Well wow. What an incredible, emotional and – a word I don’t use lightly – important two-hours of Reality TV, the likes of which only a show such as Survivor can manage. Those that watch the show religiously know that the merge episode is consistently one of the best, most explosive hours of each season, and it was again…but not nearly in the way it normally is. As it has over the years – and as it has more than a few times already this season – Survivor became about much more than the game tonight, a microcosm of real-life issues that we as a society are confronting and will continue to confront into the future.
Such complexities are simply not found on other TV programs. And a two-hour episode of Survivor couldn’t have come at a better time, as the additional time was appropriately used to make sure that they didn’t rush or brush over these systemic problems that face us all.
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.
CLICK THE CONTINUE READING BUTTON FOR MORE, AND THIS IS YOUR LAST *SPOILER* WARNING!
Welcome to those that may be reading this recap for the first time! This Recap marks the very first that we have the honor of featuring the genius artwork of one Erik Reichenbach, the two-time Survivor icon who also happens to be one hell of an artist. His Survivor Art has become quite popular in its own right, and for the past long while had been featured over at People’s Survivor Blog, written by self-proclaimed know-it-all himself, Stephen Fishbach.
With Stephen recently announcing he was hanging up his blogging duties to focus more on his podcasts and family life, we were thrilled to have worked it out with Erik to be the EXCLUSIVE Survivor site to host his drawings/musings/art each and every week of the season moving forward. I know that Erik has a following, and perhaps we’re even picking up a few lost souls with seemingly nowhere to turn following the end of Fishbach’s blog, so to those who are joining us, and to those faithful long-time readers I say: You’ve picked one hell of a week! (And to see Erik’s artwork, keep scrolling down…there are TWO pieces this week for the double-episode!)
Now to lose everyone right away, I’ll begin wit a quote from one of my heroes, Mr. Fred Rogers (yes, that Mister Rogers) who once said: “Anything that is human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable is manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
I find this quote to be very relevant given the context of tonight’s two-hour “merge episode.” Usually, at this point in the game, the two pre-merge tribes jockey for position and power, and more often than not this culminates in an entertaining collision of personalities, strategy and opportunity. Of course, every move in the game is important, but when a Sole Survivor is crowned, we can often draw a direct line back to the merge episode as the main turning point in the game, that set the rest of the game in motion. It’s usually unpredictable and thrilling, and is often many fan’s “favorite” episode each season.
Tonight though, was different, in nearly every sense of the word. Over the course of the two-hours we saw three hidden Immunity Idols found and then either wasted (ugh Kellee!) or used (Janet). We saw three Immunity Necklaces, with Aaron winning the first individual Immunity Challenge, and also the second, along with Missy who won one as well. We saw Production break the fourth wall during a confessional, and even a sound crew in frame while Kellee tried to avoid Dan on the beach.
Probst and a contestant had a testy but needed exchange during a Tribal Council, and Boston Rob and Sandra taught us that on Survivor, there are no free lunches (unless you count the merge feast, etc., although we catch his drift). But first and foremost, there was some truly terrible gameplay…”terrible” as in like, poor, crappy, not good…but also “terrible” as in nasty, dirty and perhaps over-the-line. So let’s do this Elaine-style and dive right in, shall we?
So much important stuff was stated during the episode, that I do think that a lot of it speaks for itself. The producers did not set out to make Dan a “bad guy” on National TV, but his inappropriate mannerisms and “touching” of female contestants has been something that the show had shown us nearly from the very beginning of the season…that “slow build” did help the audience have at least a better understanding of the situation heading into this week’s episodes. Dan said it best tonight, and I paraphrase, but it doesn’t quite matter if he is aware of it, not aware of it, or whatever, what matters is that it’s the other person’s truth in terms of how they feel.
“Perception is reality” is a concept that usually comes up at the end of each season during the Final Tribal when the jury is weighing which of the finalists they should award the million bucks to. And in trying to portray this touchy subject (no pun intended) over the course of a two-hour episode, I do feel like the Producers did a good job in trying to show the story from all angles.
As a male myself, I don’t think it is at all appropriate that I try to “man-splain” the details of sexual misconduct or to try to summarize for you the specifics of this collection of incidents. It’s all in the episodes and again I think those involved said it best. I think we all agree that it’s a bummer that Janet threw her game in the toilet in order to do something that she felt was “right,” and that I at least have faith in Jeff Probst, the Producers and this show, that they will remove Dan or anyone else from the game if they deem their actions to be inappropriate…they haven’t yet, so for the time being all of the #MeToo discussions are just healthy debates, and are super-informative for the audience, who gets exposed to different ideas brought up by different people, who come from all walks of life.
What I would like to address however, is that everything is all fine-and-dandy with the on-air debate, except for the fact that we, the viewers, got to see it all unfold so we know the real “truth” of the matter: That Missy and Elizabeth are, in fact, guilty of taking some nuggets of truth and embellishing them to their advantage in the game.
Elizabeth said over and over again that Dan‘s conduct with her specifically never left her feeling like Dan violated any personal boundaries, and we see and hear Missy telling her that they need to sort of “lean in” to this story in order to swing the vote and the game in their direction. It was dirty. It was maybe inexcusable. But it was completely fair and legal in the context of the game of Survivor. This isn’t quite like Russell Hantz throwing people’s socks into the fire, because it is dealing with the issue of sexual harassment or misconduct, but all is fair in love, war and Survivor…right?
I think what feels equally dirty for viewers is how Janet took the brunt of the damage for the shady gameplay of others. It’s one thing for them to “go there” when it comes to embellishing their feelings about Dan and his behavior, but it’s another that a very well-liked player like Janet ends up feeling so ostracized afterwards, that she nearly quits the game. And no one came to her rescue. Maybe the most shocking of it all was how they continued to cut to a reaction of Missy, who just looked reaction-less, and also how Elizabeth didn’t seem to really ever own her actions as being “dirty.” Is this how everyone else felt? Man, I can’t wait to read the comments this week!
We could spend countless paragraphs and articles on the overarching topics that Survivor hit on this week, but here’s the last time I’ll say this: The best responses are the ones contained in the episode.
So let’s segue over into the other kind of “terrible” gameplay! First up…Kellee Kim, what the actual eff were you thinking not playing an Idol? One of your TWO Idols? The “Island of the Idols” has thus far contained a curse for anyone who comes across one of the islands many hidden idols…by my count, Kellee’s TWO unused Idols were the third and fourth souvenirs taken out of the game without being used. Is that some sort of a record?
What is a record, is that Kellee became the first woman and only the second-ever contestant to find two hidden Idols in the same episode (the first was Tai Trang), and also the first woman and second-ever contestant to leave the game with not one but TWO Idols in her pocket (James Clement made the famous blunder previously on Survivor: China). And sorry Kellee, this move follows your questionable call last week to take a “calculated risk” and give away yet another Idol to keep Dean safe in the game! Kellee was great and likable and all that, but she will hands-down be shown in the future montages of “worst moves in Survivor history” or “biggest blunders” or whatever you want to call it. Why are players so hesitant to use their Idols this season?
The other disappointing move this week was how Jamal wasted what could have been a very cool and creative power: The ability to craft his own – anything! – on a piece of parchment that he received from Boston Rob and Sandra. His lame “Legacy Advantage” idea was only made lamer by how he decided to present it to his tribe. Just imagine what he could have come up with! Or how he could have chosen to reveal it back at camp! Heck, he could have hidden it in an obvious place, to be found by an unsuspecting soul. Instead, Jamal really ended up sabotaging himself.
That being said, I’m sorry to lose both Kellee and Jamal. As Kellee stated in her closing remarks, she was her own worst enemy in this game, and for Jamal, he was just fighting an uphill battle for too long. With how “weighty” these episodes have been, I will absolutely miss Jamal’s presence and his incredible insights he’s given…most of all, he’s reminded the viewers that it isn’t really about what is being said, it’s about our own ability to listen, internalize, and really understand where another human being is coming from. Both Jamal and Kellee are two great examples of why this cast is just rockin’, and why this has been one of the most surprisingly better seasons of the past several years.
Episode Take-Away: Putting all of the controversy aside, I’m really digging this season. The cast is fantastic, but oddly there doesn’t seem to be anyone “running the game” at this point, which is a bit strange as usually around the merge is when we start to see front-runners emerge. If anything, the duo of Tommy and Lauren looks powerful and maybe even sneakily unstoppable, unless some other perceptive player(s) can sniff it out and put an end to it before it’s too late. Also, Aaron wins his first two Immunity Challenges?
His target will get bigger and bigger, but can anyone stop him? Also, is Janet‘s game truly toast at this point or is there any sort of redeemable path forward for her? And with all of the drama tonight, it’s easy to forget just how easy Noura threw Kellee under the bus in the opening scene! Both Jamal and Kellee – the other two in that scene – are now out of the game, so somebody else is bound to feel the Noura burn soon enough!
Voted out this week: Kellee and Jamal
Won Immunity: Aaron (1), Aaron (2), Missy (1)
Vote #1: No Idols were played (although I can’t believe they weren’t!): 8 – Kellee (Elizabeth, Aaron, Missy, Elaine, Dean, Dan, Tommy, Lauren), 5 – Dan (Noura, Karishma, Kellee, Janet, Jamal)
Vote #2: Janet plays an Idol on herself. 6 – Jamal (Aaron, Tommy, Lauren, Janet, Dan, Noura), 3 – Karishma (Lauren, Elizabeth, Elaine), 0 – Janet (2 votes negated by Idol, cast by Karishma and Missy), Jamal no vote due to IOI penalty
Next Week’s Episode: The merge is now behind us, but the twists are far from over…Probst reveals to the tribe that there will be two eliminations at the next Tribal.
Quick Note! I appreciate that you are reading this recap! Those that have followed me also know that I am also 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 the Detroit-market (episodes are also available online at the website, www.MovieShowPlus.com.) 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.
TELL US – WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THIS EPISODE? WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE CONTROVERSY? AND DID MISSY/ELIZABETH CROSS A LINE OR IS ALL FAIR ON SURVIVOR?
[Photo Credit: CBS/Monty Brinton/Robert Voets/Timothy Kuratek/Jeffrey Neira/Michele Crowe/David M. Russell]