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What a frustratingly stupid episode of Survivor: Island of the Idols

What a frustratingly stupid episode of Survivor: Island of the Idols

As Survivor: Island of the Idols‘ third episode progressed, I got more and more frustrated: by the production’s decisions, by some of the cast members’ behavior, and by the insufficient editing. By the time immunity/reward challenge started—with its crazy huge teeter-totters—I was pretty livid, and I watched an entire season of this show that had the Edge of Extinction.

While the episode maintained Survivor’s signature attention to detail in its production design, and while the cast remains interesting, both the production choices and the editing undercut those at every possible moment.

We opened on a tribe that apparently hated one of its own members so much they basically were going to let her bleed out on the sand after she stabbed herself through the hand with a knife. Where did this intense hatred of Karishma come from? Did her tribe ostracize her because she’s 37 and/or of Indian descent, either explicitly or implicitly?

Shortly before the self-stabbing, there was a scene of the women in the Lairo tribe playing together in the water, with Karishma confessing to us, “For me, it’s all an act.”

Karishma explained: “I’m in my underwear. Which, Indian people are conservative by nature. We don’t show our bodies as much. We cover up. I’m here representing an entire community of people and I don’t know how people are going to feel about a 37-year-old married woman running around in her underwear.” Cut to Karishma diving underwater, her butt and underwear center screen. Gratuitous or merely illustrative?

Once again, a woman of color has been othered by her tribe, although this time, she was not voted out, just used as a back-up plan to be voted out if the gay southeast Asian guy didn’t play an idol. But we’ll talk about Vince in a moment.

However, Karishma did explain—and Survivor included—what it felt like to try to represent almost one-fifth of the world’s population. That’s an incredible amount of internal pressure, especially while also trying to compete in a social game for $1 million, and especially when dealing with a tribe that cares so little about you they’re going to let you bleed out without so much as a sideways glance.

When Karishma sliced her hand, she fell to her knees as she felt like she’d pass out, and the cameras zoomed in as blood poured out of her wound.

No one did anything. It was bizarre. “If I would have chopped my head off, they wouldn’t have flinched. Each and every person on this tribe is dead to me,” she told us later, her hand newly bandaged.

Even though it was clear that she eventually received medical care, and I have no doubt the production team was there to help, no producers nor medics appeared in the edit. The effect of that editing choice was to make her seem even more alone and isolated, having to deal with her injury entirely by herself.

As it turns out, that is basically what happened. Here’s what Jeff Probst said to EW:

“….the injury was not so severe that Karishma was in a life-threatening situation.  We let her handle it on her own and let the reality play out as it did. Then later when things calmed down, medical took a look at it and cleaned it up to ensure there would not be an infection.”

I was pretty angry in that moment: at her tribe for their wanton disregard of basic humanity, and for Survivor for doing such a terrible job at explaining just why everyone was so cavalierly ignoring both her and her wound.

Let’s imagine for a moment that it was just a tiny prick of the knife and she was overreacting (i.e. there was no actual bone showing). You still offer help. You call for a medic or a producer. You do something.

No one did anything. Why? Shrug emoji.

I assume that’s because there was no time at all, just as there was no time for the opening credits and Survivor theme song, which have been left to bleed to death on a beach somewhere.

There was, thankfully, plenty of time to enjoy one of the best Survivor challenges in recent memory, which had new (or at least, not-frequently-repeated) elements, plus clever takes on familiar elements, like the fish puzzle that had to be assembled while it hung in the air.

And I’d be glad for that giant teeter-totter to return in future challenges, even this season! It’s a great test of a tribe’s ability to work together.

Alas, there was also time for Rob and Sandra and one of the stupidest things Survivor has ever wasted time with. Emphasis on the stupid part.

Island of the Idols gets Vince sent on a mission, and voted out

Vince Moua on Survivor Island of the Idols episode three, before he got screwed by the Island of the Idols twist
Vince Moua on Survivor Island of the Idols episode three, before he got screwed by the Island of the Idols twist (Photo Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment)

Using my completely unscientific methodology of tracking their screen time, Rob and Sandra’s total on-screen time this episode was 8 minutes, 57 seconds (including Vince’s excursion, because that was their test), out of a 42 minute, 52 second episode. That means they were on screen for about 20.9 percent of the episode. The total, as of episode three:

Rob and Sandra have been on Survivor: Island of the Idols for 28 minutes and 40 seconds of 2 hours, 29 minutes, 25 seconds total running time, a total of 19.2 percent of the season.

The problems with Vince’s trip to the Island of the Idols started before he even arrived there.

That’s because, as his boat pulled away, his tribe basically decided to vote him out immediately, because they assumed he’d return with an idol. And in case he actually did have and play an idol, Dean suggested they split the vote, even though the other target was standing right behind him: Karishma.

Dean acknowledged his error: “Was everyone thinking it? Yes. Did it need to be verbalized? No.” Did the show need to tell us why they’d already decide to vote her out? Yes. Did it? No.

For some bizarre reason, the tribe was immediately and unequivocally convinced that Vince should be voted out immediately because he’d 100 percent be returning with an idol.

Remember Elizabeth, who was standing in that group and also went to the Island of the Idols and returned without an idol but with a lie about what she’d done? Why did she get a complete free pass? Did she have a conversation with them about what happened?

What’s frustrating me about the twist itself is how shortsighted it is: It isolates and targets individuals for no fault of their own.

Unless the tribe wanted him out for another reason that was not shared with us, Vince was literally voted out because he was randomly selected to go to the Island of the Idols. This kind of imbalanced twist would fit in nicely with the shenanigans Big Brother pulls every summer.

Vince arrived at the Island of the Idols only to discover that Sandra and Rob had previously run out of Survivor skills to teach. After Vince became immediately overwhelmed with emotion (“I grew up watching you two, so…”), he learned what he’d be tested on: “staying calm under pressure,” as Rob said.

But Vince didn’t get any kind of useful lesson, he just got a challenge: go to the other tribe’s camp and steal fire. Come again? Elizabeth had to make fire, Kellee had to answer three questions, and Vince had to raid another tribe’s camp?

Next week, will someone have to draw a triangle using macaroni? And then the episode after that, will the Island of the Idols visitor be tasked with building a rocket to send a tarsier into space?

The actual scene of Vince sneaking into the camp had a comedic thriller vibe. Yet it was also uncommonly stupid, especially for Survivor, which I hold to a higher standard than this kind of nonsense.

The editing kept making a big deal of the tribe possibly waking up—they did, thanks to a nightmare one of them had, which was a funny moment by itself—but those sleeping tribe members were also being filmed by at least one camera operator who was walking around camp and filming with an infrared camera.

So of course they wouldn’t notice someone in their camp: They’re used to people wandering around their camp in the dark. There was very little risk.

Vince got screwed in so many ways, but he also got screwed by both the weather and the editing. It was raining when he visited their camp, and discovered that the “bunch of dummies”—I have not expressed how much I appreciated Vince’s one-liners and witty asides—didn’t keep their fire dry. So, instead, he gathered ashes as evidence that he was there.

When Vince returned to the Island of the Idols (his entire time away from his tribe lasted about 15 years, whereas last week it felt like Kellee was there for about 15 minutes), Sandra said, “It’s not his fault that it rained, it’s not his fault that the fire was out.” Rob said, “you adapted in the face of adversity.” So, they gave him an immunity idol, which he was voted out holding. Oh, Vince!

But let’s also address how Survivor took credit away from him. Earlier, when Rob was explaining Vince’s challenge, the editing cut to show us the other tribe’s camp, and the audio changed too. It sounded to me like ADR, a voice-over recorded later to add exposition:

Rob to Vince: “Tonight you must sneak into the other tribe’s camp and steal fire by lighting this torch.”

Rob in voice-over: “You’re going to have to get so close to them, it’s a big-time risk. If they don’t have fire, you’re going to have to figure out how to bring us proof somehow.”

Rob to Vince: “If you return with fire, and without getting caught, you earn an immunity idol good for your next two Tribal Councils. If you get caught, you lose your vote for the next Tribal Council. The question is, do you have the confidence to attempt such a daring feet, or will you play it safe and pass up this shot at an advantage?”

An aside: That is frustratingly common in reality TV—I first noticed it during an early season of The Apprentice, when Donald Trump would record voice-overs to offer coherent explanations of why he was firing someone; an editor later said they had to “reverse-engineer the show to make it look like his judgment had some basis in reality” —but it’s rare on Survivor, which certainly does other sketchy things with the editing (using CGI to change buff colors so the editors can use an interview from a different part of the season, for example).

Anyway, Rob’s voice-over explanation made it sound like he told Vince before Vince left that an alternate type of proof would be acceptable. But from what Rob and Sandra both said when Vince returned, and what Probst confirmed in EW, that was entirely Vince’s improvisation.

So why act like it was part of the instructions? Why take that away from him? And why the hell does the Island of the Idols exist anyway? It alone took Vince away from us, and I’m annoyed with that.

Also, what was this actual test? Rob said several things: “Your lesson today is about staying calm under pressure.” “Your emotions have to be in check in this game.” And the actual task asked if Vince “had the confidence” to do the task. Those are three entirely different things. Perhaps they all come into play, or perhaps they’re just an example of how poorly conceived this was.

Just before Tribal Council rolled around, I thought the episode might have a satisfying end, with the women’s alliance deciding to target Tom instead of splitting votes between Vince and Karishma, which is what everyone ultimately did—except Vince, who voted for Tom.

Vince was at the center of much of the scrambling, and the lines he delivered moment after moment will make me miss his presence even more: telling Missy that they should target Tom because “homeboy was, like, huffing and puffing,” telling Karishma, “you can’t just keep saying that, girl” when she said she wanted people to play the game but wouldn’t throw out any names.

Of course, Vince also joined the club of people voted out with a hidden immunity idol in his pocket.

Tribal itself was a mess of arrogance and confusion: Aaron being a super team player by saying that, at challenges, “we deliver them a lead” and then the puzzle-creators flub it; Tom’s “we clearly have a problem … I want the problem fixed”; Karishma’s nonsensical and/or not-explained whispering.

Having been failed by Tribal Council, I was hoping that the preview for next week would lift me out of my episode-three funk. But it teased a romance and a brand-new way of sending someone to the Island of the Idols, because why be consistent or have defined rules in a game when you can just make shit up as you go along?

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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. Learn more about Andy.

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