[This recap contains spoilers for the Wednesday, April 25 episode of Survivor: Ghost Island.]
Everybody lies in Survivor. It’s how the game is played.
Not only does everybody lie in Survivor, but nearly everybody who lies in Survivor gets caught. The absolute best case scenario is that nobody knows you lied until Final Tribal and you get a jury that respects that lies are part of “outwitting” and they give you a million dollars for lying.
More frequently, castaways just get caught in lies and sometimes it leads to them being sent home as untrustworthy, when the reality is that they’re being sent home specifically for being ineffectively untrustworthy because, as I already said…
Everybody lies in Survivor.
I’m not sure, though, that I’ve ever seen a lie unfold on Survivor in quite the way Desiree’s lie went down on Wednesday’s episode.
The first half was pretty basic. It wasn’t even a lie.
Desiree began the episode by sitting down with the four remaining members of the Malolo alliance, said that she worried she was at the bottom of the Naviti majority of seven and made a proposal that they target Kellyn first, followed by Domenick and Wendell.
This was very straight-forward. And probably not flawed in any meaningful way. Was Desiree at the bottom of the Naviti group? Probably. Is Kellyn a big threat, perhaps a bigger threat than Dom and Wendell because everybody knows Dom and Wendell are big threats? Perhaps. And that’s with Desiree not even knowing that Kellyn has an extra vote from a visit to Ghost Island. [Or does she? I can’t keep track.]
Desiree was doing exactly what any castaway in her position would or should do.
And Laurel, in the Malolo minority but also in a secret alliance with Wendell and Dom and Donathan, did exactly what many people in her position would do. She went and told Dom what Desiree was saying and Dom believed her.
Here’s where things get murky. Dom told Kellyn, which again is what you do. But Kellyn, so boastful about her position of power in the post-merge game, wouldn’t believe. Couldn’t believe. Refused to accept that Desiree and also Chelsea, who had been with her from the beginning, might be conspiring against her. This is bad gameplay from Kellyn. If anybody in this episode did anything wrong, it was surely not Desiree or Lauren, but rather Kellyn for her myopia, because Kellyn went back to Desiree and confronted her, but not even for having done something wrong, but practically begging her to lie and say nothing had changed.
This is where things would normally descend into initial chaos and, indeed, they did. Desiree protested she’d said no such thing. Laurel said she did. Donathan and Michael and Jenna all agreed to exactly what Laurel had said Desiree proposed. This was easy for them for two reasons: First, Desiree had said those things. Second, If you’re Malolo in a 7-4 hole and some Naviti member inexplicably wants to shift a target and put it right on her chest, you’re probably not going to say, “Nah, she’s fine. Definitely trust her and vote one of us out.”
And normally, at this point, the person in Desiree’s position makes up some justification or explanation, throws herself at the mercy of the majority alliance and tries coming up with some piece of information as a peace offering. Normally the player caught in the lie would make up some semantic distinction so that when people said Desiree suggested one thing, she could reply that what she meant was something different, but easy to misunderstand.
Desiree, however, stuck to her guns. She just said that she was telling the truth and Laurel and everybody else was lying.
Over and over.
She banked her entire game not on dealmaking on conciliation or personal leverage and promises, but on the other members of her alliance trusting her over the four people not in her alliance for the sole reason that she was in their alliance and they were not. She stuck to her lie without wavering even as everybody else told and sold the exact same (true) opposition narrative.
It didn’t work.
With 11 players remaining and Angela losing her vote after an ill-fated Ghost Island game of chance, Desiree got eight votes. Desiree and Chelsea voted for Michael.
We missed the part where Domenick talked Kellyn into common sense voting and resisted Kellyn’s ill-conceived girl-power “Stop telling us women how to vote and let us vote Michael out” demands. Kellyn made a strategic hash of this episode, because it’s not like she was wrong that Wendell and Dom were being autocratic and steering the votes and probably ignoring the women in their alliance. This, however, was not the time to pick that fight. All of the lying and fighting in the last 10 minutes came because Kellyn stubbornly wouldn’t acknowledge the possibility that Desiree, part of her tribe from the beginning, could possibly be lying to her. Kellyn going to Desiree and accusing Dom of being paranoid and suspect that Laurel was the one lying was a botch. Desiree could have just been quietly backdoored, but Kellyn had to make a mess of everything and we were denied her moment of resignation.
We’ll never know if Desiree could have said, “I’m sorry, but getting rid of Michael is more important than getting rid of me and I’ll do whatever’s necessary to regain trust.” Everybody started the episode wanting Michael out. Desiree’s lie provided enough inertia to stop that momentum, but I think the momentum could have been restarted. Not the way she played it.
The cover-up, as we always say, is worse than the crime. Desiree didn’t try covering anything up.
A better question, I think, is “What the heck was Chelsea thinking?” She didn’t instigate the split from Naviti. She was happy to follow along, but nobody caught her with a torch and pitchfork. Couldn’t she have just said, “Yo, this wasn’t MY idea” and voted Desiree out, too? There’s no other candidate for who would have written Michael’s name down. Chelsea just became an alliance of one, which may be the only thing worse than being in a minority alliance or at the bottom of a majority alliance. She’s just dangling, which is the most visible she’s been all season.
Some bottom lines coming.
Bottom Line, I. There comes a point in every Survivor season in which the head of an alliance decides he’s Don Corleone. How many times has that worked out? Just because it worked for the Robfather once doesn’t mean he didn’t blow it in an explosion of confetti-colored hubris all the other times he played. That’s a warning to Domenick regarding declarations like, “If they’re ready to go against the family, I’ve gotta do something about it.” Domenick is very sure that he’s in charge and he’s currently correct. He should also know that merely vanquishing Chris wasn’t punching a ticket for the finale and Kellyn’s umbrage, while completely misguided in this strategic moment, was genuine and valid. All that being said, there’s something wonderful to Dom playing Godfather while wearing a tracksuit on Survivor. And even that’s not half as good as Dom listening to Kellyn while sipping from a cup, becoming the human embodiment of the Kermit/ice tea meme.
Bottom Line, II. This is a good time to bring up that Domenick still has an idol, Wendell still has an idol and Kellyn still has a bonus vote. This week’s addition to the “Everybody gets an advantage” avalanche was Donathan securing the two pieces of Scott Pollard and Tai’s super-idol, which now form a single regular idol. Angela was willing to play this week’s game of chance on Ghost Island, but picked the wrong bamboo chest and received nothing and lost her vote, which probably would have been another vote against Desiree. Ghost Island continues to be a game of chance that Survivor is losing, yet we play every week in the hopes of improved drama.
Bottom Line, III. This week’s two challenges were BAD. I know that doing a schoolyard pick on the reward challenge meant that the producers didn’t have any way of knowing how the competing teams would shake out. How much foresight, though, was required to predict a situation in which the first part of the challenge would be two strong guys paddling two rowboats each attempting to free three women from cages. The optics were embarrassing and you know that if you’d posited that image to the designers in advance, they’d have tried to figure out an alternative, any alternative. Then the immunity challenge may have been one that Jeff Probst claimed produced excitement in the past. Instead, this exercise in holding a rope attached to a tray holding a ball had seven players go out in three minutes, only three players last 10 minutes and gave us the most predictably dull of winners. Congratulations to Chelsea, for having her most significant achievement of the season be standing in place for 12 minutes.
Bottom Line, IV. We assume that next week somebody is going to realize that Laurel informing on Desiree means that she’s got a deal going with Dom/Wendell/Kellyn, right? That little detail got swept under the rug in the back-and-forth. There was a whole lot of twistiness that could have come into play if Laurel had kept quiet, since Desiree was right that Chelsea was willing to flip and we never found out if Angela had been willing. What would have happened if Laurel had kept quiet and gone with the Kellyn plan and then Angela had come back from Ghost Island like, “Sure, I’m with you guys, but I don’t have a vote anymore.” Then it’s 5-5 and what does Desiree do? Would Sea-Bass’ vote have been in play? Is Sea-Bass even out there strategically? I know he’s competing in challenges and, with less frequency, saying funny things. I can’t remember anybody he bonded with since he and Chris had their “We both love the Florida Keys!” exchange.
Bottom Line, V. Next week ought to be the most interesting vote in a while. It’s 6-4 for Naviti, but take away Chelsea and it’s 5-4-1 for Naviti, so 5-5. Naviti has two idols and a bonus vote to the one idol for Malolo. A lot really may come down to whether Laurel and Donathan’s alliance with the Naviti power couple is a conversation point. Will it be an easy vote against Michael or will Michael continue to make things difficult without actually winning immunity because only women can win immunity this season?
Bottom Line, VI. Jeff Probst trying to claim that having a team in orange win the reward challenge was proof of the reversing of the Malolo curse was DESPERATE.
See you next week! And check out all of Josh Wigler’s great interviews!