When we talk in the future about Survivor 41, we will likely divide it up into two eras — Ua and post-Ua. All but one of the first five episodes of the season have now ended with Ua voting out one of their own and while the season is starting to feel repetitive, the narrative is juicier than ever thanks to the undisputed star of the season, Shan Smith.
Episode 5 opens in the aftermath of Shan, Ricard, and Genie having voted out JD at the previous night’s Tribal Council. Considering her head was prominent on the chopping block, Genie is decidedly less irate than at the start of Episode 4, and now she considers her, Ricard, and Shan to be a solid three. Stripped of context, the scene plays out like a Final Three celebration would in another season, but it’s only Day 10. The trio has played so hard up to this point that they’ve been forced to make the kinds of decisions you see at the end of the game, but they haven’t even hit the merge.
Genie knows she’s probably still on the bottom and goes out to look for the Beware Advantage, re-hidden after the previous owner, Brad, was voted out. She finds it and demonstrates her trust in Ricard and Shan by yelling through the jungle about finding an idol, proving she may be too pure for this game. Shan is nervous about it and makes them all agree that they won’t touch it. But of course, *evil music intensifies* Shan actually wants the Beware Advantage for herself. She opens it up with Ricard, without Genie’s knowledge, and because she now loses her vote the next Tribal, she gives her extra vote advantage to Ricard just in case some funny business goes down. They concoct a lie to Genie about wanting to say the Beware Advantage phrase at the Immunity Challenge anyway just to see if Luvu has it, and sweet, trusting Genie goes along with it. What’s fun about Ricard and Shan is they could be playing conservatively at this point, secure in the knowledge that Genie is the easy next target, but they continue to game hardcore just to get themselves a little bit further. It helps turn what could be a tedious pre-merge into some invigorating gameplay to kick off this new era.
We get our requisite Luvu content next, with Sydney spearing some fish for the tribe. She calls herself a mermaid and seems to revel in defying stereotypes about women and fishing and it feels vaguely like “I’m different from the other girls” and I feel like we all have a Sydney in our lives. Let’s just leave it at that. Meanwhile, Deshawn and Danny are yet again hung up on Erika being a huge threat and want to try throwing the Immunity Challenge again. They get Naseer in on the plan but he’s not interested, though happy he’s at least being let in on what’s happening. And once again, Erika and Heather go back to being virtually invisible after a brief spike in airtime last week.
Over at Yase, there’s some anxiety over Xander’s Beware Advantage. Evvie and Xander have a chat reasserting their trust in one another, but Xander doesn’t know that Evvie’s loyalty remains with the other women. It is here that we get our first bit of scheming against Evvie, where Tiffany tells Liana she’s becoming suspicious of Evvie’s relationship with Xander. They conspire to go through Xander’s bag on the hunt for an idol and come upon his Beware Advantage. When Xander comes back, he decides to let Tiffany in on the situation and curiously not Liana, for reasons that aren’t quite explained other than trying to shore up Tiffany’s loyalty. Xander tells Tiffany about his advantage and tells her he found it today, going into detail about having to say the nonsense phrase at a challenge. Tiffany, having heard him talk about butterflies and dead relatives at multiple challenges already, realizes he’s now actively lying to her. He tries to backtrack but it only reinforces her desire to get him out next. Tiffany’s no-bullshit attitude is so enjoyable to watch (her goofy faces to the camera, while Xander digs through his bag to show her the advantage, will surely become a meme) and I’m so glad the tribe decided to keep her around after a rough start.
At the Immunity Challenge, Shan makes her statement about broccoli being like small trees, without really playing it off as something Brad already said at a previous challenge. Xander then replies by talking about butterflies and dead relatives for the third time and as the tension lingers on Luvu to complete the activation process, Naseer ends the suspense by saying he feels like a goat on AstroTurf! Once again, the editors are playing around with chronology, as we then get a flashback to one day earlier, where Naseer found the Beware Advantage, telling a sweet story about how his daughter helped him practice before the game by hiding advantages in their backyard. With this, the activation is complete! Xander finally gets his vote back! All three of Xander, Shan, and Naseer get the shared idol. It feels like the ground should suddenly start shifting, but there’s no real fanfare after this, other than Jeff Probst commenting on how they’ve all gone a little nutty.
For the challenge, which involves maneuvering on a net ramp to eventually toss sandbags at two targets, there aren’t any embarrassing Heather moments, but it plays out like a slow death for the Ua tribe, who once again lose the challenge. This means that their three members will now become two. But first, as the first tribe to win the challenge, Yase is tasked with sending two people to the summit for another risk/reward endeavor. They choose Shan from Ua and Liana volunteers to join her. Shan is understandably nervous about letting Ricard and Genie spend so many hours alone to conspire against her, but she also has an idol now, so in theory, she should be good either way.
Along the path to the summit, Shan and Liana get to know each other and they immediately hit it off. They make a promise to look out for each other once they get to the merge and there seems to be such a strong connection that Shan even tells Liana that if Shan doesn’t make it to merge, to not trust Ricard. It’s a surprisingly candid admission about your closest ally, but it’s not without reason. Ricard getting to the merge without Shan would show his ruthlessness, because it would mean that he turned on his own closest confidant. Shan also opens up about her mother’s death two years ago, also admitting that she hasn’t shown this kind of emotion even with her own tribe. It’s yet another added layer to Shan, who is getting the kind of dominance in the edit we haven’t seen for a female player in a long time.
Shan chooses to protect her vote, obviously needing it at the upcoming Tribal Council, while Liana risks it, and she gets a wildly powerful advantage out of it. She receives the Knowledge Is Power advantage, which allows her to ask another player if they have an idol or advantage. The player cannot lie about whether they do or not. If they do have one, they are required to forfeit their advantage to Liana; if they don’t have one, her advantage becomes powerless. This will almost definitely come in handy if she intends to take Xander’s power away from him, knowing for certain that he has an idol. After being more in the shadows compared to the rest of her tribe, this could be a huge game-winning moment for Liana if she plays her cards right.
Back at Loser Island, Ricard and Genie discuss whether they should use this opportunity to take out Shan. Little does Genie know, Ricard is just trying to lead Genie on as he has every intention of sticking with Shan moving forward. After Shan comes back, her paranoia kicks in as she campaigns separately to Genie and then to Ricard. Genie spills the beans that Ricard was scheming with her to get Shan out, which seems to rattle Shan. Shan tells Ricard she wants her extra vote advantage back, but Ricard is hesitant. He smartly assesses that she would then have no reason not to vote him out. This leads to an argument so tense that even I’m starting to doubt whether they should really trust each other moving forward. Yet again, Shan finds herself at a crossroads between taking Ricard “the strategist,” or Genie “the loyalist,” a conflict she continues to encounter with pretty much every vote so far.
At Tribal Council, the nervousing reaches new heights as all three of Genie, Ricard, and Shan appear paranoid that the plan they’ve been told is actually a lie. Ricard makes an interesting point that hasn’t been discussed much with other perpetually losing tribes on Survivor, which is that the two that come out of this are so experienced at the game, having maneuvered through four Tribal Councils, that they should be considered threats. It’s a fair point considering we had Denise Stapley go to every single pre-merge Tribal Council in Survivor: Philippines and was so underestimated after the merge, but later went on to win the season. After the three remaining Ua members cast their votes, it is revealed that despite their spat, Ricard and Shan stuck together as they voted together to take out Genie.
Genie, you’re free! It seemed difficult for the grocery clerk to keep losing challenges and constantly fear for her safety in the game, and now her perpetual nightmare is over. While this episode was rather lopsided in its editing, it also reinforced how great this cast is, where even a relatively low profile player like Genie is a sad loss for the show. Based on the promo for next week, we’ll be getting some kind of tribe swap in Episode 6, and I can’t help but be a little bummed that we’re probably not getting a Survivor: Palau situation where Shan becomes the last person standing and stakes her claim as this generation’s Stephenie LaGrossa. But a boy can dream.
Photo: Robert Voets/CBS