Survivor 41: Mid-Season Analysis and Power Rankings

Image+courtesy+of+Parade

Image courtesy of Parade

Adam Matos, Staff Writer

Well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it! Due to a little pandemic, CBS’s hit show Survivor was unable to air, as flights to its remote filming location of Fiji were almost impossible. Its anticipated time slot (Wednesdays at 8/7 central) was vacant for the fall of 2020 and the spring of 2021. As COVID restrictions waned, the venerable show was able to conduct its filming this past spring, allowing the 1.5-year gap between Season 40 and Season 41 to come to a close. As a classic reality TV show and one of the first of its kind to dominate television, Survivor was undoubtedly going to be renewed for its 41st season. However, Jeff Probst, the show’s host, consistently advises contestants to drop the 4 and keep the 1. Survivor 41 is full of unseen twists and revolutionary turns; it’s a whole new game. Marking a new leaf for the show, Survivor 41 has both its diehard supporters and unaccepting resistors.

In order to talk about the season and recap the pre-merge and merge episodes, I must reveal the game’s twists, advantages, and bootlist. At the time of writing, eight episodes have aired, so spoilers for those episodes will be included. Consider yourself warned! 

The first point of discussion has to be based around the most controversial theme of the new season: the sheer number of advantages saturating the gameplay. It seems that in every single episode, camp life scenes (which, in my opinion, are often the most entertaining parts of Survivor) are being cut in order to make room for strategizing and gameplay. Survivor is venerated for being a social strategy game and throwing new advantages into every single episode is starting to ruin that strategizing by making it all revolve around advantages. It takes away from the show’s original theme, at least, that’s what some people say. Others argue that since Survivor is a completely new game, it’s great to see the producers experimenting with unseen and unique advantages. Personally, I fall right in the middle, I think that dumb luck is a little bit too much of a factor in this season but it’s also great to see Survivor finally changing the basis of the game after twenty years of repetition. 

One notable occurrence of this overreliance on advantages would be Liana’s “Knowledge is Power Advantage”. It is one of the most overpowered advantages ever introduced into the game, stating you could ask another player to give you his/her idol or advantage; And they can’t say no! However, Liana got completely played by her former ally, Xander. Liana knew he had an idol so she asked him for it, but Xander, who knew about her advantage all along, predicted Liana would use it on him. So, he gave his idol to one of his closest allies, Tiffany, nullifying Liana’s advantage and making her look like a complete fool. This makes for great television, but the problem is this was the only good ending to this advantage’s arc. I strongly advise the producers to not reintroduce this advantage in future seasons because if Xander hadn’t been so game-savvy in giving his idol to one of his only allies, his entire game would have been sunk over something he could never have known about. If Liana’s advantage had worked, it wouldn’t have been an ‘advantage’ anymore, it would have been a fatal wound to Xander’s chances of winning.

On another note, Survivor introduced an interesting mechanic to the merge, in which one castaway could “turn back time” and change the outcome of the merge challenge. The merge challenge itself pinned five randomly selected players (via rock draw) against another five randomly selected players. Ten contestants competed in the challenge, while the remaining two did not have a chance at winning the large prize of group immunity and a merge feast. Deshawn, Danny, Sydney, Ricard, and Evvie were the blue group and easily blew out the yellow group of Heather, Tiffany, Liana, Shan, and Xander. Since the blue team won, they were allowed to pick one of the two players who did not compete to join them in their ‘merge’ feast (not really a merge feast, since only half the players are there). The other player who the blue team did not pick would be left to fend for themselves on a completely different beach for two nights, isolated from the rest of the players. Naseer was ecstatic when picked to join the merge feast, leaving Erika all alone by herself, in a very emotional state. 

However, Erika soon saw a boat approaching her remote shelter. It was Jeff Probst, the show’s host, letting her know about the power she was given by spending that time by herself. Erika was astounded by the power the blue team had unknowingly given her. By leaving her on the island, she could reverse the outcome of the merge challenge. Erika had the power to grant all of the yellow group (Heather, Tiffany, Liana, Shan, and Xander) plus herself the immunity that the blue team had won. This group immunity would keep the six of them safe at the first merge tribal council, leaving the blue team (Deshawn, Danny, Sydney, Ricard, and Evvie) plus Naseer on the chopping block. Personally, I did not like this advantage. It was pure luck that Erika drew one of the white rocks when drawing to participate in the challenge and the fact that the blue team picked her over Naseer did not change anything. Any good Survivor player would pick to reverse the outcome of that challenge because it would give them immunity. Immunity is the most valuable thing in Survivor because it means, no matter what, you can’t get voted out. Also, to strip that from the blue team, who won the challenge fair and square is very disheartening because they used up lots of their energy participating in a challenge that, if they wanted safety, they should have lost. Plus, Erika doesn’t have to risk her vote or safety for this advantage to work. There are no stakes for her. The entire idea of this ‘advantage’ just irks me. Survivor: Tocantins runner-up Stephen Fishbach put it best tweeting, “There are absolutely no stakes for Erika. There’s no decision at all. Of course, she uses it. There’s no risk. No question of timing. It’s an ‘advantage’ that has no strategy at all associated with it.”

The victim of the twist, who just so happened to be one of my favorite players, had some choice words post-game regarding the twist. Sydney Segal, who went home in a 5-4-3 vote split said that Erika’s ‘advantage’ was “not even a twist — it’s a lie.” These ‘twists’ have consumed almost every single episode of Survivor 41. It takes away from the show’s format and it makes me believe the producers have stopped trusting their contestants to make the show interesting and instead rely too heavily on these superficial advantages. 

The show isn’t completely dead, however. I’m still really enjoying this season; almost all of the cast is compelling and relatable. In order to activate the three-way shared idol in the pre-merge, three goofy phrases had to be said at the same immunity challenge which led to some pretty hilarious interactions at the first few challenges. Furthermore, this season is the first season of Survivor where the contestants get absolutely no food, they have to earn it themselves. Aside from making the characters much more real as they are beaten down to their bare selves, we were able to see a rice negotiation in last episode’s immunity challenge. Survivor is a great show and even though the producers might be experimenting a little too much in my eyes, I’m still going to watch. Now, onto the Power Rankings!

  1. Heather 
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Heather has almost no shot of winning this game. In the first seven episodes, Heather received an absurd TWO confessionals. For context, the contestant with the second-least amount is Naseer with EIGHT, quadruple that amount. We have barely heard from Heather’s perspective on anything at all throughout the course of Survivor 41. Of course, her tribe, Luvu, won every single pre-merge immunity challenge, so the content from the Luvu beach was severely limited. But, Heather’s edit on television is just starting to look disrespectful at this point. Superfans of the show who analyze the edit deeply believe that Heather might be getting an edit with such invisibility because she quits the game or does something reprehensible. Then again, in Episode 8, this week’s past episode, Heather got some more screen time, mostly because her name was on the chopping block, and she received two votes to be eliminated. With Tiffany’s elimination in Episode 8, the mom archetype on this season only has Heather left to turn to, so maybe Heather will start to receive the screen time that Tiffany was eating up. But even with that, Heather has no solid alliance in this game and she might be dragged to the end as a number. A much more savvy player could use Heather to put themselves on a pedestal at the Final Tribal Council. Although I don’t think Heather is going home next, I believe she has the least likelihood of winning this game. 

  1. Erika
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Erika isn’t a bad player. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that she’s a good player. But, being a good player in this day of age doesn’t get you very far when all of your competitors’ minds are also moving at a million miles per hour. Her choice to  ‘reverse the course of history’ was obviously the right decision, but honestly, a fifth-grader could’ve made that same decision. And, to top it all off, Erika decided to work with the people (Deshawn, Danny) who had attempted to throw the challenge to vote her out before the merge. She might not have known this, but from some of her confessionals, we can tell that she knows she’s on the bottom of her alliance. Erika should’ve jumped ship when she had the chance and voted out one of the Luvu members that wasn’t named Sydney Segal. Now, Erika remains at the bottom of her alliance and, although probably not going home next episode, has dim hopes of winning this game.

  1. Evvie
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Evvie came into this game guns blazing, having complete control over their Yase tribe. She also had NINETEEN confessionals in the first TWO episodes. Eat that, Heather. Unfortunately for her, Evvie is on the bottom of their tribe being regarded as a huge social threat. Evvie is known for being well-liked by almost everybody, but that is a dangerous title to have in Survivor, as it makes you a target. Xander and Evvie are the last two left in the Yase alliance since Liana jumped ship and Tiffany got voted out. I truly like Evvie, I think she has a great shot of winning if making it to the end. But, she’s arguably the biggest target left in the game. The only reason Evvie wasn’t voted out this past episode was because she won the Individual Immunity challenge. Shan put a huge target on Evvie’s back before her win; I can’t imagine Evvie escapes the chopping block for much longer.

  1. Ricard
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I feel very weird putting Ricard this low. In all honesty, he has a great shot at winning this game. However, purely based on the edit he is receiving I have to put him this low. Ricard is being portrayed almost exclusively as a villain and is being treated as Shan’s mischievous sidekick. If Ricard does make it to the end, he better have eliminated Shan because although the two are a pair, Shan has been playing out in the open and is the top dog right now in the game. Ricard quietly had himself a good merge episode, winning immunity and voting with the majority. In this past episode, he is seen butting heads with Shan for what seems to be the hundredth time this season. Shan and Ricard are due for a horrendous alliance breakup very soon, but I don’t know who will end up on top. If Ricard can manage to evade the next few votes and flip on Shan successfully, he has a great chance of winning Survivor 41. He was a lot of fans’ winner pick going into the season, but the negative edit he has been receiving makes me put him this low. I hope great things for Ricard, but it looks more and more unrealistic every episode.

  1. Shan 
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Shan was on top of the world in the pre-merge. The Ua tribe of six dwindled down to just two players, Shan and Ricard, and those two decided every single vote. However, Shan is looking like she is spiraling out of control and is rapidly approaching a terrible fall from the throne. Following two poor performances in the past two episodes and an outburst shown in the sneak peek for next week’s episode, it is safe to assume that Shan will not be completely in the clear for the next few votes. Shan undoubtedly has the largest resumè of any of the remaining contestants, so it would not be a surprise for her enemies to band together in eliminating her. I think Shan could be completely blindsided even with the protection she has with the Ua beach’s hidden immunity idol. After completely bulldozing the rest of their tribe and gaining lots of game experience, I think Shan and Ricard are both underestimating the game skills of players from Yase and Luvu. The only reason I have Shan so high still is because I truly believe she has a chance of escaping all of these threats. I doubt she’ll make it out completely unscathed, but since Shan has the most confessionals of anyone in this entire season, I’m inclined to view her as a very important character to this season’s arc. That could either be a sign we’re supposed to root for her all the way to the end or she’s a decoy winner for somebody else. Personally, I think the latter is much more likely.

  1. Liana
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Liana got absolutely played two episodes ago by Xander. There was really no coming back from misplaying an advantage that poorly. However, Liana was mostly invisible this past episode, staying in the majority alliance and voting out her previous #1, Tiffany. Liana’s four-person strong alliance seems to be tight from the outside looking in. But, with just ten players left, those four might be targeted and picked off one by one because of their threat levels. Liana is a major threat along with Shan, Danny, and Deshawn, the other three members of the tight alliance. According to the sneak peek of next week’s episode, Deshawn and Shan might be breaking off from each other which puts Liana’s name on the chopping block as vengeance. Even if Liana makes it to the final three, I doubt she wins because she flipped on three likely jury members in Tiffany, Evvie, and Xander. The former Yase 3 might not want to vote for someone who played such a cutthroat game and their respect for Liana’s strategy might not be there. Due to this, I think it’s safe to say Liana has more than an uphill battle to win.

  1. Deshawn
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Oh, Deshawn. I had been rooting for Deshawn since the start of the season, but ever since he convinced everyone else to flip the vote two episodes ago, eliminating Sydney instead of Evvie, I can’t root for him. He’s playing an unpredictable game and is starting to debate with Shan over very simple topics. Heather was going to get blindsided at this past episode’s Tribal Council, but noooooo! Deshawn didn’t feel it was the right time to make that move! When asked by Shan why he felt that way, Deshawn basically refused to answer. So, the entire plan fell through and Tiffany was eliminated. At the previous tribal council, Deshawn had three votes on him and if Sydney’s Shot in the Dark (⅙ random shot at Immunity) worked and Tiffany played Xander’s idol for Evvie, Deshawn would have gone home. If Shan isn’t blindsided in the next two or three episodes, I think that Deshawn might be the one to go. Deshawn and Shan are playing the best overall games right now and this season’s big blindside is just waiting to happen. However, I don’t think Deshawn’s elimination comes next episode, although I think Shan could be a huge target by Deshawn. Deshawn could become a fire-making challenge loser in the Final Four because we have had some foreshadowing in the pre-merge regarding him not being able to make fire. But, with the Survivor edit, you never know. He still has a pretty good shot at winning this game.

  1. Naseer
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Naseer is playing a smart game as of right now. He has the hidden immunity idol from the Luvu beach which is already a lot of power in his hands. He also managed to correctly not play his idol at the last episode’s tribal, even though Heather threw his name out. Naseer also has lots of power because he seems to be a bit of a free agent, meaning everybody is open to working with him. However, one problem with Naseer’s game is that he doesn’t have any person who is working with him closely. Shan and Ricard, Evvie and Xander, and Danny and Deshawn are all pairs who trust each other and would not hesitate to tell the other if his or her name is being brought up. Naseer doesn’t have that luxury. If something crazy happens in the next few episodes, Naseer could be an easy vote-off. But for now, he still has an idol in his pocket and I think he has the game sense to play it correctly. If he manages to be in the majority on a big blindside vote (which seems to be rapidly approaching in the next few episodes), then Naseer could make a deep run in this game.

  1. Danny
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Danny is an ex-NFL player and typically, professional athletes don’t perform well on Survivor. However, Danny McCray isn’t exactly a huge name, so he might be able to escape this curse. Danny has a strong alliance with Deshawn and a final four pact with Deshawn, Liana, and Shan. I think out of all of these people Danny is the safest as we go into next week’s episode. If one of these top dogs is to be targeted Deshawn or Shan is likely to be hit, not Danny. However, Danny is going to have to add some more moves to his resumè because if put in a Final Tribal Council with Shan, Deshawn, or even Ricard, he might have trouble backing up his gameplay. I’m rooting for Danny but anything can happen. He’s definitely playing one of the most underrated strategic games of this season. Deshawn and Shan are running the show and if there’s anything you want to know about Survivor it’s that you never want to be the biggest threat in the game. Danny has been hiding amazingly in plain sight and I think he will continue this until the Finale. But, at that point, he might have to win out in Immunity Challenges because other players might start to recognize how big of a threat he is. Danny is arguably the biggest physical threat left in the game, but his performances in the first two Immunity Challenges have left a lot to be desired. I highly doubt Danny goes home anytime in the next three votes, but if he makes it past that point he will have a hard time getting to the end. If he gets there, good luck to anyone against him!

  1. Xander
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Now, I am HIGHLY biased because Xander is easily my favorite player remaining. That’s for good reason; Xander has become a different beast since the merge. His play of giving Tiffany his idol while boasting a fake one for Liana to steal was one of the best plays of recent history. Xander has probably had the best two-episode run from this entire season. We’re starting to see why Xander does certain things such as giving up his chance of reward in this past episode. Xander says he wants to be with the losers because that’s when he can be there for them the most emotionally, in turn, making those challenge losers feel like they can trust him. Aside from his astounding tribal council performance, Xander’s edit has been bolstered since the merge. He’s becoming much more visible and has the best underdog story out of anyone remaining (which is pretty funny granted he’s one of the most physically dominant players still remaining). Xander is arguably the biggest social, strategic and physical threat remaining in this game. For one contestant to be in the conversation for each category is almost unheard of. Xander has the biggest target on his back going down the stretch. But, he got past the first two merge votes. If he can make it past the next three or four, he could do some serious damage. If Xander makes it to the end, I think that the jury would absolutely love his story and Xander would win against almost any player remaining in the game. To do that, he has to reach the end. I’m rooting for him, but he’s gotta be perfect from here on out with the threat level that he has. Xander has an idol and an extra vote in his pocket. With those two things, a strong alliance and a dream, Xander just might be able to dominate this game.