Welcome back to the trail everybody! Straight up, we got a fantastic episode this week. There was exciting strategic posturing, a cool new Ghost Island game, and smokin’ hot rhymes, all wrapped up in a great, compelling narrative of two bitter rivals, engaged in an epic battle that will go down in Survivor history. In other words, everything you could ever hope to have in a top-tier Survivor episode, and an excellent showcase for why the show can still be so strong, 18 years in. Without further ado, let’s hit the road!
Fork: Two Battering Rams
Before I get to any of the decisions made by the two warring factions this week, I want to heap some praise towards the Survivor editors, who crafted one heck of an entertaining episode from start to finish. The Domenick versus Chris feud had been simmering throughout the first half of the season, and knowing it would all come to an end this episode, the editors went all in on this story, zeroing in on this conflict and presenting it in all of its glory. This episode was paced so perfectly right from the beginning, not wasting any time merging the tribes together and getting to that first summit between Domenick and Chris, organized by Wendell, who so desperately wanted to bring these two guys together and not go the “nuclear option.” Once it became clear these two weren’t going to see eye to eye, the show cut to the first commercial break with a very ominous feeling as two sides were preparing to go to war.
From that moment forward, the tension continued to escalate, no better represented than the scene where Chris and Dom were separately holding court. The editing on this scene was brilliant, with the piece de resistance being the one Dom confessional venting his frustration at Chris’ ridiculousness, and the audio bleeds into a follow-up Chris confessional where he drops another goofy quote about Dwayne Wade. Fantastic stuff all around. Just like with the twists, the Survivor editors have gotten more experimental over the last few years, taking some swings with how they present certain story moments, and this particular moment was one where they absolutely hit a home-run.
Sure, a common criticism of this episode could be that pretty much everybody outside of Chris/Dom/Wendell got left on the cutting room floor, but I say it was fine to leave most of the players out and go all in on this story this week. This epic feud was going to be paid off by the episode’s end, so might as well give it the proper conclusion that it deserves. Plus, this conflict between Chris and Dom seemed to consume all of island life, with all of the other players being sucked into the vortex of this battle to the point where it became their stories as well. Hopefully some of the stories of the quieter characters begin to pick up, but for this week it was all hands on deck to tell the story of the great Chris/Domenick feud of Survivor: Ghost Island.
Fork: If You’re Not With Me, You’re Against Me
Coming into this episode, I was a little unsure about where Wendell would side between Chris and Dom, considering he and Chris moved away from Domenick over to the Yanuya tribe for a hot minute, furthering the bond between the two of them. So, it wasn’t surprising when he tried to play diplomat and bring the two warring parties together, and it also wasn’t surprising when the peace talks fell on deaf ears. For their parts, both Wendell and Domenick tried their best to try to reach a truce with Chris, but he just wasn’t having it. Furthermore, Domenick’s rhetoric of “we can kill each other later” was a particularly good one. Any line about a renewed alliance would ring as disingenuous, better to be upfront and lay out your plans honestly and hope the other party would bite. It’s a difference between playing nice while secretly scheming to get the other guy out versus openly acknowledging their feud but delaying it for the purposes of making a couple of easy votes to keep each other in the game a little bit longer.
Unfortunately, that tactic didn’t work, so it was up to Domenick and Wendell to amass an army that could overpower Chris and whatever forces he scrounged up. As it turned out, they managed to pick up everybody in their crusade against Chris and showed off some nifty Survivor skills in the process. More than anything, it’s clear that these two are both playing a pretty stellar social game right now. On paper, Domenick might fill the aggressive, East Coast guy slot popularized by Tony Vlachos, but Domenick doesn’t have the same frantic energy as Tony had (frankly, nobody does) and seems to exude calmer, steadier vibes than at first glance. Oh, he can still get worked up from time to time, as his feud with Chris certainly showed, but that’s where Wendell steps in to calm him down.
Whereas Domenick may be a 6 or a 7 on the steadiness scale, Wendell is a 10. Every conversation he’s in, from talks on the beach to Tribal Council discourse, he seems unflappable, displaying an ease in talking and connecting with people that draws other people in. We saw this in the chat he had with Sebastian, Jenna and Libby as he pushed for “democracy” as opposed to Chris’ “dictatorship.” Being the guy that everybody feels comfortable talking to is a skill possessed by many Survivor greats, which bodes well for Wendell’s future in the game.
Another thing that seems to be working out well for players recently? Grand theatrics at Tribal Council. This is a spot where Domenick absolutely fits the Tony mold. Having already been engaged in a rivalry by a very vocal opposition, Domenick can afford to move around in that role a bit and have these over-the-top displays of emotion at Tribal, because his beef with Chris is so clear that everybody knows where these emotions are coming from. Plus, he’s a big fan of the show and probably relishes the moment of putting on a show at Tribal, so his gregarious retellings of his battle with Chris allows him to have some fun as well. For some players, being very vocal at Tribal Council could set off alarm bells in other players’ heads, but Domenick had a little bit more leash to act out without getting other people panicked. Now that Chris is gone, though, he will have to be a little bit more careful with how he presents himself or he may find himself back on the frontlines of the Survivor battlefield, heading into the next fight against his best wishes.
Everybody Not Named Chris/Domenick/Wendell
Fork: Finding Cover in the Crossfire
Quickly, I wanted to touch on the decision of the other ten players, in the sense of why they picked Domenick over Chris. On the surface, Chris seemed like the most loyal and straightforward player, while Domenick seems more cagey and shifty, so I was a little surprised everybody threw their lot in with Domenick. As I said before, Domenick and Wendell must be working their social games pretty well, but I also suspect that Chris may have done his fair share to push people away. During the pre-Tribal scrambling, Wendell lamented that Chris’ ego had become too much to deal with and I can imagine other people feeling the same way.
Amongst all the alpha-male posturing, one scene in particular that stood out was the discussion between Kellyn, Angela, Desiree and Chelsea, aka the OG Naviti women. Their discussion of using the Chris/Dom battle as cover for their own plan of taking out an OG Malolo was a clever red herring that I fell for (that combined with Libby’s “I feel safe” confessional) and may be foreshadowing of things to come.
Fork: Pressing Your Luck
Simply put, I loved this week’s Ghost Island visit. As soon as Chris started reading about a clandestine trip under the cover of night, I got excited. Once Chris arrived, I thought everything about this iteration worked. Visually, the setup looked stunning, being completely lit by firelight to give the set a spooky vibe. As for the actual game, I thought it was a clever improvement on the games of chance the show has done at Ghost Island so far. Essentially, it was just an A or B choice times five, but this one made for better TV because there were more choices to make, with the suspense building with each choice. Or at least would have built with each choice, since Chris blew it at the second spot, which speaks to the one improvement I would have made…
It looked like Chris had to move through each row sequentially, with a good and bad bamboo in each row. I would have distributed the good and bad notes randomly amongst the ten tubes, that way the suspense could have really built each time Chris pressed his luck and chose a bamboo. Other than that, this was a really fun sequence and speaks to the creative, outside-the-box ideas that production is throwing into the show, just to see if it could work. I don’t think we will see anything as cool as this with Ghost Island again this season, but it does have my interest peaked about what the rest of the season has in store.
Not enough can be said about Wendell’s voting confessional. Everything, from his delivery to the way the show let it run unedited, was just fantastic. An instant classic to be sure.
Not to be forgotten, Domenick’s voting confessional was pretty good as well, evoking the great shouting confessionals of players like Crystal Cox and Jonathan Penner. Always a fun bit of flair to see.
While I was excited to see another Survivor relic appear this episode, JT’s ouster from Survivor: Game Changers is not the most iconic thing that he’s done with a Hidden Immunity Idol. Maybe the idols from Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains have been lost to the Survivor gods.
End of the Line: Chris Noble
What did Chris do wrong? Quite frankly, a lot. Having joined the one-and-done after the merge club, Chris was charging full steam ahead into his first Tribal Council, only to have his torch snuffed just as soon as it was lit. His downfall could essentially be boiled down to one classic Survivor mistake, putting trust in other people and believing the relationships he had build would come through. However, that mistake is magnified by something that is uniquely Chris Noble: unwavering self-confidence. In his mind, he is this awesome, studly alpha-male that, in his regular life, people probably are drawn to and want to spend time with, so naturally this would apply to his Survivor life. Yet, that self-confidence became self-crippling, as he seemed to make one social or strategic faux pas after the other.
During the initial peace talks with Domenick and Wendell, Chris committed the classic Survivor sin of not saying “yes” when presented with a plan, thus setting the war between him and Domenick in motion. Then, after the challenge, he took all 11 non-Domenick and Wendell individuals to the water-well to hash out his own plan. This not only further cemented the line in the sand but threw it back in Dom and Wendell’s faces that he had everybody in the group against them, only galvanizing the two of them more to strike back against him. On top of all of this, Chris didn’t play his Hidden Immunity Idol, despite all of the red flags that sprung up around him (Dom loudly casting a vote for him and playing his Legacy Advantage would seem to be good signs to bust that thing out). He fully believed that his allies would come through for him in the end.
Ultimately, they did not, and while Chris might have suffered an ignoble defeat, his character is one to be celebrated. From the beginning of the season, he stepped into the Survivor universe a fully realized version of himself, a mix of pretty boy confidence and swagger with a mature sensitivity. One moment, he could be boasting about his proficiency of “tossing the rock” and another he could be reaching inside himself to bring out some raw, honest emotion to talk about his sick mother. In a lot of ways, Chris’ character harkens back to one of the great characters of all Survivor history, Coach Benjamin Wade. Both had this startling mix of bravado and sensitivity while also revealing themselves to be accomplished wordsmiths. Also, like Coach, the editors sometimes (okay, a lot of times) portrayed Chris as ridiculous and over-the-top, encouraging the audience to laugh at him rather than with him; but, also like Coach, the editors only messed with him because they clearly loved what he brought to the show.
Eventually, Coach learned to lean into all of his ridiculousness in his subsequent appearances, but his first showing in Survivor: Tocantins remains his best solely because that was pure, raw, unfiltered Coach and he became the most larger-than-life character the show had ever seen. That was Chris Noble this season. He may not have come across as the smartest or most-likable, but he was the purest, raw, unfiltered version of himself, and those are the people that pop the most on Survivor. Hopefully, when he makes his inevitable Survivor return, he comes prepared with some more fresh rhymes.
That’s it for this week, see you guys out on the trail next week!