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On Survivor Ghost Island, a famous idol becomes a possible life ring

On Survivor Ghost Island, a famous idol becomes a possible life ring
Michael Yerger, Brendan Shapiro, Chris Noble, and Donathan Hurley competing in a Survivor Ghost Island reward challenge. (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS)

I’m beginning to think that Survivor Ghost Island was named that not because of the past haunting the present, but because this is the season with disappearing people and storylines.

Two tribes are introduced and alliances established, and then they’re shuffled into the ether. Spend 40 minutes watching one tribe and finally understanding what’s happening? Poof! It’s gone.

Yes, in episode three, there was not one moment spent at the orange tribe’s camp for two-thirds of the episode, so when they lost immunity, it was like starting all over again. We got to meet new people like Brendan, who’s suddenly a mastermind and a super-villain despite not being featured since the very first challenge.

Unlike last week, when I was nearly entirely confused about who was who and what tribe they were on, I had a solid handle about what was happening on the purple tribe: Domenick and Wendell and the two others whose names I don’t know working with Laurel and probably Donathan to go after Chris. 

So when the immunity challenge rolled around, I was confident their tribe would lose, because 100 percent of the episode’s attention had been on that tribe. And then they won—barely, and in a tense, pretty incredible come-from-behind victory. Still, that was dampened by the editing; purple tribe might as well have been competing against the Dream Team.

And now, so, what happens to that blindsiding Chris storyline I was finally understanding and interested in? Will the blindside of Chris happen next week, or the week after, or never?

Perhaps the editing should have been a clue that Orange Tribe of People I Don’t Know would lose, and thus get attention in the episode, but either way, it was super-clunky to suddenly be dropped into their tribe and strategizing just before Tribal Council. This season seems to be edited for people who’ve known the cast for months.

The only person on the orange tribe that got any pre-Tribal Council attention was Kellyn, who drew the odd rock and was sent to Ghost Island. She was given the option to play a game, if you can call choosing between two things a game instead of a complete disappointment, but decided not to because of the cost: losing her next vote.

I appreciated the rationality of her choice—even if that meant we were deprived of the drama of seeing her choose between two pieces of bamboo.

Michael gives an epic Tribal Council performance

I’m always glad to reach the point in the season where reward challenges return, and I especially love the mid-ocean sandbar challenge location, and I don’t mind at all that the contestants haven’t yet been given their bathing suits yet.

All three came together in a now-familiar Survivor challenge, where two people from each tribe wrestled for a life ring and dragged it—and each other—toward their tribe’s flag. The first round had a particularly smart strategy where Wendell and Chris threw the ring to each other. But it was Laurel’s brute strength and persistence that won it for her tribe.

Their win meant we spent even more time with the purple tribe and their peanut butter and jelly sandwich wads.

So the tribe that lost immunity and went to Tribal Council ended up being the one with people who I don’t know. Like, who is Bradley? Besides a law student and a controlling monster of a super-villain?

Although the set-up was weak, the pay-off was thrilling and fantastic, the best Tribal Council so far this season.

Michael’s play of James’ idol—which is the size of an average-sized New York City apartment—was exceptional game play, and I say that even though it didn’t work. His goal was to “end that curse, end that legacy” and “lie and stretch its power,” and he did that by smoothly and effortlessly introducing and lying about it at Tribal Council.

Michael told everyone that, because this was Survivor China cast member James’ idol, and James was voted out with two idols, “this has double power to save two people tonight.” As I type those words, the argument falls apart quite a bit; wouldn’t the production just have just given him two idols like James had? Wouldn’t the other tribe members have asked to see the note that he produced but didn’t read from?

The magic of the moment, though, was all in the way he sold it, and the way he clearly but non-confrontationally said that he and his minority alliance would all be voting for Bradley, should someone want to join in.

Alas, no one did.

He held the lie right up until he handed it to Jeff Probst, and even looked back at the tribe to gauge reaction as he said he was going to play it for himself and Brendan. That was a moment where I was almost uncomfortable with that particular kind of lie being acceptable under Survivor’s rules, because Michael was lying about who he was playing it for as a way of trying to figure out who to play it for, and there’s a point at which I think the production and Probst have to call bullshit.

But they didn’t have to, because played his idol for one person, Stephanie—who received zero votes—and the dominant alliance simply stuck together and sent Brendan home.

James’ idol didn’t leave the game unused, but it also didn’t do anything except give us a wildly entertaining Tribal Council. For a last-ditch effort that failed, and for a rather pedestrian outcome, it was a dynamic and thrilling path that led us there.

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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