It’s fascinating that when you have fewer numbers to work with, the math of Survivor can somehow get more complicated. This episode revisited one of the modern twists that’s seemingly becoming a staple—the post-merge tribe division and double boot.
Making a debut in Ghost Island and returning in Island of the Idols, it’s a twist that toes the line between horribly unfair and always intriguing. While it definitely has the power to punish a great player through pure bad luck, it’s no more egregious than the classic “swap-screw” in the pre-merge. And at least this time, there was a shot at Individual Immunity and the preceding days on the merge beach that eased that punishment.
But the benefits of the twist always seem to shine through, making it a worthy addition to the more fast-paced, modern game. While it sometimes leads to a predictable vote where the numbers just stack up cleanly with minimal intrigue, the pressure cooker of a small tribe can also lead to an antsy player making an impulsive move. Or empower a savvy player or underdog to take advantage of the narrower margins to execute a blindside.
So while this episode saw the loss of two standout characters, and personal favourites, the tale of their demise was narratively satisfying and strategically intriguing, especially with one of the most convoluted and perplexingly brilliant split votes in recent memory.
THE ROLLER COASTER
Let’s warm up with the simpler of the two votes. After being divided into two groups of five, each destined for a separate Tribal Council, it looked like Evvie was going to be caught in the firing line once again. Prime target Xander had won Immunity, so much like the merge vote where Sydney ultimately bit the bullet, Evvie found themself as the only vulnerable option against an ostensibly allied majority of Liana, Deshawn, and Danny.
Evvie has been scrambling to regain a foothold since Yase ended up on the wrong side of the numbers at the merge, and in the opening act of this episode, it seemed like they might finally be gaining some traction. We saw them speaking with fellow outcast Erika with the possibility of an insurrection by the minority contingent potentially on the cards. Erika & Xander also shared a moment of being blatantly left out when the majority alliance arrogantly excused themselves to have a private alliance chat. But with the twist splitting them apart, that was certainly not going to reap any benefits now. So for Evvie, their best hope lay with Deshawn.
In the aftermath of the merge vote, which forced them to turn on each other in self-preservation, it’s poetic that Evvie’s swansong brought these two back into each others’ orbit. With Deshawn feeling increasingly uneasy about the stability of his alliance with Shan, in particular, he began exploring alternative options, and Evvie was more than happy to let bygones be bygones if it could earn them a new ally. So when they ended up in the same division, this promise of a new allegiance was immediately put to the test: would Deshawn be willing to turn his back on his crumbling alliance to save Evvie, or would he ride out the easy vote?
It certainly seemed like he seriously considered the option of teaming up with Evvie and Xander, themselves a marriage of underdog convenience and desperation. The option on the table was to flip the vote onto Liana. For Evvie & Xander, it was the no-brainer target. Liana had openly turned her back on them at the merge and was making no attempt to disguise her increasing disdain and frustration with Xander. Removing her would not only weaken the core power structure of Viakana, but it would also eliminate a player with whom neither Evvie nor Xander had a potential working relationship moving forward.
But for Deshawn, it held some appeal too. The alternative, Danny, would have been a non-starter, but blindsiding Liana also had the advantage of removing one of Shan’s closest allies and, by proxy, strengthening Deshawn’s contingent for the inevitable confrontation. In a lot of ways, it made sense for Deshawn to make this move in a purely individualistic vacuum.
However, Survivor is not a vacuum. Deshawn voting out Liana would have been a clear message to Shan and co that he was against them, and while he would have been flipping to a majority for this vote, Evvie and Xander didn’t have the numbers to protect him moving forward. Furthermore, it was evident that Danny was interested in staying the course here, so going against his closest ally’s wishes could have been deadly for Deshawn’s chances. And as much as I hated to see Evvie go here, I can’t fault Deshawn (or Danny) sticking to the straightforward vote.
Nor can I fault Xander for choosing to sit on his Idol. Sure, he could have played it for Evvie, allowing their two votes to ensure Liana’s elimination and fracturing the power structure that’s keeping them on the outs. But the trouble is that he and Evvie weren’t a partnership—they are both stray dogs fighting for the same scraps. While the majority alliance is cracking, Xander and Evvie are both independently competing for the same allies. Xander has gotten lucky (by all rights, he should have been voted out last episode if the majority had split the vote properly), and he had fortune favour him with Immunity this time. But he has to know that next time he loses the Immunity Necklace, he’s going to be a prime candidate for the votes—and he’ll need the Idol for himself.
Maybe there’s an argument he should have used his Extra Vote, though. Assuming it carries through to the revote, the Extra Vote would have allowed himself and Evvie to force a 3-3 tie, incentivising Deshawn or Danny to flip against Liana as they would be the only ones vulnerable if the tribe went to rocks. The trouble is that we don’t know for sure whether an Extra Vote carries through to a revote (especially in view of variable historical precedence) – and if it doesn’t, then this plan doesn’t work [editor’s note: I have confirmed the Extra Vote does carry through to a revote].
But if it does, then this would have been a perfect solution, leveraging a situational advantage to force an outcome that eliminates one of Xander’s most vocal adversaries, protects another underdog number, and still preserves his Idol for next time. The downside, however, is cornering Deshawn and Danny into making a move they don’t want to make, and Xander has been actively working the social game to find an in with the powers that be. This may be why he decided to trust Danny and Deshawn would have his back and why he didn’t want to create any bad blood going forward.
Without Xander’s advantages, was there anything more Evvie could have done? Not really. They were backed into a corner by an unlucky draw, Xander’s immunity win forcing the attention on them, and being up against a majority that wasn’t willing to turn just yet. I’m going to miss Evvie going forward and wish they could have had a chance to manoeuvre more in the post-merge. Nevertheless, I have loved watching Evvie play; their savvy and enthusiastic strategy and earnest thrill to positively represent the queer community has been a delight to watch. It’s been a roller coaster, but even with a disappointing ending, it’s been a great ride.
CARRY THE ONE
And speaking of disappointing losses, seeing bright spark Naseer eliminated in the same night makes the boot list this episode an extra punch to the gut. Naseer’s infectious energy and his moving story made him an effortlessly rootable character, and it’s gutting to see him go out like this—with an Idol in his pocket! But while it is disappointing to see him fall victim to a blindside, what a blindside it was!
This division made for another uniquely intriguing subset of Viakana. Apparent allies and mutual outcasts Heather and Erika seemed like the easy targets, but much like with Xander, the prime target Erika won the Immunity Challenge, forcing the ostensible majority (Shan & Ricard and their newfound ally Naseer) to shift their vote onto Heather. For Naseer, it seemed like a straightforward plan. He still harboured ill will after Heather had messily attempted to divert votes onto him in the whisper scramble the previous night, so while he had a personal affinity for Heather, he was willing to write her name down. Shan, too, saw the value in excising Heather as one of Erika’s allies, weakening the numbers that could rise against her.
For Heather and Erika, they were backed into a corner much like Xander & Evvie had been, and they didn’t have any advantages to help turn the tide. They were purely at the mercy of the majority. But where they caught a break was that they had Ricard in the mix. Ricard is a player who has been cunning from the get-go but increasingly cognizant of his position in the game. He recognised on Ua that Shan was getting the credit for many of his plans due to her more visible contributions, and he’d been seeking to take a more front-facing role in his schemes post-merge.
Furthermore, Ricard is aware that he needs to ensure he’s the best option for his new alliance with Danny, Deshawn, and Liana (via Shan). And removing their additional number Naseer was a valuable move to increase his importance to that core group, and Shan in particular. Furthermore, neutralising Naseer’s Idol one way or another would remove an obstacle to his path towards the end.
Whereas Xander and Evvie were positioned with Deshawn, who is only beginning to consider the idea of making a cutthroat move, Heather and Erika were with an experienced player whose blade is already red. After the crucible of Ua, Ricard was ready to make a big move. He had to work to convince Shan, who was more willing to play it safe and protect the loyal Naseer, but he managed to persuade her to take the shot while they had the numbers. It was an impressive play, and further evidenced in its immaculate execution by Naseer not recognising the plot thickening and sitting on his Idol despite the limited targets.
But let’s dig into the execution because that’s where things get messy. Erika and Heather leaned into the best offer on the table (2 votes on Naseer), while Naseer loyally stuck to the plan (1 vote on Heather). But then Shan and Ricard split their votes—and used the extra vote to force a tie—with Ricard voting Heather and Shan putting one vote on Heather and one on Naseer. This led to a 3-3 tie and a revote where Naseer was unanimously eliminated.
I’ll admit, it took me a long time to wrap my head around the strategy of the play because, at face value, Shan and Ricard wasted their extra vote. A successful blindside, but one that took unnecessary steps and burned an advantage that had been so significant for their partnership as to nearly destroy it. But once I started to look closer (and can thank some of the clever minds in the Twittersphere), the strategy behind the play clicked.
With Erika, Heather, and Naseer sticking to their word, it positioned 2 votes on Naseer and 1 vote on Heather. This still gave Shan and Ricard carte blanche… whichever way they voted, they’d have the majority (4-1 against Naseer, or 3-2 against Heather). Clearly, heading into Tribal, they’d decided to blindside Naseer. But if Naseer got spooked or played his Idol out of blind precaution, there would at least be his one vote on Heather to send her out of the game.
The risk, however, was that Erika and Heather could have been lying to them and actually planning to vote for Shan or Ricard (say, Ricard, for simplicity). In that scenario: 2 votes Naseer (Shan & Ricard), 2 votes Ricard (Erika & Heather), 1 vote Heather (Naseer) with Naseer playing his Idol would see Ricard Idolled out of the game. And even though the Ua Two had an Idol up their sleeve too, it could only protect one of them, making it a risky gamble. So the better defensive manouevre would be to ensure that the votes were stacked in their favour in the first place.
However, my initial read was that this was possible without the extra vote. If Shan and Ricard split their regular votes, then they should still guard against Erika and Heather trying to betray them. In this scenario, we have 2 votes on Heather (Naseer & Ricard) and 1 vote on Naseer (Shan). If Erika and Heather stick to the plan and vote Naseer, he goes home 3-2, or his Idol sends Heather home 2-0. But if Erika and Heather vote against Ricard, then it becomes 2-2-1, or 2-2-0 if Naseer plays his Idol. The revote, between Heather and Ricard, could then allow Shan and Naseer to finish the job on eliminating Heather.
It’s quite an ingenious play for Shan and Ricard to split their votes, putting the fate of Erika and Heather in their own hands. If they cooperate (and successfully dupe Naseer), then everyone wins. But if they try something sneaky (or Heather panics, burns her Shot in the Dark, and comes up empty-handed), then Shan and Ricard can immediately counter-strike the betrayal. It’s a really impressive manipulation of the numbers, and I found myself racking my brain trying to figure out why using the extra vote would be anything more than a superfluous addition to an already elegant defence.
Of course, there were scenarios Shan and Ricard’s split vote couldn’t counter. A successful Shot in the Dark from Heather would have upended everything. But there’s only a 1 in 6 chance, and Shan & Ricard had lived through Ua demonstrating how critical every vote is in a small Tribal, enough to disincentivise Heather taking the gamble. Given the players had seen how Sydney’s Shot ended up costing her the game, it may be that there is a palpable reluctance to even consider playing it lest it be your own vote that costs you the game.
The other big problem scenario is if Erika and Heather were planning to target Shan and Ricard and had successfully flipped Naseer to their cause. With those 3 united, Shan & Ricard splitting their votes made them even more vulnerable—but it’s not like voting together would preserve them. If they also burned the extra vote to at least ensure a tie, then they’re either at the mercy of Naseer’s Idol (if it’s 3 votes Ricard, 3 or 0 votes Naseer), or they’re just piling on Heather—the exact opposite of their decided plan to blindside Naseer.
So in this respect, the two biggest scenarios the split vote can’t counter are also scenarios that can’t be solved with their circumstances anyway—not without still burning the extra vote in a risky or suboptimal way or getting lucky with the Idol. So isn’t the extra vote as it played out still a waste?
Let’s wind back to the scenario where Shan & Ricard split their votes without the advantage, but Erika & Heather betray them to pile 2 votes on Ricard. While there is still a 2-2-1 (or 2-2-0, if Naseer plays his Idol), the revote between Heather & Ricard now lies with Shan, Erika, and Naseer. Shan & Erika are going to stick to their guns to protect their allies, which leaves Naseer in the swing position. He voted Heather initially, so wouldn’t he stick to the plan there too? 2-1 against Heather at the revote, easy, right? Well, not quite, because Naseer would have just seen his name come up, and he could deduce that neither Erika or Heather targeted him. If he’s savvy, or if he’s just reactionary, he could quickly recognise that Shan & Ricard betrayed HIM, leading to him flipping his vote and sending Ricard home 2-1.
And that, as I eventually arrived at, is where the extra vote comes in. If everyone sticks to the plan Shan & Ricard expect, then the vote plays out exactly as we saw it. If Naseer plays his Idol, Heather cops the blowback, and while Shan & Ricard will have to do damage control with Naseer, they’re at least protected. But in the scenario where Erika & Heather turn on Shan & Ricard, the split vote with the extra vote results in Heather sealing her own fate: 3 votes Heather (Naseer, Ricard, Shan), 2 votes Ricard (Erika & Heather), 1 vote Naseer (the Extra Vote).
There’s no chance for Naseer to flip at a revote because there is no revote. There’s no way for Heather & Erika to pull off a blindside because there’s still technically a majority of votes against them. If Naseer plays his Idol, he’s wasting it on the single vote. The split vote with the extra vote still doesn’t protect against Naseer teaming up with Erika & Heather or a successful Shot in the Dark, but neither did the alternative plans without the extra vote.
It’s convoluted, as the last several paragraphs have laid out, but it’s really quite brilliant. The extra vote seems like it should be an offensive advantage, but Ricard and Shan finding a way to utilise it defensively and guard themselves against getting duped is a phenomenal use of a very situational advantage.
THE CORRECT ANSWER?
But for all its numerical, strategy-pleasing excellence, was it the right move? For Ricard, I think it was. He needs to eliminate players competing for his seat at the table. Naseer and Shan had quickly become close, and he needed to avoid getting pushed out. Ricard is a smart and calculating player, and he’s a fascinating character. His spotlight scene highlighting that he is deaf in one ear, complete with some beautiful sound editing, continues to demonstrate what a complex character he is and I’m loving seeing him find his footing in the post-merge game. So his move to consolidate power, eliminate a threat to his position and leave Heather & Erika in the game as easy targets was a cunning strike.
However, I’m less convinced that this was the right move for Shan. This is the second vote in a row where she fought to protect Naseer on account of his staunch loyalt, and frankly, she needs those numbers. With her own alliance starting to crack around her, and especially Deshawn growing frustrated with her, she needs soldiers to back her up. But in an effort to keep her ally happy, she agreed to back down on this one, burning her Advantage and killing off a loyal ally in one fell swoop.
Heather & Erika have no staunch loyalty to them, so it’s not like Shan’s earned two allies for the price of one. Shan (and Ricard) could capitalise on this success to bring them under their wing, but this would be a challenge of trust given Shan & Ricard still stacked votes on Heather as a precaution. Rather, it’s more likely Erika & Heather will continue on as free agents and may even swing back to the familiarity of Luvu in Danny & Deshawn.
I see the advantage in Ricard’s play, but this isn’t a great outcome for Shan, and by extension, this applies to Ricard as Shan’s closest ally too. It’s good positioning for the endgame, but we’re not quite there yet, and I do worry that this move could solidify both of the Ua Two as threats, capable players in the eyes of their tribe, and could be spun as disloyal to the majority alliance, further driving a wedge between them and Deshawn’s crew.
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Survivor 41 lost two of its most wholesome stars here, but there are still plenty of fascinating factors at play. The messiness of this season seems poised to continue, and it really does feel like we’re on the collision course between Deshawn and Shan. Deshawn has a sturdier foundation, but Shan & Ricard have a scrappy quality that shouldn’t be under-estimated, and they’ve arguably got a third number in Liana. But maybe the implosion of that core alliance is the distraction that outsiders like Xander, or Heather & Erika, need to reposition themselves to come out on top after the carnage.
Whatever lies ahead, this cast continues to prove that Survivor is at its best when the players are given room to outwit and outplay each other. But who can outlast? That’s an equation, with all the variables of this season, that’s impossible to predict. We’ve just got to see the working over these last few episodes of the home stretch.