Survivor celebrates quitters NaOnka and Kelly by dragging out quitting for an episode

For the first time, two people quit Survivor at the same time, leaving the series without its biggest villain and its most invisible cast member. But what this episode will be most memorable for is the lesson that quitters win on Survivor, just like on The Amazing Race.

Okay, yes, the probable lack of consequences for Nick quitting a task is less severe than NaOnka Mixon and Kelly Shinn (aka purple Kelly) quitting the series because they were tired of being cold and wet, since they are, of course, ineligible for the $1 million.

But they still win. They go on reward (NaOnka!) and then to Ponderosa, where they join the jury. (That’s in the contestant contract, page five; there are other references to quitters elsewhere in the contract.) They’ll talk to the media this week and get more attention. They even got their final exit confessional broadcast over the credits, which the show’s first quitter, Osten Taylor, did not.

Worst of all, they got an entirely contrived episode structured around their decision to quit. And perhaps besides winning $1 million, nothing is more of a prize on Survivor than to actually be featured and thus remembered.

It was completely evident from the very first moments of this episode that NaOnka and Kelly had announced to producers their intention to quit, and were encouraged to wait until after the reward challenge to tell Jeff Probst. All the talk around camp seemed like the others were well aware that their colleagues were leaving the show. “My heart’s not in the game like it should be,” NaOnka told Chase. “I’m gonna give you the key to the game. There’s the idol.”

At the reward challenge, I’d bet Jeff knew what was coming. “Your ability to draw from within will be what gets you through,” he said in a coincidental little speech at the start of the reward challenge–odd, even for Jeff. (Unsurprisingly, he has zero insight about how all this actually went down in his EW column today.)

After they announced their intention to quit, Probst revealed that he wouldn’t let them leave yet; he’d give them time to think about it. This is the Probst who nearly popped a vein over Osten’s decision to quit seven years ago. Yes, he did ask if they were sure, and so forth, but he seemed almost amused.

By the way, here’s how I imagine the unedited conversation went. Kelly: “I quit, too.” Jeff: “Uh, you can’t quit, you’re a Dream Team member stand-in. And what are you doing in the live shot? We did the rehearsal for this challenge two days ago.” “No, I’m on the tribe. I’m purple Kelly.” “That’s a stupid name, but you’re funny. Now move your ass out of my shot.”

Next, Probst came up with the opportunity for one person on the winning team to give up reward to give their tribe a tarp and rice. While this is the kind of thing they’ve done before, it just highlighted NaOnka’s selfishness as she let Holly, who wasn’t quitting, stay in the game. The producers easily could have let NaOnka quit right there, but it’s much more dramatic to keep her around and let her do the predictable NaOnka thing and be her horrible self.

So she went off to the show’s worst-ever reward, because it was a page straight out of the playbook at Big Brother. Who at CBS is intent on wrecking this series? I’m okay with, say, the Charmin or the Outback awards, because they at least make contextual sense, like the Mountain Dew reward from years ago that first freaked everyone out. But a stupid Jack Black movie? And all of the obviously fed lines to help promote the movie? And a rip-off of a standard Big Brother reward a few episodes after ripping off a Big Brother challenge, never mind this cast itself? The ripping-off should be happening the other way around, people.

At the special NaOnka and Kelly Tribal Council, Probst did what he’s done in the past: asked other people why they weren’t quitting, to try to make the quitters feel like shit. But Jeff didn’t seem all that irritated. He was having fun. When NaOnka, delusional twit that she is, insisted she would have won the game, Probst said, “Realistically, do you think you had any shot to win this game?” and then grinned, “regale me with a story, woman!” Probst later asked Kelly and NaOnka what he should do with their torches, another example of making a spectacle out of something that once had more power when he just did it: laying their torches aside as a reminder of their decision. (Everyone also had a laugh at NaOnka’s hilarious insistence that her torch should be “smuffed.”)

Not that it will matter. NaOnka, of course, is unrepentant about quitting. “I don’t care what anybody thinks,” she said. “I’m still going to be NaOnka after I leave here.” And Kelly, well, who cares why Kelly is leaving because who cares that she as even on the show?

Ultimately, Survivor did condemn its quitters. I liked Jud/Fabio’s line from earlier in the episode: “Find a mental happy place,” he said. “Say this is temporary; I can deal with this.” And at Tribal, Jane launched into a speech about the economy and spoiled brats, basically, and then delivered the knock-out punch: “There’s people out there who’s a whole lot worse than we are, and they’re not playing Survivor. We are,” she said.

You are still playing, but for this episode, at least, the quitters won.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.