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[This recap contains spoilers for the April 4 episode of Survivor: Ghost Island.]
The hero of this week’s episode of Survivor: Ghost Island was not, in fact, one of this season’s remaining 14 castaways struggling to reverse curses in Fiji.
The hero of this week’s Survivor: Ghost Island was a two-time former player with fourth- and 10th-place finishes under her belt.
Yes, all hail Eliza Orlins, perhaps the all-time reaction queen of Survivor.
Now is it a good sign that the most memorable moments in a new episode of Survivor were Eliza’s classic “It’s a f***ing stick!” reply to Jason’s attempt to show off Ozzy’s fake idol and then Eliza’s drop-jawed incredulity at Erik sacrificing his immunity to Natalie before the show’s most legendary blindside? Well, maybe not, even if most fans would probably rank Survivor: Micronesia as a top 10 or top five season.
Regardless of who won challenges Wednesday, who went to Tribal Council and who was voted out, my takeaway is that if I found a Survivor genie, one of the first things I’d wish for would be to have Eliza do picture-in-picture reactive commentary to every episode. I’m not looking for her to talk through episodes, though certainly she was funny enough that that might be amusing. I just want Eliza expressing shock or mockery or joy or sheer contempt in the lower left-hand corner of my screen. Perhaps a reasonable compromise might be to have Eliza on every Survivor jury, available for amazed cutaways whenever appropriate. Is that too much to ask?
There’s no way that Eliza could have expected to see herself so much on this week’s Survivor, in which she was a much more active part of the episode than Jenna, Laurel, Angela or even the normally voluble Sea-Bass.
Other than “Geez, we miss Eliza,” the episode was split into two thematic halves.
The first half was “Oh, right, last week’s episode had no Ghost Island and no idols and, thus, was a bit of a bore.”
The first 20 minutes of the episode saw Michael, facing inevitable elimination in the face of another New New Malolo defeat, going wandering and finding the aforementioned stick that Ozzy hid as an idol that Jason thought was real and Eliza knew was just a f***ing stick. After telling us that all three people who had touched the stick were eliminated and therefore that the stick was cursed, we were instructed, “For 10 years, the stick has been living on Ghost Island gaining power.”
Let’s just leave aside how weird it is for Survivor to be spinning fiction like this.
No. Actually, let’s not. Come on, Survivor. That stick has not been on Ghost Island for 10 years. It was not on Ghost Island tonight. I’m not even completely convinced that anybody would know whether or not it was truly the stick Ozzy hid, but let’s pretend it is. Why are you making me buy some sort of magical Pinocchio-like fairytale about a stick that so badly wished to become a real immunity idol that it became one? Be better than this, Survivor!
So Michael has an idol now.
And Wendell has an idol now, thanks to a similar process of transmogrification. To hear Survivor tell it, the immunity necklace that Erik gave to Natalie has also been living on Ghost Island for 10 years and it also became a real idol. Have Stick and Necklace at least been living on the island together? Are they in love? Do they have little castaway-protecting babies? Is there some magic process of renewal that takes place on Ghost Island after 10 years? Is there a ceremony? “I now dub thee a real immunity idol, arise Stick!”
Anyway… so Wendell has an idol now.
We also got a triumphant return to Ghost Island for Kellyn. Last time she was there, she resisted a 50-50 game of chance because she didn’t want to lose her vote and even if she wasn’t completely validated — she still could have won, after all — she wasn’t made to look bad. A couple of episodes later, a couple of steps closer to the merger, Kellyn was tempted by better odds and a 66-33 game of chance and she played and was given the stolen vote advantage that Michaela sat and pouted about, that Sarah found and that contributed to Michaela being sent home.
Now let’s discuss: That advantage? Not cursed. Michaela was cursed. She was ornery and didn’t look down and she went home. The advantage was found by Sarah, who was paying attention, and it was a key piece of how she was able to put together her season-winning run. Not only should we not blame the advantage for not being found by Michaela, we should hail the integral role the advantage played in a million-dollar victory.
Don’t blame the advantage! There is no curse!
Anyway… Kellyn has a bonus vote at a future Tribal.
Going forward, Domenick, Wendell and Michael all have idols, Domenick has additional immunity at two future Tribals including next week and Kellyn has a bonus vote. This sets us up for some craziness going forward, right?
Well, the result of Wednesday’s episode was the opposite of crazy. For all of those idols, no idol was played or discussed in the episode’s vote, which came down to that universal and frequent Survivor question: Is it better to maintain tribal loyalties or to vote out somebody who’s annoying you the first chance you get?
New New Naviti made the latter choice after they lost an immunity challenge that caused Jeff Probst to cheer multiple times that Malolo had broken its curse. Malolo, which got so sick of Probst telling them they were one of the worst tribes in Survivor history, even if it wasn’t really true, that they burned their tribal banner in a ritual exorcism of sorts, didn’t come out and magically dominate the week’s immunity challenge. Malolo finished second, far behind the dominant new tribe of Yanuya. At this point in the game, second still counts as a win especially if you’re the worst tribe in Survivor history, which Malolo is not.
That sent New New Naviti to Tribal facing a basic choice: Do you vote out either Donathan or Libby, because they’re accursed Malolos in need of purification? Or do you vote out Bradley because he’s annoying as hell?
Bradley’s fate is probably what my fate would be if I ever went on Survivor. The dude just couldn’t shut his mouth and he believed that being argumentive and being conversational are the same thing. Trust me, Bradley, I get it! Should Bradley have known better than to badger Donathan during the reward challenge when Donathan was doing the opposite of anything wrong? Yes! Should he have resisted making snide comments about Domenick’s immunity performance when Domenick was going out of his way to be humble? Yes! But how do you know better if you’re the sort of guy who gives your gameplay an A+, which Bradley did just last week. Domenick and Chelsea at least had some consideration that they had to give to maintaining Malolo loyalty, but at this point if there’s a merge next week, Naviti still has a solid numbers advantage and nobody’s really going to miss Bradley. It represents another narrow escape for Libby, whose hotness is perhaps second only to Chris’ physical strength when it comes to postmerger threats.
Let’s get to some Bottom Lines…
Bottom Line, I. In typical Probstian fashion, Jeff decided to push the Malolo Curse narrative so aggressively to start this episode — “A tribe that could very well be cursed, appears to be cursed,” he yelled at some point in the reward challenge — that its end was inevitable. I would refer to this as the Jeff Probst Curse, that once you start referring constantly to a different curse, it will get broken. If Probst had provided public discourse on the Curse of the Bambino before the start of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, John McNamara would have put Dave Stapleton in as a defensive replacement for Bill Buckner at the end of the game. For all of Desiree’s talk about “bad juju,” there was very little pomp or circumstance to the burning of the Malolo flag. No prayers were said. No ashes were scattered. The flag definitely didn’t have to go live on Ghost Island for 10 years. They just burned that sucker and went out and got lucky at the immunity challenge.
Bottom Line, II. Bradley was appreciative enough of being blindsided, which he claimed was every Survivor superfan’s dream. I don’t know if his exit included quite as much hubris as I might have dreamed of, but his eyes definitely went extremely wide when Probst read the damning second vote against him. He also had one of the most vocal walks off into the jungle after his torch snuffing with such wisdom as, “Adventure of a lifetime. Oh, my God. Wow. Damn. That’s crazy.”
Bottom Line, III. Why did it take so long for anybody to remember that the reward challenge with the ropes had been done before and that the secret then had been to have three players hold the ropes taut and one player just going back and forth stacking blocks? Why did Probst keep calling it a controversial strategy? It’s not! For the future: It’s the only strategy! You’re superfans, people! Remember this stuff.
Bottom Line, IV. There was so much idol stuff going on in this episode that there was no time at all for human moments. Did anybody cry and talk about how they’re starting their lives over? No, they did not.
Bottom Line, V. Other random stuff: Donathan has been becoming weirdly competent lately. Chris has not attempted to freestyle rap nearly enough. Kellyn had the episodic title quote. And Wendell saying that the reward challenge win was for his girlfriend and getting the tribe to sing happy birthday to his girlfriend was strange.
Bottom Line, VI. Seriously. Eliza on every jury.
Be sure to check out all of Josh Wigler’s great interviews!