Jeff Pitman's Survivor 36: Ghost Island recaps

The Boring 20s


Bradley has taken a lot of heat online from the fans, simply for leaning into his characterization as a mustache-twirling villain. (Well, at this point it's still mostly stubble, but he might get there eventually.) That level of outrage seems a bit ridiculous, on par with everyone hating Jerri Manthey in The Australian Outback so much (for... liking Colby?) that the audience booed at her during the All-Stars reunion.


But there is a legitimate reason to dislike Bradley's efforts thus far: The Boston Rob/ Kim Spradlin style of "stonewalling" gameplay, forcing week after week of dreary Pagongings is painfully dull for the audience to watch. It's frustrating for the people in the outnumbered alliance, and it produces all the excitement of sock selection as the majority decides which hapless victim to eliminate each week. As welcome as it was to shift the narrative focus to how this decision was crushing the dreams of the outnumbered Malolos (as both Ryan Kaiser and Stephen Fishbach have discussed already), that won't work forever.


As Survivor entered the early 30s of its seasons, with Cambodia and Millennials vs. Gen X, it seemed like a new, more fluid gameplay style had taken root. Call it voting blocs or trust clusters, alliances were no longer set in stone on Day 1, as they had been ten seasons earlier, in seasons 22-24 (Redemption Island, South Pacific, One World). But with Game Changers, and HvHvH, that progress seemed to take a step back, as original tribe affiliations dominated the post-merge. From these early weeks of Ghost Island, that evolution appears to have been completely reversed. Thanks to Bradley (and apparently Kellyn, who praised such an outcome as "epic"), it appears we're now stuck back in the Boring 20s.


The balance of production power

Bad decision


Or: Sometimes, the bad decision can be one production made.


The explosion of idols and advantages in the early 30s seasons has coincided with the transition to more dynamic, flexible strategy. Did the increased variability of constant idols bring this about? Or was it just coincidence? It's hard to say at this point, although the last two seasons argue that So it's odd that in this season—one supposedly overflowing in idols and advantages—there is currently just one active (usable) idol/advantage in circulation (Domenick's Andrea idol, since the Legacy Advantage can't be used yet).


Idols are a time-tested mechanism for giving power to an outnumbered minority to keep themselves in the game, and yet, as far as we were shown, if there was an idol re-hidden at Malolo camp after Michael's play last episode, nobody found it. Maybe Stephanie could have, if she hadn't been stuck on Ghost Island for 50% of that time (this episode spanned a mere two days, and Stephanie was gone from Malolo camp for close to a full 24 hours of it). This imbalance in access to idols remains a major inherent flaw in the Exile/Ghost Island format, one which still hasn't been fixed, despite the rebranding.


If the idols are on Exile, only the exilee has a chance to get one. If the idols are back in camp, the exilee has less opportunity than everyone else to find one (in addition to being excluded from socializing and strategizing). That was sort of fixed in San Juan del Sur, where exilees at least received clues to where the idols were hidden at camp. Theoretically, some might have been findable without clues (Keith Nale's for example). In contrast, none of the five visitors to Ghost Island have had access to clues, idols, or advantages that they, personally, can use. Jacob's had to be given away, Kellyn didn't play the guessing game, and the other three weren't even given a chance. The first three times (Jacob, Donathan, Chris), the Ghostees at least received protection from Tribal Council in exchange for their visit. Kellyn had a chance at an unplayed game. But Stephanie? Stephanie received absolutely nothing, apart from a lot of rice, and more confessional time. How is that fair?


Obviously, Survivor isn't fair. Luck plays a hugely underestimated role in most winning games. But it seems like twists like Ghost Island should at least attempt to find some sort of balance for the idol problem. Production chose to swap two episodes ago, removing Stephanie from a position of power. They chose to hold off on a second swap until next episode, one episode too late for Stephanie. They let her languish at Ghost Island with no chance at an advantage, even though Kellyn passed up the opportunity to play for one just last episode, so clearly, they had something ready to go. In essence, every decision they made went against Stephanie.


If there's ever a "screwed by the swap" season, Stephanie ought to be a shoo-in.


The quest for prior Sebastians



Okay. Let's change gears here for a bit.


Despite being pumped up in the pre-season (by Probst in casting) as the new Ozzy, Sebastian continues to move forward in new and different ways, ones which are equally odd and delightful. Prior to the season, we decided his long hair, love of fishing, and Florida location were a clear sign that he was the second coming of either Drew or Alec Christy. Instead, he's carving his own niche, albeit one with echoes of past favorites. Which of these former Survivors does Sebastian most closely resemble? Feel free to agree/vote down in the comments, or offer your own suggestions.


1. Wes Nale (San Juan del Sur)

Wes Nale
Seb tongue


Pros: Both love to regale us with tales of food, whether it be wing-eating contests or Laffy Taffy. Both have difficulty restraining their tongues at Tribal.


Cons: Wes is a firefighter; Seb is a water lover.


2. Bobby Jon Drinkard (Palau, Guatemala)

Bobby Jon eaten by fishes
Seb eats himself


Pros: Both are affable, earnest young men who enjoy the show, but are not quite strategic masterminds. Bobby Jon feeds his shoulder scabs to fishes; Sebastian fishes, but feeds his bicep to himself.


Cons: Bobby Jon is from Alabama; Sebastian is from Florida. Totally different.


3. Keith Nale (San Juan del Sur, Cambodia)

Starin' Keith
Starin' Seb


Pros: Both fish, both seem content to do whatever from vote to vote. Both quirkily charming. Both have been known to stare into space while sitting in the shelter.


Cons: Very little spitting (so far) from Sebastian. Maybe he's saving it for the post-merge.


So who does Sebastian most take after? Has there ever even been another Sebastian-like contestant? Did we miss some other contestant who flirted with another contestant by comparing her hair's aroma to a dead weasel? Should Sebastian have expressed his affection in the form of a sonnet?


Shall I compare thee to a weasel dead?

Thou art more smelly and more putrescent.



The side snuff - a brief history

Stephanie's snuff


Earlier on twitter, I noted that both Brendan and Stephanie's torch snuffings had eschewed the traditional framing. Normally the contestant faces forward, and a back-to-the-camera Probst reaches over to snuff the torch on the left side of the screen. Instead, we had the shot above, where both contestant and host are seen from the side.


Why change the format in this way? It's visually different, and is used really infrequently, so the departure from the norm provides a bit of additional visual emphasis. With that in mind, its recent use has suggested maybe it's a subtle nod of respect from the editors. They do, after all, have multiple angles from which to choose. Right before Stephanie's torch is snuffed, in fact, she's shown in a traditional, forward-facing shot, then it cuts to the side shot shown above as Probst brings down the snuffer.


After looking back in more detail, it does seem like the move tends to fall on people the editors clearly enjoyed. Well... except for Roark. There are also some asterisks that highlight that sometimes, it's probably more of a coincidence due to filming difficulties. But with Brendan's and Stephanie's snuffs, there were no such extenuating circumstances. So we'll go with a sign of respect. Here's a full list, going back to... Worlds Apart (because there are only so many times any one person can watch the same excruciating James Corden ad on CBS All-Access while fact-checking):


  • S30: Worlds Apart - None
  • S31: Cambodia - None
  • S32: Kaoh Rong - None
  • S33: Millennials vs. Gen X - CeCe Taylor*, Jay Starrett, David Wright
  • S34: Game Changers - Ozzy Lusth*, Aubry Bracco**
  • S35: Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers - Roark Luskin
  • S36: Ghost Island: Brendan Shapiro, Stephanie Johnson


* These were probably due to necessity, because the contestant otherwise ruined the shot. CeCe turned and stalked off almost before her torch was snuffed, and the side view captured that whole sequence, while a standard one would require a cut before the snuff. Similarly, Ozzy turned to talk to his tribe as Probst was doing the snuffing, which would have looked weird from the front. Or maybe they just like Ozzy. Who knows?


** Aubry's was an even-rarer backwards (Probst-facing) shot at the point of snuffing, then cut to the side for her "The full experience" comment and attempted torch theft.


Shorter takes

Stephanie and Jacob, Ep2


  • With Stephanie's boot, the last person other than Domenick who knew about the Legacy Advantage has exited the game. Stephanie never had the chance to ask him about it, and given how the Morgan vote went down, it should have been clear that either he or Wendell most likely had it. That's a huge break for Domenick.


  • The worst thing about Stephanie's getting "Nope"d at Ghost Island is this: Had she played the game and guessed wrong, we would have had the first-ever actual* unanimous vote at Tribal Council, 7-0, because she wouldn't have been able to vote. (*i.e. not the bogus voice-vote thing at the Varner boot in Game Changers.) Keep hope alive, though! That could still happen at some point this season.


  • What is the new twist to Ghost Island? If it's coming with a swap to three tribes, maybe it's that two people will be sent to Ghost Island, one from each RC-losing tribe? That would create more opportunity for cross-tribal alliances and/or communication. And it would ensure one winner and one loser each time the advantage game is played, unless someone opts out (which seems less likely due to peer pressure). If it's not this, it should be.


  • The scene where Des roots through Stephanie's bag in search of a Ghost Island advantage is more or less Schrödinger's box. On the one hand, we have Desiree, giving her overview of the search in confessional: "She may have the advantage. I'm not sure." On the other, that confessional immediately cuts to Desiree ending her search of Stephanie's bag, and sitting down next to Bradley. Desiree: "Nothing." Bradley: "Nothing?" Desiree: "I'm sure." Thanks for clearing that up, editors.




No vidcap gallery this week, but next week seems likely.


Jeff Pitman's recapsJeff Pitman is the founder of the True Dork Times, and probably should find better things to write about than Survivor. So far he hasn't, though. He's also responsible for the Survivometer, calendar, boxscores, and contestant pages, so if you want to complain about those, you can do so on twitter: @truedorktimes


Other Ghost Island Episode 5 recaps and analysis

  • Gordon Holmes at "Braiding Places?"
  • Dalton Ross at "A Diamond in the Rough" (recap)
  • Dalton Ross & Jeff Probst at (Q&A)
  • Josh Wigler at The Hollywood Reporter: "Jeff Probst on Ending the Latest Player's Dreams"
  • Andy Dehnart at Reality Blurred: "Survivor: Ghost Island needs next week's 'brand new start' after sadness replaces strategy"
  • Stephen Fishbach at "Why the Survivor Experience is 'Having Your Dream Snatched Away from You Before You Were Ready'"
  • Martin Holmes at "Finding a Reason (recap)"


Exit interviews - Stephanie Johnson

  • Gordon Holmes at (3/22/18): "Stephanie - 'I Feel Like My Best Friend Backstabbed Me'"
  • Dalton Ross at (3/22/18): "Stephanie Johnson says she wanted to 'poison' Bradley"
  • Josh Wigler at The Hollywood Reporter (3/15/18): "Stephanie Runs Down Her Ghost Island Dream"
  • Mike Bloom at (3/22/18): "Stephanie Johnson on Runner's Highs and Malolo Lows"
  • Rob Cesternino at RHAP (3/15/18): "Latest Exit Interview - 3/22/18"