Survivor 41 recap: Do or die
Oh my God! What the hell is happening? Sorry, I was a little late to the episode this week and just turned on the TV to hear Jeff Probst say, "Tonight, if Deshawn lives, then we have a normal vote and somebody goes home. If Deshawn dies, then he's out and there is no vote."
Wait, if Deshawn dies?????? Are they now killing people on Survivor?! Does this have something to do with that "monster" Probst kept talking about? I know this season has been heavy on the twists, but killing contestants does seem a bit much. How about instead of dropping the four and keeping the one we try to keep all of the players in one piece, shall we? I mean, the fact that Deshawn fought to keep someone in the game that the producers have done everything in their power to keep off our screens doesn't exactly seem like grounds for on-air murder. Also, if he dies, there is no vote, but the game continues?! Doesn't that seem like grounds for canceling the rest of the season? What the hell is going on here? Am I watching the freakin' Squid Game ?!
Oh, hold on. I'm being told Deshawn was never in danger of actually dying, but rather it was part of some elaborate new twist put into play for this week's immunity challenge. Here were the nuts and bolts of it: Contestants could choose to compete or sit out of the immunity challenge. But if you competed and were the first to drop your ball off the cylinder, then you would be forced to compete in a new game called Do or Die, described as a "potentially deadly game of chance" — which sounds suspiciously like something uttered by a mustache-twirling villain in a cheesy (yet still awesome) Jean-Claude Van Damme movie in which people are hunting "the deadliest game of all… MAN!" Anyway, if you won this game of chance, you were safe and could not be voted out. If you lost, you were immediately out of the game — but, thankfully, not actually dead.
Heather and Liana both sat out. Deshawn, Erika, Xander, Ricard, and Danny performed, with Deshawn dropping his ball before I even had time to complete this sentence. It was later revealed that there was one safe box out of three, and Deshawn had to pick the right one to stay alive. So, before we get into what the correct move in that scenario is and how it played out, some brief (for me, anyway) thoughts on the twist itself…
I'm totally fine with it! Unlike the time-travelling hourglass or throwing advantages and idols all over the place, this was a twist that operated on a completely level playing field. Not only that, it forced strategic thinking on the fly to calculate the best odds towards making it one more day in the game. To that end, my only complaint is I wish Jeff Probst had told the players right then and there that the challenge loser would be faced with 1-in-3 odds of winning the game and staying safe. That would have enabled everyone to make a fully formed decision. I assumed it would be more of a 50 percent chance of winning, not a paltry 33 percent. I get the appeal of keeping players in the dark, but this is one instance where I think the decision-making process is more interesting the more information they have.
Still, even at 50 percent (which is what I thought it would be at the time), I would have gone with the gray rock and sat out the challenge. That is shocking because as longtime readers (anyone? Bueller? anyone?) know, I am the guy who always blasts people for sitting out challenges for food. You came to compete, so compete! You think you're safe, but you may not be! But this is different. This is a situation in which you are being asked to make a calculation on your best chance for advancement, and being told there could be a massive punishment for playing. So yeah, I say sit. Now, if you want to be purely results-based and point out that Deshawn (who played the game and improbably won) was safe and that Liana (who sat out the challenge) ended up going home, then fine. But I feel that is a pretty simplistic view.
Had I been in that lineup my thought process would have gone something like this: Is it more likely I win this challenge or be out first? Well, players who think they have no chance of winning are going to sit out, which means it is much more likely than normal that I could be the first one out, because the weakest competitors are not even trying. Plus, if I am the first one out, there is nothing I can do around camp to try to save myself. It is purely a game of chance, and the odds are not in my favor. However, if I sit out, there is a very good chance I am safe because whomever goes out first in the challenge is a goner. And even if they are not, I still can use my time at camp to work the tribe and keep myself safe. I would rather bet on my own skills and gameplay than a game of pure luck.
That last part is the thing that ultimately would have swayed me the most towards sitting out: I would rather bet on my own skills and gameplay than a game of pure luck. Because at least I would still have some sort of control over my fate. And think about it: Even if you were in a situation where everybody in the tribe wanted you out, you still would have a better chance of staying by sitting out, because there is a 66 percent chance of the first person out in the challenge going home. This twist incentivizes sitting out. The only way I would ever choose the red rock is if it were a challenge I was sure I could dominate — something like, I don't know, reenacting Porkins' death scene while trying to blow up the Death Star. Otherwise, I'm sitting.
But what the hell do I know?! Because Deshawn chose to compete, went out in seconds, found out he had only a 1-in-3 chance of surviving, and still is in the game. Probst even magically morphed into Monty Hall and played a little Let's Make a Deal with the contestant, offering him a chance to pick what was behind curtain number two. But Deshawn stuck with his first instinct of box number one, and remains in the fight for the million dollars because of it. So those are my basic thoughts on the twist. But let's hit a few other things before our time comes to an end.
I thought I had given Ricard enough credit for his move against Shan last week, but the opening of this week's episode reinforced how impressive it was in that he talked Danny and Deshawn into a vote that would put them in the minority alliance. That appeared to be the result after Xander, Ricard, Heather, and Erika formed a new (albeit very tenuous, as we would see later when Erika targeted Ricard) final-four alliance.
Meanwhile, the remnants of the all-Black alliance were in tatters. Liana was pissed at D&D for leaving her out of the vote, and Deshawn made a scene back at the shelter with Ricard because the latter got bouquets for ousting Shan while the former got called a snake. What a difference a day makes. "All of a sudden, I'm in charge," said an ebullient Xander, laughing… hopefully not loud enough to induce a Liana panic attack.
Damn You, Danny
Ugh. There is nothing I despise more in life than rooting for a Dallas Cowboy. It was my personal pleasure to tell Gary Hogeboom and Jimmy Johnson to their faces that I was actively rooting against them on Survivor due to their past affiliation with the evil empire. Anyone who's ever worn a star on the side of their head needs to be stopped at all costs. But here comes Danny being all decent and annoying. He goes and consoles Heather after she gives one of the worst challenge performances in Survivor history. He does a badass dive into the ocean. He plays hard and smart without making it personal. That little bastard is impossible not to like, and I hate him for it.
And this week was the absolute worst. Because Danny did something that made him even more appealing and likable — something he had been unable to do for years: open up about the pain and anger he felt after his father died in a car accident when Danny was only 8 years old. Survivor is such an extreme environment — it amplifies your emotions. That's why you see so much damn crying on the show, even from people who rarely shed a tear back in their normal lives. I mean, do you really think Stephen Fishbach walks around sobbing about #SevereGastrointestinalDistress all day while pushing a baby stroller through the streets of Washington, D.C.? Okay, not a great example. That may actually happen. But you get my point.
Instead of being super macho and setting his emotions aside on the 25th anniversary of his father's death, Danny talked openly and honestly about being mad every Father's Day and at every football game where all the other dads were there — mad at his own father for something he could not control. Danny also talked about the shame he felt for feeling that way. It was a powerful moment of introspection made even more powerful when followed by an immunity-challenge win the next day, leading Danny to collapse to the ground in tears after his victory. Super-cool moment. Super-cool guy. And I can't tell you how much it pains me to write those words.
A Very Talky Tribal
When the episode went to Tribal so early, I figured it was a sure sign that Deshawn was going to win his Do or Die game, because otherwise there would not be enough time to fill if he lost, and there was no voting or reading of the votes. Then, by the time he actually got around to playing, I figured he was going to lose because now there didn't seem to be enough time for the voting and the reading of the votes. So, essentially, I was wrong twice.
The reason Tribal was so long was because of an extended talk about the power of race in the game. I touched on this a lot last week in my recap about how all the discussion about race on the show is not an example of what dissers and dismissers like to label as "woke Survivor," but rather a fascinating and heightened version of Survivor's original raison d'être, so I won't repeat it here. But I will note that Deshawn's dilemma about how "the gameplay and morals intersected, and it was so hard" is something that every single player and viewer can relate to. It's what makes the game so great to play and watch. I don't know how anyone could not find that riveting.
And holy moly, what about Liana so beautifully discussing "giving Black people something to root for besides everything else that is out there that is killing us" while calmly explaining how "Blackness is not this monolith" and "Everywhere I go, I am a Black woman first"? Regardless of whether you want to hear more or less about race on this show, just acknowledge how effortlessly and intelligently Liana handled that conversation, even addressing those who say they don't want that conversation to be part of their regular Survivor diet. Really impressive stuff from someone so young.
Was the whole exchange a little too long? Perhaps. Not entirely sure we needed to hear from Heather and Xander in that situation. Not that they said or did anything wrong. Probst went to them for comments, which he should have, and what they said was perfectly nice and fine, but with Deshawn apparently waiting to find out if he was going to be murdered on national television, I maybe would have gotten to the live execution a bit sooner after his and Liana's remarks and left the other stuff on the editing-room floor. But speaking of Xander…
Xander Is Still in the Game and Still Has an Idol
I just went back and triple-checked and that subheading is still 100 percent accurate. And you know it is driving Liana positively insane in the membrane that Xander (whom she had dead to rights on day 5 before Tiffany stepped in) has now lasted longer in the game than she did. AND STILL HAS HIS IDOL! Nobody is even making at attempt to get him out! It's legit crazy! And if you thought Liana hated Xander's face beforehand, how much do you think she's going to hate it LOOKING AT IT FROM THE JURY?! Her hatred of Xander's face might actually match my hatred of the final-four fire-making challenge.
And how ironic that Xander did finally use up his other advantage in the game — the extra vote — to ensure that Liana was sent packing. Clearly concerned that Erika might go rogue and vote out her preferred target in Ricard instead of Liana, Xander employed (and wasted) his second vote to seal the deal. It leaves us with a game that seems pretty wide open… unless your name is Heather. But come on, how hilarious would a Heather win be at this point? I'm kind of all here for it, just because it would be absolute lunacy.
And speaking of lunacy, since you were crazy enough to read this far, I will reward you with an exclusive deleted scene from this week's episode, which you can find at the top of this recap right after the West Coast airing. I'll also be speaking with Liana on Thursday, so you will get that exit interview as well. And you can always follow me on the social via Twitter @DaltonRoss and Instagram @thedaltonross. Entertain yourself with all that nonsense, and I'll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy!
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