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‘Survivor: Island Of The Idols’ Season Preview

Survivor Island of the Idols

Well folks, Survivor season is officially upon us! Okay, tomorrow it will be, but it’s close enough, right? I have covered Survivor each of the last three seasons on my own site, News From The Couch. Starting with Island of the Idols, that will be switching to here at FandomWire, as evidenced by the fact that you’re reading this on FandomWire.

In addition to this season preview, I’ll have weekly episode recaps, which will post either Wednesday nights or Thursday mornings. And I usually try to find one or two other posts to include during the season as well. I try to keep it light, keep it fun. We’re all just here to have a good time. So let’s take a look at what Survivor: Island of the Idols has to offer.

The Tribes

Lairo (Orange)

Survivor: Island of the Idols - Lairo Tribe
Robert Voets/CBS
  • Ronnie Bardah: 35; Pro Poker Player; Henderson, NV
  • Elizabeth Beisel: 26; Olympic Medalist; Saunderstown, RI
  • Missy Byrd: 24; Air Force Veteran; Tacoma, WA
  • Dean Kowalski: 28; Tech Sales; New York City
  • Tom Laidlaw: 60; Former NHL Player; Greenwich, CT
  • Aaron Meredith: 36; Gym Owner; Warwick, RI
  • Vince Moua: 27; Admissions Counselor; Palo Alto, CA
  • Karishma Patel: 37; Personal Injury Lawyer; Houston, TX
  • Elaine Stott: 41; Factory Worker; Rockholds, KY
  • Chelsea Walker: 26; Digital Content Creator; Los Angeles

Vokai (Purple)

Survivor: Island of the Idols - Vokai Tribe
Robert Voets/CBS
  • Lauren Beck: 28; Nanny; Glendale, CA
  • Molly Byman: 27; Law Student; Durham, NC
  • Janet Carbin: 59; Chief Lifeguard; Palm Bay, FL
  • Kellee Kim: 29; MBA Student; Philadelphia
  • Jason Linden: 32; Personal Injury Lawyer; New York City
  • Jack Nichting: 23; Graduate Student; Harrisonburg, VA
  • Noura Salman: 36; Entrepreneur; North Potomac, MD
  • Tommy Sheehan: 26; 4th Grade Teacher; Long Beach, NY
  • Jamal Shipman: 33; Admissions Counselor K-12; Providence, RI
  • Dan Spilo: 48; Talent Manager; Los Angeles

The Idols

Survivor: Island of the Idols - Boston Rob & Sandra
Robert Voets/CBS
  • Sandra Diaz-Twine: 45; Winner: Survivor: Pearl Islands and Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains
  • Boston Rob Mariano: 43; Winner: Survivor: Redemption Island

The Twist

What’s a Survivor season without a twist? Probably a better season, I’d say. But I digress. The “idols” in the season title refer not to hidden immunity idols, but to the Boston Rob and Sandra, two icons of the game. While directly involved in the game, they are not playing. They cannot be voted out; they’re not in contention for the $1 million prize. Instead, they participate as mentors in the game.

When a player arrives at the eponymous Island of the Idols, he or she will have no idea what awaits. The safe guess is they will assume it is the oft-used Exile Island. And while that might be somewhat the case to an extent, they’ll be getting so much more.

Boston Rob and Sandra are there to help. Each time a contestant comes to their island, they will have a Survivor lesson to teach. Each lesson will be followed with an opportunity. Test what they learned in a challenge against Boston Rob or Sandra. Win, they gain an advantage in the game. But lose, and you lose something in the game, such as your vote at the next Tribal Council.

And if the contestants decide to play it safe, Rob and Sandra have been given the freedom to negotiate. As host and executive producer Jeff Probst tells it an an interview with Parade’s Mike Bloom,

“They’ll be able to negotiate the terms of the test or the reward to entice the player. In the fire making competition, for instance, they can make the idol prize good for two Tribal Councils instead of just one, or give them a two-minute head start ahead of Rob.”

It’s nothing new to say Rob and Sandra are two of the best players to ever play, and that’s in large part due to their social skills. Giving them some freedom to maneuver here can only be a good thing.

As always, kudos to Survivor for continuing to try out new ideas. You don’t stay on the air for nearly 20 years and 39 seasons by keeping the game the same. But as we’ve seen many times before, these twists don’t always pan out. Heck, just look back to last season. The Edge of Extinction twist is one of the worst in the show’s history. So how will this season’s twist be received?

I’m cautiously hopeful. I’m a big proponent of the cast making or breaking a season. And with two players as famous as Rob and Sandra, I’m worried Island of the Idols will focus too much on them, and not enough on developing the story of the 20 new contestants. We’ve seen plenty of these two already, let the newbies get their time to shine.

And this twist feels a little gimmicky. If not handled properly, it could easily come off feeling forced, which is no good for anybody. I’m also not a fan of the fact that idols, advantages, and other rewards can be won at the Island of the Idols. However, that’s mitigated a bit by the fact that they at least have to be earned; they won’t simply be handed any of them.

All that said, if there are any two players with whom this twist can work, it’s these two. They’re friends off the island, so they should bring some great chemistry to the screen. These two have to make the most of their (hopefully) limited screen time. They should provide plenty of laughs and fun banter. And if they can also provide deep insight into the game, that’s beneficial for the players and viewers alike. We should get a solid idea of how this all will work with Wednesday’s premiere.

Players to Watch

It seems that the consensus feeling is that Jeff Probst and Co. have assembled a dynamite cast for this 39th season. And I have to say I’m right there with everyone else. They all came off as likable in their various interviews, and they should supply plenty of fun and solid gameplay throughout the season. And while that’s all well and good, it does make this part a little more difficult.

I will make my official winner pick in my premiere recap.


Dean Kowalski

Dean Kowalski
Robert Voets/CBS

Give me the young, friendly, good looking sales guy every day and twice on Sunday. He’ll get along with most of the others, he’ll know how to work relationships.

Missy Byrd

Missy Byrd
Robert Voets/CBS

Missy’s story is incredible. Read that whole interview with Parade. I can’t do it justice by paraphrasing. The very, very basic gist of it is that she lived with a misdiagnosed brain tumor. She’s smart, athletic, she’s a fighter. One thing to watch out for, though, is if her story becomes public knowledge during the game. We’ve seen how effective a deeply emotional Final Tribal Council speech can be. If players find out about Missy’s past, that might be reason enough to vote her off. But if she can keep it to herself until the very end, it might just be the key to a win.


Tommy Sheehan

Tommy Sheehan
Robert Voets/CBS

On the surface, Tommy’s got it all. He’s fit enough to be a physical threat but not so outwardly dominating that he will automatically be perceived as such. He’s charming and should be well-liked by everyone on his tribe. And his potential secret weapon? Being a 4th grade teacher. You can’t be good at that job without patience and knowing how to stay composed. Both are of vital importance in Survivor.

Janet Carbin

Janet Carbin
Robert Voets/CBS

It’s never a bad thing to be good in the water on Survivor. And yes, it’s fair to point out that Janet may not even be the strongest swimmer on the cast, what with an Olympic medalist and all. But this goes past Janet’s career as a lifeguard; that’s just part of it. As a Chief Lifeguard, she has to manage and interact with a wide variety of people. She wouldn’t keep the job if she couldn’t do that effectively. With the social game being so important, Janet should be able to use this to her advantage.

First One Out

Remember how I said how likable this Island of the Idols cast seems? And how that makes it hard to pinpoint players to watch? Well that goes double for trying to predict who might be the first boot. But let’s give it a shot anyway. I could take the easy route and just pick the oldest member from each tribe. But that’s too lazy.

If Lairo Goes to the First Tribal Council

Chelsea Walker

Chelsea Walker
Robert Voets/CBS

I like Chelsea. I hope I’m wrong on this one. But I’m basing this off of one thing and one thing only: her super fandom. She might be the superest fan on a cast of super fans. That has been known to spell doom in the past. She’ll need to be able to reel that in if she wants to last in the game. And if she can’t, she could find herself in trouble a lot earlier than she might have thought.

If Vokai Goes to the First Tribal Council

Dan Spilo

Dan Spilo
Robert Voets/CBS

This is another one that could backfire. But as I’ve said, this seems like a quality cast. There doesn’t seem to be a traditional first boot on either tribe. Where I could see Dan getting into trouble is with his personality. He’s a talent manager and runs his own agency. Tribe leaders often become big targets. Will Dan naturally go into leadership mode, or can he be aware enough to take a step back and let someone else take on that role?

And in dealing with Hollywood performers, I’m worried he might be too adept at people management for his own good. He may not be able to hide how well he works with all sorts of different personalities. If that becomes too obvious, he might become an early target if the tribe goes away from a more traditional strategy of voting out the weak and instead decides to target a bigger threat right away.

Whew. That was a lot, I know (I’d get used to it). But that’s it for the Island of the Idols preview. As iffy as I am on the theme of the season, I’m always excited for a new season to begin, so Wednesday cannot come soon enough. Hope to see you back here after the premiere for a full breakdown!

Survivor: Island of the Idols premieres with a 90 minute first episode on Wednesday night, September 25th, at 8pm/7pm CT on CBS.

Written by Matt Hambidge

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