Survivor: Ghost Island Episode 1 and 2 Recap: Reverse The Curse

It’s a season that already feels like it will be full of big moves and important split-second decisions, but only one of the 20 contestants on Survivor: Ghost Island will truly be able to “reverse the curse.” Yes, Season 36 (I will forever put “!!!” after the current season, as I continue to marvel at this show’s longevity and strong fan base) is here and we are suddenly two episodes in! Well, it was billed a “two-hour” Premiere but it was technically the first two episodes back-to-back, so don’t be confused when next week’s Recap is of “Episode 3.” The details on what exactly is up with “Ghost Island” was finally revealed, and we got to know most of the 20 new players vying for the title of Sole Survivor this season. There is so much to cover, so let’s get to it!

As I do at the beginning of every Recap, please heed the following: Remember that this recap assumes that you have already seen this week’s Episode 1 and 2 of Survivor: Ghost Island, so if you have not and don’t want to be spoiled, please come back later! It’s important to add too that while we WILL hit on all of the important developments of the episode, this is not a linear “blow-by-blow” recap, and is more of a discussion and reaction of what we just witnessed together.


Survivor: Ghost Island Episode 1 and 2 Recap: Reverse The Curse

It was only fitting that this season started off feeling overly-complicated. My biggest issue going into this season was: Why in the world would they pick a theme that isn’t easily explained? You shouldn’t have to go on and on for several minutes to explain what the show is about, people just don’t have the patience for it. Especially in this case, because even once Probst gets done explaining to all of us what Ghost Island is all about, we still didn’t have a clear picture of it heading into this season…so what the heck? Then, for the first five-minutes of this Premiere, I found myself scratching my head and wondering if I’d care much at all about this season, after Probst launched into a convoluted introduction that involved both tribes picking a leader, then having them each pick a player to compete in a physical challenge as well as a mental challenge, then there was a vial of sand and the leader could decide to forfeit…yadda yadda yadda…then something about the winners getting eggs?  I was a little lost, but once again I found this opening only fitting: When it comes to Ghost Island, convolution loves company.

But to answer my own question: Yes. I did find myself caring about this season, and rather quickly. Many of the contestants seemed passionate and easily identifiable, and instead of trying to introduce us to all 20 (which the show has tried to do in the past, both successfully and unsuccessfully), it focused on just a handful of players that would factor into things over the course of the first two eps.

Survivor: Ghost Island Episode 1 and 2 Recap: Reverse The Curse

At the Purple Tribe, airtime was dominated by Domenick, a player who in the pregame interviews likened himself to former winner, Tony Vlachos. There was a great cat-and-mouse going on between Domenick and Chris throughout both hours, which reminded me (on a much, much smaller scale) of the macho war that was waged between Russell Hantz and Boston Rob during Heroes vs. Villains during the pre-merge stretch of episodes. Kudos to the show for how this rivalry between Dom and Chris was portrayed, because at different times their strengths and potential weaknesses were on display.  Chris was of course picked immediately as the tribe’s “leader,” and his “bad” decision to forfeit and keep the fishing gear was called out by Domenick. But right when it looked like Domenick was going down the classic “first boot/first target” road, we are shown that furniture designer Wendell actually is aligned with Domenick…hmmm, maybe this Domenick guy isn’t rubbing EVERYBODY else the wrong way. Then just when we think Domenick may not be a buffoon but could be an actual strong player, we are shown the same from Chris…he forms a bro-alliance with Sebastian and he appears to be well-liked around camp. Later on, Domenick finds a real Hidden Idol (at night no less!) and seems to be the more savvy player when he pulls Chris in and shows him a fake Idol (more on that later). But we then see that Chris isn’t buying Domenick’s kindness whatsoever. The first thing I thought of when I saw that next week’s ep will already feature a tribe swap was: Please let Chris and Domenick end up on the same tribe so we can see these two face-off more and more!

Survivor: Ghost Island Episode 1 and 2 Recap: Reverse The Curse

Most of the drama though, was over at the Orange camp, since both eliminated players came from there. First out was “Gonzalez” who could have just stuck with being called Stephanie, really (getting a last name nickname on this show is normally a big deal – Donaldson, Cochran, Penner, etc. – and not quite deserving of a first-boot, right?). She was just one of those players that fell into the “either they’ll go home first or they’ll win the game” category, as she appeared to be a strong-willed woman who just simply wasn’t able to keep this in check during her three days in the game. Her independent spirit must have made others feel threatened by her, as that’s the exact reason she was targeted to go home. Of course she wasn’t going anywhere had Jacob still been at camp, but Jacob had been sent off to Ghost Island and was immune from the first Tribal.

So let’s discuss Ghost Island and then Jacob. What did everyone think? As it turns out, Ghost Island is a lot like Exile Island, where a player (usually from the losing tribe) is sent there for a night. The twist begins when the player gets to the island, and must choose to smash one of several urns…as we saw with Jacob, sometimes the urn contains a clue to a secret advantage, and as we saw when Donathan was sent there, sometimes it yields nothing. As a long-time fan of the show, I sort of like that there is Survivor history looming over this season, and some of the show’s most iconic moments will be interwoven into the fabric of Season 36. I wonder what newbies might think of this, but as a Survivor die-hard, I sort of ended up digging it. I like too that the whole theme of “reverse the curse” really puts even more pressure on this cast to perform well, because they are going to be constantly reminded of the many bad decisions that have already been made in seasons’ past. Surely, this “bad decision” legacy already was expanded upon with some of the crappy gameplay that we witnessed during the Premiere.

Survivor: Ghost Island Episode 1 and 2 Recap: Reverse The Curse

Speaking of Jacob! Man, I had higher hopes for Jacob, and was rooting for him to somehow pull through until next week. But Jacob was just out-of-step from the very beginning, and not just because he lost his shoes in the tide. What was he thinking? Clearly he was a social outcast on his tribe, but publicly announcing that he was going to go “exploring” for a Hidden Idol didn’t do much to help his status. His idea to lie to his tribe about the (fake) Hidden Idol wasn’t terrible in and of itself, but his execution of the lie was. Hey Jacob, instead of showing everyone the fake Idol (and then not being able to produce the parchment that usually goes along with real ones), why not just allude to the fact that you MIGHT have found an Idol, or even a clue to an Idol? All you really want to do is plant the seed with others that you may have one, but as Brendan said on the show, if you’re going to lie you need to really think it through and do it the right way. Jacob just continued digging holes, until he finally not only buried himself when he revealed his lie to Stephanie, but he also put an unnecessary target on Morgan over at the other tribe. How did he accomplish this fete? Well, Stephanie now knows that Jacob gave Morgan the Legacy Advantage (misused by Sierra back in Season 34) and with Jacob out of the game, it was implied that now only Stephanie knows that Morgan has it.  This info could be very powerful for Stephanie down the road.

And Stephanie definitely made the right decision in getting rid of Jacob, by the way. Jacob showed that not only was he not long for this game, but in spilling the beans so quickly to Stephanie, he also showed her just how fast he might give away key information to others in the game. She is definitely one to watch and may also be my pick to win…she showed me a lot and also appears to be very well-liked. All of this, of course, is why she’ll probably get voted out next.

Survivor: Ghost Island Episode 1 and 2 Recap: Reverse The Curse

So who else stuck out? Poor Donathan seems like a very nice, likable fellow, but he’s another player – like Jacob – that seems to have very little chance at advancing all that far. Yay to him, I guess, for finally helping his tribe by manning up and completing the buoy-dive challenge, but Donathan looks like a weak overall player both strategically and physically, not to mention socially (referring to James as “exotic” and making a comment about needing an “African-American friend” in Laurel just shows you how far removed he is from the game socially). James seems to be a very wholesome player, who obviously isn’t as big a physical threat as his abs would have you believe.

There are still probably 11 or 12 players that didn’t get much screen-time that we still need to get to know, but I like that the show didn’t waste our time with unneeded introductions to players that didn’t factor in. Of those that we saw, I feel that this cast is definitely compelling!

Episode Take-Away: Beyond that convoluted first few minutes, I actually left this double-episode with a strong feeling that this season may end up being very good. There seems to be several “superfans,” and while this isn’t always an indication of how a season may turn out, this group definitely appears to playing hard and loose. I liked the Ghost Island twist more than I thought I would, because it gives the long-time fan some Easter Eggs along the way, and it’s done in a way that puts even more pressure on the players to “make the right decision,” which we all know won’t be the case for many of them. And with a tribe swap already on the horizon, it looks as if the show isn’t afraid to keep these players on their toes, all the while reminding them and us of the show’s past. On the other hand, I may reserve judgment for a month or two, when there are like 100 ancient Survivor artifacts in the game. I personally like the twists and turns, but I agree with many other fans out there that too many twists can take away from the very essence of the “social experiment” that these players are taking part in. Time will tell!

Survivor: Ghost Island Episode 1 and 2 Recap: Reverse The Curse

Strategic Move of the Week: Domenick‘s fake Idol was pretty clever, but it also doesn’t make much sense. Yes, he’s using it to convince Chris that he is loyal to him, but it seems like it didn’t have the desired affect. If Chris were to share with others the knowledge of Dom’s fake Idol, it’s the same as if Dom pretty much told everyone else about his real Idol! And Domenick has no reason to trust that Chris won’t tell others. So needless to say, that move doesn’t win this title this week. My pick goes to Stephanie and how she totally chewed up and spit out Jacob. She used her charm (aka social skills) to get the information that she needed out of him, gained some great intel about Morgan having the Legacy Advantage, and then discarded Jacob like yesterday’s trash. If the rest of the game goes that easy for Stephanie, look out.

Voted out this week: Gonzalez and Jacob

Won Immunity:  Purple Tribe (won both)

Vote #1: No Idols played.  8 – Gonzalez (James, Brendan, Stephanie, Laurel, Donathan, Michael, Jenna, Libby), 1 – Donathan (Gonzalez)

Vote #2: No Idols played.  5 – Jacob (Jenna, James, Brendan, Stephanie, Laurel), 2 – James (Libby, Michael), 1 – Michael (Jacob)

Next Week’s Episode: Drop your buffs??? Already? The twists were promised to come fast and often this season and they weren’t kidding. We’re just six days into the game and we’re on the verge of a tribe swap. Should be interesting!

Quick Note! Remember to return right here to Reality Tea for my FilmSurvivor Podcast Thursday, where you can listen to my full exit interview with both Gonzalez and Jacob.  Last but not least, I encourage you to check out my weekly movie reviews as I am also the national film critic for and am a movie critic/TV personality in the Detroit area (also this week be sure to check out my Oscar coverage which is this Sunday!). As always, the easiest way to get all of my Survivor coverage and movie reviews is to follow me on Twitter – @tomsantilli – or on Facebook.


Photo Credit: CBS/Monty Brinton/Robert Voets/Timothy Kuratek/Jeffrey Neira/Michele Crowe