It Is Game Time Kids
Credit: CBS
SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols
S36 E14
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In the end, it all came down to Laurel. That’s right, Laurel Johnson — the woman who had her finger on the trigger ever since the merge but just couldn’t pull it; the woman who rode the two horses that could get her to the end even though it was impossible to defeat them; the woman who played the best third place game ever. Ladies and gentlemen, Laurel Johnson just cast the most important vote in Survivor history.

After 39 days, 17 other vote-offs, and 548 idols, fake idols, advantages, and cursed voting urns, everything came down to one vote. And why? Because Jeff Probst is a freakin’ psychic.

Seriously, how else to explain it? Just one year ago, Jeff Probst shocked fans during the Survivor: Game Changers finale when he revealed one of the show’s biggest secrets: what would happen in the event of a tie at the final Tribal Council. He announced that if there was a tie between two players, that the third player in the finals would then cast the deciding vote for the winner. But it had never happened before. Then, a week after Probst made that surprise announcement, the contestants of Ghost Island boarded a plane for Fiji to begin their adventure and turn this never-before-seen scenario into a reality.

In a fascinating split, the first five members of this jury (Chris, Libby, Desiree, Jenna, Michael) all voted for the Domfather, while the last five (Chelsea, Kellyn, Sea Bass, Donathan, Angela) voted for Wendell. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a division like that before. And so it all came down to Laurel. Or Yanny. Or whatever the hell her name is. The woman who had frustrated so many other players and viewers with her refusal to take out the ultimate power duo now had all the power in the world. The woman was mad with power! Power mad, I say!

In actuality, Laurel was pretty chill about the whole situation. Just kind of walked over and did her business. Can you imagine if Kellyn had been in that situation? Oh my God, that would have been incredible! Hell, fly Eliza Orlins or Hannah Shapiro out there and let them cast the final vote so they can hem and haw and contort their faces into all sorts of uncontortable positions while they milk it for as much camera time as humanly possible. Or maybe you could have let The Noble One rap out a few bars for the final vote because no matter what Wendell says, CHRIS NOBLE HAS BARS!!! Not bars for dogs like my man Eddie from Caramoan — how is that genius idea going, by the way? — but bars as in dropping some rhymes, because he’s right on time, like well-aged wine, or… uh, something else that rhymes with rhyme!

Whatever. Sorry I don’t have the dope flow down like my homie The Noble One. The point is, even if Laurel wanted to put a little sauce on it, we all knew what was going to happen. The vote was going to Wendell. Good for him. And had it been Dom, I would have said the same thing. That’s the most interesting element about this whole battle royale between Domenick and Wendell. There seemed to be no wrong answer. Sure, you may have preferred one a bit over the other. Maybe you appreciated Domenick’s aggressive style and go big or go home theatrics. Or maybe you leaned towards the stealth assassin known as Wendell because his more low key approach was less likely to rustle any feathers.

The point is, you may have preferred one or the other, but these two were a package deal all the way, so there was not a lot of separation in their games. And that made for a unique finale viewing experience. Instead of — as a viewer — being guided by a rooting interest, we could just sit back and enjoy the show. And what a show that final Tribal Council was. The new open conversation format that started a year ago with Game Changers paid HUGE dividends here.

Instead of stupid questions like “Tell me why you got rid of me?” or grandstanding in the guise of personal pleas for particular contestants, we got actual debate and discussion. Sometimes enlightening, other times contentious. Sometimes remorseful, other times confusing (like when Sea Bass ripped Dom for acting up a storm to convince him his fake idol was real while simultaneously admitting that the acting up got him to change his vote and call off the plan to take him out).

You had jurors scoffing at finalists. You had jurors calling out finalists for interrupting people. You had jurors openly debating amongst themselves as to who should get credit for what. You even had jurors polling each other to get to the bottom of certain claims made by the final 3. But even more intriguing than all of that, you had the unbreakable duo of Dom and Wendell going at each other — FINALLY!

Wendell painted himself as the mastermind. Dom openly refuted it with a blistering counterattack, pointing out how “There’s no mastermind. Let’s stop with the nonsense.” But then Wendell pivoted expertly and warned the jury against being seduced into voting for the big splashy player, in essence painting himself as a thinking person’s choice of style over substance. “It’s always the Dom show,” he said. That was an excellent counterargument, even if I’m still not sure about that “I really just tried to be a lover out here” comment. It can’t help but bring to mind the “I’m a lover not a fighter” line from the Michael Jackson–Paul McCartney duet “The Girl is Mine, “which is problematic for many reasons.

For one thing, the last visual I want to be imagining is whom Michael Jackson was loving. Let’s just leave that one right there. For another, that song is downright terrible and is locked in battle with “Whatzupwitu” from MJ and Eddie Murphy for worst Michael Jackson duet of all-time. Finally, now that Wendell has that God-awful Michael Jackson tune stuck in my head, I am reminded of all the other super awkward lyrics in it, like when Sir Paul McCartney sings “the doggone girl is mine.” Doggone?!? You know what: I’m just going to go ahead and say it, and I don’t care who gets mad at me for it: Paul McCartney has no bars!!! (Recap continues on next page)

But apparently Wendell wasn’t the only lover out there. Sea Bass also proclaimed himself a lover in the most Sea Bass quote of all time. “That was brutal,” he said regarding Dom’s theatrics before voting him out. “I’m a lover dude. Like, I played from my heart. That was my entire game. I didn’t even have strategy, you know.” Oh, we know, Sea Bass. We know.

Kellyn was a force on the jury. Michael made hugely important points. Chris Noble scored massive props by showing nothing but respect and admiration for his biggest enemy out there. (No Bitter Jury Syndrome for that dude — please take note all future egocentric Survivor players.) Donathan backed up Domenick ‘s version of events during Tribal… and then went and voted for Wendell! I love that because it shows that he was committed to being objective and having the facts straight, even if it meant at times publicly supporting the person he was not even voting for.

Sure, there were people on the jury that did next to nothing (the ones we pretty much predicted), but that’s why this format is so great, because those that don’t care to add anything to the conversation don’t have to. We don’t have to waste time with dumb questions that people don’t even really want to ask. Those who really, truly want to be involved and have their say can take over. And that makes for a better discussion and it makes for better TV.

As if all of this was not fantastic enough, Probst then brought the votes out and in the most chill way possible, announcing “Alright, I’m going to read the votes.” Wait, WHAT?!? Read the votes?!? Shouldn’t you be on a jet ski or a motorcycle or getting ready to skydive or mount your paddleboard to bring the votes back to Los Angeles? The reactions from both the final three and the jury were priceless with major freak-outs all around.

Of course, the biggest freak-out had to be Domenick. I wonder how long it took him to process that and the come to the devastating realization that he had just lost a million dollars. Clearly, Laurel was going to vote Wendell. At least in the edit we saw, Wendell appeared to cultivate that relationship more. Yes, Dom brought her to the final three, but Wendell gave her that (albeit pointless) immunity necklace at the final five.

I wonder if Dom could have made a deal with Laurel there before bringing her to the end. Remember, this cast saw the Game Changers reunion tiebreaker announcement before they left for Fiji, so they knew the rules. I was thinking about this as Dom made his decision on whom to bring to the end with him (which we’ll get into more later) and I was thinking even back then that I would have tried something along the lines of this: “Laurel, here’s the deal. I know you don’t think you can beat Wendell in a fire-making contest, but I will fast-pass you to the final 3 under one condition. In the event of a tie at the end, you will vote for me to win. But you’ll get something out of this too, because if there is a tie between you and the other person, I will vote for you. We promise that to each other right here and right now. We make an unbreakable vow, kind of like Severus Snape and Narcissa Malfoy. So how about it? I take you to the end and we agree to vote for each other if we tie against someone else. Deal?”

Now, as we know, such deals are completely unenforceable. Just ask Dreamz about that as he rolls around town in his 2008 Ford Super Duty truck. But it can’t hurt. And maybe Laurel actually then honors that agreement and Domenick is $900,000 richer. We’ll never know.

Losing by a tiebreaker vote has to sting a super-fan like Domenick. And that sting will never truly go away. It just won’t. I’m not saying the guy will be the first guest on CBS’ new Dwellin’ with Kellyn talk show where he goes on about how he has been haunted by that last tiebreaker vote ever since. The dude is not going to be destitute and crazy 30 years from now pushing around a shopping cart and yelling out “DAMN CAGAYAN URN!!!!” at nobody in particular. He’s got a beautiful wife and adorable kids. He’ll be fine. But the pain of getting that close will never truly go away. It’s kinda like that time an aggressive monkey lunged at me on my honeymoon in Bali and I instinctively grabbed my wife and put her in between me and the charging beast. She forgave me, but I’m sure she has not forgotten. And my secret shame will never truly fade.

And then there’s Wendell. A more-than-worthy winner, to be sure. Everyone in the press who met him before the game had him on their short lists to win. (Gordon Holmes actually picked him to take it all. My initial pick was Dom and then I switched last minute to Brendan. DOH!) And Jeff Probst, who’s prognosticating skills —if you can believe it — are even worse than mine (he selected Ciera to win Game Changers and she went home first — DOUBLE DOH!) actually picked Wendell on day 1 to win the game. Looks like Probst reversed his own curse!

I can’t recall a single what-was-he-thinking?!? moment from Wendell all season. Dom had one just minutes into the game when he needlessly called out The Noble One for his decision-making at the marooning challenge, but Wendell played it cool the entire time. I can’t see anyone being upset at a Wendell win. How could you be?

Okay, let’s hit on the other big moments from the finale and reunion and we will also be revealing the winners of our #FakeKellyn contest. Wait a minute, did I just say winners??? I believe I did. (Recap continues on next page)

Not to sound like either a terrible Godzilla remake or some internet ad for penile enlargement pills on a website that could get you in a lot of trouble if you’re on a work computer, but sometimes size does matter.

Did you see the size of this maze for the first challenge? It was — to use Mark Burnett’s favorite word in the history of words — epic. The show usually has one of these massive builds in each finale, and we didn’t need the host to tell us that this was “one of the biggest mazes we have ever done on Survivor.” The thing is, the task was actually pretty simple: just run through the maze, collect bags of puzzle pieces, and then solve the puzzle. Survivor has done that a million times before, but the scale was so grand you couldn’t help but get sucked into the stakes. In the end, Wendell finished first, and this time he made sure to call Jeff over.

Wendell: “Jeff Probst!”
Prost: “What?”
Wendell: “I think I’m done, bro.”

Whenever I hear the word “bro” on Survivor I am automatically reminded of the epic LEGO ode to Malcom’s brotastic Caramoan Tribal Council moment.

But then came the tricky part, as Wendell had to choose two people to join him for a steak dinner because his win also came with a reward feast. He selected Sea Bass to “repay the favor” for the Loved Ones challenge, and Angela because he wanted to “share the wealth.” That sounds like perfectly fine reasoning and I suppose that… Hold on a minute. I’m getting a breaking news alert coming to us straight from the Too Little Too Late department. Let’s check in with Action News reporter Cash Rockwood who is on the scene. Take it away, Cash!

“Thanks, Dalton. Cash Rockwood here reporting live from the Too Little Too Late department. A shocking development went down just moments ago as Laurel Johnson has expressed a desire to actually come after the people she has no chance of beating in the end. Reports are circulating that Laurel is very upset about Wendell’s choices for the reward and said — and this a quote — ‘I am livid. Wendell wins the reward and takes the people he knows are my two biggest enemies. I don’t feel good about my alliance. I can’t take it anymore. The gloves are off and I am coming after them.’

“So, as you can see, Dalton, some very strong words coming from Laurel there. Certainly stronger than anything we’ve heard from her all season. A lot of celebration happening around here as this department has had its eyes on Laurel for quite some time now, feeling she would fit in perfectly with their mission statement, which is, of course, ‘To put up the smallest fight possible at the worst time imaginable.’ Once again, reporting live from the department of Too Little Too Late, I’m Cash Rockwood. We now return you to your regularly scheduled Survivor recap, already in progress…”

…and this concludes my dual arguments for why Wendell locked up two jury votes with his reward decision and why Shasta McNasty was not the worst UPN show ever.

Loose Lips Sink Ships
Remember a few weeks back when Michael told Angela something and then we saw Angela say in a confessional interview how she wanted to get her game face on and cause some trouble to shake things up in the game. We then saw her blabbing to everyone what Michael said. I wrote then that the interview felt like one of those times where someone does something dumb but then uses an interview after said event occurred to make up some fake story justifying what they did. Now, after watching Angela spill the beans again for no reason whatsoever I am 100% confident that is exactly what happened.

After Sea Bass told Donathan and Angela about his extra vote and how they should blindside Dom, Angela then could not keep her mouth shut and blabbed to Dom about it FOR NO REASON WHATSOEVER!!! And once again she attempted to cover her tracks in an interview we saw before but clearly took place after where she said “I actually feel like I have a little bit of power right now.” Yeah, exactly, and you gave away ALL of that power the second you squealed to Dom. Congrats, Ang!

She even knew it! Angela herself said “I can tell you something. I probably shouldn’t because it’s going to f— up my game.” BUT THEN SHE WENT AND TOLD HIM ANYWAY! SHE EVEN ACKNOWLEDGED SHE WAS F—ING UP HER GAME BUT KEPT GOING! DO YOU SEE HOW ANGRY I AM GETTING?! I AM WRITING IN ALL CAPS AND CAN’T STOP, THAT’S HOW ANGRY I AM!

That’s how close Dom was to being voted out of the game. But Angela inexplicably saved him. And only because she could not keep her mouth shut. “Thank god Angela is the loose cannon,” noted Dom. “She just has diarrhea of the mouth. She just does not know how to keep a secret.” Thank the heavens for #SevereGastroinestinalDistressOfTheMouth. But for thos of you who have been pulling your hair out over folks refusing to take a shot at the big dogs this season, this particular scene will no doubts serve as Exhibit A in the pop culture trial of the century known as The People Vs. Ghost Island.

Tribal Council #1
Donathan Hurley was a breath of fresh air this season, even though it felt like we were watching almost two completely different players as the season progressed. There was the naïve little golly-gee-willakers Donathan that started the show, and then the bomb-detonating spark plug that lit up several Tribal Councils in a row. He was fun to watch and his Aunt Patty is a national treasure.

All that said, Donathan is not exactly Marlon Brando. I mean, I’m not handing the guy any Oscars or anything. His acting job at this final 6 Tribal Council where he attempted to act all defeated and despondent was the worst sales job since that dude showed up at my door trying to sell me a set of knives that could cut through a penny. “Why the hell would I want to cut through a penny?” I asked him. He just shrugged and that was pretty much that.

It’s not Donathan’s fault though. The guy became a victim of his own success. He proved himself a fighter. And he wanted to fight even harder, but Laurel kept holding him back. No way he just slips into that state and takes being voted out with a whimper. But it all didn’t matter because Domenick already knew the truth thanks to Gossipy Gilda over there.

“Oh, Jeff,” sighed Dom. “I don’t buy it for one second. He’s been speaking every Tribal Council and all of a sudden he’ got nothing to say? Who’s buying that? I’m not buying it. I believe there is something going on that he’s not telling us, so I’ll let him start and if he has nothing to say, I’ll take over the story.” Dom then proceeded to tell them how he knew absolutely everything and then showed off his own ammunition. “My pockets are loaded. And I’m prepared to just break out pockets. I got gear. I got merchandise.”

Things only got crazier. Dom showed his real idol and his fake idol, which he claimed was now real. Then Wendell jumped in the fray and next thing we knew he and Donathan kept calling each other “bro” for reasons that remain unclear other than the fact that Wendell clearly has an affinity for the word. And then Dom made his big move. He gave Probst David’s fake idol from Millennials vs. Gen X, which was still a fake idol — and he did it before the vote.

Now, you might say to yourself: Wait, why didn’t Probst then out it as a fake idol? But why would he? He never said it was real. And nobody in the cast (that we saw) asked Jeff if it was real or fake so he didn’t have to say it was fake. It was not after the votes, in which case he would have had to let people know it was not valid. And here’s the thing about Probst. He’s said it to me a million times. They want the players to play the game. They’ll step in to make sure everyone stays within the rules, but they want them to be creative and try different things and see what happens. The last thing they want to do is stymie creativity from the contestants. And also keep this in mind: that specific fake idol was put into the game with the explicit instructions to find the best way to use it as a ruse. No way Probst then doesn’t allow that to play out. No way at all.

All that said, I can’t believe Domenick — after the votes were cast — did not go up and play his real idol. Even when he handed Jeff the fake one, you could see the jury saying how they knew it wasn’t real. And Sea Bass had already guessed that Dom only had one true idol, so what if they carried through with the plan anyway? Instead, the Domfather walked up — because every performer loves a stage — revealed the idol was fake and announced, “This idol is a million dollar gamble I’m taking right now. If it goes bust, I can’t say I didn’t try.”

I wish I would have the guts to do that, but I am relatively confident I would not and would have then played the real one. Dom did have the guts though, and it paid off as Sea Bass, Laurel, and Angela all bailed on the plan and Sebastian was voted out. Cojones of steel, ladies & gentlemen.

Sea Bass would later complain that Domenick poured salt in the wound with all his theatrics while admitting that it also worked in fooling him that the idol was legit. Armed with that information that the ruse worked, how can he and members of the jury still complain about it? Toughen up, people!

Four the Win
The second immunity challenge had the players swimming to a platform, climbing up, sliding down, and going through obstacles to gather puzzle pieces and then solving a puzzle. But what was of note was how many puzzle pieces there were: only four! How cool is that? I love challenges that are deceptively difficult. You look and see four pieces and you’re thinking, “No problem!” And then the problems begin.

“Four measly pieces of wood might be the only thing standing between you and a million dollar payday,” bellowed Probst. Keeping in the spirit of the understated puzzle, Wendell was barely audible when he completed it, saying Jeff’s name as if he were whispering sweet nothings into the host’s ear. No big celebration. No posturing. No calling Jeff Probst a bro. No Brad Culpepper stomping around the beach with a No. 1 finger pointed in the air. Very understated.

Maybe it’s because it was an immunity Wendell didn’t even really need to win since he still had his other immunity necklace which had to be used. Which brings us to… (Recap continues on next page)

American Grandstand
So off to the second Tribal Council we went to see who would be next. Donathan made his case to stay in the form of repeatedly pointing out how terrible he was at challenges and how he couldn’t possibly win one if his life in the game depended on it. That’s a fine argument to make back at camp, but not the type of thing you want to keep saying in front of the jury. It’s hard to denigrate yourself and then later ask folks that heard you do that to reward you as the best player in the game.

After the voting, the big question was who would play their idol first.

“I’ll let you go first,” said Wendell
“Oh, you got a big finale you’re gonna do?” responded Dom
“A little one,” answered Wendell.

After Dom played his Andrea idol, Wendell got up and made a big speech about how Laurel reminded him of his sister Lauren. “I’m standing by you and I appreciate everything you have done for me and our alliance,” he aid before giving her Erik’s necklace. Awwwww, nice speech! Of course, giving Laurel the idol also meant absolutely nothing. Laurel was already safe once Dom and Wendell had decided to vote for Donathan. For all the talk about how showy Domenick is — and Domenick is pretty damn showy — this entire charade was only for appearances. The idol giveaway had no real significance other than making a splash with the jury and perhaps currying some extra favor with the recipient.

Also, why didn’t Donathan bring his bag to Tribal Council? Can’t figure that one out, and I have no idea with everything else going on why I actually care. But I do.

Final Immunity is Up For Grabs
You all know me. Every season I talk about how I miss the days when the final immunity challenge was a straight-up endurance contest. I just think there is something special about that last challenge boiling down to the simple question of mind over matter and who wants it more. (I wish they would go back to the simplistic beauty of Borneo’s Hands on a Hard Body inspired season-ender between Kelly, Richard, and Rudy.)

All that said, however, you all also know that I love anything that involves stacks of things falling. Watching people get sooooooo close to the end only to have everything fall and have to start over is deliciously diabolical and I heartily approve of such masochism. In this final challenge, all the players had to do was stack 6 balls and stands. Sounds easy!

And sure enough, Wendell tore through the course. But as he walked back with his sixth and final ball, KABLOOEY! “Wendell loses everything!” yelled Probst with more than a trace of sadistic glee. In the end, it was Domenick — who was the first person to have his stack fall and therefore the person to get a head start on the second opportunity, which he would then go on to complete — that would end up winning. Sure, I would have liked to have seen his (and everybody’s) stacks fall a few more times for good measure. Maybe they could have brought in a wind machine or something to screw with them a bit more, but still, it was fine.

Dom’s win gave him three total challenge victories as opposed to Wendell’s two, but as I have opined more than once in these here digital pages, juries long ago seemed to stop really caring about challenge victories, being far more impressed with idols and advantages as well as social considerations. Challenges are no longer résumé builders. They can keep you in the game, but don’t seem to help you win it.

Urning One Final Advantage
I’m a geek. And you all know I’ve been geeking out on all the old Survivor props that we’ve seen all season long. But there were three more waiting at Ghost Island. As part of his challenge victory, Dom was able to choose from among three “cursed urns” from The Australian Outback, Cagayan, and Game Changers. These urns were allegedly cursed because they were all from seasons where people — Colby, Woo, F.U. Brad Culpepper — chose the wrong folks (Tina, Tony, Sarah) to sit next to them at the end, who ended up beating them.

Is that hokey? Of course! But I also think it’s a super fun touch and fits in perfectly with the theme of the season. The only problem is, since we now have a final 3 and not a final 2, and since we now have the final four fire-making (making this the second straight season in which the person who won was NOT brought to the finals but ended up there anyway), the curse of “bringing the wrong person to the end” doesn’t really hold as much water because Dom did NOT bring the wrong person and he STILL lost. All that said, it was still a nice touch, even if reversing the curse was somewhat unavoidable in this case because of the new rules of the game. Oh, and Domenick chose the Cagayan urn to show people there was “a little Tony in me” — which sounds much worse than he probably intended. (Recap continues on next page)

Dom’s Big Decision
Even if you don’t play with fire, you still may get burned. Allow me to explain. In reality, Dom’s big choice was not which urn to select, but what to do about Wendell and this fire-making final four contest. Clearly the Domfather was not going to fast-pass Wendell to the finals, so he had to consider who stood the best chance of taking him out. It wasn’t Laurel, who practically brought out graphs, charts, and an entire Powerpoint presentation to show just how bad she was at making fire. “I know that is the cardinal rule of Survivor is know how to make fire,” said Laurel, simultaneously admitting she had botched a necessity in the game while also conveniently forgetting that the real cardinal rule of Survivor is to draw as many fronwy faces on parchment votes as possible.

That left Dom with Angela, who semi-hilariously tried to convince him that Laurel could sway the jury if she made it to the end. “She knows the game,” argued Angela.
“She’s a f—ing Yale graduate.” Yeah, so is the Fonz, but I don’t see Henry Winkler winning Ghost Island either. (Although it should be noted that I would totally vote for anyone who made a habit of turning public restrooms into a personal office.)

So Dom helped school Angela on how to build a fire, but we all knew she didn’t stand a chance against a guy whose entire life is built around building things. But was there another option? What if Domenick actually gave his necklace to Angela and he went head-to-head against Wendell? It was an option he was actively considering since he was the only one with the possibility of beating him. That was one reason.

And then there is the other inherent flaw in the final four fire-making twist: Both times it has been used, not only has it saved the person (Ben, Wendell) that would have otherwise been voted out, but it has actually given them another line on their résumé to help solidify their status heading into the final Tribal. It’s kind of like how I’ve discussed the way hidden idols have more power than challenge victories with the jury because they see it right there in front of them in a big show. It has more impact. Allowing Ben and Wendell to have that big moment of winning the fire contest is yet another notch on their belt. Here’s the bottom line on that then and one which it is hard for me to wrap my head around: With the final four fire0making twist, the winner of the final immunity challenge is actually punished by winning.

Think about it: Sure, if you win the final challenge, you are guaranteed to make the it to the end, but if the strongest competition you would be facing is likely to win the fire-making anyway, then they just became even harder to beat once they get to the end. Tough stuff. So should Dom have given away his challenge victory and thrown himself into the fire, as it were? First off, it would have been a baller move. Just crazy.

I guess the question comes down to: How good is Dom at fire? Just because he was better than Laurel or Angela does not mean he still could have beaten Wendell. If he was confident that he was better than him, then maybe that would have been not only the bold move, but the best move. But if his chances were highly suspect, then you have to stay put and hope for the best. Look, the most exciting Survivor players don’t play for second, third, or fourth place. Why do they play? Well, allow former New York Jets coach Herm Edwards to explain:

Dom — who hails from Long Island, the former home of the J-E-T-S, Jets! Jets! Jets! — has had that attitude throughout. And if he was sure that Wendell would beat him at the end, then yes, absolutely he should have made the biggest, boldest, and riskiest move in the history of Survivor — and make no mistake, that is exactly what it would have been — and battled Wendell in fire. But the margin between the two at the end was, as we saw, razor thin. This was not a matter of if-Wendell’s-in-he-automatically-wins. It was more if-Wendell’s-in-it-becomes-a-toss-up. And probably more of a toss-up than the fire-making, because my money would have been on the Donald Glover lookalike in that one.

So based on probability factors, I believe Dom made the right move here, and indeed it was Angela versus Wendell… if they could just figure out where to sit. Wendell was supposed to be at the orange table, but because he is a Superstitious Sally, he asked Angela if they could switch so she could sit at the color that has brought nothing but pain and misery to those who wore it. As the world’s foremost public supporter of the color orange (especially, but not limited to, hat form) I am sick and tired of the repeated color-bashing that has been happening this season. It’s Orangeism, plain and simple, is what it is!

Thank God for Angela, at least, who if not passionately defended at least did not completely recoil at the hue on display. “If it makes him feel better I’m okay because it doesn’t bother me.” That’s right, Angela! You go, girl! Of course, Angela was then promptly and soundly demolished. So, I don’t know, maybe orange does suck after all.

One more note about the final four fire-making twist before we move off of it, because I want to be clear and fair about something. I have stated enough times in enough different ways why I am not a fan of it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize the upside to it. Because there can be upside, and to ignore it simply to strengthen your own argument is unfair. The producers are not trying to make the show worse. They want to make the show better! And let’s look at this from their perspective. Let’s say the fire-making twist didn’t exist. That means Wendell gets cut at the final 4 and we are left with a final 3 of Dom, Laurel, and Angela. There is no way anybody on the planet Earth will ever be able to convince me that is a better final 3 and would have given us a better final Tribal Council than what we got with Wendell making it to end. No chance.

There would have been no difficult choice for the jury. There would have been none of those big, open deliberations. We would not have seen two day 1 allies in the game finally having to turn on each other. And we wouldn’t have had the first ever tie! Instead, it would have been a march to inevitability for Dom as Laurel and Angela just kind of sat there. I know we don’t agree on much in Survivor fandom, but I think we can all agree on that.

You want to know why the producers put this twist in? This is exactly why! And it worked. It gave us a far more riveting end to the season. Let’s all step back and acknowledge that. Even I tweeted out that my controversially high ranking of 18 for this season was based on the hopeful expectation of a Dom vs. Wendell showdown. Anything other than that would have been a disappointment. All that said, I still don’t like the twist. I don’t like the fact that it ends up somewhat punishing the winner of that last challenge. I don’t like the get-out-of-jail-free-from-a-vote card that someone who is otherwise heading to the jury gets so late in the game. And I don’t like that the one basic tenant on which the game is built — trying to not get voted out by your peers — is randomly replaced at the most important vote of the season. But I would just be being stubborn (which I excel at) if I didn’t recognize the huge dramatic dividends this paid off here. (Curious to hear your thoughts on this in the comments.)

Final Tribal
Okay, I started this recap about 6,000 words ago talking about the final Tribal Council so I’ll try not to rehash too much of it here, but there were a few other things I wanted to point out about it.

• Laurel never stood a chance. I wonder if she realized this heading in, or figured it out as Tribal progressed. She tried various defenses for her gameplay but most were brushed aside by the jury. I thought her most compelling point was when she talked about winning a challenge, but added that she never felt like she had to win a challenge to save her game. “I think if you are relying on a challenge to save your game you are doing something wrong.” That’s an effective argument. Unfortunately for her, the people she was sitting next to never really seemed like they needed to win to save themselves either.

Less compelling was when she articulated how she didn’t strike against Dom and Wendell because they were the ones who would get her to the end. Again, that’s a great strategy if you’re playing for third place, but not if you actually want to win. I have said it all season: I like Laurel. I do think she is very smart and very calculating, as we saw when she made her deal with Dom and Wendell when Malolo was actually in power on that tribe. That was very smart and thinking many moves ahead. As for her blind loyalty that followed at the expense of her own game (and Donathan’s), I would say that she miscalculated. Maybe she was counting on that split vote she spoke about, or that the Navitis would be bitter at Dom and Wendell for tuning on them and come to her instead. She misplayed her hand. But believe it or not — and this may drive you crazy — I’d like to see her play again. Because I think she learned from his massive mistake and would play a much more aggressive game next time.

• Listen, Des didn’t didn’t say a whole lot here, but she did have one great line. After Wendell tried to talk up his social game by explaining how he and Desiree would stay up arguing about “Kanye vs. Chance the Rapper vs. other rappers,” Des was quick to note that “I’m not gong to vote for you off of a music conversation.” And why should she? Just because they both happen to like the same kind of music?

But that’s not even why I am pointing this incident all out. I’m pointing it out to give props to the hilariously subtle editing job of cutting to a shot of Chris Noble — THE GREATEST RAPPER OF ALL TIME! — on the jury as Wendell talked about his favorite rappers. Wendell doesn’t know what he’s talking about, by the way. The Noble One has ALL The bars, y’all! If you’re ever looking for someone to rap about either current or former members of the Miami Heat then Chris Noble is your motherfreakin’ man. Bow down and pay respects to the true O.G.! (Original Ghost.)

• I’m sure some people may be annoyed at how Kellyn sort of took over the jury and started polling people to get at the truth. Not me. To me, that is the beauty of the new format and her actions here speak of someone who is trying to get as much accurate information as possible before casting her vote. I didn’t read that as her having an agenda she was trying to promote (which is what so many of the questions in the former Q&A format used to be). She didn’t just want to hear from the final 3; she wanted to hear from the jury as well, and I thought that was super cool.

• Is it just me or did Angela look fabulous at the final Tribal Council? There’s always that one person that gets on the jury and you’re like “WHOA!” because they look like a completely different person (and I’m not just talking about Lex and his mohawk of doom). Angela was that person this season.

Okay, usually we do a lot of stuff on the reunion show, but was there even a reunion show? I think it was only about 20 minutes of actual air time, so not a lot to say, It was nice to see Erik and James out there. Yes, it took some attention away from this season’s contestants but since this season was all about the show’s past and the bad moves made it totally fit in with theme and made sense. Kevin Hart? Not so much. But it’s not that surprising for CBS and Mark Burnett (who is a producer) to want to promote their new show. Networks do that stuff all the time. It’s actually crazy that CBS has not done it before on the prime real estate that is a Survivor finale, especially considering all the painful network cross-promotion they do on Big Brother. I wasn’t even paying much attention to Kevin Hart because I was still trying to figure out where the hell Stephanie Johnson was. Is she still on Ghost Island or something. Is she going to show up in 12 years and have “matured” into something else with either more or less powers? I can’t wait to find out!

We still have some other business to take care of before we finish things up. First of all, we finally have a winner in our #FakeKellyn contest. If you missed it, we asked fans to send in their best Kellyn impersonation videos and Kellyn herself would pick the best one. The winner will receive all 20 of the original Survivor Love Letters as written by the Ghost Island cast. Well, we got so many incredible entries (including some from actual Ghost Island contestants that you can see right here!)

that we have not one winner but two! Kellyn has kindly agreed to send a signed Naviti buff to the runner-up. And the runner up winner is…

Congrats, Matt! Which brings us to the winner of the original pack of 20 Survivor Love Letters. And the winner is…

Way to put your kids to work, Bob! Congratulations to both the winners. Kellyn and I will be in touch with your prizes.

Don’t worry if you didn’t win because we still have plenty of goodies for you. Did you read my massive franchise deep dive with Jeff Probst and Mark Burnett? You should! Speaking of Probst and Burnett, did you read what they had to say about next season of Survivor: David vs. Goliath? You should! We also have our big finale Q&A with Jeff Probst as well as finale interviews with Wendell, Domenick, Laurel, Angela, Donathan, and Sebastian. Exclusive deleted scene? Yep, got that too. See, everyone’s a winner! You can also follow me on the Twitter @DaltonRoss to have all the handy links sent right to you.

But now its your turn. Would you have voted Wendell or Dom? Do you now like the final four fire-making twist? And what were your thoughts on both the finale and the season as a whole? Hit the message boards to weigh in. And before we go, I’d just like to say thanks to everyone for continuing to come and read these ramblings of a madman. Not unlike the subjects of Ice-T’s late-’80 rap anthem “Colors” the fans of Survivor will never die, just multiply! But seriously, I appreciate you taking the time — too much time, I know — and I appreciate all the kind words. I hope you have as much fun reading as I do writing. And, Sia, if you want to float me $10,000, that’s cool too. Anyway, let’s do it all again next season, shall we? Until then, enjoy a summer-sized scoop of the crispy on my behalf!

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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