Survivor has lost a lot of elements over the years: rites of passage, when the finalists walk past the torches of those they’ve voted out; most reward challenges during the first half of the season; product-placed rewards, including the cursed car challenge; the fan-favorite award; the auction; the opening credits and theme song.
It lost another this week: the actual Island of the Idols. Sandra and Rob didn’t show up until Tribal Council, which worked just fine. But we also got back one of those elements, and in a significant way: a sponsor and product integration.
“Sponsored in part by Applebee’s,” the credits said. No shit, I said.
It’s tempting to make fun of the extensive Applebees product integration, in the same way it’s tempting to go out to eat literally anywhere except Applebee’s. But before I give in to that temptation, I am grateful that they stepped up and offered financial support, though of course they also got a commercial embedded into the episode.
It reminded me of the early days of Survivor, when many of us mocked those product integration moments because 1) they were not yet familiar, and 2) they were so awkward and out of left field, and felt so incongruous with the survival part of the game, which back then received a lot more attention.
I appreciated how Jeff Probst really leaned in to his new job as an Applebee’s server: “Got room for dessert? How about the Blue Ribbon Brownie?” he asked. First he introduced the entrees: “You’ll enjoy Applebee’s loaded, sizzling fajitas, smothered in hot queso. You got steak, chicken, shrimp, plus the classic combo, buffalo chicken wings. With all the fixins!”
Survivor fans had a lot of fun with this, from joking about how this actually constituted a punishment to this tweet, by Joshua Williams: “Apparently a few weeks of limited to no food is all it takes to get people excited about Applebees.”
It was easy to make fun of, because the contestants were so ecstatic, though in the past we’ve also seen ecstasy for this “reward”:
Compare that to:
Except for that puddle of queso, which is also covering part of the lime, it’s not bad, though just that single plate on an otherwise empty table was a understated way to introduce it.
Overall, compared to having a Target logo on a challenge prop, this was tame, and also felt organic: the winning tribe went to a separate location and had a sponsored lunch. I was mostly just worried about Karishma, who said Applebee’s is her “favorite sit-down restaurant.” 😬😬😦
If it feels like I’m spending a lot of time on Applebee’s, it’s because so did Survivor. It was the reward after the tribe swap, and replaced the Island of the Idols time.
Thus, Rob and Sandra were on screen for about 28 seconds, and entirely via Tribal Council commentary. I’d be satisfied if that continues the rest of the season and we never actually return to the Island of the Idols, which felt like a twist that ran out of ideas almost immediately.
Two new tribes, same old Lairo
The reward challenge and swap took place on a beautiful circular sandbar surrounded by ocean, and the immunity challenge was out in the water, too. Fiji is indisputably an incredibly telegenic location.
The tribe swap resulted in a lot of imbalance, especially in terms of people who’ve gotten attention.
The new Vokai/purple tribe is a 4-4 split of people who’ve gotten a lot of screen time; the new Lairo/orange tribe is a lot of people being ignored by their own tribes (Noura, Karishma) along with people whose names I had to look up (hi Jack!).
As it turns out, the orange tribe still sucks at challenges. I was wondering why they seemed to put their least-athletic people on the climb and swim part of the challenge, but then, despite slowness during that early stage, they caught up during the ball-toss portion, with Dean tying the score 2-2 before the purple tribe won.
Karishma got much of the blame, including during the challenge, when Jeff Probst yelled, “Karishma’s been slow in this challenge.” She yelled back: “No, I haven’t.”
Narrator: She had.
In the first challenge, it was even worse, when Noura literally dragged Karishma through the sand. But Karishma also wasn’t the only slow person, and she also owned her struggles: “I’m not an athlete. I know my own weaknesses,” she told Janet, Jamal, and Jack.
She also bonded with them, sharing a story about her marriage and expectations from her family. “How much I was worth to my parents the day before I got married versus the day after I was married was different,” she said. “Like, I spent ten years being told that I’m a burden of shame by my family because I wouldn’t agree to get married. I gave in. How do you talk about this?”
“You just did,” both Janet and Jack said.
But after her performance in the challenge, Jack said he was ready to vote her out. The original Vokai basically had their pick between Tom, Dean, and Karishma, as they had a 5-3 advantage over the original Lairo, though that was reduced to 4-3 because Noura lost her vote last week after failing her task.
The other person who got a lot of attention this episode was her fellow original Lairo/orange player Dean.
That began with his “Detective Dean Kowalski” bit (“Who ordered this hit?”) and then his actual interrogation of tribemates to try to figure out who was responsible for the Chelsea vote.
Missy took credit—in an interview, saying to us, “Yeah Dean, it was me: I took your girlfriend out of this game,” and then adding, “You don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”
That line gave the episode its title, and I thought all this meant he was toast. So did Boston Rob. “Dean is gone,” Rob whispered to Sandra during Tribal.
That seemed all but confirmed when Janet called out Dean for not attempting to form a connection. “Just a one-on-one forced conversation feels awkward to me,” Dean said. Janet said, “But you did that with the other guys.”
True, though he also bonded with Kellee, and they discovered a personal connection: Dean’s ex was Kellee’s classmate.
Ultimately, it was Tom who received 100 percent of the tribe’s votes, plus one from Karishma. I was momentarily baffled by this until I remembered Janet’s comment that Tom was a straight shooter but also someone who had original tribe loyalty, and, at the merge, would immediately return to his original tribe.
Isn’t that what basically everyone does now?
Still, that is what Tom basically told her: that it was up to her tribe to decide which of his tribe to get rid of, rather than thinking of this new collection as a new tribe. That ended the first Canadian contestant’s time on Survivor—and before he even got to experience America and eat at Applebee’s.