7:00pm PT by Daniel Fienberg
'Survivor: Ghost Island' Teaches Us to "Always Be Moving" but Not Too Much
[This recap contains spoilers for the May 16 episode of Survivor: Ghost Island.]
If either Wendell or Domenick win Survivor: Ghost Island, they will be among the most conspicuous, least under-the-radar victors in recent memory. It won't quite be like the season Boston Rob spent 39 days telling willful pawns, "You're going to give me a million bucks and feel honored to have done it," but it'll be close. At least since the merge, Wendell and Domenick have been running the game and everybody has known it.
And if either one wins Survivor: Ghost Island, they should give Donathan at least a few bucks, because this was a week in which any castaways with any sense should have at least tried to target Wendell, Domenick or both. There have been a couple of weeks in a row like that, though Domenick had consecutive individual immunities. At the very least, effort should have been taken to make sure that Domenick, Wendell or both used idols to remain in the game. Instead, we're down to the final six on Survivor: Ghost Island and both Wendell and Domenick still have idols.
It's verging on inexcusable that that has been allowed to happen.
This week, the credit goes to Donathan, who made such a nuisance of himself that nobody was able to strategize anything more advanced than votes against Kellyn, the no-brainer pre-episode choice, and Donathan. If Donathan hadn't been picking fights, stoking paranoia and misdirecting everybody's anxiety, at the very least Wendell would have had to use the fake idol that he spent some of the episode preparing. Or Domenick might have used the fake idol he found two weeks ago. Or one of them might have had to use a real idol. Something. But given the circumstances, who was going to try to have a reasonable conversation with Donathan about a targeted vote against one of the frontrunners? A couple of weeks ago, Donathan might have been able to win by playing the sympathy card, but he's basically an unpredictable goat from here on.
Donathan will be able to point at the edit and go, "At least I was trying to do something!" and he's probably right. Donathan and Laurel have been in an alliance with Wendell and Domenick for weeks and I think it's been three straight episodes that Donathan has said, "If we don't make a move, we can't win" and it's been three straight weeks that Laurel has said, "You're right, but I trust them and I'm not ready to make a move just yet."
The way Laurel got played in Wednesday's episode was basically unprecedented, right? In the season's best immunity challenge to date — a lengthy and arduous mixture of obstacles and puzzle-building, rather than Chelsea-friendly standing still — Laurel came out of nowhere to win. Probst and the editors were barely paying any attention to Laurel. Wendell was ahead at every step, ahead at the bridge, ahead at the ladder and ahead at starting the slide puzzle. To all appearances, Wendell also finished the puzzle first. He just didn't do anything. He kinda stepped back and looked at his work. Laurel yelled at Jeff Probst and he came over and approved her puzzle and crowned her the winner.
"I guess I had to scream your name, I guess," Wendell pouted to Probst.
"A puzzle's not done until you tell me," Probst said, looking confused that he had to state such an obvious thing and yet also intrigued in that way he gets excited whenever something happens on the show for the first time.
The best replay the editors were able to show us didn't make it look like Wendell finished far ahead of Laurel. He may have finished five seconds ahead? Maybe less? Also, Wendell didn't just fail to scream Probst's name. The open-handed gesture he gave Probst to illustrate what he did upon completion was far more demonstrative than what he actually did, which looked much closer to somebody uncertain and taking a step back to check his own work. Wendell describe the gesture as, "I'm done! Come look at me!" I'd describe the gesture as, "I think I might be done and I'll keep fiddling if I don't remove my hands right now."
My guess is that Wendell was sure he had more time and he was just putting the finishing touches on the puzzle and didn't realize how close he was. After all, as Probst said a couple of times, Wendell was in The Zone. When Laurel called for Jeff, he realized the lead he squandered and the likelihood that he'd technically completed the puzzle first. At that point, whether he was being pouty or strategic is probably up to your perception. In his circumstance, I might have been whiny and passive aggressive and tried to diminish Laurel's win out of my bitterness and poor sportsmanship. I wouldn't have expected anything good to come from it. Wendell, intentionally or otherwise, made Laurel feel like she might not have entirely deserved immunity. (She did.) He made her insecure enough about her victory that she decided, once again, that this was not the week to make a move against Wendell because in some corner of her mind she decided that wouldn't be entirely fair. (It would have been.)
So you had Donathan making everybody crazy and Laurel taking it upon herself to give Wendell an honorary individual immunity he didn't deserve and that meant that nobody could mobilize an alternative vote.
I don't quite get why the initial vote was split between Donathan and Kellyn, and why it required so much Tribal Council conversation to make it happen. Nobody thought either of them had an idol. And then I don't know who voted for Donathan in the post-tie revote.
Kellyn went home. Just as you would have expected Kellyn to go home at the start of the episode.
How many times has Survivor done that this season? Chopped things up in editing to make us hope something surprising might happen only to have the predictable vote go through? It's been almost every week. The results keep being predictable and we're supposed to be grateful because the way they go down makes them look unpredictable?
Let's get to some Bottom Lines…
Bottom Line, I. There was a week or two when we thought Kellyn was enthusiastic, strategic, physically resourceful and that she might be a threat. Since then, she's just been awful and yet everybody kept calling her a threat, as if "once a threat always a threat." Nothing the editors showed us gave any indication that in a final Tribal Council situation she could have beaten anybody, but that narrative kept being spread. At least now we don't need to worry about it and Angela has to carry the "I changed my life!" narrative alone. Man, Angela was invisible this episode and has been mostly invisible for weeks.
Bottom Line, II. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I'm always grateful when Survivor does a community outreach reward. This wasn't the most emotional or fulfilling of those "Visit a village and give them toys and school supplies" rewards, but I was happy that it happened. Wendell and Domenick, continuing their above-the-radar domination, won the challenge and Laurel was rewarded. In the moment, I wasn't sure it was the right choice because I thought Donathan might do something other than go crazy. Instead, not being chosen pushed Donathan's instability, and getting fried chicken and chocolate cake probably helped maintain Laurel's loyalty. It was also a really good reward challenge, with a Mousetrap-style contraption in which players had to release spools at the top of interconnected ramps and catch them at the bottom, up to as many as five spools. They've done similar single-player challenges with balls in the past. This was way more ambitious and the rushing up and down steps made it way more exhausting.
Bottom Line, III. This was a good comeback week for Sea-Bass, whose analogy involving remora and sharks, with himself as the suckerfish drafting off of Wendell and Domenick, was a great one. "The Pirate" went to Ghost Island, broke an urn that let him play a game of chance and correctly made a 3-out-of-4 selection to win … Michaela's cursed steal-a-vote that matured into a bonus vote on Ghost Island and that Kellyn subsequently wasted. Yes, we're recycling cursed artifacts this season! Double reverse the double curse! I'll be interested to see if Probst admits after the season is over that this theme was as big a dud as they've ever had. Or maybe Sea-Bass' double vote will be what blindsides Domenick or Wendell, thereby reversing many curses and saving the theme?
Bottom Line, IV. Advantage Itemization: Wendell has a real idol and a fake idol he made himself. Domenick has a real idol and a fake idol he found and knows is fake. Sea-Bass has an extra vote.
Bottom Line, V. I bet you expected more Laurel/Yanny jokes in an episode in which Laurel was front-and-center throughout. I thought about it. I decided that my Laurel/Yanny jokes would already be a day too late to draft off of the week's biggest meme and would look completely dated.
Bottom Line, VI. Due to inexact scheduling on my part, I'll be away next week and thus will be unable to recap (or watch) the finale. Josh Wigler will be doing awesome interviews as always and that will be our Survivor finale coverage. I hope it's a good finale, even if I'm not sure what a "good finale" would necessarily even be.
I'll be back in the fall for more Survivor recapping!