7:00pm PT by Daniel Fienberg
'Survivor: Ghost Island' Doesn't Look Hard to Find "A Diamond in the Rough"
[This recap contains spoilers for the Wednesday, March 21 episode of Survivor: Ghost Island.]
If you wonder why the Survivor producers sometimes get antsy about tribe swaps and shuffles, this week's hour pointed to the inherent dangers of a season falling into a strategic rut too early and a seasonal theme that keeps refusing to add value.
With Ghost Island once again failing to pay dividends, Wednesday's episode began with the Old Malolo minority of the New Malolo tribe still reeling from Michael's failed attempt to use an idol to shake up the power structure. Michael's bluff with that idol and the subsequent eviction of Brendan left the Old Malolo group of three strategically beaten and, 43 minutes later, there were two of them. There was no visible attempt to sway any of the Old Naviti majority (or, actually, to find the replacement for the idol Michael played). There were only half-hearted attempts to compete in two lost challenges. From there it was just gravity and the Survivor producers and Jeff Probst were powerless to create tension or drama where none existed.
I'm not sure I've seen a segment edited as clumsily as Stephanie's trip to Ghost Island and her long speech about wanting to win the million dollars for her kids, touching ever-so-briefly on her exit from Mormonism. You can't force a good Survivor story, as surely the series knows, and this was an example of trying to force a good Survivor story. Single mom getting her life together? Sure, it's not like it's a bad story, but it's a familiar story and not one that's going to get anybody worked up and yet the music swelled and Stephanie perched on a rock looking out at the timeless sea and we were supposed to feel something I just didn't feel. Why did they have to make that Stephanie's persona anyway? In previous weeks, we met a different Stephanie, a funny and geeky superfan. Why sell that personality out to make her into a generic struggling mother? Why basically give Stephanie the same story Kellyn staked her claim to just a week earlier? Kellyn may not have two kids, but the "I left my marriage and restarted my life" Olympics were already finished and Kellyn got there first, so she got the medal.
Then, sensing there was absolutely nothing he could do to expose fissures and manufacture theatrics at Tribal Council, Probst shrugged and resorted to "So what does Survivor mean to you?" questioning to Michael, Stephanie and Jenna, who each agreed this was their dream and they hoped to grow and other intellectual packing peanuts meant to spin wheels for five minutes before sending the castaways off to cast the votes they'd already decided on. Often you can tell that the Tribal Council segments have been edited from what might be two or three hours of heated negotiations and lobbying and strategy. With this Tribal, you could almost imagine somebody making the "Stretch it out!" gesture to Probst behind the scenes to make Tribal even this long. Probst couldn't get any insight into why the Old Naviti group was voting how they were voting in this case, nor for anybody other than Michael to argue in favor of why keeping them would be smart. It became, "Talk about why you're here." That stirred up some emotion, some empty emotion.
In the end, Stephanie was voted out and probably that was a basic and simple bit of Old Naviti strategy. Michael is playing the game hard and he's surely a threat. However, when you've lost four straight challenges, you can't get rid of your youngest, strongest competitor unless you're surrendering entirely and "Trust the Process" tanking isn't a very good approach to Survivor. So you keep Michael. That leaves Jenna and Stephanie and Stephanie is smart and strategic and perhaps a little dangerous, while Jenna knows she rubs people the wrong way through no fault of her own and her best attempt to play a social game is volunteering to smell and braid Sea-Bass' hair. Basically, if you've got a minority of three at this point, you leave the person who can still help you and you leave the person who isn't a threat of any kind. And that means you vote Stephanie out, which you could have predicted from the top of the episode.
The only thing that could have shaken the episode up was Stephanie finding an advantage on Ghost Island. Well, we've had five visits to Ghost Island and three have ended in "Sorry, you don't get to play a game" messages from the urns. One visitor had the chance to play, won an advantage that hasn't been used yet and was promptly voted out of the game, as was the first player who got that advantage. And last week, Kellyn had the chance to play and declined to hold onto her vote. So the entire season's theme has boiled down to one currently nebulous advantage distributed in five hours. All the talk about reversing curses and redeeming the legacy of past players and whatever has amounted to exactly nothing.
There really isn't much to discuss about this episode, so let's just get straight to the Bottom Lines…
Bottom Line, I. The power alliance at New Malolo went through each of the three castaways as possibilities and I think at different points Chelsea was willing to target any of them. Or maybe Chelsea was willing to say anything to get a couple seconds of screentime. I'm almost rooting for her to make it to the end without saying or doing anything distinctive in 39 days. So far, she's definitely the dullest.
Bottom Line, II. People go through people's bags frequently on Survivor. It's rare to see anybody riffle through somebody's bag as blatantly as Desiree did with Stephanie's bag to make sure she hadn't found anything at Ghost Island. I guess the rule is you can't steal from anybody, but it's OK to look?
Bottom Line, III. If you're curious, Chris played baseball at Polk State and University of Pikesville, so this was not a ringer situation, or at least not like Jeff Kent or something. He was, however, rather spectacular at the episode-opening reward challenge and Probst hasn't salivated this sloppily over an Alpha Male contestant in years. Chris also proved himself impressively adept strategically in parlaying his own story of taking care of his ailing mother to bond with Donathan, who was having sadness thinking about leaving behind his struggling grandmother at home. Chris was almost mechanically calculated in how he talked about leveraging his story to bond with Donathan, but it's his story and he made the connection well. When we left New Naviti last week, it looked like everybody had decided to target Chris if they ever had the chance. Now it feels like things would be very different if New Naviti ever goes back to tribal. For now, they look really hard to beat.
Bottom Line, IV. I have to reserve an entirely separate line for Chris, after ruling that reward challenge, deciding to bust out a little freestyle. "I'm like a diamond in the rough, do you see me glow? This ain't pay-per-view, it's a free show. I'm shootin' 'em all day. Free-throw. Mic drop." That's not great rhyme-spitting, but it's better than I ever would have expected from Chris, so I'm OK with grading him on a curve.
Bottom Line, V. Want a better diamond in the rough verse? As Alexander Hamilton once said, "I’m a diamond in the rough, a shiny piece of coal/ Tryin’ to reach my goal. My power of speech: unimpeachable." That's how you do it, Chris. Also, Chris is totally the opposite of a diamond in the rough. You look at Chris and say, "OK. He's trouble. Get rid of him." If he makes it to the merge it's a small miracle. If he survives the first couple post-merge votes, it's a huge miracle. People like Chris do not get to be underdogs.
Bottom Line, VI. Libby, Wendell and Domenick from New Naviti were all close to invisible this week. Actually, Wendell was good in the first part of the immunity challenge. I take that back.
Bottom Line, VII. Jenna went to a lot of trouble to describe why it is that her natural expression sometimes rubs people the wrong way. Do we assume that the Survivor producers told her that she wasn't allowed to use the commonly expressed term, "Resting Bitch Face"? Because that's so clearly what she wanted to say, without saying it. And the funny thing is that I'm not sure we saw any evidence at all that this is her natural demeanor.
Yeah, I've got very little to say about this week's episode! But be sure to check out all of Josh Wigler's awesome interview content!