As "Survivor: South Pacific" on CBS approaches the halfway point, two Utahns are still on the island and in the running for the $1 million prize.
Dawn Meehan, 41, of South Jordan and an English professor at Brigham Young University, is part of the Savaii Tribe, and Rick Nelson, 51, a rancher from Aurora, Utah, who has a handlebar mustache and is commonly seen wearing a cowboy hat, is part of the Upolu Tribe. Both are also members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In recent episodes, neither has been in danger of being sent home by fellow tribe members, as they have helped their teams win challenges and haven't been the weakest or the most devious or obnoxious on their teams. The show is based on winning immunity challenges, making alliances and trusting the right people, along with surviving on an uninhabited island.
In a bold move on Wednesday's episode, 30-year-old Oscar “Ozzy” Lusth volunteered to be voted off the Savaii Tribe and sent to Redemption Island with hopes of rejoining his tribe and regaining his immunity idol.
Once a player is voted out at tribal council, they go to Redemption Island. The player then competes with another voted-off member on Redemption Island for a chance to get back in the game.
Before the two-time "Survivor" alum rejoins the tribe, Lusth must beat Christine Shields Markoski, 39, who has won four of the one-on-one competitions. On Wednesday's episode, of Day 17 and 18 on the island, she beat 22-year-old Mikayla Wingle, who was voted out of the Upolu Tribe during the Oct. 19 episode. Nelson cast the swing vote when Upolu was at tribal council after losing the team immunity challenge. Their seven-member tribe was split on whether to send Whingle or Edna Ma, 35, an anesthesiologist from Los Angeles, to Redemption Island.
It's generally been around this halfway point of the 39 days on the island when the two tribes merge. Lusth's rationale was that when the tribes merge and the player on Redemption Island rejoins the game, the Savaii Tribe will have regained a member and their team members will have a better chance at winning.
"You just made one of the biggest moves in 'Survivor' history based on one big assumption: that the merge is next," said host Jeff Probst after the Tribal Council.
Some of the Savaii Tribe members had been eyeing Harvard Law School student John Cochran, 24, as the one to be voted off after his rope mishandling during the team challenge contributed to the team's loss during the immunity challenge.
The challenge included the six members of each tribe dividing up into pairs and two of the pairs going over and under obstacles to get bags of masks and then pairing up the masks, all while blindfolded. The third team isn't blindfolded and can help verbally guide the other two teams. Cochran was one of the guides and his mishandling of tangled ropes each of the blindfolded teams were connected to was blamed for the team's loss.
However, the idea of Cochran going to Redemption Island was the same — for him to come back to the game after hopefully beating Markoski.
"The notion of Redemption Island takes on a literal (meaning) — it's to redeem yourself," Meehan said.
Nelson's tribe, Upolu, was the winning tribe, and received immunity, got to watch a special screening of "Jack and Jill" starring Adam Sandler and had hot dogs and movie candy.
Being Mormon has only come up a couple of times in the show — most recently when Meehan said she wasn't comfortable swimming in her underwear and was grateful to get the red and brown swimsuit she has been seen wearing during the last few episodes.
"Survivor: South Pacific" airs Wednesdays at 7 p.m. on CBS.