Survivor was a nice episode this week but rather straightforward. Ricard’s the big target to take down, but — surprise! — he wins immunity and then it’s between the dynamic duo of Danny and Deshawn as to who should get the boot. In terms of story, it made sense for it to be Danny because Deshawn’s got the gumption to get to the endgame. They both argued not getting rid of Ricard was a mistake, but I think the pair made a bad move before that by not having a better back-up plan once the alliance with Shan shattered.
I’m interested to see what the endgame looks like because for the first time in many seasons, I can see several ways this one ends. There’s no Tony or Tommy who are far and away the frontrunner, and while I think we have some typical Final Tribal Council fodder, we’ve still got ourselves a game that is up for grabs. With all focus on the finale, I’ll too break from giving my usual full episode recap and instead focus on the final five and the road they face to get to the end and win. Andy Baker eloquently elaborated on his own pre-finale predictions, but a healthy competition to see who’s got the better foresight is always fun. He’s probably right and I’m wrong, but we’ll see. One of us at least will be saying, along with 4 of the 5 remaining players, “We might’ve made a mistake.”
Before jumping to future outlooks for the final five, however, I’ll start with a few farewell words to the final six’s fallen:
An ex-professional athlete has become a token Survivor casting archetype. There have been some that have ranged from “sucked” to “uninspiring” (your John Rocker and your Julia Landauer), but Danny joins the list of ones that I’ve loved (Alan Ball is #1 on that list). He places among the higher-finishing former players in 6th place, but along the way, Danny delivered impressive game which isn’t always typical of “the jock.” Strategically, he didn’t have as much to show while winning everything in Luvu, but his focus at the merge was initially thwarting the threat of a possible all-women’s alliance and while I obviously would’ve been happy with that (all-women's alliance) thriving, Danny helped lead a strong charge to eliminate Sydney, Tiffany, Evvie, and Shan in that order.
Of course, siding with the Shan vote would later prove to be Danny’s downfall. True, she was the one to beat, but in hindsight, Danny didn’t have the relationships outside of “the campout” alliance to fall back on, and in helping pull off the season’s biggest move, he handed the game to his competitors. Losing Liana next, it was then inevitable for Danny to be on the chopping block once Ricard won immunity. Still, Danny’s reads throughout the game and impressive initiative to make moves impressed me more than other athletes who’ve taken more of a passenger seat while playing Survivor. Danny’s also got a big heart along with the solid head on his shoulders, and it showed. While Ricard and Deshawn remain in the game as probably the technically better players, I’d have been satisfied with a Danny win as something a little atypical of the athlete mold.
Speaking of athletes, I didn’t expect to see Ricard be this season’s challenge beast! I saw a stat that he’s only the second LGBT+ player to make the list of players who’ve won 3 or more individual immunity challenges in a season, which is spectacular, but what’s also great is how his 3 wins have been diverse. One relied on fast footwork; another required careful balance and endurance, and the latest was a mix of balance, brains, and blazing speed. It’s really refreshing to see a queer person come out and kick so much ass like Ricard has.
Of course, doing so has put a target on Ricard’s ass. Once Shan left, as I suspected, Ricard took on her title of the biggest threat in the game. Impressively, he survived the final seven vote, but now his only way to the end seems to be immunity. Fortunately for Ricard, he only has to win one so long as he’s perfected his fire-making ability. Ricard has otherwise played a hell of a game and struck when he needed to strike. I’d rather he be labeled as the big threat to win and lose before the end than to make no name for himself and be a boring finalist.
The former is where I feel Ricard’s cards will fall. If he makes the final four, I think Ricard wins regardless of how he gets himself to the final three, which means everything relies on this final five immunity challenge (or possibly the big twist that was teased in the promo, seemingly some kind of scavenger hunt). Of the final five, I’d say my favorite win would be Ricard’s. Not only has he played the best game, in my opinion, of the five, but he also represents many different communities so it would be a win for them all when representation has been such a powerful theme this season. If Ricard reaches the end, he wins — we have no reason to doubt that now. However, my gut says his winning streak will end and it’ll be a simple 4-1 vote for Ricard at five. If that’s the case, while he won’t win the million, I think he’ll have walked away a winner in many ways. I hope I’m wrong and that he walks away the winner, though.
Erika has sort of delivered on her commitment to coming out at the merge from a lamb to a lion. She’s been involved in some of the game’s turning points — more than “involved” in the biggest “turn” of the game we’ve ever seen with the infamous hourglass flip — however, I still don’t think she’s driven enough for me to want her to win so much. She’s been called a threat even by the game’s biggest threat, Shan, so I know she’s done something to warrant that, but sadly we haven’t seen it as much as we’ve heard it.
There’s enough of an “edit” there to point toward an Erika win, and while it’d be the first time a woman wins Survivor in SEVEN seasons, I would be disappointed not in Erika but in the show for not showcasing her more because that’s a pretty big deal, again especially in a season all about representation. I get the “lamb becomes a lion” story, but I still haven’t seen the lion’s teeth like I’ve wanted. I’m not saying they aren’t there; it’s just like I said: we’re hearing it more than seeing it.
To even have a shot at the million, Erika needs to be the best fire-maker. This assumes she won’t win the final four immunity challenge, but two of Ricard/Xander/Deshawn will be there, so I think it’s pretty safe to say one of them will win and take Heather to the end, leaving Erika to battle her way to final three vs. the other immunity loser. From her time at Exile Island, we certainly saw that she’s capable, but that’s just what I think will be her only way to the end.
Winning depends on who sits with her. A given is Heather, but I don’t see any scenario Heather is not in the end at this point. Erika can’t be there with Ricard, so she needs to hope he doesn’t win immunity at final five. Erika vs. Deshawn would be a toss-up for Erika, so she should avoid that as well. All that to say, Erika’s best path to the win is the pair of Xander and Heather with her at FTC, so the way the finale needs to go for that is for Ricard to go at five, Xander winning immunity at four and taking Heather with him, and Erika beating Deshawn at fire. This has to go perfectly for her which is why I’m going to say it doesn’t. If Deshawn wins that final immunity and takes Heather, even if Erika beats Xander in fire for a boost to her résumé, Deshawn has been delivering such incredible speeches at tribal council lately that I think he will out-perform Erika there. Erika winning would be an interesting end to this season, but it will leave me wishing we’d seen more of her throughout the last 3 months.
Heather is WINNING.
Just kidding. I hate the reality of it, but Heather is not the Sole Survivor of season 41. I could write up some amazing fan-fiction fantasy story of how she is, but it would suck all of the creative writing juices out of me to spin such a tale, and I don’t want to end up having to quote the original “purple” player with the words, “I have nothing left to suck.”
I can at least be happy that Heather is getting a big chunk of change after being robbed of even a half-decent edit. What does 3rd place get these days? $50,000? A little more if 2nd and 3rd place tie? I hope she has similar dreams to those of Eddie Fox and puts her winnings toward building an opossum bar or something fun like that.
Especially after this last week, Heather’s journey is over. After her talk with Deshawn, she spoke about how she needed to be on this season to learn what she did and that this was her time. She already got what she needed, and thus her story is complete without needing a win. No matter how the cookie crumbles, Heather will be the one taken to the end by the final four immunity winner. I don’t think there’s any way she could accidentally play her way out of that spot at this point, even if she blew up a vote again.
Heather will be criticized by the jury for not doing enough, and will be the target of their anger and resentment for her being there while they feel they did more but received less with their spots on the jury bench. Heather is an adorable, sweet, lovely lady, so I hope they don’t rake her over the coals too aggressively. That would just be painful to watch, so I’d rather her be purple still at FTC than have to witness unnecessary hate. It’s still, if nothing else, a physical feat to reach final tribal council, and I’m very proud of Heather that she will.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed her few-and-far-between moments on the show and the memes I’ve tried to make out of them. She seems like so much fun, but in a season focused so much on twists and strategy, we’ve lost time for Heather to shine since she hasn’t been so much of a driver in those two areas. Ironically, the most unmemorable person in the cast from the edit may be who I remember the most, a Heather champion until the day I die.
Ah, the one everyone is hoping wins this big comeback season, the straight, good-looking, cisgender white guy! I know he can’t help being who he is, but come on, this isn’t happening for him.
Identification aside, Xander hasn’t really done much in the game as far as I can tell. He thinks he’s this big threat everyone has overlooked, but that’s not the reason they’re overlooking him. They all know he has an idol but don’t consider that a threat because he isn’t an endgame threat. I can see him talking about how he never had to play his idol which speaks to some incredible game he’s played, and the jury will just stare expressionlessly back thinking, “Yeah, you never had to play it because no one ever bothered going after you.” Xander played the early merge well with his admittedly amazing fake idol bluff, but since then, Xander has only been a big player this season in his brain alone.
Xander thinks he has a good shot to win, but he’s only playing for 2nd in my eyes, and final four should be where his focus is. Ricard will the easy final five boot, but if Ricard is immune, I assume that target will shift to Deshawn. Xander will or won’t play his idol, so there pending some new advantage that falls into Ricard or Deshawn’s lap, Xander will be through to the final four.
If Xander wins the final four immunity, he’ll take Heather and they’ll both lose to whoever wins the fire-making challenge, so he should instead challenge Ricard or Deshawn (whoever is left) in fire, but even if he won that, he’d still be in the final three with Erika who will also beat him. Xander may at least pick up a vote from someone who wants to distinguish his game from Heather’s — I could see Danny throwing a vote at him, a sort of “you got me” nod like Danny mentioned this week. By now, Tiffany and Evvie aren’t thinking “Yase-strong” so there’s no reason from them to vote based on old tribal lines. So, yeah, Xander’s best case scenario is getting 1 or 2 votes to get him $100,000 instead of the $75,000 he’d get if 2nd/3rd place tie with 0 votes and split the prize money.
Xander is never my type of player on Survivor, but at least he’s been mostly inoffensive. He’s had his moments of delusion or thinking he’s a better player than he is, but nowhere near as bad as his University of Chicago brother Spencer Bledsoe. Like I said for Heather, making it to the end of Survivor is still an accomplishment no matter how you get there. Xander was in a position where it was hard for him to take control, so he did what was best and kept his head down. Unfortunately for him, that’s why he won’t win, but playing harder would’ve made him the target of votes, so I think he was doomed either way. I don’t think Voce would’ve made it as far as Xander, but I can’t help but think Voce would’ve given us a lot more exciting content had he stayed over Xander all the way back when. Erika, is there any way I could have your hourglass? I’d like to change a few things about this season ….
I think I said before this season began that I’d have made Deshawn my winner pick if it wasn’t for me so badly wanting a woman to win that I selected Shan instead. What was I thinking? A woman winning Survivor? In this economy? You have to travel across international waters to see that (unless the shameful Erika edit is the best we can get from the show these days).
Deshawn was the main narrator on Luvu, so it makes sense he’d be the driving player from that tribe once the merge hit. I think he’s played well, but like Danny he didn’t have a fallback plan after Shan left, so Deshawn’s game has been a little shaky since then. Do or Die would have been the worst elimination ever, but having to play that high-risk carnival game also spared him from the vote that night. That’s assuming that the tribe would’ve voted for Deshawn over Liana if they could have.
This week’s episode made it seem like Deshawn was spared over Danny because his potential to win challenges was higher. While Deshawn has never won an individual challenge, I think he’s done consistently fair? Jeff can probably confirm the stats on whether that’s accurate or not. He has Xander to help beat Ricard, but I do think Deshawn will get to wear the necklace in the finale at five, four, or both. His biggest worries will be Ricard winning immunity followed by a fire-making challenge if Xander wins the final four immunity, so there could be a lot of work cut out for Deshawn, but if he overcomes those two obstacles, maybe by winning immunity himself, I think my #2 winner pick of the season will finish as #1.
Deshawn would lose to Ricard, but I don’t see a final three where they’re both there. It’ll be an easy win against Xander and Heather, so I’m sure that’s what Deshawn is dreaming of — Erika as an opponent could be interesting. She’s played more under-the-radar than Deshawn which could be perceived as either a good or bad thing. Either she’ll have done “not enough” or Deshawn will have done “too much.” I’d like to see this battle, but I think the likelier scenario is the two of them battling to see who’s a better fire-maker at the final four.
Deshawn would be a satisfying winner even if he’s been a little chaotic as of late. We were reminded this week about his “social capital” which I think played a large part in being saved over Danny and overall has just been a large part of his game since the start. Deshawn is great at relationship-building and it put him in a prime position to drive at the merge. He let slip a little his hold of Heather and Erika who, if he had kept them tighter, could have kept him out of the hot seat after the Shan boot. Also mentioned has been how Deshawn knows how to give a speech. If he’s at FTC, I’m sure he’ll speak to again how his race has impacted the way he’s played, and not that the win should only be determined by that, but the Sole Survivor will inevitably represent the season, and as a strong social/strategic player who also represents a lot of bigger things than just what we see in the game, Deshawn would be good representation for 41.
This breakdown of the final five is also the order of elimination I expect headed into finale night. Ricard’s run comes to a tragic end after not winning immunity at five; I’ll say Xander wins the final immunity and takes Heather to three; Deshawn beats Erika in fire-making and then goes on to win it all. The biggest toss-up for me is final four where I could just as easily see Erika winning instead. It would make sense for her story, but given that Deshawn has had a larger story this season, I’m going to hope that the show put a little more care and consideration into the winner’s narrative and say it’s Deshawn.
While this hasn’t been the most overwhelmingly exciting season outside of a few episodes and tribal councils, I’m excited to see it close given the amount of uncertainty I have. I’m going with Deshawn as my official pick to win, but it really could be any of Ricard/Deshawn/Erika. I mentioned Ricard being my favorite of the three, but it would also be funny for the whole “drop the 4, keep the 1” and “drop the H, keep the Ricard” theory to become reality as a spooky nod to Richard Hatch, the Sole Survivor now 40 seasons ago.
There isn’t a “Tia” in the leaked Survivor 42 cast list; otherwise, I’d definitely pick her to win if Ricard wins 41.
Ryan Kaiser has been a lifelong fan of Survivor since the show first aired during his days in elementary school, and he plans to one day put his money where his mouth is by competing in the greatest game on Earth. Until that day comes, however, he'll stick to running his mouth here and on Twitter:@Ryan__Kaiser