Holy shit. This is the 36th season of Survivor. Can you believe how long this show has been on? Some perspective: The first season of Survivor aired in a pre-9/11 world where Bill Clinton was still the President. Bill “Slick Willy” Clinton. America was killing the game in 2000. The internet tech boom was making everyone an overnight millionaire (Hello Mark Cuban). Contrast that with the 2018 world Survivor: Ghost Island airs in now and it will make you long for days gone by. We have Trump as a President, 2 active wars in the Middle East, and an exploding national debt that tops itself year after year. We need shows like Survivor to remind us that things weren’t always quite so bad. We need Survivor to show us that when you strip away all the luxuries we are accustomed to in modern western society we revert back to our basic animal instincts. We form alliances with some, and distance ourselves from others. Survivor is as much an experiment on human psychology as it is entertainment. I haven’t watched Survivor for years but since starting this blog I knew it had to be on my must-watch list. What did I discover in my time away from the tribe? When it comes to Survivor the more things change the more things stay the same.
This week’s episode “Trust your gut” is all about intuition. It’s a very in your face metaphor that foreshadows several key situations our tribes face this week. Let’s start with the Naviti tribe. After a very political tribal council meeting Morgan lost her flame and was sent packing. Domenick and Wendell emerge from the jungle licking their wounds having played too strong a hand at the council meeting as they voted to oust Angela over Morgan. We see them alone on a beach strategizing about how they can survive another week with all their cards out on the table for the rest of the tribe to see. Oh, and Chris will be coming back from Ghost Island, and when he does he will be gunning for Dom. Luckily, Dom mentions to Wendell that he has a “real” immunity idol and I’m immediately skeptical. Why use the word “real” when describing it to someone? People always overemphasize a lie – just saying. I like Wendell but he seems easily manipulated by stronger personalities like Dom. Is this part of his game? It’s too early to tell.
This week’s reward challenge is high stakes – not only will a member of the losing tribe be sent to Ghost Island to exist in solitude (minus production) but the winning tribe will get…PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY SAMMIES! And a cold glass of milk to wash it all down. Let me ask you – when is the last time you had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? It’s probably been a while, yeah? Let me tell, after a long hiatus, much like Survivor, pb&j sandos are so fucking good! For me this reward seems significant. As for the challenge itself: 2 teams of 2 will need to swim 100 yards or so to grab a ring and bring it back to their post, scoring a point. Best 2 out 3 wins. This is basically water polo but you are allowed to mostly drown your opponent. Tangent: who comes up with these challenges after 36 seasons? How many different variations of “get the ball in the goal” are there? I’d love to be a fly on the wall in that room and just listen to the various producers work out different scenarios. The well has to be running dry at this point, no?
There’s really only 1 key takeaway from this reward challenge and that is don’t fuck with Laurel – just like in MTV’s The Challenge. Can we put that in the reality TV competition handbook? If there is someone named Laurel on the show you should not fuck with them because they will grind your bones to dust. Laurel is a tank on this challenge, going full beast mode and dragging the other contestants, IN WAIST HIGH WATER NO LESS, down the field, ring in hand. It’s really impressive. Later I will learn she is a division 1 athlete who went to Yale (Sienne? I miss you. I hope you’re doing well) so the fact that she can throw tiny white girls around like rag dolls will make a lot more sense. The Naviti tribe wins the sandwiches and the Malolo tribe is up to send someone to Ghost Island – PS they really need some kind of sound effect every time Ghost Island is said out loud. Speaking of sound effects, who is the dude that does the generic guttural tribal noises when we return from commercial break? I want that job.
Leaving things to chance, the Malolo tribe drew rocks from a bag to determine who will go into a brief exile. Before drawing Kellyn, a career counselor from Denver, states that her worst fear is being sent to Ghost Island. Guess what happens next? She draws the white rock out of the bag and punches her ticket to Ghost Island. Congratulations Kellyn – enjoy your time away from the tribe! Production shoos Kellyn into a small boat and they set sail for an all expenses paid vacation to the fabulous Ghost Island. Kellyn is now surrounded by the “ghosts” of past survivors and their on-show errors that cost each former contestants the game. Upon her arrival Kellyn is presented with a decision – she can risk her tribal council vote to play a challenge game and win a huge advantage, or she can sit tight and do nothing on the island. Kellyn chooses to do nothing but not before explaining how in her life she follows her gut (Title reference!) She tells us how she left a brief marriage because the relationship didn’t feel right. She left her job to get an MBA because she felt it in her bones. And now she is doing nothing because risking her vote is no good in this moment. You know what also doesn’t feel right? Kellyn telling us how everything she has done has lead her here – Survivor. On this show if you’re not active making and plotting moves you’re going to lose.
Case in point: Chris is back from Ghost Island among his Naviti people and already politikin’ to get Dom out. The Dom versus Chris war is coming. While Chris is trying to sell everyone on the idea that he would make the better leader Dom is doing his part to solidify his own position. More vaguely tribal guttural noises sound and it’s time for the immunity challenge.
For the immunity challenge we see another variation of a tried and true reality TV contest – get heavy object from point A to point B via an obstacle course. At Point B there is a physical challenge to win the game. The idea here is to use teamwork in order to complete your objective because of course it is. Reality TV shows always try and force feed the audience these nuggets of wisdom. Trust your gut, teamwork works, don’t fuck with people named Laurel – there are lessons to be learned if you’re willing to be a good student. The challenge starts and right away it looks like the Malolo is going to pick up an easy W. To win, the tribe must swim out to a sunken chest, open an underwater gate and carry it back to the beach where each team will have to navigate an obstacle course. Once at the end of the obstacle course the team needs to open the chest and find 5 balls. These balls must be thrown onto a narrow ledge in order to get the win. This is variation #42-A on game 4C. Oh to be the fly on the wall.
The Malolo tribe is already out of the water and on the obstacle course before the Naviti tribe even has their underwater gate open – it’s going to be a massacre, folks. Sebastian, who doubles as a hook and ladder assassin for hire, somehow manages to connect a metal ring to the missing obstacle course piece on his first try and the tribe is able to pull the missing obstacle course piece into place. By the time the Naviti tribe is trying to connect their obstacle course pieces together the Malolo tribe is already tossing their balls onto the narrow shelf. Malolo manages to get 3 out of the 5 balls up on the shelf before the Naviti tribe even throws their first ball. Reality TV lesson time – never give up. Even though it looks like the Naviti tribe is sunk they don’t stop trying. And by some miracle then end up balancing all 5 of their balls before the Malolo tribe and get the win! It’s amazing! It’s the most epic comeback of the season (we’re on episode 3) and Jeff Probst hammers home the importance of never giving up no matter the odds. That’s what survivor is all about: Outwit, outplay, outlast.
As the Naviti tribe celebrates their legendary come-from-behind victory the Malolo tribe is left to pick up the pieces and figure out who they are going to sacrifice to the CBS gods. Bradley, the stereotypical looking and sounding law student, is mustering his troops to stage a coup. For the record, Bradley is every young republican I met in college. He’s the Devin of the survivor except he actually knows how to manipulate people. He has a core group of former Naviti tribesman that he has banded together and with their superior numbers he wants to vote out either Michael or Brenden. NO ONE WILL EVER SEE THIS MOVE COMING. Or so Bradley thinks because Bradley thinks he has all the answers and is the only one with a developed strategy. Bradley is wrong. Bradley calls Brenden docile and in that moment I know that I hate Bradley. Things are going to implode on him – smug little bastard.
We cut to Michael and Brenden who know that they are both up for elimination – See Bradley! How in the hell can they avoid certain departure when Bradley and co. have the superior numbers? Well, it just so happens that Michael has an ace in the hole – he’s managed to find a relic from Survivor: China. He can use this relic to save him or Brenden during the Tribal Council. But wait! This is a special relic, or at least it can be in the right hands. Each relic comes with a note and story behind it and Michael decides to bend the truth a bit here. He is going to announce his relic mid-tribal council and instead of using it to save 1 person he is going to use it to save 2 people. Wait, what? Can he do that? Is everyone stupid enough to believe that? It turns out the answer is yes.
Before we get to the council it’s important to note Stephanie’s powerful #fitmom hope sequence. She meditates on the beach and traces out the word hope in the sand. She knows she’s on the chopping block but if Instagram has taught us anything it is that the power of positive thinking can change anything! All you have to do is yoga. And eat clean. And spread love. Be positive!
At the tribal council Bradley’s coalition spares with Michael’s and each makes a case for voting the other side out. Michael lets us know that Bradley cannot be trusted because he’s using the others to save himself (duh, everyone is) and when he gets the chance he is going to put a knives in the backs of Chelsea and Sebastian. Vote Bradley out – Michael & Brenden 2018. Bradley says his side cannot trust the Malolo tribesman because they are not native Naviti so don’t vote Bradley, or Bradley. Only he can see the remaining Naviti-now-Malolo people to liberty and prosperity. A classic law and order strategy. With both sides dug in Michael reveals his relic and spins his web. He tells everyone the back story behind the relic (key to making everyone believe it is worth 2 lives and not 1) and that he will be using it on himself and Brenden…no wait…not Brenden because they wouldn’t throw docile Brenden in…let’s use the relic on Stephers instead. Come on, really?! Why the last minute change? Oh shit, this was Michael’s plan all long wasn’t it? Clever girl.
The votes are counted and its 4-4, Bradley versus Brenden. Jeff reaches into the bag and reveals the final vote it’s Brend-o. Congratulations Brenden, you just played yourself. This was Michael’s play the whole time – get docile Brenden out of the way so he can focus on Brad. He’s instilled significant FUD in Bradley’s coalition and I’m thinking he’ll look to push this further next week. Jeff gives Brenden the iconic Survivor sendoff, “The tribe has spoken,” and Brenden extinguishes his flame. Stephanie’s yoga/meditation/hope session has worked, for now.