Spoiler alert! Proceed with extreme caution if you have not yet watched Episode 10 of “Survivor” Season 41
There comes a point in every castaway’s stay on a deserted island when picking off smaller prey starts to lose its appeal. It’s only a matter of time before the remaining survivors start to turn on their own.
We’re talking about “Survivor” here, so resorting to cannibalism requires a lot more luck, timing and careful strategy than mere primal instinct. Still, one can’t help but feel that a switch flipped during this week’s episode, that the eight remaining players experienced a moment of collective clarity that the time to make a big move had arrived.
Last week’s double knockout of Evvie and Naseer – the former, a strategically gifted player who couldn’t claw back up from the bottom and the latter too trusting to see it – cleared the way for a five-person majority alliance and three bottomers. But it also set a ticking time bomb on how long that stronghold could last.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at how the castaways wielded their votes this week – and who ultimately got burned.
“Like Giving a Baby a Machine Gun”
… is how Erika describes the disproportionate power that Shan wields in the game, with an idol in her pocket and four steadfast allies behind her. She’s one advantage down, having used her extra vote to take out Naseer on Ricard’s insistence, but she’s never relied much on those to make moves anyway.
Still, Erika makes her point well: Someone needs to put a stop to Shan’s seemingly endless ammunition. And so she broaches the subject with Deshawn, perhaps the least loyal of Shan’s inner circle, who’s paid lots of lip service to the idea of sending her home but never once acted on it. Is he finally ready to let her go?
Of course, Shan doesn’t trust him either. Their conversation the next day feels like a goodbye. They both seem relieved to admit that they don’t expect to take each other to the end.
Deshawn genuinely seems conflicted about the fact that if he wants to win, he’ll eventually have to turn against his all-Black alliance, as does Liana (more on that later). Not Shan: she came here for one reason, and that is to win a million dollars. It’s astonishing to hear all these players wring their hands over their loyalty to Shan, when she wouldn’t – and shouldn’t – ever let their friendship get in the way of winning the game.
A Strategic Pizza Party
For the reward challenge, the players have to thread their way through a series of obstacles while attached to a rope, then solve a star-shaped puzzle. Only on “Survivor” do people participate in daily triathalons for little boxes of pizza and a night’s sleep on a real bed.
Turns out Ricard always volunteers to solve puzzles for a reason. Of course, his win comes with a caveat: He must choose three players to come with him to Survivor Sanctuary, leaving four players behind.
Under the guise of their never having won a reward, he chooses his closest ally, Shan, along with Heather and Xander. We don’t see enough of Ricard and Heather to know if they’re actually friends; nonetheless, bringing her takes her away from Erika, who everyone seems to think is a giant threat. Xander is too sneaky to be left alone with the others at camp. Well-played, Ricard.
The pizza-less party consists of Erika and allies Liana, Danny and Deshawn. Danny takes Deshawn aside and floats the idea of taking out Ricard. Deshawn says it’ll be difficult, but likes the idea because “When he leaves, [Shan]’s gonna come back to us.” Talk about Stockholm syndrome. Shan-holm syndrome, if you will.
Though uncomfortable with going behind Shan’s back, Liana says she doesn’t want their friendship to dictate her game and that this move will “differentiate” her from Shan. Maybe it would if she actually followed through, but I don’t think anyone was holding their breath.
“It’s Beyond a Game at This Point”
Sure enough, the next day Shan and Liana tearfully reminisce about their bonding moment at the beginning of the season. Liana confides in her about Deshawn and Danny’s plan to smoke out Ricard, and they agree to go for Deshawn.
Liana also tells Shan that “it’s beyond a game at this point,” meaning that she doesn’t care about winning “Survivor” if it means losing their friendship. Have the past 40 seasons taught her nothing?
Shan breaks the news to Ricard, who is smart enough to know that winning immunity is his only hope.
Immunity Unleashes Chaos Yet Again
Season 41 has to have broken some kind of record for the number of times tribal council plans have been overturned by the person on the chopping block winning immunity. First Evvie, then Xander, and now Ricard! The castaways had to make their way down an increasingly narrow beam while balancing a ball on top of a flat-topped pole.
Shan instructs her alliance to vote out Erika but to make Xander think he’s going home so that he plays his idol. With the immunity necklace around his neck, Ricard seizes on his opportunity to slay the dragon. Heather, Xander and Erika are open to writing Shan’s name down, but Deshawn, as always, is wishy-washy. “Deshawn continues to lie and I don’t respect it,” says Ricard, but he has no choice but to trust him.
Erika, still worried that she might be the target, tells Danny to split the vote between Liana and Shan in case Shan plays her idol. If she doesn’t and they tie, they can take her down in the revote. It’s what any reasonable person would do, but Danny is alarmed by Erika’s move-making and starts having second thoughts.
The chasm between Erika’s actions (or lack thereof) and the way she’s perceived as “sneaky” and “threatening” is starting to grate on me. Either that footage hasn’t made the cut or the other players see something in her that isn’t there.
“We Are All Liars Here”
Tribal council is chock-full of vague subtweets and gestures at what’s really going on without saying much of anything at all. The fact that this is pretty normal for this season, versus the explosive fights we’ve seen in the past, is a testament to how these castaways are real students of the game.
“We are all liars here,” says Shan, and that basically says it all.
Erika gets two votes. The other six votes are split between Liana and Shan, meaning the plan worked.
A revote seals the deal: Shan. Is. Out.
“Ricard, you have my vote for a million dollars,” she says on her way out. “Deshawn, you’re a snake.”
In her final confessional, Shan says she’s proud of her game play, but not of the fact that she went home with an idol in her pocket.
Winners, Losers & Snoozers
This was a week of disproportionate winners, with Ricard first in line. After nailing both challenges, he could have sat back and enjoyed his immunity; instead, he saw an opportunity to take out the biggest threat in the game. Flipping Danny and Deshawn, who have chewed on the idea of snuffing Shan for weeks without following through, was an impressive feat.
Erika is another big winner. She helped orchestrate the final plan against Shan, and avoided her own defeat despite sitting at the bottom for weeks.
Yet Ricard and Erika now face the ultimate “Survivor” paradox: If you play hard enough to escape being voted out, you become a threat, putting you at risk of being voted out. Like Xander, they will likely be wearing large targets on their backs from here on out.
If anyone snoozed, I suppose it would be Heather. Like Erika, she’s consistently been at the bottom, but hasn’t exactly tried to maneuver her way out of it.
The runner-up loser of this episode is Liana. Her unwavering devotion to Shan kept her in the dark about the blindside, and now she’s on her own. Maybe this is the push she needs to actually start playing her own game.
Shan’s blindside was a huge relief – her path to victory was starting to feel inevitable, and an inevitable winner makes for dull television. While certainly a skilled strategist, her superiority complex alienated her tribemates and inflated her sense of security, ultimately leading to her undoing. A my-way-or-the-highway attitude can only get you so far in the game. That being said, she certainly kept things interesting. Now, it’s time for someone else to fill that role.
Quote of the Week
“They’re gunning for you, kid.” – Shan to Ricard in a line surely ripped from a bad Western