[This recap contains spoilers for the April 18 episode of Survivor: Ghost Island.]
After 36+ seasons, there are plenty of familiar Survivor events and challenges and twists that tire me, that I’ve seen enough and don’t need to have repeated. There are also countless regular elements from Survivors past that I could watch every season, but Survivor wisely knows shouldn’t be repeated each and every year.
Take, for example, the Survivor auction. To me, it has produced enough drama and crazed strategy to be a part of every season, but I also know that if you were to actually look at every single auction and its results, you’d probably seen that it has been a bore 80 percent of the time. I’m sure it’ll return in the future, but I get why it’s not part of every season.
Or, practically a polar opposite, I understand why some years it may not be practical to do one of the local village visit rewards. Sure, they’re often manipulative, but I love the idea and the visualization of how Survivor is making an effort to honor or assist the locals in a tangible way.
One thing, though, that should always be part of every single season? Eating challenges. I acknowledge there’s something anthropologically uncomfortable about Jeff Probst making references to “local delicacies” and basically exoticizing (or in some cases completely fabricating) the culinary traditions of a region. Sure. But for me, one of the most purely Survivor things a contestant can have to do is nosh on a squirming beetle larva or get their first taste of room-temperature balut.
Welcome back to the Survivor eating challenge! And greetings, potential Survivor winner Angela!
Wednesday’s episode didn’t, to my chagrin, include any consumption of balut. Is Fiji a location in which boiled duck embryos are not, in fact, eaten? If not, fair enough. The gigantic sea slugs more than made up for the absence of balut, particularly Angela’s initial ability to straight-up swallow one slug whole, before ripping and tearing into a second. I don’t know if the mother-of-pearl flesh should have been the final course. That’s basically just a heaping pile of some mollusk or other, a glorified raw clam or oyster or something. Other courses included the aforementioned pulsing larvae and glistening, fly-studded fish eyes that Jeff Probst helpfully observed were from locally caught fish that mostly went to feeding local villages.
Angela was the literal and symbolic winner of the challenge. She danced and strutted and fist-pumped her way to immunity and, in the process, actually looked alive and competitive and threatening for the first time. I’d say Angela exhibited the eye of the tiger but it was, of course, actually the eye of some sort of unnamed fish. One of several women in the competition determined to restart their lives, Angela has spent most of the season both in a majority, but still left out of negotiations. The Angela we witnessed on Wednesday, though, might have the will to simply outlast her fellow castaways and that’s part of the slogan of the show.
The challenge’s big loser was Wendell, who lurched away from his fish eye like it was electrified and earned derisive dismissal from Probst. Coming after an episode in which Wendell became every Survivor fan’s new favorite player, this performance might have knocked him back to the field a bit. You’re starving to death on an island (even if you just won a taco challenge) and you’re offered piles of protein? Eat the protein! Come on, Wendell!
I guess the eating challenge’s other victor, even in defeat, was Michael. If Angela’s strategy was entirely external and frantic, constantly psyching herself up for the next obstacle, Michael’s approach was a little scary and internal. He kept his eyes mostly closed and practically went off into his own world and he very nearly won. And then, even after he’d lost, he asked Jeff’s permission to go back to the table to finish his mother-of-pearl flesh. Why would he do that? Because you only get one chance and you don’t want to leave anything on the table, however gross.
Good for Michael.
And good for Michael still being in the game at this point.
At Tribal Council, Michael played Ozzy’s stick, which you may recall as the fake idol that so wanted to become a real idol that it booked passage for Ghost Island, spent 10 years taking advanced courses in idol self-actualization at Ghost Island University — Ghost Island State is much more of a party-idol school — and eventually became a real idol and swam back and hid himself at one of this season’s camps. Given the effort that the stick went through, nothing Michael did is so impressive at all, but at least he did exactly what you’re supposed to do with an immunity idol, in that he kept it completely secret and played it at a tribal council in which he’d otherwise have been eliminated.
Stick, thy curse hath been reversed!
The Naviti alliance, plus Laurel and Donathan, was smart enough to anticipate Michael’s idol potential. They split the votes between Michael and Libby. Michael, meanwhile, voted alone for Wendell.
Farewell to Libby.
The vote against Libby was a culmination of a multi-week campaign of paranoia against Libby that I believe was based exclusively on her being cute, which is not a great thing to get you kicked out of the game. Libby was made to believe that people feared her closeness to Michael, a closeness that we barely, if ever, saw. She’s going to be really frustrated when she sees the various guys speculating on her ability to use her feminine wiles to get further in the game. The reality is that although Libby may have certainly had the potential to be manipulative and flirtatious, if that was truly occurring, we saw none of that.
Granted: Just because the editors don’t show us something doesn’t mean that something wasn’t there. Kelley Wentworth was voted out early in her first Survivor season because everybody kept claiming she was dangerous and a threat and nothing we saw indicated this was the case. Then Kelley came back for a second season and she was really good. It’s that weird Survivor thing where just because Parvati won once doesn’t mean that “brilliantly flirtatious vixen” has often been a million-dollar strategy and yet everybody always freaks out as if every young woman with dimples is the next Parvati. Look at the show’s history of winners and I’d say that there are at least a dozen archetypes that have been more reliably successful than what people feared Libby might become.
Libby was voted out here simply because she was a disposable Malolo number. Her absence from the game will not change things going forward.
Wendell’s absence really would have shaken the game up. It just didn’t happen. Laurel and Donathan gave serious consideration to remaining Malolo strong and capitalizing on Naviti splitting the vote. They just didn’t. They voted with the Naviti split. It’s here I have to wonder if Michael’s best move was to tell his fellow Malolos that he had an idol he was prepared to play. If he tells Donathan, Laurel, Libby and Jenna that he has an idol and they all keep quiet and come together, Wendell leaves the game with an idol in his pocket.
Instead, Michael just made personal use of the idol in a good play, not the best play.
We’ve already seen several times this season how important idol secrecy can be, which doesn’t stop players from running their mouths about their own advantages and then running their mouths about other people’s advantages too. Sharing secrets that aren’t yours to share is dumb Survivor and Wendell, who played such great Survivor last week, played dumb Survivor this week. Why would you possibly think it would behoove your game position to share your closest ally’s advantage? Wendell telling Laurel that he had an idol? I guess that’s all about information sharing and building trust. Wendell telling Laurel about Domenick’s idol? That’s taking a target and stretching it across two people in a game in which exposed power couples are always threats.
By rights and by smart gameplay standards, Wendell absolutely should have been this week’s victim. He earned a blindsiding through his poor dissemination of strategy combined with his single-handed domination of the slingshotting reward challenge and his lifeless refusal to eat a fish eye.
I’m still rooting for Wendell, but he made it tough this week.
Let’s get to some Bottom Lines…
Bottom Line, I. That’s Michael’s second idol played this season, this time effectively. As we saw it, he was confident that he’d swayed people to join him against Wendell and nothing we saw at Tribal gave much warning that he was feeling differently. Either he had reason to know/suspect that he was really in jeopardy or else he just did what Chris was too narcissistic to do last week and he recognized that it was better to waste an idol unnecessarily than to go home with an idol unplayed. It was an easy, correct play.
Bottom Line, II. Jenna’s frustration with going to Ghost Island and breaking a “No Game For You” urn and then just having to kill a day with no purpose is all of our frustration with the way Ghost Island has been used (or not used) so frequently this season. I’m really confused by what players do and do not know about what’s happening at Ghost Island and therefore what they think is or isn’t the case with the people who have been there. They seem to know that the possibility exists of getting an advantage of some sort. Does that mean they suspect Kellyn might have something? Kellyn hasn’t mentioned her extra vote for a while. Is Donathan under suspicion? Is Jenna now? Doesn’t that mean that, in this case, the winning team in the reward challenge would have been wisest to send Kellyn again for purposes of consolidation of knowledge/advantage?
Bottom Line, III. In the reward challenge, the squandered strength edge for the group with Sea-Bass, Dom and Michael was impressive. I don’t like any challenge in which “Hide the girls” is the only effective strategy, so making that challenge slingshot-only was a bad call. Yes, Laurel hit one target and bless her, but none of the other women came close and the most effective way of winning was to get the women out of the way as fast as possible and just let Wendell take control. That’s bad challenge architecture.
Bottom Line, IV. Seriously, watch out for Angela. We saw last season how eager Survivor is to honor our veterans and Angela could make it two in a row.
Bottom Line, V. Time for the regular itemizing of advantages: Dom and Wendell still both have idols. Kellyn has her extra vote. That’s all, right? Dom’s in great position with that idol, since he’s probably less of a threat than Wendell, so he can just use Wendell as a shield for a while and that ought to be enough to take him to the top five, give or take.
Bottom Line, VI. Probst tried goosing a dull Tribal Council with that question about who benefited from the new Final Tribal system, but did anybody else get entirely confused what he was even talking about? Like I know he’s talking about the way the show has worked the jury questions and finalist statements in the past few seasons, but the question was so distanced and unconnected to anything else in this particular Tribal that nobody seemed to comprehend why they were saying anything at all on the subject.
That’s it for this week! Check out Josh Wigler’s awesome weekly interviews!