S36 E13
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May 16, 2018 at 09:01 PM EDT

Wendell didn’t win.

I’m not talking about the million dollars. Wendell and Domenick remain the clear frontrunners for the title of Sole Survivor that will be bestowed next Wednesday. (It’s not like I see an Angela clean sweep of the jury coming anytime soon.) But when it comes to this latest immunity challenge, Wendell didn’t win it. He may have finished first, but he didn’t win. He wasn’t robbed. He wasn’t ignored. He wasn’t screwed over. He just lost.

Let’s backtrack a bit in case you stumbled across this Survivor recap and have no idea what I’m talking about. (Warning: Even if you watched the episode you will often have no idea what I’m talking about.) The contestants were in the middle of an immunity challenge that ended in a slide puzzle, and the first person to finish it would win immunity — or so we thought.

Wendell went into this portion of the challenge with a huge lead. Yanny was the third person to start on the puzzle, but she had the advantage of having worked on it before at the opening marooning challenge. (By the way, not a fan of recycling the same puzzle twice in one season. Not sure the thinking behind that one.) After sliding back and forth like we wanted to cha-cha real smooth, Wendell appeared to have the puzzle solved. He paused, looked it over, and extended his arms to the side.

Then, out of nowhere, Yanny yelled “Jeff!” He came over, looked at her puzzle and called her the winner. But was she?

“I guess I had to scream your name,” protested Wendell mildly.

“What? Did you call me?” asked Probst.

“I didn’t call you,” admitted Wendell.

“Well, you gotta call it,” said Probst. “Wendell, you understand, right? Because a puzzle’s not done until you tell me.”

At this point, Yanny entered the fray, explaining that she also had it and could have called it earlier as well. But Wendell wasn’t having that. “100 percent I had it before you,” he insisted. “But you called it first, so the ruling is you got it.”

Wendell — who, to his credit, did not push the matter further — is right, and so is Probst. Anyone who has watched a lot of Survivor (and Wendell definitely falls into that category) knows you have to call Jeff over once you are done to get a ruling on if your puzzle is correct. Unless he goes full Orphan Black and clones himself, there’s no way Probst can be in 7 places at once and have eyes on all the puzzles, so the rule is, once you’re done, call him over and get a ruling.

While it would have been interesting to watch Wendell contest the results — and now is a good time to point out that there is a CBS standards and practices rep on hand for all challenges to make sure everything is completely on the level — he knew deep down he had no case. Also, if you go back and watch it, you can see what Wendell is pretty clearly doing is double-checking his work. It’s not like he was done, looked up, and simply forgot to call out “Jeff.” His eyes are still down and he’s checking to make sure he indeed has it before calling Jeff over. In that time, Yanny called the host and won the challenge — totally fair and square.

Think of it this way: If you’re playing a game show like, say, Jeopardy, it’s not the person that knows the answer…or the question in this case, since it is Jeopardy — God, should have picked a less annoying example. Anyway, it’s not the person that knows the question first that wins; it’s the person who buzzes in with that question. Calling Jeff is the Survivor equivalent of buzzing in. That’s what Yanny did. She buzzed in. And she won.

But here’s where things get even more interesting, and not just because I am moving off of that terrible Jeopardy example I trapped myself in. Because Wendell did not win immunity, he was now vulnerable. If he continued to feel safe in his alliance he would not play his idol and could be blindsided right out of the game! Now was Yanny’s chance! Not even she could pass up such a golden opportunity! Here, she’s going to tell us right now exactly how she is about to slice and dice the biggest threat in the game right out of it. Let’s take a listen… “I had been thinking I got to get Wendell out of here tonight, but I want to do it the right way. He did finish first today and he could have won immunity. It almost doesn’t feel right to send him home.”

That thumping sound you hear is a million palms simultaneously hitting a million foreheads in shock and despair. But I am going to say something super radical and crazy and controversial that may cause you to click away from this recap and never return. Yanny may actually be correct. This may not have been the time to take Wendell out because of the circumstances. But not for the reason she says. Hear me out on this before you come for me with your torches and pitchforks.

If you’re frustrated by Yanny saying she didn’t want to vote Wendell out because it didn’t “feel right” after what happened at the challenge, you should be. Because you’re probably thinking: So what?!? Who cares if it feels right? Do you want to win or not?!? Suck it up and write his name down! That was probably your reaction and it was my first take as well. But maybe she is on to something. Let’s dig a little deeper. It doesn’t matter how Yanny feels about it. That means nothing. But how would the jury feel about it? Because that is a different story altogether.

Lets go back to Survivor: Caramoan. I know! I know! You hate Survivor: Caramoan. It reminds you of Shemar, and Brandon Hantz, and other unspeakable things that I, as the world’s foremost Caramoan apologist, promised to never discuss again in these here pages. But let’s ignore all that and talk about Dawn and Brenda for a minute. Remember when Dawn lost her false front teeth and Brenda found them? And remember when Brenda then chose Dawn to join her on the Loved Ones reward? And remember when Dawn then repaid those favors by voting her out, like, the next day?

Dawn was destroyed by both the jury and Survivor fans for being so cruel as to play the game they all signed up to play. I also argued against Dawn’s move then, but not because she crossed any sort of moral lines. That’s ridiculous. This is Survivor, so get that nonsense out of my face. I just knew that the jury would vote on emotional grounds against her if she did it. But she did, and they did. Instead of viewing it as a shrewd game-move, they chose to question Dawn on moral grounds — calling her hypocritical because of her religion, which was flat-out absurd. (Should folks that are religious be held to a different standard than atheists or agnostics in this game? I say HELL TO THE NO!)

Anyway, I bring all that up because when Wendell let everyone know that he had finished the puzzle first, he put Yanny in a real bind. How would the jury have reacted if she had gone ahead and slit his throat right after gaining an immunity that the others there may have believed Wendell actually won? We assume Yanny can’t beat Wendell at the end, but was she now in a position where she also couldn’t win if she took him out here?

Don’t get me wrong: She still should have voted his ass out. I would have. But it’s not quite as cut and dried as one might think when you consider the fickle nature and group-think of a Survivor jury. Yanny may have been in the very definition of a no-win situation here. She can’t win going up against Wendell at the end, and she may not have been able to win had she been perceived as being unsportsmanlike in taking out the guy that folks believe actually deserved immunity. Even though, as I started this recap off explaining, he didn’t. Because Wendell didn’t win. At least not this challenge.

Okay, let’s get through the rest of this recap at a brisk pace because it’s also time for our updated Survivor season rankings! (For those new to these parts. I always do these after the penultimate episode because the finale recap is too unwieldy as it is. But Ghost Island’s ultimate ranking can drop or fall depending on what happens in the finale. (SPOILER ALERT! Last season’s certainly did.)

I am also going to embed a bunch of the #FakeKellyn videos into the recap that you should definitely check out. If you’re completely unaware of what I’m talking about, I have invited all Survivor fans to create their own video imitating a Kellyn freak-out applied to everyday life. All you have to do is tweet me @DaltonRoss using the #FakeKellyn hashtag and the person who submits the best one will win all 20 of the original Survivor Love Letters written on location in Fiji by the Ghost Island cast before the game to their favorite players from yesteryear. And who will be selecting the winner? None other than Kellyn herself! Get your entries in by Monday, May 21, and check out the embeds throughout the recap for some submitted examples, including some from actual Ghost Island contestants! (You can also see the full collection right here.) Okay, let’s get to the recap and updated season rankings! (Recap continues on next page)

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