In another solid episode, Survivor 41 continues to be an absolute delight. Maybe it’s the pastel tribe colours, maybe it’s the buoyant and enthusiastic cast, maybe it’s the lighthearted complexity to the twists that ultimately prioritise social bonds. In all likelihood, it’s all of them. But the sophomore episode of the season was perfect proof that there is something great in the Fiji waters this go around. So much so that I can forgive Probst’s ridiculous fourth-wall break (this time, at least, Jeffrey, please, never again).
What’s standing out so far is that 41 is designed around choice and the tension between risk and reward—the known and the unknown. I’ve railed against Australian Survivor‘s game-breaking “gotcha!” twists enough, so while 41 is coming out of the gate strong with convoluted twists and advantages, all of them are centered around a meaningful decision where the player has some knowledge of what to expect.
The Shot in the Dark and the Ship’s Wheel prisoner dilemma (which made a return this week) are up-front about the penalties and rewards of the choices, while the Beware “Advantage” definitely toes that line much more, but you can’t say you weren’t warned…
Even with all the twistiness, there’s still plenty of intrigue from the gameplay driven by this stellar and likable cast. Although Yase’s challenge plight promptly returned them to Tribal, and even though they house Xander (the player practically drowning in Advantage clauses), Tribal wasn’t really about that. While Xander was on the chopping block explicitly because of his involvement in the twists, the Tribal was ultimately about social capital: shoring up trust and mitigating unpredictability and shaping a favourable narrative.
CONFUSING AS A GOAT ON ASTROTURF
But before we dive into the Tribal proper, it’s worth setting up Xander’s situation. With an extra vote in his pocket from his trip to the Ship’s Wheel, Xander was emboldened when he uncovered a hidden advantage. But notably, when he extracted it from its hiding place, it came with a grim warning: take the advantage knowing you must do everything instructed within, or return it to its hiding place.
Even with the knowledge that Survivor is getting trickier with wolves in sheep’s clothing (lest we forget Devon’s “That is not an advantage” in Healers v Healers v Hustlers or Jamal’s penalty in Island of the Idols), Xander couldn’t resist the temptation. To be fair, I think most castaways would—and even a risk-averse player might see the benefit in at least knowing what’s inside or keeping it out of somebody else’s hands. Xander, however, was giddy…
Only to discover he’d gotten stuck in the honey pot. Within the parcel, an Idol… but an inactive one. The only way to activate it? Two other players, one on Ua, one on Luvu, must also take the Beware Advantage. Then, at the Immunity Challenge, all three must collectively state a code phrase. Only then does the Idol activate—also activating the other two Idols. But until that fateful day, the ability to vote is forfeit.
In any situation, your vote is crucial. It is the only demonstrable way to prove loyalty, and it is critical to executing offensive plays. It’s why I was pro-Protect at the Ship’s Wheel dilemma last week; getting off to a reliable and trustworthy start is critical. But the smaller the tribe, the more important a single vote becomes. So for Xander to lose his vote is a blow, but to lose it indefinitely is a harsh punishment. It’s all in pursuit of an Idol, but it will also hand two opponents an Idol. In reality, the reward is barely worth the price! But! Xander was warned, and he took the gamble—that’s what I do find intriguing about this advantage.
Recent seasons have seen Idol hunting become so rote as to be dull, and the game’s skew towards rewarding flashy play (often governed by Idols and Advantages) has squashed a lot of nuance in the social game. However, the social game is still intrinsically important. And a player who stumbles in the social game early will rarely be able to survive long enough to get into a position where they can play flashy and come out on top. So Survivor deploying an Advantage that pledges to provide a player with a tool for flashy play at the cost of sinking your social game early is fascinating.
Already, we saw Xander’s ambition almost send him home. Yase was divided down the middle—Liana & Tiffany on one side, Voce & Xander on the other, and with Evvie holding court in the middle. Although Evvie was already leaning towards siding with the women, Xander’s openness about gaining the Extra Vote, seizing the Beware Advantage and losing his vote in the process backfired in making him an immediate target.
Xander was playing too eagerly, and right now, he was a sitting duck. With no vote (and even unable to utilise his extra vote!), Xander lost his tentative alliance a chance at the majority in a five-person tribe, and without his vote, he couldn’t swing the target because he couldn’t contribute to any move. So while he was hobbled, it would be a perfect time to take him out, flushing his future Idol in the process.
There was definite strategy to flushing out the guy with all the Advantages, but it was as much a social consideration for Evvie, Liana, and Tiffany. While Xander had been open (and I do think that telling his allies about the Advantage, and especially his lost vote, was not just a good move but essential to being a good ally), he had also proven himself to be self-interested and ambitious. This ambitious gameplay could be detrimental to the games that Evvie & Liana wanted to play—games of strategy through social manouevering.
It could be argued that Xander got screwed by the severity of the twist, but I appreciate that Survivor didn’t hold back. It managed to figure out a solution that doesn’t feel inherently game-breaking. It trusts that its eager players are going to take risks, and it is highly unlikely that Xander will never regain his ability to vote. But it also makes Advantages and Idols more dangerous by costing the one thing that should be reliable: your vote. With other advantages like the Shot also requiring a player to give up their vote to use it, losing your vote becomes even more risky.
Yet Survivor, surprisingly, didn’t lean into the drama of placing an albatross around players’ necks. Rather it delighted in some jovial schadenfreude by making the activation phrases for the Idol as ludicrous as you could imagine. To activate his Idol, Xander is required to pontificate about butterflies being dead relatives saying hi—potentially on multiple occasions in front of the entire cast at the Immunity Challenge. And the advantage promises that others will need to wax lyrical about goats on astroturf and how broccoli is just tiny trees.
Aside from the ingrained loopy humour, there’s also something to the phrases being so out-of-left-field that an astute player might pick up on them, opening the door for some insightful suspicion. Overall, it feels like a fun twist in the making: a harsh punishment, but one handled with whimsy and a number of complex consequences for the strategic and social game.
THE FOREST FOR THE BROCCOLI TREES
That said, was it too complicated? Unfortunately, when the players are actively starving after only 5 days on account of having no food provided, the complexities of the twist may be pushing the faculties of some. Or, at least, Tiffany. Last week, Tiffany seemed well-positioned, ingratiating herself with Evvie and Liana to the point where they protected her from Abraham’s target. However, this week, the elements and a rough challenge saw Tiffany succumb to paranoia and panic.
With the Yase tribe’s divide, it was clear that Xander and Voce would be targeting her. However, on paper, she had nothing to worry about. Evvie and Liana were on her side, giving them the flat majority, 3-2. On top of that, Xander had shown Evvie the parchment for the Beware, and they were able to confirm that the other activation phrases had not been said. Therefore, Xander not only had no vote, but he also didn’t have an Idol that could cause an upset. It was a foolproof plan… until it wasn’t.
Struggling to keep track of the situation with Xander’s advantages in her anxiety about being the target of the men, Tiffany pushed back on piling the votes on Xander as she feared he could have an Idol. Rather, she wanted to put the votes on Voce, subverting the chance of an Idol to keep herself safe. Again, on paper, it’s not a bad tactic, and swapping the target to circumvent an Idol is a tried and true strategy. But in this case, with Evvie and Liana repeatedly assuring her that it was safe to target Xander, especially given Evvie had direct intel, Tiffany let her paranoia get the best of her.
Liana, particularly, appeared exasperated by Tiffany’s insistence on voting Voce, and Evvie was also distressed by her ally’s wavering reliability. For the two of them, flushing Xander and his Advantages out of the game was a perfect, informed play. While they seemed unlikely to turn around and flip on Tiffany (a rickety third wheel can still get you where you need to go), I was surprised to see that they ultimately acquiesced to Tiffany’s plan. The trio sent Voce home and risked that Xander could recover his vote and an Idol by the next time they attend Tribal.
That said, this is the social game at work. Evvie and Liana recognised that placating Tiffany and providing her a measure of security and confidence in their alliance was more important than taking the shot at Xander. Sure, they could have plowed ahead and still eliminated Xander in a 2-1-1 vote, but that would leave an alienated Voce in the mix alongside an even more paranoid Tiffany. Preserving a sense of unity was the better long-term call.
Besides, maybe Xander’s physicality could help get them over the line in a challenge (though I also loved Evvie noting that winning challenges is unlikely for their tribe regardless, so playing with that goal in mind is erroneous). Ultimately, even though it’s not the ideal play, Liana and Evvie made the right call in their situation.
It’s a really tricky spot and a surprisingly chaotic outcome. In many ways, Voce was just collateral – which is an almost unthinkable outcome for the traditional role of his archetype: the white collar Type A strategy-head. Overall, Voce had seemed to be playing a decent game, agreeing to go against his instincts for tribe unity with the water-carrying last week, and seeming to form some decent bonds that could have helped him. He might not have been punished directly by the Beware Advantage, but he certainly seemed to be the one to hear the music.
BUTTERFLIES, SAYING HI
This episode was certainly dominated by Yase (and we’re not even done talking about one of them!), but there are still two other tribes on the beach who got a brief check-in.
On Ua, the energy of Tribal kicked Brad into a new gear. Whereas he might have been playing Year 2000 Survivor the day before, it was time to fast-forward a few years. Channelling the spirit of Tony Vlachos, or perhaps more accurately, Boo Bernis of Fiji, Brad decided to throw himself into the shrubbery for an impromptu spy shack. Paranoid that JD was no longer willing to work with him, he wanted to spy on his ally’s conversation with Ricard. Based on some incomplete interpretation, he seemed to arrive at a point of being suspicious, but his antics only seemed to paint a larger target on his back.
Was it fun to watch? Absolutely! Brad’s wild energy was incredibly unexpected and his note about closing his eyes as he listened in so as not to allow JD and Ricard to sense they were being watched like deer by a hunter was a superb character beat. However, did it help his position in the Ua tribe? Not in the slightest.
As he scurried back to camp to get back before JD and Ricard, he told Shan and Genie that he’d been spying on the boys. While it is clear that Brad hoped that would heighten a sense of allegiance between them, it only led Shan to consider that if Brad was willing to spy on his ally JD, then wouldn’t he also be willing to spy on her? Naturally, she reported her concerns to Ricard. And if we learned one thing from last week, it’s to not underestimate Shan’s influence. Now that Brad’s on the mafia pastor’s hit list…? Hmm hm hmmmm, hmm hm hmmmmm.
Meanwhile, Luvu was living the high life with a flint still in hand. Although Deshawn was unable to make use of it, Naseer easily stepped in to ignite a spark and give the gift of fire to his tribe. After his revelations about Danny and Deshawn going Idol hunting last week, he seemed to be in a terrible position. But it became quickly evident this episode that he was turning that perception around by gaining a reputation as an essential survivalist, knowing how to start fire, forage for food, and otherwise help his tribe to make it through the harsh conditions.
Although he attributed much of it to his background growing up with very little in Sri Lanka, Naseer’s earnest positivity seemed to be winning him friends too. Notably, it was Sydney, the very person who ratted him out last week, who sung his praises, not only celebrating his survival skills but also noting that getting to know him more made it harder to want to vote him out. Whether or not those good vibes will hold up if Luvu ever loses an Immunity Challenge is yet to be seen, but it’s a good sign.
And even though he couldn’t spark a flame, Deshawn’s position in the game was also heating up thanks to his one-on-one trek with Evvie after the Immunity Challenge. Wholesale repeating last week’s island summit, complete with the get-to-know-you hike and the same prisoner’s dilemma choice, the show lucked out with a very different version of the experience. Now knowing what to expect, Evvie and Deshawn immediately took advantage of the opportunity to solidify a cross-Tribal alliance.
For Evvie, recognising that a tribe swap or merge could likely see Yase in the minority, compared to Luvu likely having a majority, pounced on the chance to win a friend. They smartly revealed enough information to demonstrate reliability to Deshawn—revealing Xander’s secrets about the Beware advantage rather than any secrets of their own. They also immediately proved that they were trustworthy by committing to Protect their Vote and allow Deshawn to Risk, guaranteeing him the gift of an Extra Vote. In an episode that already highlighted Evvie’s skill at the social game on their own beach, this whole exchange was a cherry on top.
But for Deshawn, it was also impressive work. It’s unclear how committed he is to the idea of working with Evvie in the future, but regardless, he did and said enough during their time together to walk away with a potential ally and with an Extra Vote for next to no risk. We don’t have a good sense of the social dynamics on Luvu given they’ve yet to face Tribal, but this encounter, alongside his self-deprecating exchange with Erika about how he’d be no threat in a Final Four fire-making, seems like a good indication that Deshawn is likely doing well to ingratiate himself socially with his tribe.
But who knows what’s in store next week? Small tribes breed chaos and big swings, and with every advantage threatening the ability to vote, those swings could become even wilder. Nevertheless, I’ve been pleasantly surprised thus far with how well Survivor 41 is going—putting its dynamic cast front and centre and allowing the bonkers-but-fun twists to facilitate their stories. Is there stuff I could nitpick? Sure. But it really would be sweating the small stuff.
So to put it in the parlance of the poet who concocted the ridiculous code phrases, this season has me feeling happier than a hornet in a banana pudding.