Ghost Island: Boo or Boo-urns?

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Pictured: Brandon Quinton, 2018.

 

Summer used to be such a bittersweet season for me. Sure, the weather was nice and I didn’t have to go to school, but we had to endure a nearly-four-month drought of new Survivor episodes. Big Brother and DVDs of old seasons just weren’t adequate thirst-quenchers. It was upsetting.

But these last two spring seasons draaaaaagggged. Both started off strong but limped to the finish line (albeit with record-breaking finales, for better or worse) and I couldn’t wait for them to end. Maybe it’s because their conclusions coincided more or less with the beginning of lovely Chicago summer weather and I was just lacking vitamin D the last few weeks. But either way, summer is here, the weather is great, and I’m celebrating by sitting in my room typing about Survivor. Let’s get to it and break down Ghost Island.

The Good

  • During the pre-merge, the editors defied expectations by switching up what had become the standard formula of introducing a character in his or her boot episode. Game logic dictated that Naviti would stick together in the fourth episode, but who else thought that Bradley was a goner because it was the first time he had been prominently featured?
  • Speaking of Bradley, I know he wasn’t popular and he was pretty much forgotten as soon as he got voted out, but I loved what he brought to this season. It’s been a while since we’ve had a good villain character who A) didn’t meet an immediate downfall, and B) actually doesn’t seem like a real-life asshole. (Maybe Joe from Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers could apply, but he had enough likable moments to not fully seem villainous.) Yeah, Bradley probably is genuinely arrogant and maybe dismissive, but he wasn’t nearly as toxic as the likes of Scot Pollard or Dan Foley.
  • Actually, a lot of the pre-merge contestants were pretty great. Jacob was a genuine guy who brought some doofy fun to the show and thankfully didn’t overstay his welcome. Morgan exuded likability from the get-go. Stephanie Johnson was a feisty strategic force. Brendan and James weren’t exactly electrifying TV personalities, but they both drove some interesting stories.
  • Chris Noble. I don’t need to say any more, but I will. There have been instances of someone defying pre-season expectations for better or worse, but have we ever seen someone so destined to be a dud prove to be by far the most entertaining personality of the entire season?
  • Despite my love of Chris, I cannot deny the amazingness that went down when Wendell voted him out.
  • Kellyn got a lot of flack for her stagnant “Naviti strong” gameplay and inability to hide her emotions, but I loved watching her. Besides, once it became evident that sticking with Naviti was no longer in her interests, she explored new options. You can’t fault someone for favoring their own safety in the game over unpredictability for the audience. Also, why would anyone want contestants to mask their true reactions with a boring, “It’s just a game” mentality? And for all the kooky new age philosophy she spouted, she did end up leaving the game with one of the most heartfelt good sport reactions ever. Give her credit where it’s due.
  • While it was pretty evident as soon as Michael was booted (if not earlier) that we were simply waiting to see which of Domenick or Wendell would get the title, I definitely didn’t expect to see the first-ever tie at the final Tribal Council. Kudos to CBS for not ruining the surprise in promos.

The Bad

  • I broke my neck watching the never-ending tennis match of tribe swaps. Even dedicated viewers had trouble keeping track of who was on which tribe at any given time, and what especially complicated matters is that this was pretty much the deciding factor in the boot order for the first 75% of the season.
  • Ghost Island was a dud. There’s no way around it. Outside of idols, there were a grand total of three returning relics, one of which actually got recycled during the season.
  • If I need to create a spreadsheet to keep track of who has an idol, a fake idol, an extra vote, a Medallion of Power, etc. then there are too many damn advantages in the game. Come on.
  • The fifth episode, which featured a straightforward elimination of a member of a minority alliance with no idols or advantages, was a genuinely compelling hour of television…that got completely derided online. We’re so conditioned to weekly blindsides and power shifts (via a twist or not) that when those elements are absent, it’s unsatisfying. When was the last time a blindside really got the fanbase excited? It’s tempting to say that it’s too much of a good thing, but are epic blindsides really a good thing when the end result is losing a player like Chelsea or Jenna, which has no effect on the story whatsoever?
  • I don’t have the stats, but aside from maybe Samoa, this has to be the most imbalanced season of all time in terms of editing, right? This could not have been displayed more perfectly than in the double boot episode, which essentially separated the significant characters from the irrelevant ones, leading to a deadly dull Tribal Council that even Jeff Probst mercifully refused to drag out.
  • Sob stories do not make for satisfying character development. Why don’t we get to watch the players interact on a fun, human level instead of seeing them tear up to the camera as they recount getting divorced?
  • The reunion has long been a farce, and to be honest, I actually prefer that if we’re going to start the finale with six people that they maximize the game content in the three-hour slot. But the odds of me watching that new Kevin Hart show have only decreased since the finale, and they were already at 0%.

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Don’t get cocky, kid, your odds aren’t much better.

 

The Ugly Truth

It’s not worth doing bullet points for this because it all just boils down to one key point: we’re stuck with this. “This” being everything. The show will forever be filmed in Fiji, with increasingly stupid, pointless twists or themes to divide the cast. We’re always going to have three people competing to win on day 39. One of those three will have gotten there because they built a fire the day before. There will be approximately 50 people on the jury. Idols and advantage will continue to overtake the social game. Jeff Probst will continue to loudly narrate that so-and-so has found their third bag of puzzle pieces as we literally watch it happen. The producers have no desire to change any of that, and if the ratings stay consistent, why would they?

Overall assessment of Survivor: Ghost Island? It got off to a good start and finished strong, but the second half of the season minus the finale was a pretty bland experience. Had players like Stephanie Johnson, Bradley Kleihege, and the Noble One lasted longer, it probably would have improved things. But nothing will truly get better until the producers take a step back and stop looking at the show as a duplicated product that gets a new box design every six months.

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“Now with more idols!”

 

I mean, when Mark Burnett says that it was a mistake to name seasons after countries, you know the creative team has lost sight of what the show once was.

Ghost Island is officially a Tier D season.

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