Julie conceals food from the rest of the tribe, and then asks to leave the game after they find out.
Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS
SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols
S29 E7
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“I’ve been to about 100 Tribal Councils. Never, ever seen anybody lay down their torch, so this is a first for me.”

That was Jeff Probst in the Pearl Islands season. Season 7, it was, and it was the first time we saw someone quit the game of Survivor. Probst was clearly disgusted, telling quitter Osten Taylor, “Osten, per your wishes, go home” while snuffing his torch and then laying it down on the ground instead of up with the ones of the other voted out contestants. “All due respect to Osten,” said the host, “people work too damn hard to get in this game and fight to stay alive. If he wants to lay his torch down, so it shall be.”

The stigma of quitting the game was so huge back then that the guy was basically treated like an outcast by the Survivor community (coincidentally, it happened in the season with the much-derided Outcasts twist). But something happened after that: more and more people started quitting the game. It’s almost as if nobody had even considered it before, but once Osten did it, others were like, oh, right, that’s an option. I’m cold, hungry, and tired. I can just quit! And they did. The floodgates had been opened. Some quit outright, some did it sneakily through phantom injuries (as Probst accused Colton of doing his first time out), and some simply asked their tribemates to vote them out (as former Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson did, although that was never shown). Now quitting is something you can seemingly count on every single season. And the more people who do it, the less others hesitate to do it themselves.

Another byproduct of all that quitting is that it is becomingly increasingly difficult to muster outrage when it keeps happening. Probst even praised Lindsey last season for making what he described as a mature decision by pulling herself out of the game before she got physical with Trish (although I think the heart of Lindsey’s quit was the fact that her main alliance partner just got blindsided and she couldn’t hack it without him, using her beef with Trish as an excuse to pull the plug).

All of which brings us to Julie. As I have written, before the game started other members of the press and I out on location were dubious as to whether Julie could hack it out in the wild. She seemed perfectly nice, but just did not come across as a woman who could make it without the creature comforts. Other contestants were similarly dismissive of her. But once the game started, Julie appeared to be doing okay. I even gave her some props and wrote that maybe I was wrong about her. But I wasn’t wrong. Once the going got tough (boyfriend voted out, a rainy night with no tarp, getting busted for stealing food) Julie got going. She summoned Probst to the beach, told him how she’s always been prejudged because of her looks, and then confirmed every single one of those judgments by opting out of the game.

Amazingly, she also did this just hours before Tribal Council, which only confirms that although she told Jeff she was partly doing it because she was on the verge of being voted out anyway, that was a huge lie. If that were the case, she would have hung on and been voted out to save a bit of face. By all appearances, the two targets were Josh and Jeremy—not Julie.

Did Jeff let her off too easy? Hard to say. He pointed out how kids go away from their parents for summer camp to minimize her claim about missing John. He called her decision “quite possibly a million dollar quit for someone else” so that she understood the selfish nature of her move by letting down alliance members counting on her. But there was also no outright disdain of the magnitude served up for folks like Osten or Colton. Of course, all circumstances are different. Osten talked a big game and then that huge, hulking mass of a man couldn’t back it up. Colton was—according to Probst—quitting for the second time in two appearances. I definitely thought Jeff was too easy on Lindsey last season. This time, I found his response compassionate but also unwavering in that you could tell he did not agree with the move. I’ll let you guys argue it out on the message boards whether his response was too strong or not strong enough. I didn’t have a problem with it, but I do worry that future contestants watch that and say, “Hey, that doesn’t seem so embarrassing.” And thus a new generation of quitters is born.

Before we move on, a quick note that you should definitely make sure to check out my weekly Q&A with Probst, where he not only presents a super-interesting theory as to why Julie insisted on quitting right then and there, but also takes some of the blame for what happened and reveals who would have been voted out had she stayed. One of the best Probst Q&As you’re ever going to read. Okay, let’s get to the other big moments of the episode. I’m actually out of town for work again so easily could have handed these here recap duties off to someone else, but guess what? I’M NO QUITTER! Anyhoo, here’s what else went down in episode 7 of Survivor: San Juan del Sur.

NEXT: New battle lines are drawn at the merge

The episode starts with Keith being upset that nobody told him they were splitting the votes at the last Tribal Council and writing his name down. “That wasn’t in the plan,” says Keith. “Did I miss the memo?” Yes, you did miss the memo, Keith. You know why? BECAUSE YOU WERE NAPPING! NAPPING! BEFORE TRIBAL COUNCIL! “No more lying,” Keith then instructs everyone, which once again proves Keith has no idea what game he is playing.

So after Jon quotes from the book of Kat Edorsson and tells Jaclyn they can keep dating since they made the merge, we head to the big merge feast. Lots of talk about how incredible the food is follows, and there sure is a damn lot of it. So much, in fact, that they pour all the extra grub into their bags. (Guess who has the trail mix?!?) They all then go back to live at the Coyopa beach. In an attempt to come up with the least creative tribe name ever, they simply join the previous two names to come up with Huyopa for their new moniker. On one hand, it’s super lame. On the other, at least nobody tried to name it after their daughter’s stuffed animal or some random sailor somebody’s sister slept with once during Fleet Week.

“This is where the game starts,” says Jeremy of the merge, and while that is a bit of an overstatement because the relationships you make on day 1 impact what happens at this stage of the game, he is right that the merge is perhaps the most exciting strategic moment of every season as we wait to see how voting lines will be drawn. Jeremy thinks he has the numbers with fellow singles Julie and Natalie as well as couples Jon & Jaclyn and Missy & Baylor.

Josh has other ideas, however. First, he tries to shore things up with Baylor in one of the most painfully awkward strategic conversations we’ve witnessed in a long time:

JOSH: “Are we still good?”

BAYLOR: “As far as I know.”

JOSH: “What do you mean?”

BAYLOR: “Uh, yeah! I love your hair.”

Great poker face, Baylor! That was totally believable! But Baylor doesn’t feel good about (poorly) deceiving her good friend. Because she has no idea what she is doing, Baylor tells her mom that she needs to talk to Josh and tell him the deal so that he will respect her when she votes him out. To her credit, Missy explains that he will respect her play when she blindsides him. “It’s a game,” she tells her daughter. “Suck it up, smile, be like, ‘Oh yeah that sounds great, I’ll talk to my mom.'” (Let’s just hope her mom is not too busy cooking all the rice.)

But Josh will not sit idly by just because he is down on votes. He goes to work on Jon, hoping to sway him and Jaclyn to join him, Reed, Wes, Keith, and Alec. But Jon is wary. After all, “They make stuff up. They’re Broadway stars.” First off, very liberal application of the word “stars.” Secondly, there’s not a bunch of subtlety when it comes to Broadway musicals, so Jon should be able to figure out fact from fiction in this case.

However, can Jon solve the case of the missing trail mix? I can! Because I see Julie eating it during her confessional interview. Not only did she take all the trail mix, but rumor has it she stole Kel’s beef jerky, too! Unfortunately for her, Jon just found the secret stash in her bag and now everyone else is feasting on it. “She’s selfish and she’s awful and I can’t trust someone in my alliance that’s stealing food,” announces Jon. Hey, man—I don’t blame you. That’s the kind of deception I guess you expect from Broadway stars, am I right?

Speaking of deception, you know how they say you can tell if someone is lying if they avoid making eye contact with you? Well, there goes Jeff Probst looking at his feet again as he tells the players to “Come on in, guys!” (Does this mean he secretly does not want them to come in?) The immunity challenge is pretty simple, as contestants need to balance a ball on a disc attached to ropes. At intervals they need to move their hands farther back on rope, and at 25 minutes, they need to add a second ball. Ball drops and you’re out.

While balance contests often end up favoring the women, it ends up being four men at the end—Jon, Keith, Wes, and Josh—which I guess is appropriate because 25 minutes in, we get to hear Jeff Probst say this: “Everybody now has two balls on their disc.” Just let that sink in for a bit. (By the way, he’s not wrong.) In the end, Keith wins, and you know what that means: NAP TIME! (Or maybe he will not be able to nap because he will simply be too irate over the fact that his immunity is about to mean absolutely nothing since there will not even be a Tribal Council due to Julie’s exit. At least that would make me irate.)

NEXT: Never a good sign when Jeff Probst comes to camp

So back at the beach, after getting a hard push from all the other dudes in the tribe, Jon says he has done a 180 and now wants to side with Josh and Co. I’ve been critical of this season not having enough gamers outside of Jeremy and Josh, and I still believe that to be true, but watching Jeremy and Josh go into battle here—while showing genuine respect for each other’s game—is a treat. They both know the stakes and both know they’re either in control or out of this game by the next vote. The next vote means everything. Only… there is no next vote.

That’s because Julie is finally at the end of the line. “My head’s kind of telling me to get out,” she says. Is this the same head that told you to hoard food away from the rest of the tribe? Because, if so, you may want to stop taking advice for that particular head. But this is a quit that was pretty much telegraphed from the minute Hunahpu traded their tarp in for more food. Bottom line: She couldn’t hack it. I will say one thing mildly in her defense. Survivor is insanely difficult. So much harder than it looks on TV. I did Exile Island for only 24 hours with hardly any rain and no food, and that was hard. So let’s just acknowledge the difficulty of this particular endeavor. But, that said, it is up to casting and producers to find people who can handle it and weed out the ones who won’t. We know John Rocker was recruited. He has said so. They wanted John Rocker on the show, so they took his girlfriend as well. That was a mistake. “This has been mentally exhausting,” Julie says at the end of the episode, “and I think I’m going to have to live with a lot of backlash.” That’s true, but not as much as Osten Taylor.

So with Julie’s quit, Probst makes the other contestants sit on a log campfire style as if they’re about to cook s’mores and sing “Puff the Magic Dragon.” He informs them there will be no Tribal Council, and the question becomes: Who did Julie just save that would have been voted out instead? I’ll agree with Josh’s assessment that it was probably 80 percent Jeremy with a 20 percent chance of Josh. The silver lining to this whole mess is we still have the two best players playing the game for at least one more episode. Who do you think would have gone and stayed? You can make your pick in the message boards as well as share your thoughts on the Julie quit and how it was handled by both her and the show. Perhaps you also have a theory as to why there are so many freakin’ people on this season with names that begin with the letter J (Josh, Jeremy, Jaclyn, Julie, Jon, John… hell, are we sure Junie B. Jones, Janice Joplin, and Jamiroquai are not also in this game?).

But we’ve got other goodies for you as well. Make sure to take in the must-read Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst, and check out an exclusive deleted scene from the episode as well as our pre-game chat with Julie & John in the video player below. That’ll do it from here, but I will be back next week with another scoop of the crispy!

Episode Recaps

SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

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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