No two figures in the history of Survivor embody the enviable ability to skate through the game with ease while simultaneously producing timeless one-liners as well as Sandra Diaz-Twine and Rob Mariano, but their presence on the Island of the Idols premiere made the episode worse. This is not a knock on Rob and Sandra so much as it is a credit to the quality of stories the people on this cast have to tell. To distract from the new players’ narratives for even a second to effectively pay reverence to two faces of the franchise - via screen time and statues - does this season a disservice.
Between them, Rob and Sandra have competed on the show for 211 days. That doesn’t include this season (or any other future season, should they return again for some unforeseen reason). Through their seven combined tries, we have seen them triumph and fail, come thisclose - in the case of Rob in All-Stars - and get swap-screwed out a shot to three-peat - as Sandra was in Game Changers. When the Survivor: Island of the Idols twist was announced back in May, it was met with a tinge of disdain, as with most Survivor theme reveals. After the premiere, however, the consensus from Survivor pundits and fans at large appeared to be that the twist, while imperfect, has its perks.
It’s never fun to be the one taking a negative stance on a show beloved by so many, especially when the subjects are two all-timers, but...well, here it goes: Rob and Sandra were the least enjoyable part of the first episode. The Survivor: Island of the Idols did nothing to advance the stories of the 20 Survivors. In fact, once Elizabeth Beisel picked her jaw off the floor upon seeing SDT and the author of the BR Rules in the flesh, the scene sucked the momentum out of an otherwise captivating episode. Instead of learning about new characters, we were spoon-fed recycled content from past seasons, as we saw how well Boston Rob can make fire. Survivor fans have been clamoring to get rid of the final four fire-making challenge, and the show remedied this by introducing a relatively meaningless one in the first hour-and-a-half.
The Jimmy Fallon-inspired skyshack at tribal council distracted from the action unfolding as the Lairos treaded through Jeff Probst’s prodding (Elaine Stott dove head first at the onset of the affair, stating outright she knew she was a target). Sandra’s zingers were entertaining, but less so when they interfered with the flow of tribal. Many compare their commentary to typical jury snark, but the constant cutaways to the "hidey hut," as one writer who was there referred to it, felt unnecessary and forced.
It's too early to label this twist a failure. The fact that Beisel wasn't simply handed an advantage gave the Survivor purists hope for the future. And surely, the Island of the Idols trips will consist of something more entertaining than who can make a fire quicker than a guy who's done this thing five times already. Sandra and Boston Rob can complement this season as long as they don't become the season. It has to be about each of the players and how they grow and change throughout the 39-day journey. If the two mentors can aid in that process and remain in the background, especially as episode length shrinks from 90 minutes to 60, then there is hope for Survivor: Island of the Idols to be one of the greatest seasons of all time (don't @ me).
Survivor: Island of the Idols airs Wednesdays at 8pm EST on CBS.