The latest episode offers concrete proof that there is actually a person named Heather playing the game.
SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols
S41 E8
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Well, I guess we all know who Heather is now.

Poor Heather. There are a few people I feel really terrible for each and every Survivor season. There's the first person voted out. That has to suck. There's the person voted out right before the merge — another super sucky spot to go since the entire game can be flipped on its head the day after you were voted out. And I also lament the poor contestant each season who goes out and plays the game and then comes back to the United States excited for all their friends and family to watch their adventure… only to barely ever make it onto screen. I'm talking your Purple Kellys, your Julia Landauers, your Rick Nelsons, and your Carter Williamses. Hell, you can even throw Brett Clouser in there and Brett Clouser came super close to winning the game!

Heather has basically not been seen or heard all season, save one scene. And that scene was her bumbling and stumbling in a challenge. Her only other starring role has been courtesy of a Sydney Segal exit interview. Other than that, invisible. Hell, she's even gotten less screen time than some dude named Nathan who hung upside down on a tree for a few seconds, because everyone knows the best way to guarantee yourself screen time on Survivor is to either say some form of the phrase "drop the 4, keep the 1!" or hang upside down on a tree. (If you can do these two things simultaneously, forget it — they just hand you the million-dollar check right then and there.)

But this week was Heather's big coming out party. Not did she — shock of all shockers! — actually get a confessional interview, but then, just as voting was about to commence at Tribal Council, Heather went rogue!!! She took the entire thing over. She moved votes from left to right. She got warring alliances to declare a truce and align for a common cause and a common target. She unleashed a bold new strategy, pressuring those who needed pressuring, cajoling those who needed cajoling, and acting as the master manipulator to achieve her grand vision of tribal dominance. She even convinced host Jeffrey Probst to reinstitute Fire Tokens on the spot and then took everyone's Tokens to buy herself a dope new visor for absolutely no reason whatsoever. It was an incredible display of social and strategic ingenuity seen few times in over 40 seasons of game play.

I meeeeeeeeean……… it would have been nice if it had played out that way. I so wanted that for Heather. To paraphrase someone with a remarkable ability at picking incorrect colored rocks, I was so ready for Heather to shed her lamb disguise and emerge as a badass lioness ready to completely take over the game. But it didn't work out like that. Instead, Heather went "live Tribal" style and attempted to sell the others on voting out Naseer. The pride I felt in watching Heather take a stand to make a big move was matched only by the awkwardness and discomfort that creeped up my spine as it became clear what a failed mission she had embarked upon.

Honestly, is there anything more cringe-worthy than watching two groups huddled at Tribal, and then slowly yet surely everyone from one huddled group starts gravitating over to the other one? That's exactly what happened to Heather as everyone she attempted to woo eventually made their way over to the other circle and she had to awkwardly stroll over to the circle of literally everyone else that had already abandoned her. It was so bad, I half expected Probst to start giving Heather props for not quitting while Danny walked over for a pep talk. It was so bad that even the person Heather was trying to save, Tiffany, voted against her. And it was so bad that not even Heather stuck to her aborted plan of ousting Naseer as she crawled back to her original Tiffany vote. All of which leads me to ask: WHY CAN'T HEATHER HAVE NICE THINGS?!? Seriously, throw the lady a bone! At least they actually aired it, I guess. They could have just left the entire scene on the cutting room floor, which would have been the most Heather thing ever.

Okay, let's take a pause from our Justice 4 Heather campaign and get into all the other big moments from Survivor 1. (What? They told me to drop the 4!)

The cast of 'Survivor 41'
| Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

The Destruction of Yase

Fresh off their brilliant game-saving play at Tribal Council, the remaining Yase power trio of Xander, Evvie, and Tiffany returned to camp… and promptly began distancing themselves from one another. Xander proclaimed himself a free agent, Evvie embarked on a "relationship recovery tour" with everyone outside of the alliance, and Tiffany told us that "at this point I'm going to use whoever, whenever, however to get me as far as I can get." (Not that far, it turns out.) Unfortunately, their success seemed minimal at best, with Deshawn explaining he had no interest in working with three people who put his name down.

While that was not great news for the Yase threesome (not that kind of threesome), the segment itself was great — a really fun, well edited quick cut montage going back and forth between Evvie, Tiffany, and Xander as they attempted (in vain, mostly) to reshape the game. Props to the editors on that one.

The One That Got Left Behind

Jeff Probst has said it openly many times before: They want idols and advantages to be found. They want them to be found because they want the drama (or alleged drama, depending on your point of view) of them being played. So he and the fellow producers had to be bummed that an advantage hidden on the sit out bench was not found by Xander at the reward challenge.

It was especially odd Xander did not locate it because it was not very well hidden. Not only that, but Xander asked to go sit there after Erika (naturally) pulled the gray rock, and then we saw him blatantly looking for it while the others competed, searching as vigorously as I used to search for a Milwaukee's Best before starting my recap. Let's actually sidebar for a minute to discuss that decision of Xander's to sit out the challenge and lose any shot at a grilled cheese sandwich.

I like the thought process of wanting to spend time with the losers to mend fences while they are emotionally bonded through losing out on a reward. And obviously I love the idea of putting yourself in a position to gain an advantage. But there is a serious downside to such a big, showy move, and that downside was plastered all over Deshawn's face. Go back and watch it. Deshawn was doing everything in his power not to break out laughing at Xander's seemingly altruistic move, because he knew it was not altruistic in the least.

At a time when Xander should probably want to lie low and hope that players started focusing on other emerging threats, he instead strapped into a giant neon blinking harness and started jumping up and down while firing off air horns in both hands. It was just so obvious! After last week, everyone knows what a gamer Xander is. Would anyone actually buy the fact that Xander was simply doing that out of the kindness of his heart? Of course not! It was completely transparent. Whether the reason was to search for an advantage, to huddle with the losers, or just to gain favor with Erika, Xander's self-serving motive was obvious.

Now, there is a point where that doesn't matter. If you are so clearly on the bottom and don't see another way of crawling out, then you just go for it and don't worry about the perception. But Xander didn't appear to believe he was at that point. And if he thought nobody caught on to what he was up to, he was sorely mistaken. Maybe it would have been worth it had Xander found the advantage. And who knows how powerful that advantage may have been. Perhaps it would have allowed him to make history by changing history and going back time so far that J.D., Brad, and David Voce were all of a sudden the final three… which actually would have made sense seeing as how women are no longer allowed to win Survivor.

I will say this: I really do love those little bits where Probst talks to the audience before the players "come on in." It's a fun new way of allowing the viewer to feel like they are in on a secret that the players don't know about. And what was so nifty keen about this week's example, as Probst himself hid the advantage on the sit out bench, is that not only did we know about it before the players, but the players never knew about it. Since the advantage was never found, nobody ever knew it was there until they watched it on TV, same as you!!! That's super cool. I definitely like that more than Probst addressing the audience once the players are actually there, when I'd prefer all the attention be solely on them. I actually find that fourth wall breaking a bit distracting, but when it happens before or after the events of the game, I'm very much into it. A fun example of breaking with Survivor norms that has totally worked, IMHO.

Oh, and huge props to Evvie for slaughtering that pyramid puzzle. After smack-talking Edge of Extinction's Manu tribe as a bunch of puzzle-non-solving suckers, Evvie explained that she made a replica out of beads at her house so knew exactly what to do here. Speaking of Edge of Extinction (which I try not to do unless absolutely necessary), it's nice to see that puzzle preparation actually does come in handy out there after David Wright did more pre-season puzzle prep than any player in Survivor history, only to then struggle mightily in said puzzles out on the island.  Of course, David Wright has earned a permanent place in my heart for sharing my favorite Survivor pre-season prep story ever, so that still beats anything Evvie or any other contestant could possibly ever do here.

The cast of 'Survivor 41'
| Credit: Robert Voets/CBS


First Chappies on Survivor: South Africa, and now this. 2021 has been the year of reward feast winners coming back to camp only to then eat even more food. Okay, that's an unfair comparison. Chappies (one of the most entertaining Survivor contestants from any country ever) was the franchise's preeminent food hoarder. Ricard just wanted to try a little papaya. The problem was it came after he had enjoyed a grilled cheese sandwich from his reward. Shan was not too psyched about that move, saying that that pointed directly at Ricard's character to "take from people on the bottom." I mean, I would argue it's probably worse to take someone on the bottom's extra vote and then vote them out than a nibble on papaya, but that's just me.

That said, I get where both Ricard and Shan were coming from here, so I can't get worked up about it too much either way. Shan is starving, and someone who just splurged is now helping themselves to her meager sustenance. And Ricard just wanted to try a little bite of what was cooking. It's funny how Shan and Ricard keep talking about each other as their number one, yet all the edit has shown us for the past month is them bickering. I kinda love how in half-a-month these two have become an old married couple who argue about stupid stuff like who holds on to what and who eats what when, yet they still appear to be firmly committed to each other. We are approaching sitcom level gold with those two. More, please.

Get the Balance Right

Pay no mind to me rocking a little Depeche Mode reference in the above section headline. No big deal as I strut my 1980s new wave electronica bona fides. So this week's challenge is a Survivor classic as players have to balance on their toes with a block of wood wedged between their head and the top of the frame. This is one that will test the contestants for well over an hour as they are forced to push through grueling unimaginable pain in a battle of wills that shows the power of grit, determination, and above all…. Oh, wait. I'm told it's already over. 4 minutes. It lasted 4 minutes. DROP THE 4 AND KEEP THE 1, Y'ALL!!!

Okay, let's back up because, well, otherwise there's not a lot to say about a 4-minute challenge. Before the challenge began, Probst morphed into Monty Hall and was ready to make a deal. He offered a single portion of rice if just one player wanted to opt out of competing, but said he would give the tribe enough rice for 3 days if they would offer up enough people to make it worthwhile. After finally settling on 5 people for the rice, Shan and Naseer stepped forward. At this point, Xander did something both very smart and very dumb as he renegotiated with Probst, asking if the host would go down to 4 people, and saying that he would offer to sit out as long as someone else would.

This renegotiating was smart because here's the thing: Probst wants people to sit out the challenge. It makes for much better drama and second guessing later if someone sits out and is then either in trouble from his/her alliance-mates for not competing to stop a target from winning immunity, or, even better, gets voted out after believing him/herself to be safe. So once only Shan and Naseer stepped forward and the deal was about to fall apart, it was the perfect time to give Probst a smaller number to try and keep it alive.

That's my fourth wall breaking message to future Survivor players. Actually, I have two messages. Message No. 1: You are insane for wanting to go on national television and opening yourself up to all the potential horrors that can include. But the more pertinent message here is message No. 1: In deals like this, Probst and production want it to happen just as much as you do, probably even more. So negotiate from a position of strength and keep in mind, you are doing them a favor just as much as they are doing one for you by giving you the food. They also know you need the food to, you know, live. Dying on their watch would not be a good look.

But Xander's move was also dumb. Because he once again was trying to put on this super-selfless act that absolutely nobody is buying! All Xander did with that move is confirm how hard is playing the game and make sure absolutely no one wants to bring him to the end. Not only that, but he took himself out of a competition that he very well may have needed to win to stay in the game. Anyway, Ricard joined the others in sitting out and then Evvie completed her episode of challenge dominance by winning immunity… if you want to consider 4 minutes dominating. In the end (which was very close to the beginning) Evvie bested Heather, because apparently Heather is not allowed to have good things.

Naseer Muttalif and Shantel Smith on 'Survivor 41'
| Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

Less than Shantastic

You all know I am very high on this cast. I think they're dynamic. I think they're smart. I think they're fun. I love the diversity, and not just in terms of race but in terms of everything (age, geography, sexual orientation and identity, just the entire package). But even in a splendid cast, Shan has been a standout. She's played an impressively ruthless game in an endearing and entertaining fashion complete with her own theme song. And she's also been one of the season's key narrators, which also helps explain all those confessionals she's had. Sure, she had an absolutely massive blunder when she spilled the news about Liana's Knowledge is Power advantage, but add it all up and she's had a pretty stellar run so far. Am I giving her an extra point or two because she currently happens to be residing in my original hometown of Washington, D.C.? Perhaps, but such is my love for The District.

That said, this was a rough episode for Shan, and not just because she missed out on a grilled cheese. The trouble began when Deshawn felt Shan shut down the idea of putting votes on Naseer without absorbing his opinion. Whether she actually did or did not absorb his opinion is irrelevant. The fact that Deshawn felt that way (justly or not) shows that Shan came on too strong in that conversation.

It got worse. Shan then told Naseer they had thrown his name out a fake target, which turned out to be the first thing Naseer has not been positively thrilled about all season long. Then, because Nasser said to throw out Heather's name instead, Shan had to go do that, and that got Heather pissed off. "How pissed off?" you may ask. So pissed off that that Heather actually got a confessional interview out of it… soooooooo, I guess Shan actually did Heather a favor then? And then came Tribal Council.

After Heather initiated the Live Tribal protocol and everyone started circling as far away from her as possible, more trouble started brewing between Shan and Deshawn. We saw the latter repeatedly telling the former that he didn't want to go along with their plan to oust Heather, and then finally removing himself from the conversation and taking a seat. "I'm telling you, I don't want to do that and again I feel like I'm being told what to do," said Deshawn. "Don't shut me down when I speak." Shan's frustrated response: "All right, I can't. I'm not gonna baby you." Ouch.

I'm not gonna sit here and say Shan should be a team player, because guess what? THERE ARE NO TEAMS! Only one person wins the game and the million-dollar check. But what's important is giving the illusion you are working with a team. That means ceding decision making power from time to time. It means making sure everyone in your alliance at least feels they have equal say, even as you quietly manipulate the vote in more subtle ways. And yes, it means babying people if people need to be babied.

Shan came on very strong this episode. Some of that may have been the edit. But there seems to be a growing consensus that Shan only wants things done her way and can't handle others calling the shots. Even the person she considers her number uno in Ricard says pretty much those exact same words in the preview for next week. That preview also shows what appears to be a continuing rift between Shan and Deshawn. All that said, I would not count Shan out by any means. Disagreements can be smoothed over. And if you watch that preview clip for next week, that rift between S&D is at night and could very well be just an isolated spillover from after Tribal Council. For all we know, the two slept on it, woke up the next morning, and patched everything up. But Shan's place in that alliance is certainly looking more tenuous that it was before the episode began.

Oh, and as for yet another live Tribal, remember back when players weren't allowed to have private conversations there and actually had to figure out a way to communicate certain things to certain people without tipping off others? I miss those days.

This Week's Victim

Tiffany was a gift. She was loud. She was sassy. She was funny. She joked about getting crew members and crabs (as opposed to crew members with crabs) to help her out at Tribal Council. But once Yase imploded and she was unable to find allies elsewhere, it was, as Bill Paxton so enthusiastically reminded us in Aliens, "Game over, man." That's too bad, because Tiffany made good TV, but at least she is not leaving our screens completely as the teacher now becomes the first member of the jury. And you can make like Annie and bet your bottom dollar that this woman is going to have some INCREDIBLE facial reactions and eye rolls on the jury.

Tiffany Seely on 'Survivor 41'
| Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

In fact, for us viewers, this is probably the best place to watch Tiffany. If still in the game, she would have to keep her reactions in check so as not to offend, but now she can truly let loose. I, for one, can't wait for the impending hilarity. Speaking of things worth waiting for, we've got an amazing exclusive deleted scene from this week's episode that shows how the tribe came up with their tribe name of Viakana (or Via Kana). It's waiting for you at the top of the recap. Who came up with the name? Watch and find out! Plus, I spoke with Tiffany on Thursday morning, sand it is a must read exit interview. In the meantime, it appears four people took me up on my offer to abstain from reading this recap, which means I must now cook up an extra-large scoop of the crispy for next week. Until then, drop the 4, y'all!

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SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

Strangers starve themselves on an island for our amusement in the hopes of winning a million dollars, as host Jeff Probst implores them to "DIG DEEP!"

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