'Survivor': A Royal Rumble Shakes Down 'Island of the Idols'

SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols S39 Still 4 - Publicity - H 2019
Robert Voets/CBS

[This story contains spoilers for week two of CBS' Survivor: Island of the Idols.]

On Survivor, you only live once — a spirit embodied by the triumphant Kellee Kim and the tragically defeated Molly Byman.

On this week's Survivor, veteran players-turned-mentors Boston Rob Mariano and Sandra Diaz-Twine came face to face with a new castaway: Harvard alum and Wharton MBA student Kellee Kim — aka "Smarty Pants," as decreed by a certain Bostonian. As part of their ongoing "boot camp" routine, Rob and Sandra challenged Kellee to a memory quiz in order to win a hidden immunity idol, good through her first three Tribal Councils. Kellee conquered the task and earned the prize (the second idol of the hour; the first belongs to the Lairo tribe's Chelsea Walker), and just a short while later, she found herself sitting at the first eligible Tribal Council, face to face with executive producer and host Jeff Probst

Kellee survived the evening unscathed, her idol still playable for another two Tribals, but her good news was bad news for the second player eliminated from the game and the first one out of the Vokai tribe: Molly, the supposed queen of the purple-buffed Vokai, said to be ruling the pack alongside her so-called king and jack: Jamal and… well, Jack.

The move comes as a surprise given the apparent black-sheep status of Jason Linden and Noura Salman, both of whom were alleged targets heading into the vote. In the lead-up to Tribal Council, however, Lauren Beck planted the seed about flipping the vote onto Molly, recognizing her as a long-game social threat. The move is consistent with what Lauren told The Hollywood Reporter about her first impressions of Molly, who she identified as dangerous in the preseason.

"She looks very sweet — super athletic — but she seems like a threat to me," said Lauren. "She reminds me of [players like former winner and runner-up] Parvati, these girls who go far in the competition. She has a really sweet smile. I have to watch that one, for sure."

Jason, backed into a corner from his first days in the game, offered a similar take on Molly in his THR preseason interview: "She's like the Parvati, the girl who can have men wrapped around her finger. I'm married, so I won't fall into that trap. But she's super, super charming. It worries me a little bit. There aren't many married people on the cast. If she can come along and take one of these young guys and wrap them around her finger? She worries me in that aspect."

Here comes another Parvati comparison, this time coming from fourth grade teacher Tommy Sheehan, portrayed in the episode as a key swing vote in the move against Molly: "Trouble. She is smiling at everybody. Everyone's staring at her. She's Parvati 2.0. I don't want to be on her tribe. I don't want to be at the merge with her. I hope someone else can do the dirty work and get her out for some reason. I don't need to know why. I think she's going to be [a good player] and I hope she's an early out and she's not on my tribe. I feel like if she's on my tribe, for some reason, she's going to go after me."

Despite being the first one out of her tribe, Molly holds the distinction of being the first one cast on the season. Speaking with THR on the first afternoon of the game, Probst revealed that he and his casting team made a rare exception for Molly, offering her a spot on the show with several months of advance notice.

"Molly was the first person we put on this season," he said. "We committed to her early. We met her, loved her, everything about her. She's bright, she's a student of the game — literally studies the game, draws graphs and all that stuff. And yet she has this real sort of a thrill-seeker, 'I'll try almost anything at least once,' a combination of smart and risky that makes for a great Survivor player. She called us and said, 'I'm in law school. I got to pay my tuition. Am I in or out?' And we said, 'Don't pay. We're committing right now.' And that was months ago. And we don't commit early to anybody because, until the last minute, we're not really sure what we're doing. But we committed to her."

Before the season, contemplating a potential early elimination from the game, Molly hoped she would be able to properly contextualize her Survivor experience within the greater fabric of her life: "I have to remind myself that I'm proud of myself for doing this. I would have regretted it if I didn't. This is just a blip. I have an amazing life. I have tons in my future. Who is going to care most about this? Me. No one else. Everyone else either loves me, or they won't care in a year. I'll have to swallow a lot of pride going back to law school. Whatever happens, happens. I have a life to get back to."

She added, "Coming out here, I went through a lost of worst-case scenarios. And you know what? Fiji, a six-week retreat… people would kill for this! Once I made the decision [to play], I had to own the decision. I did it, I wanted to do this, here I am. I'm kind of a control freak. Out here, I have no control. So, we'll see."

The morning after her exit episode aired, Molly spoke with THR's Josh Wigler (that's me!) about her blindside, why it took so long for her to find out what happened, how she viewed the tribe dynamics on Vokai, her feelings about the Rob and Sandra twist, and her most iconic moment of the season: the legend of the clam.

Good morning, Molly — or should I say, Your Majesty.

Yes, I hope you're bowing right now. (Laughs.) I will tell you if you are worthy.

Was it hard to watch the episode and relive your elimination?

Honestly, I dreaded this moment for months. It was so much better than I could have possibly ever imagined. I watched with a few of my closer friends, drinking wine and laughing. I was getting the best text messages I've ever gotten in my entire life. I was totally blindsided, but it's okay! I am happy with how I came across. I was very authentic to myself. The worst part about watching Tribal and my confessional after was thinking about my family and my loved ones watching it, and knowing how sad I was at the time. It's been six months; I'm fine. But I know it's so fresh for everyone who wasn't out there with me.

Talk me through the vote. How did you piece together what happened to you out there?

I had no idea. It's funny, because in the episode, it's so clearly presented that Jack, Jamal and I are this powerful trio. But we didn't see ourselves that way. After the vote, I thought Jack and Jamal were in on it. I thought Noura was left out of the vote, because she was so erratic that they couldn't trust her to keep a secret, and that she had voted for Jason. When I walked off, I had no idea what happened at all. It took a while. I had to talk to some other people — I can't give anything away, obviously — but it took other people telling me what happened to find out. That's how blindsided I was. 

That's some high level gameplay!

Yes. Part of why I was so shocked was I couldn't imagine why they would do something not unanimous in the first vote. I figured there was no reason they would want to exclude people from the first vote. Especially thinking about all of the one-on-one relationships. I figured Tommy would definitely tell Jack, Jack had to have been in on it… things like that.

If you didn't see yourself, Jamal and Jack as the top of a power structure, how did you view the dynamics of Vokai in the time you were there?

In the episode, there's a lot of talk about popular kids versus underdogs. That's not how I approach my adult relationships in my life. I had conversations one on one with everybody. I felt they were all legitimate and everyone was different, but all parts of a whole. I felt there was a majority group that was forming more naturally, because of how people were getting along and having a similar mindset about things…

Everyone except Jason and Noura?

No, I liked Jason! I said that in the episode. That's why I said at Tribal that I was hurt by his comment; I did go up to Jason and say, "Hey, you seem really cool." He's from New York, he's funny, he's quirky. He's the kind of person I would want to play with. I liked Jason. The only person I felt was on the outs of the tribe was Noura. I felt she put herself there, not only by talking a lot, but also a few other pieces that weren't shown of her stirring up problems, creating fake immunity idols…

Noura made a fake immunity idol? Was this widely known?

Oh, yes. She told five people she found something, and pointed to the top of the mountain in Fiji and said that's where it was. She had this whole story. I wish they showed it, because it was hilarious. She told everyone except me, Jamal and maybe one other person about this whole story. Tommy came back and told us, "You will never guess what Noura just said." He was hilarious in relaying the story. But in my mind, things like that from Noura? She was never going to be someone I could trust at a merge or a tribe swap. She caused problems where there were none. I thought it was very irritating behavior. I'm a very chill, go-with-the-flow type of person.

At that point in the game, did you feel enough trust in the greater group beyond Noura that you didn't have your ride-or-die companions, or did you have people in mind?

I knew eventually I would be seen as a threat, but I wanted to play under the radar, low-key strategy. I didn't want to be perceived as a strategic threat, because I knew I would be seen as a social threat. I do regret not trying to solidify stronger alliances with the people I felt close with. My dream alliance would have been Jason, Jamal, Kellee and Janet, with Jack and Tommy as well. I felt that would have been a strong group of six. No one in that group was annoying. It could have been a good thing. I think we all would have been considered equal threats, and for very different reasons.

Were you surprised to see Lauren rally the votes against you?

I was not surprised. But it's funny. A lot of people take credit for my vote. You see it as coming from Lauren, but I know other people take credit for the vote. But it's not surprising, because I was not that close with Lauren. We chatted, we were fine, but not particularly close.

Who else is taking credit for the vote?

Janet has gotten a lot of credit. Kellee feels she was the originator of the idea. I think Dan did more than was shown about spreading the fire. Apparently, people were very excited about this move.

How many lightbulbs does it take to blindside Molly…

Right? (Laughs.) I had no idea. No idea!

Kellee comes back from Island of the Idols with a fake story about the island, and an idol in her hair. Did you know about the idol in her hair? And what did you make of the story?

No idea about the idol in her hair, at all. It was pretty great. I loved it. (Laughs.) But her story, I thought it had a lot of holes, considering the theme of the season. I didn't think she had an idol, but I did think she had to have played a game and lost, and maybe lost her vote. I felt she knew more about the theme than she was letting on. I figured it was a regular gimmick season with an island filled with idols on it, where you can play a game and win something. I had no idea about Rob and Sandra. When she came back — and I told Kellee this, so I don't feel guilty saying this — I generally trusted her story, but I was very confused about why she was crying so much. I was very skeptical of her as a person. There's a lot of time that goes on when you're done filming something, and you're taking a boat back, and you're arriving. It wasn't instant, that something upsetting happened to her and she came back to the beach. But she was crying and crying. Was she fake crying? Is she genuinely upset? Which is worse? I'm confused! I would have loved alone time! That was interesting to me about Kellee.

What was your reaction when you eventually found out about Rob and Sandra?

(Long pause.) I was probably a little salty. (Big laugh.) One of the best things about this episode airing is now no one can ask me if I met Rob and Sandra, because I obviously didn't! I'm a Libra. I'm in law school. I'm really into things being fair. Picking someone out of a hat and sending them to have a chance at winning immunity — and I don't know how long Kellee's conversation was, but it really didn't seem that hard, and Sandra was wearing an army hat — I don't love it. But obviously, I can look inwards enough to know it's because I didn't go.

Finally, regale us with the legend of the clam.

That's going to be shown at my wedding, I'm sure. (Laughs.) It was instantly made into a gif. It was a super fun moment. I would like to note, Noura was a part of that moment! Jack found a clam, brought it over, and honestly, I had no idea a clam could do that. The cameraman was watching my reaction as I was cradling this clam, and then when it squirted on my face, the cameramen were all laughing. It's always a really good feeling to make them laugh. It was hilarious. It was so great, the legend of the clam.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. For another legendary tale of a clam, watch Josh Wigler's Fijian fishing expedition in the video below.

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