There's always plenty to be thankful for in any Survivor episode
Fear of the Unknown
Credit: CBS
SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols
S35 E9
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Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope you are all getting ready to stuff your faces full of stuffing. Because with apologies to Brussels sprouts, potatoes (sweet or mashed), cranberry sauce (traditional or canned), and even the damn turkey — it’s allllllllll about the stuffing. And to be clear, when I say it is all about the stuffing, I mean the food, not stuffing idols down your pants, like Ryan.

So please be thankful for stuffing. And be thankful for family — even those family members that drive you bonkers and may have forced you into reading this recap as a temporary respite from all the dysfunctional drama. And, as always, be thankful for Survivor. The Survivor gods have smiled upon us — providing 35 seasons of incredible televised drama. (Well, 34 seasons, plus Survivor: Nicaragua.) How lucky are we to have a show that can continue to delight and deliver after so many years? Pretty damn lucky.

I’m always thankful for Survivor, so in my annual Turkey Day recap tradition, let’s recount everything I am thankful for when it comes to this most recent episode.

I Am Thankful for Large Ladders in the Ocean
For the most part, the reward challenge involved elements we have seen a million times before. Dive down to get a key, use the keys to unlock a chest, then throw balls into baskets. But there was one new wrinkle, and a pretty bitchin’ one at that, as players had to climb up a big ladder and then leap off into the water below. There was nothing particularly difficult or dangerous about it, but damn if it didn’t look fun. I was immediately jealous.

That’s the thing. I probably love challenges that torture and humiliate contestants more than anyone, but there also is just a simple element of fun and adventure that can translate from screen to couch, and that’s what this stupid ladder did. And how badass was JP jumping straight down and not resurfacing before getting the key at the bottom of the red team’s buoy? Rumor has it he also dropped his bathing suit and hopped around on the ocean floor while he was down there to prove to the scuba cameraman that he did not have a hidden immunity idol.

That helped lead the red team to their reward, which was a feast on a shockingly Cochran-free luxury yacht. Of course, Joe was more interested in finding an idol clue, which included carving up the cake in front of everyone and tossing around pillows willy-nilly without a trace of stealth or subtlety whatsoever. While he was doing this, I can only assume that Cole was off licking every single square inch of the boat.

As for the losers, Probst told them to “swim on back to camp,” which, frankly, seems like a hell of a swim. (At least it would be if a boat did not motor on into frame after filming was complete to pick them up and then take them back.)

Watch Fan Forum: Survivor on People TV here, or download the free app on your Smart TV, mobile and web devices.

I Am Thankful for Shared Secrets That Backfire
Memo to all future Survivor players: People talk. You should always assume that anything you tell anyone will be shared. Ryan may end up learning this lesson the hard way. It began when he told Devon, “I have an idol in my pants.” This didn’t bug me so much, as he has been rock solid with Devon since day 1 and Devon never blabbed about the advantage Ryan told him about, so he could be trusted.

But then, a day later, Ryan couldn’t help himself, also blabbing to Ben that “the idol’s in my pants.” This begs a few questions. First off, why won’t Ryan take the idol out of his pants? Has he been eating, sleeping, swimming and competing with an idol in his pants this whole time? It seems a bit excessive, no? Like, put it in your bag or go bury it already. You don’t need to keep it in your pants — unless you’re trying to impress the ladies, I suppose.

Also, why tell Ben? What does that get you? I don’t see the tactical advantage of doing this, and the tactical disadvantage was made painfully clear when Ben — after promising Ryan, “I’m not going to say anything to anyone about this” — went and told Devon. What was interesting was how fast Devon then turned on Ryan even though Ryan never bad-mouthed Devon, made any other alliance, or even really snuck behind his back.

If I were Devon, I would have at least first gone and asked Ryan if he had told anyone else about the idol and see what he said. Well, that’s not entirely true. If I were Devon, first of all I would just spend a lot of time being psyched that I now looked like Devon and would probably try to go find a mirror of some sort to go check myself out. Then I would ask Ryan if he had told anyone else about the idol. And I would gauge his reaction. If he said, “No, just you,” then I would know he could not be trusted. But if he said, “Oh, man. I’m so dumb. I just blurted it out to Ben without thinking,” or, “You know, I was talking to Ben and thought it might help solidify his position with us so I told him,” then I wouldn’t have a huge problem with it.

Devon may have jumped the gun on jumping ship, but the possible fissure between the two Hustlers could make for a more interesting final run here. (Recap continues on page 2)

I Am Thankful for Pain and Suffering I Can Watch but Not Feel
Remember a while back when I talked about how much I liked watching people suffer for my enjoyment? I meant it. And so when Jeff Probst promised “another brand new Survivor torture device,” I could not have been happier. I concede that this vaguely makes me sound like the Six-Fingered Man in The Princess Bride, but unless your name is Inigo Montoya and you are here to kill me, I can deal with that. The fact that this particular immunity challenge also forced everyone to pose in super awkward positions was a bonus.

Players had a bar resting on their shoulders, forcing them into an uncomfortable squatting position. If they went too low, their flag would pop. If they went too high, their urn would drop. So, essentially, they had to stand like Goldilocks and hope it was juuuuuuuust right. It eventually came down to Lauren versus Cole, with Lauren winning and then showing about as much emotion as one would expect from Lauren, which is absolutely none. But props to challenge producer John Kirhoffer for finding a brand new way to make people miserable on national television. Their pain was our gain.

Watch Fan Forum: Survivor on People TV here, or download the free app on your Smart TV, mobile and web devices.

I Am Thankful for Alliance Infighting
Here’s a question: What do you do if you are absolutely, positively sure of what the right move is, but your alliance wants something else? What do you do? Insist on the right move, even if it paints you as a dictator and could cost you alliance loyalty later on, or go with the flow, even if that means that by acquiescing you may be putting your own game in jeopardy by leaving the bigger threat to play another day? Three more days, in fact.

Now, I’m not saying Ben was making the right move by targeting Cole. And I’m also not saying that his entire alliance wanted Joe out. But there was a version of this dilemma that he had to confront after announcing a plan to put four votes on Cole and three on the Sex Doctor. Not everyone was on board. Ashley wanted to know why nobody was talking about Joe, but Ben simply shut her down, announcing that “it’s a group decision.” Was it?

Because Chrissy and Devon then appeared to agree with Ashley on the need to get the idol-hunting, raw food-hating pot-stirrer out of the game. But when Chrissy approached Ben in a calm and collected manner about it, the former Marine began huffing and puffing and being super demonstrative in his apparent agony by hanging his head. When Chrissy explained that some people felt steamrolled, Ben snapped back, “No, they don’t,” which will hereby serve as Exhibit A to someone getting steamrolled.

From a viewer’s perspective, Ashley and Chrissy would seem to be right. Challenge performance aside, Cole does not appear to be the threat that Joe is. Even if it is true that Joe is loathed out there and would never win votes in the end, he can still be dangerous in other ways — chiefly, the ability to cause mischief and mayhem and draw votes away from the majority. Think about it. Who do you think is more likely to work an angle to split up the Heroes and Hustlers alliance: Joe, who has been continuously looking for cracks, or Cole, who is off licking his fingers somewhere? And seeing as how Joe has spent the majority of his time trying to poison Ben’s name in front of the others, if I were Ben I would want him out of the game PRONTO!

However, Ben for some reason doesn’t want him out. At least not yet. But in the process of imposing his will, he is failing at one major part of the game: imposing that will without people realizing your will is being imposed. Instead of deftly shaping public opinion to allow others to draw the same conclusion that he has, Ben at least now is giving off the perception — and perception is reality out there — that it is his way or the highway, and that is not a good look going forward. On the flip side, it is a good look rocking that hat all season. Plus, look at all the sun protection Ben is getting out of that thing. Smart choice in Survivor headwear — practical and stylish! (Recap continues on page 3)

I am Thankful for Confusing Tribal Council Moves That Make No Sense
Usually I like to sit here and play Thursday Morning Quarterback, telling you why what so-and-so did is so brilliant or so lame brained, but I honestly have no idea why the Sex Doctor did what he did at Tribal Council here. I mean, he’s not a dumb guy, but I can’t seem to come up with any legitimate reason for his actions. It’s almost as if he really wanted to make a big move, but wasn’t really sure what that move was, so just kind of threw a bunch of stuff against a wall to see what stuck. But again, I can’t properly weigh in on this move because for the life of me I cannot grasp even understanding it.

To recap — this being a recap and all — the Sex Doctor began Tribal by whispering to Joe, “I need you to follow my lead tonight. Just trust me.” He then proceeded to accuse the majority alliance of not having a high moral character (first of all, who cares?) for leaving Joe in the game if they found him so offensive. “If Ben is King Arthur at the Round Table,” Sex Doctor announced, “I am happy to be the Statue of Liberty in America, because America is going to beat England in the end.”

I honestly have no clue what the hell he is talking about. First of all, do those timelines even match up, because I’m pretty sure they don’t? Also, calling out a USA versus England battle is the most preposterous thing I’ve ever heard. Everybody knows that is the theme for season 37. Don’t try to swipe 2018’s hype, Sex Doctor! In any event, the Sex Doctor kept hammering home this theme of the majority having “poor moral character,” leading Lauren to tell him that he was digging his hole deeper and deeper when he didn’t have to even open his mouth.

What in the name of the American Revolution was this guy up to? After everyone voted, Sex Doctor made the proclamation that “I think America’s going to stay one more day.” WHAT THE HELL DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?!?! And how is it that under Sex Doctor’s scenario you have America coming under siege by…a former Marine? What is this, freakin’ Homeland? Sex Doctor then played the idol for himself, which he didn’t need to do because Cole was voted out. In fact, Sex Doctor and Joe…both voted for Cole!

So what was the point of it all? Ben told Sex Doctor before Tribal that Cole was going home. I don’t necessarily have a problem with Sex Doctor using his idol if he thought that was a ruse and he might be in trouble, but why go through all that nonsense of attacking the majority to somehow try to influence their vote over to you, especially if you are just voting for Cole anyway? Sex Doctor was not trying to flip the script in any way. The majority had enough to split the votes and there was no attempt made to try to blindside Ben or someone else from the majority, so again, what was the point?

That’s not a rhetorical question. I seriously cannot figure it out. There must be an angle I’m missing here because Sex Doctor does not seem like a dummy. He must have had some sort of plan in place and goal in mind, but for the life of me I cannot understand what it was. Was it just trying to move potential votes away from Joe…by daring people to vote for Joe and calling them weak for not doing so? Again, confusing! (Also confusing apparently: How to spell the name Cole. Ben went for the alternate spelling of C-O-A-L. He also then stood up and shook Coal’s hand on the way out — a pretty blatant play at jury management.)

Watch Fan Forum: Survivor on People TV here, or download the free app on your Smart TV, mobile and web devices.

Okay, you’ve hidden from your family long enough. Or maybe you haven’t. If the latter is true, feel free to watch the exclusive deleted scene from last night’s episode above. And for all the behind-the-scenes scoop, make sure to check out our weekly Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst. Plus, we’ll be interviewing the ousted Cole on EW Morning Live (Entertainment Weekly Radio, SiriusXM, channel 105) on Monday morning at 9:40 a.m. ET, so make sure to listen there and then for that. And for more Survivor intel, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

Now it’s your turn. Did they make the right move in getting rid of Cole instead of Sex Doctor or Joe? Is Devon jumping the gun by turning on Ryan? And is stuffing the best thanksgiving side dish of all time? Hit the message boards and weigh in and I’ll be back next week with a scoop of the Thanksgiving leftovers!

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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