'Survivor: Ghost Island' Switches Things Up In "Only Time Will Tell"

Survivor: Ghost Island S36E03 Still - Publicity - H 2018
Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment

[This recap contains spoilers for the Wednesday, March 7 episode of Survivor: Ghost Island.]

So the thing about random, unthemed Survivor tribes is that it takes a while to  learn the names and make sense of the divisions, since at least when Jeff Probst makes up a ridiculous theme, I can dedicate a certain amount of effort to figuring out how castaways do and do not fit in and, in theory, the tribes are unified by something, even if it's a Probstian lie.

If, however, you start with two arbitrary tribes — let's call them "Naviti" and "Malolo" — and then, after just one airing (two Tribal Councils), shuffle the tribes, it becomes a real struggle to remember which team was which, how the new tribes were balanced and what sense it does, or doesn't, make for flimsily constructed alliances to remain in place.

What I'm saying is that Wednesday night's Survivor was confusing and featured lots of attempted strategy where I spent so much effort trying to understand if what anybody was doing made sense that I couldn't decide if it was smart.

To back up, Malolo sent two players packing last week and they went into a 10-8 shuffle with several variations on how a shake-up could give Naviti an expanding advantage. Instead, there was relative equity and both newly composed tribes had five Navitis and four Malolos apiece, just about the best case scenario for Malolo, especially in a season with an Exile/Ghost Island option.

Post-Shuffle, we got:

New Naviti with Domenick, Chris, Angela, Wendell and Morgan from Old Naviti, plus Donathan, Libby, Laurel and James from Old Malolo.

And then we had New Malolo, with Desiree, Sebastian, Kellyn, Bradley and Chelsea from Old Naviti and Jenna, Stephanie, Brendan and Michael from Old Malolo.

[I can't tell you how many times I typed "Manolo" as the tribe name here. Sigh.]

The primary thing this accomplished was separating Jenna and Libby, so I could learn to tell the two young blondes apart, but in terms of strength or weakness? Shrug. New Naviti was confident coming back to camp after the shuffle, but it didn't look like a big disparity to me and then New Malolo won the first post-shuffle immunity because of puzzle-construction.

The game's first point-of-strategy was who New Malolo should send to Ghost Island. Basic strategy says you send Donathan, because you want to consolidate potential knowledge/advantages to a single player, plus you want to protect a weaker player from the other tribe and force them to take out somebody stronger than Donathan. Easy. More advanced, post-shuffle strategy goes that the New Malolos didn't want to send one of their former tribemates to Ghost Island because that would put the numbers at 5-3 back at camp and nearly guarantee a Malolo would go home. Probst announced a rule that the Ghost Island decision had to be unanimous — a bit of a fix or a contrivance, but I'll allow it — and since the Old Malolos refused to target Donathan, it went to rocks and Chris went to Ghost Island. This spared Chris, who had made himself an autocratic potential target at camp, but it evened the numbers up for New Naviti, 4-4.

So that strategy, the strategy of dissenting on sending Donathan to Ghost Island, took me a few minutes to think about. [I haven't been sleeping well this week!] They made the right call and it worked out.

That brings us to the episode's eviction and, frankly, I'm at a loss as to whether the Old Malolos on New Naviti — this is really annoying and I apologize — did the right thing. They voted as a group and blindsided Morgan and so they got rid of an Old Naviti and even when Chris returns, he now returns to an even tribe. And they controlled their own decision and got rid of the Old Naviti of their choosing and it's always better to have self-determination. Points to James, who humiliated himself last week, for orchestrating this move of questionable strategy, but his own devising.

So OK. Go Old Malolo!

But Old Malolo was being offered the head of an Old Naviti to begin with. The perception was the Angela was Chris' right-hand and that she was doing his bidding in going against Dom and so all of the other Old Navitis, led by Domenick, were prepared to take her out. Domenick went so far as to tell the Old Malolos about the fake idol he showed Chris last week. James saw this and correctly read that Domenick was using the fake idol to cover for the real idol. Then Domenick swore on his family that he wanted to work with them. James read this as Russell-style deception. James was right on the first read and wrong on the second. Domenick does have a real idol, but he was perfectly happy to vote Angela out as a blow against Chris. So basically, the Old Malolos, despite coming out of the shuffle in a minority, would have been offered the chance to take out either Dom or Chris if Chris stayed and Angela once he was on Ghost Island and then they went a fourth way and took out Morgan, as a choice over Wendell. That's insane. And the ridiculous thing was that Angela had no interest in following Chris' orders, isn't really his right-hand at all and was content to target Libby.

Plus, getting Morgan out eliminated Libby's cross-tribal ally — they bonded over Catholicism — and the main discussion at tribal was that Libby is prepared to lie and then as she left, Morgan told everybody not to trust Libby.

See why it's hard for me to figure out who, if anybody, made a strategically smart move here? I feel like probably James and the Old Malolos made a small mistake, but really only Libby knows they blew it, because she lost an ally for no reason and lost her sweet girl veneer? In addition, Morgan had the legacy advantage, which she bequeathed to Domenick, which gives him a real idol, a fake idol and an immunity he can use at 13 or six.

Weird vote. James just didn't want to go with the Old Navitis and I guess they took out an Old Naviti who was true to her word and left the already bickering Navitis to bicker more next week?

As the title of the episode says: Only time will tell.

Let's get to some Bottom Lines...

Bottom Line, I. Morgan was a slightly more subtle version of Jacob who went out last week, in that she always felt like she was trying way too hard. Her Tribal Council performance came across as desperate, though that may be because we suspected she might be in trouble. Other than bonding with Libby over being Catholic and getting Jacob's legacy idol, she didn't do much in the game and I doubt I'm going to miss her. Then again, I doubt I would have missed Angela either.

Bottom Line, II. I love how Probst (or the editors) started this week's episode by getting the three most silent, invisible figures from last week to talk before the shuffle. Did he really only ask Libby, Bradley and Angela for their opinions or did the editors just want to make sure we knew Libby and Angela before their crucial roles in this week's events? And as for Bradley, he was a cipher last week and that may have been an improvement over what he did this week, which was non-stop complaining about how much worse the Malolo camp was than what he left behind at Naviti. As Brendan, who had to listen to much of the whining, put it, "This is Survivor. It's supported to be hard."

Bottom Line, III. There was still a fair amount of invisibility this week. Chelsea has now become the clubhouse leader in the "Who the heck is that person?" sweepstakes. I don't think Desiree said anything this week. Laurel was participating in Naviti deliberations, but said little. And S-Bass said only one thing this week, but it was fantastic. See, S-Bass was excited by the swap and observed, "I'm a happy, smiley, giggly piece of Laffy-Taffy. Banana-flavored!" Sebastian loves his candy!

Bottom Line, IV. Dom has the aforementioned variety of advantages and idols and fake idols. Joining him is Michael, who found one of the two plaque idols that James squandered in Survivor: China. I'm perplexed by Michael's insistence that he's going to reverse the curse and change James' legacy, as if James gets a reward if the idol is used correctly this time around. It's not like Sierra got a baton to the kneecap to further tarnish her legacy after Morgan was voted out with the legacy advantage. Nobody is repairing anybody's legacies. Also, Survivor: China was the first season Michael was old enough to watch. Because he's absurdly young. And I'm old. The only contestant this season who's older than I am is Angela and I honestly would have guessed she was younger.

Bottom Line, V. Chris projected as a bit of an alpha tool last week. He did better with his tear-filled visit to Ghost Island. No, he didn't get to play a game and didn't get to reverse any other curses, but he talked about being inspired by his mom's long and ongoing fight with MS. There was a lot of crying and it helped humanize Chris. A bit.

Bottom Line, VI. That was a good immunity challenge. The ramp jumping was a new wrinkle, right? That seemed fun. And I appreciated the teamwork used to get players to the top of the tower. Probst appreciated it, too, giving one of two "That is how you play Survivor!" utterances in the episode. It's always encouraging when Survivor players play Survivor. "Happy Jeff, Happy Life," as the expression goes.

See you back here next week and be sure to check out all of Josh Wigler's great Survivor content!