Survivor: Ghost Island

Historical Perspectives: Learning From The Past

Andy Pfeiffer travels back into Survivor history to look at the mistake of not keeping your mouth shut.

Ghost Island is a unique concept in that it offers a glimpse into Survivor Lore. The relics hidden there provide glimpses into seasons past. Immunity idols from seasons like Cambodia and Gabon litter the rocks, alongside Jeff Probst’s personal collection of torch snuffers (sans the one from Borneo, which was lost) adorning the shelter. It is at this form of Exile where a fan of the show can not only geek out about the history but can also think about the decisions of players that have come before them and where they went wrong. Someone who could have benefited from doing so is Inside Survivor’s own Jacob Derwin, who ended up not only repeating many mistakes of Survivors past but made some even worse ones in his six days in the game.

This season, Historical Perspectives will discern what the castaways should have learned from the mistakes made by the prior holder of a relic and what they can do to improve their luck with it, utilizing other seasons as precedent. With all due apologies to my colleague Jacob, who is awesome, of course, for being the first guinea pig this season.


Sierra was keen to pick up the envelope saying “SECRET ADVANTAGE” on Day 1 of Game Changers. This was after several people had already stepped on it. Andrea Boehlke did so at least twice. Sierra found out when she got to camp that it was an immunity advantage that could only be played at two specific points in the game (the merge and the final six). If she was voted out with it in her possession, that she had to will it to another player. She told nobody.

That is until she let it slip to Sarah Lacina, who was playing both sides, at the final nine. Upon hearing that the fan favorite was in possession of such an item and would will it to her, Sarah’s eyes lit up. She wanted it herself and wanted to con Sierra into still giving her the advantage even after a brutal betrayal. Sierra wanted a final three deal between her, Sarah, and loose cannon Debbie Wanner, but that did not work after Aubry ratted Debbie out for spreading lies about Sarah. As a last-ditch effort to build trust following Debbie’s ouster, Sierra told Sarah about the advantage, prompting a greedy Sarah to flip to Cirie, who was already plotting the sheriff’s demise. Sarah then acted all confused after Wayne’s Dagger appeared for Sierra’s game, hoping that Sierra would will the Legacy to her. It worked. Sarah played her advantage at the Final 6 in the scourge known as Advantagegeddon, keeping her torch lit.


Had Sierra not had diarrhea of the mouth, ironically, she might have lasted longer. Sarah wouldn’t have had a reason to flip and betray someone who wanted to work with her. In fact, if Tai had worked with them and Sarah had used her vote stealer, that alliance could have made the final four a different way than they ultimately did. It was Sierra’s loose lips that cost her, and though there have been far dumber moves in the course of Survivor history that more directly caused their perpetrator’s demise, Sierra all but sealed her fate by blabbing.

Jacob didn’t learn anything from Sierra. In fact, he may have blown up Morgan’s game, too – damn you for that, Jacob! – by openly telling Stephanie who he willed the Legacy to. Yes, the idea that he gets an “advantage” at Ghost Island that isn’t any kind of actual advantage for him is silly, but he could have at least had an ally had he managed to survive a single Tribal Council. That said, him surviving a single vote was unlikely given how he had worse diarrhea of the mouth than Sierra Dawn-Thomas ever will. While Morgan plans to keep the Legacy Advantage a secret, having learned from the fan favorite’s error, she will be unable to because Jacob learned nothing. She will have her work cut out for her.

While Jacob built trust with Stephanie by giving her info, she recognized that no secret was safe with him and that he ultimately would be a liability. Much like Chris felt about Domenick on Naviti, she was also taken aback that he had lied to her about the fake idol in the first place. If Jacob was telling her all this information after having a single conversation with her, who’s to say he couldn’t sell her out all the same? He wasn’t even keeping his own secrets, given how he so publicly activated his trap card after he was Ghosted by Naviti. According to primary source documents (thanks to Gordon Holmes), his obnoxious rant irritated Naviti, too, which was a likely reason why they didn’t care to send him back to the past a second time.



Diarrhea of the mouth is a common reason for someone to be voted out of Survivor or, in cases like that of Cole Medders last season, a way to lose trust with the closest of allies. Certain individuals absolutely have to be kept on a need-to-know basis. Jacob is one of those players. By running his mouth in the first challenge, he was labeled as someone who had diarrhea of the mouth and said what he was thinking to his own detriment. While he couldn’t have learned from Cole or any of the Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers cast’s loose lips – seeing as that season had yet to air when this one was filmed – there are many others whose examples he should not have followed.

Loose lips sinking ships has been a thing since the old school. Even back in Borneo, Kelly Wiglesworth was targeted for sleeping with the enemy, which Richard Hatch interpreted as her feeding information to Pagong once she didn’t vote with the rest of Tagi. Kelly thwarted the plan to blindside her by going on an immunity streak, but she left behind a lesson regarding voting with your alliance. Another comparable situation was one in Fiji, with Rita Verreos of all people. She aggravated tribemates by gossiping incessantly and not picking up on their cues that they thought she was annoying. Worse yet, she threw out a hinky vote for Earl Cole for no apparent reason other than personal preference, which made her an unreliable ally. These two things combined to warrant her pre-swap exit.


Val Collins in San Juan Del Sur publicly made the outrageous claim that she had two idols – one from Exile and one from back at camp. Some of her tribemates were dumb enough to believe it. The one who fell for it the hardest was John Rocker, who had found the idol at camp that day! Val’s claim did lead the guys to split the vote between Val and Baylor Wilson, who had sided with them in the first vote. But Josh Canfield recognized that Val planned to get the guys to vote for Baylor so that she and Jaclyn Schultz could send home Baylor 5-3. Josh, therefore, flipped his vote to force a tie. Because of Josh’s sharp instincts, Val’s plan bombed, and she went home instead, all because she opened her mouth.

Not taking a lesson from Val, Rocker was very vocal at the Hero Arena in the next episode telling Val’s husband, future winner Jeremy Collins, that “I tried to save her! I swear!” This was news to Josh. Later on, Rocker also admitted to having an idol. This was also news to Josh. Why he decided to do the same exact thing that Val did is baffling. After Jeremy turned the entire Hunahpu tribe against Rocker, leading to a war of words at the challenge, Josh and Coyopa had to save face, and they voted out the ex-baseball star. These two back-to-back examples illustrate why, in modern Survivor, you should never tell anyone about your idol or advantage. It just puts a target on your back.

Worse than claiming a real one, Jacob openly flashed a fake idol to the entire tribe, yet didn’t produce the instructions. He made himself a target without the benefit of protection, much like Val. Everyone knew pre-game that Jacob was a superfan because of the look in his eyes. They know he’s the type who would not only want to take the instructions with him, he’d want them framed for his wall back home. By bluffing the fake, he drew more attention to himself, the same way Aaron “A.K.” Knight did in Australian Survivor 2017 with his “Chicken Idol” stunt. The only thing that differs here is that A.K. kept looking for the idol – and found it, leaving evidence that the idol was gone – while Jacob just presumed the fake would be enough to get him another three days. It was not. That said, Jacob didn’t get to see that season before leaving, either. Domenick, trying the same thing with Chris, got to live through Day 6.


Jacob most likely left behind his sock at Ghost Island, representing a series of bad decisions he will forever regret. While it was brilliant to convince Naviti to send him to Exile, to follow up by bragging “Ha! You’ve activated my trap card!” was foolish since it made it plenty clear that he is obnoxious. It may have been this that stopped them from sending him a second time because none of them wanted to work with him. Morgan, who had Jacob to thank for her Legacy Advantage, wasn’t going to paint a target on herself by pushing more than once for him. A loose-lipped castaway like Jacob isn’t worth that risk. If she deduces that Jacob let out that he willed the advantage to her, she might just play it at the merge to get rid of it. It’s worth noting that Stephanie didn’t tell anyone what Jacob told her, which is crystal clear given Brendan being paranoid that she was backstabbing him.

One can compare Jacob’s baffling behaviors to a few castaways. Zane Knight, the first boot of Philippines, was a total trainwreck from the getgo. He asked his tribe to vote him out for failing in the challenge to play for their sympathy. The only one who took the bait was the naturally sympathetic Angie Layton – everyone else was thankful for free passage to Day 4, and the cookie-loving beauty queen was unable to convince anyone else to save Zane and boot reckless leader Russell Swan. Jacob similarly screwed himself by essentially begging everyone to vote him out, but nobody felt sorry for him – they just felt annoyed and felt he was too volatile to be trustworthy.


Being annoying or volatile makes you an easy target if your tribe doesn’t want to put up with it anymore. This is why nobody used Abi-Maria Gomes as a swing vote, also in Philippines, and just discarded her at five. Sierra Reed in Tocantins was voted out instead of being used as a vote because she was too volatile and emotional to be trustworthy and it was getting to the point where the Jalapão Three no longer wanted to live with her. Rachel Ako was out first in Millennials vs. Gen X because she was obnoxious and abrasive at camp, then flubbed the challenge.

Jacob made a lot of mistakes by being annoying in the early game, failing to bond with his tribe and instead of hunting for idols, easily spilling the beans when pressed, and lying about what Ghost Island really gave him. While he does have the know-how and some tools to do well in Survivor, there are a lot of lessons he has to learn. For now, he wins the Survivor Derwin Award, not to be confused with a Survivor Darwin Award.



Superfans need to rewatch this episode to understand why Jacob lost. He made a series of mistakes, none of them on the catastrophic level of Jason Siska, Erik Reichenback, or J.T. Thomas, that when combined blew up in his face. While he wasn’t as clueless as, say, Drew Christy, because he did have self-awareness, he left behind a lot of lessons many future superfan players can take home. One, don’t play too hard too fast – let someone else dictate the pace of the game while you play along with it. Two, don’t be too public about activating trap cards or annoying people. Three, while doing what it takes to get an idol is important, never do so at the expense of your social game. And four, keep your dang mouth shut about any advantages or idols you have (or you sent to someone else). You never know whose trust you might need later. Burning Morgan’s is a bad idea.

It’s hard to see what Jacob did right, but at the very least he tried his hardest and didn’t lay over and die like a sheep. He was at least aware of how others were perceiving him and tried in some way to rectify it, though not by reinforcing social bonds. He learned a lot of lessons from watching himself, and given his knowledge of the game and self-awareness, he can fine-tune his play and redeem himself if given another chance. But for now, superfans need to recognize what caused Jacob’s downfall – and the downfall of others before him – and make sure they don’t make the same mistakes after putting on a buff in Fiji.

Written by

Andy Pfeiffer

Andy is a 30-year-old from Wisconsin, having an English major from UW-Whitewater. He has watched Survivor from the very first episode and can't go a day without running Survivor-related thoughts in his head. When he's not entranced by a computer at home or work, he's probably playing a video game or out and about somewhere. You can follow him on Twitter @IAmAndyPfeiffer.

2 responses to “Historical Perspectives: Learning From The Past”

  1. Jacob provided some nice narration. Perhaps a new question can be asked. Why would a person go on Survivor without knowing how to make shoes?

  2. Looks like Jacob didn’t have the chance to blow up Morgan’s game… she was blindsided before that could ever happen. :-/ she was robbed.

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