Bad news: The hourglass is back. Good news: It's slightly less terrible this time.
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SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols
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I ate at an Applebee's once. This meal of a lifetime (because it will be the only time I eat in that establishment over the course of my life) came courtesy of my mother-in-law, who for some reason gave me an Applebee's gift card for my birthday one year. (And before you ask, the answer is no… my mother-in-law's name is not Karishma.) It was fiiiiine, I guess? But if I'm being completely honest, I kind of wish I had had an hourglass on hand so I could have gone back in time and changed history, not to mention my order.

But man, do Survivor players love Applebee's. Or they simply love screen time and know they can get more of it by singing the praises of a corporate sponsor. But it's not just Survivor players. How about the host? Jeff Probst sounded like he was preparing to have sexual relations with some Double Crunch Bone-In Wings by the way he described those Applebee's menu options. (And yes, I am politely declining the opportunity to double down with a "Bone-In" joke here. Some things are just too easy, even for me.)

But while I may not be overly familiar with the casual dining chain's mouth-watering Whiskey Bacon Burger, I do not hesitate to proudly proclaim… ALL HAIL APPLEBEE'S!!! Because if you know anything about me, it is that I love cheesy Survivor product placement. I love seeing just how much the host has to sell it, how much contestant fawning producers feel is just the right amount to include to satisfy their contractual obligation without going completely over the top, and which Survivor crew members get to dress up as pretend Applebee's waiters for the day. (I see you, Survivor challenge producer Chris Marchand.) I love it all!

And lord knows I needed it this week with the dreaded hourglass twist making its not-at-all awaited return. I (along with Sydney Segal and Danny McCray) already went into all the reasons why the hourglass twist is terrible and how wrong it is to punish people for winning a challenge and all the other things back when it was first revealed in Survivor 41. I'll spare you the whole diatribe.

I will also remind you that I actually really liked the first part of that twist — having players compete to get into the merge instead of fast-passing straight through. That's cool. That works. That's fair. That's not a pointless shock value twist like forcing people to fight to win a brutally physical challenge in which the losers actually came out on top.

The danger of filming Survivor seasons back-to-back is that producers cannot gauge fan reaction to something, and just have to cross their fingers and hope for the best if they bring a twist back into an even numbered season. I really do believe that had they seen viewer reaction to the hourglass, they would have scrapped it. But all they had was the reaction of a very angry Danny McCray. And, to their credit, they listened. And, in the process, made it undeniably less terrible. Not good, mind you, but less terrible.

In our first direct the-television-is-talking-to-me chat with Probst since his opening to the season (which I kind of love, by the way), the host told us about three big changes to the hourglass twist for season 42. The first — that the feast included Quesadilla Burgers and Shark Bowls — was not a real change, so we'll skip that one. The second change was that this time, Probst was going to tell people that the player they chose to send away would have the power to change the game. Okay, letting them know that there would be ramifications coming from whom they sent is definitely a change for the better.

And that tied into the last change, in that one of the winners of the challenge could choose to forgo the feast (and possible immunity, as far as they knew) to go to Exile Island themselves to get the power. Again, a change for the better. Make no mistake, the whole twist is still inherently flawed, but this at least gave the winners of the play-in challenge a little more information (Drea even at one point went all Nostradamus on us and nailed exactly what power Rocksroy was getting) as well as a little more agency to make their decision.

Should one of the winners have swapped with Rocksroy? In the moment, that's hard to do, because you can't guarantee that whatever mystery "power" you are receiving is better than the immunity you were just told you received. So I don't blame anyone for not trading places. After all, when Crunchy Onion Rings with honey barbeque sauce are on the line, it's tough to make any other call.

In addition to the hourglass twist being slightly less terrible, the other good news is that it is now definitely gone for good. One, because people hate it. But also, because everyone knows about it now, so it has lost its power. Some might say its… Medallion of Power. And those "some" people would be me. But I do like the way producers rethought the entire merge process and hope they have some other (fair and non-gimmicky) wrinkles up their sleeve moving into season 43 and beyond.

Okay, let's look at what else is on the menu this week.

Survivor
The Vati tribe on 'Survivor 42'
| Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

Tribal Drama

First off, I know this is a new era of Survivor, and not your grandfather's Survivor, and drop the 4 and keep the 2, and all that nonsense, but check out the show going all retro old-school with a "previously on…" segment. You kind of need it with all the idols, and amulets, and extra votes, and missing votes out there. And with a two-hour episode (really two episodes squished together; remember, this whole semi-merge business took place over two weeks last time) you had the extra time to catch us all up.

And then we got straight to the drama. Chanelle tried to make nice with Mike after writing his name down at Tribal, but he was not having it. "I will never trust Chanelle ever again. Hai and Lydia, I will take a bullet for. Chanelle, I will step to the side." Apparently, that bullet Mike took for Lydia came in the form of writing her name down at Tribal Council and voting her out of the game, which is certainly an odd way to take a bullet for someone, but I digress. I also should probably point out that Mike was furious at Chanelle voting for him as a safety vote, even though he did the exact same thing to her at the exact same Tribal. Mike! Gotta love him!

But the truly hilarious dysfunction was happening over on the Ika tribe, where Tori was repeatedly badgering Rocksroy about what happened on his "journey." The hilarious part was not Tori repeating the same questions over and over — well, kinda — but rather Rocksroy's inexplicable insistence on not telling anyone (or at least Tori) what the dilemma was. I have thought about this a million times from a million different angles and cannot identify one single advantage to not telling Tori what the dilemma was… with the possible exception being the advantage of just enjoying watching her get increasingly frustrated at his nonsensical stonewalling, which just might be the most powerful Survivor advantage ever.

Big Balls

This was a super cool challenge the players had to partake in (especially digging up the two giant balls out of sand) after being separated into two teams. Would it have been cooler had it not been the exact same one the Survivor 41 folks performed in at the semi-merge a few months ago? Yes, which illustrates perhaps the one big problem of this season: by repeating pretty much every single twist, and running some of the same challenges, and being on the same beaches, and taking the same "journey" hikes up the same mountain, Survivor 42, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, is starting to feel like Déjà vu all over again.

Of course, there will always be a slight feeling of been there, done that, as long as the show remains in Fiji, but now with everything else repeating, it comes off almost like a rerun. It's a bummer, but I'm giving the producers a bit of a pass on this one. Yes, they had a million months to prepare for these seasons due to the Covid delay, but also… Covid. It changed everything, and everything was super touch-and-go there for a long time (and still is, frankly). I'm just happy they were able to get this show up and running, which was a MASSIVE feat considering the size of the crew and all the international logistics and protocols involved. If the price of getting the best show in the world back on television was repeating a few things to make production easier in the current climate, so be it.

So like I said, cool challenge! And Jonathan once again was an absolute beast. While I wrote earlier that I get why none of the orange team members wanted to send themselves to Exile (even if Probst was giving them apparently not-so-subtle hints they might want to do it), I still find it odd that they discussed how untrustworthy Rocksroy was, and then decided to give him the power instead of Lindsay. Odd.

Greetings and Salutations

While Rocksroy was off on Exile Island thanking God for giving him a break from his bored, naggy wife, the rest of the tribe was busy alliance (and friendship) building. Merge episodes are so fun, especially when there have been no tribe swaps, meaning most of the folks are truly meeting/talking for the first time.

You had all the amulet holders having a conference, two of the funny phrase idol possessors comparing notes, a meeting of the self-proclaimed little people (Romeo and Maryanne), a meeting of the self-proclaimed big people (Jonathan and Mike). There was talk that could have been misconstrued as sexual about drivers and passengers that actually wasn't. There was talk about being a virgin, which I suppose is decidedly non-sexual in a very extreme way. (Also, is Omar really a virgin? Judging by his rectal palpitation mishap story, I'm not so sure.) And there was a lot of talk about how nobody trusted Tori or Chanelle.

Most importantly, you had a new power alliance of eight forming between Jonathan, Omar, Lindsay, Hai, Lydia, Mike, Drea, and Rocksroy… who wasn't even there to join, but that is how mighty the power of Rocksroy is! He can make alliances from completely different islands and there's nothing his naggy wife can do to stop him!!!

Survivor
Omar Zaheer on 'Survivor 42'
| Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

Changing History All Over Again

I will say this for Erika and Rocksroy: They both did a masterful job of making their decision whether to smash the hourglass look like a suspense-building difficult one, even if it was anything but. Rocks did an amazing job of weighing the pros and cons of the decision, at times looking as pained as Eliza Orlins casting a crucial vote at Tribal Council. But we all knew which way this was going to go. And Rocks indeed returned to the immunity challenge and announced the switcheroo.

That meant Lydia, Jonathan, Maryanne, Hai, Tori, and Lindsay were now all vulnerable and had to compete in the spell-immunity-on-a-wobbly table challenge. It's a classic (if a bit overused) Survivor competition. My favorite part of this competition has become guessing whether players will carry their blocks in their mouth, under their chin, or in their armpit. (I went with the mouth option when I did the challenge as part of EW's Popfest convention a few years back… completely oblivious to the fact that it meant the next person taking part would have to deal with my gross saliva dripping off the block they had to carry back and forth. My bad!)

It appeared Tori was to be voted out unanimously as long as she did not win immunity, so naturally the Survivor gods made sure she did. God, I love this show. Honestly, I almost missed who won because I was too distracted writing Survivor fan fiction centered around that super badass looking individual immunity necklace. I'm calling it: Season 42 has the most awesome tribe and individual immunity idol and necklace combo platter in the show's long illustrious history. So dope.

Survivor
Lydia Meredith on 'Survivor 42'
| Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

The Alliance Eats Its Own

I'll admit it: I was scared. As scared as I've been since I had my last nightmare involving the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang… which, to be fair, I have approximately once a week. But with Chanelle and Tori now safe, it was not looking good for my girl Maryanne. Yes, she had an idol, and an extra vote, and probably three other advantages I already forgot about, but what if she didn't use them? Because of course everyone was going to vote for her. It seemed to be a fait accompli.

And then Lydia started floating the idea of taking out Jonathan — as in her brand new alliance partner of approximately 48 hours. And then we all took an official detour to the town known colloquially as Scramble City. Population: 12.

With Romeo also pushing to take out anyone with a single muscle (which, incidentally, would exclude me) Jonathan was suddenly in big trouble and needed big help. And he got it from Omar. Although there is always more happening out there (and usually involving more people) than what we see on TV, the edit showed us Omar almost single-handedly flipping the vote back onto Lydia once he could report back that she wanted to break up the new alliance of eight.

How effective was he? So effective that even Mike (who said he would take a bullet for Lydia) and Hai (who was ready to go to rocks for Lydia once already and told pretty much anyone listening that he would do the same thing again) both wrote Lydia's name down at Tribal Council. Yes, Hai voted for Lydia! In fact, the only member of the alliance that did not vote for Lydia was Rocksroy.

My relatively uneducated guess is that Rocksroy refused to do it after their journey together, so he threw a useless vote elsewhere he knew would not impact the vote. Hey, Rocksroy gonna Rocksroy! And yes, I just like writing and saying the word Rocksroy. What? You don't? Well, not unlike Drea and Maryanne, we'll just have to agree to disagree. (Or is it disagree to agree?)

So we say goodbye to Lydia. Solid contestant. Gave entertaining confessionals. Shared some personal stuff about body image acceptance which I really appreciated hearing. Not sure how much of a strategist or gamer she was, although we did see her being a "driver and not a passenger" here, as it were. Of course, her driving skills may be a bit suspect as she ended up crashing and burning because of it, with top allies Hai and Mike bailing out of the vehicle as it burst into flames.

But enough about losing Lydia. I want to hear more about teenage Probst moving from Wichita, Kansas, to Seattle! Oh, the adventures he must have had! If we don't get a line of kids' books on those journeys sometime in 2022, I will be extremely disappointed. (Working title: Come On In!)

But until those books come, you can entertain yourself with an exclusive deleted scene from this week's episode at the top of this here recap. I also chatted with Lydia abouyt becoming the hourglass' latest victim, so check out for my exit interview with the person who was soooooooooo close to making the merge and the jury. And for more Survivor scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss and Instagram @thedaltonross. Hit the comments if you got something to say, and I'll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy!

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SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols
Survivor

Strangers starve themselves on an island for our amusement in the hopes of winning a million dollars, as host Jeff Probst implores them to "DIG DEEP!"

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