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SURVIVOR: Island of Idols
Jeff Probst and the cast of 'Survivor: Island of the Idols'
| Credit: CBS

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope you are all surrounded by friends and family this holiday season. But not, like… you know… too many friends and family. That’s what happened to me this year. I thought I would kinda hang back and have a mellow turkey day. Just the core family: wife, son, daughter. Inner circle, is what I’m getting at!

But then I made a critical error when I decided to invite two friends of mine: Tommy and Lauren. Honestly, I felt like I owed Tommy an invite. He was my episode 1 pick to win it all on this season of Survivor and he actually looks like a semi-promising candidate to end my epic streak of futility when it comes to predicting winners. I wanted to thank him in advance, even if he doesn’t end up sealing the deal, and what better time to thank him than Thanksgiving? So he got an invite. And then Lauren just seems like she’d be a good post-dessert charades player — very expressive — so I invited her as well.

So, that was fine. But then Lauren and Tommy went around and started convincing everyone they knew to come eat as well! Even people that already had plans. Or people who didn’t seem particularly hungry. They even convinced the entire Detroit Lions football team — who is scheduled to compete every Thanksgiving day — to forgo their game to eat at my place instead. (They knew better than to invite the Dallas Cowboys to my house. I have my limits.)

And what’s even weirder about the whole thing is not only did they convince all these people to eat at my house, but they also went and TOTALLY CHANGED THE MENU! Instead of turkey, stuffing, green beans, and mashed potatoes, now, apparently, I am serving bacon, pancakes, and hash browns. For Thanksgiving! And all my cheap beer has been replaced by… orange juice? Then, to top it all off, for some bizarre reason they are also insisting we stuff all this food into our mouths as quickly as possible “because our time to eat it could end at any second.” I have no idea what that even means.

Okay, I need to go figure out a new seating plan — hmmm, where to put noted turnover machine, Jeff Driskel? — but before I do, let’s jam through a few big moments from this week’s episode of Survivor: Island of the Idols.

The Robfather Makes an Offer Lauren Can’t Refuse
The action at Island of the Idols starts this week with Sandra being attacked by a chicken. “This bitch bit my finger,” complains the two-time champ as the papaya is knocked from her grasp. This will have no bearing on the rest of the episode or season as a whole, but I feel like I would not be performing my due diligence if I did not give it the attention it so clearly deserves. (I watched it four times in a row.)

But there is a human visitor to IOTI as well. A self-invited visitor at that. Lauren (seemingly not concerned about the target it could put on her) asks the group to send her, and the group obliges. After exclaiming “OH MY GOD!” approximately 100 times upon her arrival, Lauren learns that her lesson of the week is going to be about “situational awareness.” Unfortunately, there is no real corresponding lesson in The Boston Rob® Rulebook: Strategies for Life (makes a great Christmas present!) so for this week’s excerpt I shall simple relay a passage from the chapter titled “Clean it Up.” And I quote…

“This is sort of an all-encompassing rule that is more of a philosophy and way of life that applies to many situations. Below is a small sample:

If you’ve had one too many cocktails… Clean it up.

If your pants are hanging too low off your ass… Clean it up.

If you’ve got some sauce on your shirt… Clean it up.

If you’re cursing within earshot of your mother… Clean it up.

If you’ve got a big hunk of spinach stuck in your front teeth… Clean it up.”

I’ll be honest, I don’t really understand that lesson in the least, unless the lesson was “How to Fill Up an Entire Chapter With Stuff That Everyone Already Knows.” The lesson on TV at least makes a little more sense. Rob tells Lauren what the next immunity endurance challenge is and says if she wants to guess who will win it and is right, she will get an idol that will be good at one of the next two Tribal Councils. But if she’s wrong, she’ll lose her vote.

Then he tells her more, explaining that this will have an “eat or play” component, which is when players are offered an opportunity to sit out the contest for food instead — a twist that I am convinced was introduced for the sole purpose of making me lose my mind every time someone chooses the food and then puts themselves at risk of being kicked out of the game.

That’s a lot of information Lauren just received, but the odds are terrible at having to pick one out of nine. Lauren talks it out, believing that the competition will eventually come down to Noura or Elizabeth. But still, the odds stink. After watching Lauren hem and haw, however, Rob sweetens the deal, telling her she can pick two potential winners, and like a degenerate gambler needing a fix, Lauren takes the bait.

Look, these Island of the Idols lessons and tests are goofy as hell. The thing with Jamal being punished for taking a note hanging from a tree made no sense whatsoever! On the absurdity scale, that weighed more than the time Jeff Probst jet-skied the final Tribal Council votes all the way from the Amazon to New York City. But as silly as some of these things are, I am really into the ones where someone has to secretly convince their tribemates to do something against their own best interests. I love it because that is at the very heart of Survivor. How to maneuver, through your words, people to do things you want them to do for the betterment of your game and possible detriment of their own? That’s Survivor!

Watching Noura fail spectacularly at it a few weeks back with the blind caller challenge was super entertaining. And watching Lauren and Tommy be wildly successful in getting every single person they wanted to sit out (except Karishma, who was never a threat to win anyway) was super impressive. These are the little games within the game that are fun to watch. I mean, not as much fun as watching Sandra get attacked by a chicken, but fun nonetheless.

Goat No More?
So after Probst hits Elaine in the face while taking off her immunity necklace, it’s time for the challenge, and everyone except Noura, Elizabeth, and Karishma chooses food over playing. I will ignore my seething rage at the folks who picked hash browns over trying for safety in the game — even though hash browns are definitely the most delicious of all breakfast foods. I will also put aside the assumption that consuming thick fluffy pancakes after starving for 30 days should probably send half of these contestants into a coma. And instead I will focus on this: Is it time to pause for the cause and start giving Karishma some gameplay props?

First off, anyone that competes over taking food gets automatic points right there, especially after noting that “mimosa is, like, my favorite drink in the entire world.” (I have to imagine that a mimosa from Applebee’s — Karishma’s favorite sit-down restaurant — would make the contestant’s head explode.) I mean, of course Karishma is knocked out mere moments after the competition begins as she stood about as good a chance of winning this challenge as I do of getting Jeff Probst to look up while telling people to “Come on in, guys,” but even knowing that, she competed anyway. Double thumbs up from me on that! EYE OF THE TIGER!

But let’s look deeper. Because Karishma is also the one who set into motion getting Missy out last week, refusing to be served marching orders and simply fall in line. And Karishma found a hidden immunity idol and covered her tracks with a sickness excuse to boot. And then Karishma used that immunity idol at the perfect time this week when she was set to be eliminated. Listen, I’m not saying we need to construct another statue on Island of the Idols or anything. We don’t need to lock down a spot on an upcoming Survivor: Legends season, but let’s give credit where credit is due. Karishma has stepped up her game. Baby steps? Perhaps. But these are steps, people! And even if this does mean that folks like Dean now just consider her the General of this mysterious Goat Army he keeps imagining, at least she’s now the General. Because as we saw with Anthony Michael Hall in Sixteen Candles, being “king of the dips—s,” still makes you a king.

Ain’t No Stopping Her Now
Noura ends up defeating Elizabeth in their endurance duel… and then attempts to keep going! “I’m doing it for all of you all,” she says while remaining perfectly still. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way,” responds Probst, forcing her to step down and the other contestants to cease gorging themselves. To which I say… BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

First off, that is a perfectly Noura thing for Noura to do to keep competing in a challenge that is already over. You have to love that last week Noura celebrated too early and threw her ball-spinning apparatus into the air in the middle of a competition that was still going on (thereby denying her group peanut butter and jelly sandwiches), and this week she refuses to stop competing even after the game is over. But even beyond that, Jeff Probst should have recognized, honored, and rewarded Noura’s genius in finding a Survivor loophole to allow her tribemates more time to eat.

And why wouldn’t he? Because the more time those folks have to shove flapjacks down their pie holes, the more hilarious footage we would have of them back at camp feeling sick to their stomachs and being absolutely miserable. It’s a win-win! Still mad at Probst for shutting this down.

Triple Play
Three different people play different things after the votes are cast at Tribal Council. Dean starts off by playing a copy of the fake Legacy Advantage that Jamal gave him. It was so obvious to me that what Jamal gave Dean was phony baloney, but many of the players — including Tommy, which makes me question myself for picking him to win — seem convinced it is real. And we don’t see anyone here looking close enough to notice that this is a forgery of the original already fake document.

That’s a very smart move by Dean. If people there legitimately think Jamal’s piece of Hong Kong Phooey was the real deal and will therefore be scared to vote against him, letting people know right before the 6 vote (when it can allegedly next be used) you actually still have it, could guarantee Dean a free pass that night as well. Cagey!

Karishma follows up Dean’s play by standing up and playing hers, announcing, “This is some insurance because I am certainly on the wrong side of the trench and I hope that we can start filling that trench in.” Players — especially Noura, who rifled through Karishma’s bag — seem legitimately shocked, as if they could not have even conceived this as a possibility.

But we’re not done! Because then Lauren announces, “Jeff, there’s one more. I’m not going home either.” This will ultimately go down as a wasted idol who would win immunity. All it could take is one vote at this point to send anyone home, which makes the vote way too unpredictable. This was a smart play and the right play by Lauren, especially considering the idol was good for only one more vote, when presumably she would have more control over the situation.

Karishma’s votes are null and void with Janet and Elizabeth each receiving one vote, and then Elizabeth is unanimously sent to the jury on the revote. It’s amazing to think how much this season — and the fates of the players — were altered by last week’s tribe separation. If that doesn’t happen, Aaron and Missy are very likely still in the game. And if Aaron and Missy are still in the game, then Elizabeth is probably protected and safe at this vote as well. That’s the hardest part of Survivor: Sometimes you can do everything right from a strategic perspective, and still get undone by forces outside of your control. In a way, maybe that knowledge makes being voted out easier. But probably not. It still has to suck.

Jesus, I have to go get ready to host what has now turned into the First Annual Dalton Ross Breakfast Explosion Thanksgiving Feast For the Ages. (Maybe there should be Thanksgiving every week to force me to not be so insanely long-winded in my recaps.) But we’ve got an exclusive deleted scene for you, as well as my weekly Q&A with Jeff Probst. Peruse those at your leisure. And for more Survivor stuff, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

And now it’s your turn. Did you like Lauren’s mission? Do you agree Karishma is stepping up her game? And should Noura have been allowed to continue the immunity challenge… even after she had already won? Hit the message boards to weigh in and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the hash browns!

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