Survivor: Island Of The Idols Episode 7 Recap: A Calculated Risk

With tonight’s episode in the books, Survivor: Island of the Idols has reached the merge…and by nearly all measures, this has been one heck of a pre-merge season. This last pre-merge episode in particular was a pretty entertaining one to watch, culminating not only in a surprising Tribal Council, but a thoughtful and meaningful one that encapsulates everything that has made this show relevant going into its 20th year on the air.

Like a worm on Jack‘s head, we’re going to slowly slither into this one, because there’s a whole heck of a lot to get to…so get comfy.

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 of Survivor: Island of the Idols. If you have not and don’t want to be spoiled, please come back later! It’s important to add that while we WILL hit on all of the important developments of the episode, this is not a linear “blow-by-blow” recap. It is more of a discussion and reaction of what we just witnessed together.


Survivor: Island of the Idols Episode 7 Recap: A Calculated Risk

Before we get into this week’s episode, I think it’s only appropriate that we take a moment to remember one Rudy Ernst Boesch. The original Season 1 break-out cast member and former Navy SEAL died this past week at the age of 91, reportedly from complications stemming from Alzheimer’s Disease. Without Rudy, it’s undeniable that Survivor’s inaugural season would not have been the success that it was, which in turn launched the entire Reality Competition Show genre of television. He could have damn-well been the show’s first winner, with only a momentary hand-slip at the final Immunity Challenge costing him the assured million bucks he would have won had he made it to Final Two (Kelly Wigglesworth ultimately voted Rudy out at Final Three, to sit next to eventual winner Richard Hatch). When he returned to compete for a second-time for Survivor: All-Stars in 2004, he became – at age 75 – the oldest contestant to ever play Survivor, a record he still holds today.

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It’s almost impossible to imagine his gruff, blunt personality on TV today…the cultural landscape has shifted so much that I wonder how some of his comments would be seen nowadays. But he was and is one of the icons of Survivor, one of the most beloved contestants to ever play the game, and a true American hero and patriot.  Rest easy, Rudy.

Survivor: Island of the Idols Episode 7 Recap: A Calculated Risk

Being reminded of Rudy‘s gameplay this week really made me think about how far the show has come, and how great it still can be as a social experiment and microcosm. It’s fitting that tonight’s newest episode was exciting, funny, suspenseful and ended with an incredibly poignant conversation about gender bias in the wake of things like the #MeToo movement that are happening out in the real world. For the second time in as many weeks, Jamal found himself in the center of the conversation, addressing an important topic in a way that was respectful, thoughtful and tonight, even humble. Kellee and then Janet made some fantastic points about gender biases that exist, some within the game of Survivor, which of course, reflects the greater society at large. I hope everyone was listening and paying attention during Tribal Council. For me, I welcome these types of conversations and I’m not sure there’s any other reality show on television that can so seamlessly address these vital issues facing our current culture.

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But there was also a lot of game to be played. What do you all think of Kellee‘s decision to keep Dean around by giving him her hidden Idol? Risky – or “a calculated risk” – doesn’t even begin to describe this decision for me…it seems like there was a much easier way to get out Jack if that’s in fact what Kellee had wanted to do. I understand the disappointment of not getting to play an Idol (being that it would have expired after tonight’s Tribal), but that isn’t reason enough to do what she did. Now, mind you, it made for great TV and it was fun to watch play out. In some ways – just like on Big Brother this past season – I don’t really like that there is some sort of connection between Dean and Kellee outside of the game that led her to want to protect Dean in the game (that seems unfair to me). But I feel like her move was a bit short-sighted, and honing in on what Boston Rob and Sandra were trying to teach this week, it wasn’t a very good risk/reward.

Survivor: Island of the Idols Episode 7 Recap: A Calculated Risk

Think about it. So Kellee saves Dean, which on the surface would mean that Dean must owe Kellee something. He doesn’t. Even if it does buy Kellee some loyalty, Dean has now been given the power over Kellee, in that he knows that it was Kellee’s Idol…a fact that Kellee probably wouldn’t want others to know. For example, what would others think of Kellee if Dean were to tell them that the Idol he played was given to him by Kellee on the down-low? It even was suspicious immediately when he played it…Noura questioned out loud why, if Dean had an Idol, didn’t he play it the previous Tribal? Kellee weaved a lie that she didn’t need to make, all to save Dean? It just doesn’t seem to make all that much sense.

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Survivor: Island of the Idols Episode 7 Recap: A Calculated Risk

What made even less sense, however, was Jamal playing his Idol at all. What in the heck was he trying to accomplish with that play? Once Dean was safe, Jamal at the very least should have feared for himself, so why play it on Noura? Even if he would have “guessed right” and the other votes had been put on Noura, it would have erased all of the votes, which means they would have entered into a re-vote situation, with both Noura and Dean having safety. That would have then left Jamal exposed during that re-vote. If anything, it may earn Jamal some lasting trust with Noura and his alliance, but that trust is nothing compared to what it might have meant for his game moving forward had he held on to that Idol.

All of this, of course, comes back to this week’s theme of making “calculated risks. Kudos to Janet for becoming the first player to turn down an offer at the Island of the Idols…that power did seem interesting, but especially because it’s one that we’ve never seen before on the show (“power without safety,” allowing her safety at a Tribal but having to leave Tribal with no vote as well), it made her choice all the more risky. Plus, considering she is in a pretty good spot at the moment, it was probably best not to rock the boat…although if she keeps flashing her breasts at the local boat captains, they might have trouble keeping things steady…

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Survivor: Island of the Idols Episode 7 Recap: A Calculated Risk

Some other seeds that were planted and nurtured tonight? Lauren loses trust in Missy, which might end up being important come the merge, and we also learn that Lauren and Tommy are an extremely tight duo. But to Missy’s credit, she sees right through them when they try to throw Dan under the bus. I’m continuously impressed with Missy’s in-game awareness…not that she’s playing the perfect game, but she is definitely one to watch, and it appears from the previews that she may have a tough road ahead if she’s already popping up on everyone else’s radar. Oh, and Dan’s “creepiness” continues to be an issue

Episode Take-Away: It was another good one! We learned that Jack is our first jury member, which means we’ll be seeing all of these faces each and every episode all the way through the Survivor Finale, which by the way was officially announced this week as being on Wednesday, December 18th (mark your calendars!). There are now 13 players left in the game, with a 7-6 split in favor of the original Vokai (purple) tribe…8-5 if you consider that Karishma‘s former tribe is dead to her.

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The Island of the Idols may start to becoming a major factor, and as we know from history, the first vote after the merge is often times the most exhilarating of the entire season, with the merge episode itself usually ranking as the best episode of the season as well. We’ve seen some wild, unpredictable gameplay, but we have yet to see anyone show off some “great” gameplay…will this be a sloppy, unpredictable ride to the finish line or will some puppet-master step up and start orchestrating his/her own fate?

Voted out this week: Jack

Won Immunity: Purple Tribe

Vote: Dean played an Idol, given to him by Kellee, on himself. Jamal then played his Idol on Noura. 2 – Jack (Dean, Noura), 0 – Dean (5 votes negated by the Idol, cast by Kellee, Jamal, Jack, Janet, Karishma)

Survivor: Island of the Idols Episode 7 Recap: A Calculated Risk

Next Week’s Episode: It’s the merge episode! And apparently, all hell breaks loose. You won’t want to miss this one!

Quick Note! I appreciate that you are reading this recap! Those that have followed me also know that I am a RottenTomatoes-approved film critic, and I encourage you to check out my weekly movie reviews as I am the film critic and Executive Producer of the TV show, “Movie Show Plus,” the #1-rated local program in my Detroit-market (episodes are also available online at the website, 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/David M. Russell]