By Dalton Ross
May 09, 2018 at 09:01 PM EDT


S36 E12
  • TV Show

Man, getting old blows. Your hair starts to turn grey. Some hair starts to disappear in places where there used to be hair while other hair starts to appear in places where there used to be no hair. It’s all very confusing. I can’t quite make heads or tails of it. But other things change as well. You start saying weird stuff like “Ow, my back!” and “Why is this font size so small?” Teenagers all of a sudden start snickering for no apparent reason when they look at you.

But there is an emotional change as well to aging. You start reacting to things in a much different, almost unrecognizable way. Which brings us to Survivor and the Loved Ones visit. I was in my twenties when this show started and I never understood why people collapsed into puddles of tears when they saw a brother, a mother, a husband, or a daughter. Hell, I didn’t see my parents or siblings more than a few times a year anyway so what was all the fuss about? Sure I understood that emotions are amplified anytime you put someone in a super-stressful environment including lack of sleep, lack of food, and lack of climate-controlled comfort combined with the fact that everyone else there is trying to get rid of you, but still, PULL IT TOGETHER, PEOPLE!

Suffice it to say, I am no longer in my twenties. My son (who was born the same day as the season 1 merge episode) will be graduating high school in a month. I have a teenage daughter who still on occasion allows me to talk to her in public. My wife and I have formed a bond so strong that she even allows me to watch Big Brother three times a week while only mildly considering divorce proceedings. I’m a different guy, and that means I think and feel differently as well.

In the early days of the show, my strategic gamebot brain simply cold not compute the #SurvivorBreakdowns that would accompany every Loved Ones visit. Not only could I not understand why people were losing their proverbial doo-doo, but I remember writing on at least a few occasions how I wouldn’t even want my wife to come out there if I was playing because it would simply distract me from the task at hand.

But then something happened. I can’t pinpoint the exact season or contestant, but some idiot was most likely sprinting and crying into another idiot’s arms while Jeff Probst said something goofy like “Here comes some love in the form of your mom” — which, incidentally, is not the type of thing one should ever say unless you are referring to a Survivor Loved Ones reward. Just want to clear that up before someone gets in trouble.

Anyway, as this was happening, I involuntarily took a long, hard gulp. It was imperceptible to the naked eye, but I felt it. Then, the next season, I noticed a slight eye flutter on my part. Again, it was barely noticeable, but it was there. I tried to ignore the warning signs, but the floodgates opened when, a few seasons back, the word “Awwwwww…” actually came out of my mouth. Awwwwww! From me! I said, “Awwwww!” I remember thinking, WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME?!?? I have become the very thing I used to mock! (Which is not to say I became the Medallion of Power…or the Rites of Passage…or that time Probst wrote sunglasses in the rain…or the fact that Dreamz ended his name in a Z…or Gervase barely making it through a challenge alive and then smack-talking the other tribe afterwards…or, well, you get the point.)

And I’m not the only one either. Probst has been getting downright mushy of late as well. We’ve seen him dab at his eyes in recent seasons, and this week his voice broke like he was in puberty as the host talked about the sacrifices Angela made in terms of missing time with her family to serve our country. What’s wrong with him? And, more importantly, what’s wrong with me?!?

I don’t want to make it seem like I was a blubbering mess during this episode. I mean, it’s not like I am Stephen Fishbach suffering from #SevereGastrointestinalDistress, but in the past this stuff would not have even registered with me. However, now I kinda get caught up in it. Look at Wendell taking about his dad and how “This guy’s everything to me, man. This is me.” Hey, maybe my son will one day say that about me! Check out Kellyn and her brother Clay staging their own Goofball Convention and talking about how they don’t have a lot in common but are able to bond through Survivor. How awesome is that?! And Aunt Patty! Can we talk about Aunt Patty? I need to get me an Aunt Patty. Not unlike Donathan, I felt a sudden need to be enveloped in an Aunt Patty hug. And I still kinda feel it. Aunt Patty is the anti-Aunt Lydia.

But for me, the best was saved for last, when Domenick’s wife Kristen came out. “I love you and hate you so much,” she told her husband, a feeling that many viewers may also share when it comes to Domenick. “It’s been such agony,” she explained, adding that she had never gone a day without talking to him for 20 years. Younger me probably would have rolled my eyes at that in a too-cool-for-school way, but as someone who will be celebrating a 19th wedding anniversary next week, I totally get it. Hey, what can I say, I guess I now love love! I’ve grown soft with age.

Soft, but still longwinded. Anyway, let’s get to the other big moments from this week’s episode before it hits curfew and they have to roll me back to the Survivor Old Age Home.

Loved Ones on the Side
So, here’s the good news. The loved ones challenge this season did not consist of people pulling rocks out of a bag. In fact, the challenge was perfectly fine — a contest in which the players had to race over (and under) obstacles to retrieve a sand bag and then land said bag on a very small table. It’s always fun when people get trapped digging themselves under a log, and nerve-wracking watching a bag try to land steady on a table that appears to have been covered in grease. So I’m not going to complain about the challenge as it was designed.

But I do wish we could go back to having the loved ones involved in the challenge itself rather than just being spectators. I get that such an arrangement offers some potential competitive advantages and disadvantages in terms of whom those Loved Ones are, meaning Aunt Patty — God bless her and everything about her — is going to have a hard time keeping up with, say, Chelsea’s sister Sydney. To that I say…SO THE HELL WHAT?!? It’s a freakin’ reward challenge, not a fast pass to the final 3. Much bigger rewards in the form of advantages and idols are offered on a seemingly every day basis, often due to pure luck. Let the loved ones compete! #FreeTheLovedOnes!

And if you don’t want to have them actually compete, at least make them part of the challenge. Force the players to unlock them from a cage, like we saw a few weeks ago. Or make them fill something up that then dumps a bucket of colored water over their loved ones head to win. I don’t care, just make them part of the action instead of sticking them on the sidelines. This is my plea to you, Survivor producers. Hear my plea! It is a loud plea. Almost as loud as Colby Donaldson repeatedly yelling at his brother. “REEEEEEEEEEEEEEED!!!!” (Recap continues on next page)

Wendell’s Big Decision
This is a really hard one. And the argument over whether Wendell made the right or wrong decision to go to Ghost Island is the type of sports talk radio debate that makes Survivor so fantastic not just to watch, but to discuss as well. But first, let’s backtrack.

Even though he insisted on going under the log facing frontwards — a dangerous proposition; just ask Adam Klein — Sea Bass managed to win the challenge, leading to the hilarious proclamation that “Sebastian wins love!” Love isn’t won, Probst! It’s earned!!! Of course, you should never try to win the loved ones challenge because you usually have about a 50% chance of going even if you don’t win, and that way you don’t risk pissing anyone off you left behind. You’re better off letting someone else win and take the heat, and hoping they end up bringing you along.

Anyway, then — one by one, or two by two, as it were — Sea Bass had to invite some fellow players and their family members to join him and his sister on the reward feast. First he picked Domenick. Then he picked Wendell. Then he picked Donathan? Whaaaaaaaaaat? One of Survivor’s ultimate bros just picked three dudes to go with him on reward? Shocking!

This was such a questionable decision on so many levels, but level numero uno would be this: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, so don’t scorn all four of them back together on the same beach where they can plot to overthrow you. (By the way, this advice applies in gender reverse as well. A woman who had won would have been just as dumb to leave four bitter men back at camp.) But do we really believe Sea Bass is making any decisions in this game based on strategy?

This became abundantly clear moments later when Probst announced that he had to send someone to Ghost Island, where there was a guaranteed advantage waiting for him in the game. Sea Bass could send himself, offer it to someone else he picked for reward, or one of the ladies not picked could go. “I am definitely not going to go to Ghost Island,” Sea Bass immediately responded. I’m not necessarily sure that was the wrong decision, but the fact that Sebastian did not even consider the offer in favor of chowing down with his sister tells you everything you need to know.

But then Wendell volunteered. And here is where things get interesting. Was this the right decision? Put yourself in Wendell’s shoes. What do you do? First off, put off the Wendell Sr. angle for a moment. This isn’t a question about whether to spend time with your dad or do what’s best for you game, because even someone like me who has gotten mushier with age and become one of those super annoying cherish every moment! people can tell that there is no question in that regard. You do what’s best for your game. SEE YA, POPS!

But what was best for Wendell’s game? Going to Ghost Island gives him a guaranteed advantage. Why the hell wouldn’t someone want that? On the other hand, it just makes Wendell even more of a target and gets people (cough, cough…Kellyn) pissed off at you, which could come into play in terms of trying to get you out and/or holding it against you while voting at the final Tribal Council. In that sense, you are weighing an obvious strategic advantage against a possible social disadvantage.

The counter to the “going to Ghost Island makes you a big target” argument would be that Wendell already is a big target, so there’s no point in running from that now. But again, there’s the social element of upsetting people that are looking for any reason whatsoever to be upset at anybody. It’s such a tough call. Generally, the best course of action is to actively seek out idols and advantages without being so obvious that you are actively seeking them out, but this twist forced Wendell to do it right out in the open. So what would you have done in Wendell’s shoes? And remember, this is before knowing what the actual advantage was.

It’s hard to say, but I think I would have done the same thing and gone, and here’s why: Sea Bass already did the dumb thing and separated everyone by gender. You already have the four women that were not selected to get time with their family members. The damage is done. What could be even worse is now giving someone from that side an advantage (again, not knowing what it was) to get you out. So I probably would have asked to go to Ghost Island, but there is definitely an argument to be made that it was not the right call.

The Kellyn Bechtold Follies
I cannot take my eyes off of Kellyn. It’s not because I accidently ingested some love potion chocolates from Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. It’s just that the woman is so absurdly expressive that any movement or gesture in any context comes across like emotions on steroids. I loved it when she started randomly running in place after seeing her brother because she had so much pent up excitement she didn’t know what to do with it. I loved it when she demonstratively threw her arms in the air in disgust when Wendell took the Ghost Island trip. I loved it when the tone and volume of her voice rose progressively from word to word and she then bitched about it back at camp by saying, “And he doesn’t even care that he wrecked somebody else’s family visit WHICH PISSES ME OFF!” I love it all.

The only bummer about Kellyn still being in the game and giving us all these fabulous moments is that she also would make a hell of a jury member. I’m talking Eliza Orlins level crazy facial contortions and over the top gesticulating. It would be a thing to behold. And we may still at some point. But until that time comes, let’s appreciate what is taking place before us each and every week because it is truly something special. (Recap continues on next page)

Ball Drop
Remember when we were discussing whether Wendell should or should not have gone to Ghost Island for the guaranteed advantage? Well, he did. And the advantage in question was the exact same advantage for the exact same challenge that Malcolm got at the final four in Survivor: Philippines. The challenge itself was holding two handles to balance a ball on a cylinder, with more sections added periodically. And the advantage was that if his ball dropped — which would signal a contestant automatically being out — Malcolm was allowed a do over and could stay in the competition. Now, not only did Wendell get the same advantage in the same upcoming competition, but he actually also got a bonus in that he was able to practice at Ghost Island, albeit with just a few pieces.

I have gone on record as not being a fan of challenge advantages because (with the notable exception of this one) it almost always leads to a forgone conclusion of whomever has the advantage winning, which thereby saps the contest of much of the drama. Plus, it can’t help but put an asterisk next to the name of the winner. I like to see people compete straight up, not just because it is more fair, but because I find it inherently more dramatic. When an advantage holder wins, there’s just an underwhelming sense of “Well, of course!” that doesn’t sit well. (I especially hate it when it is done in the last — and most important — challenge of the season. That should always be a straight-up competition completely on the level.)

But again, this Malcolm advantage is the most famous exception. Malcolm dropped his ball, restarted, and dropped again. And that’s kind of what happened here. Kellyn and Angela were the first two out, and then Wendell dropped. And then Wendell dropped again. I wonder if there could be anything psychologically detrimental about this particular advantage. Like, maybe you are not as focused on the first try because you know you have a safety, and then when you are forced to go to your backup, the pressure is increased because you have already dropped once and now are that much closer to wasting your advantage. I think that’s possible because this is a challenge that is mental as well as physical (speaking from experience since I competed in it a few times at EW’s Popfest a few years back.)

Anyhoo, it came down to Dom and Don, which sounds like the name of a terrible 1990s sitcom about two mismatched roommates who have to adopt a pet chimpanzee that is left on their doorstep. In the end, Domenick won (immunity, not the chimp), giving him his second straight immunity victory. That, paired with his idol and Legacy Advantage, gives him quite the résumé moving forward.

The Laurel & Donathan Show
Everyone — both players and viewers — have been so focused on the Wendell and Domenick power couple, that the other dynamic duo of Laurel and Donathan have gone virtually unnoticed. But they may even be more interesting than the Bropocalypse alliance of 2018 due to the fact that their instincts seem to consistently be at odds with each other. Going into this week, we have had a few episodes where we have seen Donathan express a desire to switch sides to take out Wendell or Domenick, while Laurel has stayed loyal to their final four arrangement. And then that happened yet again this week as well.

The scene plays out the same every time. They meet in the woods or by the beach or near the water well to discuss a plan hatched by others to blindside some fellow Naviti members. Laurel says she’s not into it while Donathan says he is into it, and then, eventually, the duo goes with what Laurel wanted.

Let me tell you something about Laurel. I have the utmost respect for her as a stealth assassin, but this was the first time where I watched her and all I could think about was Lady Gaga, because Laurel was sporting a terrible poker face all episode. Whenever Angela or Kellyn spoke passionately about getting rid of Wendell, Laurel would just sort of lamely and unconvincingly chime in. Even worse, she would never make any eye contact while she was talking — a dead giveaway she was not on board. It was plainly clear she wanted nothing to do with this plan (which was also obvious to us viewers because she never told the women about Dom and Wendell’s idols).

So Laurel and Donathan went to have their usual pre-Tribal pow-wow, and once again Laurel preached staying the course and taking out Chelsea. And once again, Donathan wanted to flip the script. And once again, Laurel won out. But was taking out Chelsea the right call? Another tough one. On one hand, Dom and Wendell are clearly the biggest threats and they each have an idol. “My biggest regret will be not doing it when we had the chance,” said Donathan, and that is the regret of many a Survivor player. If you have the shot, take it! And as Laurel said herself, this was probably the last chance to take that shot while Dom and Wendell still felt safe and would not use their idols. (And they didn’t.)

So all of that screams that they should have taken out Wendell. But let’s look at the other side. If they switch sides, they are left with Kellyn, Angela, and Chelsea. Easier to beat, but now you are outnumbered 3-2. Can you win one of those ladies back over? Maybe Chelsea, who tried to take a shot at Kellyn already? Perhaps, but probably not since Laurel already burned her once on an attempted flip. And Angela showed no desire whatsoever to take on Kellyn after Michael tried to get her on board such a plan. Instead, she made like Babe and immediately squealed like a pig. So if Laurel and Donathan make that move, they are immediately putting yourself in the minority of that alliance.

However, flipping it back, they may be in the minority if they stay put depending on what Sea Bass is smoking that day. The guess here is that Sea Bass would side with his bros Dom and Wendell over how-low-can-Malolo-go-go Laurel and Donathan. Of course, the agreement is take Sea Bass out at the five spot. Would Wendell and Dom stick to their final four agreement and then they could battle it out in a fire-making tiebreaker (still hate it, by the way) for that final three spot? So much of this decision could boil down to that. (Recap continues on next page)

If Laurel and Donathan feel confident that the final four pact is solid, it then comes down to whether they feel better about their chances of making it to the end with that arrangement, or better about the fact that they can more easily beat the others, even if getting there is more suspect. With all that considered, I would have taken the shot at Wendell now. If you go to the final four with Wendell and Dom, at least one of them is definitely making the finals. and that person is most likely going to beat you. If you flip, your chances of making it to the end are worse, but the chances of winning if you get there are much better. Personally, I would take that option.

However, Laurel and Dom may be counting on the fact that the Navitis on the jury will be bitter at Dom and Wendell and therefore would vote for them instead at the end. And they may be right. We’ve seen this happen many times before, where being in the majority at the merge ends up working against the finalists because their fellow original tribemates on the jury feel betrayed so they root for the person (in this case Laurel or Donathan) from the other tribe who did not screw them over. It’s happened before. It will happen again. And it could happen here.

Donathan Bombs
The Ben Bombs last season came in the form of immunity idol after immunity idol, but Donathan has been detonating drama at Tribal Council this season just by opening his mouth, and this week he made everyone nervous by talking openly about the cracks in Naviti and proclaiming point blank that “There is an opening.”

I don’t know what is going on here. Does Jonathan with a D simply have a flair for the dramatic? Is he trying to secure some more camera time? Does he enjoy toying with tribemates? Whatever the reason, it doesn’t strike me as particularly smart. Maybe his intent was to make Wendell play his idol to flush that out without voting him out, and there is certainly value to that. But, above all, you want people in your alliance to feel comfortable. You want to be seen as predictable as possible. That way paranoia does not run rampant at your expense and you also can lull your partner/opponent into a false sense of security and — not unlike Cobra Kai — strike first, strike hard, and show no mercy.

But all Donathan is doing with this mysterious double-speak that put everybody on edge is potentially making folks feel like they can’t trust him. I would shut that down faster than Ryan Ulrich once got shut down trying to high-five somebody — anybody! — at a Survivor merge.

Chelsea’s Last Stand (Wait, Who’s Chelsea?)
So Laurel and Donathan did not flip and Chelsea was voted out. What a weird season for her. I feel like my grandmother was on this show more than Chelsea was, and my grandmother has been dead for 29 years. Chelsea actually got a confessional interview this week (which probably served as our sure sign she was going to be ousted), but I can’t recall one other time we ever heard her speak to camera. What’s even more odd about that is, unlike some other past invisible contestants, Chelsea actually won some immunities and was at least near the center of one attempted Naviti mutiny. But we never heard squat.

So what’s that all about, you ask? I’ll tell you. Chelsea is simply not a great interview. I met Chelsea and spoke with her before the game and really liked her. Super nice. Humble. Had a great laugh. Solid, all around. But she simply was not a dynamic personality when it came to answering questions and narrating the action. You all have heard me say this a million times before, but the most underrated aspect of any great Survivor personality — and the thing that producers look for the most — is somebody who can tell a story and narrate the action. Jeff Probst has not narrated the show since those super awkward scene intros of season 1, so the players have to tell the story themselves, and some are simply better at it than others. That’s why people like Zeke, Fishbach, Cirie, and Aubry were so valuable to the show. They could dispense information in an entertaining and funny way. Unfortunately, that’s just not Chelsea’s strong suit.

Now, you can agree or disagree with that production approach, but if you’re wondering why she was so invisible this season, well, now you know. But she did win immunities. And she did try to make a move with Desiree, which shows she was not simply content to sit back and let the game pass her by. So kudos to her for that. I very much look forward to chatting with her again Thursday morning to find out more about some of the stuff we did not see on the show.

And you can now read that interview with Chelsea right here! Plus, we have our exclusive deleted scene from this week’s episode above along with a bunch of other exclusive videos. Don’t forget to check out our weekly Q&A with the Hostmaster General, Jeff Probst, and you can also see how Survivor fans voted for every final Tribal Council right here. Finally, for endless Survivor scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

Okay, now it’s your turn. Did Wendell make the right move in going to Ghost Island? Did Laurel and Donathan blow it by not taking out Wendell? And which Loved Ones visit hit you the hardest? Hit the comments to weigh in and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy!

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