By Dalton Ross
October 02, 2019 at 09:00 PM EDT
Michele Crowe/CBS Entertainment
S39 E2
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Here’s the good news about this week’s Survivor recap: There will be no test at the end. I’m not going to ask you to remember whatever lame episode of Shasta McNasty I may have referenced for no particular reason or insist you come up with the name of whatever reality contestant has-been from yesteryear that is sure to get mentioned at some point. You won’t be forced to guess which of my three cats (Clawed, Fang, and Crookshanks) is mute. Nor will you have to name which branch of the military I have served in. (TRICK QUESTION!)

You are welcome to forget every single thing I say…except this: Never, ever, ever take a nap before Tribal Council. I can’t emphasize this point enough. If you’re out there on the island and feel yourself cruisin’ for some snoozin’ a few hours before the public execution that is a Survivor vote-off, smack yourself across the cheek a few times, take a quick dip in the ocean, yell “DON’T LET THAT FOOL YOU!” at the top of your lungs, and get your game face back on. How do we know Jamal’s game face was not on? Let’s take a little quiz.

Which of the following statements did Jamal say either before or during Tribal Council?
A) “I think we’re really impressed with ourselves.”
B) “I recommend a mid-day nap.”
C) “We are definitely in first gear. I think Survivor is a slow burn.”
D) All of the above.

If you guessed D, then congratulations! Clearly, you watched an episode of Survivor! There are so many things wrong with each of those statements. First off, whenever you say anything along the lines of “I think we’re really impressed with ourselves” you are tempting the Survivor gods to layeth the smackdown on you for your overconfidence and insolence. Such blasphemy rarely goes unpunished.

Then, taking a nap before Tribal Council? To put it in Island of the Idols terms, I don’t think Boston Rob slept — much less napped — over 39 days during the Redemption Island season. Napping while others are scrambling to save themselves? That is near the top of the list of biggest Survivor No-Nos, right above winning the Loved Ones challenge and right below wearing a red sweater vest. And Jamal was clearly wrong about playing in first gear. He wasn’t even playing in first gear. He was playing in neutral. And now he has gone from the top to the bottom, and his alliance-mate Molly is out of the game, searching desperately in vain for a torch that she could carry to the Edge of Extinction.

But I will never sleep on the job, ladies & gentlemen. So let’s recap the rest of this sucker starting with…

This Preview Has Been Approved For All Audiences by the Survivor Association of America
What the hell just happened? I sit down to watch Survivor and I notice four things. Thing 1: I forgot to open a beer. Survivor is so much better with beer. What is wrong with me? Thing 2: There are no opening credits. No surprise here, as they haven’t used them for years at this point. So let’s move on to Thing 3: No “Previously on…” segment. Now, this is very odd. Because this is only week 2 of the show and there are probably many viewers who missed the premiere for whatever reason but figured a quick recap — something I have never provided myself, incidentally — would bring them up to speed. But they figured wrong!

My shock by the lack of a “Previously on…” soon turns into confusion as we then see three quick moments… that haven’t already happened! What is the meaning of this? Are we peering into the future? Have we stolen Doc Brown’s time-traveling DeLorean to make sure Marty McFly’s son doesn’t get beat up by a bunch of hoodlums on hoverboards? I am totally discombobulated as I start to realize that the episode has essentially just begun with a trailer of the episode we are already watching.

Of course, sometimes trailers and previews can provide spoilers, as we learned last week when they showed the tribe that would be going to Tribal Council before the immunity challenge had even happened. WHOOPS!

 

Anyway, I am still so rattled by this crazy format shift in starting an episode that I have yet to come to terms with whether I actually loved it or loathed it. I am usually so annoyingly opinionated about everything, that my lack of a “Hot Take” must surely be as confusing to you as the preview intro was to me. Will we be seeing this all season? I asked Jeff Probst exactly that in our weekly Q&A so you can check there for his answer.

A Hero Will Rise
We see the Lairo tribe come back after voting out Ronnie, and Aaron is pissed because nobody told him his island BFF was toast. He tries to convince everyone that he wasn’t tight with Ronnie, which seems about as believable as me being a member at Aaron’s gym, but God bless him for trying. I will award points to Missy for extending an olive branch to the Chiseled One and trying to get him back into a less adversarial pose. The best move in such circumstances of blindsiding a power player is not to rub their noses in it, but rather make them feel as safe and as part of the group as possible so that they remain in a passive position. Don’t know if it will work, but a valiant attempt on Missy’s part.

But what is up with Vince’s mini-temper tantrum? Dude, you got two votes from the people you were voting against. Who cares? You need to make like Queen Elsa and let it go. Speaking of queens, look at Chelsea! After Tom and the bros seemingly spent all day failing to make fire, Chelsea just steps up and is all like “Let me dominate this flint the way Dalton’s sad-sack Washington, D.C. football team gets dominated on a weekly basis.” (Now, why Elizabeth was unable to make fire after being personally tutored by Boston Rob and Sandra remains a mystery.)

Not only does Chelsea make fire in roughly the same amount of time it takes my team to go down 28-0, but she follows up that masterstroke by being aware enough to also find a hidden immunity idol while collecting firewood. Will she now have the strength not to blab about her idol find? Only time will tell.

Square Peg in Round Hole
“Most of my life I have been on the outs,” Noura will tell us later at Tribal Council. (See, that was my own little flash-forward. I’m learning!) But we notice at the start of the episode why that is. Noura the Explorer begins day 4 of the game complaining to anyone who will listen — and even those who choose not to — that she was working on the fire while everyone else was sleeping. She thinks her tribe is lazy. They need to be loading up on firewood! And collecting coconuts! And stop taking mid-day naps unless they happen to be right before Tribal Council and enable her to stay in the game!

Predictably, this does not go over particularly well. The biggest rift appears to be between Noura and Molly, who now want each other out. Molly says she doesn’t care if people try to pick on her, while Noura tells us “it’s like high school all over again,” which is something I have never, ever heard before on Survivor. What, is someone also going to start comparing Survivor to chess? (Actually, yes. LOOK, ANOTHER FLASH-FORWARD!!!!)

Last episode we saw Noura warn Jason to chill out on the idol hunting, and this time it is Jason returning the favor by talking her off the proverbial ledge. She just needs to calm herself, find her moment of Zen, and channel her inner Coach. And that’s exactly what she does, leading the tribe in a yoga session complete with loads of “Ommmmmming.” Iron sharpens iron, Noura! Slay all the dragons — not with your first, but with your mind!

Attention Grabbing
So a boat rolls up to the Vokai beach with a note that Kellee must travel to the Island of the Idols, which I guess by the way everyone is reacting might actually kill her? I love the sense of doom and dread that accompanies this news, with everyone practically offering Kellee condolences even though they are all dying to go in her place.

Kellee doesn’t know what to expect as she arrives. “Maybe Cochran’s gonna pop out of the bushes,” she tells us, immediately bumming me out that Cochran is not, in fact, going to pop out of any bushes. If Survivor had any sense of humor whatsoever, Island of the Idols would have also featured a Cochran statue about 1/3 the size of the other ones. And Cochran would have had his own smaller shelter about 20 feet away from Rob and Sandra’s, and he would just wave awkwardly over to the group every 5 minutes or so.

Unfortunately, Cochran is not there, but it does lead to this brilliant exchange once Kelle meets her hosts, Sandra and Boston Rob.

KELLEE: “I literally was like, what if Cochran meets me.”
SANDRA: “No this is better than Cochran.”
KELLEE: “Waaaaaaay better.”

I wonder what Cochran thinks about that. Then again, we don’t have to wonder. I’m sure we’ll find out at the reunion show when the camera does its season finale-mandated cut to him sitting sheepishly in the audience.

Before we get to the lesson from Island of the Idols, let’s pause for the cause to learn another lesson from The Boston Rob® Rulebook: Strategies for Life. As many of you may know, Boston Rob actually published a book, and I will be sharing choice excerpts each and every week. This week’s morsel comes from the chapter titled, yes, “Pay Attention.” Here’s what The Robfather has to say about that:

“You can’t always believe what you see. But if you pay attention, it’s easy to distinguish between a genuine smile and a fake one. Just pull out some old family photos and you’ll see what I mean. Liars are easy to spot, too. They usually seem nervous or fidgety and have a hard time looking you in the eye. Furthermore, if someone is acting or talking aggressively toward you, like they have something to prove, they may be overcompensating or trying to deflect your attention in another way. If you want to know what someone’s really after, what their true intentions are, you have to pay attention.”

I mean, yeah. Seems pretty elementary, but okay. He’s not wrong, certainly. I would never advise people to not pay attention. I’m not convinced The Boston Rob® Rulebook: Strategies for Life needed an entire chapter telling me that paying attention is good, but sure. Anyway, let’s hope BR’s lesson to Kellee is a little more incisive.  And it is time for the lesson.

Rob and Sandra welcome Kellee and then ask her tons of dumb questions while also relaying their own personal information. I think Kellee actually catches on to this pretty quick because while it looks like she is glazed over while Sandra talks about her kids and half-blind dogs, I actually think it may have been a look of concentration as she tries to remember as much as possible. Because there’s no way a fan of the show sitting down with these two legends would be this detached and not even making eye contact. Maybe I’m giving her too much credit, but I think Kellee had this one figured out.

Which would also explain why she nails the quiz that comes after. At first, Rob offers an idol good for two Tribals if she gets 4 out of 5 questions right, but after a little hemming and hawing on her part, he increases the longevity of the idol to 3 Tribals and tells Kellee she only needs to get 3 questions right. I may have given Kellee too much credit earlier, but I am going to make up for that now by perhaps not giving her enough. I don’t think Kellee was haggling or negotiating when she turned down the first offer. I think she was just scared to lose her vote. But Boston Rob twisted her arm with the new offer, and she ended up benefiting because of it. But how would she get that idol back into camp past her suspicious tribemates?

I talked about the dangers of lying about Island of the Idols in last week’s recap and I still maintain that it is better to tell as much of the truth as possible. But winning an idol certainly complicates matters because you don’t want anyone knowing you have it. Kellee returns back to the beach and says she had a mental breakdown, which is smart because it takes a bit of the focus off of the potential idol.

Dan immediately hugs Kellee and kisses her hair, which perhaps was not the best call after last week’s conversation about personal space, but we’ll set that aside for now. She then uses almost the exact same lie that Elizabeth deployed last week in saying she lost a riveting game of “Pick the Urn.” Fine. Believable enough. They did it before on Ghost Island. I mean, I can’t believe they did it before because this show is capable of things a million times more dramatic than Pick the Urn, but again, they’ve done it, so the lie has some pull to it.

But then Kellee goes to the next level, offering to strip naked and empty her bag so people can see she has no idol. Good thing Alan Ball from Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers was not on this tribe, because you know he would have made her go through with the strip search. (Just ask JP.) The other tribemates, of course, do not. Kelle could have just kept the idol in her underwear because nobody there was going to make her strip down naked, but instead she hides it in the bun of her hair. Not sure if we’ve ever seen that before. Pretty amazing that Dan didn’t suss that out when he was practically licking her follicles, but she appears to have gotten away with it. Well played. But again, does she possess the willpower to keep it a secret?

The Legend of the Fall
God, I love watching people fall down. Can’t get enough of it. I could sit here through a never-ending loop of people slipping, sliding, crashing, and bashing for the rest of my life and be happy. The only thing better than watching people fall down is watching dudes get hit in the crotch. It’s never nut — I mean not — funny, and is why this “600 Groin Hits in 600 Seconds” video is the best thing ever posted in the history of EW.com.

Unfortunately, nobody got ball busted in this week’s episode of Survivor, but we did have some falling, and in pretty epic fashion thanks to the immunity/reward challenge. The contest involves swimming out and retrieving a ladder from the ocean floor, then standing that ladder up and having one player climb it to get a bag of balls than must then be brought to shore and landed in three targets to win both immunity and some spices. Vokai has an extra member so sits Lauren out, which bums me out because judging by future events, Lauren should be on my TV screen as much as possible.

This challenge is pretty damn cool. I love the teams having to find the submerged ladders and then dive down to untie them, I love them then having to climb up to get the bags, I love watching tribes lose the bag, and more than anything, I love watching Vokai repeatedly fail to hold the ladder upright, causing said ladder — and Molly on it — to fall back down into the water. (Unfortunately for her, these plunges will not serve as Molly’s final fall from grace in the episode.)

Thank God nobody got hurt. I say thank God because if someone got hurt then I would feel a bit guilty for laughing so hard at the tribe’s futility and Molly’s awkward descents back into the water. But they didn’t, so I don’t. Great ending to this challenge as well, as Vokai came from way behind to tie it, only to lose when Missy for Lairo hit the third target. So many people to root for this season. Much better casting overall than season 38.

The Tide Turns
We’ve already talked about how the overconfident Jamal literally slept on the job and allowed his alliance to be overthrown in a single afternoon, but we have not given proper credit to the person who did the overthrowing: Lauren. Lauren saw there was a power trio running the show, and she wasn’t a part of it. She saw a competitor in Molly with a strong social game and decided to take her out while she still had the numbers. So with both boldness and precision, Lauren set out to completely flip the tribe.

There are dangers in taking this course of action, of course. For one thing, what if people don’t go for it and now you just blew up your spot? It’s also potentially even more dangerous if they do go for it because you just laid all your cards on the table. Now people know you’re a serious player and a serious threat. How many times have we saluted the hunter, only to watch them then become the hunted? Had I been on Vokai, I would have immediately gone with Lauren’s plan. But I also would have added her name in bold letters to my hit list. There’s no hiding for Lauren anymore.

Of course, Noura and Jason are ecstatic about this latest development. In fact, Noura’s got ants in her pants and she needs to dance. Dancing is generally frowned upon in Survivor circles — especially if it is of the tremendously embarrassing Kama variety as choreographed by one Ron Clark. (The video below still makes me so uncomfortable, I can’t even handle it.)

 

But the reason Jason went all John Lithgow on Noura and told her it was illegal to dance is that when you are the obvious target about to allegedly be sent home, you don’t want to signal to the people who have been double-crossed that they have indeed been double-crossed… even if they are too busy napping to notice!

The vote essentially seems to come down to Tommy and Kellee. Contrary to some of the histrionics we saw at Island of the Idols, they both appear to be pretty logical and unemotional players who will let the percentages guide their decisions rather than their emotions. I mean, what the hell do I know? I’m basing this on a few minutes of air time, but that’s what I’m picking up from them. So which way will they go?

At Tribal Council, a really bizarre debate breaks out over how hard people are playing. Jamal says they are playing in first gear, while Lauren says it’s actually fourth. Jamal tells Jason “you are playing from the bottom in a picture-perfect way,” which I still have no idea if it is a compliment or a critique, and Dan warns us that “I do think this is going to be more of a chess play than a checkers play,” immediately initiating unpleasant flashbacks among CBS’ reality franchise viewership who just had to endure an entire summer of Michie saying a variation of that on a weekly basis over on Big Brother. (My sincere apologies to those who have already expunged the memory of Big Brother 21 from their minds.)

 In the end, Tommy and Kellee side with the majority to take out Molly, who tells us she is “stunned, hurt, and frankly dizzy from this blindside.” Watching from their Tribal Council spy shack, Rob and Sandra seem impressed. “Dang, they played her ass,” sighs the Queen. Too bad for Molly and too bad for us in the sense that I think she could have been fun to watch. But she didn’t dance like Noura, nor name drop Freaks and Geeks like Jason, so it’s kind of a case of see ya, wouldn’t want to be ya.

The Pick Is In!
Actually, the pick was in last week but I totally forgot to reveal it. That’s right, it’s a tradition in the first recap of every Survivor season for me to reveal my episode 1 pick to win it all. However, in all my excitement about a contestant possibly being crushed by a giant Sandra Diaz-Twine statue I totally spaced on officially submitting my selection last week. The truth is, I also feel kind of bad about retroactively jinxing the recipient of my award.

Most of you know the history. I actually picked the winner in three straight seasons! The problem is, those seasons were numbers 13 through 15. I have not gotten one right since. I’ve had several folks make it all the way to final three only to come up short (Spencer Bledsoe, among others). I’ve had others that were ousted early (thanks, Betsy Bolan!). I’ve picked the right winner in the wrong season (damn you, Jeremy Collins). But no correct champion guesses in the past 23 seasons and counting. I suppose the purpose of me revealing all these widely embarrassing statistics is to act as an apology of sorts to Tommy Sheehan.

Tommy seems like a smart guy and a nice guy and a physical guy. A true potential triple threat. He doesn’t deserve to have me jinx him by making him my pick to win it all, but I suppose he’ll just have to go and file that one under T for Tough Noogies. In any event, Tommy is the selection, for better or for worse. (Who are we kidding? It’s worse.)

Okay, Tommy’s chances of winning may now be done, but we are far from it. We’ve got an exclusive deleted scene from last night’s episode above. We also have our weekly Q&A with the Hostmaster General, Jeff Probst. And you can also enjoy my exit interview with Molly, which you can also hear on EW Live (SiriusXM, Channel 109 from 2-4 p.m. ET). And for more Survivor scoop, you can follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

But now it’s your turn. Were you temporarily confused by the flash-forward intro to the episode? Impressed by Lauren’s move to change the game? Humored to watch the ladder keep falling? Sad to see Molly go? Hit the message boards to weigh in and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy!

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