Intense 'Survivor: Ghost Island' Tribal Teaches Castaways to "Trust Your Gut"

Would Ghost Island finally pay off again? Would one of the acursed returning idols be redeemed? Things get intense at Tribal Council.
Courtesy of CBS

[This recap contains spoilers for the Wednesday, March 14 episode of Survivor: Ghost Island.]

Does a Tribal Council result have to be awesome when determining if a Survivor episode has had a thrilling ending or is an exciting Tribal Council enough even if the vote is a fizzle?

It was hard not to deliberate on that question after a Survivor: Ghost Island episode that went along with limited inspiration for 30 minutes, then revved into a high gear for the post-immunity strategizing and the Tribal Council ceremony, only to conclude with exactly the most predictable and foreseeable eviction.

So... nice try, Old Malolo 4. You made things fun, but you couldn't find a way to make "four" more than "five."

For the third straight episode, Ghost Island proved to be a nonfactor, but on Wednesday's episode it was a factor by being a nonfactor, right? Basically, the episode had both a reward challenge and then a separate and subsequent immunity challenge and the winner of the reward got to send somebody to Ghost Island, only to have them return for immunity and then Tribal Council. To put it a different way, the first few hours of the season, Ghost Island doubled as immunity and the subtractor of a vote from Tribal Council. Both Donathan in the first episode and Chris last week were spared probable eviction by missing Tribal Council and having Chris missing Tribal Council last week evened the voting numbers and facilitated the end of the Old Naviti majority in New Naviti.

This week, though, Kellyn got sent to Ghost Island and, unlike the last two visitors, she got the opportunity to play a game of chance. At the risk of losing her vote, she declined to play. Well, if she'd won, she would have had an advantage and still gotten to vote. If she'd lost, however, her alliance of Old Naviti would have lost its 5-4 advantage. There also could have been the potential loss of that advantage if a second player had been sent to Ghost Island after the immunity challenge. Instead, it was only one trip to Ghost Island this week.

[I really need the tribes to merge, I think. I know it's a long way away, but I can't keep typing "Naviti" and "Manolo" and then doing find/changes to make it "Malolo."]

So back at camp, the Old Naviti alliance of five had to target somebody on Malolo and, on the assumption that minority would assume they'd try to keep tribal strength — as in "vote out a woman" — they opted to target either Michael or Brendan, with bratty Bradley wanting Michael out and Desiree suggesting Brendan, sending us to Tribal not sure if the Navitis would target strength or leadership. Meanwhile, we knew that Michael had an idol and was planning to shake things up at Tribal.

And shake things up he did! Frankly, Michael and Brendan did as good a job as they possibly could. After everybody acknowledged that Old Naviti was in power and an Old Malolo was going home, Michael and Brendan separately began making the case that every alliance has a bottom and that Chelsea and S-Bass were at the bottom of that Naviti alliance, stoking insecurity. Then, after discontent had been stirred up, Michael announced he had an idol, whipped it out and semi-believably bluffed that because it was one of James' two idols that he wasted in China, it had a double power and he said he was planning to save two people and invited S-Bass and Chelsea to come join them in voting against Bradley. [Why did nobody call Michael's bluff and say, "Dude! Cool! Let me read that note!"? I don't know.]

It didn't feel like a bad play at all and I'm not sure how it could have been pursued better. The problem, alas, was in the results. As Jeff Probst prepared to read the votes, Michael told Brendan that he thought the target was Stephanie and Brendan nodded. Where did he get that instinct? Dunno. So Michael stood up, announced he was playing the idol for himself and Brendan and then backed down meekly and said he was playing it for Stephanie. Alas, we didn't have access to Bradley's head to feel the explosion and then the sigh of relief, because the Old Naviti votes all went against Brendan. Nobody split off. Nobody was swayed. For all of the posturing and bluster and the idol bluff, Naviti's strategy worked to perfection. They assumed that even if Malolo had an idol, they wouldn't guess the target was one of the two guys. Bradley may be a complaining whiner, but in this respect his strategy was perfect and whether Michael or Brendan had ended up being the choice didn't matter.

Everything Michael did with that idol at Tribal was full of sound and fury.

And it signified nothing.

Unlike last week's Old Naviti group, this one stayed the course and unlike last week's Old Naviti group, this one did the strategically reasonable thing.

Was the episode less exciting for that? Not for me to decide!

Man, though, Survivor can't be loving the way Ghost Island is playing out so far. We've had four visits and only one outcast has played the game of chance and that player, having won no advantage for himself, was voted out the next week, followed by the player his legacy advantage was bequeathed to. This week's result validated or vindicated Kellyn's tentative play, which made for tentative TV, the culmination of an episode that spent most of its screen time on two challenges, which is not the normal Survivor M.O. at this point in the season. I'll touch on those in my Bottom Lines.

So let's get to those Bottom Lines...

Bottom Line, I. So far, this season's challenges have all been high intensity. This week was no exception. The reward challenge, played for peanut butter and the Ghost Island opportunity, was a traditional "Try to mug people while they attempt to get a thing from one point to another" game. New Naviti dominated, first with powerhouse Chris and then by tenacious Laurel, who we learned was an Ivy League athlete. Then the immunity challenge was a lot of swimming and transportation of heavy objects, with New Naviti coming from far behind to triumph. Chris dominated this one as well. Boy, everybody should be wanting to get Chris out of this game as fast as possible. And I think I'm rooting for Laurel.

Bottom Line, II. We saw some strategizing from New Naviti before they won immunity. Chris returned to see that Morgan was gone, Angela was angry at Domenick and Wendell and so they quickly went to the Old Malolo group of four and offered to join them to take out either Wendell or Domenick. The thing Chris didn't count on: Nobody likes him and everybody likes Wendell and Domenick. So Domenick made nice with Laurel and Donathan and told a bunch of people about his idol. Nobody knows about the legacy advantage, though. Chris keeps getting lucky.

Bottom Line, III. Last week, there was a lot of confusion regarding how the Old Malolo group came to decide to target Morgan and I wasn't sure if they made the correct decision or if they knew they made the correct decision. It looks, in retrospect, that intentionally or otherwise, they were mighty savvy. What they did effectively held their group of four together and forced a total split of the rest of what had been a Naviti alliance, making each of the pairs come beg the Malolos to work with them. With one good vote, the Malolos turned a 5-4 disadvantage into a 4-2-2 advantage. I apologize for ever questioning them.

Bottom Line, IV. Chelsea said something to the camera today! And she sat out a challenge! She may have even said a thing or two at Tribal Council. Nothing she said was interesting, but if the goal was just for Chelsea to no longer be the least visible person on the board, tonight she was truly victorious. I think everybody did something this episode, though maybe Jenna and Libby went back to being a little less visible. Donathan also has become a confessional pariah after talking almost nonstop in the premiere. Having multiple challenges in an episode increases the chances that everybody will get to do something, even if it's incidental. 

Bottom Line, V. The ever-quotable S-Bass said nothing at all about candy this week and I couldn't be more disappointed. He did, however, contribute the pithy, "The Malolo can go no further low-low than the Malolo low." I think S-Bass harbors untold intellectual secrets that he's choosing not to reveal. I think he's playing less of an Ozzy game and more of a Fabio game. Since a Fabio can win Survivor and an Ozzy never will, that would bode well for S-Bass, who's in a perfect position in the invisible middle of his alliance and even if he didn't have a clue what happened at Tribal, he gets credit for not blinking and flipping.

Bottom Line, VI. Sorry, Kellyn. It was absolutely a coincidence that you told Jeff that a random draw sending you to Ghost Island was your Survivor nightmare and then you drew the bad rock and went to Ghost Island. It was not fate or destiny. At least you didn't try claiming it was ironic.

Bottom Line, VII. Bradley is very annoying. Only time will tell if he's as smart as he thinks and says he is. The only thing more annoying than Bradley is whichever producer is standing off-camera at each confessional whispering for castaways to "say something about reversing the curse."

That's all, folks! I'll be back next week. Be sure to check out Josh Wigler's various awesome interviews!

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