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What's the Deal with 'Survivor: Island of Idols'

By Dustin Rowles | TV | September 11, 2019 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | September 11, 2019 |


When you’re an adult with three kids with a fairly sizable age-discrepancy, there’s not a lot of suitable television you can watch together as a family. I don’t think it was until I had kids that I really began to understand the appeal of reality television. At the moment, we have basically four “family shows”: Nailed It, Queer Eye, The Amazing Race and Survivor. We’ve gone back and watched almost every season of The Amazing Race and Survivor (or at least, those seasons in high definition, because pre-HD is like black-and-white to kids). I genuinely love it — it’s my favorite 42 minutes of the day, and the twins are so invested in the characters on Survivor that they’ll often hide behind the couch during Tribal Council because they hate to see certain players go home. They get deeply into it.

In any respect, the kids have been asking for weeks when the next season of Survivor starts, although they have expressed some reservation about Survivor: Island of the Idols because they do not care for Sandra, because they’re not fans of the villainous Survivor players (I was so excited about showing them season 16 when Eric was voted off after giving up the immunity idol — the most boneheaded move in the history of Survivor — but they were hugely disappointed because they thought Eric was a good guy because, you know, he’s an “ice cream scooper,” and when you’re seven years old, that’ s a big draw).

In any event, the upcoming season — the 39th, which premieres on September 25th — has an additional twist that I’m not sure I’m keen on, either. Rob Mariano (Boston Rob) and Sandra Diaz Twine (who have 3 wins and 7 seasons between them) are returning to Survivor, not as players but as mentors. The two will set up shop on something akin to Exile Island — they’ll build their own shelter together and live out there for presumably the duration. When a player gets sent to the Island of the Idols, they’ll have the opportunity to talk about gameplay and learn certain survival skills from Rob and Sandra. The exiled player will also be offered the opportunity to compete in challenges using the skills provided to them by Rob and Sandra. Should they succeed in the challenge, they will win advantages or idols. However, if they lose the challenge, something bad will happen, which could completely upset their game. The exiled players, however, also have the option of not competing in a challenge: No harm, no foul.

From Jeff Probst, via EW:

“For the person who is foolish enough to take the test and fail, they say, ‘Here’s your other life lesson, you should have never gone up against me. I’m the one who just showed you that. I’m an expert. And now you’re in trouble. Here’s how you recover.’ And if somebody says, “I’m no fool, I don’t want to go up against you,” [Rob and Sandra] were given the freedom, their own decision, to raise the stakes. So we gave them a cushion and said, you can go from here to here with the advantage. Whatever you want.”

Essentially, it’s a form of Survivor haggling and betting all rolled into one. “So Sandra could lean in and say, ‘What if we make an idol good for three Tribal Councils?’” says Probst. “Now you’re interested. And then the player might say yes. And they might still lose. And Rob might say ‘Why did you change your mind simply because the advantage got bigger? Your odds didn’t.’ So that’s the basic premise.”

Eh. It’s not my favorite premise, and I assume by the ninth or tenth day once the audience has gravitated toward certain players, Sandra and Rob will be in the way more than anything. Still, it’s better than the clusterf*ck Edge of Extinction, in which almost every eliminated player found themselves living on a separate island vying for an opportunity to return, which might have been more interesting (and fair) if the fate of a player who had been out there for 30+ days did not rest on a single challenge.

The rumor, however, is that season 40 will be an All-Winners season, one in which Boston Rob and Sandra will return again, along with Rob’s wife, Amber, and of course the best guy who ever played the game, Yul.


Meanwhile, if you’re interested, here’s the cast for the upcoming season.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

Header Image Source: CBS