Spoiler alert! Proceed with extreme caution if you have not yet watched Episode 11 of “Survivor” Season 41
Remember last week, when I joyfully recapped the events leading to Shan’s exit from “Survivor” 41, saying “her path to victory was starting to feel inevitable, and an inevitable winner makes for dull television”?
Minutes into this week’s episode, I found myself eating my words faster than a castaway scarfing down the spoils of a reward challenge. It turns out that I was missing the bigger picture.
All season long, I’ve been observing that something is different – and it’s not because of the welcomed emphasis on diverse casting, or the boatload of new twists, or all of the idols and advantages that have been introduced so far. It’s the fact that this is the most level-headed, well-mannered and respectful group of people that have participated in this show for as long as I’ve been watching.
Here’s the problem: what’s good for the world rarely makes for good television, especially when it comes to the reality genre. I love “Survivor” for the unique ways that it forces ordinary people to exercise their strengths and weaknesses, to discover new parts of themselves as only high-pressure situations can. But I’d be lying – and the casting department wouldn’t exist – if I didn’t admit that the wild range of personalities “Survivor” attracts is half the fun.
I assumed that by the end of this week’s episode, a new Shan would rise to the top. With four more outs until tribal council, I’m starting to accept the fact that there may not be another Shan this season.
With that, let’s get into Episode 11: the drastic inversion of power dynamics, this season’s riskiest twist yet, and who ultimately went home.
“We Cannibalized Ourselves, Y’all”
So said Liana to her allies Danny and Deshawn after returning from tribal, where she was the only person beside Shan who was left out of the vote. As usual, Deshawn deflected responsibility and put it all on Ricard. Clearly, he’s still reeling from when Shan called him a “snake” and told Ricard he had her vote for a million dollars.
As he complained about how he always gets blamed for other people’s plans, I couldn’t help thinking about how bad this will look if he makes it to the final 3. Not a great argument for why he deserves to win the game.
Luckily for Ricard, Deshawn’s whining is taking off some of the heat while simultaneously fanning the flames of Liana’s anger. “I had this beautiful picture of me and Shan and [Deshawn] just smashed it over and over and over again with a mallet,” she tells the camera.
Meanwhile, Heather, Erika and especially Xander are soaking in their drastic reversal of luck. “This is too good to be true,” he says of escaping the bottom.
There’s something uncertain and exciting in the air – it’s like the morning after a revolution. The old regime is suddenly scrambling to stay in the game, but who from the newly anointed top will claim the throne?
“A Potential Deadly Risk”
In an unusual segment, Danny shares with the camera that it is the 25th anniversary of his father’s death. Playing “Survivor,” he says, has given him a new perspective on processing the grief and shame he’s carried ever since.
I say unusual because Danny hasn’t opened up about his personal life at all until now, but come to think of it, almost none of the other contestants have either. It all made sense when Danny won his first immunity challenge a few minutes later.
But before we get into that, Jeff precedes the challenge with an ominous little monologue about “a potential deadly risk” that he is about to unveil. That risk is “Survivor Do or Die,” a new twist in which a contestant can choose not to participate in the challenge and therefore relinquish their shot at winning immunity. If they participate, the first to lose must participate in a game of chance at tribal. If they win that game, they win automatic immunity; if they lose, they “die,” bringing an end to their time in the game. (Cutting from Danny talking about his father’s death to using the word “die” so flippantly is not in the best taste.)
Heather and Liana sit out of the challenge, which involves balancing a silver ball on a log made of individual pieces that the contestant has to hold together. Deshawn is the first to drop, another blow to his alliance with Danny and Liana.
Back at camp, Danny encourages Xander to vote out Ricard, who has quickly become the biggest threat after he orchestrated Shan’s blindside. Xander is hesitant because he knows he’ll be next and wants to nurture his newfound alliance with Ricard, Heather and Erika. Also, Liana still hates his guts.
On the other hand, Erika’s getting squirrely about keeping Ricard around.
“Survivor” Gets Real About Race and Racism
Tribal council seems headed into what has become familiar territory for this cast – a pleasant conversation full of platitudes about trust, uncertainty, etc. – until it takes a detour. While explaining his behavior after last tribal council, Deshawn breaks down about the pressure of wanting to represent the Black community while playing his own individual game. Voting out Shan “was the toughest thing I ever had to do,” he says.
“It hurt to even have to write her name down… People don’t understand that extra baggage that you bring into this game,” he continued through tears.
“Everywhere I go I’m a Black woman first,” Liana says. One by one, the players share their insights on race and how it affects the game from the perspective of their lived experiences as people of color or of white privilege.
To hear a bunch of people engage in such an open and heartfelt dialogue about race on television – on “Survivor,” of all places – is quite a change of pace. It’s also a pretty long segment, which made me think Deshawn would go home.
But the extensive time the producers allotted to the discussion turned out to be sincere and also a red herring. In a moment that truly had everyone on the edge of their seats, Deshawn somehow picked the only box out of three that contained a fire symbol, meaning he would keep his spot in the game.
Following that sobering conversation and the shock of Deshawn’s amazing good luck, nobody gets up to whisper or scheme. A stunned Ricard just gets up and starts the voting process.
At the end of the day, Ricard squeaks by with three votes and Liana gets her torch snuffed by the remaining five. “I really liked playing with all of you,” she says on her way out. “Bye, y’all, play hard.”
Nobody seems particularly happy to see her go. What happened to the “Survivor” where people cursed/yelled/flipped their tribemates off on their way out?! It feels like another show entirely.
Winners, Losers and Snoozers
Despite their newfound positions on the bottom, Danny and Deshawn won big this week. Danny’s individual immunity was a first, while Deshawn’s immaculate instincts/guardian angel prevented him from getting out when the odds were stacked against him.
Liana may have gone home, but it doesn’t feel quite right to call her a loser. She went out understanding that she was outplayed and harbored no hard feelings against her fellow contestants. I always wondered what Liana’s game would have looked like if she’d never partnered up with Shan; she was always so sharp, and yet loyal to a fault. I was also hoping for a big showdown between her and Xander, but I suppose we’ll have to wait until final tribal council for that. Now she and Shan are free to chill by the pool at Ponderosa!
Quote of the Week
“If you’re a snake I’m gonna come back and bite.” – Liana re: Deshawn, after Shan called him a snake