By Dalton Ross
December 04, 2019 at 09:00 PM EST
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Oh my God, there’s two of them!!! That was my first thought when I saw Noura’s sister Lana run down the beach like a crazy person, scream in her sibling’s face, and then almost knock her to the ground in a burst of pure energy on this week’s episode of Survivor: Island of the Idols. That thought was then quickly replaced by the following question: Wait, is Noura actually the sane one? (Note: She’s not.)

Were we all seeing double? I always thought of Noura as God’s concept album — where the supreme being just decided to get a little crazy and try something different, perhaps with a jazz fusion bent. But now it appears as if the Almighty had looked down upon his/her work and decided: You know what? That was so nice, I need to do it twice! And then out came Lana. Two for the price of one! The Salman Sisters on the loose! Or perhaps the conspiracy is much deeper than that and there is a whole Noura clone army out there ready to plant freak flags on each and every continent while delivering manifestos that will be presented in awesome time-lapse video footage. Maybe this is actually season 6 of Orphan Black!

As far as this season of Survivor goes, the more Nouras the better — especially with all the ugliness that went down a few weeks back. We just want to be entertained, and Noura is entertaining as hell. But if you are a player in the game, you need to get this woman off the island, and you need to do it as quickly as possible. That’s because there is nothing less desirable and more dangerous in this game than unpredictability.

An alliance partner you can’t trust is actually worse than someone you know is on the other side because at least you know where the latter stands. But an ally who does not follow logic or reason is one who can blow up your entire game at any moment due to factors that one could not even possibly consider. That’s what makes Noura so dangerous in this game. That’s why while what Dean did in betraying his new fearsome foursome alliance at Tribal Council would on the surface appear to be a terrible move, it actually makes complete sense.

Noura is a wild card (emphasis on the wild), and that is the last person you want to align with in this game. First person you want to go out and grab a beer with, but last person with whom to align. If you have any plans that rely on Noura, those are bad plans. That’s because when it comes to voting, you want normal, not Noura-mal. Of course, what makes the Nuora conundrum all the more fascinating is that while she is the person you need to get rid of because she adds a factor of chaos and unpredictability to the vote, she is also the person you want to sit next to at the end. So what to do? This week, everyone kept her around. It will be interesting to see if next week follows suit. For our purposes as viewers, let’s hope so. And if you want to cast Lana on season 41 (Blood vs. Water 3?), that works too.

Okay, let’s hit a few other big points from the latest episode.

“A Very Simple Plan” – Dean Kowalski and Noura Salman on the Twelfth episode of SURVIVOR: Island of Idols airing Wednesday, Dec. 4 (8:00-9:01 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Screen Grab/CBS Entertainment ©2019 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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Reunited and It Feels So Good
I used to find the Loved Ones visit so sappy and over the top, but then I got old and sentimental and learned to just embrace the cheese. Plus, it’s our only opportunity to hear Jeff Probst say awkward things like, “It’s time for some love!”

We’ve already established the greatness of Noura’s sister Lana, but there were other nice moments along the way as well. Watching Lauren and Tommy emotionally crumble and display such vulnerability was moving. Hearing Janet’s husband John talk about how “she breaks through for women on so many levels” was powerful — especially considering the events of a few weeks ago when Janet stood up for women that were more nefariously playing her in the game. (I’m also not usually a big fan of showy gender reveals, but John’s pink shirt to tell his wife the gender of their granddaughter was a great touch.)

Dan’s son Ryan got to live out every 13-year-old’s dream, and watching Elaine and her girlfriend Tanya lock lips on national television couldn’t help but remind me of how far we have come (when Survivor first went on the air 19 years ago, such a scene probably would not have been allowed to air on the program).

And then there was Karishma, convulsing and collapsing in her husband Drew’s arms. I’m sure there are those who will point to this as another example of her weakness, especially as she moaned “I’m not good,” but I’ve found the storyline of Karishma and her marriage to be one of the more fascinating ones of the season. Early in the season, she talked openly about questioning aspects of her arranged marriage, but then in a case of don’t-know-what-you’ve-got-till-it’s-gone (great hair metal power ballad, by the way), she started to realize what she had and what she missed from back home.

Karishma’s comment while practically squeezing the life out of her husband that “I’m never ever going to let go of this” was super impactful, and her final words after being voted out cemented that personal journey that she had out on the island, and one which had absolutely nothing to do with the game: “This journey was an opportunity for me to learn about myself and what love really means to me. When I saw my husband, I saw a love that’s more powerful than I ever could imagine. That’s the love of being accepted for who you are. I’m going to go home with that feeling in my heart for the rest of my life.”

We’ve never watched a story quite like that in 39 seasons of Survivor, and I appreciate being able to see it.

Throw It Like You Know It
You all know how much I hate it when people throw challenges. There are just too many unknown variables that clearly outweigh any sort of perceived advantage there could be in voluntarily going to a Tribal Council. But you all also know I have one major exception to that rule. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I will now state the obvious for all future Survivor competitors once again: NEVER EVER EVER WIN THE LOVED ONES CHALLENGE!!!

The reasoning is simple: The people you don’t choose to go with you will either recognize their place in the pecking order or be pissed you denied them time with their loved one — or both. You are practically gift-wrapping and handing to the players you leave back sulking at camp an excuse to band together and vote you out. (And if you attempt to give up your own spot so one of them can go, it comes off as an insincere game move — just ask Albert Destrade.) I say this every season, and nobody ever listens. And they should. Because look at what Karishma said to the other losers just moments after Janet and Tommy won the challenge and took Dan and Lauren. “Moving forward, let’s all band together. We could put a wrecking ball to someone else’s head maybe.”

I mean, a wrecking ball to the head sounds a little overly aggressive, but there is Exhibit A for why you don’t want to win this challenge. Now people are trying to bludgeon you. And yes, Lauren was ultimately right that the four left behind were not unified enough to work together, and Dan was ultimately correct (if not so nice) when he assessed the situation and deduced that “to have our army against this mostly ragtag group of losers — I mean, Karishma, Elaine, Dean, Noura — I’m not afraid of this weird grouping,” they were also really, really, really close to being wrong. And Tommy — who won the challenge and didn’t pick any of those four to go with him — was really, really, really close to being voted out because of it.

So, once again, NEVER EVER EVER WIN THE LOVED ONES CHALLENGE!

Losertown
While the peasant revolt never ended up coming to fruition, there were some interesting moments of the would-be revolution as it appeared to be forming. Obviously, the best part was the time-lapse footage of Noura talking all about how wronged she had been, which brought back memories of Christian in David vs. Goliath being time-lapsed as he talked all about the opening challenge. Time-lapse on people who ramble is never not funny. I have little-to-no doubt that many of you wish my recaps were time-lapsed so you could get out of here a hell of a lot sooner.

I also couldn’t help but be amused by Dean all of a sudden wanting to enlist as a member of the Goat Army he kept deriding merely a few days prior. (A Goat Army he would ultimately go AWOL from while being handed down a dishonorable discharge.) And what was up with that “hidden” immunity idol Elaine found? Was that even hidden? It was just sitting there in a tree. No digging it up. No sticking your hand in a funky, bug-infested crevice. Just sitting in a tree. Which also makes no sense because wasn’t Jamal just taught that if something is that easy and obvious and sitting right in front of you that it is too good to be true?!? ARE YOU NOW CALLING BOSTON ROB A LIAR?!?

Less Than Epic
Fiji is absolutely gorgeous and allows the show to do big-time challenges on both land and sea. So why does it feel like the past few years we have been stuck with an inordinate amount of simple standing in a station individual challenges? You know the drill: the players all line up and then try to balance something or hold something up or keep something spinning (while often standing on a narrow perch) for as long as possible. Individually, some of these challenges can be quite good, but when they are run seemingly ad nauseam over and over again, they all start to feel very samey-samey and also serve to make the show’s scale and scope feel less than grand.

Let’s get some more variety into the mix! And let’s get players out running and climbing and swimming. I don’t care if they’re already doing it in a reward challenge. Have them do it in a challenge that matters.

Also, this particular one where players had to stand with one foot on a small block of wood while stabilizing a ball against another block of wood was just too short. I understand the show will never go back to the glory days where we had endurance challenges that lasted for hours on end. But an endurance challenge that only lasts about 15 minutes is not exactly epic. That is not in any way to diminish the accomplishment of Lauren (who pushed herself past the brink with her whole body trembling). Lauren’s victory was impressive and well-earned. It just doesn’t feel as rich or as awe-inspiring for the audience. Let’s mix it up more with thee contests.

Leaf It Alone
Noura trying to figure out the potential Tribal Council voting scenarios by having leaves represent each of the players so she could move them around to simulate possible votes is yet another reason to cast Noura on every single season from now until the end of time.

Rethinking Tribal Council
So it looked like the Goat Army was set to topple their oppressors until Dean opened his mouth at Tribal Council and whispered to Tommy, “They want you. But I’m not.” And that set forth another scene of madness and chaos as everyone not named Karishma started standing, walking over, and whispering to everyone else. This was shocking when it first happened back a few years ago. It’s less shocking now. And I have to wonder if there is a downside to all these “live Tribal Councils.”

But before we get to that, let’s acknowledge that for about the first 33 seasons of Survivor, when a tribe went to Tribal Council, whomever they planned on voting out got voted out. Unless, of course, an idol or advantage came into play, but the point is that the plan never changed from the moment people walked into Tribal until they voted. Then the whispering and walking started a few years back and Tribal Councils have definitely been more exciting and unpredictable ever since. Ultimately, that’s a good thing. Let’s keep that in mind.

Howevvvvvvvvvvvver, I can’t help but wonder if the game has evolved to the point where we have hit whisper-overload, and here’s why. The trick of Tribal Council used to always be this: How do I secretly convey information to my alliance-mates while also not revealing my true intentions to those I am voting against? When everything you say is being heard by everyone, you have to walk a very fine line in how you answer every single question posed by either Jeff Probst or another tribemate. Every word matters, because every word is heard by everyone.

Not anymore. Now, with an average Tribal Council containing more sidebar discussions than an episode of Law & Order, people can say their true intents only to the people they want to hear it. You don’t have to worry about speaking in code or how to tip off one person while simultaneously placating another because you can just whisper whatever you want whenever you want to whomever you want. That, in effect, makes Tribal Council too easy for players and gives them an automatic Get Out of Jail Free card because they can choose to say what they want to the group and what they want to specific individuals.

This is why the show should consider banning any individual discussion at Tribal Council. The worry in doing so is that we would go back to the old days where votes were locked before TC and didn’t move. That’s not necessarily preferable. But the way the game has evolved, I don’t think that would happen. I think these side conversations that happen now would often ultimately become open group conversations that could make for even more exciting Tribal Councils. Instead of Dean whispering to Tommy about what was coming, he would have to just say it out in the open. And that would make for a better Tribal Council as the other players would be reacting to that bomb in real-time.

In any event, I think it’s something the show should seriously consider if they decide to extrapolate what the next step in the evolution of Tribal Council could be. (Wait, what does extrapolate mean?)

More-a Noura
God bless Noura. I’m not sure I have seen a worse liar in my entire life, which makes me love her even more. Her fibbing after visiting Island of the Idols was gloriously terrible, and her attempt to get out of this Tribal Council jam after being outed by Dean was about as ineffectual and unconvincing as one would expect. I should be critiquing her poor skills at deception, but for some reason, I find them oddly endearing. I was actually having trouble following her argument as she laid out her defense to Tommy, Dan, and Janet, but then I laid a few leaves down on the table to help track all the movement and it all totally made sense. Which is to say it made no sense at all.

Also, like last week with Lauren, I’m sure there will be those that take Elaine to task for wasting her idol needlessly, but also like last week, there were so many moving parts and last-minute changes that I think she made the right move in playing it (as opposed to leaving it in her “redneck pocket”). In the end, Karishma was sent to the jury, but you can’t hate on Elaine for playing it safe considering everything that was going on.

The Biggest Twist of All
One of the many problems with the Edge of Extinction twist is that we were denied the insight provided at the end of every episode through Jeff Probst’s Final Words of Wisdom. At the end of each Tribal, Jeff would say something deep and sage-like that would either sum up the current state of the tribe, comment on the Tribal Council that had just concluded, or offer a warning as to what may lie ahead. So, the world-at-large (or, you know, my living room at least) rejoiced at their triumphant return this season.

In all honestly, they’re pretty meaningless, and Probst himself is not a big fan of them, which is why he suggested to Australian Survivor host Jonathan LaPaglia that he skip doing them when he took his job hosting the international version of the show. (Advice that LaPaglia thankfully did not take.) But they have become as much a part of the Survivor ritual as Jeff staring at his feet while ordering people to “come on in,” and yelling at contestants to “dig deep.” Again, as 1980s hair metal balladeers Cinderella once opined, you “Don’t Know What You’ve Got (Till It’s Gone).” God, I love a song title with a parenthetical, especially a completely unnecessary one.

It dawned on me that I was the only one who really cared about the Final Words of Wisdom when I wrote about their absence somewhat obsessively last season to a collective response of “Oh, are they gone? I didn’t notice. Okay, whatever.” Even the Hostmaster General found my questions about it to be slightly perplexing. But they were back this season, and I was happy.

So what the f&¢# was the deal this week when Jeff ended Tribal with… “I got nothing for you. Grab your torches. Head back to camp.” I got nothing for you? That’s it? That’s all? First off, that’s already a Survivor catchphrase! You can’t just take a Survivor catch phrase from one setting and move it over willy-nilly to another. You wouldn’t bid them farewell by saying “Well, that was a Tribal Council with all the fixins. Grab your torches. Head back to camp.” No. No. No. Unacceptable. First, you got rid of the trunk of cash. Then the ditched the giant gong. And now you are trying once again to remove the Final Words of Wisdom from the Tribal Council experience? Not on my watch!

Anything would have been better than “I got nothing for you.” Here, I’ll channel my inner Probst and offer up a few examples off the top of my head:

“Well, there was a lot of talk tonight about who did and said what, but what really speaks volumes is the voice you choose to silence with your vote. Grab your torches. Head back to camp.”

“Yesterday you all were battling to see your loved ones, and now it’s time to battle for your spot at the end. By the look of things tonight, that battle has already begun. Grab your torches. Head back to camp.”

“Alliances are made and alliances are broken, but ultimately the one thing this game always comes down to is: Who do you trust? And trust me when I tell you that we are getting some fantastic jury reaction shots this season that we are going to edit very heavily into each and every episode. Keep ‘em coming, gang! Okay, grab your torches. Head back to camp.”

Look, I’ll admit that none of those were particularly good, but all of them are better than “I got nothing for you,” because Probst should have something for them, and what he should have are Final Words of Wisdom.

Speaking of words of wisdom, I have a few myself, and they are these: Enjoy an exclusive deleted scene from the episode above. And also make sure to read my weekly Q&A with the host where I take him to task for his lack of panache at the end of Tribal. And guess what? Exit interviews are back! My chat with Karishma should be up Thursday afternoon, so check back for that soon. And for more Survivor scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

And now it’s your turn. Should whispering and side-conversations be outlawed at Tribal Council? Is it ever okay to win a Loved Ones reward challenge? And who was your favorite Loved One visitor? Hit the message boards to weigh in and I’ll be back next week with a scoop of the penultimate crispy.

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Jeff Probst leads adventures in the ultimate (and original) reality series.

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