Everyone’s getting a little punchy. The overall vibe from tonight’s double elimination episode of Survivor 41 was tense, and ended with two of the more rootable castaways being sent to the jury. It might be the lack of food in their bellies, the constant worry about idols and advantages, the random twist of this episode, or a combination of all three, but the season is starting to feel more brutal than usual, in a way that could make for a particularly raw endgame.
The episode begins in the wake of an unnecessarily messy Tribal Council, stemming from Heather’s impulsive whisper campaign against Naseer. Deshawn is not pleased with multiple tribemates, including Heather for starting the messiness, and Shan for trying to dictate the vote. He’s visibly frustrated with his alliance and in the heat of the moment, suggests that he wants to pull a Julie from Survivor: Edge of Extinction and jump ship. There’s an impulsiveness to Deshawn that makes him panic when he loses control of the situation, and his tense confrontations aren’t exactly the best way of managing relationships.
After a good night’s sleep, Deshawn ultimately does some damage control with Shan, apologizing to her and trying to mend fences. But he is set off once again when Shan tries to strategize with him, saying she wants Erika or Heather out next. It seems like a relatively minor strategy session but Deshawn is back to being mad at Shan and process to campaign with Evvie, one of the remaining members of the minority Yase group. Deshawn has a much more chill conversation with Evvie and they promise to never write each other’s name down. More on that later!
Meanwhile, there are more confrontations to be had as Naseer is unhappy with Heather trying to get him out. He thinks Heather cast a vote for him last night, and she’s not lying when she says she didn’t. It was in fact Xander, who eavesdrops on the conversation but smartly keeps his mouth shut, since he encourages the chaos. Evvie confirms that Heather did try to get Naseer out and Heather can’t help but admit to it. Heather knows she’s painted a huge target on her back, which is true, but it’s also been nice to actually see her as an active person on the show after a mostly invisible pre-merge.
In the middle of this strategy-heavy episode, we also get a more personal segment, with Ricard revealing that he is deaf in one ear. He tells his tribemates about where it all started and how he reads lips to help him understand conversations. We also get a interesting moment of the editors trying to recreate Ricard’s experience by mixing an echo-y sound, in a Sound of Metal-esque bit of experimentation. Ricard discusses in a confessional how he has blossomed through his Survivor experience and points out that he would be the show’s first hard of hearing winner. This is a moment that could be looked back on as the start of Ricard’s winner edit, but what makes this season fascinating is that just about everyone has gotten these personal segments since the beginning, so it isn’t entirely clear whose winning story this is. Regardless, on its own, it speaks to the added difficulties for Ricard and others in this situation who have to adapt, especially in a fast-paced environment like Survivor.
The last segment we get before the Immunity Challenge is, hopefully, a rather telling one for the future. As Erika and Xander chat on the beach, they spot Danny, Deshawn, Liana, Shan, and Ricard conspiring together. While Shan and Liana mention wanting to take out Erika or Xander, their targets talk about being on the outside of that core group and Erika seems to be considering flipping. This is exactly what Erika needs to do if she wants to make it to the end, and I’m hoping we’ll get a proper vote flip to make the endgame truly explosive.
It’s time for the Immunity Challenge, and once again, there’s a twist. This week, the players are randomly split into two teams, with two Immunity winners and both teams going to their own separate Tribal Councils. It’s sort of like the twist that screwed over Michelle Yi in Survivor: Fiji, except everyone still has to go to Tribal Council. At any rate, the challenge is surprisingly similar to last week’s, where the castaways have to balance on a narrow perch while gripping handles behind their heads. The last player standing from each group wins Immunity, while the last person standing overall among all 10 players wins a reward of chicken and beef stew for their group. The groups are split up as follows:
Yellow: Erika, Heather, Naseer, Ricard, Shan
Blue: Danny, Deshawn, Evvie, Liana, Xander
Players sporadically drop out before we get showdowns between Erika and Naseer for Yellow and Deshawn and Xander for Blue. Erika manages to outlast Naseer and wins a much-needed Immunity, though she cannot outlast the Blue duo to win the reward. On the sidelines, Liana continues to harbor a grudge against Xander, saying she hates the look on his face. Much to her dissatisfaction, Xander wins the challenge and thus, allows his group to enjoy some stew. The tribes are then told that they will go back to different camps, (thankfully) preventing any cross-pollination for strategy talk.
Among the Yellow group, Erika’s win means that only Heather, Naseer, Ricard, and Shan are eligible to be voted out. Shan feels comfortable with Naseer and Ricard, so she’s all about taking out Heather, who she views as Erika’s biggest ally. Naseer, having already confronted Erika yesterday, is pleased with this plan and even proceeds to express his condolences to Heather about having to vote her out tonight. Erika and Heather suggest that it doesn’t have to be this way and try to convince him to use the idol on Heather, to no avail. Much as I like this trio, there was no way he would be willing to risk his own safety for the woman who just tried to take him out.
Erika and Heather discuss the possibility of taking out Naseer or Shan, which would eliminate at least one idol from the game. Luckily for them, they have a comrade in Ricard, who doesn’t understand why the powerless Heather is being targeted. He expresses his own desire to take out Naseer, which is music to their ears. The only wrinkle is he wants to get his closest ally, Shan, onboard. Shan is stubborn in not wanting to change the plan from Heather but they have a discussion about using her extra vote. She’s very clearly uncomfortable with the idea, which is not a good sign.
Meanwhile, the Blue group has a similar situation brewing. Evvie and Xander are feeling emboldened now that they only need one person to flip to have things go in their favor, and that one person is Deshawn. Based on his fracturing relationships with his group, Deshawn makes the most sense as someone who would flip, especially compared to the stubborn Danny and Liana. Evvie and Xander wish to take out Liana, considering she’s become Shan’s minion (and perhaps out of revenge for turning against them at the merge). Xander has a conversation with Liana, who mentions either Evvie or Deshawn as the target. Liana suggests that Xander gives her, Liana, his idol, as an act of confidence that he won’t use it on Evvie. Much like the Heather-Naseer situation, no way on God’s green earth that’s happening.
Xander proceeds to tell Deshawn about her throwing his name under the bus. He’s not happy about this and it seems like he’s becoming more and more okay with the idea of taking out Liana. Not okay with it is Danny, who is firm in his stance that Evvie is a bigger threat.
At the episode’s first Tribal Council, most of the focus is on Heather. She previously talked with Erika and Ricard about playing up the fact that she knows she’s going home tonight, in order to throw Naseer off the scent. She does a pretty good job of it, managing to cry real tears as she talks about wanting to come out on Survivor to prove herself, and she’s proud of how she’s done. The ruse seems to work, as Naseer does not play his idol and the vote is tied between him and Heather! This means that Shan’s extra vote was indeed cast. At the revote, Erika, Ricard and Shan all vote for Naseer, and he is blindsided with the idol in his pocket. Jeff instructs Naseer not to leave the Tribal Council area immediately, as is custom, but to take a seat next to Tiffany as a newly-minted member of the jury. We get the reveal of who voted for whom and see that Shan used her extra vote but decided to vote in the opposite direction as her other vote. Should be fun figuring out why she did all that!
Now it’s time for the second Tribal Council, and the group is largely shocked to see Naseer as the person voted out. Jeff polls the Blue group on who feels comfortable with the game plan for tonight. They all say that they have a sense of what’s going to happen and are comfortable with it, which can only mean that someone was lied to. The votes are cast, no one plays an idol and in the end, it is a relatively straightforward vote. While Evvie and Xander voted for Liana, Deshawn decided to stick with Danny and Liana in taking out Evvie, who becomes the third member of the jury.
As a fan of both Naseer and Evvie (and Tiffany), I can’t say I’m loving this post-merge boot order. For as much as Evvie was beaming with excitement over getting to play with such evolved players, we are not left with a particularly fun group heading into the Final 8. No one ever said Survivor was fun, but we are starting to run out of contenders that are worth rooting for in the endgame. Shan has been one of the season’s defining characters, but her struggle to maintain positive relationships with her allies may do her in. Danny and Liana are too rigid in their gameplay. Deshawn is a good narrator but can sometimes be petulant when he doesn’t get his way. Ricard can sometimes feel lost in the shuffle. Erika and Heather are finally starting to emerge as fun players, but haven’t received much airtime up to this point. Despite the troubling trend in recent years of only white male winners, Xander is probably the leading contender, as of now, who would be wholly satisfying to most viewers. There is still potential for Erika or Deshawn to go the distance, or even Shan if she switches up her social strategy, but the underdog lover in me has me rooting for Xander. Who knew I would find myself most compelled by the alpha white boy Joe/Ozzy type? A whole new era indeed.
Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment