“Yes, we all technically have a one in eighteen shot for the million,” says Maryanne, “but because we all come with our burdens and we all come with our privileges, that one-in-eighteen might be bigger or smaller for some people. And that sucks.”
Many of us keep coming back to Survivor for the game, the strategy, the adventure of it all, but what truly makes this show fascinating is the people. Their stories, their personalities, their experiences, and how they intersect with each other. The “microcosm of society,” as the early days of the show might have put it. But with that comes the external factors of society. The implicit biases and burdens mean that even as the bubble of Survivor might try to be an island, it will always be connected to the world at large and an embodiment of it in all its beauty and its ugliness.
Survivor in and of itself has prided itself on breaking ground for inclusion and representation along the way. But it has also been responsible for perpetuating and embracing many harmful societal structures. Tokenistic casting. Edits that portray harmful stereotypes. Storytelling that misrepresents the truth. Production choices that carry implicit bias. Outright negligence and disregard. There is still a long way to go for Survivor. But seeing the show confront its shortcomings to some degree, even if it’s through the contestants’ voices rather than self-assessment and course correction, is a small step in the right direction.
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It’s why Maryanne’s words at the end of this episode hit so hard. It’s easy to buy into the game as an equal-footed, fair, and balanced competition. In theory, it should be. But theory isn’t reality, and the reality of Survivor— and the larger world it represents—is that there’s no such thing as an even playing field. Everyone has their obstacles and challenges, but some burdens are heavier than others. For those who come into Survivor knowing they represent a minority group, there is a weight to it. It is not just to navigate the implicit biases that may put hurdles in their path (hurdles that those of a privileged majority do not face), but the pressure of representation comes with it.
Survivor isn’t a bubble or an island— it’s experienced by millions. Millions who’ll see and judge or cheer as much for the person themselves as for what they seemingly represent. As we saw in Season 41, the conversation around race, especially for the Black community, is something that can’t just be packed away or switched off for a silly game. And so, that pressure to represent the community, “the culture,” as Season 41 put it, is ever-present.
There’s nothing easy or pleasant about this episode’s important Tribal Council or the discussion that was aired. But that’s nothing compared to the weight Drea and Maryanne grappled with. With the pressure of their real-world burden pushed to the fore, they actively worked to call out the cycle of bias and stand together in solidarity against its continued perpetuation. There’s power in that. A power that, in many ways, feels like it should overshadow the rest of the scheming and plotting of the game.
THE BURDEN OF RESPONSIBILITY
With Kula Kula split for the double Tribal twist, the group of Drea, Jonathan, Lindsay, Maryanne, and Tori arrived at Tribal second, gaining the advantage of seeing how the other half of the tribe voted. Back at camp, they’d theorised that Romeo was a sitting duck against four of the majority alliance (Hai, Mike, Omar, & Rocksroy). So when they walked in to see Rocksroy on the jury bench, they were shocked.
At first, the confusion and surprise seemed to be a natural game-related reaction: how did a member of the majority go home? Did Romeo have a secret Idol or advantage? Did his Shot in the Dark work? Or did something transpire to flip the vote? And then what did that mean for this group’s plan to also blindside Drea, also a member of the majority alliance? Would this surprise lead her to play her Idol out of caution? If they broke down the majority alliance further, how would that impact the one-eight-strong’s grip on the game?
Drea seemed lost in thought, processing the turn and responding to Probst’s questions with many honest “I-don’t-knows.” But it wasn’t just the shock of losing an ally weighing on her: it was the pattern. Chanelle, then Rocksroy. Two black players, going out back-to-back. And if she was next, or if Maryanne was next (the plan she’d been told about), what message would that send? It took 34 seasons for two black women to even make the merge together, and in this time especially, doubling down on making a coincidence of two into a trend of three…
There was a burden to that, and Drea voiced it openly in all of its complexity—and made the bold decision to openly announce that she would play her Idol to at least ensure that she wouldn’t the next in that trend. As whispers shifted to consolidate or rearrange the plan, Maryanne felt the same weight: she couldn’t stick to the plan and write down Drea’s name to flush the Idol. There was a betrayal in that beyond the game—it would be a vote to perpetuate a sour pattern.
As the topic turned to race, both women were immediately hit with the very burden they were trying to explain. Of course, Jonathan had to butt in with the most fragile of counters, disputing that Drea’s articulation of her lived experience and observations implied that he was racist. Not to mention the doubling down and outright calling Drea “aggressive,” a particularly loaded term against Black people, especially Black women.
Jonathan’s hero story (involving his own discussion of bias against “big guys,” while not invalid, it’s not the same) comes crashing down because of him opening his mouth in the episode he joyfully hoped to seize control and direct a big move. But there wasn’t much to relish in the irony. It was muted by just how cringeworthily out-of-line his reaction was and how much it reinforced the very struggle minority players face. As Drea and Maryanne expressed the difficulty of carrying baggage larger than themselves and the challenges of implicit bias, Jonathan stepped right in as Exhibit A. Thankfully, Lindsay was able to express a much more empathetic support for Maryanne & Drea. Still, it was a shame that this was the spin the story started to take.
This was never about accusations that the tribe was making consciously racist decisions, as Jonathan balked. It was simply a reality of the implicit biases against minorities at work. Even with four Black players making the merge, this vote as planned was going to send home either Drea or Maryanne—putting three Black players on the jury in quick succession. It was hard not to see the optics from their position, but they were determined for this Tribal’s outcome not to be because of race or to be accused of “playing the race card” to advance their games.
Drea had an Idol, and so did Maryanne. Both attained by their own work in the game as players, irrespective of their identity. The best way they could stop the cycle of the game was to use what the game had given them, agreeing to play their Idols and ensure that there wouldn’t be a third-straight Black juror. Given both women’s names were on the block, choosing to play their Idols certainly had merit in the context of the game alone. But, in some ways, it feels unfair that the burden of making a stand for their community required them to play their Idols not for self-preservation as intended but as a statement for something bigger than themselves.
I’m glad it happened and that it happened with the conversation around it and through it being a decision driven by Drea & Maryanne themselves. I’m happy that between Seasons 41 and 42, the conversation of the burden and pressures of representation are made text over subtext, and I’m pleased that the diverse casting of these seasons has enabled conversations like this to be had in the first place. But I hope that this moment stands for something.
For players carrying a burden of representation for a minority, I hope they feel emboldened to speak earnestly about their truth and feel safe to call out patterns of implicit bias. For players of privilege, I hope they are encouraged to actively check the implications of the game’s trajectory, assess their own biases, hold each other accountable, and take a stand as it’s happening. Finally, for the show, I hope it continues to emphasise how much work still needs to be done concerning the institution of Survivor—through casting, personnel, and production on and off the island—to equalise its playing field and empower its players.
A LITTLE NOTE OF STRATEGY
It feels a little abrupt to shift gears into game-talk, but a lot was going on in this episode before the split Tribal twist actually saw the trajectory of the second vote swerve. A lot of the happenings of the second vote were subverted. Still, it was intriguing to see the target begin to shift onto Drea, especially with the public knowledge of her advantages. Now that she’s burned the Idol, she’s still got a healthy arsenal and a greater fire under her to fight this out from here.
Meanwhile, the growing tension within Taku is fascinating. Jonathan was clearly keen to keep his options open (the Taku core on the one hand, the boys’ alliance with Rocksroy & Mike on the other), but his lack of finesse even before he stuck his foot in his mouth at Tribal was a big warning sign. His instinct to go after Drea—someone known to hold a power—when she might be expecting a straightforward vote in Tori wasn’t a bad idea per se. But planning to throw the contingency vote on his own ally Maryanne was non-sensical (and even Drea seemed wary of the pitch as targeting a known Idol holder set off her own alarm bells).
Then he dismissed Lindsay’s nuanced understanding of the social dynamics and long-term strategy—like the tension between Tori & Drea making pitching working together iffy or the repercussions of Drea using her Idol and forcing Maryanne to burn hers or sending her home with it and an extra vote. Lindsay was rightly exasperated, and though it seemed like everything was lined up for the plan to be executed, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lindsay cast Jonathan aside for his bulldozing approach. She has a good relationship with Maryanne (recall the MarioKart conversation pre-merge) and has a subtler understanding of the tribe dynamics, so cutting herself free of Jonathan could be helpful for a malleable endgame.
Similarly, Omar was also looking to free himself of rigid allies on the other beach. When Rocksroy adamantly tried to solidify a men’s alliance, Omar and Hai were unsurprisingly less than thrilled at the prospect. While they have solid male allies, they gain nothing by going to the end with the Big Strongs. Omar saw that Romeo would easily be the simple vote for their group but set to work quickly to flip that around and remove Rocksroy. He was determined to prioritise an alliance that didn’t suit them. He was difficult to work with, only talking strategy when he wanted to. And given some of his more outdated remarks, like asserting that being in a group of men meant they were clearly going to be more straightforward, Hai’s labelling of the proposed men’s alliance as the “Misogyny Club” may have hinted at an additional wrinkle of discomfort.
Omar’s work flipping the vote was yet another example of how effortlessly influential he can be. Despite Romeo and Hai having a falling out after the last Tribal, where Romeo’s intentional rogue vote for Hai turned them against each other, Omar was able to bring them together. He pitched a plan to go after Rocksroy and engendered enough confidence that the other could be pulled on board despite their disagreements. The only potential hiccup was Hai wanting to ensure he didn’t leave his number one ally, Mike, out in the cold, and when he shared the plan, Mike was reluctant to go against his word.
Interestingly, Mike seemed comfortable going against Rocksroy at some point (suggesting his agreement to the boys’ club wasn’t a true all-in). Still, he was reticent to make the move now and demonstrate disloyalty to the majority alliance that could backfire. Honestly, given his reluctance, I was surprised Mike ultimately relented to send Rocksroy home in a unanimous blindside. And I’m curious how much Hai leveraged his position as the swing vote to coerce Mike into hopping on board… but that fallout is for next week.
For losing two of the squeakier wheels in the tribe, Rocksroy with his old school rigidity and Tori with her disruptive independence, it feels like Kula Kula is more divided going forward. Taku might make up half the tribe, but they’re splintering, with both Maryanne and Lindsay growing frustrated with Jonathan. Drea’s a potential lone wolf with three advantages, while Romeo sliding through as someone willing to shake the cage could be its own disruption. Hai and Mike seem solid, but they disagreed on the Rocksroy plan—and their move inadvertently led to the other vote completely upending. Meanwhile, Omar still seems to be wonderfully situated in the middle of the whole web, and no one seems to be looking his way.
This was a heavy episode but impactful and important in the show’s canon. I’m hoping that the remainder of the season carries the torch forward well with its refreshing earnestness and honesty and that we’re in for a conclusion that upholds the ideals of what Drea and Maryanne made a stand for here. While many enter this game carrying unequal burdens, there is still an earnest opportunity to be played that both honours that often unequal responsibility but embraces one heck of a competitive Survivor game.