Giant endings, thrilling promos, and important conversations and realisations. Survivor: Island of the Idols came to a close this week, so let’s rundown the finale and season.
SPOILER ALERT! This recap and review will contain spoilers about the final episode of Survivor: Island of the Idols.
Jeff opens the finale with cheers bellowing through the crowd, with a reminder that this season included mentors and former winners Rob and Sandra, before introducing the final five fighting for the title of Sole Survivor and million dollars that goes with it: Dean, Janet, Lauren, Noura, and Tommy.
As the episode and island footage begins, Sandra and Rob discuss their own adventures on the show and what they’ve taken away from the game and how they’ve been able to connect their games together to make people better Survivor players. They clink their mugs together in solidarity of a successful(ish) season. And before we know it the final five are grabbing their belongings and heading to the Island of the Idols for a permanent stay for the remaining three days in the game. Tommy’s excited to meet the two former champions because he hasn’t visited them yet, but everyone is excited to live in the giant house that Rob and Sandra built for their stay on the island. They gift them special edition new buffs, and say sayonara to the remaining players, as they board a boat and sail away from the season.
Janet’s excited because she knows how to make fire and win the challenge at final four, but also has a ticket to the end because she’s got an idol to play at five. Dean and Noura discuss the bigger threat between Lauren and Janet (no Tommy?), and together agree Janet needs to go. But Noura actually wants Dean out because he is the final weasel left in the game. Meanwhile, Tommy is studying the new buff believing there’s some clues to something special at the Island of the Idols. Seeing the logo, he sees a machete altered onto the image and is on the hunt to find a machete that leads him to another clue. Inside a coconut, is the colour red. Tommy is colour blind, however, and enlists Dean’s help to see the specific colour on something else. Dean doesn’t help Tommy much at all, but Tommy does manage to find a plank with the letter ‘H’ etched onto it. He relays this information to Dean again, who secretly realises the symbol represents the swing on the giant shelter built by Rob and Sandra. As he swings, he finds another ‘H’ symbol nears the swing, and then manages to find a hidden immunity idol under Tommy’s nose. He’s got the nullifier, the idol, Dean is set. He’s passed the final test.
The final five then enter the next Individual Immunity Challenge where a massive course sees the players retrieve ropes to link up to a ladder, then climb to the top by also manoeuvring a bag of balls and then land those balls into two holes on a tilting table. On offer is also Reward, a big feast for the winner and one person of their choosing. I could go through it all but I’ll keep it short. It’s pretty close between everyone at the end, but Dean finally manages to land his ball and earn his spot into the final four. Who does he invite on a cute lunch date? Noura’s the recipient, and he’s after her word to take him to the final three if she wins the final Immunity Challenge. Lauren believes it’s a jury management choice, and that Noura won’t buy whatever he’s selling, but she only voices that to us.
Dean and Noura enter their lunch date as they bond over him choosing her and potentially taking each other to the final three if either of them win the final Immunity Challenge. Noura seemingly forgets everything said before, and appears pretty set to take Dean to the end. They both consider this a wise move, and also conclude that Janet’s a threat that needs to go. Elsewhere, Janet wants to make a move with her idol and catch all the votes on her so she can play it and send Lauren home. She’s loyal to Tommy, but even Tommy recognises that she needs to go because she’s a jury threat and the best fire maker. It’s the final chance to get her out, and Dean’s idol nullifier should be the ticket to do it.
Lauren’s the name that’s being thrown by Janet, but Lauren is concerned that Dean might not use the nullifier to save her, especially after Dean tells Tommy that Lauren’s his personal biggest threat. Her life is in his hands. And Dean is considering making one move or the other. But I’m not sold he opts to send Lauren home, not with Janet in such a prime position to win the damn game.
At Tribal Council, perspective about the end and figuring out what the jury may value is in frequent conversation. But also discussed is the fire-making challenge at the end and who can win it, with Janet even admitting she’s in a favourable position to take it home. Not even expecting Dean to have such a powerful advantage, she continues selling a story that she’s a great player to maintain the votes on her so she can play her idol.
Jeff grabs the votes and asks for idols, and sure enough Janet stands and plays her idol to ensure her safety into the final four. Jeff validates it, and then quickly validates the idol nullifier secretly played by Dean that played it against Janet. Lauren receives one vote, from Janet, by the last three (technically four) fall on Janet sending her to the jury in 5th place. Alexa, play sad music on repeat please.
On Day 38, Dean is attempting to start a fire in case he doesn’t make it to the end. But he’s never made fire this entire game, so he’s worried he’ll get the boot last minute because he simply can’t make fire. Tommy on the other hand can make fire, but tells Noura he can’t win it in case she wins the final Immunity Challenge. He also reveals that Dean told him about Dean’s deal with Noura about fire, and Noura takes this in, but also lets him know she’s finally going to play selfishly at this point in the game.
The final four arrive at the final Individual Immunity Challenge, with a modern classic where the players must place letter blocks to spell out the season name on a very wobbly platform, they must lock in the platform using a contraption when they go to retrieve more blocks. And it is WOBBLY. Everyone struggles to get anything going early on, it’s extremely difficult. Dean and Noura seem to have a lead over everyone else, both roughly halfway through before Dean loses some of his blocks, although is still firmly in it. Dean again loses several blocks just as Noura is about to complete the challenge. She needs to lock it in, and she does, securing herself Immunity and a spot at the Final Tribal. Also posing the question, which tribemate does she honour a deal with to take to the end?
As they return to their new IoI camp, Noura has a very long conversation about who she’s choosing and who she’s not. She doesn’t just tell them what she’s doing, and holds her ground to go through her speech to everyone. She tells Lauren she’s her number one in the game, but then informs her that she’s sending her to fire because she’s a threat, leaving Lauren pretty upset with the decision. She also adds Dean to the fire ballot, and he takes it okay in comparison when Noura tells him it’s because she believes he can do it. Adding that Tommy ‘sucks at fire’ and she’s there thanks to Tommy. Lauren walks off extremely emotional and concurs that she loves the game and will fight to win the fire-making challenge and earn her spot into the final three. Dean on the other hand is happy Lauren’s upset because it’s the best position for his competition to be in, as he strives to practice making fire after 37 days of never making fire.
Tommy helps both of them make fire, but definitely gives more love to Dean because he wants to go to the end with him as he believes Lauren is unbeatable. He’s also ecstatic to know he’s in the final three. Noura is talking to Lauren as she’s practicing and they have a heated exchange about loyalty and playing the game. Lauren uses the argument as fuel to win the challenge because she wants to show Noura that her decision is invalid because she got to the end regardless.
At the penultimate Tribal Council, there’s little discussion before Jeff asks Noura to make her official decision, and she saves Tommy, sending Lauren and Dean to the fire-making challenge. Lauren is pumped. Dean is ready. Lauren and Noura have another argument about loyalty versus beatability. Tommy expresses happiness to be in the final three, but also is considering who the final person might be, and can’t be too excited until that spot has been filled.
Lauren and Dean then compete in their challenge, and Dean gets a flame first, quickly building his stack to keep it up. Lauren gets it soon after, and begins to build her base to take up the top. Dean’s fire has more of a base than Lauren’s, but she’s fighting to add more sticks and keep it up higher. Dean’s flame really increases, as Lauren carefully place each stick strategically for the best result. Dean is on the edge of victory as his fire licks the rope, and sure enough, he wins and earns his final spot in the final three, sending Lauren to the jury as the final member, and be another 4th place robbed social and strategic legend.
Dean, Noura and Tommy enjoy their final day in the game, and Dean recognises it as a two-horse race. But Tommy doesn’t rule out Noura, because she truly is a wildcard. Tommy even helps Noura on her speech upon request by her, and it’s another play by Tommy to get Noura to undermine Dean’s game which in turn helps his game. Noura does believe he’s stroking her ego, and quickly reminds us that the boys have another thing coming if she’s got anything to say about it. Dean wants to be recognised in the history books for the moves and advantages he’s consumed, nullifier, idol, it all. And Tommy’s relying on the good old fundamental role of social gameplay to be recognised favourably by the 10-person jury.
They arrive at the Final Tribal Council, and it’s game on, well and truly. Jack opens the discussion, telling the final three the jury is undecided on who to vote for coming in. The outwit/social aspect is talked about first, and Kellee asks the three to outline their social strategy. Each lays out their strategies, with Tommy’s being strongest when he explains making personal and valuable connections with every single person. Lauren asks Tommy who he was most loyal to, and Tommy says it was her. But Noura and Dean clear the air about the fire-making challenge and Tommy intentionally helping Dean to send Lauren home. This triggers a bit of a shock moment from Lauren. Tommy does discuss his ability to line up everyone with when he wanted them to go, so he could be in the best position possible. Jamal asks the three to tell him where their lines are, and what they would never cross. Noura answers with never regretting her decisions. Tommy answers by saying he never wanted to bully anyone. And Dean takes a moment, but eventually lands on never promising someone a finalist position if he never meant to take them to the end.
We move on to the outplay/strategic and physical aspect of the game, and Jamal asks Noura about her winning the final Immunity Challenge and explain why she brought whoever to the end and who she sent to fire, and she explains why she brought Dean……… But Jamal reminds her she didn’t bring Dean, but brought Tommy. Tommy then explains that he spinned his social play on Noura to ensure he made it to the final three without even having to win the fire-making challenge. Noura then talks about thriving in the individual challenge portion of the game, something she thoroughly enjoyed. Dean also talks about winning two individual challenges, unlike Tommy. Tommy is quick to save it however by saying he didn’t ever want the necklace because he didn’t want to win Immunity since it is a target. Bonds were what solidified his decisions. Dean gives credit to Tommy’s social game, but lays out his advantages and idols. The fake legacy advantage is brought up, and Jamal reveals it is fake, but gives credit to the move he tried to make. Dean says Tommy didn’t have anything on the outplay part, and he and Tommy have a back and forth heated argument about their strengths in the game. A crack of thunder and rainstorm bring out the lies in Dean, who mistakenly talks about crossing the line of promising final threes to people when he said he never would.
The final aspect, the outlast part, and each finalist talks through their journey to the end. Tommy talks about representing the season and ensuring he went further than anyone who would come after him. He didn’t win Immunity, but he fought to get there. Noura talks about being open and transparent and being a wildcard never seen before. She used the tools at her disposal, and she strategically and socially worked to get to the end. Dean discusses playing the nullifier and finding game advantages, and playing with his back against the wall to find his way to the end. The fourth quarter hits, and Dean played boom after boom, asking for the jury to write history for him and the season.
The jury then gets a chance to vote, and we’re shown Lauren’s vote for Tommy, and Aaron’s vote for Dean. But the rest remain a mystery, for two minutes, as Jeff returns in LA with the votes and the cast dressed to the 9’s, ready to see who’s crowned Sole Survivor. The first vote goes to Tommy, the second to Dean. Another vote for Tommy, and another vote for Dean. Then the remaining votes all land on Tommy, winning the 39th season of Survivor in an 8-2-0 vote. Tommy is the champion.
The reunion begins and Tommy talks about sharing information and Jeff highlights that he betrayed and slayed, and Tommy says he has no guilt for making any moves, he truly does love the people he was playing with, but he was firmly playing to win the money for him, his family, his class, and all the rest. Sandra and Rob (who are present) also talk about Tommy’s game and how everyone that visited them let them know Tommy was their main ally, showing Tommy truly was a strong social player. Dean is then asked what he’s taken away from the experience, and he mentions being able to enjoy life’s luxuries that people take for granted, like a roof over a head. Noura then discusses playing her way and ensuring that everyone sticks out and stands out for themselves. “Be a
cock, be a peacock,” as she says. Elaine is then commended for her incredible run on the show and being so well liked by everyone, as a true fan favourite. The experience was the journey Elaine needed, and it gave her everything she needed and more. Karishma is then asked about the powerful moment between her and her husband when they saw each other at the loved ones reward. Her big takeaway is overcoming the trials and tribulations that came with her experience on the show, more than anything in the world, opting to choose happiness every single day.
The durag moment between Jack and Jamal early in the season is then discussed with Jamal, since Jack didn’t attend the reunion (assumingly to support his girlfriend Elizabeth, who also didn’t attend). Jamal says the response to that scene was amazing, and highlights that he and Jack live together now, building a true friendship from their time on the show and the emotional conversations had between them. Jeff then brings up the ‘Sia money’, because Sia’s gotta give her favourite players some money. Which is great, but I wish could be excluded from the show itself and given separately. Jeff reveals that Sia would like to give Jamal $15,000, Elaine a whopping $100,000, and then finally Janet another incredible $100,000. They celebrate the emotional yet incredibly happy moment from that, as we head to commercial break.
Back from commercial, it’s time to address the inappropriate touching with Kellee, where Jeff and Kellee sit separately to talk about it. Jeff talks about the failure of CBS and Survivor and not acting sooner or better in response to Kellee bringing up the original statement at the merge. Jeff tells Kellee she was right, despite the risk in doing so. He publicly apologises to her and allows her the opportunity to talk openly about it. She does feel pressure and anxious about it, but Jeff helps guide her into talking about what she feels about production’s decisions. Kellee says she felt she wasn’t believed or supported upon initially bringing it up, and not having Dan removed earlier in the game. Jeff talks about the initial decision and not being transparent with everyone about those separate discussions. Jeff reminds everyone that when you’re not in it, it’s difficult to respond accordingly. Jeff says everyone has learned a lot from Kellee’s decision, and Kellee doesn’t want her Survivor experience defined by these moments. She hopes this season isn’t defined by all of this, and instead defined by change for CBS and Survivor, as Jeff assures it certainly will be across the network and brand.
Returning from another confessional, Jeff Probst teases what Survivor is doing for its 40th season, in its’ 20th year, Survivor: Winners at War! The promo features former and iconic champions: Parvati Shallow, Tony Vlachos, Rob Mariano, Ben Driebergen, Sarah Lacina, Adam Klein, Ethan Zohn, Yul Kwon, and Jeremy Collins in speaking roles. But also we see glimpses and shots of the rest of the cast: Sandra Diaz-Twine, Amber Mariano, Kim Spradlin, Nick Wilson, Michele Fitzgerald, Sophie Clarke, Tyson Apostol, Danni Boatwright, Wendell Holland, Natalie Anderson, and Denise Stapley. This is one of the most anticipated and exciting seasons in history, even bigger energy than the fan-voted for cast of Survivor: Second Chance. I, personally, am so pumped for this season. Like never before really. Bring it on.
After the promo, Jeff reminds us that Rob and Sandra are on the season too, who are on stage. And then pans over to Amber with her four children (with Rob) and announce her as a cast member. Interestingly, my favourite Omar Elkalyoubie from charity Give Kids The World and Hearts of Reality events is sitting in front of Amber! And I screamed at the TV upon recognising him. How awesome.
Jeff then closes out the season and the 39th chapter of Survivor is over. And it was a huge season.
Now that’s a long recap. So if you’ve made it here, congratulations.
A truly great win by Tommy, he no doubt played an incredibly strong social and strategic game, often off of everyone’s radar. He did exactly what was necessary 100% of the time, and managed to really round out the season with such epic gameplay that is personally so satisfying to watch. Congratulations Tommy! Great job.
There were some other really strong contenders and characters from this season that I really loved: Noura, Lauren, Janet, Jamal, Kellee, Dean, Elaine, Chelsea, Karishma, Jason and Aaron. I really liked a majority of the rest of the cast, but these guys probably edge out everyone more, quite frankly. I do really wish Lauren managed to win that fire-making challenge though, it certainly would have been interesting if Tommy stands much of a chance against her or not.
I actually like this season, it’s not near the bottom for me, the finale was quite redeeming I think. Probably in the bottom half, purely because of the clouded experience with Dan. And it is a big stain on what was otherwise good gameplay and a good season. But I’m pretty optimistic usually, so I’m sure there’s plenty that’ll disagree with me.
I think what does worsen the season a fait bit is the poor execution of Island of the Idols. Inconsistency with when it occurred, Jamal’s raw deal with the note thing, a nullifier introduced at seven; that all sucked. Loved Rob and Sandra, loved the concept. But some of the tests, the lessons, it all just seemed a little lacklustre. I really liked the first four chapters of the twist (Elizabeth through Noura), and Lauren’s. The rest, eh. And I have to LOL at the fact Tommy won without receiving advice. If it ever was to return, some aspects of it should revisited.
We also saw for the first time a Sole Survivor emerge after being saved by the final Immunity winner since the twist occured in season 35. We’ve seen people give up Immunity (38), the final Immunity winner just win the game anyway (37), and of course the fire winner solidifying their eventual victory (35, 36, 38). But there’s one play we haven’t seen yet. And I think it’s really exciting. How about the final Immunity winner, getting back from camp, and claim they’re saving their target, so the other two practice fire, but then flip the decision at Tribal so their target has never made fire in preparation for this.
Take it like this: Imagine if Noura said she was saving Lauren. Lauren, who hasn’t made fire the entire game, can sit back and watch Dean and Tommy practice for the battle. Then upon arriving at Tribal, for one final game changing move, Noura instead says she’s saving Tommy and Lauren is both shocked and without practice, therefore likely to lose the challenge anyway. I think that’s an incredible move by the final Immunity winner, and I actually really hope we see it. This could have been a great move on Noura’s behalf that may have earned her a tick on her resume presented to the jury. So let’s hope me speaking it into existence means it’s in the works for either 40, 41, 42, etc.
Thank you to the cast and crew for this season! It was a historic season for the show we love, but change is the theme to come from it, and it’s about damn time.
I enjoyed this season. I loved a lot of the players. I didn’t sleep on it. But I am ready for 40, and I’ll be glued to the screen the entire time.
That’s it for Reality Review over the Christmas break. Some interviews are yet to come out, but otherwise we’ll be taking a break. See you soon!
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Survivor: Winners at War premieres in February of 2020!
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