Three episodes into Survivor 41, many have commented on the newer, refreshing aspects of the show, from the diverse cast to the summit to the editing style. One other elements that has become more and more apparent with each episode is the cast’s unbridled enthusiasm. This is a cast that grew up on Survivor, that knows all the meta aspects of the game and is fully taking advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is why it will be bittersweet to watch this cast be voted out one by one, a prime example being tonight’s boot, whose sheer enthusiasm for the game may have played a big part in him being voted out.
The episode starts the morning after Yase’s Tribal Council where David Voce was voted out unanimously. Now, all that remains of Yase are Evvie, Liana, Tiffany, and Xander, the only man left and the odd man out. While the editors focused heavily on Evvie, Tiffany, and Xander the first two episodes, this time we finally got to hear insight from Liana, who is not happy with how last night went down. She feels that a prime opportunity to take out Xander slipped from her fingers and she’s tearing up about allowing others to dictate the outcome. She mentions advice she got from her father before the game that change is constant. She’s not giving up; there’s always another opportunity to flip the narrative. The tearful confessional is juxtaposed with her completely failing to see a packaged note sitting conspicuously by the fire.
Alas, her ally Tiffany finds the note, which is a Beware Advantage, not to be confused with Xander’s Beware Advantage (perhaps we could’ve given it a different name). To fulfill this advantage, Tiffany must go out on a boat in the middle of the night and make a decision, much like we’ve seen with the summit in the first two episodes. She shares this with Evvie and Liana, who is bummed about not seeing what was right in front of her face, fearing this might be a million-dollar mistake. If I may put on my *following the edit* hat for a second, I worry this may be a sign of things to come for Liana. She is doing well in the game so far but will she ultimately miss the forest for the trees when it comes to building a winning game for herself?
Moving over to Ua, JD is entertaining the tribe with his impressions of past Survivor players like Reem Daly and Woo Hwang — it’s still an adjustment to see just how meta the show has become compared to most seasons, which are largely self-contained with little to no mention of Survivor’s past. But this scene is also a prime example of smart editing and foreshadowing, with JD making most of the tribe laugh while Brad is apart from them, on the outside looking in, waving through a metaphorical window. One nice thing for socially isolated players, though, is they tend to find more idols and advantages, and Brad ends up finding the Beware Advantage (the one introduced in this episode, not the butterflies are dead relatives one) and seems thrilled, saying he loves to be high risk. That much is clear given his propensity to run through the jungle and hide in bushes and tell people he wants to vote them out right in front of them.
Later, JD goes off to look for idols/advantages, which kicks off a montage of literally everyone at Ua searching the jungle themselves. This feels in keeping with the slight tension at the heart of Ua; for as much as we get the occasional fun bonding moments with them, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of trust among the group. You get the sense that come merge time, this might be a tribe that scatters to the wind rather than stays together as a tight unit. They all converge again and wonder if someone’s found it, and we get another fun flashback of Brad finding the Beware Advantage (the butterflies are dead relatives one, not the one introduced in this episode). He shares the advantage with Genie (hi Genie! we love you, Genie!) where he reads about having to say broccoli are small trees at the Immunity Challenge to help activate the idol. Something in this moment tells me he will stumble over this line — more on this later.
Over at Luvu, it’s still the same old story as we continue to only properly focus on Naseer and Sydney. Danny and Deshawn’s screen time comes and goes. But we still haven’t gotten to properly know Erika or Heather at all. To quote Jessica Chastain in A Most Violent Year, this is starting to feel very disrespectful. Especially when you look at the secret scene posted online last week where Heather a.k.a. Jennifer Coolidge-in-a-visor made up having a dream about Sydney stealing her torch? And this wasn’t in the episode why?
Regardless, Sydney is now telling the entire tribe about how Naseer was telling her he wanted to take out Danny. At first, it seems like Sydney might be acting sneaky-sneaky (© Kelley Wentworth), but we actually get a flashback where we see Naseer indeed campaigning to take out Danny and then telling her not to tell Danny. I love this editing style as we cut to Sydney telling not only Danny but the entire tribe about what Naseer said, while Naseer watches it all play out in the background. There’s a certain wickedness to Sydney that will either be delicious to watch moving forward or deeply infuriating as she tries to vote out all our faves. She then finds the Beware Advantage (*heavy sigh*… the one introduced in this episode, not the butterflies are dead relatives one) and says she has to do it, even though she’s scared.
Nighttime hits and it’s time for Brad, Sydney, and Tiffany to sneak off to fulfill their Beware Advantage. In another example of Brad doing *the most,* he creates a fake body of himself on the beach to make it look like he’s sleeping, not unlike, as he puts it, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Except Ferris Bueller was a high schooler and Brad is 49, which makes the image that much funnier. He meets Sydney and Tiffany at the special unnamed island where they are asked to choose between two advantages — one is a tarp to help keep the tribe dry, while the other is more selfish, a steal a vote advantage. If they all choose tarp, they all get a tarp. If they all choose steal a vote, they all lose a vote at their next Tribal Council. If it’s a split decision, the people who chose tarp get nothing while those who chose steal a vote will get that advantage. Through their discussion, all three seem to have their own ideas but Sydney says she doesn’t trust Tiffany, who comes to dominate the conversation. Brad, being the high-risk guy he is, picks steal a vote while the two women play it safe and pick the tarp. I like that we switched it up after the past two episodes having the same keep your vote/risk your vote set-up, plus we got some fun inter-tribe dynamics with the friction between Sydney and Tiffany. As long as we keep up this social element, I have no problem with this game-altering twist, which is admittedly shocking for me to admit as a Survivor purist.
At the Immunity Challenge, Brad does exactly what I was hoping for as he stumbles over his broccoli phrase. This prompts Xander to repeat his butterfly phrase, but no one on the Luvu tribe completes the trinity so their shared idol remains dormant for now. I truly cannot wait for Xander to state this a third time next week, leading those not in the loop to continue questioning his sanity. The challenge involves crossing a rope bridge in the water, then heading to the beach and digging up sandbags to then toss onto a series of targets. Luvu has two extra members and as if to almost reinforce their edits, Erika and Heather volunteer to sit out of the challenge. Tiffany surely has unpleasant flashbacks to her rough performance during last week’s balance-beam challenge but she does much better this time and Yase manages to contend with Luvu and Ua. It all comes down to tossing the sandbags and Luvu predictably finishes first. It all comes down to Xander tossing for Yase and JD for Ua and for the first time, Yase wins! The tribe of underdogs is infectiously jubilant while Ua is set to go to their second Tribal Council of the season.
Because the shared idol wasn’t activated, Brad cannot vote, which leaves only Genie, JD, Ricard, and Shan to decide who goes home. Options are quickly narrowed down to either Brad or JD, with Ricard and Shan trying to decide what works better for them moving forward. Not helping matters for JD’s case is when the young college student walks back from going to the bathroom with a visible note in his pants, which Shan clocks. She forces him to reveal that it’s an extra vote, which he attained in the premiere but kept hidden from the group. Shan is disappointed and makes it no secret that she’s disappointed in him. JD is concerned that he’s lost their trust in him. As a peace offering, he gives Shan the extra vote for safekeeping, upon which she says he’ll get it back when he’s not grounded anymore. Shan notes that JD is essentially in her pocket at this point, so maybe it would be wise to take out Brad. We then get a moving confessional where she talks about growing up with her mom and dad fighting and asking her to choose between the two of them. She tearfully admits that she’s still carrying that weight into her adulthood, which makes a game of betrayal like Survivor so tough. Shan has been such a root-worthy presence since the premiere but I worry if she’s struggling with a vote on Day 7 if she can handle the pressures of the game on Day 20 or Day 25.
At Tribal Council, Shan is visibly nervous to the point of Jeff Probst even commenting on it. She plays it off by discussing how sad she is to be voting someone off when she really doesn’t want to. JD is very open about how the tribe lost some trust in him and goes on to explain his backstory, growing up skinny, short, and unpopular. He took solace in watching Survivor, looking up to players like Woo and Malcolm. We witnessed a similar Tribal Council backstory moment last week with Voce, who ended up being voted out, so this may have been a tip-off to eagle-eyed viewers that JD was in trouble. But this ended up being a fake-out as the votes came in, with Brad being voted out by JD, Ricard, and Shan. Genie was clearly not informed of the plan as she appears blindsided by the vote. This, on top of the slight tension we saw earlier in Tribal Council between Genie and Ricard, could result in a rough morning-after for Ua next week.
For as messy as Brad was, he certainly made a memorable impression in his three episodes. The Beware Advantage ended up being his undoing, as he could have used the steal a vote this week, but his having the other Beware Advantage made him lose his vote. Meanwhile, Xander’s hope of completing the idol trinity takes a significant step backward. We now enter Episode 4 with Ua and Yase both at four castaways left, while Luvu still has six. Ideally, Luvu will lose the Immunity Challenge and force the editors to give us a more well-rounded view of this cast.
Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment