Survivor: Island of the Idols recap: Quest for fire
Here’s a Survivor spoiler alert for you: I traveled out to Fiji for filming on season 40, which will air in the spring of 2020. That’s the only spoiler I am going to share about that season. If you want to go dig around online for more, feel free, but I’m not that guy.
Anyhoo, when I was out there for season 40, I decided to ask Jeff Probst a little bit about season 39, which had recently completed filming. Jeff talked about the idea to bring Boston Rob and Sandra back as mentors, what the two legends did out there, and what Survivor advice he would solicit from the pair. And then I asked him about the Island of the Idols cast. “Hey, give me some of the players to keep an eye on this season,” I asked him. “Who popped out there?” Jeff gave me seven names, which I then released a few weeks back in terms of his selections for the women to watch and the men to watch.
One of his choices to watch? Ronnie…who was then the first one out. Okay, that’s a bit weird, I thought to myself after watching Ronnie’s torch get snuffed. Another of Probst’s picks? Molly, who was the second one out. Again, odd. How did Jeff even remember Ronnie and Molly’s names much less select them as breakout characters seeing as how they were barely even there on the island to begin with?
Another of Jeff’s picks for players to watch? You guessed it — Vince! WHAT THE HELL? Is Jeff Probst trolling me? Is this his way of getting back at me for making fun of him for wearing sunglasses in the rain, like, 15 years ago? Again, he made these selections after the season filmed. These weren’t guesses. He knew how everyone did. He told us these were the people to watch, but HOW CAN WE WATCH THEM IF THEY ARE NOT EVEN ON TV?!?
But even worse than Jeff telling me to tell people to keep an eye on the first three people kicked out of the game is the fact that it now has me worried for the other people he mentioned. Because one of the other names he brought up was Lauren, and while we have not seen nearly enough of Lauren yet, what we have seen has been amazing. She pulled the big power move on Vokai last week and killed it in the fish puzzle this week. I need more Lauren. Give her to me! And yet now I fear she is not long for this game.
And then there is Missy. Probst also had her on his list. As far as I can tell, Missy is playing the best game so far over on Lairo. She is making moves and dictating play while also attempting to build bridges with the people she burns, as we saw last week with Aaron. Missy is awesome! But does this mean she too has just been placed on the Survivor endangered species list, right next to the Final 2, a cheesy gong and trunk full of cash at Tribal Council, the Rites of Passage, a normal final 4 Tribal, opening title credits, and a Bryant Gumbel hosted live reunion show?
Another name on Probst’s hit list: Tommy. Tommy has been very impressive so far because I see him making connections on a large scale with a lot of players, but also appearing to have a smaller circle ride-or-die in Kellee (at least that’s the way last week’s episode made it look). He seems athletic. He seems social. He seems strategic. But he also seems under the radar, which is key in terms of not being viewed as too big a target too early in the game. That’s why I made him my episode 1 pick to win it all.
In fact, the only reason I almost did not pick Tommy to win is that Probst put him on his list of players to watch and I kind of figured Jeff would probably not throw a winner’s name onto that list. But I thought using that information while making my pick would be cheating, so I picked Tommy anyway. Well, looks like my epic losing streak of picking winners will now reach a remarkably embarrassing 25 seasons and counting. Great, just great.
Oh, the final name on Probst’s list was Tom. Tom is fine. Whatever. I don’t really care what happens to Tom. But again… Lauren! Missy! Tommy! Are they the next to go just because of a personal grudge over the fact that I wrote the words “Medallion of Power” a few times too many in my recaps over the years? Brutal. Maybe I’ll sneak into Jeff’s house and leave some of the ash I stole from the Vokai tribe on his bed as payback.
Okay, let’s get into the big moments from episode 3 of Island of the Idols, including a challenge I absolutely loved.
All the action at the Vokai tribe this episode basically boils down to this: Dan wants Noura out, so then Jamal wants Dan out, so then Tommy and Janet want Jamal out. That’s how complex Survivor is. As soon as you make any move to get rid of anybody, there’s a chance someone may want to take you out as a result.
We start with Dan talking about how “I like nothing better than naive players” and that “it would be statistically impossible to get on everybody’s nerves” but Noura has. People do seem to be on board with ousting Noura — perhaps in the hopes of no longer having to make awkward excuses to not participate in her beachside yoga sessions — but then Jamal talks about going rogue. “I want to have agency,” says Jamal, which makes sense, but not right after you were blindsided and left out of the vote. That is when you bide your time, don’t make waves, and quietly rebuild another alliance. Instead, Jamal tells Janet he gets a “used car salesman vibe” from Dan, which I can only assume is meant as a complementary comparison to Survivor: Thailand champ and soft-core porn actor Brian Heidik.
So Janet goes to Tommy to discuss Jamal’s desire to oust Dan, but Tommy doesn’t want to make Jamal’s power move for Jamal, so now they talk about getting Jamal out. The whole thing is kind of head-spinning and I actually feel a little lightheaded by the entire chain of events. Or maybe I just sliced my hand open with a machete. One of the two.
Give Her a Hand
It’s nice to see a Survivor season that is so ethnically diverse without having to resort to a race war theme. Because when you add diversity, you add new wrinkles and angles that we haven’t seen before. You add new perspectives. You add new stories. On Survivor, as in life, diversity is always a good thing.
Karishma talking of her worry about being “a married 37-year-old Indian woman running around in her underwear” because Indian women usually cover-up, is a viewpoint and concern you don’t usually see on Survivor. And hearing her talk about doing it anyway because she wants to be comfortable in her alliance gives some pretty fascinating insight into how seemingly easy decisions out there on the island for one person may not be so easy for another. That was a great moment on the show that we have not seen enough of over the years. (And it would have been even greater if the tribe had made Karishma comfortable enough that she didn’t feel she had to do something like that just to fit in.)
As much as I loved seeing Karishma in this early segment, I did not like what I saw later. Allow me to explain. As someone who has covered The Walking Dead extensively for a decade now, it’s a little embarrassing to admit I don’t particularly like blood. Not a fan! The thing is, I love horror movies and can watch zombies disembowel someone or see some douchebag get decapitated and feel nothing whatsoever. It doesn’t phase me in the least. That’s because I know it’s not even remotely real. I’m able to separate fact from fiction. But show me real, human injuries and I start to become something of a Squeamish Sally.
So when Karishma cut her hand open to the bone while trying to slice a coconut, I started feeling queasy. Could the Pabst Blue Ribbon and boxed mac & cheese I was consuming while watching the episode have had something to do with that? Sure, but that was still pretty gnarly. However, my horror began to mix with confusion when I noticed that nobody in the tribe was noticing — or caring — about Karishma’s injury. There she was doubled over on the ground, and everyone was carrying on like no big whoop. It reminded me of what it’s like in my house when I try to talk to my wife and daughter about how terrible my football team is. They don’t want to hear it, and frankly, I don’t blame them. But for the tribe members to be blatantly ignoring an injured teammate seemed odd at best.
“If I would have chopped my head off, they wouldn’t have flinched,” said Karishma. Each and every person on this tribe is dead to me.” Now, hold on a second, Karishma. I think that’s taking things a bit too far. I would definitely flinch if someone chopped their head off. I think it’s probably impossible not to flinch. The blood splatter alone would startle anyone within a 12-foot radius. Now whether they would have cared is another story, but flinch? Definitely.
But this scene certainly was weird, and I wonder at what point the producers stepped in and called the Survivor medical team to the Vokai beach to treat the flesh wound. In fact, I asked Jeff Probst just that in this week’s Q&A, so check that out for more behind the scenes production intel. But, you know, after you finish the recap because I definitely have some thoughts about what happens next.
Ashes to Ashes
On the previous trips to Terrifying Ginormous Statues Island, players were given the opportunity to take a test from Rob and Sandra right then and there to win an immunity idol. This week, it was time to mix things up.
Vince arrives at the island and is immediately excited to meet Sandra, “a powerful person of color who won twice.” After a lot of tears from the reality show contestant about sitting next to two fellow reality show contestants, Boston Rob tells Vince that this week’s lesson is “about staying calm under pressure.” Which just happens to align perfectly with this week’s excerpt from The Boston Rob® Rulebook: Strategies for Life. This week’s passage comes from the chapter titled “Be a Risk Taker.”
“Playing it safe will only get you so far in life. At some point, you have to take a chance. Being a risk-taker is going to lead to a lot of ups and downs. Sometimes things work out; other times you fall flat on your face. But in the end, the rewards will be worth all the scars.
“If you were able to graph the lives of two people — one who takes calculated risks and another who always plays it safe — the safe life would be really flat and boring. The other, while having a lot more ups and downs, would be much more interesting. It’s like being on a train versus a roller coaster: both take you on a ride, but the roller coaster is a hell of a lot more fun.”
True, but doesn’t the train at least actually take you somewhere? Just sayin’. Anyway, the Robfather then uses the example of Brad Pitt’s character Tyler Durden in Fight Club, forcing a convenience store clerk to change his life or die to show how important it is to take risks, kind of neglecting to point out that Tyler Durden is not a real person nor even a real character, but rather a figment of poor Ed Norton’s imagination. Anyway, that’s the book. (Boston Rob concludes the chapter by noting that “Fight Club is a kick-ass movie.”)
Back on the show, Rob is telling Vince that he too must be a risk-taker, and to win an immunity idol, he must sneak into the other tribe’s camp and steal fire by lighting a torch. Then, some obviously dubbed-in-later dialogue adds, “If they don’t have fire, you’re going to have to figure out how to bring us proof somehow.” I hate that producers added that in. Not because they were changing the rules after the fact or anything like that. I hate it because it easily tipped off what was about to happen. As soon as we heard those words and did not see Boston Rob saying them (because he clearly didn’t say them until much later, most likely in a recording studio back here in the United States), that signaled to me that there would be no fire at the Vokai camp. Otherwise, they would have never added it in the first place. With all the talk about spoilers in promos lately, here was a spoiler in the actual episode.
Vince has to decide whether to risk his vote at the next Tribal because if he is caught by the tribe while trying to get fire (or “proof”), he will lose it. But here’s the reality, while it would seem that the chances of being caught sneaking into the other tribe’s camp and taking some fire would be very high, the reality is just the opposite. That’s because players are used to hearing shuffling feet and movement around their camp at all hours.
Not only could it be one of them getting up to go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, or tend to the fire, but even if they were all spooning in the shelter (which really should be the name of a chart-topping boy band ballad, by the way), there would likely be intermittent noise anyhow. Why? Because there are producers and camera operators and sound people always walking through the camp. You never see them unless there is some sort of medical emergency, but there are always other people around since the contestants are filmed 24 hours a day. So if I was, say, Jack or Kellee and I heard someone walking around by the fire, I wouldn’t even look up. “Oh, it’s probably producer Jane or cameraman Joe,” I would think.
The point is, having been out there, I think Vince’s quest was a lot easier than it looked. (Jeff Probst disagrees with me so check out his take in our Q&A.) He certainly did not need military training from Sandra to crawl on the beach or hide behind a giant leaf, I’ll tell you that much. Even Boston Rob found that a little over the top. That “training” was so absurd, and I love the editors for leaving it in the episode. The same way I love them for including the footage of Vince falling into the mud after smack-talking Tom Cruise.
Teetering on the Brink of Awesomeness
Okay, I just threw a little bit of cold water on this week’s Island of the Idols challenge. Look, it was still fun to watch, just not very difficult. But I’m going to make up for it here by telling you how much I loved the immunity challenge, which is to say, a lot.
First off, just look at that gorgeous lagoon water. LOOK AT IT! I wanted to jump right through my TV into that aqua-colored paradise. Say what you want about the show losing something by filming in the exact same location season after season, but at least they picked a hell of a location. However, the color of the water is not the only thing I love about this one. I love that we have an actual swimming contest! And it’s between an Olympic swimmer and a lifeguard! Elizabeth and Janet are both incredible swimming their legs and just continue this season’s theme of women kicking ass. (I’m choosing to willfully ignore Janet’s difficulty diving down to get the key. Just let her have this one, folks. The woman made fire, for crying out loud!)
As great as that was, the challenge only gets better as the tribes then have to climb up a teeter-totter and balance as a group while retrieving two bags of puzzle pieces. What a cool concept, forcing the teams to calculate balance, physics, and reach on the fly. I love the concept. I love the execution. Pretty much the only thing I don’t love is the fact that nobody fell into the water. That would have sealed the deal. Maybe next time. Regardless, props to Kirhoffer, Milhouse, A.B., and the entire challenge team.
Lairo gets their bags first so they have a nice lead heading into the final stage. But what have I hammered into your brains for the past 20 years? It’s all about the puzzle. As much as we love the window dressing that is the physical stages of a challenge, all that really matters is the puzzle. If you win the puzzle, you win the challenge. And sure enough, Karishma and Dean get absolutely smoked by Lauren and Jamal, forcing the Lairo tribe to swipe right for another Tribal Council date with Jeff Probst.
I don’t quite understand why the women ended up voting out Vince. We heard Missy talk about not wanting to give up the gender numbers advantage. And we heard Chelsea say, “The tribe is being run by women and the guys don’t even realize it yet.” However, the women then went along with the guys’ plan to split the vote between Vince and Karishma.
Under that plan, either Vince (who is aligned with the women) or Karishma (who is a woman) would go home, which doesn’t seem to add up. Sure, we saw Elizabeth express reservations about the women’s alternate plan to oust Tom because she wanted to keep around another big-time athlete, but what about the four other women? Why were they ready to split the vote on two people seemingly in their own alliance? Not to mention, you should never go along with a plan cooked up by someone who just the day before advocated for splitting the vote, even though one of the people they would have to split the vote against was standing right there with him. Not quite an Einstein moment.
Karishma made more comments at Tribal Council about not fitting in because she was older than most of the other women, saying she felt like “an audience member to their sorority at times.” I can see how that would be frustrating. Then again, if they are doing something sorority-like that also happened to be entertainingly idiotic like playing Edward Fortyhands, then being an audience member actually doesn’t sound so bad.
Apparently, Karishma did feel some heat because she made like The Walking Dead and went into Whisperer mode at Tribal Council before the voting. There was a time when such last-minute gamesmanship would have been exciting, but we’ve seen that stand-up-and-whisper-to-someone move so often now it’s lost a bit of its luster. “C’mon this is all an act,” bellowed Tom after Karishma started talking to Elizabeth and Missy and Chelsea. “You all buying this?”
My response to that is: What the hell are you talking about? An act? For what purpose? I have no idea if anything Karishma said made a lick of difference, but she clearly was hoping it would. I get if Tom found it annoying and wanted to get to the vote. Honestly, I may have felt a bit similar. But saying he didn’t “buy it” makes about as much sense as me spending 20 years of my life writing about a reality television show.
In any event, Vince voted for Tom, but nobody else followed his lead as the three other men voted for Karishma and all the women went for Vince, who was voted out with an idol in his pocket…or, rather, in his canteen. I just don’t know why. It feels like we missed a scene explaining the rationale behind the decision.
What I’m even more curious about is what happened when Vince returned from Island of the Idols? Did he — like Elizabeth and Kellee before him — make up some cockamamie story about having to choose between three urns? And did his tribemates believe him? (Probably not, considering the split vote.) More important than that, did he and Elizabeth have a private pow-wow and discuss the truth of their trips to IOTI? That’s the juicy scene I was dying to see.
While I’m still sore at Probst for giving me breakouts that all seem to be broken right out of the game, I still get why he named Vince as one to watch. He was definitely a character and a bit hard to get a handle on. Ultimately, maybe that is why his tribemates elected to get rid of him. Unpredictability is the scariest thing on Survivor. If you feel like you can’t get a handle on someone in terms of being able to predict their motivations and actions, then it may be best to take that game piece off the board completely. And that’s exactly what the Lairo tribe did.
But we still have plenty of pieces for you to play with here. There’s our exclusive deleted scene from the episode you can watch above. We also have my weekly Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst, and you can get tons more intel from my exit interview with Vince right here, which will will also air on EW Live (SiriusXM, channel 109) Thursday afternoon from 2-4 p.m. ET. And if you want everything sent right to your social media doorstep, just follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.
But now it’s your turn. What did you think of this week’s Island of the Idols test? Sorry to see Vince go? Were you as squeamish as I was at the sight of Karishma’s hand? And do you kinda secretly want to see Noura win the game now just to piss Dan off? Hit the message boards to weigh in and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy!