Survivor: Ghost Island Finale and Reunion Show Recap: Season 36 Ends With A First-Ever Tie-Vote

The only word that came to mind after tonight’s two-hour Survivor: Ghost Island Finale was “wow.” Just “wow.” Yes, Survivor has been on the air for 36 seasons now, which is 18 (!!!) years for those keeping track. Not only did the Finale produce yet another “Survivor First,” but for the first time in the show’s history the final winning vote came down to a tie, unveiling a little-known tie-breaker rule and sending shock-waves throughout Tribal Council and into living rooms across America. That, and it was exciting throughout, also giving us what will be known as maybe one of the best Tribal Council maneuvers of all-time.

I tell people this all the time: Survivor is THE best Reality TV Competition Show…still. Even it’s “average” seasons are better than most other shows, and I’m so happy that the fans that stuck with this season – which was not universally loved and thought of by many as just “OK” – were rewarded with one tremendous finish.

But before we dive in, 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 Survivor: Ghost Island Finale, 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 Finale and Reunion Show Recap: Season 36 Ends With A First-Ever Tie-Vote

It was the finish that this season deserved. Dom and Wendell dominated this entire season, at every point, all the way through until the end. They were the power couple that no one could touch despite their dominance. And in the end, it came down to Dom and Wendell going toe-to-toe with one another, each racking up five winning votes following an explosive Final Tribal Council. The problem was, a sixth vote was needed in order to break-up the tie, and that vote went to none other than Laurel, who literally seconds earlier just saw her own Survivor dreams go up in flames.

As for Laurel, her story seemed to be one of inaction, as in she was never quite up to the task of taking a big swipe at the dominant duo of Dom and Wendell. As we, the viewers, saw throughout the entire season, Laurel and Donathan often found themselves in the position of power, and even as Donathan grew increasingly assertive about taking one of the boys out, it was Laurel who ultimately decided to stick with them to the bitter end. Yes, this didn’t yield us any “big moves,” but it was perfect for Laurel’s game…right? I mean, she did end up getting to plead her case to the jury in the end…

Survivor: Ghost Island Finale and Reunion Show Recap: Season 36 Ends With A First-Ever Tie-Vote

…The problem, of course, with Laurel‘s argument is that staying loyal to Dom and Wendell cost her WINNING the game, albeit it was her best strategy to make it to Final Three. Clearly, her loyalty paid off, because Wendell used his Immunity Idol on her at Final Five, and then Dom repaid his loyalty to her by selecting her to come with him to Final Three. So on one hand, it was nice to see Laurel’s loyalty reciprocated by both Dom and Wendell. But on the other hand, as Laurel’s story unfolded on TV over the past few weeks, there was some part of us that just knew it was going to end like this for her.

Survivor: Ghost Island Finale and Reunion Show Recap: Season 36 Ends With A First-Ever Tie-Vote

For Dom, it’s hard to say what more he could have done. Despite his more forceful approach to the game, Dom did end up scoring five winning votes. He outwitted, outplayed and outlasted his big rival Chris Noble before and after the merge, and he was in firm control of the game ever since. But his use of the cursed fake idol at the Finale’s first Tribal Council of the night is the thing of legend. All I could think of while watching that Tribal unfold is how outmatched Sebastian and the rest of the group was. Dom is a pro, and he ran circles around his competition. You have to remember, that Dom was the actual target that night! Sebastian had a double-vote and Dom could have very well gone home, but instead of playing his real Idol to ensure his safety, he went full drama and was able to convince Sebastian not only to not use his extra-vote advantage but to cast a vote for Donathan! All while Dom sat there still exposed without any protection from Idols or necklaces. What a ballsy move, and how epic. If there was ever a best-case scenario usage of a fake Idol, this was it, and it’s a good thing too because Dom ended up needing that real Idol of his at the very next Tribal. I really think Dom’s move here is one for the record books and should be considered an all-time great Tribal Council move.

Survivor: Ghost Island Finale and Reunion Show Recap: Season 36 Ends With A First-Ever Tie-Vote

One of the best stories of the season has to be Donathan, who I know has his fair share of haters out there as well. But that being said, Donathan really is the one player this season that I think blew past the expectations I had of him as a character on the show, from the beginning to the end. His “truth bombs” really made things interesting down the stretch, but really his Achilles heel was his inability to sway Laurel to do anything. As we saw, Laurel was making the best moves for Laurel, and Donathan at some point needed to play the game for Donathan. Because he didn’t, I found it sad that Laurel and Donathan each found their games boiled down to having to write each other’s names down while at the complete mercy of Dom and Wendell. Donathan’s game could have gone in a bunch of different ways, but he should have been able to tell that he was at the bottom of that four-person alliance and needed to do something independent of Laurel sooner.

Survivor: Ghost Island Finale and Reunion Show Recap: Season 36 Ends With A First-Ever Tie-Vote

Let’s talk for a minute about Dom‘s crazy idea to give away his Immunity in order to challenge Wendell at fire-making. I nearly was unable to watch the screen when I heard him even mentioning such a bone-headed plan. Sure, I get it, it’s the definition of macho, to jump into the pit to take on your rival bare-handed. But had Dom made this crazy “reverse-the-curse”-inspired decision and would have lost the fire-making challenge, he’d be right there with James Clement and Erik Reichenbach on a future Reunion Show, talking about how his move was by far the dumbest move ever made in the game. I get his thought-process, I guess, but he earned that final Immunity fair-and-square and played one hell of a game to even get to that point. To gamble that all away? I don’t consider that just a “safe” move but a smart one.

I am still loving the open jury format, and I thought it led to some good exchanges. Again, I thought Laurel had strong arguments despite the fact that she wasn’t able to land a single winning vote. Of the three, I actually thought Wendell had the weakest Final Tribal showing, and for the first time since we’ve met him, he looked visibly nervous and shaken-up a bit at times. And what did you do when Jeff told them all that he was going to read the votes right then and there? Not since Season 1 has the vote been read on-site (fact-check?), and to watch the players’ jaws collectively drop was the only thing that kept me from soiling myself. They – nor I – could believe it, but we soon found out that it was necessary due to the tie vote.

A last word on Ghost Island: Much like the rest of the season, Ghost Island was mainly inconsequential. I stated early on that I wasn’t a fan of the concept the way it was rolled out, and while I do appreciate the attempt at creating a theme based on “mistakes of the past,” the actual execution of Ghost Island was sort of a bust. Just my opinion.

Survivor: Ghost Island Finale and Reunion Show Recap: Season 36 Ends With A First-Ever Tie-Vote

Episode Take-Away: Say what you want, but Survivor always seems to finish strong regardless of how the rest of the season goes. I feel like I liked this season more than most, and later this week you can see where I rank Ghost Island on my list of “Most Memorable” seasons of Survivor. But I think many recent tweaks to the Finale have benefited the show greatly, from the open jury format to that breath-taking fire-making challenge that will now be a part of each Finale, to the idea of letting the episode run a bit longer if needed and bleed into the Reunion Show. No show that I know displays the same level of confidence in trying new things than Survivor. Sure, not everything always works, but the show has come through so, so many times, that it has built up a level of tolerance and forgiveness with its audience. We have come to expect change, and we can at least feel that they are trying to make the best show possible, even if we don’t agree with every little decision that is made.

But for a season with a very likable cast, I was more than happy to see it come down to three worthy individuals, and then to have the vote end the way it did was just shocking and nerve-racking. Tonight’s Finale was everything you could ever ask for and then some.

Immunity Wins: Wendell won the first two Immunity Challenges of the episode, with Dom winning the final Immunity Challenge

Vote #1: Dom played his authentic fake idol, no other idols or advantages were played. 4 – Sebastian (Dom, Wendell, Laurel, Angela), 1 – Dom (Donathan), 1 – Donathan (Sebastian)

Vote #2: Dom plays his Idol on himself, Wendell plays Idol on Laurel. 4 – Donathan (Angela, Dom, Wendell, Laurel), 1 – Laurel (Donathan)

FINAL VOTE to win Survivor: Ended in tie-vote (5-5) making Laurel a member of the jury, who cast the final vote for the winner of the game. 6 – Wendell (Laurel, Chelsea, Kellyn, Angela, Sebastian, Donathan), 5 – Dom (Chris, Libby, Desi, Jenna, Michael)

Winner: Wendell Holland

Survivor: Ghost Island Finale and Reunion Show Recap: Season 36 Ends With A First-Ever Tie-Vote

Live Reunion Show Recap: With the Finale running over two-hours, this season’s Reunion Show was cut short, to about a total of 40 minutes of air-time. It has long been accepted that Probst no longer uses this show to check in on each and every player, but instead, he uses it to just highlight some of the key moments or players…with the occasional plug for other CBS shows. Here are some of the main highlights of what we learned from the Survivor: Ghost Island Live Reunion Show:

  • Laurel‘s reasoning for voting for Wendell to win the game came down to his social game and their personal relationship…she felt that Wendell and Dom were evenly matched in pretty much every other major area. Dom also admitted that he knew almost instantly that he had lost once Probst announced that Laurel would be casting the deciding vote.
  • Speaking of Dom, he has since buried the hatchet with on-show rival Chris, and the two recently participated in an MS Walk, to raise awareness of the disease that Chris’s mother suffers from.
  • Survivor All-Stars James Clement and Erik Reichenbach – each known for committing the two “dumbest” moves in the history of Survivor – were on-hand for what was a blunt and sometimes awkward interview with Probst. Poor James admits that he cannot watch the show anymore due to the ridicule he faced after getting voted out with two Idols in his pocket, but Erik has come to peace with his famous blunder, where he gave away his Immunity Necklace and was promptly voted out of the game. Probst does offer the two an apology on-air and points out that James did find two Idols, and that Erik lasted 36 days in the game both times that he played.
  • Kevin Hart is in a new show called “TKO” on CBS! (I use the “!” ironically).
  • The big news of every Reunion Show comes towards the end when Probst reveals to the world the concept and name of the NEXT edition of Survivor. So here it is: Season 37, which is set to air in the Fall (on Wednesday nights again) will be called “Survivor: David vs. Goliath” and will feature 20 all-new castaways. The 10 “Davids” are described as people where “overcoming diversity is the only thing they know.” The 10 “Goliaths” are “capitalizing on their advantages, and using them to squash their opponents.” What does everybody think of the new concept and twist?

Survivor: Ghost Island Finale and Reunion Show Recap: Season 36 Ends With A First-Ever Tie-Vote

Coverage Ahead: This marks my last Recap of the season, and I just wanted to thank all of you who have followed and read this column all season long! But the season-end coverage is not over yet, because tomorrow I will have my final round of exit interviews with all SIX contestants from tonight’s Finale. I’ll speak to Wendell and Dom each one-on-one and then will have a call with Angela and Laurel, as well as a call with Donathan and Sebastian. All six of these interviews will appear in their entirety in a mega-sized FilmSurvivor Podcast on Thursday. But that’s not all, because by Friday I will also be posting my updated season-end Rankings – Most Memorable Seasons and the All-Time Winners List – with Survivor: Ghost Island and Wendell factored in. Where do you think this season should place among the 36 seasons of Survivor? One of the best? One of the worst? Somewhere in the middle? And where should Wendell fall on the Winners list? I’ll keep an open-mind until tomorrow, so if you want to influence me at all, please comment below and plead your case!

Of course, once we move past this season’s coverage, please follow me –  on Twitter, @tomsantilli or on Facebook – for any breaking Survivor news as we head towards the Fall and towards Season 37 (!!!). And please also check out a new show I’m producing called Movie Show Plus if you love movies like me.

Again, a big thank you for watching Survivor and for reading my recaps, and an even bigger thanks if you’ve been listening to and/or following the Podcast! It’s a blast covering my favorite shows and getting to interact with fellow Survivor fanatics, and your support is truly appreciated. Have a great Summer, and we’ll see you to do this all over again in September!


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