It's Like the Perfect Crime
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SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols
S36 E10
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“I will continue to trust my gut instinct.” —Chris Noble, before being voted out

“I’ve gotten this far in the game by trusting my gut…. My gut is telling me now is not the time to blow up Naviti.” —Kellyn, refusing to believe Dom when he told her Desiree was coming after her

“I came out here to make big moves and I have this feeling in my gut this is the right moment.” — Desiree, before being voted out for making a move at the wrong moment

The moral of the story is clear, ladies and gentlemen: When it comes to Survivor, never trust your gut. Kellyn made a big show a few weeks back at Tribal Council about how you should not follow your head or your heart in this game, but rather your gut, which she described as a combination of the two. And what has happened since? Everyone who has even said the word has been either voted out or proven to have been totally wrong. I guess it’s time for a gut check.

While Desiree ended up getting the boot for her aborted mutiny attempt, this episode in many ways was the Kellyn show, and I’m not just referring to her awesome Spencer Bledsoe-esque temper-tantrum by throwing the ropes down after she was eliminated in the immunity challenge. However, that was merely one in a series of frustrating events for her this week.

Kellyn may not have been voted out, but she was blindsided nonetheless, because not only did she not see the Desiree and Chelsea flip coming, but she also refused to believe it even after it had already happened. “None of this is adding up,” she told us after being informed by Domenic (via Laurel) that her own alliance-mates were targeting her. “Me and Des and Chelsea are unbreakable. They would never turn on me like that. Clearly, someone is trying to take the target off of Michael and I am telling you, it’s never going to happen.”

Even after the story was corroborated by multiple sources, Kellyn still refused to buy it. “That’s bulls–t,” she muttered after Jenna repeated the same intel. And later, she totally lost her cool with Dom, gesticulating wildly in the air when he was trying once again to explain that she was in danger and they should eliminate the person that wanted to eliminate her. “Us girls have been folding for what you guys want and we want Michael out,” she exclaimed.

“Tonight?” asked Dom

The reply: “Now. NOWWWWWWWW!”

On one hand, I commend Kellyn for attempting to impose her will for a vote she deemed important and not sitting back and simply letting other people call the shots. On the other hand, that’s not exactly the best way to go about doing it. You can stay firm and stand tall without resorting to what comes off as a demand. Not only that, but she was wrong! The people she was yelling at or cursing under (or over) her breath (Domenick, Laurel, Jenna) were the people actually trying to save her. Kellyn was about to follow her gut right out of the game and into a Chris Noble rap video.

It sounds like I’m dissing and dismissing Kellyn. I’m not. I actually — unlike some other viewers — really like her. She’s playing the game hard. She’s animated. She’s goofy. She spazzes out when she loses. That’s all the stuff I love in a Survivor contestant. She had a bad outing this week and got hit with a devastating dose of reality. She’s not as good as she thought she was. She’s not as in control as she believed. Sometimes you are not the duper, but rather the duped. So how will Kellyn respond? What does this do to her game and her psyche moving forward? Is this the start of her downward descent or the wake-up call she needed to get her to the end?

The other fascinating angle in this is Laurel, because she may have just finally publicly picked a side between Malolo and her final four deal with Dom, Wendell, and Donathan. Michael and Jenna from Malolo were in danger, and so when Des came up to them and offered to turn the tables by bringing in Chelsea and Angela to take out Kellyn, Dom, and Wendell, it was their get out of jail free card. Boom!

But Laurel then went and told Dom. The question now becomes: How did Michael and Jenna view that? Did they see it as a good thing in that it would sow even more division between the Naviti core and get them to turn even more on each other? Or did they view it as jeopardizing their new plan to stay in the game while taking out the three biggest targets? Did Laurel just out her true alliance? And why did she pick Wendell and Dom over Michael and Jenna?

And then there is Desiree. Should we talk about Des now? Can we get into it? To me, Des seems like the perfect example of a person who doesn’t watch the show, is told all throughout the casting process that she has to “make big moves,” but then is clueless when it comes to the nuances of how and when to make those moves. I’m not saying she made a terrible decision here or anything. She and Chelsea were on the bottom and wanted to shake things up. That makes sense, to a degree (the degree we will get into in a minute). But a savvier player may have handled that situation a bit more delicately.

Instead of having a big group meeting, where the chances of someone flipping are magnified — just ask The Noble One about that — she could have started with just Michael (who was the biggest target) and then let him float the idea to the other Malolos. Then, if the blowback came, she could have denied everything, said Michael made it all up to save his own skin and there would not have been 10,714 other witnesses to the crime. But she didn’t know, so she didn’t do that.

And here was the other problem with Desiree’s plan: It’s a question of numbers. She wants to topple Kellyn, Wendell, and Dom. But to do so, she wanted to create a new alliance of her, Chelsea, Angela, Michael, Jenna, Luarel, and Donathan. (Who knows where Sea Bass fits into all of this. I’m honestly not sure Sea Bass even knows where he is. And I don’t mean in terms of alliances. I’m not sure if Sea Bass realizes where he is physically…as in what island…or country, even.)

But the problem with that new equation of Desiree’s is that it immediately puts her in the minority against the now more powerful majority of Malolos. Even with Sea Bass they would at best be tied at 4-4, but since she never brought him up, one has to assume he is currently not in play. So how does that move make sense? Unlike Dom and Wendell, we haven’t seen Des make any bonds with the Malolos, so she would not be improving her position in any way.

Wouldn’t it have made a lot more sense to spend this time working Sea Bass in a subtle manner by explaining how unbeatable Dom, Wendell, and Kellyn are and then winning him over later to force a 4-3 edge over those powerful Navitis? There are multiple ways in terms of this not being the right play with the right people at the right time. But hey, at least she did something! That’s what we want: people to do something. And, yes, then we love to pick it all apart after the fact, but again, she was trying. And I appreciate that. In fact, there are plenty of other things I appreciate about this least episode and let’s get into them right now. (Recap continues on next page)

Rage in the Cage
I mean, I guess it was a bit weird to have a challenge where dudes had to rescue women locked in cages, but I’ll put that aside for a minute to praise an otherwise well-constructed reward challenge.

We’re so used to seeing people undoing ropes and knots to take puzzle pieces or sand bags or keys or whatever out of boxes and cages, but having to retrieve people instead was a clever switcheroo. And doing it out in the water where purple’s boat kept floating away from the docks was genius. I’m going to cut Dom and Wendell some slack here because those Survivor boats are very hard to steer and control. We were an absolute disaster when we attempted to get a similar boat around some platforms in the first challenge run through for Survivor: Game Changers. We ended up having to completely reverse course and go backwards just to complete it. It was embarrassing.

That doesn’t mean I was sympathizing as Dom started drifting off to almost become lost at sea. Hell no, I laughed my ass off! But I also get why it happened. The other interesting thing about this challenge was that there were extra pieces in the massive Survivor logo puzzle. The show has done this before, but from what I can recall, Probst has always instructed the players about there being extra decoy pieces. Not this time. Both teams had to figure it out on their own.

Personally, I love the move. Not just because I like to see contestants struggle as much as possible — although that is a nice byproduct — but it also just adds another level to an ordinary puzzle. Keeping contestants as clueless as possible rarely backfires, and it did not here either.

Right Ain’t Right
Angela pulled the white rock after the reward challenge, which sent her to Ghost Island. Luckily for her, she was able to risk a vote to play another riveting game of “Pick the Correct Bamboo!” And, like Kellyn, she had a 66.66 percent chance of winning since there were advantages in two of the three bamboos. But Angela then did the one thing you are not supposed to do at Ghost Island. What, not cry? Okay, Angela then went and did the two things you are not supposed to do at Ghost Island: not turn into a quivering, blubbering mess as you talk about all the hardships in your life and the personal transformation you are currently undergoing, and, most important, DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES PICK THE RIGHT BAMBOO!!!!

Five times now people have played “Pick the Correct Bamboo!” and all five times an advantage has been in the left bamboo. Every. Single. Time. The Ned Flandersization of Survivor continues unabated! The lefties have finally mobilized!!! (I’m actually right-handed at some things and lefty at others so I have no idea if I’m part of this revolution or not.) But seriously, how weird and random is that? Seemingly, not very random at all. I did actually ask Probst about this a few weeks back and if you missed it, you can see his answer here.

Donathan Hurley: Idol Hunter
Knowing he was still in danger of being ousted, Michael went searching for an idol and Donathan went with him. And it was the latter who located something hidden in a tree. It was actually Jason’s idol from Kaoh Rong that Scott held in his possession and did not use because he thought Tai would combine it with his own idol to form a super idol that could be used after the votes were read. He thought wrong…in one of the most satisfying moments in Survivor history, I might add.

Now, a note informed Donathan that the idol of Jason/Scott that he found had no power but could become a regular idol if combined with Tai’s idol, which was now hidden under the center of the shelter. What a cool way to honor and mirror the past while slightly tweaking the formula. And Donathan did indeed find it, but had to tell Laurel, Michael, and Jenna to get it done. Could that shared knowledge come back to haunt him? Michael has proven to be absolutely ruthless in terms of protecting his own interests, even if it means voting against fellow allies to ensure his safety in the game. If he becomes a main target again, might he try to shift that target by letting others know about Donathan’s new idol? Only time will tell.

The Best Looking Show on Network Television
I’ve said it before and will say it again — nothing on network television even comes close to the level of exhilaration one gets while ingesting the visual feast that is Survivor. We focus so much on the cast and the twists and the rap videos and the color of the host’s hat that we overlook how absolutely gorgeous this show is. Even filming in the same location over and over again has not diminished the beauty of Fiji and how this immaculate production presents it.

I just want to point out one shot that is about as remarkable as they come. The camera —from either a helicopter or a drone — started slowly approaching a waterfall, then hovered on top of the waterfall for a moment before bringing us to the clearing for the immunity challenge in one of those weird slow-then-fast-then-slow swooping things the show likes to do. It took my breath away.

The biggest change to this show in its 36 season run may not be the hidden immunity idols, or the final 3 format, or the epic sidebar conversations that now seem to happen at almost every other Tribal Council. No, it may be the show’s move to HD in season 17 (Survivor: Gabon). That is when the program went to another level in terms of the optical stimulation it provides. So, anyway, big time props to the camera department and producers for capturing striking images like this one on a weekly basis. I may not write about them all the time, but they impact my enjoyment of the show in such a positive way that I would be remiss if I didn’t point it out from time to time. Cheers! (Recap continues on next page)

Don’t Drop Your Balls!
So, we’ve seen variations of the whole balance-your-ball-on-a-disc challenge, and this latest immunity competition had the players holding two ropes that held up the disc. Here’s a little behind the scenes intel on this ball-and-disc (say that 10 times fast) situation. When I competed against Parvati Shallow in a press duel for San Juan Del Sur we were tasked with going through obstacles while balancing a ball on a disc. If the ball dropped (pun slightly intended) you had to go back to the beginning and start again.

We both started off and both dropped a few times. Then I figured something out. There was a tiny little hole in the middle of the disc where the ball was placed at the start, but once the ball moved off that tiny hole then there was basically no way you were going to make it all the way through the obstacles without the ball falling, so my new strategy was if the ball came off the hole to immediately just abort and go back to the beginning — otherwise I was simply wasting time by continuing on futilely. Once I cracked that code, I was off to the races and smoked Parvati (likely the only time I will ever beat her at anything in life).

After we finished the run-through, Probst and challenge producer John Kirhoffer asked me how I was able to get through it so quickly and I explained about the hole where the ball was placed to start the challenge and how the key was just to keep it there, and if it moved off, to abort right then and there so as not to waste time unnecessarily. Their solution? They put a piece of tape over the hole, thereby getting rid of it and providing a completely smooth surface. We ended up practicing the duel over and over again that way with no hole and with the various obstacles moved around. It was an absolute blast to be a part of a challenge morphing before my very eyes.

So when I saw seven out of 11 people drop out of this challenge in the first two minutes — and when I saw what appeared to be a different colored section in the middle of each disc, I muttered to myself “No hole.” Now, I wouldn’t normally necessarily recommend someone start talking about balls and holes in such close proximity to each other, but you get the point. Anyway, maybe that little behind-the-scenes tidbit was interesting to you, or maybe it was just a complete waste of space. Many have been arguing that same point about my recaps in general for years.

The Future (and Present, and Past) is Female
Chelsea was the last contestant standing and won immunity. Jeff Probst noted that she was the third woman in a row this season to win individual immunity, but the streak is a hell of a lot more impressive than that. Try this on for size: Going back to last season, women have won the last 10 — yes, 10! — individual immunity competitions.

Here’s the list of individual immunity winners, moving from most recent one backwards:

In fact, only one man has won an individual immunity competition in seasons 35 and 36, and that was Cole. And the episode before that, Desi won. So that makes 11 out of the last 12 immunity challenges that have been won by women, and seven different women at that. So this is not just a case of one woman like Chrissy running the table.

What’s the deal with the massive gender disparity in terms of individual challenge success? Is it something about the competitions? True, some of them have been balance-related (which tends to favor females), and some have involved things like putting feet on very narrow spaces (which also is a huge advantage for those with smaller feet), but there are plenty of other ones that have involved puzzles or food challenges or other things that would seem to offer no advantage whatsoever in terms of gender. Is it something in the casting? Is it just a weird anomaly? I asked Probst for his take and you can read what he had to say about it in this week’s Q&A.

Desiree’s Last Stand
Give Desiree this much — when she lies, she commits to it. Even with four other people relaying the same conversation in the same terms, Des stuck to her story so much it was like she was coated in Krazy Glue.

There was a lot about her game that didn’t make much sense. She told us on day one how terrible she was at puzzles, and yet then insisted on not only attempting to solve the blindfolded puzzle, but also having to then deliver those directions to a bunch of people who could not see. Much like that failed attempt to go big or go home, she tried to make a move here, but she just didn’t have the skill and savvy to pull off what would serve as a highly dubious play even if it had worked. Still, as a viewer, I appreciate her stepping up, even if it meant stepping out after her torch got snuffed.

“They could tell I was lying?” she said in her final words. “I gave it my all and I tried to act as real as possible. It’s such a shame because I was right there. Kellyn was just the first. I had plans, baby, and Laurel just messed it all up. Hey, I trusted the wrong person, I guess.” Those are the dying words of many a Survivor contestant over the past 19 years.

Okay, that’s it for Des, but that’s not it for you. Because you still have our exclusive deleted scene above from last night’s episode to check out along with other video goodies. And don’t forget to read our weekly Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeffrey Probst. Plus, you can read our interview with the ousted Desiree right here. And for more Survivor scoop you can follow me on the Twitter @DaltonRoss.

And now it’s your turn. Whose gut was more wrong, Desiree’s or Kellyn’s? What do you make of the huge gender disparity in individual challenge wins? And did Laurel make the right move in selling out Des? 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

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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