting at. But that’s changed lately. Teenagers in Florida and around the country have shown remarkable maturity and resiliency in the wake of horrific acts, even as the adults around them bicker and squabble. We’re constantly watching incredible young actors or hearing incredible young singers whose poise seems to defy their age. And now you have one of the youngest players in Survivor history pulling off a sage strategic maneuver. It didn’t work (for multiple reasons), but it was still smart and I will hereby give 18-year-old Michael major props for it. (Do kids still say “props,” by the way?)

Michael not only looks older than his years, he acts like it as well. He told everyone in the game he was 23 when they landed on the beach. Usually when a player informs me pre-game they are going to lie about their profession or something, I just kind of roll my eyes. A lot of personal bio fibs are just completely unnecessary and serve no real purpose other than allowing the player doing the lying to feel like he or she is being a “gamer.” But when Michael explained to me out in Fiji how he thought others would not respect his voice or take him seriously as a player if they knew he was 18, it made sense. Remember how Will in Millennials vs. Gen X kept saying how he felt nobody respected him at all out there because of his age? Michael didn’t want that to happen to him. So he lied. And it was a lie that made sense.

But his savviness clearly did not end there. Last week we saw Michael find a hidden immunity idol. And not just any hidden immunity idol, but one of Gravedigger James’ unused idols from Survivor: China. I say “one of” and “idols” because James went home with two idols in his pocket that season. Well, not literally in his pocket. Those idols are massive. They would never fit. Implying they would shows no mastery of spatial relations whatsoever. But that’s not the point. I’m getting off topic again, and if I don’t watch out I’m going to start embedding more Alyssa Milano music videos. You know what? TOO LATE!

Well, can’t say I didn’t warn you. But the point is, while James had two idols, Michael had only one of them that only granted him only one immunity. Ah, but his opponents didn’t know that. So then Michael did something very, very sneaky. Knowing the history of the idols, when Michael got to Tribal Council, he made a big show of taking his out. And then, knowing that enough people from the opposition also knew the sad story of James and his two idols, he told them that since James had two of them, that this one reflected that piece of Survivor history by having double the power in granting immunity to two different people.

That’s a damn good lie. Because it totally makes sense. Survivor loves to mix up the power an idol holds, and this season is all about honoring these blunders from the past, so having this idol from China now carry double immunity because of the two of them that never got used totally tracks. I would have bought it…until I asked to see that note that came with it, that is. None of Naviti appeared to ask to see the note that came with the idol, which is lucky for Michael since he did err in even pointing out the note, because that invited others to see it. Had Michael played this perfectly, he wouldn’t have even brought the note up or brought it out, and then if someone asked about it, he could have said he buried it so nobody would find it.

While we’re on the subject of idol notes, I’d like to have a bit of a sidebar discussion, if I may. That’s because I have yet another Unsolicited Dalton Ross Show Suggestion™. And here it is: Survivor should get rid of the notes that come with the idols. Well, not get rid of them completely because players do need instructions on what their idol or advantage does and how and when to play it. But they should then be instructed to get rid of the note after reading it. Burn it, bury it, put it out to sea, or — easiest of all — just hand it to a producer or cameraman at the beach. Whatever. That sucker should self-destruct in five seconds, Mission: Impossible style. And the players in season 37 should all be told before the season begins that notes will no longer be allowed to be kept after being read.

Why is this important? Because that would create much more mass confusion and consternation when it comes to whether idols are real or fake and what powers a certain idol or advantage actually has. Right now, players are just too smart. Well, maybe not those Navitis last night, but plenty of others are, and all they have to do to confirm that an idol is real or what an idol’s actual power is is to just ask to see the note. (Sure, if you already have a note from a real idol like Dom, you can still use it for other deception, but that is the rare exception.)

But if you got rid of all the notes, now skeptical players could not demand to see the official paperwork and that would lead to more successful bluffing. And, from a viewer’s perspective, successful bluffing is the stuff of dreams. Just go back two weeks to see a perfect example. Brandon was immediately tipped off that Jacob’s idol was fake when Jacob failed to produce the note that came with it. What if there were no notes? Could that have changed the calculation on Malolo’s decision? Would Jacob still be in the game promoting the “best tribe of all time” and looking for his shoes that — like his game — got carried off by the surf? We’ll never know, but if you want to keep contestants even more on their toes, this might be a way to do it. (Recap continues on next page)

Thereby concludes this week’s Unsolicited Dalton Ross Show Suggestion™. Now back to Michael. He got lucky nobody asked to see the note. And his Spidey Sense was off in thinking that the Navitis were targeting Stephanie instead of one of the men. So it’s not like we all need to bow down and worship at the altar of the next great Survivor strategist. But it was still a really nice play from a really young kid. And it was also a nice, eloquent argument on his part to Chelsea and Sea Bass as to how they were on the bottom of their alliance and should therefore flip the script. It didn’t work, but I have to think it got Chelsea thinking something along the lines of “I need to make a move and make it soon.” And I have to think it got Sea Bass thinking something along the lines of “Man, pizza is soooooooo good,” because I think that’s pretty much all Sea Bass is really thinking about out there.

Anyhoo, it’s always a bonus whenever a professional model shows up and actually has a little game in them, so kudos to you, Michael. You may have lost your closest ally in Brendan by handing the idol to the wrong person, but you proved you’re more than just a pretty, gullible face. Let’s see if you can regroup. And regrouping is exactly what I need to do as we continue to recap what else went down this week on Survivor. Let’s just hit all the big points and I’ll do my best to keep the Joe Piscopo shout-outs and Alyssa Milano videos to a minimum. But I would be remiss if I did not take time out to encourage you to vote in our fan poll ranking every single season of Survivor, from first to worst. Make your voice heard by voting right here and we’ll tabulate and reveal the results soon. Okay, more recap comin’ at you in 3…2…1…

Wrestlemania
It started in Survivor: Thailand. Remember when Robb with two Bs strangled little Clay in something called “the Attack Zone” during a challenge?. I’m pretty sure that was the first time contestants were actively encouraged to beat the crap out of each other during a challenge — a decision I actively support, I might add (especially from the safety of my couch, where the only thing I am wrestling with is a can of Milwaukee’s Best).

Over the years since, players have annihilated each other in various venues on the show, be it either in the sand, the sumo ring, or the ill-fated (and now banned) Schmergen Brawl. But the physical melee that seems to have truly stood the test of time is the kill-each-other-in-the-water-while-ostensibly-attempting-to-drag-a-ring-to-a-pole challenge. It is the one that has both ripped people of their dignity and ripped Michaela’s top from her body. And here it is again.

The fact that these players are all ready to MURDER each other over a PB&J and “ice cold milk” shows you how lacking in true sustenance they really are. There’s always a risk vs. reward calculus that needs to be solved on reward challenges. For instance, for those three people who collapsed in the Kaoh Rong reward contest, was it worth it getting dehydrated, having all your stamina and energy drained, and, in the case of Caleb, almost dying, just to win some freakin’ spices? Probably not. You want energy in the form of food, but you can’t deplete everything to get it — especially if you then don’t even win. You all know how much I hate throwing challenges, but I do think this is something everyone out there should consider in some of these more physical reward challenges. At least I would.

These players all seemed to be going full steam, especially Chris and Laurel, who powered their team to the win. Even Desiree’s choke job on Laurel couldn’t stop the former Division 1 athlete. (How often does Probst have to tell people to stop choking or take it down a notch? I asked him in this week’s Q&A.)

Anyway, Naviti won. Congratulations to them.

To Play or Not to Play?
Everyone knows you dare not tempt the Survivor gods! They are the ones who make the heavens open just seconds before a challenge. They are the ones who make sure anyone who utters the words “Tonight’s Tribal Council should be a breeze! In fact, dare I say I’m excited to go!” is immediately voted out. They are the ones who caused two bolts of lightning to strike Jeff Probst in the face, thereby giving him the most famous dimples in reality television. (That is so Probst for him to be the only person to be positively affected by the Survivor gods. DAMN HIM AND HIS HANDSOMENESS!)

In any event, ignore Probst for a minute. The point is, you don’t tempt or spite the Survivor gods! And yet that is exactly what Kellyn did. After Naviti decided to let the Malolos pull for rocks to determine who went to Ghost Island, Kellyn made a comment to Probst that being sent there would be “my biggest Survivor fear.” So naturally that is exactly what happened as she pulled the white rock. (Recap continues on next page)

Kellyn arrived at Ghost Island, smashed her urn, and, not unlike Wayne and Garth playing hockey in the middle of the street, discovered that it was “GAME ON!” Like Jacob, she was offered a chance to risk her vote at the next Tribal Council to try to win an advantage. But there was one key difference: At the next Malolo Tribal Council, every vote was likely to count. In essence, there was no margin for error. That one vote could tip the balance over to the other side.

As a viewer, this presented quite the dilemma. On one hand, the sound strategic decision would clearly be to NOT risk losing the vote. I like it when people do the smart thing, especially folks I’m rooting for like ugly-baby-hating Kellyn. But then there’s that other part of you — that part that wants to live vicariously through others and their bad decisions. As someone who would just as soon never leave my house, I am all about living vicariously through others. I’m actually even worse than that. I’ll stir the pot, cajole, push, and prod others into doing things blatantly against their best interest. As long as I get some sort of second-hand entertainment out if it, I have no problem being a bad influence.

So as much as I did not want Kellyn to sabotage her own game by unwisely going for the glory, there was another side of me — that same side that once bet money on what color Gatorade the winning team would pour over their coach at the Super Bowl — that sorta wanted her to go for it just so we could see what happened. Choosing NOT to play was definitely the boring thing to do, but it was also the right thing. And, overall, I was happy to see her make that choice.

After that, Kellyn started crying and telling us about everything she had to overcome in her life, because apparently Ghost Island is the place to do that sort of thing. Sincerely looking forward to the time when Michael ends up there and shares his sob story about the time he wanted to wear tighty-whities for a photo shoot but was forced to wear boxers instead. Harrowing.

A Noble Gesture
My favorite moment of the entire episode occurred when Angela was telling Chris Noble after he returned from Ghost Island how everyone from original Naviti had tried to vote her out. So what was Chris’ reaction?

“Oh my God, that is so awful. I’m so sorry. Are you okay?”
[Nope.]
“Don’t worry about them, Angela. The rest of us have your back.”
[Nope.]
“That sucks. What do you want to do about it? What are you thinking?”
[Nope.]

No, Chris said none of those things. Here is what he said instead. “Well, obviously they’re trying to take me out if they’re trying to take you out.”

God, I love that. Instead of showing concern or focusing on Angela for EVEN A SECOND he went straight to how it affected him. Now, don’t get me wrong. That should be Chris’ primary concern. But that doesn’t mean you say it out loud! Empathy, my man! At least fake it! This gets into some of that lack of self-awareness I talked about with Chris that I could sense before the game. In fact, that has to be the most Chris comment Chris has made all season, just narrowly edging out when he told the Malolos “I like you, I like you, I like you, I like you, I like myself.” Of course you do!

I basically have realized I just want an iso cam on Chris 24-7 out there. Wherever he goes, I will follow. Whatever he says, I will listen. Whomever he ignores while talking about himself, I will ignore along with him. They should just release an entire other season — season 36 1/2 — of unused Chris footage and title it Survivor: Noble Island. I will recap that son of a bitch like no show in the history of television has been recapped before…at least not since my recapping of Temptation Island 2, which is something that happened.

A New Fearsome Foursome?
Things looked pretty dire for Domenick and Wendell after they were blindsided when Morgan was sent home. But anything is possible when you’re on a tribe with Chris Noble! Sometimes all you have to do is sit back and let him work his magic. Sure enough, Laurel and Donathan were less than pleased about working with Chris and talked about maybe partnering up with Wendell (whom they like more) and Domenick instead.

I love all four of these folks, so watching them team up would be a positive delight. That said, what the hell are Laurel and Donathan thinking? Isn’t Chris exactly the type of guy you want to be with in this situation? If the Malalos stick with Chris and Angela here, they maintain a 4-2 advantage, so Chris has no real power in the game. Plus, you keep a guy in Chris who you can outmaneuver and beat a lot easier than the craftier Dom and likeable Wendell. It shouldn’t be about whom you like, but rather whom you can beat.

Then again, Dom can’t keep his mouth shut. After telling everyone all about a fake idol that did nothing but cast more suspicion on himself, now Dom can’t stop blabbing about his real idol. He tells Wendell, and then he tells Laurel as well, which is just plain CRAZY because he just gave valuable intel to the opposition without any assurances in return. Is it simply a matter of time before he starts telling everyone he now has the Legacy Advantage as well? Maybe jot down his social security number and debit card password in the sand while he’s at it?

Still, I just don’t get Laurel and Donathan’s move here. Domenick and Wendell were both really close to being my pick to win before the game started. They’re dangerous. On the flip side, Chris and Angela were my pick to be the first two out. (And Probst seemed to be in agreement.) Which is exactly why those should be the two you align with at this point. They have far less of a grasp on this game and can also be beat in the end should you choose to bring them there.

So I don’t get it, but I like it if it means these four become a new power alliance. (Recap continues on next page)

Don’t Call It a Comeback (Why Not? It Is One.)
The immunity challenge was a remarkable comeback that nobody saw coming!!!! Unless, of course, you paid attention to the episode and realized we had spent zero seconds on the Malolo beach heading into the challenge. And that told you everything you needed to know. Malolo was going to lose. Because if they had won, cameras would have visited their camp beforehand so we didn’t go the entire week without seeing it. So it was clear what was going to happen.

What a bummer. Maybe you didn’t notice it. And maybe that’s because you have not watched almost 500 episodes of this show and therefore don’t know its rhythms and beats like a familiar bag of Chili Cheese Fritos. But I do. So I was bummed. I knew as soon as it started that Malolo was going to lose. And that sucks because not only was it an incredible comeback that would have otherwise left me breathless, but it also was a super cool challenge — incorporating elements from the Game Changers snake-in-the-water competition with the Millennials vs. Gen X contest that required tossing balls up and getting them to balance on top of a platform. This could have been an instant classic! Only the ending was kind of ruined before it even started.

I’m not trying to bash the editors at all. I get the issue: There was a hell of a lot to cram in here with two challenges, Chris returning from Ghost Island, and Kellyn going to Ghost Island. Those all needed coverage. But the result of that glaring omission was spoiling a challenge, and thereby greatly lessening the impact for those who noticed — which, granted, may have only been me.

And sure enough, Chris and Wendell led the comeback charge, overtaking Brendan and Sea Bass at the end, which created a mob scene as Naviti celebrated their back-from-the-dead victory after trailing the entire time. A Noble outing, indeed!

Hope = Nope
I guess it was supposed to be a really tender moment showing a despondent Stephanie writing “Hope” in the sand as a demonstration of searching for a silver lining even when all the odds are stacked against you. Personally, I just thought she was practicing in case Ghost Island also happened to resurrect the infamous S.O.S. challenge of yesteryear.

That hope was immediately extinguished, however, as we saw the former Navitis staying strong, complete with personal disses — Bradley on Brendan: “Brendan is not dangerous. He’s docile. He’s a little annoying. He does like to play that leader role. He’s like a dad that gives terrible pep talks, which is fine. He can lead people because the leader never wins” — and Sea Bass informing us that, “For now I’m just gonna go with the flow. Because the Malolo can go no further low low than the Malolo low.”

I don’t even know what that means. Is this a limbo competition all of a sudden? Is he misquoting the Beastie Boys “Slow and Low”? I just don’t understand what is happening! Do I need to consume a bunch banana-flavored Laffy Taffy to decipher what Sea Bass is talking about? And is banana-flavored Laffy Taffy a code word for marijuana? Because looking at Sea Bass, I’m kinda thinking that he may have bought a dime bag of banana-flavored Laffy Taffy at some point in his life, if you know what I’m sayin’. Just a guess.

Goodbye, Brendan
So the most embarrassing streak in modern day reality television show coverage continues. With Brendan’s ouster, that makes 21 straight seasons I have inaccurately predicted the winner of a Survivor season. I’m not proud of this fact, but it just is what it is at this point. Sometimes I don’t feel so bad about picking a player because I am making my prediction after watching the first episode of a season that was filmed months ago, so any kind of jinx I am affixing to that person with my selection is a retroactive jinx and I’m not sure how those can possibly exist in a linear timeframe.

But when I go on location and make my prediction before the game even begins, well…that’s on me. So my apologies for jinxing you, Brendan. You were the leader of your tribe, as we saw at the marooning challenge and in Gonzalez’s parting shot at you. But, as Bradley also pointed out, being a leader makes you a target, and that ultimately helped take you out of the game. Sorry, dude. And to Domenick, Wendell, Kellyn, and Stephanie, who also got heavy consideration as my pre-season pick to win it all… YOU’RE WELCOME!

Okay, we’ll get the hell out of here soon enough. But first, a reminder that we have lots of video treats sprinkled throughout that don’t involve Alyssa Milano, including an exclusive deleted scene from the episode above. You also would be doing yourself a huge disservice by not reading my weekly Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeffrey Probst. My exit interview with Brendan is also now live, complete with some surprise intel on who almost went home first in the game, and don’t forget to rank all the Survivor seasons from first to worst right here. And for more Survivor scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

But now it’s your turn. Happy or sad that Kellyn did not risk it all at Ghost Island? Could you tell from the edit that Malolo would lose the immunity challenge? And whom would you side with if you were Laurel and Donathan? Hit the message boards to weigh in and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy!

Episode Recaps

SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols
Survivor

Strangers starve themselves on an island for our amusement in the hopes of winning a million dollars, as host Jeff Probst implores them to "DIG DEEP!"

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