The complicated history of race on reality TV leads two players to take an emotional stand.
SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols
S42 E9
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Soooooo, that took a turn. Here I was ready to write all about Jeff Probst's rain-slicked hair making him look like a Showtime-era Pat Riley, and Rocksroy's tragically unfulfilled dreams of a Sausage Party alliance. Have a little fun. Make a few jokes. Eat a little Applebee's. Possibly throw in a mildly disparaging Fishbach reference. The usual.

But there was nothing usual about the end of this week's Survivor. Drea and Maryanne saw to that once they looked over and noticed Chanelle and Rocksroy as the first two members of the jury. Back to back. Black to Black. "I was so proud because we have four Black contestants in Survivor," Drea said when asked about her reaction to seeing Rocksroy ousted at the previous Tribal. "And then it always happens where at one point the Black contestants get booted out — Boom! Boom! Boom! — and then that's exactly what this is right now. So yeah, I'm pissed."

Probst could have let it go. He could have moved on. He could have even edited out Drea's previous comments. And with so much focus on Survivor's past when it comes to casting and race, that certainly would have been the safe move. But he didn't. "So do you think it's race related?" And now the door was wide open.

Drea answered that she thought it was "subconsciously, a little bit of that unfortunately," and that "I'm not going to let that happen to another one of us — point blank. It's a reset for me. This was a game changer."

Next thing we knew, Maryanne was telling Tori "I can't write Drea's name down. I literally cannot. I walked into Tribal, I saw two Black people, I cannot write her name down. I am so sorry. I literally can't. Morally, I cannot write her name down."

Make no mistake: This was big stuff. And I want to address something that I have no doubt some viewers were thinking as they watched this go down, and that line of thinking goes like this: "This is so unfair. White people could never say or do that if they saw two white people on the jury."

Obviously that argument is problematic for many reasons, including that it completely ignores the history of not just Survivor, but reality TV in general, where minority players have been routinely jettisoned early. Not because of some virulent strain of overtly racist behavior, but often just because those players were seen as "not fitting in" or just generally not gelling with the group as easily because the typical two Black cast members out of a cast of 18 did not have the same background and commonalities to form immediate bonds that the other white contestants who naturally gravitated towards each other often did. The white players were not trying to exclude the Black ones. But they didn't naturally include them as easily either.

Sean Rector of Survivor: Marquesas did a great job of illustrating this all the way back in season 4 when he noted about Vecepia and himself that "Sometimes the game isn't necessarily fair, because me and her are playing a whole nother mental game that they don't even know — that when you are a person of color and you're the only one — that you have to play. And that's something they don't even have to worry about. Everybody can just be themselves. We have to be ourselves, but then hold back a little bit."

That's a great description of the unseen obstacles that people of color often have to face in this game, and one that Maryanne referenced in this week's Tribal when she noted that "Yes, we all technically have a 1 in 18 shot for the million, but because we all come with our burdens and all come with our privileges, that 1 in 18 might be bigger or smaller for some people."

That's 100 percent true. And when Black players on shows like Survivor and Big Brother now come in having watched this play out repeatedly on those programs, how could they not be sensitive to watching it happen all over again? Big Brother had never had a Black winner in its first 22 non-celebrity seasons. On Survivor, one of my favorite pre-game interviews ever was with Francesca Hogi. She played, got voted out first, played again, and got voted out first again. Double whammy!

All I am saying is, there is a history on these shows, and minorities have all too often been on the losing side of it. Which is what made the Cookout's mission to crown the first Black Big Brother winner last summer so inspiring. It's what made Deshawn's dilemma last season about whether he was playing for himself or his people so fascinating. And it's what made the reaction on Drea's face when she sat down at Tribal Council so riveting… and upsetting.

At the risk of paraphrasing and plagiarizing myself from a tweet during season 41, scenes like this with Drea and Maryanne where you watch folks struggling to do what they see as the right thing is not "woke" Survivor. It's CLASSIC Survivor! People wrestling with their conscience while also trying to win a million dollars is the entire basis of the game. Scenes like this have always been the lifeblood of the show.

To view this in simplistic terms and say that it was wrong for Maryanne to refuse to vote someone out based solely on the color their skin is to also ignore the history of the medium and the scars left behind on both players and viewers. Nothing exists in a vacuum. If we didn't have the history of seasons 1 through 40, then you would not have this particular reaction in season 42. You can't unlink those two things.

Survivor Jeff Probst, Lindsay Dolashewich, Maryanne Oketch, Romeo Escobar, Tori Meehan, Rocksroy Bailey, Drea Wheeler, Hai Giang, Mike Turner, Omar Zaheer and Jonathan Young
The cast of 'Survivor 42'
| Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

Lost in all of this is that fact that in the grand scheme of things, race most likely did not actually change the outcome of the vote. Drea was already suspicious before Tribal that the vote was heading her way. She said she was going to play her idol. The second she does that, Tori is next in line. (There's also a decent chance Maryanne would have played her idol after Drea did, just to be safe.) Either way, Tori goes home — even without the entire Tribal Council discussion.

The one unfortunate part of the entire Tribal was Jonathan getting defensive over what he saw as more of an attack on his character than a commentary over more underlying issues. "I don't feel this is right, because you're coming at this like we're racists," he said at one point, leading to this cringe-inducing exchange:

Drea: "Don't make it seem like I am being aggressive."
Jonathan: "You are being aggressive."

Yikes. Nothing we saw — and it's always important to remember we only see a fraction of what is said and done out there — but nothing we saw Drea say or do was aggressive, and Jonathan calling someone "aggressive" for sharing her raw emotions about seeing past history perhaps playing out once again right before her very eyes was not a great look. I also wasn't crazy that after all was said and done, Jonathan's one shown comment was "I'm glad that it's cleared up that it's not the tribe that has made them feel this way."

That comment makes Jonathan seem focused more on himself than what Drea and Maryanne were going through. Not great. But again, we always have to remember that he may have said much more than what actually made it into the final episode, so a complete and full picture this does not make. Also, imagine how bummed the dude must have been after making this big speech to the camera back at camp about how he was going to make a huge move, and he was going to go hard in the paint, and how "I have been waiting for this moment and I'm going to love every minute of it"… and then to have your entire plan turn to dust like Peter Parker at the end of Avengers: Infinity War the second people looked at who was on the jury. Womp… womp.

Of course, the other big element of this Tribal Council that made it so unique was Probst essentially calling off the secret ballot voting, eliminating the "pomp and circumstance" of the voting process and keeping the moment there in the group discussion. This is why Probst is so damn good at his job. The dude reads the room and adjusts accordingly.

They always say the key to being a great Survivor player is adaptability. It's also the key to being a great host. And, make no mistake, whether you love or loathe some of the twists and creative elements of the show, Probst is not just a great host, he's the best host. (And it's a full-on joke that it has been years since he was even nominated for an Emmy in this regard. Because I have nothing better to do, I wrote more extensively about this a few years back.)

Anyway, sorry for the Probst ramble. You're just lucky I did not dedicate an entire paragraph to the gun show taking place under his rolled-up sleeves. But he made the right call. It would have been supes awkward to transition into regular voting there. Instead, the host asked the contestants what they wanted to do — which is nothing new, by the way. Probst has said for years that he loves to put the game in the contestants' hands. You've seen it before where he has adapted the rules or traditions of the show either because they have asked him to, or he has suggested it to them as an option to consider because it just felt right. And this time, it felt right.

So Drea and Maryanne handed in their idols, Tori went up to play her Shot in the Dark (which, when it comes to shots, is about as accurate as a Shaquille O'Neal free throw), and then Tori went and joined the jury after God seemingly had more important things to focus on than the boot order on a reality television show.

Oh, one other really intriguing thing about this second Tribal: Half the tribe was not even there to see it! So how does that play out once everyone reconvenes back at camp? One group is about to return from this super raw, emotional experience while the others have no idea what is about to hit them. Watching that play out next week will be super interesting. Speaking of interesting things, let's get in a few other quick hits before wrap up…

* This was a new side of Hai we saw at the top of the episode coming off the previous Tribal Council. "Does anyone want to admit to writing down my name?" he inquired in a semi-tizzy while trying to unmask who had thrown a completely powerless vote at him. I was actually surprised to see Hai lose his cool like that. When you're clearly in control and get a stray vote from someone clearly on the outs who you want gone anyway, who gives a flying fudgesicle? My man needed to make like George Clinton and chill like funky dollar bill.

Omar Zaheer and Rocksroy Bailey on 'Survivor 42'
| Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

* While I've never been accused of being particularly manly, I am a man. But even I didn't get Rocksroy's obsession with forming a men's alliance in the game. We've actually seen instances (including just last season) where there was legitimate concern from men about a possible women's alliance forming, with Danny voicing worry about it while Evvie spoke of actively wanting to set one up. But what was the indication one was forming here?

But even beyond Rocks trying to instill some sort of brodown throwdown, what we have seen so far since the semi-merge is that this early alliance of eight was about as sturdy as me carrying Jonathan on my back. First Lydia turned on Jonathan. Then they voted out Lydia. Then Omar, Hai, and Mike turned on Rocksroy. Then Jonathan and Lindsay tried to take out Drea. Did that alliance of eight ever actually exist or was it just a figment of my imagination — like that time I dreamt I did a chill-inducing duet of "Toy Soldiers" with Martika?

* Is there anything Jonathan can't do when it comes to challenges? Usually folks that strong struggle in balance competitions — especially ones with small, narrow footholds. Not this guy. With four people falling off their triangular water platforms in the time it took me to write this sentence, Jonathan once again proved what a competition beast he is, not only winning immunity for his grouping, but also beating Hai overall to score some beef and veggie kebabs. If this dude starts dominating puzzles, he truly is not mortal.

* I don't understand what the hell happened with that first Tribal Council vote. I mean, I do to a degree. Omar viewed Romeo as an ally he felt he could control and Rocksroy as one he could not, so his decision to move on him made total sense. Hai and Mike are the ones I don't get. We know that Hai had no desire to be "part of the misogyny club," but we also know he really wanted Romeo out. And Mike pointed out to Hai that their allies on their other beach would not trust them if they started turning on their own already. So why did they make the move on Rocks? I don't really get it.

* I will say this for Rocksroy: He is a unique human being. In my exit interviews with folks who played with him, contestants still seem a bit befuddled by the guy — never quite knowing what he was thinking or where his head was at. I will say that his reaction upon being blindsided was not what I expected. Not that I thought he would go ballistic or start bragging about the chocolate ice cream bar he was about to scarf down, but congratulating the folks who voted him out and then proclaiming "Thank you, Jeff" while having his torch snuffed was not on my Rocksroy Bingo card.

* Special shout out to Romeo for summing up the entire essence of Survivor into a single quote by telling us how "The person that I wanted to vote out tonight is the person my Survivor life depends on at tonight's Tribal Council." That this the beauty — evil beauty — of this game. Romeo and Hai's hot and cold relationship on the island is fascinating, by the way. Check out an exclusive deleted scene that shows another important side of these Kula Kula frenemies.

Tori Meehan on 'Survivor 42'
| Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

* So, Tori was the second victim this week. She was playing from the bottom pretty much since day 1, but was never able to completely flip the script. I suppose it is fitting that she and Rocksroy went out together on the same day — the fates of these two adversaries intertwined. And while it might be seen as poetic that Rocksroy had his revenge from beyond the Survivor grave in that his appearance on the jury ultimately led to Tori's ouster, my guess is still that Drea was going to play her idol regardless and that would have ultimately led to Tori going anyway. But I suppose we'll never truly know.

But I do know this! I got exit interviews for you, so make sure to read my chat with Rocksory and my talk with Tori on Thursday morning for those hot jury member takes. Plus, make sure to watch this powerful deleted scene of Romeo coming out as gay to his entire tribe. Definitely worth a looksee as well. And for more Survivor stuff, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss and Instagram @thedaltonross, and I'll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy.

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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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