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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Survivor resurrects some bad decisions as Ghost Island premieres

Angela Perkins, Sebastian Noel
Angela Perkins, Sebastian Noel
Photo: Michael Crowe (CBS Entertainment)
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Because The A.V. Club knows that TV shows keep going even if we’re not writing at length about them, we’re experimenting with discussion posts. For certain shows, one of our TV writers will publish some brief thoughts about the latest episode, and open the comments for readers to share theirs.

  • If Jeff Probst is standing on top of a very big rock yelling at a helicopter, it must be time to kick off another season of Survivor. This time it’s Ghost Island, and...how did this show get to season 36 without ever using Ghost Island before? The titular isle is “a graveyard for bad decisions,” meaning bad decisions by the contestants such as unplayed idols and advantages. If there’s another island for bad producer decisions like dividing tribes into increasingly arbitrary categories or bringing Brandon Hantz back a second time, Probst doesn’t mention it.
  • Right off the bat there’s a good decision, as the tribes are just divided into...two tribes of ten, with no particular designation like heroes, hustlers, brains, or no-collars. Each tribe chooses a leader, who in turn chooses players for the physical and puzzle components of the first challenge. But there’s another twist! One of the leaders can decide to bail if he thinks his puzzle-maker isn’t going to get the job done, thus salvaging the fishing gear that would otherwise be lost. Naviti’s Chris chooses to pull the plug on Desiree. Domenick doesn’t agree, and you can tell right away he’s going to be...a presence.
  • Donathan is excited! Domenick is loud! Chris and Sebastian bond over their Florida roots. Jacob has the worst case of Survivor flop sweat I can recall, losing his shoes in the ocean, openly searching for an idol, and pouring the rice into his dirty sock to look for a clue. I suspect he is not going to find a clue anytime soon. Wendell builds a crab trap and warns Dom that Chris may be gunning for him. There are a lot of people here, but a few personalities are definitely popping right away.
  • The first Immunity Challenge involves collecting pieces on an obstacle course and assembling a cube. Naviti breezes through the course while Malolo bumbles, and although the latter tribe closes the gap a bit on the puzzle, it’s not enough. Naviti sends Jacob to Ghost Island, sparing him from near-certain doom. And...what do you know? Jacob does find a clue, hidden amongst an array of Survivor relics that somehow didn’t end up on eBay. He has to risk losing his vote for a chance at power in the game, and this time he’s in luck, sort of. He wins the cursed legacy advantage from Game Changers, but he has to will it to someone on the other side. He chooses Morgan.
  • Gonzalez and Donathan are gunning for each other at Malolo. Stephanie wants to keep Donathan around as a useful ally, but Michael wants to keep the strong together. It’s a pretty typical first-vote conundrum, and Tribal Council isn’t too exciting until Gonzalez panics and gets up to start whispering with her allies. Suddenly everyone is whispering except Donathan, who fidgets nervously. In the end, though, he only gets one vote from Gonzalez, who gets all the rest.
  • But wait, there’s more! I’m all for a two-hour Survivor premiere, particularly when there are this many players to keep straight. Domenick finds an idol in the dark, so any hopes of the show cutting back on the advantages appear to be out the window. Also, why wasn’t Andrea’s idol on Ghost Island? I guess I don’t quite get this twist yet. Morgan finds the legacy advantage in her bag. Jacob makes a fake idol, but nobody’s really buying it. Domenick also makes a fugazi idol, but he has the paperwork to sell it to Chris.
  • Naviti sails through the water challenge, while Donathan is practically bullied into diving for buoys so Probst can have another redemption narrative to overhype. Donathan is sent to Ghost Island, leaving Jacob the clear front-runner for the next boot. Stephanie gets him to admit his idol is bogus, and that Morgan has the legacy advantage. Oh, this guy. Tribal Council is basically all Jacob, and although there’s some chatter about a misfit alliance targeting Michael, the big goofball gets snuffed.
  • A mixed debut overall. I’m not sure Ghost Island amounts to much more than Exile Island with a makeover, but the casting appears to be an improvement on last season, although there are still a few ciphers. The players always matter more than any production twists when it comes to determining a quality season, so I’m cautiously optimistic for now.

My debut novel Charlesgate Confidential is now available from Hard Case Crime.