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Welcome to The Hollywood Reporter‘s Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers regular season coverage! Every week, we’re bringing you exit interviews with the latest person voted out, recaps from THR‘s very own Dan Fienberg and weekly check-ins with executive producer and host Jeff Probst. Bookmark our season 35 one-stop shop to make sure you don’t miss out on any of it.
Warning: Spoilers ahead for season 35, episode eight.
If revenge is a dish best served cold, then a Survivor twist is a dish best served alongside a mountain of spaghetti.
The latest episode of Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers introduced a new hidden immunity idol into the game, by way of an elaborate series of events built around pasta. The winners of this week’s reward challenge (including lotto winner Joe Mena, who joined the trip solely via luck of the draw) were taken to a remote island to enjoy a spaghetti lunch, albeit with some twists: They would be eating their food privately, from a shared portion, with the amount of food consumed left to the judgment of each individual eater. What’s more, as the lotto winner, Joe was tasked with deciding who would eat in what order. What’s more, the spaghetti was piled atop a plate inscribed with the location of a new idol — which means the more pasta consumed, the greater the chances of reading the clue, and the greater chance of finding the idol.
The twist played out deliciously (even if the spaghetti itself looked like it left something to be desired; neither here nor there), as three individuals — Cole Medders, Chrissy Hofbeck and Ryan Ulrich — all saw the clue and reacted in different ways, with Ryan sharp enough to take the plate and hide it in the woods before Joe (who opted to eat last) had an opportunity to see it. Once back at camp, Cole went off for a bathroom break, and Ryan seized the chance to unearth the idol, hidden in plain sight beneath the nearby tribe flag — secured well before Cole furiously dove into the situation and wound up being accused of harboring the idol, even though it was firmly in Ryan’s shorts.
How did the Survivor team come up with the pasta party twist? Here’s the scoop (or the twirl of the fork, as it were) from host Jeff Probst:
“This twist has a fun origin story. It was originally pitched early in our creative process by Jimmy Quigley and Dax Pointon, two of our most senior producers. There was a lot of internal support from the other people on the team, but I was concerned that it could become a big mess — and because it had an advantage attached to it, felt it was too risky. So a bit of time went by and Quigley and Dax came back and said, ‘We wanna pitch again!’ So they pitched it again. I felt the same way: a big mess. But this time, I really saw their passion and their certainty that it would work. They saw something I wasn’t seeing. That’s a big key to any pitch. You need to see the belief in the team doing the pitching. They had a vision of how it would go and they weren’t going to give up. So we tested it in the challenge office and workshopped a few ways to feature the idol clue and went for it. Clearly, they were right. They could see it. Then they went and produced it, and as you saw, it was amazing and turned more story back at the beach. Pretty cool!”
What lessons should future players learn from the “Tale of Spaghetti Mountain,” an entirely unofficial name that will hopefully resurface when the final Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers history book is written? Two words: “Buyer beware.”
“One of the best things about Survivor is you never know what is going to happen,” says Probst. “So it’s very hard to say ‘always put yourself first in a choose-who-eats reward. We could have easily had a twist that buried that person. And even though players say, ‘You can never rest during the game,’ most people do need to take a rest every so often. There are so many factors. You can only do your best in any given moment. Sometimes you get the game — and sometimes, the game gets you.”
Of course, the red sauce idol wasn’t the only twist of the episode. Survivor introduced a new advantage into the game: a secret vote. Here’s how it works: first, a castaway discovers a scroll hidden at camp. The scroll contains instructions on what to do next: bring the scroll to Tribal Council, place it inside the voting urn, and steal a piece of voting parchment for future use. Instead of voting at that Tribal, you’re now buying an additional vote for down the line, unbeknownst to anyone else.
“We’ve talked about a secret vote for probably five years,” says Probst. “It just never felt right. This season it did. We also workshopped this idea quite a bit. You have math to consider, worst-case scenarios, how will they physically pull it off, etc. But what was fun about this idea as compared to the spaghetti reward was this really was a secret spy moment: Can you pull it off?”
Turns out, the answer’s yes, as Lauren Rimmer of the Hustlers managed to secure the secret vote without anyone noticing. Probst tips his cap to the commercial fisherman from Beaufort, North Carolina for the move: “I thought Lauren was amazing. This was part one. Now she has to execute part two — when to use the extra vote? Lauren is sneaking up on people. She is definitely one of the underdog favorites. I hear a lot of people talking about her.”
As for whether or not we’ll see the secret vote again? Probst remains coy: “Now the cat is out of the bag, so pulling it off again will be tougher. Maybe we’ll never do it again, or maybe it will be back next season. You never know with this game.”
Here’s one thing that’s certain: Desi Williams will be around to see how the secret vote plays out, but only as a spectator. The physical therapist became the latest person voted out of season 35, the third eliminated Healer, and the first member of the jury — a quiet exit for Desi, even if the circumstances surrounding her elimination were explosive.
For one last look back at Desi, here’s how Probst described her in the pregame: “Here’s how we discovered Desi. [Casting director] Lynne Spillman brought her in. She sat down. Everybody was captivated by her beauty. It’s hard not to be, especially with men in the room. Then she starts talking, and you forget about her beauty, and you go, ‘Oh, my God, you are uber-smart.’ Not smart like a bookworm, but smart about life: ‘I’ve been through some stuff.’ And then she says, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ve been in pageants, so there’s a whole world of pageantry …’ She starts talking about that, and you realize once again why the pageant world applies to Survivor so often. She describes this crazy world backstage where you’re trying to one-up each other, then — I don’t know how we missed this — but the day before we started shooting, we check in with them, and she comes in in a tank top, and everyone goes, ‘Oh my God, you’re ripped.’ She said, ‘What do you mean?’ No one saw her that way. We got so lost in her brain and all this other stuff. She could blow people away because there’s nowhere she’s vulnerable. And yet, you and I both know that we could go to Tribal in two nights and suddenly it’s, ‘Desi, Desi, Desi … first person voted out of Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers is Desi!'”
And here’s what Probst thinks about Desi now: “Having watched Desi play, the one thing I noticed that I didn’t pick up on was her laid-back style. I think that hurt her. It’s a legitimate way to play, … but in her case I think not being more involved ended up costing her. She was seen as a physical threat and she is likable, so the target on her back was big. My feeling is that when you know you have a target, you have to be a bit more aggressive in controlling what is happening. I’m not sure Desi would want to play again. I could be wrong, but I think this was a fun adventure for her, but not sure it’s one she wants to do again. But I love that she played.”
Follow THR.com/Survivor for more conversations with Probst, exit interviews with the eliminated castaways, recaps with Dan Fienberg, and more!
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