Survivor: Island of the Idols

Episode 1 – Hot or Not

Who is Hot or Not after Week 1?

Photo: CBS

Gus and Ali, a real-life couple and fans of Survivor, will be individually ranking the Survivor Season 39 castaways into two categories, Hot or Not, based on who they think has potential longevity in the game. Hots are indicative of castaways who we think played well this week or who are setting themselves up for success; Nots are indicative of castaways who we think didn’t and aren’t. In order to avoid what Gus likes to call “hedging bets,” Nots cannot be given to more than half plus one of the castaways. For example, with twelve people remaining in the game, the maximum number of Nots that can be given out is seven.

Go ahead, hit us with your best shot. We’re probably wrong anyway, but that’s why it’s fun!

WARNING: This segment uses content from the “Next Time On” preview. If you are someone who doesn’t like watching those segments prior to the show, do not read further. You’ve been warned.




In spite of his limited edit, Dean came off well this week. He didn’t have any confessionals, so I can’t really speak to the effectiveness of his game as of yet. Still, the mere fact that he’s not annoying anyone and doesn’t appear to be strutting around like a peacock suggests to me that he’s playing the early game well enough.


With a last name like Kowalski, I half expected Dean to be in a white tank top and screaming Stella into the Fijian night sky. (Streetcar Named Desire reference anyone?) So, I’m surprised at how demure he seemed during the premiere episode.

Dean wasn’t super visible this episode, so there isn’t a lot to say about him. Unlike Aaron, he voted correctly, which is a good sign. However, Dean was in cahoots with the Ronnie/Aaron duo and voting correctly may not be enough to save him. He’s not in a clear alliance with anyone, so he’s a potential easy boot.



I had some concern for Karishma when I learned that Ronnie thought she, he and Aaron were a trio (at least according to his post-game interviews), but rewatching the episode has put that to bed for me. Karishma has a lot of options open to her, and even if she was working with Ronnie and Aaron, her flip to the right side of the vote shows me that she’s got her priorities in order.


Karishma found herself in a tricky spot, torn between two alliances. Ultimately, she found herself in the majority. Plus, if two alliances wanted to have her, she’s clearly doing well socially. Rob and Sandra also described her as smart and, again, they wouldn’t contradict The Queen. Good thing I’m not going to have to sue her for personally injuring my draft!



Elizabeth had a bit of a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t week. Pass up on the challenge from Rob, and you look like a coward in the eyes of the more zealous viewers. Fail the challenge from Rob, and you look like an idiot in the eyes of the viewers. And I don’t buy that she should have known that she could negotiate up the reward. It’s never been a given in Survivor that you can negotiate rewards, so why should she have started to do so now, at the beginning of the season, when she’s being stared down by two of the most legendary and well-known players ever?

Her lie about the island I also thought wasn’t that bad of a play. There’s not much of a good answer in a situation like that, as merely by being sent to the Island of the Idols she becomes an object of intrigue and mystique to her tribe. Comparing it to what her fellow players might know of Ghost Island seemed like a sensible thing to do. And arguing that it’s like Ghost Island but without the theme of prior seasons haunting the players seems like a reasonable assessment.


Listen, when Dory said, “just keep swimming” I don’t think she meant in a fire-making challenge with Boston Rob. It doesn’t bode well, in my opinion, that Elizabeth came out on Survivor without at least knowing how to make fire. That doesn’t spell someone who knows the game to me. 

Now, I liked most of what I saw of Elizabeth’s bonding with fellow tribe members, but I was not super thrilled when she said in her pre-merge press that she wouldn’t scheme. Scheming and plotting are a big part of the game, and if Elizabeth won’t play, she’ll get played.



Chelsea gets a Hot for me if only because her superfan card was showing from the moment she saw the tribe flag and screamed, “NOOOOOO!” Though she got a good deal of content, I’m still getting a read on her game. I do like what I’ve seen, and I think she’s a lot of fun, so I’ve got high hopes for Chelsea. And I think she’s already gotten more confessionals than Chelsea Townsend from Ghost Island, so she’s got that going for her.


Chelsea echoed all of our reactions when we heard the name “Island of the Idols,” and it made me instantly love her. But my biases aside, this woman has had many years to think about her game, and it shows. She got into an alliance from pretty much the moment she got on the beach, all of her content was positive, and her reaction to the vote at the end suggested to me that she was an active participant. I’m just so thrilled to see Chelsea walking that fine line between playing hard and playing smart. It doesn’t look like she’s going to be another ChelSEAT to me!



Somebody on Reddit said something to the effect of “not to be dramatic or anything, but I would literally die for Elaine,” and they’re right. I don’t actually know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing for her game, though. I think for the time being, Elaine is in a great spot. She’s friendly to everyone, she’s a pleasure to have around camp, she’s a hard worker, and she’s able to finagle her way into peoples’ graces so well that she went from being the target to the decoy boot to not even on the table. I worry a little bit about whether she’ll be able to translate that friendliness and joviality into effective cutthroat gameplay later, but for now, I think Elaine is doing very well.


While we’re throwing Janet into the pantheon of goddesses, let’s stick Elaine in there too. Someone on Reddit (sorry, I forget who you were and can’t find the comment again) said, “not to be dramatic, but I would literally die for Elaine.” First of all, this is a fact. And apparently, Elaine made the others on her tribe feel the same way. The fact that Elaine was not only able to save herself, but also managed to maintain all of the members of her alliance speaks volumes. I feel optimistic about her prospects in the game.



Missy is a major force behind the all-girls alliance, and with Ronnie gone, that’s got a really good chance of working out. I’m excited to see what the future holds for Missy.


This little birdie is about to SOAR! Miss Missy Byrd came in hot this episode. First, she got into an all female alliance that has set my little feminist heart on fire. She also got to share her incredible story with the world and make us all fall in love with her. Lastly, she voted correctly, which is crucial in the early game. I’m eager to see how Missy does going forward, and I think we can expect good things!



I think I read this guy right. I’m still a little worried that he might overplay his leadership role—he mentioned being used to being a Captain several times in the episode—but I really enjoyed what I saw of him, and it seems like he’s been more or less able to blend in with his tribe. That combined with the fact that he was able to switch the vote to Vince simply by refusing to vote for Elaine suggests to me that he’s got a good deal of sway within his tribe.


What a whirlwind of a first episode for Tom! Not to play into stereotypes, but I was a little worried that Tom would be another hyper aggressive alpha male athlete. Color me surprised when Tom instantly bonded with the other hard workers in the group, Elaine and Vince. I then began to worry that his game might be on thin ice when the three were the subject of discussion back at camp. However, Tom was able to keep both of his newfound allies in the game. My one worry for Tom is that, should Aaron go this week, he may not have a ton of meat shields around in the later game. But that’s a problem for another day. For now, his game is a beauty, eh.



Poor Aaron thought he was going to be able to just roll through his tribe and do the “it’s us seven” thing, and that just… didn’t work at all. He’s the only person who was left out of this week’s vote (not counting Ronnie, of course), and it seems like he’s got nobody to work with. I think his tribe might choose to keep him for his strength, but that’s a maybe at best.


Aaron came in a little too hot, and not in the Hot or Not sense. He hitched his wagon to the wrong alliance, and that can be a death sentence in the early game. However, Aaron’s physique might be his saving grace. The tribe will need his strength early on, and if he can prove his worth, he might be able to save himself. I think, sadly, Aaron is going to be cannon fodder in the early merge, and his tribe may use him, abuse him, and lose him.

Vince copy


I really do like Vince, and I think he’s playing a decently good game, but I could see him going in the short-term. He seems to be the least valuable member of the hard-workers’ alliance due to Elaine’s connection to the girls’ alliance and Tom’s apparently being a central figure to the tribe. As far as I know, Vince doesn’t have any other connections beyond those two. I’m sure that he does and that the episode just neglected to show them, but I’ve gotta work with what I’m given.


First, Vince totally saved himself from elimination, and there are probably other candidates *cough* Aaron, who will be ahead of him for elimination. Vince may still be in a little danger, but Sandra commented during tribal that she likes Vince, leaving me to believe that he may be someone to watch. They’re not going to show the Queen being wrong! Vince is in good with Elaine and Tom, and the majority chose to save him over a stronger player, he must be doing something right!




An amiable, funny young guy who can catch food? I don’t see him going anywhere any time soon. His blossoming partnership (?) with Tommy is also promising, and it makes me happy to see a Jack/Tommy duo that I actually like following so closely on the heels of Big Brother 21’s Gr8ful.


Like all the surfer bros of Survivor yore, Jack has had a strong social game at the start (even though we didn’t see too much of him). I worry a bit about his relationship with Tommy going the way of Gavin and Erik in Edge of Extinction, but at least one of them made it to the end, so things still look good for Jack. Regardless, I don’t think he’s going anywhere anytime soon.



Ali really talked me down on Molly in the preseason, and so far, I regret having changed my mind. I don’t want to say that I’m 100% back on the Molly Train, but I really enjoyed what I saw of her this episode and am excited to see more from her.


She might be my favorite Molly since my American Girl Doll, and that’s saying something because she was the one who had glasses just like me. Molly smashed the first episode, making great connections and having great overall reads. Not only did she have great reads, but others also commented on her perceptiveness. That indicates to me that Molly’s shrewdness is going to serve her well going forward.



Very little from Lauren this week. I don’t really feel qualified to say whether she’s playing well or not, but she’s certainly playing better than a lot of other people on her tribe, so I don’t see her leaving any time soon.


We didn’t get as much Lauren as I hoped in this episode, but I feel like that probably means she isn’t going anywhere any time soon. She’s in a good alliance, and she’s smiling in literally every frame. Looking good!



I really enjoyed Kellee this week, and she’s well within her rights to not want Dan (or anybody else, for that matter) touching her, but I worry that her standoffishness might work against her in the long run. Janet really did her a favor when she told her to go talk to Dan about how she felt— that could have been the beginning of a major rift on the season—but it remains to be seen whether Kellee’s germophobia and aloofness will hinder her game or not.


She handled things very well with Dan, don’t get me wrong, but part of playing Survivor is showcasing your flexibility. Germaphobes make great doctors, nurses, or custodians, but they make terrible Survivor players. I have hope for Kellee, but she’s got to learn how to go with the flow before she’s let go.



I’m so happy we got Janet on our draft. The woman is incredible. That is all I have to say. Hottest of the Hots (not actually the hottest of the hots, but way up there).


Janet joins my pantheon of older woman queens: Reem Daly, Chrissy Hofbeck, Lauren Rimmer, Natalie Cole, Cirie Fields, Sandra Diaz-Twine, Denise Stapley, Tina Wesson… the list goes on. When in Survivor older women are seen as easy pickings, it impresses me all the more when they go out and rock it! Janet came out strong with building a fire out of just bamboo (especially when Elizabeth didn’t even know how to make fire from flint). Then, Janet lassoed the challenge and my heart. Janet saved her own game from drowning in the older lady curse.



I kind of understand the logic behind going straight to the guy who’s on the outs and trying to align with them, but then again I mostly don’t. Noura is making waves at a point where she really shouldn’t. Though it can be a good idea to connect with the outsider (see: Wendell discouraging Sebastian from targeting Domenick in Ghost Island), I worry that Noura is going about it entirely the wrong way.


So… let me get this straight… Noura wanted to save Jason because he reminded her of an ex-boyfriend? I don’t know what her ex was like, but if any of my exes were out there, I’d bury them faster than Rupert buried his tribe in their shelter in All Stars. Noura reminds me of a young Debbie, and it looks like she may be in for a rough next episode. I think Noura’s going to get shown the door… ah.



My joking assessment of Dan in the preseason was that he would three-putt his way off the island, and so far I’m not feeling too off of that assessment. Touchiness aside, Dan’s playing a really aggressive game really early, which can be a good thing—it keeps the target off his back—but only to the point that it then comes full circle and starts pinning the target *back* on his back. I can’t help but feel that Dan’s nonstop relationship-building and insistence that Jason be a pariah for leaving camp will ultimately come back to bite him.


I expected a lot of things from Dan, but I didn’t see Handsy Dansy coming. In all seriousness, I thought that this rather awkward moment was handled really well by all involved. I’ve got to hand it to Kellee for not letting things get out of hand. Instead, she took Dan by the hand and helped him become more hands off. But in a game that’s known for getting hands dirty, could someone use this moment to get the upper hand on Dan?



Again, very little from Jamal this episode, but I liked what I saw. Especially how he went down the slide. That looked fun. Until the end of it, anyway.


We didn’t see a ton of Jamal this episode, but what we did see of him was everyone describing how much they like him. He got into the alliance without even being present, which is an indication of great social play.



Yeah, Dan overreacted to Jason going idol hunting, but also, Jason shouldn’t have gone idol hunting. There’s no perfect way to play the first few days of Survivor, but if Dan highlighted one extreme, Jason appears to have highlighted the other. It remains to be seen if he can dig his way out of his hole (e.g., if Dan was right or not about him being “done.”)


Oof. Oof. Oof. A rough first episode for Ross Geller-Ted Mosby-Charlie Sheen-Rob Cesternino… Jason made the classic mistake of searching for an idol too fast. Now, that could go the way of Jacob Derwin and Tony Vlachos 2.0, or it could go the way of David Wright or Mike White (hey, that rhymes!) Either way, he’s got a low floor and a high ceiling at this point. But this was a terrible look for him, and so I’m going to give him a Not.



Tommy seems like a lot of fun. Not a ton of gameplay from him, but a huge amount of personal content and sharing of trust and personal stories. I expect to see a lot more fun stuff from Tommy.


This red head’s on fire! My fourth-grade teacher was one of my favorites too (Hi, Mrs. Busby!), and he quickly bonded with Jamal over their mutual love of fourth grade. But he didn’t stop there, because he bonded with Lauren over his engagement (congratulations!) and then had Jack approach him about an alliance. On top of all of that, Tommy was given an opportunity to articulate his social strategy. I think he’s in a good place until at least the swap.


GUS: Dean did nothing wrong.

ALI: Hello to you too… It’s not about Dean doing anything wrong. It’s that I don’t know anything about the guy. Who is he aligned with? Who likes him? Who hates him? I can only guess. Being irrelevant in a 90-minute premiere isn’t a good sign. And edit aside, he wasn’t looking like he was landing anywhere solid.

GUS: But he’s not blowing his game up, either. You’re certainly right that he’s not setting himself up for massive success, but how many times do we see people just obliterate themselves on day one? Dean’s lying low is probably what’s best for his game at this point.

ALI: True, but I think that as a young, physical male, he’s going to be in trouble at the merge. He needs to find people who will be in his corner, or he’s going to struggle. I’m not seeing longevity yet in his game. It’s hard, though, when we aren’t seeing much of his game, to really give him a fair assessment.

GUS: Sure, but we’re not at the merge yet. I think the tough thing with Dean is we’re forced to do nothing but conjecture: he’s just doing what he’s been doing, and we don’t really know what that is. I agree that from a content perspective he’s pretty much doomed, but that’s an Edgic discussion rather than a Hot or Not discussion. 

ALI: Yeah, I don’t think we are going to make much headway on that. Shall we discuss Vince? I was going back and forth about where to put him. On the one hand, it’s not great that he’s a target so early. He’s not going to come in and be a challenge beast (or maybe he will?). But he was able to endear himself to people like Tom and Elaine. People chose to keep him over Ronnie, and that means something. I worry that he may be a target should the tribe lose again, but I’m hopeful for Vince. I also thought that he and Elaine were able to make the inroads they needed to survive being the first boot, and that’s commendable. In the end, I took a risk with Vince, but something is telling me that he’s going to survive this, and if he does, I think he’ll be in a really good spot come the merge.

GUS: Honestly, I am pretty high on Vince, and I don’t think he’s in a ton of danger since Ronnie put himself out there as such a blindingly bright target, but I do worry that he’s low on alliances. The girls’ alliance protects Elaine and the rest of the girls, Tom seems like a good guy to keep around (for the time being), Aaron is toast, and Dean is harmless. After Aaron, Vince seems like a not half bad next target. I’m not saying he’s DOOMED. I’m just saying it’s never good to be the decoy. Especially not the double-decoy turned real boot turned decoy again. If Ronnie hadn’t scuzzed everyone out, we might easily have lost Vince.

Also, let’s say that Lairo keeps losing Immunities and decide they need to keep the strong players. Vince is sure a hard worker, but he might be a target in that scenario—especially if the girls decide they want to keep one another safe. That limits the targets to Dean, Vince, Tom, and Aaron. Aaron is stronger than Vince. Vince has a good chance of going in that scenario.

ALI: I guess it depends on how well Vince is able to integrate himself with the rest of the group. I think that Aaron has put himself into a pretty bad spot and will, in my opinion, be the likely next boot if they go to tribal. But I definitely think that Vince has an uphill battle until merge, but I thought he had a nice showing this episode and I’m hoping this doesn’t result in a Lyrsa for me. I just had to give him a Hot for being able to save himself.

Alright, do you have any first impression winner picks?

GUS: I’m into Tommy. I’m also into Elaine (though I think she’ll burn out in the merge through no fault of her own) and Molly. How about you?

ALI: I’m feeling really good about Janet, Missy, Molly, and Tommy. But gut instinct, I think Janet or Molly might have this one. Alright, who are your picks to go this week? For me, they’re…

Vokai: Noura

Lairo: Aaron

GUS: For Lairo, I was going to say Aaron, but you took him, so just to put you on tilt, I’m going with Vince. And Vokai, I was going to say Noura, but you took her, so… Dan.

Who’s definitely safe? I’m saying:

Lairo: Missy

Vokai: Molly

ALI: Definitely safe…

Lairo: Hmmm this is hard… Chelsea seems like she’s in a good spot. Let’s go with her!

Vokai: Tommy

Alright! Join us next week to tell us why we were wrong! That’s all folks!

GUS: See ya!

Written by

Alexandra Shields

Alexandra “Ali” Shields is a sketch writer and playwright from Chicago and a graduate from Northwestern University. Alexandra has published humor articles with The Second City Network and Alexandra’s play, Twelve, won first place in the Jackie White National Memorial Playwriting Contest in 2018. Ali writes Inside Survivor’s weekly Hot or Not feature with her fiancé Gus.

Gus Schlanbusch

Gus is a Chicago-based theater artist and Survivor fan. He and his fiancée Ali also co-run a small theater company and produce a podcast about The Wheel of Time called “Wheel Takes.” When he’s not busy with all of that, he’s probably playing board games. Gus writes Inside Survivor’s weekly Hot or Not feature with Ali.

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