If Survivor could surprise me as much as starting a fire surprises Elizabeth, I’d be one happy super-duperfan.
Kaiser Island survived Edge of Extinction, barely, but all is right again with the start of Island of the Idols where once you’re gone, you stay gone. No coming back!
Unless you’re a Survivor celebrity! I’m a mighty Sandra stan and while Boston Rob isn’t my favorite (he’s up there, I guess), he’s undeniably a Survivor legend in his own right. I’m glad the show made clear they can’t win and they won’t vote (…people out?) and I’ve already beaten to death “then why are they there?” so I won’t venture down that rabbit hole.
I’ve got a lot of digging through to do as is with a hefty 90-minute premiere – the standard a first episode should be if we can’t ever get 90 minutes every week. Overall, this was a strong premiere with my favorite scenes, of course, coming from camp and having little or nothing to do with the twist. As we cut a third of the runtime out next week, I worry what the titular island will do to the season because I wasn’t very entertained by all that it had to offer. Yay for Boston Rob and Sandra but Nay having to sit through some feeble attempt of a newbie to best one of them.
That said, the cast delivered as much as I could have hoped for and in some cases more, so the night left me feeling satisfied. The premiere was no Cagayan level of crazy, but I’ve told myself not to dream that big. Then again, I never dreamed of seeing a Survivor Mt. Rushmore, and here we are.
“Everything about me speaks…power.”
WHERE’S MY MAROONING?
One surprising love of the premiere was the lack of a big opening marooning. I remember being so excited to see it brought back in Cambodia, but I’m excited again to see it benched just to keep things fresh (and totally not Jeff just being lazy). It allowed us to immediately get to know the tribes without some silly introductions like, “tHaT’s WhAt MaKeS yOu A hUsTlEr” or “wHy ArE yOu A mILlEnNiAl???” (uhh, because I was born in 1992?)
Walking up to see the words “Island of the Idols” in the logo, I’d have turned around to see if the boat was still pulled up to shore so it could take me home, but the Lairo tribe didn’t seem too bothered by it. I guess it’s not like idols being a part of Survivor is anything new.
The first formal confessional we got of the newbies was from Karishma who was trying to contain her excitement and stay cool, calm, and collected. I immediately thought this would be ironic foreshadowing, but Karishma actually surprised me with her ability to hold herself to that. Chelsea got some extended talk time too about the mysterious name of the season followed by Elizabeth immediately admitting to being an Olympian (after being called out by Chelsea, she had little choice) and Missy opening up about her battle with a brain tumor. It was euphoric – we were actually learning about the person behind the players? And the first ones we heard from were all women?
The game was afoot not much longer after that as an unlikely trio of Tom, Vince, and Elaine formed when they went into the woods to gather ... well, wood. Tom talked to them about the importance of strength in team and I loved that he emphasized that it came from working together rather than just athleticism. It’s no surprise that Tom has the right outlook on what makes a team/tribe strong, but I was pleasantly surprised he gravitated toward two people who have that strength of heart he was after and he later would become key in saving them both.
Unfortunately, all three made the error of walking away from the majority a little too early and back at camp the other seven looked around and suggested, “strong seven?” Survivor’s a huge numbers game so to immediately split off as three and leave seven behind…that’s some bad Brad Culpepper math right there. I thought, “welp, so much for that threesome working out.” (It wasn’t the first time)
ANYONE KNOW HOW TO BUILD A SHELTER?
When we visited Vokai — no not the Vodka tribe — they quickly had gotten to action like Lairo and we learned a few names such as Lauren, Jamal, and Molly but when it came to the biggest name, it was time to hail to the chief — the chief lifeguard, that is — Janet. Rarely have we seen someone step up to make fire as soon as they hit the beach and actually do it. Janet not made fire, but she made it look easy! Tommy saying she’s got it over Boston Rob was a nice little editing touch as well. I hope he was shaking on the Island of the Idols when he saw the smoke.
Talk about breaking the mold for older women, I can’t imagine this achievement not buying Janet many more days in the game, shattering my cast assessment prediction for her. Instead, we’ve got a new Survivor MacGyver and my Vokai investment is now 100% in Janet showing off more from her “special set of skills” like a lady-Liam Neeson.
Within an hour of arrival, Molly noticed Jason missing from the rest of the tribe as a (hinting?) subtitle labeled her as perceptive. Seeing the name “Island of the Idols,” one could naturally assume there was at least one if not multiple idols hidden on the island, so Jason made himself the first to go look for one all by himself.
You may recognize this as Debbie’s BS detector, but here it doubles as a dumbass detector. JASON! What are you doing? You don’t separate from the entire group just minutes after arriving at camp. Dan naturally did as any player would do and jumped on the bandwagon of bringing attention to Jason’s disappearance, signaling to the rest of the tribe that this guy was dangerous.
At first glance, we’re meant to think “oh, Jason is boned,” but Tai and Dr. Mike are two names that come to mind as players who made a similar mistake yet ended up making it to their respective finales. I still think anyone’s an idiot to separate themselves from the group so quickly, but especially after the eventual scenes with Dan, I’m thinking that him giving Jason “impossible” odds of digging himself out of this grave is more of a “twist” and that it’s actually Dan who will end up buried before Jason.
NEED TO FIND A PERSON
Much like at Lairo, early alliances were quick to come together at Vokai after an outsider was established. Before this group of Molly, Jack, Kellee, Dan, Lauren, and Tommy came together, we saw Tommy talk a lot about making connections with people and got a glimpse of his game in building rapport with Jack, Lauren, and Jamal. Tommy’s definitely one to watch because he looked extremely comfortable in this environment, having an immediate instinct on how to find common ground with each unique individual.
At the other end of the social spectrum we had Jason who wasn’t to be outdone, though, by Noura. I don’t think she needed confirmation that Jason was on the outs but after a (heavily cut) conversation with Jamal, she felt compelled to let Jason know people were talking about him. No, Noura! You’re supposed to let them keep talking!
She said Jason reminded her of some ex-boyfriend, an “authentic, good guy” that she could trust. That sounds like a pretty good “ex,” so something else must have been the reason they broke up (maybe he was a former Survivor who didn’t make the merge). This was a bad move on Noura’s part because she could now be lumped in with Jason in a minority against the other 8. As mentioned, I don’t believe Jason’s doomed, and with Noura’s big heart and bigger mouth, she may have set herself up to soon take his place as Vokai’s first in line to go.
EVERYBODY LOVES ELAINE
Elaine was making everyone laugh with her wit and natural Southern charm but with that came a lot of attention — too much. Across from her, Missy took the approach as the observer and one thing she observed was how the tribe had five really strong women. It wasn’t long before they were off together and decided on an all-women’s alliance. Missy, Elaine, Karishma, Elizabeth, and Chelsea are all people I liked going into this, so I was excited to see them come together. Most women’s alliances don’t make it all the way to the end, but each time you never know. At least there’s no Caryn here to ruin it all because she sucks.
Missy also had a private moment with Elaine to let her know people were talking about her after her walk away from camp with Tom and Vince. I just criticized Noura for sticking her neck out for Jason, so I won’t give Missy a complete pass for doing the same, but I’ll say that I believe Missy had a better read and already knew she was in a good spot within the tribe, so she probably had less to risk by letting Elaine in on this intel.
If the women’s alliance is official, then with just another vote, they’d have a majority, so if anything, this could’ve served as a move on Missy’s part to secure a super tight trust with Elaine and use that to gain numbers in Vince in Tom. In contrast, Noura had seemingly no plans of her own. Still, trying to save someone people are already wanting to get rid of is risky no matter the circumstances.
This was uncomfy.
Dan should have known better here than to start handing out massages without asking. Whether he had harmless intentions or not (I don’t believe he did), that’s not just a courtesy — it’s a requirement. Dan obviously comes from a very loving and touchy-feely world and that’s great, but I was in Camp Kellee here. People in general gross me out and I can only imagine what it’d feel like for some hands that haven’t been washed in days to start rubbing my back, so thanks, but no thanks, Dan.
I’m really glad with where this story next went rather than just leaving it as “creepy Dan likes to touch all the girls.” Not only was it important for Kellee and Molly to vocalize their feelings but also to see Janet support them and encourage them to do so. Kellee spoke with Dan and laid out how she felt, and while they may never become close allies after this, they at least prevented what could have been a very uncomfortable situation both for them and the audience.
Since this was the last visit to Vokai for the night, I’ll throw Molly’s name into the mix as someone for being low-key involved in all of the Vokai action. She had one of the early confessionals, was the first to notice Jason disappearing, stood in on the first “alliance” meeting of the tribe, and she also was connected to this final segment about Dan and some of the other women. I think this was a great episode for Molly because while we didn’t get much deep personal content from her, she looked very involved, and no, I’m not just saying that because she was my winner pick ( ... but mostly for that, yeah).
As Elaine continued to make everyone laugh, Ronnie grew weary of her ability to use that along with her story to win the game. He pulled Elaine aside and told her he wanted to work with her, but she rightfully saw right through that bad bluff. It’s unclear how Ronnie’s social game was looking before this, but he handled this particular conversation very poorly. His body language, the way he spoke to Elaine — everything about him just said “I’m full of shit” and Elaine knew. Not for the first time in his life, Ronnie underestimated someone else’s smarts and it’d end up costing him a hefty pot of dough.
IMMUNITY – IT TAKES A VILLAGE
This was your standard big opening obstacle course challenge that ended in a puzzle, though I appreciated, as has been pointed out by Mike Bloom, that the puzzle was a scaled down replica of the tribal council set. Now, whether that was intentional or the construction crew just accidentally made the huts too small for tribal and were forced to repurpose them into a puzzle, I don’t know.
The tribes were relatively close as they usually are but Janet gave Vokai a slight edge by showing the young'n Dean how to properly use a grappling hook (is there anything this woman can’t do?) Both tribes got to the climbing wall where everyone had a questionable strategy of lying face down rather than with their backs to the board, but thankfully, no noses were broken and they all climbed their way to the last leg of the challenge.
I’d have given the edge to Chelsea, Vince, and Dean on the puzzle for Lairo over Molly, Jamal, and Noura for Vokai, but much like with my first draft pick this season, I was wrong. It wasn’t even close in the end – Jeff made sure to record it as “one of the biggest blowouts ever in a first challenge on Survivor.” I’m never a fan of Jeff’s superlatives, but this one was especially a mouthful. It reminded me of some baseball announcer reciting a wacko statistic like, “this is the most foul balls ever hit in a game on a Saturday in June when it’s a full moon out and both teams were wearing the color blue.” Who gives a shit?
Vokai claimed victory in this first challenge and paraded back to camp as Lairo was held back to be delivered the news that the Island of the Idols did exist and one of them was about to be its first visitor. I’m not sure I’m a fan of a name being drawn at random out of a bag to determine who goes — are we even able to verify all names are in the bag?
If it was 100% production’s pull, I’d have expected to see Tom or Elaine selected, but it ended up being Elizabeth who I believe may be the newest fan in the cast. I figured she had been given enough episodes to watch to at least know who Rob and Sandra were, but a large part of me was hoping she’d see them emerge on the Island and go, “Sweet! New tribemates! What are your guys’ names?” Sandra would’ve probably put her down next to the goats.
ISLAND OF THE IDOLS
We finally made it! Well, Elizabeth did, but her eyes were our own in this inaugural visit to the Island of the Idols. Boston Rob and Sandra greeted her with hugs and led her up to their camp where they held up their right hands and read her “The Oath of the Idols.”
It would not shock me if Rob and Sandra were crossing one set of fingers behind their backs when it came to the “We do not vote” oath because after living on the Island and watching every tribal council, I can’t see them not getting at least a jury vote, but I’ll be impressed if they do end up sticking to this oath word-for-word.
Naïve as she was to what would happen later, Boston Rob offered to teach Elizabeth how to make fire (a skill she should have 100% harnessed prior to the game, but who knows) and said there would be a test later. Rob took the flint and machete to some coconut husk laid out on his gasoline-soaked rock and showed Elizabeth what a fire looked like.
JESUS MARY AND JOSEPH WHAT DEMONIC SORCERY IS THIS!!??
Really? She looks like a cavewoman who just discovered fire for the first time ... ? It would next be Elizabeth’s turn to summon the evil spirits and bring the hot light to life. Sandra coached her through the practice as Rob then stayed back and prepared for the next twist — the test.
Rob offered Elizabeth the chance to earn an idol, good for the next two tribal councils, if she could beat him in a fire-making challenge ... after she had literally just learned how to make fire. For those keeping a tally, Rob had made hundreds of fires on Survivor while Elizabeth had made just one. But yeah, her odds looked good.
Their smug-ass faces to each other said it all — “is this nut for real?”
Rob, of course, smoked Elizabeth and told her she never should have challenged him. I mean, no shit, but at the same time Rob kind of pushed her to do it, and would have kept pushing harder even if she said no so this whole twist is kind of an eyeroll. If all the Island of the Idols is going to be is Sandra and Boston Rob pwning some n00bs and in the most condescending tones instructing them that they shouldn’t have done what they were told to do, then we’re in for a lulzy treat. It’s like a version of Reem roasting everyone as they joined the Edge of Extinction but like that, as much as I fell in love with Reem and as much as I love Sassy Sandra, this large segment of the show was otherwise very boring for me and I’m not going to care for these giant heads overshadowing what would’ve been a fine cast on their own.
FIRST LOSS FOR LAIRO
That’s not the face of someone who just lost the first immunity challenge, but it is the face of someone who thinks it’s no skin off their back. Hehe.
While Elizabeth was away, the first meeting we saw was at the old watering well between Tom, Vince, Chelsea, and Elaine. They had their sights set on Ronnie and felt they had two additional votes to secure a majority. Meanwhile, Ronnie and Aaron (an apparent pair) attempted to pull in Karishma, Missy, Dean, and later Vince as he walked up on them. Their name became Elaine.
Karishma voiced the same concerns Ronnie had about Elaine — that she was a social threat and in it to win it as much as anyone else — but she also wanted to stay true to her first alliance with Elaine and the rest of the women. Vince felt similar loyalty to Elaine but didn’t waiver and instead went back to Tom and Elaine to confirm what he heard from Ronnie. Elaine confronted Ronnie and Aaron about why they should keep her and managed to throw their votes onto Vince — not that she wanted Vince out, but better they vote for him over her.
When Elizabeth came back, all eyes and ears were on her which was unfortunate because she couldn’t have come up with a less believable lie about what happened on the Island of the Idols. Somehow “Boston Rob and Sandra were there” would’ve been less sketchy-sounding than “I smashed open one of these three urns and, uh, then it said ‘no game’ so I lost.” That wasn’t far off from what happened on Ghost Island, but it was mostly Elizabeth’s delivery that was garbage.
Adding to the hilarity of Elizabeth’s return, everyone was frantically vying for her vote…which no longer even existed. She just had to smile and nod along as if what they were asking of her was something she had any control over. It was a kind of awkwardness not unlike that from a favorite show of Chelsea’s, Curb Your Enthusiasm.
BUM. BUM. BUM…
LIKABILITY IS A LIABILITY
I wish the Island of the Idols wasn’t such a black hole of airtime because otherwise I’m unironically in love with the campiness of it. Rob and Sandra secretly sneaking into their spy shack at tribal council as the Lairo tribe dipped their torches into the flame was absolutely hysterical. I mean, they basically turned the set into the Muppet Theatre.
Also, could that shack be any smaller? [insert Chandler Bing GIF here] Sandra’s since said that she and Rob called it the “hot box” but I don’t know that the temperature was the worst of their problems. Depending on what they were eating on the Island and knowing how long tribals sometimes last, I’d wonder about something else…
On to the main event (up for debate this season on what we’re supposed to think that is), Elaine immediately announced that she knew she was in trouble for being too much of herself. Karishma explained that “likability is a liability” — a quote that both me and Boston Rob found clever with him pointing out that she’s smart. Karishma really surprised me this week with her ability to stay cool, calm, and collected like she said she wanted to at the top of the show and spoke well at tribal. I’m going to assume any commentary from Rob and Sandra that makes the cut is important, so that compliment should bode well for Karishma. She clearly isn’t as doomed as I thought she’d be (yippee!).
When asked about the vote, Ronnie cited the cliché catchphrase, “keep the tribe strong” which led to Elaine and Vince getting emotional as they signaled to each other that they were both vulnerable for not fitting into Ronnie’s criteria of “strong.” Ronnie tried relating to their shared hardships by sharing that he’s had to do a lot to make it through life too — his résumé includes working at McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, Sears automotive, bartending, delivering newspapers, trading stocks, dealing cards at the casino, a little bit of kickboxing…
There can only be one Debbie in Survivor, thank you very much, no matter how hard Ronnie tried to steal that spotlight. What was the biggest spotlight-stealer of the night was the exchange of Rob asking Sandra in the booth, “Was it this hard for you?” after a pretty emotional first tribal council to which Sandra instantly shot back with, “Fuck no. I vote you out and that’s it.” And that’s why the queen stays queen.
“I vote you out and that’s it” is a great episode title to signify that we’re back to the game where getting your torch snuffed means you’re out. For good. That finality felt refreshing, although I realized that I am going to miss Reem closing us out every week. To be blindsided 7-2 on the very first vote doesn’t say great things about Ronnie’s game as he officially became the worst poker player to ever play. However, I’d still rank him above Garrett in his potential to play well, but the game has evolved even since Cagayan, and players have a heightened sense about sneaky/shadiness such as Ronnie’s. I don’t feel like we actually got to see much of Ronnie’s rotten gameplay outside of that one conversation with Elaine, but it was enough for me to imagine what the rest looked like – probably best for Ronnie’s sake that it’s left to that imagination. He was a fun character though as an unaware villain — that “First Boots” season’s cast goes stronger and stronger....
NEXT TIME ON SURVIVOR…
Being the one guy to come back to camp who wasn’t in on the vote would make Aaron predictably paranoid, but neurotic Noura looks to be the crazier one heading into next week. We saw some shades of that when she said too much to Jason, but the flood gates apparently open next week. Even if Noura is sent to the Island of the Idols, I’m not sure a lesson from Sandra on how “loose lips sink ships” will be enough to save her. There was enough foreshadowing this week to let us know that ship is already sunk.
Janet – I stan it! Holy shit. All feels right again when I left the episode rooting hardest for the oldest woman in the cast. Within like 30 minutes, Janet had started fire just by rubbing on some bamboo — I’d like to see Boston Rob or Sandra do that! I loved Janet’s commentary and self-awareness on being the older woman and wanting to break the mold of that stereotype, immediately proving how valuable she could be to Vokai. Later, she encouraged the women on her tribe to speak up about the Dan situation which not only helped them but helped the tribe by saving morale. I still am not sure I see Janet making it to Day 39 and winning, but her stock rose significantly this episode and I couldn’t be happier for it. I love being proved wrong on my pre-game picks when it’s for the better…not when it goes the other way. *cough*Ronnie*cough*
Elaine – Elaine was a star as many of us anticipated her to be, but I was stunned that she was such an immediate target. We’ve had people play too much of a long game too early, but damn, was “because she will win on Day 39” enough to justify voting out Elaine on Day 3? I don’t think so, and I’m glad it wasn’t for 8 Lairos. Elaine was as comical as I could’ve expected, but sooooo much smarter. Sizing up Ronnie as a snake as quickly as she did was super impressive. Sadly, I think this only adds to her threat level, but I hope everyone can wait the 20 days like she suggested so we can get many more comedic confessionals and camp scenes out of her – keep it cumin!
Tom – Tom, along similar lines as Janet, established himself as someone who’s got more game than I thought he would. He made the mistake of moving away from the larger group too early, but when his closest allies Elaine and Vince were on the chopping block, he had a large hand in protecting them when he could have easily been a “keep the tribe strong” guy. With Tom being the force that he is, it may have tipped the scales in that direction, so thank Tom we got the outcome we did. I hope he keeps favoring the fun people.
Elizabeth – I can’t not mention the player who spent the most time on this season’s twist. I loved her genuine awe at Rob making fire as if he was Jesus Christ himself, and she has a great spirit with a lot of energy, but man, she is going to get duped so hard in this game that I kind of feel bad about it. Her lie to Lairo was a mess and challenging a fire-making pro after she literally had just learned ... oof. As I now hear people say in the South, bless her heart.
Ryan Kaiser has been a lifelong fan of Survivor since the show first aired during his days in elementary school, and he plans to one day put his money where his mouth is by competing in the greatest game on Earth. Until that day comes, however, he'll stick to running his mouth here and on Twitter: @Ryan__Kaiser