Erika Casupanan and Jeff Probst in Survivor 41. (CBS Photo Archives)
Erika Casupanan and Jeff Probst in Survivor 41.

CBS Photo Archives

Fire in the Form of Print: Survivor 41 Eps. 6 & 7

November 15, 2021

Buckle up, folks; this is gonna be a long one.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt such binary feelings for a pair of episodes as I do for these two. Where one left me completely numb, the other rejuvenated me and made me proud to be a Survivor fan. However, I can’t say I’m particularly angry at the producers now for how it was all handled, because without the drudgery of the first half, I don’t know if they would’ve been able to deliver the fireworks we received in the second.

No point beating around the bush any further, I suppose.

 

EPISODE 6: “Ready to Play Like a Lion”

Shan and Ricard return to the Ua camp having just ousted Genie, and the tension that emerged the day before related to who should possess the Extra Vote carried over. Ricard is still angry that Shan tried to strongarm him into giving it back, whereas Shan is angry that Ricard refused. 

Although, while it could’ve devolved further into a bitter argument, it read more to me like a dispute between an old married couple. It’s clear Shan and Ricard have no intentions of turning on one another in the near future, but despite that, there is certainly no love lost between the two. Ricard eventually gives in and returns the extra vote to Shan’s possession, rendering it a moot point anyway.

The next day, the three tribes each receive a message telling them to pack their things; ominously, however, none of the messages mention a Tribe Merge. At Yase, Xander is concerned there’s about to be another twist, but Liana is champing at the bit to “flip the narrative.” On Luvu, Deshawn expresses concern about a potential merge, especially given that the Luvu Tribe still has yet to lose a single member, which could place enormous targets on their backs.

At this point, we are treated to yet another Awkward Jeff Probst Direct-To-Camera Address! In it, he reveals this will be a two-part episode, meaning there is no Tribal Council in Episode 6. He also claims that what’s coming is the “biggest twist so far.” Yay! There weren’t enough of those already, so bring it on Jeffrey.

As the three tribes arrive, Probst informs them that they are entering the next stage of the game. As the castaways excitedly shout “MERGE,” he swiftly pulls the rug out from under them. Apparently, they are going to have to “earn [their] way into a merge.”

Probst then explains how this process will unfold:

  • The twelve castaways will draw rocks to determine the two teams of five
  • Two rocks will be gray, meaning those two players will sit out of the challenge
  • The two teams will compete in a challenge involving boulder pushing, key retrieval, tower scaling, and puzzle solving
  • The first team to finish will win immunity, become part of the Merge Tribe, and earn themselves a feast; they will also have a decision to make regarding the two castaways not participating in the challenge
  • The losing team will be vulnerable, and will have to compete for Individual Immunity

 

The castaways draw their rocks, and are divided into:

  • The Blue Team, consisting of Danny, Deshawn, Evvie, Ricard, and Sydney
  • The Yellow Team, consisting of Heather, Liana, Shan, Tiffany, and Xander

Naseer and Erika each draw gray rocks, and they are benched while the teams prepare.

Unfortunately for those of us watching at home, the combination of Danny and Deshawn remains as formidable as ever, and the Blue Team never loses their lead throughout, cruising to an easy victory and winning both immunity and food.

Then, Probst presents the Blue Team with a dilemma: they have to select one of Erika and Naseer to join them in immunity and reward, and, in doing so, they will be sending the other to live alone on a desolate island for two days. 

After a small amount of deliberation, the Blue Team selects Naseer, sending Erika to Exile Island (they never actually called it that, but it functions the same way that twist did). Danny tries to make it seem less personal by claiming they played rock-paper-scissors to decide, but this further hurts Erika’s feelings.

At this point, the Blue Team + Naseer were given their merge buffs and went off to enjoy their feast, while the crestfallen Yellow Team returned to camp with a small amount of rice and Erika went to Exile. I was not entirely sure if the tribes were merged at this point, and, as my mother aptly stated, “it’s never good if you have to ask if you’re merged.”

The Blue Team thoroughly enjoy their feast and immediately talk strategy. Danny states that, although he felt bad for Erika, he didn’t want to send Naseer because he was worried the women would gang up on the men. He then goes on to state to Sydney and Evvie, with a straight face, that “a woman definitely has to go home.”

Meanwhile, on Exile Island, Erika remarks how daunting she found the idea of surviving all alone for two straight days. She then went on to explain that her parents immigrated to Canada from the Philippines to give her a better life, and that she’s grateful they gave her the tools she needed to be successful.

Now, at this point, it might seem like a perfectly fine episode, but in hindsight, many of the conversations between castaways in this episode are rendered worthless. I’ll try to summarize the important details:

  • Shan asks Liana about her advantage, right in front of Tiffany. This forces her to reveal the details of her Knowledge is Power advantage, planting doubt in Tiffany’s mind about just how trustworthy Liana really is if she didn’t tell her about this power before. Liana is also upset with Shan for making her reveal it in the first place.
  • The Blue Team returns to the camp from their feast and many conversations are had which don’t end up amounting to much; however, multiple people agree that Erika should be the target, since she could return from Exile with some sort of advantage
  • An all-black alliance forms between Danny, Deshawn, Liana, and Shan. They all discuss how remarkable it is that they were all able to play in the same season, and agree to try to get one another as far in the game as possible.

 

The last segment of the episode takes place back on Exile, where Erika sees Probst pulling up to the island in a boat. Puzzled, she greets him and shows him her meager living conditions.

Probst then presents what is undoubtedly the worst twist of the season: The Hourglass. He explains to Erika that, should she leave the hourglass intact, the game will play out as normal as the Yellow Team plus herself will be vulnerable. However, if she chooses to smash the hourglass, she and the Yellow Team will receive immunity and the Blue Team plus Naseer will be vulnerable.

 

So, let me get this straight: she has to choose between:

  • Immunity
  • No Immunity

Wow, what a tough call. Thank you, Jeff Probst, for presenting us with a real moral dilemma.

And then the episode ends! No joke, that’s where they decide to leave off! Apparently they thought that there was enough suspense about this twist that people would be clamoring to find out what Erika decided–even though everyone already knows.

I also hate this just on the principle that it punishes the Blue Team for having won immunity. Jeff Probst has gone on record as hating when tribes throw challenges, and yet there is simply no benefit to having won the challenge this episode.

Well, I guess I should talk about confessional counts, shouldn’t I?

Shan and Liana were the stars of Episode 6, receiving six confessionals apiece. Erika’s Exile Island adventures nabbed her five confessionals. Ricard received four for his continuing feud with Shan, and Xander received four for his post-challenge paranoia. Danny, Deshawn, Evvie, Sydney, and Tiffany each received two confessionals, Naseer received one, and Heather (bless her heart) received zero for the fourth episode this season.

 

This episode, particularly its ending, left me feeling deflated and frustrated. I had hoped that the nail-biting drama of Episodes 4 and 5—which were motivated by personality, not by twists—would have encouraged the producers to shy away from more game-breaking advantages and powers, but I guess that’s wishful thinking.

I wouldn’t have to wait long, however, to watch these players break multiple of these advantages wide open.

 

EPISODE 7: “There’s Gonna Be Blood”

Erika is persevering through her final night on Exile, trying to keep her fire alive through the rain. The next morning, she is soaking wet, but her resolve is still unbroken; she explains that she’s “becoming the most authentic version of myself.” She also ponders the decision, stating that she’ll have to trust that the choice she makes is what’s best (what choice??? THERE IS NO CHOICE).

Then, we cut to the Individual Immunity Challenge. The eleven castaways take their place on their mats, followed shortly by Erika, returning from Exile. Jeff explains to the others exactly what the dilemma was and asks her what she ultimately chose to do.

And SURPRISE!!! Erika smashed the hourglass! Wow! Who could’ve possibly seen that coming a week in advance??!?!

This means that:

  • Erika, Heather, Liana, Shan, Tiffany, and Xander are safe
  • Danny, Deshawn, Evvie, Naseer, Ricard, and Sydney are vulnerable and must now compete in the Individual Immunity Challenge

Deshawn, quickly becoming the voice of the audience, states that this “isn’t the game I’m used to.” Too true, Deshawn, too true.

Regardless, the newly vulnerable half of the cast take their places for the challenge, which requires them to use only their feet to stack three rows of blocks and place a flag in the middle. I actually enjoyed watching this challenge, and it was nice to see something that wasn’t overwhelmingly physical for a change.

Though Sydney and Evvie traded the early lead, Evvie knocked off a row and Sydney couldn’t get a feel for her flag, which opened the door for Ricard to come out of nowhere and win, earning him the first Individual Immunity of the season and guaranteeing that neither of the former Ua members would be going home.

As the tribe(s) return to camp, the vulnerable castaways express dissatisfaction with how “twisty” this is, with Danny in particular explaining that “I’m not wired that way.” Deshawn then retorts by stating that from the beginning, they knew Jeff would be throwing them curveballs.

Ricard then pulls in Sydney, Deshawn, and Danny and says they should all target Evvie; they all agree, and Deshawn is particularly enthusiastic given that he sees them as a threat. They also get Shan on board for this plan.

Danny then goes to Liana and informs her that Evvie’s name is being thrown around. Though hesitant, Liana is convinced by Shan to come to their side. She expresses concern that she is having to vote Evvie out so soon, but states that “these two worlds cannot coexist and I have to choose one.”

There’s just one small wrinkle in this plan: Xander still has an idol, and he fully intends to use it should the situation call for it. He and Tiffany reaffirm their loyalty to Evvie and comfort them as they cry; he tells them that he’ll use his idol on them if they appear to be in danger. Tiffany suggests that the three of them target Deshawn, and Xander and Evvie appear to be on board.

We also see a flashback where Tiffany tells Evvie about Liana’s Knowledge in Power advantage, and Evvie proceeds to tell Xander. Xander says that he knew Liana wasn’t trustworthy, and the fact that she withheld this information only further proves it. The trio also discuss the possibility of Liana stealing his idol and how to prevent that.

It is at this point where Xander’s tendency to stir the pot emerges in full force, and it was a joy to watch.

While talking with Sydney and Danny, Xander tells them that Evvie is staying because he’s playing his idol on them. He also informs them about Liana’s advantage, and that she was hiding it from everybody.

And thus, the pre-Tribal scramble devolved completely into chaos.

Danny tells Liana that Xander is playing his idol, and that everyone knows about her advantage. Liana panics and reads through the details of her advantage again with Shan, where it’s clearly spelled out that, in order to steal someone’s power, they have to have it in their possession. As a result, Liana thinks it’s possible that Xander might give his idol to Evvie.

Liana talks to Xander and Evvie, and Xander folks up the paper that came with his idol and puts it in his pocket, telling Liana that he’s going to play it tonight. Evvie, in a confessional, makes it clear that they know Liana is lying. Liana then asks Evvie if Xander is going to give them the idol directly, and Evvie responds by saying that Xander wants the dramatic moment to himself.

Liana then runs back to Deshawn and tells him that the other Yases threw out his name, prompting him to throw Sydney’s name out as an alternative target. Sydney also asks Xander if anybody’s gunning for her, expressing concern that she may be blindsided.

But the madness has only just begun, because it’s time for…

 

TRIBAL COUNCIL!

 

Quickly, Probst expresses amusement at the fact that none of the former Luvus have been to Tribal Council before, meaning half the cast is there for the first time. Danny describes how exciting it is to actually be there, claiming that it’s in the “top 5 arenas I’ve played in.”

From there, the conversation becomes vague, with Tiffany describing how nobody knows who to trust and Shan stating that “you never know what someone’s carrying in their arsenal.” 

Deshawn also expresses his disdain for the hourglass twist, saying “I’m not complaining, I made it this far, but I’m upset that my social game didn’t matter as much.”

The vagueness comes to a halt, however, when Evvie states that they’re more comfortable knowing Xander’s got their back. At this point, Xander pulls out his idol along with the paper that came with it, making clear his intention to play it on Evvie.

Then, Liana pipes up and explains her concern for Evvie and Xander’s closeness; quickly, she pulls out the Knowledge is Power Advantage and reads the details of it aloud for everyone to hear. She turns to Xander and asks if he has an idol.

Xander has just eight words for her:

“No, but you can have this fake one.”

And just like that, Xander’s plan to flush out Liana’s advantage is complete! We are treated to a flashback where Xander, Evvie, and Tiffany plan for the potential steal; Xander gives Tiffany his idol for safekeeping and wraps up a fake that he’d made back on Yase, putting it in his pocket.

With Liana’s power null and void, Deshawn tries to get Erika to vote against Sydney, and just like that, the castaways scatter all over the place, whispering to one another and trying to solidify a plan. Ricard tells Deshawn that he’ll vote for Sydney, and Shan asks if she should put an extra vote on her. Shan then lets it slip to Tiffany that Sydney is the target, allowing her to tell Sydney and get her on board to flip. At a certain point, the split appears to be:

  • Evvie, Tiffany, Xander, and Sydney will vote for Deshawn
  • Ricard, Deshawn, and Danny will vote for Evvie
  • Liana, Heather, Shan, and Erika will vote for Sydney
  • Naseer is undecided

 

The majority wants to split their vote between Evvie and Sydney, in case an idol is played, but their plan hinges on Naseer, as does the minority’s. Going into the vote, Naseer, who was seemingly a nonentity, has now become the swing.

After the votes are cast, Jeff asks if anyone wants to play an advantage or an idol. Sydney then informs everyone that she forfeited her vote to use her Shot in the Dark, out of concern for her safety. Unfortunately, when she opens the paper, it makes it clear that she is still vulnerable, meaning she wasted her shot.

Tiffany then gets Jeff’s attention and appears to be preparing to play Xander’s idol. Xander, however, discourages her, claiming that they don’t need it. Xander and Evvie argue back and forth about whether it’s necessary to play it, but despite Evvie’s desperate pleas, Tiffany honors Xander’s wishes and keeps the idol in her pocket.

Jeff proceeds to read the votes:

  • Danny has voted for Evvie
  • Erika has voted for Sydney
  • Evvie has voted for Deshawn, tying 1-1-1
  • Ricard has voted for Evvie
  • Heather has voted for Sydney
  • Xander has voted for Deshawn, tying 2-2-2
  • Deshawn has voted for Evvie
  • Shan has voted for Sydney
  • Tiffany has voted for Deshawn, tying 3-3-3
  • Deshawn has voted for Evvie (using his Extra Vote)
  • Liana has voted for Sydney, tying 4-4-3
  • Naseer has voted for Sydney

By a vote of 5-4-3, Sydney is voted out of the Tribe.

 

Xander’s gamble pays off, and by a single vote, Evvie survives. Sydney wishes everyone well, but curses to herself as she walks off.

At the end of Tribal, Probst also finally announces that the tribes are officially merged! He gives Ricard, Evvie, Danny, Deshawn, and Naseer their buffs, and the new Merge Tribe heads out for the night.

Not one, not two, but THREE advantages were wasted at Tribal Council! Liana wasted Knowledge is Power, Sydney wasted Shot in the Dark, and Deshawn wasted his Extra Vote. Needless to say, as somebody who hates complicated twists, this put a smile on my face.

As far as confessionals go, there isn’t much of a change from Episode 6. Liana is still the most represented with six, and Xander is close behind with five. Evvie snagged four for their post-challenge scrambling; Deshawn received three for his efforts to oust Sydney; Erika received two for her continued Exile Island shenanigans; and Sydney received one for her pre-Tribal paranoia. Somehow, the remaining six castaways–Danny, Heather, Naseer, Ricard, Shan, and Tiffany–went without confessionals in Episode 7. Funnily enough, however, Shan is still the most represented of the season at 36, despite being totally shut out this episode.

 

WOW! That was a doozy. Apologies if you’ve read this far, it probably seemed like the ramblings of a madman. I’ll say again that the level of entertainment and gameplay we saw in Episode 7, particularly surrounding Xander and Liana’s feud, almost made the hourglass twist worth it.

ALMOST.

Either way, though, I have exceeded my usual word count so I’m going to call it there. I’ll see you all next week for Episode 8, “Betraydar”.

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