A 'Survivor: Ghost Island' Rivalry Boils Over in "Fear Keeps You Sharp"

Malolo and Naviti are no more as the 36th season hits its merge and we're reminded that Domenick and Chris just don't get along.
Robert Voets/CBS

[This recap contains spoilers for the April 11 episode of Survivor: Ghost Island.]

Hubris is one of the most important and satisfying weapon at the disposal of the Survivor editors.

Last week, we got a healthy dose of hubris with ultra-cocky Bradley going home just one week after he gave his gameplay an A+ and at a moment at which he clearly hadn't given a second's consideration to even the possibility that he wasn't in control.

It was good, but I could have gone for a little bit more hubris. Bradley needed to have talked more Tribal Council trash. He needed a little more smirking. He also needed to take an idol with him. And he needed to cry.

On the Hubris Scale, I give Bradley's departure last week maybe a five or a six. Not bad. Could have been better. Bradley's departure was so muted, though, that nobody felt any reason to comment on it at all during this week's episode. It's like Bradley never existed at all, which surely hurt Bradley watching this week's episode, so let's bump it up to that "six" on the Hubris Scale.

Thankfully, Survivor kicked up to at least a nine on the Hubris Scale with this week's elimination.

Oh, this was a good one, definitely capping the season's best episode so far.

It doesn't seem that long ago that Chris had a couple good moments. He dominated a reward challenge and gave Jeff Probst an alpha-boner. And that was, if memory serves, after he told the story about his mother's ongoing illness, which was very sympathetic and then he smartly used that story to build what felt like a bond with Donathan. I don't think Chris ever looked like he was going to win, but he came across as a versatile player worthy of some level of admiration, even if no admiration was needed for his freestyle rapping skills.

This week was just all build-up to a fall. Chris rapped poorly again ("Life is supposed to be rich, but don't make it cheaper/ Like LeBron in the Finals, I won't take a breather."). Chris compared himself to Dwyane Wade multiple times. Chris led an "Everybody but Wendell and Domenick" strategy march and instructed everybody how to vote. And, best of all, Chris did it all after getting a lucky, random opportunity to sneak out at night to Ghost Island to get a one-night-only immunity idol and then rolled the dice to try to extend the life of the idol, costing himself a vote in the process. Chris knew you had to play big or go home and tonight he played really, really big.

And he went home.

I don't know if I remember the last one-on-one Survivor feud that become this toxic in this way, as the newly merged Lavita tribe was forced to decide between these two bickering forces who refused to reconcile. Actually, Domenick was willing to reconcile. Using his buddy Wendell as a go-between, Domenick tried to clear the air with Chris at least temporarily enough to take out either Michael or Libby from the old Malolo tribe. I suppose there's a question as to whether Domenick and Wendell would have made a deal with Chris and then promptly turned around and targeted him anyway. They were at least willing to say they would let bygones be bygones for a week. Chris wouldn't even say it. Instead he insisted over and over that he wasn't willing to commit to Naviti loyalty until Wendell, who seems like an incredibly reasonable guy, had to wash his hands of the entire parlay.

It wasn't that I disliked Wendell before. I think I always was fine with Wendell. But in one episode, Wendell charged from middle of the pack to the top of my rooting pyramid.

If I hadn't been impressed enough with the cool way Wendell attempted to negotiate with Chris and then laid out strategy for the rest of the tribe, his Tribal Council performance would have been enough to make him my favorite contestant of the season. He was good at the Tribal itself, especially the crack, "It seemed like everyone get very thirst very fast." Then in the voting booth, Wendell just eviscerated Chris, first on a basic level — "I hope you stop saying 'I' so much" — and then finally articulating what all of America was yearning to say about Chris' rapping. As Wendell put it, "Finally somebody had to stay it. I'll say it. Stop rapping. You're trash. At rapping. You're garbage at rapping. You can't rap." He closed with, "Put the mic down, bro. Put the pen down bro. Use an eraser."

Even without a vote, Chris was obviously cocky right up until Probst read his name for a third and then a fourth time, at which point his jaw dropped.

Chris gave Domenick an admiring or begrudging hug before departing, idol unplayed. Honestly, the only way the Tribal Council vote could have been better is if it had come down to that one vote that he lost on Ghost Island.

Where does this put Dom now? Was he mostly a target because Chris wanted to make him a target? He initially felt a little grating and loud, but the reality is that he's been funny and good-natured ever since then and, of perhaps greatest importance, he's not a meaningful physical threat. On the other hand, the reason the Naviti women briefly thought about targeting him was that he wasn't trustworthy and the fact that he had that legacy advantage and didn't tell anybody about it only seems to confirm that he's shifty and a strategic threat. Everybody remaining knows that the idol he wore around his neck at Tribal was fake, right? He's still got another idol in his pocket and does even Wendell know about that? And, meanwhile, what does this do for the "curse" on the legacy advantage? It wasn't unwise for Dom to use it here, but it was still a wasted use of an idol. He wasn't going home anyway. So if he goes home at top six, I say that the curse lives on. If you believe in curses. Which I don't.

I was interested in that brief water-side chat between Desiree, Angela, Chelsea and Kellyn about the possibility of letting the bickering guys bicker and taking action on their own to get rid of Libby. The post-merge breakdown was decisively pro-Naviti and that was the centerpiece of all of the post-merge strategy, and I kept thinking, "Man, why with a 7-6 female advantage and the dumb men causing disorder and conflict at camp don't the women just take control?" And then it looked like they might do it and, even then, Desiree tried steering her cabal toward targeting Libby as a stealthier threat than Michael. Desiree and Angela still voted for Libby and I don't know if they were just covering bases in case both Domenick and Chris had idols? At this point, there have been enough votes cast against Libby that nobody is overlooking her and she has to know that nobody is overlooking her. Probably Libby's best play is to convince everybody that Jenna is the one who's actually a threat and everybody else is just getting confused.

Let's get to the Bottom Lines ...

Bottom Line, I. I'm very relieved that we've made it to the merge, so I can stop my Malolo/Naviti confusion. It was an 8-5 Naviti advantage coming in and now it's 7-5, so it would be pretty easy for Naviti to just focus again on the Malolo minority next week and that means targeting Libby and Michael again next week because, for whatever reason, nobody is hugely worried about Donathan, Laurel and Jenna. I think Naviti should be more worried about Laurel and Donathan than they are.

Bottom Line, II. Time for the weekly accounting of advantages in the game: As previously mentioned, Domenick has an idol that possibly nobody knows he has. Wendell has an idol. Michael has an idol. Kellyn has a bonus vote, right? The idol that was taken home tonight was a Ghost Island idol and therefore presumably isn't going to be put back into circulation. There's enough crap still out there for people to be afraid and, as Domenick reminded us this week, fear keeps you sharp.

Bottom Line, III. I'm still curious about the logistics of Chris' midnight panty raid on Ghost Island. According to the awesome Josh Wigler, Ghost Island is only a five-minute journey from Naviti via boat. But was said boat just waiting in a cove somewhere, engine idling? Nothing Chris did on Ghost Island felt like it should have taken more than 10 minutes — he walked up the fire-lit steps, got his idol, made two 50-50 choices and returned — so he may not have been gone for more than 20 minutes. Are these castaways actually comfortable enough and sleeping soundly enough that nobody would notice Chris took a 20-minute bathroom break? I'm bad enough sleeping in random hotel beds that my sense has always been that if I went on Survivor, I probably wouldn't be able to sleep a wink.

Bottom Line, IV. As you probably should have gathered from asides in previous recaps, I would be a horrible Survivor player. I know lots of armchair Survivor devotees are sure they could go out to the wilderness and rock it. I have no illusions.

Bottom Line, V. Should Kellyn's individual immunity win give us any new insight into her chances of winning? Maybe. She's chirpy and likable and we know she has a good story and we also know that she's a big fan. The idea that she could have some endurance capabilities could make her a threat once that alpha males are done being targeted. Wendell should consider himself lucky he's still got his idol. Nobody with any sense would ever want to keep Wendell along too far. He went to law school before he settled on furniture-making, right? You don't want to go to the end with Wendell.

Bottom Line, VI. That was a fun episode and you know the best part of it? It resolved its core conflict. Chris versus Domenick was not going to be fun forever. Better to have things come to a head here and now we can resume regular game interactions next week.

Bottom Line, VII. Anybody still willing to support Chris after he dismissed Wendell and Domenick's peace summit with "I'm too suave to just buy it" is no friend of mine. You just know Jeff Probst hopes to get Chris back for an All-Star season.

Be back next week! Check out Josh Wigler's interviews!