Fear may keep you sharp, but fun predominated on Ghost Island's merge episode, which finally brought the long-simmering Domenick vs. Chris feud to a boil, and a conclusion. Part of the fun was the liberties the show's editors took with conventional merge episode storytelling, focusing in depth on the big-ticket conflict.
For example, the show dispensed with any pre-merge footage, and leapt directly into the two boats arriving at Naviti (now Lavita) beach, presumably to make room for Chris rapping, or playing the Ghost Island game, or something. More ground-breakingly, they broke with almost all past precedent by splicing together the bickering duo's confessionals and various camp footage to have them artificially "debate" each other mid-episode, although the back-and-forth was mostly Domenick complaining about Chris, with the editors helpfully adding supporting footage to back up Dom's complaints. It played as a light-hearted moment, and as a whole, helped to elevate the episode to a level rivaling some classic previous merge episodes, such as Roger Sexton's boot in The Amazon. This one had a little more suspense, due to Chris finding an idol, and a late-breaking almost-move suggested by Kellyn (and actually followed through on by Desiree and Angela) to vote for Libby instead. Overall, it was fun, none of the underdogs went home, and the conflict that dominated the pre-merge reached a satisfying conclusion. Survivor at its best, and most rewarding.
While we're praising the more flexible, fluid editing guidelines, why stop there? Immediately after the episode ended, CBS.com released Chris's Ponderosa video, which included a 1.5-minute rap video, also titled "Ponderosa." Which makes us wish that the TV show itself included fun bits like these, at least once in a while. Community ended each episode with a standalone joke segment. Why can't Survivor do that occasionally? (Or, you know, maybe we could have that breathlessly awaited The Genius-style flash-forward/ flashback edit? Just once?)
Wendell's (valid) criticism about Chris's rap skills aside*, The Noble One's video is a worthy addition to the Ponderosa pantheon, right up there with The Dragonz. It's reassuring to see Chris is comfortable with playing along and poking fun at himself, because a lot of times, Survivor sets up contestants as comic relief (Drew Christy, for example), and it's not always clear that they're in on the joke. Survivor often teeters between laughing at and laughing with over-the-top characters like Phillip Sheppard and especially Coach Wade, the latter of whom serves as Chris's most obvious archetypal precedent. But the show did its best to present Chris in a balanced light, even as his character careened from postive to negative territory from episode to episode. Chris had some raw, humanizing moments at Ghost Island and with Donathan, he had some comic foibles (including his rapping), and even some strategic content, with his aggressive attempted ousting of Domenick. He was an entertaining, albeit hubris-hobbled, quasi-villain. Maybe if more of the lighter stuff, like "Ponderosa" by The Noble One, could have made it into the show, he'd be more of a fan favorite.
*Wendell was absolutely right about this, if only because of the explosion of cringeworthy copycat follow-on raps in the week that had followed. Seriously. It's like a virus or something. Worse than the Wandoffs.
Freedom! Horrible, horrible freedom!
Did the Ghost Island game directly screw over Chris? (Short anwer: Yes, absolutely.) Longer answer: Still yes, and in at least two key ways.
The obvious downside of playing the game was that Chris lost his own vote at the merge Tribal Council. His choice was understandable: He wanted to power up his idol as much as possible, and gain more opportunities to use it. That made sense, and potentially losing one measly vote didn't seem like a horrendous risk. After all, there were 13 people left, and everyone else wanted Domenick out too, right? Maybe Wendell wouldn't be on board, but there were still at least 10 other votes if Chris lost his!
That calculation was clearly in error, though. Chris knew Domenick had an idol. So he needed the vote split against Domenick *and* Wendell to happen. But still, 5-5-2, even if Chris can't vote. No problem! Hindsight, however, tells a different story. In the end, no votes were cast for either Domenick or Wendell, and the loss of Chris's vote really didn't matter that much. Although it might have, had it actually been a close vote.
Where the Ghost Island game really hurt Chris, though, was in extending the lifespan of his idol. Had he just had a single-use idol, as it was originally presented, he would obviously have played it, and would now still be playing Survivor. Even after winning the option to use it at one of the next two Tribal Councils, he *should* have played it here, because he had a solid chance at winning regular immunity the next time. (He was a key factor in winning eight out of ten tribal challenges, and finished second in another!) That would have made his expiring idol pointless. Did his having risked (and lost) his vote to gain that extra power force Chris—subconsciously, perhaps—to hold onto the idol until the next Tribal, making the penalty seem worth the effort? Probably.
Whatever the reason, the idol's alluring siren call of guaranteed safety at the next Tribal took Chris's eyes off the prize, and tricked him into doing exactly what he had pledged not to do when he picked up JT's Game Changers idol: Leaving the game with the idol in his pocket.
Apparently nighttime Ghost Island has darker powers than we thought.
By the numbers: a triply historic merge boot
Chris was voted out on Day 22, at his very first Tribal Council attended, and he left the game without ever casting a vote himself. (Thanks again, Ghost Island!) This event was historic for a number of reasons:
|Rank||Contestant||Season||Day||Post- swap?||Post- merge?|
|1-t||Nick Maiorano||Kaoh Rong||22||Yes||Yes|
|1-t||Chris Noble||Ghost Island||22||Yes||Yes|
|3-t||Jessica Johnston||Heroes v Healers v Hustlers||19||Yes||Yes|
Final side note: JT's Game Changers idol has now been found twice, and both times the holder has been voted out (without playing it) less than 48 hours later. The most cursed idol, ever? (Apart from JT's HvsV idol that he gave to Russell, sending himself to the jury.
(Additional, more final, side-side note: Why wasn't that idol used here, instead of yet another already-forgotten Game Changers relic? Oh, right, because it came from Ghost Island, which is the world's exclusive source for the misbegotten detritus of Survivor 34. Urgh.)
Potential factions going forward
With the Chris vs. Domenick narrative finally ended, how will the remaining players recombine and divide against each other in the coming weeks? Will Malolo regroup and dominate the game? (Unlikely.) Will Sebastian swim and fish his way to success atop Naviti's heap? (Also unlikely.) Okay, fine. But where are we headed? There seem to be several groups of varying relative strength.
1. Domenick & Wendell: There's nothing to suggest they won't stay together... but will they? Eventually, you'd think they would have to turn on each other, because if there's one thing Survivor doesn't love, it's an alliance of two strategists. If they do eventually fall apart, it's important to remember that each still has an idol, as they are fond of telling anyone within earshot. There's a good chance they'll now be targets, with Chris out of the way. How effectively their two idols end up being played could determine the balance of power in the next few episodes.
2. The ex-Malolos: Apart from Laurel and Donathan, the remainders of the original doomed tribe now seem scattered and isolated. As such, they're not much of a threat. If they could come together again, they'd form a potentially powerful group, numbering five against the seven-person Navitis, who have exploitable divisions amongst themselves. But if that's going to happen, there was no hint of it in the merge episode, since all the Malolos were either shown solo or in pairs. That leaves:
3. Kellyn (and the Naviti women?): Kellyn's closest and most reliable ally thus far has been her gut. (Also Bradley, who is no longer here.) In Kellyn's last tribe (Malolo 3.0), she was maintaining her connections to Desiree, and seemingly forging new bonds with Angela. That makes a solid-seeming alliance of three. Kellyn also seemed to have pulled in Michael as well at the last Malolo iteration. But this group of four voted on opposite sides of the split on the Chris vote (perhaps as a failsafe against an idol play). Kellyn still has her extra vote advantage, but she may have unintentionally placed herself in peril by convincingly winning the very first individual immunity.
4. The innocent until proven guilty remnants: These two have no real connections to each other, nor to anyone else.
Quick hits: Tribal Council highlights
Jeff 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 8 recaps and analysis
Exit interviews - Chris Noble