After a near-perfect episode last week, this time around Survivor 41 had flashes of brilliance, right up through the start of Tribal Council, but ultimately decided no, it would rather shoot itself in the foot. Another potentially game-wrecking random event. And for what? Erika is right to hate the rocks.
If there was a theme to the episode, it was carrying loads. There was an outstanding character depth subplot for Danny, who was struggling with the 25th anniversary of his father's death (in an accident). Left with his thoughts through 20 days of Survivor, Danny regretted and eventually came to peace with his feelings of guilt about having, as a child, been angry at his late father for not being there. Given the deprivation and isolation of the show, Danny finally had the space to come to terms with it, and his burden was lifted.
There was also a really deep, thoughtful discussion at Tribal Council of the additional baggage people of color carry in society, and even more so in a game like Survivor. As Liana said, "When people look at me, they see a Black woman. And I take that with me wherever I go." Liana talked about the struggle to produce something positive, to give people someone to root for, after a year like 2020. Added pressure that someone like Xander (as he acknowledged himself) doesn't face.
Deshawn broke down talking about feeling obligated to keep the all-Black alliance intact (last week), after all the effort "minority players took to diversify this game," but that Survivor and real life sometimes conflict. Ultimately, he felt he had to go against that alliance and vote out Shan, because it was the right move to make at that time. (The added pressure of the impending Do or Die twist no doubt helped amplify his emotions.)
This was a really powerful conversation. And it worked because like all the good parts of this season, it came from the players. (I can't possibly do it justice, so just listen to what Brice and Wendell had to say about it on the Purple Pants Podcast.) It wasn't something godawfully staged and awkwardly scripted (like the loved ones visits), with Jeff Probst leaning back on his stool, lighting a pipe, and wheezing, "Gather around, children. Let's have a Talk about Race!"
This is one of the most positive side-effects of having such a diverse cast: They're bringing new, important, interesting stories with them to the show. People who bring a fresh perspective, new energy, new life to the game. Yul made a one-sentence mention about the pressure of representing Korean-Americans well way back in Cook Islands, but Liana's and Deshawn's discussion here was given the space to be much more in-depth, which got the point across a lot more thoroughly.
With respect to that pressure, this is still early days, and there is hope. With CBS's commitment to continue casting 50% of people of color, maybe that pressure to be a positive role model will diminish with each passing season, and eventually people of color can just play however they're going to play, with no second thoughts (like Xander). Many hands lighten the load. The multi-hued future is bright.
And then, as awkwardly as humanly possible, we have to transition to "Do or Die," where Deshawn could leave the game (2-in-3 chance of doing so!) without being voted against. And here it was also about a load: A big, steaming pantload of a twist.
Literally, Jeff Probst says, "People watch Survivor for lots of different reasons, but for me, it's about THIS" (the social experiment where people are forced to live and work together, build a new society, etc.). And then immediately segues into, "Okay. Now let's have a random guessing game where none of those things matter and one of you might have to leave without a vote."
And after that, we proceed to voting out Liana, who just made some excellent points about her struggles, but will now be juror #5.
Once again, this cast is incredible. They've been through a lot, waiting through a terrible year to play this game, only to find that Survivor now only sort of resembles the game they love. They've played their hearts out whenever they've been given the chance, and have been raw and open about how the experience has affected them.
Yet for every episode we love (last week's, and even parts of this week's), there's been an episode where some really dumb twist hinders the game and gets in the way of the people playing it. As Erika presciently said on behalf of the audience, we have a love-hate relationship with this season. Sometimes we love it. Today, we hate it.
The Do or Die twist is an abomination, especially at this point in the game
To be very clear: We hate the Do or Die twist.
Here is Jeff Probst's breaking-the-fourth-wall introduction to Do or Die: "It's Day 21, seven people left in the game, and today they're going to face another very dangerous twist. And it's going to force them to make a very big decision based on where they think they stand in the game." (Ryan Kaiser is right, whenever Probst talks directly to the camera, something dumb is about to happen.)
This is a turgid frappé of lies and absolute idiocy. Let's start with the timing: "It's Day 21, seven people left in the game." The final seven vote is where Rob Cesternino famously flipped the game in Survivor: The Amazon. This spot, and also final nine (as seen in Marquesas, a vote which you'll note production also took away this season, thanks to the split vote in Ep9), is a key post-merge odd-numbered vote. It's key because one person changing their vote in an otherwise even split changes the outcome. It's where a minority alliance can recruit a floater from the majority and completely upend the power structure. Here, if Danny and Deshawn had successfully convinced Erika to go with them, they could have regained power (had Xander not played his extra vote, at least).
Why on earth would production intentionally take away one of the best opportunities for a power shift ... to instead have one person play a game of chance?
It's as if the people in charge of Survivor have dropped both the four and the one: They demonstrate no familiarity whatsoever with the game as it has evolved over the last forty seasons. It's as if during the pandemic shutdown, they all smoked so much weed that they completely forgot everything about the show, then hired some freshly-minted Wharton MBA as a consultant to tell them what to do, who came back with a report: "Yeah, all this strategy and social dynamics stuff is boring. What you really need is half the boots decided by random chance. Besides, disenfranchisement is pretty hot right now, so you should take away people's ability to vote as much as possible."
Then there's the utter inability of Probst, et al., to read the game, and how the twist will be perceived. The second part of Probst's explanation is completely divorced from reality: "[I]t's going to force them to make a very big decision based on where they think they stand in the game." In what universe? Then again at Tribal: "Today's twist was all about relationships. If you didn't think you needed immunity, you could sit out."
Assuming this was not an intentional lie, and Probst really did believe this would be the players' thought process: How can someone who's watched 40 seasons of Survivor first-hand actually think this?
Not one person is going to sit out of this challenge because they're feeling safe in the game. Maybe if the calculation was eating free food or competing, they would! No, people are obviously going to sit out because they think, "holy crap, if I drop that stupid ball I could leave the game without a vote." You could be the safest person in World's Most Dominant Super-Trusty Alliance, and if you drop the ball, or have shaky hands like Malcolm Freberg, you have a 2-in-3 chance of being totally screwed and sent to the jury. It has *nothing whatsoever* to do with being in power, nothing to do with relationships, nothing to with anything game-related. Nothing!
That decision was (according to both Liana and Heather) *solely* based on how well you think you can hold a ball up on a bunch of severed sticks. And Probst knows this! This twist was obviously intended as a punishment for his least favorite kind of contestant: The person who is not good in challenges.
Let's also not overlook that the execution was terrible. The drama was lacking, because Deshawn was out of the challenge in seconds. At Tribal, he chose the correct box on the first try. He did not waver when given the chance to change his selection (even though mathematically that's the better choice). And then he was safe. Oh well, tough luck, Probst!
Worst of all, Probst didn't even tell the contestants those (decidedly shitty) odds before they had to decide. "Do or Die" sounds like 50-50. The actual odds are two losses for every win! Frankly, it's a miracle Deshawn survived this.
This was a twist that is completely antithetical to the social-strategic game, the game that depends on relationships with strangers, the very core of the show that Probst claims he likes. It was inserted into the game at an absolutely asinine time. It did not remotely do what Probst claimed he wanted. And it also failed miserably.
Forget the people saying, "well, it would be better if the winner wasn't immune." No! It wouldn't! It would suck even more! Then the backup plan would just be "Well, if Deshawn magically lives through this, we'll just vote him out anyway."
Just drive a stake through "Do or Die"s heart, and never let it besmirch this franchise again.
Shot in the Dark, rest in pieces. Ideally six.
You made the season-opening montage. You were used exactly once, and even then, almost by accident. You were less powerful and used fewer times than the Medallion of Power.
Congratulations, Shot in the Dark. You are officially the lamest twist ever.
To be fair, despite the dearth of people actually playing their Shots in the Dark, on those rare occasions this season where the contestants were actually allowed to vote, SitD did appear to *maybe* encourage the people in power to always plan a blindside, so as to avoid tipping someone off that they needed to throw their die.
In reality, though, blindsides have been the almost-exclusive flavor of boot for at least the last ten years or so. It's honing an already-sharp edge. We don't have people playing like Lex anymore, doing his castmates a solid by telling them they're getting voted out that night. (Okay, Brad and/or Genie might have, had they lasted longer.) *Maybe* SitD would have been a game-changer in season four, but we're dropping the four and keeping the one, right?
Anyway, Shot in the Dark ... like every other twist this season, you were poorly explained, and given no expiration date, until — surprise! — you were over and done with at the final seven vote. Which could have been the final seven non-vote, if Jeff Probst had his druthers! In which case you would have expired a round earlier, with no announcement at all.
It seems fitting that a modest, generally ineffectual twist could have been prematurely ended by another, even more stupid twist.
- Brown-noser award of the week: Xander, perhaps still suffering from Stockholm Syndrome thanks to his late-activating idol, claimed to "like" the many, many completely random twists this season (including Do or Die, which was much easier for him to like, since he was at no risk of "dying"), twists that make it not about relationships, but rather "You kind of have to gamble a little bit." His tepid plaudits were met with furious nodding from Jeff Probst. "Yes! Yes, Xander! You are 100% getting invited back to this show! Also, next time, it will be *all* rock draws."
- Sit-out Island: Despite claiming to love challenges and hate sit-outs, production's choices this season have meant that of the five individual immunity challenges, just *one* (last week's, the ball-on-a-pole one) featured the entire roster of merge tribe citizens competing against each other. Merge IC: Six people sat out. Next round: Split IC, with two groups of five. Next round: Four people sat out in exchange for rice for the tribe (Probst was pushing for more). Then last week's full repertoire, followed by this week's two sit-outs (which if Probst had better explained the risks, probably could have been more). First they shorten the season so that now nobody can ever top Boston Rob's days played record, and then they do everything possible to unseat Sandra from the sit-out throne. Enough!
Jeff Pitman is the founder of the True Dork Times, and probably should find better things to write about than Survivor. So far he hasn't, though. He's also responsible for the Survivometer, calendar, boxscores, and contestant pages, so if you want to complain about those, do so in the comments, or on twitter: @truedorktimes