Survivor 41 continues to be one of the more fascinating seasons from a storytelling perspective. There is a heaviness to Season 41 that we haven’t seen much from modern seasons, between the lack of resources provided and the burden of responsibility felt by many of the players to represent their community in a good light. That heaviness continued into Episode 12, the penultimate episode of the season, where the personal lives of the castaways intersected with playing this cutthroat game.
The episode begins in the aftermath of the previous night’s Tribal Council, where Deshawn broke down in tears while discussing the guilt he felt for voting out Shan, a fellow Black player. Many of his tribemates commend Deshawn for speaking his truth at Tribal Council, and he is understandably still emotional, especially after surviving the Do or Die twist that same night. Danny talks about the previous night’s vote, where Liana, another member of their alliance was voted out, and how ridiculous it was that the rest of the tribe voted her out instead of Ricard. After all, Ricard has been winning multiple challenges and has proven to have a great strategic mind for the game. As Danny colorfully describes, it’s like the players were given the opportunity to knock off the old Tom Brady dynasty, and instead, they decided to go play kickball instead. One of many references we’ll get to football this episode.
With Danny and Deshawn now in the minority, Xander agrees that now is the time to take out Ricard. He had previously been keeping Ricard as a meat shield to protect himself from becoming the target, but with so few days left in the game, it’s time to make that move. In a bit of dramatic irony, we also have a scene of Ricard telling Erika that Xander is a loyal soldier. I’ve been wondering for a few episodes now why Xander hasn’t been brought up as a target, considering he’s the only player left with an Immunity Idol and has shown strength in challenges. Perhaps there is a perception out there that Xander hasn’t played an active enough game to be considered a threat, but he has a classic underdog story that seems more dangerous than people are thinking at this point.
Before the Reward Challenge, we get several scenes of Deshawn having one-on-one conversations with tribemates about his emotional speech at Tribal Council. We get a rare Heather confessional here, in which she explains the importance of her listening to Deshawn’s perspective, even as a person who may never understand his experience. She is nearly moved to tears herself as she stresses how much she hopes this season will make a difference. Erika commends Deshawn for his words and mentions her own guilt over voting out Liana, considering how long it’s been since a woman has won Survivor. It’s refreshing to see this level of self-awareness and perception about how this season will be received, especially after these players have been on the island for over 20 days without much food, in a high-pressure game. I’m also taking note of the editors including Erika’s mention of it being a while since a woman has won; we’ve heard this a few times throughout the past few seasons but it hasn’t foreshadowed a woman actually winning. Will this finally be the time?
Alas, it’s time for the Reward Challenge, where two teams of three are tasked with leaping off a net ramp, diving for buoys, and landing them in three baskets. The winning team gets to choose between grilled chicken and veggies or cake, cookies, and candy. We get a funny moment here of Deshawn being a little mad that no letters from home are included in the Reward, which does bring to mind how we probably aren’t getting any kind of family visit due to COVID restrictions. The teams are divided into Danny, Heather, and Ricard vs. Deshawn, Erika, and Xander, with the latter team pulling out the victory.
Deshawn does what any good Survivor player would do and uses the reward as an opportunity to strategize. While dining over chicken and veggies, Deshawn presents himself as someone Erika and Xander can work with moving forward. They all agree that Ricard should be the next person to go and take things a step further by weighing the option of going to the end as a Final 3. Deshawn seems a little iffier on this deal than Erika and Xander, but he’ll take what he can get at this point. Deshawn and Erika later have a discussion about Heather in the context of her not being the right person to take to the end. Deshawn is worried that Erika might take Heather to the end instead of him, as an easy option, but he subtly presents this topic of discussion to Erika as him being concerned that her and Heather’s games might be perceived as too similar. Erika strongly considers this, and Deshawn sees it as the planting of a seed that might bear fruit later on.
Meanwhile, Danny goes on a hunt for the Hidden Immunity Idol and takes a little too much time doing it. Heather and Ricard become suspicious of where Danny is, but he eventually comes back with a bit of a pep in his step. What’s tricky about this season is because they’ve played around so much with editing, we don’t know if Danny actually did find the idol and it’s being withheld from us for now, putting us in a similar boat as Heather and Ricard. The ever-perceptive Ricard takes note of how Danny’s whole vibe seems to have shifted, thinking he might just have found the idol.
Next up is the Immunity Challenge, where the castaways spin around to unspool a coil of rope, collect puzzle pieces on a balance beam, and solve a word puzzle. We get a rare bit of levity as the players lose their balance after spinning so rapidly, but the challenge ends up coming down to the puzzle, as so many do nowadays. And just as the other players feared, Ricard wins the challenge, his third Immunity victory this season. Considering there were no other options discussed as the next target, it’s time to scramble to figure out a plan B.
Back at camp, Danny is feeling very “I told you so” about Ricard winning Immunity, and rightfully so. He’s now reached the Final 5, and could very easily win the last two Immunity Challenges of the season and cement himself in the Final 3. It seems clear that Ricard is the obstacle we always get at the end of every season, the person who dominates challenges so thoroughly that the other players just can’t get out. It’s nice to have Ricard be the rare gay player to actually fulfill that archetype. We love a gay villain. Ricard asks Danny straight-up if he found the idol, but Danny is keeping mum. He hopes to have created enough paranoia that people think he does have an idol, even though, as is revealed here, he did not find one.
Most of the discussion among the other players revolves around whether they should take out Danny or Deshawn. Erika is in a funny position where she’s made the deal with Deshawn, but she feels like he’s a bigger threat than Danny at this point. As she notes, it’s in her best interest to keep Deshawn, so she has to come up with an argument for why Danny should go instead. While Ricard would prefer Deshawn to go, Erika argues that Deshawn has a better chance of beating Ricard at certain challenges moving forward.
In our last scene before Tribal Council, Danny and Deshawn discuss how the writing is on the wall, that one of them is destined to go home tonight. In the spirit of this being the end, Danny finally confesses that he is an ex-NFL player, having played for the Dallas Cowboys. Deshawn is quite shocked and they have a laugh. Deshawn feels confident that his social ability will keep him in the game tonight, but either way, it will be the end of the road for their plans to make it to the end together.
At Tribal Council, Deshawn is all smiles despite having a solid chance of being voted out. He seems to have the confidence of a man who has looked death in the face and has resolved to live in the present, and that includes deploying a few truth bombs. He decides to reveal to Heather in front of everyone that Erika is not taking her to the end, which is… a choice. Erika brings up that Heather has probably weighed her options and considered not taking Erika either, which Heather neither confirms nor denies. Deshawn quotes Gabby Pascuzzi from Survivor: David vs. Goliath, saying that if it’s him that goes out,” at least I did something with some gumption.”
Deshawn’s move likely didn’t change much of anything as the vote comes down to a tie, with three votes on Danny and three on Deshawn. This more or less confirms that they were planning to flush out Danny’s idol if he had one, and on the revote, all the votes are cast for Danny. After his torch is snuffed, Jeff reveals to the Final 5 that for their last three days in the game, they will be moving to a new island and starting over fresh! Because why not make this impossibly difficult season even tougher.
Heading into the finale, we have a number of winner possibilities. Heather is probably our least likely winner, considering her complete lack of an edit all season long, but you could make a case for the other four. Ricard has been both a physical and strategic threat, Deshawn has played a strong social game, despite some missteps along the way, and Erika and Xander both have classic underdog narratives, as players who were vastly underestimated. This season has featured some missteps (most of the needlessly complicated twists), but the emotional weight of the storytelling has given it a strong level of investment. Hopefully, they stick the landing by letting the cast guide the narrative to its natural conclusion.
Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment