Survivor: Island of the Idols Episode 12 Recap: The New ‘Noura-mal’

We’ve now sped past Thanksgiving only to find ourselves firmly in December, with the two-hour Finale Episode right around the corner (just two weeks people!). “Speed” was the name of the game tonight on Survivor, where over the course of the hour we went from a tear-jerker to a head-scratcher. It was a dizzy, messy Tribal Council and there’a a lot to unpack, so let’s waste no more time and get to recappin’!

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 12 Recap: The New ‘Noura-mal’

We’re just a few weeks removed from one of the ugliest fall-outs the show has ever seen, with the whole Dan sexual harassment situation leaving permanent marks on this season and this show as a whole. It’s hard to believe that these events won’t overshadow the season – as perhaps they should – and will of course be the focus of the entire Live Reunion Show.

There’s no need to re-hash or beat dead horses, but I do feel a strange sense of obligation to mention the controversy off the top…we are in the midst, no doubt, of a situation that will have a lasting impact on this show that we all know and love, or at least we all did until recently. Luckily for those of us that have stuck with the show, we’ve been “scandal-free” now going on two weeks, and it’s been nice to just hone in on the game itself.

Ah, be careful what we wish for! The Dan controversies have only distracted us from the fact that there has been some extremely dumb game-play this season, with Idols being taken home as souvenirs at a record clip, Idols being played incorrectly, and just bizarre, foolish strategy ruling the day. So what does everyone make of what went down at Tribal, with yet another whisper-orgy occurring even before Jeff Probst could really begin the discussion? We’ll get to Dean, Noura and Karishma‘s exit, but first let’s discuss that love-it-or-hate it Survivor milestone: The Loved-Ones Visit.

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Survivor: Island of the Idols Episode 12 Recap: The New ‘Noura-mal’

With the show recently scrapping the “Previously On…” opening, this week they also scrapped their little frantically-edited “preview” and just dove right into the loved-ones visit. I must admit, I’m a sucker for this episode. Every. Single. Time. I know that some don’t like the emotion, don’t like the crying, or simply don’t like this ongoing gimmick, but I for one always look forward to it, much like the players themselves do. And this season’s visit didn’t disappoint.

There was (apologies in advance on the spellings of the loved ones) Lauren‘s husband Matt, Tommy‘s girlfriend Nicole, Dean‘s mom Laurie, and Elaine‘s girlfriend Tonya. What got me going initially though was when Karishma got to see her husband, Drew. Karishma broke down, just as I got severe eye-allergies (I’m not crying, you’re crying!). She clung to Drew, and anyone who has been bullied or put down in their lives had to have sympathy for her in that moment.

We’ve known what she’s gone through, what she’s endured, and how she has not at all fit in with her tribe, and for her to finally have something familiar, someone that always has her back, just was a powerful moment. As was watching Janet learn that she had a grand-daughter on the way, getting the message from the pink shirt that her husband, John, was wearing. Even Noura‘s reunion with her sister Lana was heart-felt, and it was funny to hear that her sister calls much of Noura’s actions “Noura-mal.”

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Survivor: Island of the Idols Episode 12 Recap: The New ‘Noura-mal’

But for me, oddly enough, the loved one that affected me the most was – of all people – Dan and his 13-year-old son, Ryan. Maybe it’s because I’m a dad now, or maybe because, as Jeff Probst mentioned, Ryan was the youngest-ever loved one to appear on the show. But it was a great moment. In context of all of the hate, all of the controversies that I’ve mentioned regarding Dan, it also became a powerful moment of clarity for me too, and hopefully for you as well. Imagine having a 13-year-old son watch this season of Survivor, or follow social media in regards to his dad. In no way, shape or form is this to forgive Dan’s unacceptable behavior on the island, it doesn’t. It just proves that I think life, and people, are more complex than can be portrayed in an hour-long Reality TV show.

These issues have ripple affects that go far beyond Dan, Kellee, those involved, and those that have no stake in the game other than that we care about this TV show. But seeing Dan and his son Ryan really made me want to pump the brakes on jumping to conclusions, or passing judgment. We’re all entitled to our opinions, of course, and we’ll hear from all parties in due time. Just trying to say that I felt a bit unnerved, like I somehow was not supposed to have feelings about a boy reuniting with his dad…but I did, despite what his dad has represented this season.

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And yes, this episode featured the loved-ones visit, but let’s face it: This was Noura‘s show tonight. It would have been epic had the “underlings” – Noura, Elaine, Karishma and Dean – been able to ban together to take out a top threat like Tommy. As the episode was titled, it was a “Simple Plan” that should have gone off without a hitch. Everybody involved was worried about Noura’s unpredictability and her status as a loose cannon, or put nicely, a “wild card.” But unless I missed something, the whole plan went in the pooper not because of Noura, but because of Dean, right?

Survivor: Island of the Idols Episode 12 Recap: The New ‘Noura-mal’

If Noura is the bomb waiting to go off, then Dean is the one that lit the wick. Noura might have been frantic this episode (and all season) and might have been playing all sides, but I think it was clear to the viewers tonight, at least going into Tribal, that Noura truly did intend to vote out Tommy. It wasn’t until Dean upset the apple cart that things went bananas.

So the question becomes: What was Dean‘s motives for whispering to Tommy? At first I thought it might have been an innocent play, maybe an effort by Dean to make sure Tommy felt comfortable as to not play an Idol or something. Maybe it was just to stir the pot? Or maybe Dean is just a terrible player? If Dean – not Noura – intended ahead of time not to go along with the “underling” alliance, then why wouldn’t he have told Tommy about Elaine‘s Idol in advance?

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Why did he wait until Tribal to have that chat? My best guess is that Dean just didn’t realize how big things would blow up, or that he did know and was fine with it. It’s not a move that I would call “graceful” or “smart,” but the end result is that Dean is actually in a way better position now than he was going into Tribal. Noura is now the immediate target, and Elaine had her Idol flushed. But this is the same guy who is coming off an episode where he created a fake copy of an already fake Legacy Advantage, and then played it at Tribal. There’s NO WAY he is master-minding anything.

Survivor: Island of the Idols Episode 12 Recap: The New ‘Noura-mal’

Noura did get caught in a lie, but it’s not like she was up the totem pole of the alliance anyways, as she had already pointed out after not getting picked for the loved ones reward. She was always thought of as the “wild card” so I’m not sure this “big lie” will ultimately affect her status in the game. With Karishma now gone and Noura up against the ropes completely, it seems to me that Elaine‘s days are numbered more than anyone else. Not only is she completely on her own now, but she’s incredibly likable and exactly nobody left in the game would want to sit next to her.

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We’ve seen winners like Ben Driebergen look like they’re done and they just keep finding Idols, but that’s a very narrow path for Elaine to tread. Noura on the other hand will still provide drama, you can count on it, but the issue moving forward will be: Can I trust Noura all the way to the end? That’s a tricky proposition, but if you can somehow get to the end with Noura, you win the game…right?

Survivor: Island of the Idols Episode 12 Recap: The New ‘Noura-mal’

Next week’s preview is interesting in that it floats the idea that Tommy may look to turn on his “number one,” Lauren. He’d be stupid to do so now, with so many left in the game, although I think it’s probably a good idea for his game as they get down to five, or four. Lost in the shuffle of all of this is Dan, whom absolutely no one is targeting but who might be a great “goat” candidate to go to the end with, and Janet, who is no longer “likable” after what went down a few weeks back. We the viewer know that Janet is likable and noble, but her reputation in the game might already be shot. Come to think of it, other than Elaine, there aren’t too many people to root for is there? One of these people will win Survivor, and sadly I’m just not sure there is a winner that will be able to redeem this season.

One thing that I do know redeems this column as of late, is the fabulous art provided courtesy of two-time Survivor Legend, Erik Reichenbach. Here’s his take on this week’s episode, and as always be sure to check out and even purchase his exclusive artwork on his website,

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Survivor: Island of the Idols Episode 12 Recap: The New ‘Noura-mal’
“Noura’s Strategy Guide for Beginners”


Episode Take-Away: What I took away from this week the most was just how unsatisfying it will be to see any of these people win the game, maybe save for Elaine and Janet, both of whom seem like they don’t have a great shot to get to the end. As it has been for several weeks, this is Tommy and Lauren‘s game to lose, but as we saw tonight, even though they appear to be a tight two-some, each of them remain in the game only by a thin thread, and one little thing could up-end everything.

I’ve also noticed that we’ve been extremely lucky in recent seasons that we’ve been blessed with such great game-play and strategy, for the most part. As there has been a definite push in recent years to really go out there and “go big or go home,” that the flip-side of that coin is what we are seeing this season: Aggressive gamesmanship without many of these moves being thought-out. There’s been a lot of very, very questionable decisions and it’s led us to this point, where nobody really feels like they “deserve” to win, despite the fact that someone will indeed win.

As stated earlier, I’ve also realized that this season has taken an emotional toll on us all. In some ways, I’m looking forward to the Finale, but not with the usual anticipation or excitement. Rather, I’m sort of looking forward to this one just ending. Like, let’s get through the talking, the ugliness, the pain that this season has caused. Let’s crown a winner, and then let’s take a much-needed break and catch our breaths for a minute, as we await the highly-anticipated 40th season (!!!) coming in February 2020. Does anybody feel the same as me?

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Survivor: Island of the Idols Episode 12 Recap: The New ‘Noura-mal’

Voted out this week: Karishma

Won Immunity: Lauren (1)

Vote: Elaine played an Idol on herself. 5 – Karishma (Noura, Elaine, Dean, Tommy, Lauren), 3 – Noura (Janet, Dan, Karishma)

Next Week’s Episode: Believe it or not, next week’s episode is the very last episode leading up to the two-hour Finale Episode on Wednesday, Dec. 18th. There are still some heads that are spinning following this week’s Tribal Council, and it also looks like Tommy might be considering blindsiding his closest ally, Lauren. Whatever happens, the stage will be set with a Final Six heading into that Finale Ep.

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, 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]