By Dalton Ross
October 16, 2019 at 09:00 PM EDT
S39 E4
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Hey, I’ll make you all a deal. I’ll let you all read this week’s Survivor recap, but if you agree to start the recap, then you have to promise to read every single word, no matter what I end up writing about. I understand that makes no sense whatsoever, especially since you are completely unaware of the contents to follow, but seeing as you have already read this far, I suppose that means you have already agreed to my terms. Sorry, suckers!

With that in mind, allow me now to begin my 40,000-word essay on the Scientology film Battlefield Earth and the inspiration for the giant humanoid aliens known as “Psychlos” who rule our desolate homeworld in the year 3000. Now, the first thing to know about the Psychlos is that they are unable to breathe in Earth’s atmosphere so have constructed a massive dome to protect them while they go about their business of enslaving humankind. That’s important to note, because later in the film…

You know what? Never mind. Go ask John Travolta. He’ll give you the full rundown. Instead, we can dissect every awkward, glorious moment of Noura’s visit to Island of the Idols. So many elements of this to get into. Let’s begin with…

"Plan Z" - Noura Salman on the fourth episode of SURVIVOR: Island of Idols airing Wednesday, Oct. 16th (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment ©2019 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Robert Voets/CBS

THE DECISION
A boat showed up at the Vokai beach telling the tribe they had to unanimously select one person to go to Island of the Idols, and if they could not all agree, they had to draw a name out of a bag. The question was put out if anyone wanted to go, and, of course, anyone with half a brain said no. Because as advantageous as it might be to get an idol or some sort of advantage, asking the tribe to send you somewhere so you could get said idol or advantage would immediately put a target on your back. As Tommy so eloquently stated, “My whole game is about lowering my threat level.”

If only there was someone who didn’t know how to play and was a little off their rocker. Oh, right, Noura! Noura volunteered because, as she would say later, “I am not a typical Survivor player. I feel like a novice in this game.” Well, she proved it with that move of volunteering to go to IOTI. Yes, there is the theory that if you are already definitely on the bottom, why not go there anyway to hopefully get some protection, but that is misanalyzing the tribe dynamic.

Noura is too easy to get out now. With all the jockeying for position and numbers going on, Noura most likely had a free ride because she was a player with absolutely no power. That was her strength. It’s why she survived the first vote, and it’s why people started targeting bigger players like Dan and Jamal last week. The only thing that could make Noura a target is making herself a threat. Had she stayed back and bitched about people not doing enough work and taught her beachside yoga sessions, she would have been fine. Instead, she tried to make a move, which brings us to…

THE VISIT
I’m not entirely convinced Noura even knew who Boston Rob and Sandra were when they walked out to the beach to greet her. I would have assumed production gave her copies of the Heroes vs. Villains season to watch before playing so she could at least have a semblance of a clue who these two legends were in case she got sent to the island, but Noura looked like that person who has no clue whom they are actually talking to at a high school reunion and is trying to piece it together mid-conversation so they don’t have to come clean about their own cluelessness. “Heyyyyyyyyyyy, youuuuuuuuuu. How are…things? It’s been a while, right? When was the last time we saw each other anyway? No, seriously, tell me.”

Noura’s lesson this week was on “the art of persuasion,” which brings us to this week’s excerpt from The Boston Rob® Rulebook: Strategies for Life. This week’s passage comes from the chapter titled “Turn the Tables in Your Favor.” Ladies & gentlemen, the wisdom of Boston Rob Mariano…

“People are constantly judged by the way they look, particularly women. What type of clothes they wear, how their hair looks, their weight, etc. They are constantly on display for criticism. Is that fair? Hell no. Does it happen? You bet your ass it does. Every single day. However, a woman who realizes this and who uses this knowledge to her advantage will have everyone else eating out of the palm of her hand, while those who don’t will continue to suffer from the inequality.”

I’ll be honest, that excerpt doesn’t really have anything to do with this week’s episode, but it does give me a convenient excuse to direct you to an article I posted this morning on the recent gender disparity in Survivor winners. There are some pretty shocking statistics in terms of how juries have been voting over the past few years and I encourage you to check it out right here.

Anyway, Rob told Noura all about how important it is to get people to do your bidding by twisting their mind to your cause. While he did so, Sandra nodded vigorously and we were treated to lots of Survivor flashbacks, including the epic immunity necklace giveaway from Survivor: Micronesia (and if you have not read my oral history of the event, drop everything you are doing and read that immediately; I promise it is better than Battlefield Earth).

Rob then told Noura that if she could convince her tribe to make her the caller at the next blindfolded immunity challenge, then she would get to block another player’s vote at her next Tribal Council. But if she accepted the challenge and did not end up the caller, then she would lose her vote at her next Tribal Council.

Now, there’s a lot to consider when weighing this offer in terms of… “I’M DOING IT NO MATTER WHAT. I’M NOT THINKING TWICE!” Whoa, that was fast. And that pretty much sums up Noura. No pause. No self-control. No pros and cons lists. No haggling to see if she could get a better deal. Noura saw a shiny object and she grabbed it. Kind of like the way I grab a Milwaukee’s Best without asking too many questions. Questions like: Should I perhaps one day start drinking a beer that does not taste like piss?

Boston Rob’s take on his visitor was pretty blunt. I’m sorry, what I meant to say was, Boston’s Rob take on his visitor was that she had been smoking gigantic blunts. “Noura is the last person you’d want in the caller position,” said the Robfather. “She cannot coherently communicate anything to anyone. She’s living in Noura world.”

So Noura already faltered in volunteering to go to Island of the Idols, and then faltered in jumping at the challenge without taking the time to think it out. But how would she handle it when she returned to her tribe. Which brings us to…

THE LIE
So what would Noura’s strategy be when she got back to her beach? The way I see it, there were two decent options. Option 1 would be for Noura to come clean and say that Boston Rob and Sandra were there (because there is absolutely no reason not to reveal their presence other than bumming out the producers who want to keep it a secret) and that they would give her advance information on the challenge if she agreed to the role they assigned her. Then she would say she agreed and then they told her she had to be the caller. This is a bit risky, however, because one or more tribemates may ask Jeff about it at the challenge or try to assign someone else to see what happens. That’s why I prefer Option 2.

Option 2 would be to pull a Kellee and make up a totally different lie about what happened at IOTI, wait until the blindfold challenge is announced by Jeff, and then promote yourself for the job. Just say, “Guys, you know how loud I am. Here’s a chance for me to put that to good use. I think I would be really good at this.” If they pick you, great! You just won an advantage. If they don’t, you lose your vote but you at least don’t seem as shady. And there’s always a good chance they let you be the caller if you ask, because players in this game are more than happy to allow others to screw themselves over by stepping up in a challenge and then not performing, because it moves the target off of themselves and onto you.

Noura, however, did not do either of those things. Instead, she got back to camp and informed her tribe that she could tell them all about the next immunity challenge ONLY if they first unanimously agreed to the role she would play in the next challenge. So, as Tommy astutely pointed out, she was asking them to agree to her role without even knowing what the challenge was. When they pressed her further, she floundered and just told them to agree and say yes. Which they did. Noura’s lie may have been the most unconvincing thing I have heard on Survivor since Phillip Sheppard first told us he was a former FBI agent, but the players wanted to hear more so they were like, “Sure, whatever.”

But then when it was time to deliver all the details, all Noura told them was that it was a blindfolded challenge. Not what they were gathering. How they were divided up. Or any other stages of the contest. Just that they couldn’t see. And when they started to practice, it was an unmitigated disaster. Noura was terrible in the role. So what would happen once they got to the challenge…

THE DOUBLE CROSS
The tribes arrived at the challenge, Vokai gave their contractually obligated shocked facial expressions seeing that Vince had been ousted, and Jeff Probst proceeded to give them the instructions for the challenge. And then he asked Vokai which of them was sitting out the contest since they had one extra member. The answer came back: Noura.

Noura? Noura. So after listening to Noura’s cockamamie lie and agreeing to her cockamamie rule, the tribe then went back on their word and not only didn’t allow her to be the caller — they did not even let her compete in any capacity! That is ice cold. And smart. And I love it because it’s the twist none of us saw coming. (Take that, M. Night Shyamalan!) Essentially, the tribe called her bluff, which was not particularly difficult to do because, and I cannot stress this enough, NOURA IS THE WORLD’S WORST LIAR! Sometimes you have to work harder to spot visual clues when someone is fibbing — like the way Victoria would not make eye contact with Aubry last season when lying about the vote. Other times, it is just so damn obvious.

The fact that Noura thought the tribe would buy what she was selling is somewhat staggering. And I love the fact that not only did they not fall for it, but they went on the offensive and took her out of her caller spot as a punishment for her crimes. (I do get the feeling that we missed a scene explaining this, however. Was the practice so bad that they told her she had to step aside? Did she finally tell them the truth? Would love to get more intel on what went down in between the practice and Jeff asking who was sitting out.)

Regardless, Noura provided a one-person clinic on how to not play Survivor. I have to imagine that’s what The Boston Rob® Rulebook: Strategies for Life must read like in the Upsidedown. Essentially, do the exact opposite of what the Robfather would do in any situation.

Okay, a few other things to hit on quickly before we wrap up.

• Never leave one person alone back at camp. Perhaps the Vokai tribe was aware of this and that is why Jason stayed back with Jamal to make sure he didn’t go idol hunting, but that also makes no sense because Jason had already been busted for idol-hunting himself. And then when Jason went “for a walk” (which, by the way, is what the players are supposed to say when a tribemate goes for a confessional interview) that left Jamal plenty of time to search for and find an idol. If Tommy and Janet and others are as concerned about Jamal as they said just two days prior, then one of them should have stayed back with him at the beach instead of all heading out to sea.

• Jason was a total boss stepping in for the self-nominated Noura as the caller for Vokai tribe in the challenge. The key was how calm he was narrating the puzzle for Kellee. No panic. Very measured in tone and speed. And his glory leap — which I realize sounds vaguely like some sort of term for a weird sexual act — was totally legit as he celebrated his victory while airborne. Has Jason gotten back in his tribe’s good graces after his initial idol hunting misstep? At the very least, he has allowed bigger targets to emerge.

• Karishma called her tribe “a bunch of pansies.” I’ll just leave that one there for you all to digest as you see fit.

• Chelsea and Dean should have known better. Chelsea said during the day she wasn’t there for a showmance because it messes up your game but cut to the night and all we saw was some very aggressive spooning. And then after telling us she wasn’t there for a showmance, Chelsea also told us that her relationship with Dean is “going to take me far in this game,” which proved to be both inaccurate and contradictory. No, Chelsea’s relationship with Dean made them both targets.

That said, for the second straight week, I really don’t understand the vote on the part of the women of Lairo. Last episode, they got rid of someone who wanted to work with them in Vince. This week, after Elizabeth and Elaine did not want to oust Dean, they decided to get rid of Chelsea instead. Missy argued that this way they could break up the couple and the women would still have the numbers over the men. But would they? Is Karishma anywhere close to being loyal to the women, especially after Missy blasted her at Tribal Council by announcing, “All of us are playing equally, and she is just getting lapped.”

Why would you vote out an ally and then antagonize someone you need for numbers, all within a few minutes of each other? It’s like you are asking to give up your numbers advantage. So odd. Not only that, but by throwing out so many different names, Missy painted a huge target on herself. The best course of strategy is to never call out names, but subtly control and convince others to come to your conclusion on whom to get rid of on their own. By gunning for Chelsea, Missy made Elaine nervous. “If she can do it to her,” Elaine must have thought, “why wouldn’t she do it to me?” Answer: She would. Missy has to be careful about overplaying her hand. I love the fact that she is there to play hard, but the key is to not be perceived as playing hard, and that may be out the window. Not to mention she may now have two fewer allies after next week’s tribe swap.

• I will give Missy credit for giving the most insightful quote of the episode at Tribal Council when she noted, “In some ways we’re family, and in others we’re complete strangers.” That gets at the dynamic of Survivor so well. You meet people you know nothing about and probably would never even have any reason to interact with in the normal world, and all of a sudden you are thrust into the most bizarre and difficult living conditions imaginable and forced to suffer and survive together with little food, warmth, or sleep. That creates an incredible bond — even with the people that may annoy the crap out of you, and it’s one of the most fascinating and least talked about elements about playing the game.

• “It’s not fun to crush people’s dreams,” said Chelsea about blindsides before being on the receiving end of one herself. “But that’s part of the game. It definitely is fun. I like it.” Not sure that is the case now, especially after being voted out while having an idol in her pocket, but when you say stuff like that at Tribal, you are pretty much sealing your own fate with the Survivor gods. But she was right, it was fun.

You know what else is fun! Exclusive deleted scenes! And we once again have one from this week that you can see above. Not only that, but we asked Hostmaster General Jeff Probst to weigh in on Noura’s terrible lie. My emotional exit interview with Chelsea is now live and will also air on EW Live (SiriusXM, channel 109) Thursday afternoon from 2-4 p.m. ET, and if you missed my article on Survivor’s gender disparity, check that out here for some stats that may surprise you. And for even more Survivor scoop follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

But now it’s your turn. What did you make of Noura’s decisions, and the tribe’s choice to kick her out of a challenge? Are you as confused by the Chelsea ouster as I am? And what was your favorite Survivor flashback they showed this week? Hit the message boards to weigh in and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy!

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