The player voted out of Survivor Island of the Idols, with an immunity idol in her pocket, was completely blindsided, but episode four delivered a far bigger and more satisfying blindside for viewers earlier, at the immunity challenge.
Survivor has always toyed with giving viewers some information and withholding other details in order to make big moments pay off. As the show has aged, it’s generally become more transparent with showing us the machinations that lead to blindsides. So when it returns to the WTF blindside, I sometimes find those to be frustrating because they don’t make a lot of sense. But this was an excellent example of how withholding some information can lead to a satisfying payoff.
This all began with Noura’s trip to the Island of the Idols. For some reason that the producers did not share with us, someone from Vokai/purple wasn’t randomly selected by Vince. Instead, the tribe had to unanimously choose someone to go—or draw rocks.
Almost immediately, it seemed like they were just going to draw, with a series of cutaways to interviews with reactions to the idea of volunteering (Lauren: “I’m staying right here”).
But Noura did volunteer, because she’s here to play and/or immediately be voted out because of the Island of the Idols stigma.
When she arrived at the Island of the Idols, or the Island of the Random Handsome Man Statue, Rob and Sandra, having run out of things to teach contestants after the first episode, gave her a snack and showed us an ad for next season, Survivor 40, the all-winners season.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m always glad to revisit some of Survivor’s most iconic moments, but since there isn’t even time any more to recap the previous episode, and we’re already spending a lot of time with Rob and Sandra, I’d rather watch those scenes on YouTube and spend time with the actual people who were cast for this season.
Speaking of Rob and Sandra time, the 42 minute and 49 second episode spent 5 minutes and 45 seconds with them, including Sandra’s wonderful line about Elaine during Tribal Council: “This one never knows anything.”
Rob and Sandra have been on Survivor: Island of the Idols for 34 minutes and 25 seconds of 3 hours, 12 minutes, 14 seconds total running time, a total of 17.9 percent of the season so far.
Noura was taught nothing about “the art of persuasion,” though I think she deserves bonus points for asking why Sandra’s piece of watermelon was so tiny. Why was it? I seriously thought that might be her test: Which of us had the bigger piece of watermelon?
Instead, Noura received “insight into your next immunity challenge,” as Rob said. What he actually meant was: We’re just going to tell you what your next challenge is and give your tribe a significant advantage that the episode will ignore.
Noura was given a task: to convince her tribe to let her be the caller in the classic challenge where most of the tribe is blindfolded and one person tries to direct them. It’s an opportunity to see how well they communicate, and see people crush their genitalia against posts that have been helpfully placed at crotch level.
There was a bit of foreshadowing as Noura left the Island of the Idols, and Rob said, “She cannot coherently communicate anything to anyone.” That, it turned out, was a massive understatement.
Noura lies, I cried with laughter
Tasked with convincing her tribe to let her be the caller, Noura didn’t wait until the challenge rolled around. Instead, she decided to try to convince them while telling them about the Island of the Idols.
Tangent: Last week, during Vince’s interview with RHAP’s Rob Cesternino, Rob asked, “Vince, if you wanted to, could you have told the truth about what you saw on the Island of the Idols?”
Vince’s reply was this: “Rob, you’re putting me in a hard-ass place. I don’t know if I can answer that.”
With that and other evidence—unnamed players from this season have told previous Survivor contestants that they were instructed to lie—it seems pretty clear to me that the Island of the Idols visitors were told explicitly not to tell anyone, even though that’s not what Jeff Probst says. There’s no reason for Vince to have deferred answering if Island of the Idols visitors really did have the agency that Probst said they have. And forcing them to lie really sucks.
Back to Noura. She may have been hampered by what she was and wasn’t allowed to tell them, but what she decided to say was simultaneously hilarious and so incoherent that I had to rewind several times just to transcribe this bit of Survivor history:
“Basically, just say, Yes, we unanimously decide that Noura can pick the role to do and then I get to tell you the whole detail, and you’ll see that’s why I need that role. That make sense?”
No, no it does not. The reactions of her tribemates in this scene were brilliant, because absolutely none of them bought this. So they did the thing adults do with kids who are exasperating them and just said, Okay, fine, yes, you have wings and you’re flying now, good for you, daddy’s going back to his gin now.
Once they agreed to let Noura pick her own role, she told them that it’d be a blindfolded challenge, and she would be the caller. “If eyes could do full circles without being in a cartoon, our eyes would be doing full circles,” Dan said in an interview.
Jamal asked Noura, “Can you explain to the tribe why you think you’re the best person to be the caller?” The answer he got explained everything: IT’S MINE YOU PROMISED!! Actually, she said, “It’s already done. I gave you the information, so I already have that role.”
The entire scene was pure comedy, with rational questions being met with Chock Full o’ Nuts answers. “Even if I was the worst caller, if we’re practicing ahead of time and we know what we’re going into, we should be fine,” Noura said.
Cue practicing, and Noura being an absolutely terrible caller. The tribe seemed resigned to this, with Lauren setting up the possibility that Noura would be held accountable at Tribal Council if they lost the challenge.
After a commercial break, we joined the Survivor tribes at the challenge, where Jeff Probst explained that the caller had to direct people to retrieve three bags of puzzle pieces—and also direct the puzzle-assembler, who’d still be blindfolded.
“Vokai, you have one extra person,” Jeff Probst said. “Gotta sit somebody out. Who’s it gonna be?”
And then came the moment that made me do a triple-take: “Noura. Noura’s sitting out,” Lauren said. Noura leaned in and said, “I’m sitting out?!”
I didn’t notice this the first time, but on a rewatch of this spectacular moment in Survivor history, you can see Jamal, Lauren, Dan, and Kellee look at each other just before Lauren announces this decision, which I’d guess they all decided sometime before the challenge. They all exchange brief, sly grins and flashes of delight, which I imagine were replicated in Survivor-watching living rooms everywhere.
What was so great about this reversal is that we spent so much time on the inevitability of Noura as caller that I didn’t even doubt for a second that she would take that role. I also forgot they’d have to sit someone out.
But the edit gave us all the information to make that moment make perfect sense, especially the tribe’s skepticism about both her story and her ability to perform. We didn’t see the tribe decide to sit her out, but we didn’t need that because we already knew they didn’t trust her nor think she could do this.
So nothing critical was left out of the edit, and that moment was truly a surprise, and that’s the best kind of blindside.
Then we went on to the challenge, which Vokai easily won, perhaps due to the complete abandonment of any sense of fairness with immunity challenges, since they not only had a chance to practice but went into the challenge with the knowledge of what it was, which is very different than anxiously wondering what’s coming and then learning about it minutes before having to actually compete.
The orange tribe did catch up by the puzzle stage, and it was edited to suggest they pulled ahead, but the puzzle wasn’t even close to being right, so they lost.
While Elizabeth blamed herself, her calling seemed strong. The listening, not so much. “Holy shit, listen to me,” she said at one point. “Dean, the other way. Turn around, Dean!”
Much was made of the potential showmance between Dean and Chelsea, but if the way they navigated an obstacle course blindfolded was any metaphor, they have no chemistry.
Dean also had basically no airtime so far, and thus basically no personality, and yet for some reason people on the tribe were reluctant to vote him out when his name was floated by Aaron and Missy instead of easy-vote Karishma.
Elaine and Elizabeth pushed back against voting against Dean—using that tired, boring argument about about needing men around. Missy said they were “too weak and afraid to make a move” so “I need a name that no one’s completely attached to.”
I’m appreciating both Missy’s attempt to play the game and her commentary, both in interviews and to her tribemates. At Tribal Council, she observed that “in some ways we’re family, in other ways we’re complete strangers.” That’s an excellent way of describing the bizarre relationships that people playing this game have with each other: incredibly close yet also quite distant.
Missy offered Chelsea instead, which also freaked out Elaine and Elizabeth, but was also exactly what they decided to do, voting out Chelsea and accidentally flushing an idol in the process.
“It always messes up people’s games,” Chelsea said about showmances earlier in the episode. But it only messed up hers.
Why is it that the women get blamed and punished in these situations and the men don’t? Strength or fitness are poor arguments: there are many women this season stronger than some of the men, and the challenges we’ve seen so far have not required brut strength at all.
The post-challenge strategizing and Tribal were solid, but kind of like Chelsea and Dean’s alleged showmance and Dean’s personality, all of this was a whole lot of nothing compared to the blindsiding of Noura, which I’m going to go re-watch now.