‘Survivor: Island Of The Idols’ Finale Recap: “Mama, Look At Me Now”

After all the controversy, all the outrage, all the episodes airing under a dark cloud, we have finally, mercifully reached the Survivor: Island of the Idols finale. What started with a quite stellar pre-merge run, devolved into chaos after the Dan Spilo controversy took center stage. What followed was a stretch of episodes that lacked excitement and intrigue. Watching Survivor felt more like a task than the fun weekly escape it’s supposed to be.

Fans had to work through these new, unprecedented, complicated feelings towards something they love. Some stopped watching, vowing to pick it back up for season 40. Other have given up on Survivor indefinitely. Other kept going, hoping the long-running show could pull itself out of its self-inflicted tailspin in time for the finale. And did it? ….Kind of.

The Island of the Idols finale had its fun moments, sure. But every time I found myself laughing or smiling or just simply enjoying what was happening, I couldn’t help but think back on what these moments were coming on the heels of. It put a damper on the experience. If you’ve been reading these recaps, you know it’s been a bit of a chore for me to keep it up ever since the merge. And with that, this recap will likely not be too in depth, certainly not as in depth as I would like a finale recap to be. So let’s get into it.

Island of the Idols

Before the game can end, we have one last trip to the Island of the Idols. The twist is that the final five get to live in Rob’s island mansion for the duration of the game.

But it wouldn’t be the Island of the Idols if there wasn’t something hidden beneath the surface. Before departing, Rob and Sandra gave the players commemorative Island of the Idols buffs, something never seen before in the game. Clearly something is up and everyone realizes that, right? Wrong, at least from what the edit show us.

Tommy starts to think something is up with the buffs and begins examining his closer. He finds the first of several clues that will lead him to some sort of advantage, likely an idol.

He tries to keep it to himself, but eventually one of the clues involves colors and Tommy is colorblind. To make the search easier, he brings in Dean, so

Tommy realizes Rob and Sandra left something for them at the island. Tommy investigates his buff and starts seeing clues. He opens a coconut that is pink. Or is it? Tommy is colorblind, so he can’t be certain. So he enlists Dean’s help.

Dean, though, decides to look for the idol in secret, to keep for himself. He does eventually find it, and without anyone else seeing. He now has at least an idol and idol nullifier heading into the next Tribal Council. But first, there’s an immunity challenge to get to.

Immunity Challenge

Each castaway retrieves a series of rope rungs, which they use to climb tower. They then maneuver a bag of two balls up a ladder, then landing them in two holes on table maze. There is also reward of steak, baked potato, and salad.

Dean wins, and gets to pick one person to join him at the feast. He picks Noura.


Dean uses the alone time with Noura to butter her up. It works almost too well, as Noura uses this time to fawn over Dean, seemingly coming *this close* to falling in love with Dean.

Dean and Noura make a final two pact, which means nothing (probably), as that is just what you do if you find yourself in this situation in the game. In talking about Tribal Council, they both agree that Janet needs to go next.

Janet has other plans, what with her idol that definitely won’t get nullified. She wants to try to get the votes on her, so she can put her vote on Lauren, sending her home.

The wrinkle here is that Dean suspected Janet had an idol. And those suspicions are confirmed by Tommy. Now Dean has a decision to make. He knows both Janet and Lauren need to go. And with his immunity necklace, idol, and idol nullifier, he has enough where he should be able to swing the vote whichever way he wants.

Tribal Council

In the most predictable series of events, Janet plays her idol, only to be nullified by Dean.

The idol nullifier is a game element that needs to go. And my complaint is probably the most common one, so this is likely nothing new. The nullifier seems to best serve a majority taking out an underdog. Successful idol plays can shake up the game in crazy, fun ways. The nullifier…nullifies that. Sure, the Carl “Bing” moment was fun, but I think it’s time to retire this particular advantage.


Everyone starts looking towards the fire making challenge. Dean, who has not made fire one time on the island, begins practicing. Tommy goes to Noura, telling her he doesn’t know how to make fire. And this is a lie, as he has been making fire the entire time, but has been doing so in secret. This is his Plan B if he doesn’t win the final immunity challenge. He wants a guaranteed seat in the final.

Immunity Challenge

The players must stack letter blocks on a leveled, wobbly platform, spelling out Island of the Idols. While I prefer a nice, big, physically-taxing challenge for the final immunity, these ones are always fun too. It’s oddly satisfying to watch players get so close to winning, only to see one tiny twitch of the body or gust of wind knock over their blocks, and potentially their dreams.

Noura wins.


Noura gives a whole spiel – as only Noura could – about how she made her decision on who to take to the final three. She goes through Lauren, Dean, and Tommy, one by one, explaining how great they are and why she could or could not take them to the final three.

She ultimately decides to take Tommy, leaving Dean and Lauren to make fire. Lauren walks away crying, while Dean gets down to practicing.

Tommy sees his best chance at winning being going against Noura and Dean rather than Noura and Lauren. Having been tight with Lauren from Day 1, he does offer help in her practicing, though he downplays how much he knows and holds back as he doesn’t want to give her bad information. He then goes to Dean and coaches him up on what to do.

Fire Challenge

Dean beats Lauren in the fire challenge, claiming the third and final spot at Final Tribal.

Final Tribal Council

It’s pretty clear from the jump that this is a two-man race between Dean and Tommy. Dean plays up his flashy moves, his immunity wins, immunity idols, idol nullifier. Tommy talks up his strong social game, that he didn’t need those kinds of moves to make it to the end; he got by on his social skills and the relationships he built with the other players.

When it’s all said and done, the jury awards Tommy the win by way of an 8-2-0 vote. And as Brian Scally noted on Twitter, in doing so he became the first player since Natalie White in Samoa (season 19) to win without any immunity idols, immunity wins or other advantages.

With all the news from this season, I’d recommend these articles from the king Dalton Ross from EW.

And with the end of one Survivor season means the beginning of another. As has been rumored/known for months now, season 40 is finally giving fans what we want: an all winners season.

I have earlier articles on Winners at War, which are linked below.

I’ll have more out as more information, interviews, and all that come out closer to the February premiere. I am also working on a full series ranking list of all seasons. I will hopefully have that done and published prior the the season 40 premiere. But we’ll see how that goes.

And that officially closes the book on one the most problematic, stressful, and disappointing Survivor seasons ever. Let’s hope Survivor, Jeff Probst, and CBS are serious in their intent to take action to change for the better.

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