Credit: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainmen

We’re going to get to the big tribe swap. We will discuss the decision to oust Tom instead of Karishma. We’ll get into not one, but two awesome challenges. We will hit on all of that. But before we do, a quick announcement: Times are tough in the publishing world. No surprise there. Whether it is print or digital journalism, companies have to evolve and find new revenue streams to stay afloat or risk extinction.

That’s why I’m happy to announce that we have found an official sponsor for Entertainment Weekly’s Survivor recaps that will ensure that we can continue to bring you the absolute best Survivor coverage around, as we have been doing for close to 20 years now. As for the sponsorship itself, I honestly don’t even think you’ll notice it as I can assure you it will be seamless and practically invisible.

So without further ado, let’s get right into this week’s episode… just as soon as I share a few words about Applebee’s Shrimp ‘n Parmesan Sirloin. Ever go out to eat and find yourself faced with the ultimate dilemma: reef or beef? Surf or turf? Splash or Meadow? Now, at Applebee’s, you don’t have to choose! That’s because Applebee’s Shrimp ‘n Parmesan Sirloin gives you the best of both worlds: a juicy 8 oz. USDA Select top sirloin topped with sautéed shrimp and a lemon butter Parmesan sauce. Why have a heart attack at home when you can have one in a spacious Applebee’s booth? Applebee’s! Eatin’ Good in the Neighborhood.

So anyway, we begin the morning after Chelsea was ousted by the Lairo tribe, leaving Dean as dazed and confused as a Led Zeppelin song. This causes the contestant to morph into his super alter-ego: Detective Dean Kowalski! But before this private dick who’s a sex machine to all the chicks can start interrogating suspects, the gumshoe has another mission — to uncover the secret to making the Chef Bulgarelli’s Stuffed Rigatoni and Tomato Meat Sauce dish at Applebee’s so positively delicious.

Look, it doesn’t take a detective to tell you that it all starts with ricotta and romano cheese-stuffed rigatoni tossed in a savory tomato-basil ground beef sauce with bruschetta tomatoes. But Applebee’s then kicks it up a notch by topping that already scrumptious delight with mozzarella and parmesan cheeses and baking it until a light golden brown. Served with a signature breadstick brushed with a buttery blend of garlic and parsley, it’s the ultimate feast for the ultimate pasta lover. Applebee’s! Eatin’ Good in the Neighborhood.

After solving that culinary mystery, Dean starts questioning everyone on his tribe about who was responsible for taking out Chelsea. “I assume it was your shot,” he tells Missy, who insists that “nobody ordered a hit” (even though we see the flashback of her coming up with the idea). But Missy believes that Dean should shut his trap instead of biting the hand that feeds him.

Speaking of biting things, have you tried Applebee’s Whiskey Bacon Burger? This isn’t your grandma’s bacon burger, ladies and gentlemen. Because this all-beef patty is not only topped with two slices of pepper jack cheese, crispy onions, two strips of applewood-smoked bacon as well as lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickles on a brioche bun, but it also contains Applebee’s famous Fireball® whiskey-infused steak sauce. Next time, why not kick your next meal off with a little kick? Applebee’s! Eatin’ Good in the Neighborhood.

Okay, okay…I get it. The new product placement deal I struck may be infringing just slightly on the quality of my recapping skills, so as much as it pains me to say so, I shall hereby refrain from espousing the joys of the Neighborhood Nachos Chicken. Nor shall you hear me wax poetic over the Double Crunch Shrimp. And I certainly will not stoop so low as to promote the chain restaurant’s mouth-watering Brew Pub Pretzels & Beer Cheese Dip. Because I have integrity, dammit! If you sell out, then get the hell out!

But due to Mark Burnett’s love of product placement — he once called me back after an interview about his show The Restaurant to brag even more about all the corporate deals he had struck — Jeff Probst had no choice but to stand there and sound like he wanted to have sexual intercourse with pretty much every single item on the Applebee’s menu. “Loaded, sizzling fajitas, smothered in hot queso,” the host cooed. I don’t know how you have sex with queso, but Probst apparently has found a way.

I actually love these segments for the unintentional comedy they provide. The only thing better than watching Jeff Probst shill for a corporate sponsor is watching contestants do it. I’ve always said that a guaranteed way to score more camera time on the show is to swallow your pride and give a 5 star Tripadvisor review for whatever lame product/restaurant/movie they stick you with on a reward, with my all-time favorite being Coach’s glowing review of Adam Sandler’s cross-dressing twin “comedy” Jack and Jill during Survivor: South Pacific. And I quote… “Jack and Jill. Loved it. Adam Sandler — personally, I’m a fan. It was funny, but at the same time, there was a message and that message was, hey, family comes first.”

Okay, so not exactly Roger Ebert, but still, what a savvy, veteran move by the three-time player. Producers were no doubt contractually obligated to air a complimentary reaction from a contestant, so Coach scored himself a little extra air-time with that masterful take. Which brings us to the winner of 2019’s Contractually Obligated Glowing Contestant Review of the Season. It was a close one. Tommy Sheehan came on strong late — not only going on and on unnecessarily about the “Shark Bowl,” but actually toasting Applebee’s and essentially calling the meal the best moment of his entire life. APPLEBEE’S!!!

But no, the winner of the Contractually Obligated Glowing Contestant Review of the Season is… Karishma! I know, a bit of shocker considering Karishma has not come close to winning anything all season, but how could anyone else compete with this gem of a comment: “I love Applebee’s. Applebee’s is by far my favorite, like, sit down restaurant.” Wait, not your favorite chain restaurant, but your “favorite, like, sit down restaurant”? You mean, any sit-down restaurant? You would rather scarf down Double Crunch Bone-In Wings and something called “Fiesta Lime Chicken” at Applebee’s than dine at the chicest eateries in your city of Houston? Applebee’s over Xochi? Applebee’s over BCN Taste & Tradition? Applebee’s over La Table Houston?

That all seems dubious, but I love it. The same I way I love how junior Survivor crew members were likely forced to don Applebee’s uniforms and act as servers to complete the advertisement. The entire thing was amazing. As amazing as the Blue Ribbon Brownie? Who’s to say! Alright, let’s chime in on a few other things from this latest episode.

Swap Till You Drop
The tribes were ordered to drop their buffs and re-pick new ones to form two new tribes. Here’s what we ended up with:



That meant the new Vokai was an even 4-4 split from the old tribes, while the new Lairo had a 5-3 advantage for former Vokai members. Nobody got completely screwed in this new set-up. I mean, I guess Tom did because he got voted out, but it’s not like we had a 7-1 situation, or the Vokai majority suddenly became a new tribe minority. Honestly, the swap was a bit uneventful in that way, but also interesting to see how the new dynamic would shake out.

We got our first look at the new tribe dynamics in the reward challenge. It was a recent classic in which players have their feet tied together and arms bound at the side and must slither through obstacles on the sand and race to finish a fire puzzle. This competition always offers a solid gold reaction shot, with Lauren stepping up to the plate to deliver her plea of “I CAN’T MOVE!” (Runner-up acknowledgment to Noura for imploring Applebee’s-loving Karishma to “Stay straight. C’mon girl, let’s go!”

The new Vokai dominated the challenge, and received what Jeff Probst described as “a once in a lifetime reward on Survivor!” I mean, I would have taken the car, curse and all, but okay, I guess loaded sizzling fajitas can count as once in a lifetime if you say so.

Not Laying Low on Lairo
Outnumbered by former Vokai, Karishma, Tom, and Dean jumped into trying to forge connections with their new overlords. Karishma immediately approached Kellee and told her she wanted to flip on her former tribemates and work with them. She also claimed to have been bullied by her former tribe, which is interesting in and of itself. Bullying is a word that gets thrown around a lot on reality television shows. Sometimes accurately, sometimes not. Even with the tribe not appearing to be attentive when Karishma cut herself, and even with Missy’s comment at Tribal Council that Karishma was getting lapped when it came to competitions, nothing I have seen on the show qualifies as straight-up bullying. Not liking? Sure. Bullying, though?

Of course, there is so much we have not seen on the show. Is it possible Karishma was being bullied in situations that did not make it to air? Absolutely. I definitely look forward to asking both Karishma and some of her original Lairo tribemates about the bullying accusations to find out exactly what was going on there. Was there ugly behavior that we did not see, or was the bullying simply not getting along? Inquiring minds want to know.

Regardless, Karishma has given us some great moments talking about her life outside the game. The scene a few weeks ago when she spoke about the difficulty of not being covered up out on the island showed a cultural perspective we don’t see enough of on the show, and I loved the segment this week where she talked about arranged marriages. I loved it because this was a conversation that wide swaths of Americans have never heard or been privy too. And the rawness and openness with which Karishma discussed it was riveting.

Not only did Karishma talk about being a burden and shame to her family because she would not initially get married, but then she went deeper. Much deeper. For her to admit on national television that she has been questioning her choice to marry and that she and her husband are “like roommates” was a pretty startling admission. Even for a gamebot like me, these moments were extremely powerful and show that real human drama can occur out there, even when it has nothing to do with the game itself.

With that said, let’s get back to the game! While Karishma was ready to sell out Tom and Dean, they were busy doing the same thing to her. Tom emphasized to Janet how bad Karishma was in challenges, while Dean forged a connection with a connection from back home, which brings up many questions. Questions like: Did Dean and Kellee know before the game that she went to business school with his longtime girlfriend or did they just figure it out once they started talking after the tribe swap? And how close are Kellee and this girlfriend? And how close are Kellee and Dean? And did they ever meet up at an Applebee’s for a Shark Bowl?

Of course, the chief question is whether producers knew about the Dean and Kellee connection. And, if so, when they knew it. I asked Jeff Probst exactly that and you’ll have to check out our weekly Q&A to see his answer.

Question: With all the ways to get injured on Survivor, can you imagine any stupider way to hurt yourself and have to be pulled from the game than needlessly wrestling at camp? That’s what was going through my mind as I watched Elaine and Missy tussle for kicks. I guess this was supposed to come off as silly and fun, but it seriously stressed me out in a why-would-they-be-this-careless-and-dumb kind of way? Or maybe it just stressed me out because I was on the losing end of any and every wrestling match I was peer-pressured into over the course of my life. Probably a little from column A and a little from column B.

Also of note was Aaron and Missy already completely abandoning the rest of their former tribemates, even though they were deadlocked 4-4. All Missy’s talk all season about a female alliance seems to be poppycock as she appeared ready not only to toss poor Elaine and Elizabeth out of the car but then run them over as well. Judging by my raw exit interview with Chelsea last week, the women’s alliance was never really a thing anyway, and we’re seeing again here that Aaron is Missy’s true ride or die. The duo agreed they don’t want to go to rocks and that “orange is dead,” which they hopefully will not repeat anywhere near Jeff Probst’s hat designer.

There’s no doubt Missy is playing the game and playing it hard. I love that. But one lingering question does nag at me: Is she playing it well?

Yes, John Kirhoffer! Yes! Keep at it with these awesome water challenges. Don’t you dare stop. Don’t even think about it. And if you do think about it, think about something else instead. Something like, I don’t know, trying to figure out the difference between Applebee’s Chicken Tenders Basket and Applebee’s Chicken Tenders Platter. But keep the damn water challenges!

This week’s was another doozy and a variation on the second immunity challenge from Ghost Island (which I was lucky enough to test drive when I was out on location). I loved the gorgeous location. I loved watching people swim, I loved watching them leap (or dive, in the case of Elaine and Dan!) off a giant ladder, and I loved watching people dive to release buoys. A new wrinkle was added with having to maneuver the buoys across a set of balance beams, and that was cool as well. Anyway, Vokai won (even though Dean made it close at the end).

Like many of you, I wish Survivor would go back to visiting different countries, but the consolation prize is that Fiji allows the show to do amazing challenges like this that most other locations do not.

Island Sitting Idle
With the tribe swap and the reward challenge, there was no time for Rob and Sandra outside of their weird Tribal Council hot box appearance. I can only assume they spent 72 straight hours staring at their giant statues.

Take Off, Eh?
There was literally a zero percent chance I would let the first Canadian Survivor contestant get voted out without busting out a Bob & Doug McKenzie reference as the other members of Lairo made like Brewmeister Smith and tried to take out the wily Canuck. But all the former Lairo were in trouble. Tom, because they feared he would flip back at the merge. Karishma, because she was weak in challenges. And Dean, because Kellee did not want to become the next Chelsea (perhaps because that would be supes awkward when she returned to business school with Dean’s girlfriend).

Tribal Council provided some snappy back and forth between Dean and Janet (who said Dean never bothered to speak to her) and Karishma and Tom (who claimed she knew who was behind the hit on Chelsea). It also apparently provided some side-splitting comedy, as evidenced by Noura’s uncontrollable guffawing. Why was she breaking into fits of laughter in such a dramatic setting? Who is she, the freakin’ Joker? Maybe she was just happy because she realized nobody would notice her missing the vote with the majority going on Tom (meaning all eight votes did not need to be read).

So, yeah, Tom was driven into the boards, which is my lame attempt to equate what just happened into hockey terms. Being driven into the board sucks. So does being voted out of Survivor. I realize now it was a stretch to make that comparison, but it’s over and done with at this point. Much like Tom. Was it the right call for Lairo? Tough to say. Karishma is a definite liability in challenges, but I also totally get where they are coming from in trying to take out loyal Lairo numbers. And if they lose again, they can drop Karishma then.

In any event, Tom is done, but we are most decidedly not. We’ve got an exclusive deleted scene from the episode waiting for you above, as well as our weekly Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst. My exit interview with Tom is now is now live, and you can also hear that bad boy on EW Live (SiriusXM, channel 109) from 2-4 p.m. ET. And for more Survivor scoop sent right to you, check me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

But now it’s your turn. Did Lairo make the right choice in booting Tom over Karishma? Did you miss Island of the Idols? And do you love or loathe the product placement on the show? Hit the message boards to weigh in and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy!

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