Survivor 41 recap: Strategist or loyalist?
"Do I bring the strategist or do I bring the loyalist?" That was the question facing Shan on this week's episode of Survivor as the Ua tribe lost yet again, making them the Jacksonville Jaguars of Survivor tribes. Hold on a second. That wasn't fair, and that wasn't nice. I take that back. The Jaguars — after enduring the second-longest losing streak in NFL history — actually won this past week. I mean, they had to leave the country to do it, but they still won. Not so with Ua.
Shan was stuck deciding whether to stick with her ally Ricard or switch it up to Mean Genie Okerlund after Ricard refused to return the extra vote. We all knew what she was going to do, and the quote at the top of this recap was most likely just to help producers sow a little doubt into the show and give us more drama at Tribal Council. Nothing wrong with that. But did Shan make the right decision in keeping Ricard? I tend to think no, and the conversations between Shan and Ricard illustrate exactly why.
Here's the thing: Both Shan and Ricard consider themselves cutthroat players. Shan even refers to herself as an assassin and gave herself a goofy assassin's theme song. But two assassins can only play together for so long. If you are a cutthroat player, the last person you want to align with is another cutthroat player because then it becomes a matter of who will cut whose throat first. You can't have two alphas vying for the same prize.
You heard Ricard in this episode. And so did Shan. He told her to her face that she was going to get the credit for having all the idols and advantages when she asked for the extra vote back. He called Shan "the closer" at Tribal Council, essentially comparing her to Johnny Lawrence sweeping the leg and himself to John Kreese instructing her to do the sweeping. But Ricard is smart enough to know that the person who actually does the leg-sweeping gets the credit for the move. It's simple: If you are Ricard, at some point you have to get rid of Shan. You can't go to the end with her. My guess is that he knows that. And if he knows it, then Shan should know it too.
Which is why you keep Genie. As bad as her tantrum was after Brad was voted out (and JD said in our exit interview that it was even worse than what we saw on TV), Genie seems like she is truly loyal to Shan at this point. Genie even told us so at the start of the episode, and Shan called her "the loyalist." So why wouldn't you keep her over Ricard? She is someone you can use and someone you can beat. Ricard is too good! Ricard is too smart! Ricard will cut you in a second and without hesitation if it means getting further in the game… as he should.
All you needed to know about Genie's gameplay is the fact that she went and found the Brad replacement idol and immediately ran and told the rest of the tribe all about it rather than keeping it for herself (which would have saved her this vote, by the way). That's the person you nurture and keep on your side. Perhaps it was less than tactful the way Ricard described Genie as "a spare tire that we're about to put on the side of the road when we don't need her anymore," but in terms of the game, it's a lot better to carry someone like that through than a tire that will somehow grow arms and strangle you when you least expect it.
Ricard and Shan have been allies because their alliance has been mutually beneficial. But what about when it isn't? Only one person wins the million dollars. Shan didn't just backstab JD — she backstabbed him in humiliating fashion, and that was someone she said she considered "like a brother." By keeping Ricard around, she has given him the opportunity to do the same thing to her. We'll see who is humming the evil theme song last. Okay, here's what else went down this week.
The first few episodes seemed to set up a Naseer versus Deshawn and Danny showdown on Luvu, as the former was upset when he felt the latter two were searching for idols during their water-carrying task. He then made the mistake of telling Sydney, who was an ally of D&D. (Note: That does not refer to Dungeons & Dragons, unless the next three-hour trek somehow involves a decision on whether to raise Viserion from the dead as part of the White Walkers' army or protect your vote.)
But here we saw the three dudes uniting over a fear that too many men were being voted out of the game and that the women might hold all the power at the merge. D&D asked Naseer about throwing the challenge, but thankfully he talked some sense into them and they agreed throwing the challenge was dumb. Which is good. Because it is dumb. And I don't want to root for dumb people doing dumb things.
Playing to the Camera
As we move over to the Yase tribe, we could focus on Evvie making a final-two deal with Xander that was a bunch of Hong Kong Phooey. Or we could focus on Liana going though Xander's bag to find his advantage and idol info. Or we could focus on Xander lying terribly to Tiffany about how he found the idol that morning even though he showed her the clue, which tipped her off that he had already said the stupid "butterflies" line twice already.
But we're not going to focus on any of that. Instead, we are going to focus on the fact that Eliza Orlins may actually have a fight on her hands to retain the title of All-Time Survivor Facial Expression Queen. Now, most of Eliza's best work came from her seat on the jury, but Tiffany was just letting it rip RIGHT IN FRONT OF XANDER! Every time he turned his head slightly away, Tiffany would look straight at the camera and begin rolling her eyes back into her head. Over and over she went. Hell, I haven't seen that much eye-rolling since I once ranked Survivor: Caramoan as a top 10 season.
If there truly are Survivor gods, then the first thing they need to do is guarantee Tiffany makes it to the jury. Well, that's not entirely true. The first thing they need to do is make sure Jeff Probst is well stocked with a lifetime's supply of orange billed hats, but the second thing they need to do is guarantee Tiffany makes it to the jury so we can witness the player in all her gesticulating, facial-contorting glory. Many challengers have come and gone, attempting to surpass Eliza as the most expressive juror of all time. If this week's episode was any indication, Tiffany stands a decent shot at dethroning the queen.
A True Survivor Goat
So after Genie ran over and told everybody about the replaced Beware Advantage she found (first bad move), Shan somehow persuaded her not to open it (second bad move). At first, it appeared as if nobody on Ua would actually open the package, with Shan telling us that "it's like Pandora's Box," clearly marking herself as an old-school Big Brother fan (see: seasons 11 through 14) just as clearly as she marks herself as Canadian every time she says the word "about."
Of course, that didn't last. Shan did, in fact, open it, and then Ricard brilliantly told Genie that Shan should just say Brad's line from memory in case Luvu had found theirs as well, thereby unleashing the idols. (By the way, Unleashing the Idols is the name of my new Survivor-themed death-metal band.)
Now, had Shan truly been saying Brad's line from memory she would have hilariously mangled the broccoli phrase just as he did, but instead she said it correctly, leading Xander to start talking about dead relatives, and then Naseer to super-not-casually-at-all pipe up on the subject of goats on AstroTurf as we were then treated to Survivor flashbacks of him finding the idol clue earlier and talking about his daughter hiding idols in their backyard — which just serves to remind me about the dead pet frog we buried in our backyard and if we buried him deep enough or if he is going to emerge one day after a deep rain as Zombie Frog and freak me the hell out.
Anyway, our days of enjoying Xander being forced to say that stupid line over and over again are sadly over. As for the challenge itself, after Luvu sat, like, a million people out, the contestants had to go up and over a net ramp, untangle ropes to release a key, unlock a machete, then use the machete to drop some sandbags, and finally fire bags at two targets. It was fun enough, as Yase and Luvu gained immunity as well as some tarps. What was of real note, however, was that when the challenge was over, we still were not even halfway through the episode, because…
Another Day, Another Journey
As winners, Yase then elected to send Shan and their own Liana on another one of these three-hour treks where we hear piano music and learn about a player's past. It was impossible not to be moved by Shan's story, even if all these bits are clearly packaged by producers to pull on our emotional heartstrings. You all know I have not generally been a huge fan of those backstory bits that feel straight out of a 2008 American Idol episode, but that has not been the big problem. The big problem has been these advantage- and idol-dispensing prisoners' dilemmas. I thought it was kind of interesting to do it once, but it has been diminishing returns ever since — especially with the players (this time, Shan and Liana) once again deciding how to play it collectively instead of individually, sapping all the drama and surprise out of the decision-making.
It just takes up way too much time in the episode for the limp end result, which in this case was Liana getting something goofy called The Knowledge is Power advantage, which sounds like some sort of After-School Special idol in which we learn all about the dangers of drugs, strangers, and cheating on homework ("And that's one to grow on!").
In reality, this particular advantage allows Liana to take an idol or advantage from someone else at Tribal Council, as long as she can correctly guess a person there who has one. Since approximately 99 percent of players these days enter Tribal with some sort of idol or advantage, that should not be difficult. Look, you can go back to my recap from two weeks ago to see how I feel about the deluge of idols (three more put into play this episode alone) and advantages, so I'll spare you that diatribe again.
As for this specific advantage… I mean… it's hard to be excited about an advantage that forbids someone (in this case the person whose idol or advantage Liana wants to steal) from lying about whether they have one. The whole core conceit of the game is lying and deception, and this twist works against that in a big way by taking away that power. However, my main objections are usually not aimed at the specific advantages themselves, but rather the volume of them.
Words for the Dearly Departed
In between Shan and Ricard running the tribe, and the wildly entertaining (if poor-playing) Brad and JD, Genie was kind of the forgotten woman of Ua in terms of screen time. Yeah, we saw her rant a bit after the Brad blindside, and hilariously kick her water canteen after a challenge loss, but not a whole heck of a lot else.
However, I get the sense that Genie is a solid individual. We know she worked hard around camp and seemed to be generally liked by folks. She just wasn't as flashy as the others, which explains why she received far less screen time. She had her chance to make a big move last week when JD tried to team up with her to vote out Ricard and reshape the tribe, but she wanted no part of it, and now she's gone as a result. If you don't have a showy personality and don't make showy moves, this is the edit you tend to get. Since we saw so little of Genie, I look forward to chatting with her on Thursday, and hopefully you look forward to reading the exit interview once it is up.
Another thing you should be looking forward to is watching our exclusive deleted scene at the top of this here recap. If you ever wondered what Yase sounded like as a hardcore band, then we have the clip for you! Plus, we have a FANTASTIC exit interview with Genie, where she reveals how one ill-timed bathroom trip may have changed the entire course of the season. And for more Survivor musings, be sure to follow me on the Twitter @daltonross and the Instagram @thedaltonross. Hopefully that will all tide you over until next week, when I shall return with another scoop of the crispy!
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