Survivor: Ghost Island recap: 'Fear Keeps You Sharp'
I mean, I guess the merge name of Lavita is only okay. Didn’t really knock my socks off or anything.
That’s pretty much the only non-effusive thing I can say about this latest episode of Survivor: Ghost Island. I kept telling you all how excited I was for this season. How I absolutely loved the cast when I met them on location and had a feeling we could be in store for something special. And then we waited. And waited. Sure, there were some really good episodes in there. But there were also a few tribe swaps that confused viewers still getting used to the chess pieces on the table and prematurely reset the narrative.
The season moved on. Not amazing for me, not terrible, but just fine. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Fine works fine. But it hadn’t lived up to the hype I had created in my own head. Until this week. This week not only lived up to it, but surpassed it. Let me lay this down in terms as clear as Crystal Pepsi: This was one of my favorite episodes of Survivor ever. I don’t even know why I am writing this recap right now when all I want to do is go back and watch the entire episode all over again.
Everything worked. Everything from the massive openly-contested feud between the two alpha males, to Chris Noble’s incessant boasting (“I like to say I’m pretty clutch actually”) and proclivity for repeatedly deeming himself “ready to rock,” to Domenick’s LOUD AS HELL voting at Tribal Council, to Wendell giving hands down the best vote-off speech in Survivor history, to even Chris Noble & Dom’s surprisingly respectful reaction after the vote-off — I loved every single second of it.
I loved it so much that I am standing and slow clapping right now some like moron patronizingly congratulating the Jamaican bobsled team for trying their best in Cool Runnings. I’m one of the Notre Dame football players when Rudy courageously returns to the field. I’m some high-schooler minding his own business by his locker when Lucas gets his varsity jacket. I’m one of those freezing idiots watching an outdoor hockey game in Mystery, Alaska. I’m all of those epic slow-claps rolled into one when I express my love for this episode.
No doubt it was the Dom and Chris Noble show all the way, and I’m sure there will be some of you out there who bemoan an episode being so laser focused on those two players (and Wendell) at the expense of everyone else, but I would disagree for many reasons. First of all, this was indisputably the biggest storyline of the merge. Everything in these first few days of the combined tribe was leading up to the two sides trying to get the other out — even the other players said so. You want to show the story of what was happening at camp? These two dominating personalities made it all about themselves and nothing was really going to get settled until that got sorted out and everyone else picked a side.
Which leads me to the other thing I loved: watching how everybody else reacted to this brodown-throwdown. We saw Libby and Jenna weighing which side to sign up with. We saw Donathan reporting back to Dom about Chris’ plan to take him out (which was fascinating, considering a few episodes back Donathan was struggling to pick a side after having a deep heart-to-heart with Chris). And, most fascinatingly, we saw the four Naviti women considering taking matters into their own hands to take out a Malolo woman instead (with Desiree and Angela actually going ahead and voting that way for Libby).
Sometimes the value of a contestant/character on Survivor extends past what they do out on the island and includes how everyone else reacts to that person, and the feud between Dom and The Noble One did that in abundance. But make no mistake, it was mostly about those two. And watching them so openly take each other on gave me a huge sense of Survivor déjà vu. Suddenly, I realized: Oh my god, this is totally Russell versus Boston Rob in Heroes vs. Villains! Yes, the same Heroes vs. Villains you all overwhelmingly voted as the best Survivor season ever in our fan poll.
In that season, those two had an open war and amassed troops to take each other out at Tribal Council. It was absolutely glorious to watch. You knew one of them was going to go at the next Tribal Council, and you knew either way it was going to be spectacular. (And it was, as Rob was sent home after Tyson essentially and inexplicably voted himself out.)
This was basically the same thing. An epic battle between two titans (in their own minds). It was like Rocky versus Drago. Andre the Giant versus Hulk Hogan. Jimmy Kimmel versus Sean Hannity. Bette Davis versus Joan Crawford. Alexander Hamilton versus Aaron Burr. Anyway, you get the point. Instead of people working in the shadows and backstabbing each other, Dom and Chris Noble went right at each other, knives drawn, without any pause or pretense.
One of them had to go, and in the end it was Chris Noble. But let’s pay tribute to one of the most unintentionally hilarious contestants in the history of the game. Chris Noble was like the second coming of Coach, only instead of sporting a feather in his hair and draping a dinner jacket across his shoulder as he went up to vote at Tribal Council, Chris Noble busted out terrible rhymes (“Life is supposed to be rich, don’t make it cheaper. Like LeBron in the finals, I won’t take a breather.”) and self-congratulatory quotes (“I would love to compare myself to the Dwayne Wade, man. I started at the bottom and now I’m here.”) at a truly impressive rate.
But contrary to his inability to properly pronounce the word beneficiary, Chris Noble was no dummy. He didn’t fall for Dom’s speech at the merge feast about wanting to “strengthen old relationships that weren’t as strong as they could be.” And he didn’t “go nuclear” as Wendell said when the man in the middle attempted to broker a peace between the two feuding parties. Rather, Chris Noble correctly ascertained that “they want to make me their friend so they can slash me.” (He also said he was too suave to buy it, but he pronounced it swa-vey. I honestly couldn’t tell if he was just mispronouncing the word or giving a long overdue shout-out to 1990 Ecuadorian rapper Gerardo and his infamous one hit wonder. I am just going to hope and assume it was the latter. (Recap continues on next page)
Of course, Chris Noble was suspicious. How could he not be after Dom said, “I’ll even temporarily work together and we can kill each later for all I care”? NO! No, no, no, no! You never use the words “temporarily” or acknowledge that you will try to take the other person out later. Because the name of this game is strike the other person before they strike you. So by Dom acknowledging that he wanted to come after Chris Noble later, it left Chris Noble no option but to strike first. I would have done the same thing. You’re playing for first place, so if you know someone is there who wants you gone, you have to strike now, even if it means risking going home a few spots earlier than if you had just played it safe. (Shameless but totally worthy plug alert: I got to do an exclusive merge interview with Domenick this week and he has some fascinating insights about his rivalry with Chris that you should definitely read to find out what was really going on out there.)
But Chris Noble also had a secret. What, that’s he’s totally awesome? No, everyone already knows that. And if they didn’t, Chris Noble sure as hell told them! No, Chris Noble’s secret was that he randomly selected the buff with a special note, and that note said there was a hidden immunity idol waiting for him at Ghost Island… if he could sneak over there under the cover of darkness to get it. Very cool twist. Again, I like that they are forcing people to make tough decisions and risk things (like either an actual Tribal Council vote or being caught sneaking off) to get them.
So after telling us how “strapped up” he was — which made me vaguely uncomfortable — Chris Noble headed over to Ghost Island where he was gifted JT’s unused immunity idol from Game Changers. However — like Sarah’s vote steal which just became an extra vote for Kellyn — this had also “lost some potency”…which also made me vaguely uncomfortable. This time the idol was good for the very next Tribal Council, unless he wanted to risk his vote at that Tribal to extend its power. If he wanted, The Noble One could guess five different times between a right and left bamboo, and for each time he guessed correctly, the idol would be good for one more Tribal, but once he picked wrong, the game was over and he lost his vote.
“I am definitely going for it,” Chris Noble said. And then, in his best Jeff Probst impersonation: “It’s important in this game to take risks because that’s how you get to the end. Survivor is not built to coast.” So Chris Noble picked the first left bamboo…and was correct! And then he picked the second right bamboo…and lost his vote.
Have you all noticed something? I have! Because that’s what I do — I watch Survivor and notice things. People even pay me to do this, if you can believe it. Anyhoo, we have had four different instances now (Jacob, Kellyn, and Chris Noble twice) of a person picking from among bamboos for an advantage or power of some sort, and every single time, that advantage or power has been in the left bamboo. (In Kellyn’s case, two of the three bamboos had something, but still, the left was one of them.)
The left bamboo every single time. What’s that all about? Pure coincidence? Is this intentional to see if the players would start talking and someone would figure it out that it was always on the left? In the grand tradition of Outback Steakhouse, Home Depot, Sprint, and terrible Adam Sandler movies, could it be some sort of product placement for Ned Flanders’ Leftorium? I NEED TO KNOW! So, naturally, I asked Probst and you can see his response in our weekly Q&A.
But here is the ultimate irony, and what makes this show so positively delicious when it is at its best: Because he picked correctly on the first bamboo, Chris Noble got an extra week to use his secret immunity idol. But had he lost on the first bamboo instead of won, he would have been forced to use his idol at this first Tribal, and guess what? He’d then still be in the game. So by increasing his idol’s power and giving him flexibility to choose when to use it, that ultimately was Chris Noble’s tragic undoing.
And not only did it send him out of the game, but it also opened him to public mockery after saying this: “JT definitely got a little cocky. I don’t want to be that guy that gets sent home that had an idol and didn’t use it. So I definitely plan on reversing the curse. I will have it in my pocket and ready to rock.” NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! The truth is, after he said that, I knew Chris Noble was a goner. I knew it. You knew it. Deep down, Chris Noble probably knew it as well. That’s just the way the Survivor gods work.
I want to give a super shout out to the Survivor producers and editors now because what happened next was a work of art. The editing of the next morning was perfect, cutting back and forth between Domenick and Chris Noble as they denigrated, contradicted, and even occasionally confirmed each other. We saw Chris Noble telling everyone that Dom had an idol…and then we saw Dom telling people his idol was fake. We saw Chris Noble calling Dom a loser…and then we saw Dom calling Chris Noble an idiot and a joke. We saw Chris Noble comparing himself to Dwayne Wade…and then we actually saw Chris Noble rapping some more about Dwayne Wade, so not as much back and forth there, but you get the gist. I loved the juxtaposition of this entire segment. Freakin’ brilliant. (Recap continues on next page)
And after the immunity challenge — a tense affair in which the players had to stand on a beam and balance a statue on a long pole over their head, which Kellyn won — they were right back at it on the beach. In perhaps the least subtle act of the season, Chris Noble brought the entire tribe (minus Dom and Wendell) to the water well to pitch his plan to do a split vote on the two. The problem with this approach, of course, is that when you bring that many people (10) in on a plan simultaneously, the odds of all of them being on your side are somewhere between slim and none.
Sure enough, Donathan squealed to Dom. And that’s not all that Donathan told him, also informing his ally that Libby and Jenna were not to be trusted — a seemingly accurate assessment judging by an earlier scene in which the two talked about how Chris Noble was probably more trustworthy and loyal. But while all this was going on, the ladies of Naviti were hatching another potential plan: What if they undermined both of the battling boys and took control by taking out a Malolo woman instead? Can you imagine it? Dom and Chris both sitting there knowing it is one of the going home (at least before Dom used his Legacy Advantage) and then, out of nowhere, they both stay! Would have been hilarious.
Hilarious, but I’m not sure anything could have topped this Tribal Council. Whether it was Sea Bass sporting a spaced out look in a close-up as if he had uncovered a secret stash of Scooby Snacks, or Sea Bass then mumbling something about a dude on a boat looking like a douche, or Sea Bass doing anything basically, it was fantastic. AND SEA BASS HAD ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH ANYTHING THIS TRIBAL COUNCIL!
But the Dom and Chris Noble stuff was off the charts. Dom came clean about his “critical error” on day 1 and then put the fake idol around his neck and openly called it a showdown. Chris Noble then responded that, “I’m cool with it being a showdown.” SO AM I! I’M COOL WITH IT BEING A SHOWDOWN TOO! LET’S HAVE A SHOWDOWN!
We had Laurel and Donathan making confused faces as Chris Noble explained how “I definitely would look at myself as at least someone that people will get along with and maybe they comfortable discussing certain situations with me.” We had Dom talking about being scared. We had Chris Noble saying he would “continue to trust my gut instinct,” which must have made Kellyn so proud since the heart and head are for suckers.
And then when the voting started…things just got better! How could that be?!? How could things possibly get better than absolutely perfect? And yet they did. Because what followed both during and after the voting process was a bizarre mix of aggression, respect, and humor. “Go get ‘em, buddy!” Dom exclaimed to Chris Noble as he went up to vote. But then Chris Noble delivered his No Vote (because he lost it at Ghost Island) with kindness as opposed to animosity: “Dom, Wendell. Nothing against you guys, Love ya. One love.” Classy touch, Chris Noble!
Unsurprisingly, Domenick Abbate went a slightly different route, delivering his parting words with as much volume as possible. “Chris Noble!” he bellowed so that everyone could hear. “It’s been a pleasure serving you coffee for 22 days! See you on the other side, brother!” This didn’t strike me as rude, but rather humorous, Every single person on all 332 Fijian islands — yes, I had to look that up — knew exactly whom Dom was voting for, so, like this entire episode, why bother keeping it a secret?
But it paled when compared to Wendell’s vote. Everything pales in comparison to Wendell’s vote. And when I say everything, I don’t just mean everything in the voting. I don’t just mean everything in the episode. I don’t just mean everything in the season. I don’t just mean everything in the history of Survivor. I mean everything in the history of things.
First, a little background. Every season, the first time a tribe goes to Tribal Council, Jeff Probst gives the contestants a tutorial on how to vote. He tests out different speaking levels so they know how quiet they have to be so others don’t hear, and he also gives some tips on what to say when you’re up there. Basically, he tells them that whatever they want to say is completely up to them, but he suggests that it serve a purpose and get to the heart of why they’re voting for a particular person. The example he has used time and time again as something NOT to say is “Hey, no hard feelings Let’s meet in New York City for a slice at Joe’s.”
I don’t know what it is about Probst and Joe’s pizza. Look, it’s good pizza! I had a slice just last week. Not only are there approximately 10,718 worse places to get a slice in NYC, but there are lots of pictures of famous people on the walls at Joe’s enjoying their pies that you can look at while you eat (although they may want to consider removing the Kevin Spacey picture I was staring at from my seat the other day). Still, Probst’s obsession with Joe’s borders on being almost as disturbing as my own with a certain former contestant’s knee socks. (Recap continues on next page)
But the point is, talking about getting a slice at Joe’s is super boring, as delicious as the end result may be. Probst wants folks to say something interesting. He’s making a TV show for crying out loud! And we want the same thing. So what Wendell just delivered — and I don’t say this lightly — is the anti-Joe’s. This was all of Jeff Probst’s — and my and your — dreams come true. It was honest. It was raw. And it was funny as hell. Ladies and gentlemen, Wendell Holland:
“We won a lot together. Respect for that. But socially, you don’t know what you’re doing. I hope you stop saying ‘I’ so much. I hope you start listening to people. Oh, yeah. And finally… somebody had to say it. I’ll say it. Stop rapping. You’re trash… at rapping. You’re garbage at rapping. You can’t rap. You have no bars. Put the mic down, bro. Put the pen down, bro. Use an eraser.”
Oh. My God. Wendell, you can chew on all the makeshift toothpicks you want if those are the kind of goods you are going to deliver, my man. Outstanding. The only problem is, I could not disagree more with the content of your speech. You actually have this completely backwards. If anything, we should all be encouraging Chris Noble to rap even more! Why would you attempt to silence the genius of Chris Noble?!? Can you not handle his heat? Worried he’s gonna drop rhymes the way D-Wade drops threes? If you can’t handle the Noble, then you’re not ready to get global! (Disclaimer: I have no idea what that means.) If Chris Noble ceases any and all rap activity then Wendell Holland shall heretofore become my mortal enemy. Still, nice speech.
But here’s something I loved almost as much as Wendell’s rant. After Dom used his Legacy Advantage, and after the votes were read and Chris Noble was ousted, did the war of words continue? To the contrary. Instead, Chris Noble immediately turned to Dom and said “Good game.” Dom stood up and the two hugged. “Good luck, brother,” Dom said to The Noble One. Pure respect. These two waged a fierce and unrelenting war against each other in the game, and not even on strategic lines either. Their beef was personal. Purely personal. Yet once the score was settled, no grudges. That made everything that came before it so much sweeter. Instead of this ending with a bitter Betty walking off all angry and sullen while the other gloated and preened, you had two people that — while they mixed about as well as nitro and glycerin — honestly found attributes to admire in the other. It was the perfect ending.
And Chris Noble continued the love-in on his way out. “Great job,” he said to Wendell. “Thank you, Probst. Appreciate it,” he said to the host. Look, Chris had some problems with self-awareness in this game. No doubt about it. But he competed his ASS off, he showed us his personal vulnerability on a few occasions, and he ended the game as a true class act. Plus, he was hilarious, even if he didn’t necessarily mean to be. So major props to Chris Noble, even if he did end up just like J.T. by not using the idol to save himself. (How do you like the “gut” over head and heart argument now, Kellyn?!?) Plus, how can you not love a guy that does this?
Speaking of Chris Noble’s unused idol, I can’t help but wonder if anyone there noticed that his vote was never cast. Now, they could have thought that since Probst didn’t read all the votes that he simply didn’t bother to read the one Chris Noble cast, but that makes no sense because Probst always reads all the votes not cast for the person going home, and The Noble One obviously voted for Dom. Did anyone there catch it? I’m guessing not. (As a side note, this was filmed before season 35 aired, so they did not see Lauren’s lost vote last season so would not have been on the lookout for such Survivor shenanigans. Future contestants may be a bit savvier in this regard now they know a missing vote could be in play.)
Okay, okay, okay — you’re sick of me talking about how great this episode was. I get it. But the whole thing was so invigorating. Yes, there was an idol gained and an advantage played, but the greatness of the episode came not for them, but from the incredible human drama on display. The other great thing about the Dom and Chris Noble feud is that it’s now over. Like the Boston Rob–Russell battle from Heroes vs. Villains, this was over early enough that now we can move on and enjoy other things and other people. And there are so many other people I want to see more from: Kellyn, Donathan, Laurel, Michael. Those are just a few.
But even if the rest of the season does not live up to the incredible post-merge bar that has just been set — and really, how could it? — at the very least we have just been served up a true Survivor classic. Now excuse me while I go rewatch it and devour the whole thing over again.
As for you, you have some other goodies to peruse. Like our exclusive deleted scene from last night episode, which is embedded above along with some other video goodies. You’ll also want to check out my Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst, and you’re simply doing it wrong if you are not reading my epic exit interview with Chris Noble. (Oh yeah, and in the must-read department, you definitely will want to get Domenick’s side of the story in our big merge interview.) And for more Survivor scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.
And now it’s your turn. We’re you Team Dom or Team Noble? Where does Wendell’s voting speech rank compared to some of the other greats? And who’s your pick to win this damn thing? Weigh in on the message boards below and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy!
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!"