Survivor 41 recap: Double trouble
"I hate his… look at his face. I hate his face. I could die." —Liana, while watching Xander compete in the immunity challenge
That's a spectacular quote. Facial hatred is one of my favorite things in the world. Because it's one thing to hate someone, but to hate their face? It's just next-level. That's taking your hatred of someone to such an extreme it's as if you should actually be spelling the word extreme with three Xs, so it appears as "EXXXTREME," like it was plastered on the side of a van as part of some super- annoying energy drink advertisement or a vintage 1990s-era Mountain Dew marketing campaign. Liana's hatred of Xander's face is particularly amazing here because, well, for one thing, Xander seems to have a perfectly fine face. I've seen better. I've seen worse. I mean, I see worse every day when I look in the mirror, but the point is, it does not seem particularly hateable.
But what's also incredible about this seething anger is that it highlights one of the great underrated arcs of Survivor 41: Liana's single-minded obsession — and inability — to vote Xander out of the game. Remember, this goes all the way back to day 5. Liana was so upset at Tiffany changing the target from Xander to David Voce that she straight-up started crying. Bawling on national television because she had to keep looking at that DAMN FACE!
So I totally get why Liana hates Xander's face. Because it's not about the face. It's about the fact that she has to keep looking at it. She knew how dangerous Xander was. She knew he had the potential for having multiple advantages in his coffers, and here they were on day 5 with a pretty much guaranteed way of getting him out of the game. She knew it would never be this easy again. And she has been proven right! Every time she has attempted to either get him out or get rid of his idol, it has completely backfired. She tried to take his idol only to receive a fake one in return, and he didn't bite when they tried to flush his idol the vote after that.
Now here was Xander on his way to another immunity and another level of safety in the game — and all Liana could do was sit there and watch, stewing in her frustration, looking at… that face. If Liana somehow ends up out of this game before Xander (and that came very close to happening this week) she is positively going to LOSE HER MIND! Seriously, I don't think she could handle sitting on the jury and watching that face sitting across from her still playing, possibly with an idol in his pocket and an immunity necklace around his neck. And she'd be sitting next to the woman in Tiffany who wouldn't let her get rid of him back on day 5.
Brutal. And brutally funny, too. Sorry, as a viewer — no matter whom you are rooting for — it just is. It's one of those little unsung subplots that make watching this show so much damn fun, even on a week when we lost two great ones in Naseer and Evvie. But here's the thing: That wasn't even the best Liana-and-Xander moment of the week. The best Liana-and-Xander moment of the week occurred when the former was trying to feel out the latter in terms of whom he was targeting after he won immunity. Liana threw Evvie's name out. That didn't really work, so she pivoted a bit to Deshawn. That was all fine. Nothing special there. But then came the main course.
I guess trying to build some sort of trust (???), Liana — and I swear this is something that actually happened on the episode — actually asked Xander to give her his immunity idol. Here was her pitch: "So if you gave your idol to me, that would make me feel more comfortable. Not to play it, but just to have it to know that you wouldn't play it." Let's all just pause for the cause for a second to let that last quote wash over us. Everyone, please take a minute to absorb…
All done? Good. Sooooooo… I don't know if Liana was trying to channel her inner Shan here. I don't know if she was trying a Jedi mind trick of the "these-aren't-the-droids-you're-looking-for" variety. I don't know if it was such a crazy thing to say that she thought she might be awarded by production with an immunity idol of the butterfly-broccoli-AstroTurf variety. Or maybe she simply mistook Xander Hastings for Erik Reichenbach. (By the way, shout-out to Survivor: Micronesia — the best season of Survivor ever — now being available on Netflix along with David vs. Goliath. If you've already seen the season, please enjoy my oral history of the greatest Survivor moment ever.) Anyway, I don't know what Liana was thinking with this over-the-top request; however, I do know that I am totally, 100 percent here for it.
But why stop there? Why not channel your inner Angelina and also ask Evvie for her jacket? And Heather for her portion of the food?! And Probst for immunity BEFORE THE NEXT CHALLENGE EVEN BEGINS?! I'm totally serious. Just commit to it and don't act like what you are asking for is out of the ordinary in the least. It would be the most entertaining thing imaginable, especially if you act all confused as to why people are not giving you all these things after you request them. Honestly, nothing would make me happier. Okay, let's get into some of this week's other non-face-related events as we walk our way through episode 9 of Survivor 41.
Strength in Numbers?
So, in last week's recap,I wrote the following about the Shan and Deshawn drama: "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." Well, that's not exactly what happened, but it was pretty damn close.
It was indeed after Tribal when Shan complained, "He pouts and he sulks and that's immature, so I just can't with Deshawn anymore" while Deshawn stated his intention to find a new team. Yet, as predicted, they kissed and made up the next morning. Only the conversation didn't stop there, as Shan launched into her campaign to target Heather and Erika, making Deshawn feel as if he was once again being told what to do. The question as to whether Shan and Deshawn can coexist in the same alliance and if the island is big enough for the two of them is probably the biggest plot point worth following in this game. What happens when you put two strong-willed alphas together? We're watching it play out before our very eyes.
Oh, you know who else has eyes? Xander and Erika! Which is what makes Shan's decision to ask Deshawn, Danny, and Liana to huddle together for a strategy session right in front of them so odd. "I guess they think all the people on the bottom are so scattered that we could never work together," noted Xander, conjuring memories of Survivor: Marquesas, with the first-time groups on the bottom aligned to overthrow a majority alliance. The thing is, in this case, they actually are probably right, especially once you put Ricard firmly in that fearsome foursome grouping. But Xander noticing this is what makes his decision later to trust that Danny and Deshawn would vote out Liana over Evvie so perplexing. Sometimes you need to trust your eyes, and not your gut.
In the Hear and Now
Ask Christy Smith how difficult it is to navigate a social game when you can't hear what people are saying. Since the cast of Survivor: The Amazon was not exactly ASL-proficient, Christy (who is deaf) had to rely on lip-reading to understand what the hell was going on. If people were not looking at her when they spoke, she was lost. When people talked at night, she was lost. All anyone had to do was turn their back, and Christy — who spoke with EW about her time in the game in a Quarantine Questionnaire — was completely out of the loop. It was a big storyline for her back on season 6.
Now, fast-forward to season 41. Unless you are obsessive enough to go read contestant bios online (and no judgments whatsoever on that front) you would never know from watching the show that Ricard is deaf in his right ear and also has to read lips to understand what people are saying. It is kind of fascinating the way they just dropped that bit of intel nine episodes into a 14-episode season, and I'm kinda into it. Because it means Ricard was not defined by that one aspect at the start of the game. I also like the way it is causing me to go back and reexamine his interactions throughout the season, and where his lack of hearing may have come into play.
For instance, had you noticed that Ricard has sat in the far right seat (or far left from Jeff Probst and viewers' point of view) at every single Tribal Council he attended? You had? Oh, okay. Well, then you're more perceptive than me, I guess. Congratulations! Maybe you should start your own recap! But it's true. Ricard has now attended seven Tribal Councils, sitting all the way on the right every time — obviously, so all the contestants talking are on the side of his hearing ear. That is, until "live Tribals" start, no doubt frustrating him just as much as they frustrate all of us.
I actually also really like the way this was revealed naturally over the course of the game, with Ricard answering questions from Erika and Xander about it. I know a lot of people have really dug the backstory packages that flooded the early episodes, but I personally prefer these stories being revealed much more organically. The fact that we learned about this at the same time as Xander on day 17 does a much better job of putting the viewer into the game than having us feel like we are merely watching a producer prompt a contestant to talk about all the hardship they have overcome. Personally, I prefer this less-forced approach. But then again, I prefer a lot of things other people don't. After all, this is the guy who still listens to Martika's "Toy Soldiers" on heavy rotation, so take everything I say with approximately five million grains of salt.
No Pain, No Gain
I know what you're thinking when it comes to this immunity challenge. Blah, we've seen this one too many times before. How can I drop the four and keep the one when you are showing me the same challenges over and over again? I get it, but I have a soft spot for endurance competitions in which we the viewers get to watch people putting their body through hell for our amusement. It's not just about watching people suffer, however. It's partly that — don't get me wrong. But it's actually from a completely different angle. What I enjoy on challenges like this (in which players had to balance on a narrow perch and hold a handle behind their head) is not just watching people in pain; it's watching them fight through that pain. It's watching beads of sweat flow down their foreheads. It's watching their body scream at them to step down while some crazy voice in their head tells them to stay. It's watching Naseer clap with only one hand because he has lost all feeling in the other one. I love all that stuff, and kudos to everyone for putting themselves through that house of horrors.
Of course, it was not just a simple challenge, because nothing is simple this season. Instead, the 10 players were divided by random rock draw into two groups of five, with the person who lasted the longest in each group winning immunity and then both groups going to separate Tribal Councils to vote someone out. Also, in a twist of Noura Salman proportions, the last person standing out of both groups would win chicken and beef stew for their group.
For the yellow group, Ricard and Naseer talked a big game about how they were not dropping any time soon and could go on for hours… and then proceeded to go on for minutes. Erika eventually won for yellow, and then ignored Jeff Probst's pleas to stay up for the stew, deciding that feasting on victory was more than enough. That left Deshawn versus Xander for the blue man group immunity, with both Xander and his face eventually winning immunity after lasting 33 minutes. (Here's the point where I could be a big jerk and point out that Christian and Alec went for over five hours on the same challenge in David vs. Goliath, but I won't do that because there are too many other variables at play — weather, food intake, etc… — that can skew those numbers. Staying up there for even half an hour is impressive in my book. God, I'm such a softie this week.)
Twice as Nice
This was a very well-edited and well-produced hour of Survivor, and nowhere was that on better display than in the segment between the challenge and Tribal Council. Instead of giving us one big scene at the yellow group camp and then one big scene at the blue camp, the action cut back and forth between the beaches, building the tension as machinations went into overdrive and new plans replaced old plans. Let's consider some of the great moments we got from the two camps, besides Liana's failed one-woman reenactment of the entire Black Widow Brigade.
* The moment when Erika asked Naseer to play his idol for Heather and he immediately responded "no way" was so hilarious in that he did not even bother with any tact or faux contemplation about it whatsoever. Although perhaps tact is not Naseer's strong suit judging by this one scene below…
Don't get me wrong: "No way" is 100 percent the right answer here. I just usually expect a little diplomatic public hemming and hawing about it before a vary pained apology for not being able to do so. Of course, we all knew Naseer was a goner anyway from the second the words "Heather is going home… I feel amazing tonight" escaped his lips. You don't tempt the Survivor gods like that.
* Ricard pulled off the seemingly impossible: He got Shan to acquiesce and go with his plan to blindside Naseer instead of her oft-stated desire to "vote Heather's ass out." Like Deshawn before him, Ricard bemoaned, "It has to be her plan all the time," yet somehow, some way, he got her to change her vote. I don't know if Ricard finally convinced her that his plan was better or if Shan realized after the Deshawn kerfuffle that she needed to hand over the steering wheel on occasion. Wish we could have seen more of that discussion. "I have the most high-maintenance alliance ever," noted Ricard. Perhaps, but it makes for great TV.
* The weird thing about the vote later against Evvie is that Danny essentially telegraphed to Xander exactly what he and Deshawn were going to do when he pushed for Evvie to go instead of Liana. Couple this conversation with the scene earlier when Xander remarked how brazen Danny, Deshawn, Liana, and Shan were for having a strategic convo out in the open in front of them and it seemed downright obvious which way that vote was going to go. Obvious to everyone but Xander and Evvie, that is.
First off, I'll admit I was a bit distracted during both Tribal Councils because I was too busy contemplating whether that giant beetle actually landed on Tiffany right after Heather looked to the sky and begged, "Cue the idol!," or if it was a bit of creative editing for dramatic and comedic effect. Let me be clear: I don't care if it was. If I was in the editing bay at Survivor Central (which I like to imagine is actually tucked away in the left nostril of the giant Boston Rob statue on the island of the idols), and I saw Heather at one point look up and say, "Cue the idol," and Tiffany at another point get attacked by a beetle roughly the size of the "Risk Your Vote/Protect Your Vote" apparatus, I would totally put those two things together for maximum hilarity. Hell, I probably would have CGI'd in a few extra beetles as well to make it appear as if Heather's bold attempt to plead for interference from the Survivor gods had unleashed a plague upon the unsuspecting contestants. But that's just me.
Also, why was Tiffany already sitting there when the tribe walked in? Is this some sort of "drop the four, keep the one" situation? I love the jury walk-in at Tribal! It's always so dramatic when someone who is still pissed off because they were blindsided struts in and stares down the players, and I love that little moment as the people still in the game have nervous smiles plastered all over their faces as they wait to see whether they get smiles or scowls back in return. (Note: Scowls are more fun.) Also, it gives the jurors their little moment in the spotlight even after they've already been discarded. Don't take the dramatic juror walk-ins away from us, Probst!
As for what went down here at Tribal No. 1, I'll be the first to admit: I did not see this result from the first yellow group Tribal Council coming. I figured the Naseer chatter was just a well-placed red herring to keep us on our toes. And while Heather tearing up talking about how she had wanted to play for 20 years and had to start at the bottom because of her age and how she was so proud of herself for making it this far and couldn't wait for her kids to watch all sounded so over-the-top that it set off a few alarm bells that maybe she was actually safe, I also sort of figured that may just be the producers doing her a solid with a nice send-off since they pretty much ignored her all season long. And then, BAM!
Oh, you just know it absolutely killed Shan to use that extra vote. She was hating every single second of wasting that to take out a person she didn't even want to take out! Being the absolute control freak I am, I totally get it. That must have been bruuuuuuuutal for her to have to say goodbye to that advantage, especially considering they did not need it to take Naseer out. (Ricard and Shan voting for Heather and then using the extra vote on Naseer protected them in case Naseer played an idol, or another plan was put in place, or some other idol or advantage was floating around out there.) But, to her credit, Shan did it.
That led to a 3-3 tie between Naseer and Heather, with Naseer taken out unanimously on the revote. And Naseer went out of the game the exact same way he went in — smiling. "It was my dream to be on Survivor and enjoy Survivor, and I did it every single minute I was here," he said in his final words. Perfect. What a joy that guy is. Pure exuberance. And not a trace of bitterness after he was blindsided, even congratulating the folks who took him out. Maybe he was still so happy after his ouster because he was confident in the knowledge that there is a 0.0 percent chance that he is not asked back to play again. Just lock him in right now for the next season of returnees.
Another (Number) One Bites the Dust
First off, my apologies to Evvie. I realize I retroactively jinxed you by making you my episode 1 pick to win it all. At first, I was going to go with Shan, but then I thought that might be too obvious, so I switched to you. It was as if I broke a metaphorical hourglass and made history by changing history, going back in time to ensure that you joined a now very crowded graveyard of Survivor players felled by the dreaded Curse of the Dalton Ross Winner Pick. So, that's my bad. You didn't deserve that. You probably also didn't deserve to go home here.
Although, I suppose that depends. It seems pretty clear that Xander and Evvie were fooled by D&D into thinking they were on board to get rid of Liana. Although, again, after Xander saw the strategy sesh earlier in the episode and then had Danny pitch getting rid of Evvie before Tribal, I don't know why Xander would think that.
I was also struck by something Probst said at Tribal No. 2, when he noted that "nobody has really said anything." That's a mark of good gameplay. I have always said the key to Tribal Council is giving Probst something without giving away anything. He's not looking for the truth — he's looking for an entertaining answer. So the best strategy when put on the spot is to deflect with a weird analogy or random quip or dramatic-sounding response that actually reveals nothing whatsoever. Boston Rob was the master of that, where it seemed like he was saying a lot while actually keeping everything completely under wraps. And just look at these folks at the second Tribal: Deshawn, Danny, Liana, Xander, and Evvie. That is a really strong group. Nowhere to hide among those five.
So Evvie moves over to the jury as well, and also does so with her head held high. You know, playing Survivor is hard. You go out there and you starve, you freeze, and you don't sleep. You get bumps and bruises and scrapes, and often much worse. Then you go home, more than likely your dreams dashed, and you have to watch your ultimately failed effort play out all over again on national television. That sucks. And then your best moments don't even make the show, ending up on the cutting room floor. And you have idiots like me and every recapper or podcaster in existence questioning all the decisions you made out there. And you have even bigger idiots calling you all sorts of terrible names on social media because sometimes it seems like that's all social media is there for. Often, the whole thing doesn't seem worth it.
And then… it is. For Evvie, I hope it was, if for no other reason than for one line she got to deliver in her final words after being voted out: "Any queer kids out there: Be yourself. You're amazing. Love yourself." If that one line — delivered after the episode was already over and even after the preview for next week — reaches even one kid out there who needs to see it and hear it, then I have to imagine that makes the entire ordeal worth it, for that one moment alone. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm still super-bummed my winner pick is now chowing down at Ponderosa. Make no mistake, Evvie is now dead to me. But still, that's a pretty great way to go out.
And with that, it's our time to leave as well, but just a reminder that we have an exclusive deleted scene from this week's episode waiting for you at the top of the recap. And we'll have not one, but two exit interviews for you — with Naseer and Evvie — so check those out on Thursday. And you can always find more Survivor nonsense over on Twitter @DaltonRoss and Instagram @thedaltonross, so make your way there if you have nothing better to do. In the meantime, I'll get to work in the kitchen for next week's Thanksgiving scoop of the crispy!
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