Previously on… ‘Survivor’ recap: S41 E2 – “The Butterfly Effect”
There is no official theme to Survivor 41, but “risk vs. reward” might as well be. From the producer-implemented twists to the cast’s organic gameplay, just about every decision made this season stems from some type of cost-benefit analysis. Episode 2 is a continuation of the threads introduced in last week’s supersized premiere, while also lacking some of its character development and giddy excitement.
Episode 2 begins in the aftermath of Ua’s explosive Tribal Council, where a whole bunch of whispering took place despite not actually changing their initial plan to vote out Sara. Brad is spooked by how it all went down and admits he’s not happy with JD in particular, calling him a loose cannon. An ironic admission given Brad’s tendency to spill everyone’s plans to each other, but it wouldn’t be Survivor without a dash of hypocrisy. JD and Ricard go off to the water well, which, as Brad observes, is code for talking strategy. Brad decides to try to beat them there by taking an alternate route, literally sprinting off into the jungle in full Tony Vlachos fashion, and emulates the two-time winner even further by spying on JD and Ricard in the bushes. Turns out, they’re talking about Brad, who comes back to camp and confirms to Shan that the two were conspiring together. Shan is a bit baffled by Brad’s stunt queen moment and immediately tells Ricard about it. It’s truly wild to see this cast reveal all their intel to each other at the drop of a hat. Whatever happened to keeping info in your back pocket?
Over at Luvu camp, Deshawn is trying desperately to make fire, but to no avail. Naseer steps in and sparks a flame in no time flat, prompting Sydney to talk about how essential he is to their tribe’s survival. It is a glowing moment for Naseer, as we also get a flashback to his life growing up in a Sri Lanka village, where he had no running water or electricity. I’m a fan of this new mode of showing us actual footage to supplement confessionals. Australian Survivor implements this editing style and it provides a more well-rounded image of the castaways for the audience, almost like a mini version of a flashback you’d see on Lost back in the day.
That’s all we really get of Luvu for this episode, as I’m still waiting to get further exploration of the two most invisible castaways — Erika and Heather, who may or may not be the visor-wearing sister of Jennifer Coolidge. Who are they? Where are their stories?! Alas, we move on to the Yase tribe, where things are just a mess. Tiffany is exhausted (more on that later) while Xander is not content to just have his extra vote advantage — he’s on the hunt for more. He ultimately finds the Beware Advantage that we saw Jeff Probst plant in the premiere and Xander reads that if he accepts the advantage, he is required to do what it tells him to do.
Ever the risk-taker, he opens up the advantage where it is revealed that it is one-third of a Hidden Immunity Idol. Exciting in theory, but it does not have power unless castaways on the other two tribes find their piece of the metaphorical idol. But that’s not all. Xander must say a nonsense phrase at the Immunity Challenge, and if the other two advantage-wielders say their own nonsense phrase, the idol is officially activated. If they don’t, Xander loses his vote at every Tribal Council until it is activated. The phrase he must state at the challenge: “I truly believe that butterflies are dead relatives saying hi.” You can just feel the satisfaction of Jeff coming up with these phrases in pre-production. Let’s be honest, though. This is mostly a beware disadvantage with the amount of damage it can do to your game. Alas, Xander tells Evvie and Voce about this twist, and the former is growing concerned about the number of advantages Xander is accruing. With the Yase men now in the minority, Evvie is hoping to stick with Liana and Tiffany as a strong trio. But as Evvie correctly assesses, they are in good with pretty much everyone on the tribe, which could pose problems when it comes to betraying people.
It’s time for the Immunity Challenge, and because it’s a water challenge, we don’t get to hear Jeff say “Come on in.” And I didn’t even pick up on that until after the fact as I was writing this recap. I remain baffled by those who rage-quit the show after last week because of a slight change in verbiage, considering how truly insignificant the phrase is in the grand scheme of the show. Regardless, Xander is ready to clumsily integrate his own phrase into the conversation. After Jeff prompts the group to talk about how they’re coping with the elements, Xander talks about being in a state of confusion and waking up thinking butterflies are in fact dead relatives saying hi. He somehow pulls it off due to his slight surfer-bro energy. My favorite part of this isn’t the awkward silence that follows but Tiffany nodding her head as Xander says this, as if this is a sentiment they all share. No one on Luvu or Ua responds with their own phrase, so it’s on with the show. Following some WTF-tinged laughter, they get to the Immunity Challenge, which involves diving into the water for keys, navigating obstacles, and eventually solving a puzzle. Basically last week’s challenge except we’re in the water this time. The first two tribes to complete their puzzle will be safe from Tribal Council. Luvu and Ua don’t have much problem but Yase continues to be a mess as Tiffany struggles to get over the balance beam. And by struggles, I mean really struggles. For what feels like several minutes, she tries every mode of getting over this balance beam, and Jeff, seizing the opportunity to go full gym instructor, screams at her to dig deep and keep trying. Eventually she does it and Yase is able to at least attempt the puzzle at the end but it’s too late — Luvu and Ua win Immunity, sending Yase to Tribal Council yet again. Looks like we have our flop tribe of the season.
Before they can go back to camp, though, it’s time for another rendezvous between opposing tribemates. Jeff tells Luvu to select two people to go off and “make a decision together.” They choose Evvie, and Deshawn volunteers to be the second. They go to the same location we saw last week, following the long path up to the summit while getting to know each other. We get more flashback footage as Deshawn talks about feeling pressure to do well in life and his journey to becoming a doctor. Evvie divulges to Deshawn how the whole idol situation works (more over-sharing!) and they make an unofficial agreement to look out for each other. They go off and are confronted with the same risk/protect your vote dilemma we saw in the premiere. Evvie, nervous about the coming Tribal Council, decides to protect her vote while Deshawn risks it, giving him an extra vote. I don’t exactly love having this same twist again in Episode 2, as it could get not only repetitive but confusing to remember who has an extra vote and what specific bonds were made between tribes but perhaps it will bear fruit later down the line.
Back at Yase, Tiffany apologizes for her poor performance in the challenge but has full confidence that she won’t be going home tonight. The plan is to vote out Xander, regardless of challenge strength. Not they’ve won anything yet anyway, as Evvie later argues. Meanwhile, Voce and Xander are frustrated by Tiffany, saying she’s a liability. Voce campaigns to Liana, asserting that they have to take out Tiffany if they want to start winning challenges. Tiffany eventually proposes getting out Voce instead, fearing that Xander has some kind of protection that will result in her being voted out by default. Her New York accent combined with her chaotic energy is giving me full Mercedes Ruehl and I’m here for it. Evvie and Liana are worried about Tiffany’s unpredictability, giving us some doubt heading into Tribal Council as Evvie claims it’s going to be insane no matter what.
As we transition into Tribal Council, we get our one and only fourth-wall-breaking moment of the episode as Jeff whispers to us, doubling down on Evvie’s sentiment that it could get crazy tonight. Will they vote on alliances or tribe strength? We don’t particularly need this, considering the show is already showing this as the conflict, plus Evvie said it mere seconds ago, but have your little confessional moment, Jeff! When it comes to the actual Tribal Council, though, it is decidedly un-crazy and pretty much as straightforward as their first Tribal. They discuss how, damn, it’s brutal out here, and Voce talks about growing up not thinking he was smart, but his mom, a single mother, gave him the drive to succeed. It’s a nice moment for Voce, who hadn’t received too much personal content up to this point, but savvy viewers likely took this as a sign that this may be signaling the end fo him. Xander is not able to vote, but even if he was, it wouldn’t have been enough to make a difference as Voce is voted out unanimously by Evvie, Liana, and Tiffany.
Now, the Yase tribe is down to just Evvie, Liana, Tiffany, and Xander. Some viewers will inevitably be frustrated by the decision to keep Tiffany, but this is a tribe that is very clearly motivated by social bonds. There is something about this dynamic that reminds me of the Brains tribe in Survivor: Cagayan, which saw the women sticking together through the first two votes of the season and taking out the men, even if it meant protecting a “liability” like J’Tia. While Kass and Tasha would have to join Spencer in taking out J’Tia just a few episodes later, the three of them eventually made it to the Final 6 that season. Perhaps we could see a similar situation with Yase, assuming they start winning some challenges. Hopefully next week we will also get to explore some new dynamics outside of Yase so we can get a full picture of how this season is going to shape up.