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‘Survivor: Island Of The Idols’ Recap: “We Made It To The Merge!”

Survivor Island of the Idols

This week’s recap is going to play out a bit differently, and if you watched the episode (if you’re reading this, I’m assuming you have) you know why.

First, the minor details for any of you who maybe haven’t seen the episode. Kellee was voted out in the first Tribal Council, while holding two immunity idols. Jamal gets voted out in the night’s second Tribal Council. Okay. Let’s see what we can suss out from here.

The Survivor merge is a major milestone for every season. It puts the endgame clearly in your sights, as the game shifts from tribe vs. tribe to an individual focus. It offers a chance at new life for those who may have limped into the merge. It’s a turning point, where the game can, in a sense, start anew. The merge episode is also often one of the best episodes of the season. The heightened drama and intensity, friends and enemies alike coming together again. It’s a natural stirring pot for conflict as well as fun.

This time around, however, the merge episode was notable for a different reason, and not one that’s particularly enjoyable to talk about. One of the running storylines this season has been Dan and his inappropriate touching of some of the women players. Based on what we’ve seen, it has been the worst for Kellee. It gets to the point where she starts crying during a confessional, and we see something I don’t think has ever happened before in the entire show’s run: we hear a producer talking to Kellee.

He tells her that they’re keeping a watch on everything, and that she shouldn’t hesitate in coming to the production team if she feels Dan’s actions are going too far. Kellee said she did not need them to intervene. As we saw a couple times, she was not going to let one person blow up her game and her chance at $1 million. Then things real messy.

Elizabeth and Missy were aware of how Dan made certain people feel. They thought that if they can use that to their advantage, they should do so. Both are okay with with playing that up if it means it helps their games. But where it gets dicey is that neither Elizabeth nor Missy ever said they felt uncomfortable with Dan. But they decided to lie about that, saying they did not feel comfortable with Dan’s actions.

Not much is black and white in Survivor, usually the game is the game. But there are moments that transcend the game. Sue Hawk in All-Stars, Zeke in Game Changers. Both instances became bigger than the game itself. And this Dan situation was approaching that.

Saying they felt Dan’s touching was inappropriate and made them feel uncomfortable can have very real real-life consequences. You’re talking about a man with a family, who owns his own business, essentially being accused of sexual harassment on national television. Now that being said, it is true. So go for it. Bury him. But if it’s not, as seemed not be with Elizabeth and Missy? I don’t think it’s hard to see how that could affect Dan’s life.Both women should have been aware of what kind of ramifications could result from levying those kinds of false accusations against him. But to be clear, though, Dan is at fault. Even if it is “only” Kellee, one woman is too many.

But while I won’t defend what they did, it’s not without its context. This is still a game, it’s still Survivor. This is a game where your sole purpose is extending your life and time on the island. And maybe they truly didn’t see how problematic their actions could be. Maybe they thought everyone would see it as a “game move” only. But Survivor is unique in that the game and real life often intersect. And this was an extreme instance of that. Again, not defending Missy and Elizabeth. But there is some more context to their actions that go beyond the surface level.

Then there’s poor Janet. She didn’t want to vote out Dan. She had a good relationship with him and wanted to work with him. But when the girls came to her with their concerns, she felt she had a moral obligation to vote out Dan. She took on the mother role in the way she thought was right, in the way any good mother would think was right. She went along with the plan to vote out Dan because she wanted to protect these young women as if they were her own daughters. What Janet did is to be commended. But then to have that blow up in her face and be revealed as a decoy plan to vote out Kellee? It’s tragic, it’s terrible, it’s shameful.

I’ve always said about Survivor that it’s just a game until it’s not and there is no line until there is. Tonight’s episode highlighted a moment where it did become more than a game, where there was a line that should not have been crossed. I think they only good thing that Missy and Elizabeth did here was at least openly admit that what they did was done for strategy. But that’s still of minor consequence. They used Kellee’s very real and scary experience to put forth their own false accusations. They knew Kellee was a victim and used that against her, and against Janet. So while I can see their view point from a strategic sense, it’s far from something I can support.

This is now yet another episode of this Survivor season that has put a spotlight on present social issues. It continues to be a rare blend of reality TV, game show competition, and reflection of current real world issues. There aren’t too many television shows I would classify as “important,” but Survivor just might be the exception.

Written by Matt Hambidge

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