Jeff Pitman's Survivor 39: Island of the Idols recaps
Karishma and the power of negative thinking
By Jeff Pitman | Published: December 4, 2019
Survivor: Island of the Idols Episode 11 recap/ analysis

Karishma and the power of negative thinking

Karishma has had a meteoric rise on the fanbase's winner wishlists over the past couple of weeks. On paper, she's had a breakthrough pair of episodes: She found an idol, cast the deciding vote in blindsiding Missy, then saved herself with the same idol this week. But is she really in a better place now, gamewise?

Her idol play was a historically effective one: 7 votes voided, tied for the second-highest total on a single play, ever. Counting those 7 votes, Karishma has now also had her name written down 17 times. That's tied for the 4th-most in a season, ever, and the most for someone who hasn't been voted out (with Phillip Sheppard in Redemption Island).

But that second parallel reveals a warning about Karishma's chances of winning. Up until her idol play, she was almost unanimously viewed by her competitors and the jurors as a goat, someone whose fate is to be dragged to the end for a certain zero-vote finalist slot. That's a problem, especially this late in the game (Day 30). Perception is reality in Survivor.

In Millennials vs. Gen X, we saw the opposite situation with David Wright: Everyone just decided that David was a huge threat who was obviously going to win if he reached the finals, and so he probably would have, which made it imperative for Adam, Hannah, and Ken to ensure he fell just short. Here, if everyone thinks Karishma is a zero-vote-finalist, she'll be a zero-vote-finalist goat until and unless she proves otherwise.

Still, this idol play *might* be enough to shake up that perception. Can it cancel out the existing hostility to Karishma, voiced frequently by Noura: Karishma's frequent hammock time, excusing herself from work in camp with complaints of feeling dizzy, and her overall "woe is me" aura, as an outcast that nobody wants to work with? Let's hope. Karishma's social game has nowhere to go but up, and this is the perfect opportunity to start that upward trajectory.

Even so, it feels like she spun her wheels most of this episode. While Karishma personally approached the Missy blindside as exerting her own power, exerting her authority, Elaine and Tommy each seemed to view it as their move, not Karishma's. (Everyone in the majority is the deciding vote in a 3-2 decision!) Furthermore, whatever sense of empowerment Karishma gained from taking out her nemesis, it didn't lead to action the next day, such as speaking up against Lauren attending Island of the Idols. The note specifically said the decision had to be unanimous. All Karishma had to do was verbally dissent, and she might have had a shot at attending. But she didn't.

She also had a chance to start building some numbers and pull in the newly on-the-outs Elizabeth as an ally. We saw her trying to do that. Karishma even framed her idol play as standing up to Dan, who thought he was calling all the shots. But in the end (see Shorter Takes, below), Dan's vote was the deciding one, and it ended up taking out Elizabeth, that same potential ally.

There's a chance Karishma's idol play will gain her more respect from her tribemates, and that this will lead to alliances, and then to having more control over her own game. Karishma has all the tools she needs to put all this together: she's really smart, she's a fan of the show and knows how it works. She's in her element at Tribal Council, answering questions with tact and skill. She just needs some confidence, and for that confidence to carry over into the camp setting, and some respect and success could well follow.

Let's hope, anyway, because as the final sprint to the finish line begins, the alternative is that Karishma's only reliable ally left is the idol she just played. Can she reconnect with another, and pull off a Ben Driebergen-esque string of idolings? If that does happen, at least that would legitimize that path to the end with the fans, right?

Shorter takes

Karishma and the power of negative thinking

- Once again, Dan ruins everything: While it was difficult to sort out, since CBS didn't show the first-round votes, it appears Dan cast the sole vote for Elizabeth (er, "Elizaleth"), while Karishma voted for Janet. This means that Dan cast the only vote for the person booted this week, and despite her spectacular, near record-setting idol play, the person Karishma wanted to go home did not (and her sole possible ally did, instead).

- Who's a goat, exactly? Dean has won fewer challenges than anyone (tied with Karishma), just 2 of the 9 tribal challenges, and no individual challenges. He and Karishma were also both on the losing Lairo puzzle teams in Ep1 and Ep3. To be fair, Karishma has been the first out in back-to-back challenges, lasting about a minute in each. She's no physical threat. But for Dean to be a "physical threat," the evidence is so lacking that even Detective Dean might notice its absence. Dean's mean % finish in individual challenges is a pitifully sub-par 41.6% (a pedestrian 56% if you ignore his sit-out this week). He's only really starting to seem like a threat because all the actual threats (Missy, Aaron, Jamal, Elizabeth) have now been voted out. Except actual threat Noura, of course, who's at a sterling 69.8%.

We also should note that Dan's performance in individual challenges (26.8% Mean % Finish) currently ranks as the fourth-lowest ever, although we'll hold off on adding him to the leaderboard until he's voted out.

- Island of the Idols or bust: The one consistently positive aspect of this season (except for Jamal's visit, and even that has surprisingly paid off in his absence) continues to be Boston Rob and Sandra on Island of the Idols. Absolutely, their tasks and lessons have at best had a tenuous relevance to actual game of Survivor. But they've been fun, and that's been something desperately lacking on this show since the merge. This week's task, in which the actual labor was in Lauren convincing so many people to sit out and eat (which she pulled off impressively), provided a fun narrative diversion from what would otherwise be yet another boring endurance challenge. The Island and its giant totems are still completely ridiculous, but this endgame would be tough to watch without them.

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, do so in the comments, or on twitter: @truedorktimes

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Exit interviews: Elizabeth Beisel

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