Welcome back on the trail everybody!
Well, we’ve reached the end of our Ghost Island trek, and it was a bit of a bumpy ride on the way to our destination. This season started out pretty strong, culminating in a heck of a first act ending with one of the best merge episodes that the show has ever seen. After that, it was a lot of starts and stops, with a shake-up to the status quo being teased week after week that made watching more frustrating than enjoyable.
Yet, the second half slog that we had to endure was eventually made worthwhile because the finale that Ghost Island delivered us was an exciting and historic one that will have Survivor fans talking for years to come. For one last time this season, let’s hit the road, by running down through the final six and how their journeys came to an end.
End of the Line: Sebastian Noel
Oh, sweet, sweet Sea Bass, lover of pirates and candy. After just chilling out in Fiji for the previous 35 days, he decided now was finally time to make a move, and he had just the tool to do it. The extra vote he picked up last week during his trip to Ghost Island was about to come in handy, as he only needed three people to gain control of the vote with that advantage in his pocket. At first, it looked like everything was coming together for him, initially pulling in Donathan and Angela, then Laurel a little bit later, all in an effort to take out Domenick. Finally, this was his time to make his big move and take out one of the two titans controlling the game, putting himself one step closer to Day 39 with a pretty big resume point to boot.
Then, Angela went and blabbed the plan to Domenick. Sebastian was pretty much done after that, but it was alarming to see just how quickly and completely his plan fell apart. Once Tribal Council rolled around, and Dom outed his plan and pulled out all of his idols, he spun Sea Bass around so much he didn’t know which way was up. Dazed and confused, he bought Domenick’s bluff and was spooked off of voting for him, which in the abstract is a sensible thing to do when somebody brandishes an idol like Domenick had, so he jumped on board the only other plan he knew about, the vote Donathan plan. Unfortunately for him, the real plan was to vote Seb, and the pirate had his torch snuffed by Tribal Council’s end. Honestly, this last gambit was a lot more ambitious and sound of an idea than what I was expecting of Sea Bass this late in the game, so kudos to him for taking a big swing on his last day in the game.
While Sebastian may not have been one of the more strategically minded players, I thoroughly enjoyed him on my screen every week and was glad he was on this season. He was always worth a hearty chuckle or two every episode and every season needs people who can bring the laughs to balance out the more serious players, filling a role held previously by players like Keith Nale, one of my all-time favorites. Also, like Keith, Sebastian is the type of player that, while not a huge threat to win the game, can pull away a couple of jury votes from the major power player should he get to the Final Tribal Council, thus necessitating his departure. Sebastian is the type of player that could sniff the endgame every time he plays, but will rarely reach Day 39, but guarantee lots of hilarity and whimsy along the way.
End of the Line: Donathan Hurley
By reaching Day 37, Donathan lasted a couple of rounds longer than maybe he should have. His shenanigans last week at the Final 7 put him on Wendell and Dom’s radar, but even after that, there were still bigger fish to fry for the power duo. So while the Wendenick duo was busy dealing with other threats, Donathan was running around the island throwing truth bombs and scrambling to put together any numbers he could to try to send one of the big dogs out of the game, and that’s the position he was operating from until his ouster.
A plan almost came together for him at the Final 6 due to Sebastian and his extra vote, but that fell to pieces once Angela spilled the plan to Dom. After he survived that vote, he did an admirable job doing everything he could to try to escape the Final 5 vote, hyping Laurel up as a big challenge threat and even promising Dom that he would take him to the Final 3. That last bit was never going to work, as Dom didn’t buy it for one second, and ultimately he and Wendell deemed Donathan a more dangerous variable than Laurel and sent him out of the game.
While Donathan’s plans never really went anywhere during his last couple of days, big kudos go to him for not going down without any fight. Throughout the season, Donathan reminded us at home that he was there to play to win and proved to be totally sweet and endearing along the way. From the moment he first popped up on screen, Donathan was presented to the audience as an underdog, somebody who was taking a big step outside of his everyday life and into the world of Survivor, and by stepping onto the island he seemed to change a great deal throughout his journey. He had a rocky start early on during that diving challenge in the premiere, paralyzed by a lack of self-confidence, but with the help of his tribemates he was able to overcome any personal mental blocks he had to complete his portion of the challenge.
Fast forward to near the end of the game, and Donathan was playing rather fearlessly, doing everything he could to change his fate and make the game go in his direction. He wasn’t able to gain any traction, but he poured himself into trying to save his game, which is more than can be said for many players who have played the game before him. Plus, he took his ouster like a champ, displaying that classic Kentucky charm and grace as Jeff Probst snuffed his torch. To me, Donathan would make a worthy returnee choice, but even if that never comes, he at least captured the heart of Sia, which should be good enough for any and all Survivor fans.
End of the Line: Angela Perkins
Throughout the season, Angela ran really hot and cold, and that continued throughout this finale, with several times when she looked like she was picking up steam only to derail herself shortly thereafter. She started out the episode in a good spot, being roped into Sebastian’s plan to get out Domenick. Yet, that whole plan was blown to pieces when she told Dom everything, arming him with all the info he needed to dismantle this plan at Tribal Council. So Sebastian went home and Angela easily slid past the Final 5 vote into the Final 4, where again she was equal parts impressive and puzzling.
I actually think Angela did a pretty good job pitching to Dom why he should have picked her to go the Final 3, highlighting how Laurel’s Ivy League credentials might pose a bigger threat in the Final Tribal Council than herself. Alas, that didn’t work and Dom sent her into the fire-making challenge against Wendell. Here, she had an opportunity to gain a psychological edge on her opponent when Wendell expressed his desire to sit at the purple fire-making station, despite being assigned to the orange one. Instead of denying him that mental advantage, however, Angela did the nice mom thing and let Wendell have his way, upon which he went on to summarily stomp her and she hads her torch snuffed because of it.
All of this is to say that Angela had a couple of prime opportunities to change her direction in the game for the better, but she punted on them. But, that’s ok! Different kinds of people play the game in different kinds of ways, and the show has always been about how players navigate the obstacles that they pose to each other. Angela made it just a little easier for Wendell and Domenick to navigate the endgame.
Despite her fumbles near the end, I still enjoyed having Angela on the show… whenever production decided to show her. That, unfortunately, was the big issue with her; she was one of several people who didn’t factor into the overall season-long narrative. When she was shown, she burned bright; her tales of transitioning from military life to a civilian one were touching and powerful, and she now owns the best gross food-eating moment in the history of the show. Plus, she’s the newest member of the infamous Day 38 club, a group with some pretty elite company.
End of the Line: Laurel Johnson
Laurel played the finale largely how I expected her to, sticking by Wendell and Dom all the way to the Final 3. To be fair, she appeared to be on board with Sebastian’s plan before it unraveled at the seams, quickly pivoting to voting Sea Bass out at the Final 6. After that, though, she was in lockstep, cruising through the Final 5 into the Final 4, where it seemed like Dom had a pretty easy time deciding to bring her to the Final Tribal Council. While I thought she argued her game the best that she could, it was clear that she wasn’t going to win, but as fate would have it, she wasn’t destined to be just a zero-vote finalist. She was fated to fill a very special role in Survivor history.
Laurel’s spot as the tie-breaker of the first ever Final Tribal Council tie was already momentous, but now that we know the entire story, I find Laurel’s character arc to be the most interesting out of any player’s this season. She started out on Day 1 as a superfan, ready to make big moves, call all of the shots and soak up all of the Survivor experience. Over the course of 39 days, she slowly morphed into something she probably never imagined she would be: somebody who was letting others call the shots and enabling the power players while impeding any attempt to overthrow them. She thought she was going to play one way, taking risks to launch her to the head of the pack, but instead, the game revealed her to be a much different player, one content to take the safer path to get to the end. In the grand scheme of the Ghost Island narrative, her tale takes on a sort of tragic quality, and her jubilation of making Day 39 turnd to anguish by day’s end, as she found herself in an unprecedented position.
Casting the first ever tie-breaking vote to ultimately decide the winner of the season seems like the most nerve-wracking and tumultuous spot anybody could ask for in Survivor. Not only are you confirmed to not win the game, but you then have to turn around and gift the win to one of two guys you have bonded with on an incredibly intense level. Fortunately, Laurel handled this whole thing with a lot of grace and dignity, and hopefully, one day she can look back on and appreciate her epic role in the final act of the season. Laurel was a total package player whose head was constantly in the game, she just simply chose the path that the viewers deemed less exciting; but instead of being a footnote, now she will be remembered as one of the defining characters of the season, which is its own kind of Survivor glory.
End of the Line: Domenick Abbate
Domenick began the finale like he started the game, feeling the heat of the bull’s eye and looking for any way to get out of the crosshairs. This time, however, he had the relationships, and the hardware, to carry him through the vote. Angela coming to him and blabbing about Sebastian’s plan was obviously a huge blessing for him, but it’s really what he did to thwart Seb’s plans armed with that information that was truly impressive. Everything he did helped in diffusing the situation at Tribal Council to get the target off of him. His bluff with the fake David Wright idol and using it as the real one was particularly inspired. Yes, he caught heat at the Final Tribal Council for grandstanding and showboating a little too much, but I get why he did it that way. He was playing his ass off to get out of a tight spot and his adrenaline was pumping. Obviously, in hindsight, it would have been better if he could have toned it down a notch or two, but that was pure Domenick taking over at that Tribal Council and I don’t think he could have handled himself any other way.
After clearing that hurdle at the Final 6, Dom’s next, and arguably biggest decision of his game, came at the Final 4, after winning the final immunity challenge. His task was clear – he needed to eliminate Wendell from the game, but this new fire-making challenge made accomplishing this feat that much trickier. Watching him wrestle with the decision of who to send into the fire challenge, I realized that there’s more depth to this much-maligned Final 4 twist that I initially gave it credit for. Sure, the strategy of organizing a group to vote somebody off has been eliminated, but the trade-off is that whoever wins the final challenge is now sending one big message to the jury, and they hold all the power in how to craft that narrative.
In this instance, whomever Dom was going to send into the fire challenge, the jury was going to read that person as Dom’s personal champion, the person selected to defeat the mighty Wendell in order to send him to his demise. He ended up choosing Angela, who wound up being a lamb led to the slaughter, easily bested by Wendell in the one on one match-up. Not only did Dom send a miffed Angela over to the jury, but he was left wondering if he could have crafted a better narrative. In a confessional, he toyed with the idea of sending himself into the fire-making challenge, and while the risk would have been huge, the payoff could have been just as big. Eliminating his BFF and claiming victory over him would be an incredible story he could sell to the jury. I don’t blame him for taking the guaranteed immunity, but I wouldn’t have derided him that harshly if he chose to send himself into the flames. That’s an all-in move, and Dom seems like an all-in guy, and since he lost by the slimmest of margins, maybe that’s a risk that’s worth taking.
Going into the finale, in the great Dom/Wendell horse race of 2018, I was giving Domenick the slight edge. If the two of them had made it to the Final 3 together, I thought that the jury would give Dom the nod due to him having the slightly harder path to get there, gaining respect for overcoming the rocky start that he had. Unfortunately for him, that didn’t happen, losing in the narrowest of fashions, unlike any player had before. While that has to be a real bummer for him, especially having that fact cemented by the end of Final Tribal Council, Dom should feel proud of his game. He played with gusto, had great instincts and reads on the other players and lived by some great Survivor tenets (“Fear keeps you sharp” is an excellent creed to live by).
While it’s unfortunate Dom never got an opportunity to get rid of Wendell, including at the Final 4, the two of them will go down as potentially the greatest duo in the history of the game and lost his season in an unprecedented, but strangely worthy fashion. If there’s anything he can hang his construction hat on, it’s how he will be remembered as one of the two dominators of Survivor: Ghost Island.
End of the Line: Wendell Holland
First off, a big congrats to Wendell. His win was well deserved, and the way his victory was decided made for a thrilling end to the season. He didn’t have as many big decisions to make as Dom did during the finale, partly because of crucial challenge wins, but also because of his different style of play. While Domenick was the aggressor of the duo, Wendell was the steady hand, working hard to maintain his image of the confident and unflappable guy he was. The dude just exudes swagger, that’s what allowed him to both stay focused and draw others to him as potential allies. In a game designed to stress out its players as much as possible, it’s remarkably impressive just how calm, cool and collected Wendell stayed throughout his 39 days in Fiji. If he were to bottle up that part of his personality and sell it, he’d had another million easily.
Throughout the season, Wendell had always been a challenge threat, and after a near miss with the immunity necklace last week, a challenge win streak happened at just the right time. Winning at Final 6 meant that, with an idol in his pocket, he was guaranteed a spot in the Final 4, which is maybe what caused him to be a little lax at the first vote. With Dom on the hot seat, Wendell could have easily jumped on board with this plan and gotten his other half out of the game, potentially paving a more accessible path to the ultimate victory. I bring this up as this was the only shot one of them had against the other at Final 6 or Final 5, but I think Wendell was fine not taking this shot because that’s the kind of move that could hurt his image going forward. Having been so intensely linked with Dom up until that point, cutting him then might have been looked at as a dirty move, certainly by Dom and maybe by the jury as well. Plus, he had been in such lockstep with Dom up until that point, what harm does it do him to stick with him for a couple more votes, up until he can either get him out at the Final 4 or beat him straight-up at the Final Tribal Council. It all worked out in the end, so he gets a pass here on not pulling the trigger.
The next two rounds after the Sebastian elimination really exemplified the great play that Wendell has had all season long, and why he is a tremendous Survivor player. After winning immunity again at the Final 5, Wendell was left with an idol in his pocket that served him no good but could be used to gift immunity to somebody else – and that’s exactly what he did. Giving Laurel his idol, even though she wasn’t going to go home, further cemented the bond between them and tipped the scale even more in his favor when it was time for her to cast that fateful, million dollar vote.
Those game moves disguised as generous acts are what Wendell had been doing the entire game, sometimes it was as simple as giving his buddy Sea Bass a cool looking shell, but even when the stakes were higher he was willing be generous, like sacrificing his loved ones visit for a trip out to Ghost Island, or not raising a fuss about losing out on immunity. He looked benevolent and savvy at the same time and showed how his head was always in the game. Then, at the Final 4, when put on the ultimate stage via the fire-making challenge, Wendell displayed his signature swagger, winning the challenge with ease. The moment when he looked over at Dom as if to say “I’ll see you in the finals, bro,” as his flame continued to grow, should have told you all you needed to know about how Wendell is as a player.
He got off to a little bit of a rocky start at the Final Tribal Council – proclaiming himself as the mastermind of the game seemed a little disingenuous to he who he had been throughout the season. By the end, though, he got himself on the right path. Wendell called himself a lover, and all the jury needed was to be reminded of how much they loved him right back.
In the end, Wendell’s win reinforces what has always been the most important part of Survivor gameplay – the social game reigns supreme, and if people like you and want to see you win, then you’re going to win. This time, he just needed one more person to like him better than Domenick, and he succeeded. Wendell’s game may not have been the flashiest, but when he shined, he shined brightly, establishing himself in the history books as a terrific Survivor winner and one we will hopefully see play the game again sometime in the future.
We’ve reached the end of the road for this season, everybody. Thanks for taking this journey with me! Enjoy the offseason!