Over the next few weeks, Inside Survivor is counting down all forty Survivor seasons from worst to first. As always with these kinds of lists, it’s entirely subjective, and we’re sure many fans will have different opinions. This is simply Inside Survivor’s ranking. Join us each weekday for a new entry.
Season No: 36
Broadcast Date: February 28 – May 23, 2018
Location: Mamanuca Islands, Fiji
No. of Castaways: 20
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Survivor: Ghost Island is what I refer to as a three-episode-season. What do I mean by that? Well, it has a strong premiere, an excellent merge episode, and an entertaining finale with a gloriously dramatic conclusion. But a season can not stand on three episodes alone. It’s the parts in between where Ghost Island falters. With predictable gameplay, underedited castaways, and an ultimately uninspiring twist, the season quickly becomes a chore to sit through, especially in the post-merge. Unlike other seasons featured earlier in this countdown, Ghost Island isn’t a nasty, offensive, or particularly dark season; it’s just mind-numbingly dull and unimaginative.
The Ghost Island twist itself is perfectly fine, even if it doesn’t amount to much other than being a way to bring in more advantages and pay homage to Survivor‘s past. It’s sort of an extended version of Exile Island, just populated with Survivor relics. It’s one of the least detrimental to the game in terms of modern-day twists, even if it does eat into the screen-time somewhat. Sure, it becomes a little repetitive after a while, but it’s certainly not the biggest issue with the season. No, Ghost Island‘s main problem is that it’s almost entirely filtered through the lens of just two players, Domenick Abbate and Wendell Holland.
Dom and Wendell not only control the majority of the game but become the first (and only) players to tie at the Final Tribal Council. The moment when Jeff Probst returns with the urn and begins reading the votes on location is genuinely goosebump-inducing. From an editing perspective, you can see that the producers decided to work backwards from this moment, focusing on Dom and Wendell’s evenly matched dominance at the expense of the rest of the cast (save for a side-helping of Donathan Hurley and Laurel Johnson—Dom and Wendell’s closest allies). While this makes for a killer conclusion, it does not produce a dynamic season, and it certainly doesn’t help with Ghost Island‘s rewatchability factor.
As I said, the premiere opens hot, especially with Jacob Derwin’s comedic paranoia, and the conclusion to the Dom and Chris Noble rivalry in the merge episode is wonderfully edited. But there are long stretches of frustrating gameplay—from the destruction of the Malolo tribe in the pre-merge to Donathan and Laurel’s constant flip-teasing in the post-merge. On top of that, there are so many bland characters. Whether this is due to poor editing or bad casting (or both), it’s hard to say. I do feel like the edit could have made more out of personalities like Desiree Afuye and Sebastian Noel. Sadly, the only person outside of the core four alliance to receive consistent airtime is gut-trusting recent divorcee Kellyn Bechtold, who is a good confessionalist but also a key enabler of the dull Naviti-strong gameplay. Everyone else fades into a big, boring blur—even the idol plays this season fall flat (see Michael Yerger’s in episode 9).
Ghost Island is propped up on the strength of Dom and Wendell’s relationship and their friendly rivalry. It’s a battle that comes down to Wendell’s adaptable social game versus Dom’s strategic aggression. Even if we don’t care about anyone else, the tie vote and Laurel’s heartbreaking decision to determine the winner make for a thrilling ending. It’s just a shame the journey to get there is so monotonous.
The tie vote — As mentioned, this is the moment the entire season is built around. For the first time ever, two finalists tie at the Final Tribal Council, which is genuinely surprising. From Dom and Wendell’s shocked laughter to Laurel’s emotional choice, it’s a brilliant cap to an otherwise lackluster season.
Dom vs. Chris — The majority of the pre-merge centers around the Dom and Chris rivalry and culminates in the first post-merge episode. There’s some superb editing as the scene flicks back and forth between Chris and Dom confessionals, each trash-talking the other. Dom eventually comes out on top, blindsiding Chris with an idol in his pocket. Unfortunately, losing Chris, a great source of humor, really hurt the rest of the season.
Wendell’s vote for Chris — In that same merge episode, Wendell says his goodbye to Chris with an instantly iconic voting confessional, begging “The Noble One” to quit rapping and “put the pen down, bro.”
Rice socks — The premiere was such a promising start to the season, and a large part of that is because of Jacob. A self-described superfan (and former Inside Survivor writer), Jacob sadly falls into the trap of Survivor paranoia upon hitting the beach. This paranoia leads to an idol search, part of which sees him pouring out the rice into a pair of dirty socks, only to be caught by Stephanie Johnson.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which season placed at number 31. You can check out the previous entries here.