Every now and again we have an episode that is overflowing with intriguing and potentially important quotes: winner’s quotes, reasons why someone won’t win quotes, host being obtuse quotes. Obviously, there’s a lot one can talk about after this episode — the growing dysfunction within the Core Four, Shan and Ricard’s use of the extra vote to blindside Naseer, Xander not using the extra vote to strongarm Danny and Deshawn into turning on Liana — but I’m going to focus more on what the players were saying than what they were doing. That’s how much words matter, both to me and to the game of Survivor: what they say to us and each other about what they think and what they feel is the real story of the season. We just have to listen.
1) "Shan is starting to step on my toes. She’s starting to get in the way of my million dollars. So that’s starting to piss me off a lot." - Deshawn
Look what we have here! A winner’s quote! I loved everything about this confessional: the lighting, how he was sitting, how he was articulating his thoughts: Deshawn is coming into his own. He even followed this up with a second winner’s quote later in the episode: But at the end of the day, I’m gonna be at the top, and that’s not even me trying to be funny. It’s just me being real. Doesn’t get any more blatant than that.
Back to the first quote, though: anytime a player talks about the million dollars, we have to listen. Now, I’m not willing to coronate Deshawn just yet; even he knows that there are hurdles ahead, namely the central conflict of the endgame: who is going to win the battle between Deshawn and Shan? It sure seems like they’re headed in opposite directions, and that Deshawn is in a far better position than his controlling counterpart. But are we seeing the truth, or yet another misdirection, and Shan will emerge triumphant?
My current feeling is that we’re seeing neither; we’re in fact getting a whole lotta DeShan because they’re going to sit next to one another at Final Tribal.
If that read is right — which would be fascinating, no? — then I think Deshawn earns the votes at the end. We’re getting a tonal contrast between the two of them, and Shan comes off as domineering while Deshawn is depicted as someone who builds connections (even if he ends up blindsiding jury members like Evvie and potentially Xander). One of the hardest dynamics to pull off in Survivor is being genuine while being fake, and that appears to come naturally to Deshawn. In life, it’s a pretty awful quality, but in the game, it’s gold.
Sure, there’s some negative content to worry about: Deshawn tells us that the alliance is dissipating (I’ll believe it when I see it), and he splashes around emotionally when things don’t go his way. But in the end, he’s one of three players who, according to the edit, have any shot at all. And he just told us that he’s going to win. I, for one, am starting to believe him.
2) "Why am I bending backwards for this dude?" - Shan
There are so many things wrong with this statement. First, Shan is saying this to a group of people who are going to tell Deshawn what she said. (Which is what she wants even though she would say that she didn’t; that’s how it goes with passive aggressive ranting.) Second, her tone was awful. Third, her body language was even worse (watch her hands when she’s making an argument: aggressive gestures everywhere). Fourth, everyone there is thinking that Shan is a hypocrite: they have to bend over backwards for her all the time, including in this moment. Fifth, Shan needs to understand that bending backwards for players in one’s alliance is how they stay together.
This, to me, is the most glaring hole in Shan’s game: she is very reluctantly dragged towards empathy by those who want to trust her, and she quickly reverts to wanting to get her way, despite repeated reminders that both Deshawn and Ricard don’t want to play that sort of game with her. If she’s going to get to the end with a jury that likes and respects her, she’s going to need to soften her approach. I don’t know if she can. More and more, I’m picturing her at Final Tribal attempting to make the argument that men playing this style of game get the votes — and failing to convince the jury that her game should be rewarded the same way.
3) "Throwing a name and writing it are two very different things." - Heather
Oh, Heather, bless your heart. While this statement is true on the surface, the end result of each is the same: a player feels targeted and betrayed. Just as an attorney doesn’t ask a question that she doesn’t know how the witness will answer, in Survivor, you don’t throw someone’s name out unless you’re pretty sure you can get him gone. Which is to say that if you’re going to throw a name out, you should also vote for that person, since they’re going to assume you did anyway. Why get all of the blowback without taking a shot at getting what you want?
Honestly, Heather couldn’t have handled this any worse than she did: she leaned on semantics about voting vs. nominating, invited Evvie to throw her under the bus with the truth, then acted defensive and mildly patronizing when Naseer suggested a better way to handle the aftermath of her choices (her “You’re welcome” was awful). What she should have done: as soon as Naseer said, “yesterday is in the past,” she should have explained, “I thought I was going home and I was desperate … I’m so sorry.” While the truth isn’t always the best approach in Survivor, with a situation like this, and with a player like Naseer, Heather could have diffused all of the tension. The fact that she couldn’t read Naseer after being with him since their days on Luvu doesn’t bode well for her game moving forward.
4) "This game is really testing me, but I’ve really been blossoming." - Ricard
This whole sequence made Ricard look like a winner candidate: he even talked about being the first hearing-impaired Sole Survivor. If we hadn’t gotten the Deshawn confessional about the million dollars, Ricard’s words here would have stood out even more. As it was, I gained a new appreciation for Ricard’s game; no wonder he’s so good at reading non-verbal cues! What a brilliant way to turn a perceived weakness to an undeniable strength.
I do wonder if Ricard is going to fall short of the finale, though. The editors have been building up characters only to knock them down. At various points this season, knowledgeable viewers have argued that Tiffany and Evvie were shoo-ins to make the finale (I was one of them on the Evvie front), and we’ve seen how that worked out. There’s enough doubt around Ricard, specifically his tumultuous relationship with Shan, that he may find himself on the jury deciding which half of DeShan should get his vote.
Still, I find myself enjoying Ricard’s journey in the game, as a person and as a player, and I would be intrigued to see him make his “I made the plans, Shan executed them” argument at Final Tribal.
5) "We should talk, y’all, as a four." - Shan
Two things jumped out at me about this moment. First, the obvious: Shan was either staggeringly oblivious or catastrophically rude here. I keep tucking these moments away, because I can’t shake the feeling that Shan is going to have to own and atone for her game with the jury. I can picture Xander and Erika bringing up this moment and ones like it at Final Tribal, can’t you? And Naseer won’t be the only player that has choice words for Shan about her gameplay. What if Shan cuts Ricard? What if she uses her idol to take out someone in the Core Four? Shan will do anything to get to the end (a quality I admire, by the way), but the question is: can she explain her choices in a way that allows the jury to empathize if not sympathize with her? I’m not sure the jury will buy it, because at the center of her Survivor being, Shan is a villain, not a hero.
The other thing that struck me: Shan says that she wants to talk as a four, but very quickly, the group includes Ricard. Setting aside that they’re talking right where Xander and Erika can see them (which means they’re all guilty of being way too comfortable with the power they hold), I wonder how the members of the Core Four see Ricard. Shan talks about the four as an alliance, which leaves Ricard on the outside, but clearly he is invited into their strategy discussions. How do Deshawn and Danny see Ricard? Certainly, they know and accept that Shan and Ricard are a tight tandem. Do they think Shan would choose Ricard over them, if push came to shove? We’re at the part of the game where the power players position their pawns; how does Ricard fit the plans of everyone not named Shan? Given what we saw in “Next week on,” it feels like we’ll get some answers to these questions sooner rather than later (more on that in #13).
6) "What if we did Erika? I think it’s better." - Shan
Survivor has a long-standing habit of highlighting when players get fixated on a singular target and lose sight of the larger game and the need to adapt. Liana did that with Xander, and now we see Shan doing the same with Erika. For all of Shan’s ability to connect with her fellow castaways, she prioritizes her own emotions and instincts; when she doesn’t trust, like, or need a player, they have to go. She even admitted this to Ricard, who said that Shan’s insistence on getting her way isn’t how the game should be played (that “should” is a dangerous assumption, of course, but we’ll forgive Ricard that choice of words, given that he’s referencing what feels like the unwritten rules of their alliance): Shan thinks everyone is making decisions based on their own individual wants and needs because that’s what she does. As I keep saying, this is a failure of empathy. Within any alliance, including this one, not everyone makes deeply pragmatic decisions that serve their ends first and foremost; players regularly defer to the desire of others, so long as it doesn’t totally disrupt the ultimate goal of getting to the end.
To be overly simplistic about it, Survivor players fall into two categories: “I” players and “we” players. Shan probably thinks she’s a “we” player playing a “we” game, only she’s wrong about that: not only is she taking an “I” approach, that’s also how the other players see her. Meanwhile, Ricard appears to be a “we” guy, someone who wants to be accepted as an equal, and is increasingly aware that Shan doesn’t see him that way. It will be very, very interesting to see how this plays out.
7) "Liana’s someone who’s almost a minion to Shan and that’s so dangerous." - Xander
So much going on here:
** If these two see Liana as a minion, then everyone does. Which means that she’s not winning the game. Even if she were to be sitting next to Erika and Heather in the Final 3, Liana still loses, given what Erika would have pulled off to get there.
** Shan is clearly identified as a power player. Not a surprise, really, but it remains remarkable that Shan hasn’t been targeted yet. I’ve spent the last several weeks pointing out the flaws in Shan’s game, but what she’s pulled off — controlling votes and shaping strategy while never catching a vote — is extremely impressive. Add in her idol and a five-person alliance with eight players left, and Shan is positioned well to have a seat at Final Tribal. Doing so when everyone knows you’re a threat to win is no small feat.
** That said, the fact that everyone sees Shan and Liana as a pair … and Shan and Ricard as a pair … eventually, Shan will have to end up in the crosshairs of a player like Deshawn, right? Xander nails it: the fact that Shan, someone who is a strong player in her own right, has a minion … that’s dangerous. And now there’s no place to hide: the dominant alliance is going to have to identify the factions within itself, figure out who is at the heart of the onion, and eliminate the threat. It has to happen — the only question is who does it first and who does it best.
8) "So, if you gave me your idol, to me… that would make me feel more comfortable." - Liana (to Xander)
"Yeah, but you just have one idol? Would you play that for Heather?" - Erika (to Naseer)
File this under, “When smart players say dumb things.” I’m sure both Liana and Erika cringed when they saw these moments on their TV screens this week. I have to wonder, though, if we got the full story here. Players say a lot of seemingly stupid stuff, but when you get the full context, perhaps it’s not quite as bad as the edit makes it look.
Let’s take Liana, for example. Yes, her attempt to get Xander to give her his idol was poorly executed, but do you think she did this on her own? Isn’t it more likely that she, Deshawn, and Danny discussed what to do about Xander’s idol, and they decided that it wouldn’t hurt to take a page from Shan’s book and just ask for it? Seems to me that Xander had been pitched on the idea of eliminating Evvie (Danny played his part), and this was a follow-up part of the plan where they add to their arsenal while making a Xander boot possible at F8 (delaying the chaos that we’re going to see on Wednesday). It has almost no chance of working, but where’s the harm in the attempt? Other than Liana looking foolish when it doesn’t work, that is.
Erika’s comment is less defensible, but let’s see if we can come up with a charitable take: First, this is a brainstorming session between three players who, despite all being original Luvu, clearly haven’t had serious strategy discussions before. Erika is just throwing out ideas to see if Naseer might budge from his intractable “Heather’s going home” position. If I had to guess, she was arguing that Naseer could make a big move with his idol by dramatically saving Heather at Tribal, and in the process they could take out a power player from the dominant alliance. Of course, Erika was probably thinking, “I just want you to play your idol on someone who isn’t you so that we can vote you out if Ricard isn’t lying to us.” Needless to say, though, the pitch is absurd: if Naseer wanted to work with Erika and Heather, he’d just vote with them to take out Shan or Ricard. No idol needed. But when you’re BS-ing on the beach, it’s a lot like those late-night conversations you’d have at sleepovers in your youth: if you watched video of those conversations, you’d quickly realize that 98.7% of what you said was mortifyingly ludicrous. It was fun, though, and that 1.3% was priceless. So it is with late-game Survivor strategy discussions: most of the plans are pointless, but that shouldn’t keep you from chucking stuff against the wall. Stupid is bad, but snuffed is worse.
9) "Mama, I’m sorry, I really apologize that you have to go home today." - Naseer (to Heather)
Mr. Muttalif, I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to kick you out of the Survivor SuperFan Fan Club. Please hand over your membership card. What did you do? You violated Rule #12: Never tell a target she’s going home. You knew better, Naseer! You’ve seen it backfire in previous seasons, right? I understand, you just wanted to be a nice guy, but nice guys end up on the jury. Maybe when your daughter wasn’t hiding idols in your backyard (gosh, I love that story) she should have been coaching you up on lying to the tribe mom’s face.
Oh, for the record, you also violated Rule #52: When you’re in an artificially small tribe, everyone knows you’re sneaky good at challenges, you’d destroy anyone in a F4 fire-making challenge, and you have an idol… you have to play that idol. Just in case. Have faith that production loves you and that you’ll find another.
And we’re going to throw in a Season 41 rule violation for good measure: When Heather, who claimed to be resigned to her fate, didn’t play her Shot in the Dark, you have to snap-play your idol. Because there’s no better proof that shenanigans are afoot.
10) "I don’t care." [a few moments later] "Will you?" - Ricard
Conversations like this one are why I worry that Ricard will be leaving soon. Just as Shan fails to understand the members of her alliance, they also don’t fully understand her. Despite being her #1, Ricard rubs Shan the wrong way, and exchanges like these are why: his tone is outright awful.
I’ve long argued that love is an underestimated force in Survivor: the relationships we have in life, with friends and spouses, are rarely tested the way Survivor partnerships are. People are trying to vote me out and you have my back? That’s proof that I matter. Turn on me? That’s going to hurt long after the game is over.
Now, imagine that your spouse or significant other said, “I don’t care” to you in the middle of a high-stakes argument. And then questions you when you say you’ll do something. How would that go? (Narrator: Not well.)
Yes, Shan ultimately went with Ricard’s plan. And yes, it was effective if not entirely necessary. The goal was to get to tomorrow with a dominant five-person alliance, and that’s precisely where they find themselves with only eight days left in the game.
But a lot of damage has been done getting there. And at least one of them is going to pay the price for that. Moments like this one make me think it’ll be Ricard. He told us that his alliance is high-maintenance, but what he failed to realize at that moment is that he, too, is part of that particular problem.
11) "Well, it might." - Heather
Ms. Aldret, I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to kick you out of the Survivor SuperFan Fan Club, too. Please hand over your membership card. What did you do? Let me be rude and answer a question with a question: What should you do when someone expresses worry that a vote will bounce back on them? Assure them that everything is fine, or passive aggressively threaten them (keeping in mind that the person you’re dealing with has an idol)? NO, THE ANSWER IS NOT TO THREATEN THEM, HEATHER. THAT’S WHY WE’RE TAKING YOUR MEMBERSHIP CARD.
12) "Why does everybody know what everybody has?" - Probst
Good one, Jeffrey!
I mean, I can’t even.
Wait, you’re serious, Jeff?
*Wipes tears from eyes*
13) "We’re gonna vote Deshawn." - Shan
To understand why Shan is targeting Deshawn next week, let’s look at the dynamics in play:
** Shan loves her Core Four + Ricard alliance. Why? Because if they get to F5, she has the numbers: Liana and Ricard are loyal allies. She’d have two shots to take out Deshawn, and feels like she could beat anyone else.
** One of the reasons that Deshawn is “looking for another team y’all” is that it has dawned on him that Shan is attempting to orchestrate her ideal endgame at the expense of his own. Right now, though, he has an edge at F7: Erika and Heather are his numbers, not Shan’s.
** Problem is, the F8 vote is functionally F7: with Xander safe because of his idol, the Core Four needs a target, perhaps two if they’re worried about an idol or advantage, and Shan is going to want it to be Erika/Heather. That puts Deshawn in a tight spot: if he lets Shan get her way, his position takes a major hit.
** The problem for Deshawn is that the only way to keep his numbers and weaken Shan is to target either Liana or Ricard, both of whom are supposed to be his close allies. The former is a non-starter, given that she’s part of the Core Four, so that leaves Ricard.
** Given what we saw in “Next week on,” Deshawn has decided to fight for his preferred outcome, repercussions be damned. Can he pull off taking out Ricard? He probably has four votes: Danny, Heather, Erika, and himself. Could he pull in Xander as a fifth?
** With both sides potentially recruiting him, Xander is in an interesting spot here. You have to think he’d choose Deshawn’s alliance over Shan’s. Reasons: Shan is aligned with Liana, someone who very much wants Xander gone … despite Deshawn having played him on the Evvie boot, Xander probably feels that Deshawn is more strategically flexible than Shan … and, perhaps most importantly, Xander would have to be blind not to see potential fractures in an alliance with two tandems (Deshawn/Danny; Erika/Heather).
** Another element to consider: if he’s not part of an alliance at F7, and he doesn’t win individual immunity, Xander is going to roll his Shot in the Dark. Which means that the other six will need to have a back-up vote … if Erika or Heather leaves at F8, the other one will be on the chopping block here. Which creates the endgame that Deshawn doesn’t want to see: the Ricard-Shan-Liana trio calling the shots, targeting Xander and Deshawn from F6 on (not necessarily in that order).
** With all this in mind, Deshawn targeting Ricard makes all the sense in the world — but also triggers easy outrage for Shan, Liana and Ricard. Erika and Heather are outside of their alliance; they should be easy boots! Of course, it’s easy for them to say that, given that using two of the remaining five boots to get rid of Deshawn’s goats gives them a clear path to the F3.
** So, what’s likely to happen this week? A pattern has been established: DeShan gets mad at each other then patches things up. This time, Deshawn probably lets Shan get her way, but only because he has another option: at F7, if Xander sides with Deshawn, Danny, and Erika/Heather (whoever is still there), they can still keep Shan from steamrolling the rest of the game.
Could all of that calculus end with an Erika boot? Probably. I’m just looking forward to the elegant chaos along the way.
Baker When he’s not blogging about
Survivor, Andy Baker helps run a Survivor-based LRG and is
podcasting about TV shows. Which is to say he spends
entirely too much time in front of the TV, typing on his
laptop and muttering about bad narrative decisions.
Andy can be found on twitter: @B13pod.