So done. That’s where I am in the game. On Wednesday, we witnessed yet another episode completely ruined and overshadowed by the Dan controversy, and I’m barely left with any more words to share. My thoughts and opinions remain mostly unchanged since I wrote about my perspective a few weeks ago at the merge, so I don’t feel like diving any deeper down that well.
I fully support conversations being had about it, but at this point, I have no personal stake because I’m neither a part of the cast nor the production team, so my interpretation of a very serious matter is based on secondhand knowledge at best. Something Karishma said in an interview with Gordon Holmes really resonated with me when thinking how to address what’s been going on, and I’ll close this opener with her same two important messages: (1) believe women, first and foremost, and (2) keep your hands to yourself.
Rather than writing a regular full recap, I wanted to take this week to simply highlight the players left in the game and how they’re looking headed into the finale. Especially the final five for their achievement of making it to the finale, but Elaine too for narrowly missing it, deserve special recognition. It’s a shame that with how the episode ended and the dark cloud looming over this season, the mood right now isn’t celebratory. Most of this cast has waited years to play the game, and their extraordinary experience won’t be remembered much for the positives. For them, I feel so sorry because I can’t imagine being in their shoes, wanting to cheer and celebrate but feeling like they can’t show any excitement because of the tone that’s been set by the season.
I’m excited for the final five that made the finale, and if nothing else, I’m relieved that the final days of the game will now be just about these five. Before I get to them, though, I’ll start with Elaine’s big, heroic sendoff:
Amidst a lot of negative energy emanating from this season, Elaine was always a big source of positivity. Casting struck gold with her, and while she was always the first to make fun of herself with names like “a busted can of biscuits” or saying she never knew what was going on at tribal council, Elaine broke the mold of that goofy gal from Kentucky. Elaine is smart as hell and it showed. Her social game was incredible and her reads were always right on the money. Elaine is just a lovable person on her own, but what impressed me is how self-aware she was about it and how she used that in moments like her talk with Karishma about voting for Missy to win favor in the game (that vote may have ultimately been a mistake, but watching Elaine orchestrate it made me go “damn, she’s good”).
With the current state of affairs, I don’t know what Survivor’s future is, but if there’s another opportunity for players to play again, Elaine has to be on the short list because she offers so much in terms of gameplay and personality. She opened up at tribal about how good things don’t often come her way, but I hope this Survivor experience turns that around for Elaine because she deserves only the best in life. She’s a one-of-a-kind class act.
I’ve loved many this season, but Janet is the biggest hero for me. Since day one when she made fire without flint, she’s obliterated the low bar set for her going into this game. She’s been a comfort to all but especially a champion for the women, standing up for what was right at the risk of losing everything in the game — and she almost did. After Kellee and Jamal left, Janet looked like a dead woman walking, but she worked her way back up the ladder and now sits in the finale with an idol — I believe the oldest woman to ever accomplish either of those feats. I’ve pointed out the “oldest woman” note before and I don’t mean to sound ageist or sexist, but it’s no secret Survivor has always been especially harsh to that demographic, so I think it is important to point out and be wowed by how many additional obstacles Janet has had to face and overcome.
For all the reasons Janet is one of the most incredible human beings the show has ever had and an all-around amazing player, I am not feeling optimistic that we’re going to get a big hero ending with Janet winning the game. She’s been called a threat already, and while she still has a strong majority alliance with Tommy and Lauren, this is the time for them to cut Janet. She has an idol that would normally protect her at five, but with Dean’s idol nullifier that must also be played, he’ll end up voting for Janet and playing the nullifier on her whether he’s made aware of her idol or not. Thus, the best ending we could get will likely be squashed within the first hour of the show. However, that won’t be the end of us singing Janet’s praises for her presence on and off the show. I’m not the praying type, but if I was, I’d be praying for a miracle that Janet somehow sneaks her way into the final tribal council and wins.
Admittedly, I’ve been rooting a little more for some of the other “characters” than Lauren, but who do I think has played the best game from beginning to (almost) end? 100% that’s Lauren. Lauren has had her finger on the pulse since the start and has never missed a beat. She’s strategically and socially the best, in my opinion, and per our own TDT data, she never lost a tribal challenge she was a part of, and she’s won the immunity necklace once already for herself. Lauren’s never had her name written down, and it’s not because no one cares about her — it’s because she makes sure everyone is focused on someone getting rid of someone else. “As long as it ain’t me” is partially the game she’s been playing, but she’s also been a driving force in every vote she’s cast, eliminating people that posed personal threats to her game.
It’s hard to “show off” someone who pulls all the strings behind the scenes without having to make those Big Moves™ at tribal council — she did play an idol, though, that she had to do more than just stumble in the woods to find, so that should be at least one thing the casuals can let Lauren add to her résumé. Lauren shouldn’t lose a jury vote, but I think her doom is going to come just before that. Unless Lauren wins immunity, she’ll be in the fire-making challenge. I think Tommy and Noura would both take Dean to the end, and Dean’s dumb enough to take Tommy because they’re bros, probably going in with some stupid argument like, “I won immunity and took Tommy, so he’s here only because of me.” All that said, Lauren needs to be able to win the fire challenge to win the game. The scenario I see happening is the boys watching the girls compete, and Noura is a hard worker at camp who can make fire which may leave Lauren’s to get snuffed, adding her to list of Day 38 boots called “the best to never win.”
Dean has had moments of greatness from a comedic standpoint this season, but he’s also frustrated the hell out of me on multiple occasions. I think I liked pre-merge Dean a lot more because he was just a doofus who wasn’t doing anything to harm anyone, but when he hit the merge after being gifted an idol by Kellee, he got this big ego and invented the idea that he was some huge threat to win the game. This episode will not help that after he won immunity and “won” a coin toss. He’s going into the finale thinking he’s on top of the world which is why he’ll likely think himself unbeatable in the end and be willing to take someone like Tommy with him.
This season probably would’ve been worse without some of Dean’s dumbassery to make me laugh, but it also could’ve been better if he had a little more of a brain. Two fixes that immediately come to mind are tipping off Kellee at the merge, thus being able to idol Dan out of the game once and for all, and just last week when he single-handedly ruined a blindside and let one of the two people he could possibly beat in the end (Karishma) get the boot. I’m sad now that with the elimination of a final six vote, Dean won’t get to stand up and play his second fake legacy advantage unless the salesmen in him tries to sell that he misread the piece of paper and that it’s actually good through five instead of six. We’ve now been robbed of Dean piling all the votes onto himself only to learn the advantage was never real and get voted out for being the stupidest sleuth ever. There may be at least some satisfaction with Dean being genuinely dumbfounded by a 10-0-0 blowout jury vote, but at the cost of so much wasted potential ....
A few weeks ago, I said Noura had a shot, but I think that moment has passed, and she’s back to being everyone’s jury goat. That’s good for Noura because it means she’ll walk away with a heftier heap of cash than 4th or 5th place will get, but I’m not looking forward to any sort of goat slaughter on Day 39 unless we’re talking about Dean. Noura’s smarter than everyone gives her credit for, but sometimes it’s been her execution that’s been sloppy, and I don’t think the jury will take her seriously enough to consider awarding her with the million. I’d give her $10 million if I could for consistently bringing it this season, but I’d be naïve to think the jury would vote for the person who’s been the biggest source of entertainment to the masses. Everyone loves Noura, right? No objections? Mutually-agreed-upon player of the season? Good.
I do hope that if Noura gets to the end, she’ll at least win that fire-making challenge to maybe win some favor with the jury, but she’ll still be facing at least one of Tommy, Lauren, and Janet so I’m not even sure which jury vote she’d pick up – maybe Jamal out of some small sympathy to make give her the solo 2nd place over a tie, but even that’s wishful thinking. I won’t go into the finale with any expectations of Noura winning, but I’ll at least hope she makes it to the end and gives one of the funniest final performances of all time. I’m definitely going to need something to keep me on the edge of
extinction my seat if the votes go as plainly as I predict. I just need Noura to give us a few more nuggets of gold.
“Where are you at in the game right now, Noura?”
“Uh ... final tribal council?”
So the Nouramal response.
I feel like I’ve barely talked about Tommy for most of the season, because while he’s been present in every episode, he hasn’t been notably compelling to me. He’s up there with Lauren as “best player” of the season socially and strategically, and I think he’s shaped his endgame better than Lauren has with essentially three people considering him their number one (Janet, Lauren, and Dean), but the show hasn’t made us root for him on a personal level other than just by presenting that he’s got a good grasp of the game and is always thinking about the next step ahead. I don’t see him getting voted out, and he’ll make great technical winner, but I just wish we were shown more of his personal journey to get there. He has personality, the show just hasn’t been great at showing it — and I’m not talking about those teaching time with Tommy lessons ....
Tommy will be kingpin in this finale, I think. He’ll turn the tide against Janet and then either be the one to leave Lauren to her own fate at four himself or get lucky and let Dean do the dirty work for him so he never technically betrays her before she goes to the jury. I almost feel bad rooting against Tommy because objectively, he’s worthy of the title of Sole Survivor, but it’s just odd that the story of the season has been so much more about the cast’s women and their stories. Of the final five, really, Tommy has probably had the least amount of focus throughout the season. There was never a “Tommy” episode, so then maybe that’s just what the finale will be. If he wins, I guess I hope it is because I’d rather excitedly cheer for a winner than give a congratulatory nod and golf clap. The latter is still probably inevitable.
So, “where are we in the game?” I just laid it out as best as I could. A predictable finish for me would be Janet being idol-nullified at five, Lauren losing to Noura at final four fire-making, and Tommy sweeping the jury votes against Noura and Dean. Then we’ll be whisked away to one of the most awkward and uncomfortable reunions ever because of how rehearsed it’ll end up looking without a live taping. It’s sad that it’s come to this, but I’m ready for this season to be over more than any other in the show’s history. I think we can all agree the last month has been one of the most draining as Survivor fans.
The conversation will, I’m sure, continue after the curtain closes because of the impact it will inevitably have on Survivor’s future, but for a show that we tune in to every week for an hour of fun, it hasn’t been fun to talk about in weeks. I’m glad important issues have been raised, but I would never have wished for events to unfold that made them necessary to be and as I said, I feel so terribly for the cast that this has become their story and that the community is faced with focusing so much on the negatives of the season over some seriously super, special, amazing, incredible people that were a part of it. Island of the Idols may go down in Survivor history as one of the worst, but that doesn’t mean the cast can’t still include some of the show’s best. They survived enough on the island while having had to now endure so much back home — may we all find some rest and peace in the upcoming post-season.
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