Survivor 41 Premiere Episode Recap: Come On In!

To quote Jeff Probst‘s opening words from Wednesday’s two-hour premiere of Survivor 41: “It’s been a while.” That sure seems like the understatement of the century! The world has changed tremendously since the last time Survivor graced our TV screens back in May 2020, where Tony Vlachos became the game’s second two-time winner after dominating Season 40, “Winners At War.” While the pandemic had begun midway through Season 40, that season had already been recorded the previous Summer, and even as it aired we didn’t really know the full extent of how the pandemic would affect our lives. Plans for the scheduled shooting of Seasons 40 and 41 in Fiji during the Summer of 2020 where put on hold as it just wasn’t feasible for Survivor’s massive, mostly international crew, to travel and gather together, resulting in zero Survivor last Fall or this Spring.

Nearly 500 days and three vaccines later, and Survivor 41 is finally here! And the minute Jeff Probst appeared – talking and walking directly to the camera in the opening shot – we knew that this season would mark a brand-new era of the game that we have all come to know and love since its debut back in the year 2000. Much has been reported over the past few months as to how this season would differ from previous seasons, with Probst promising that Season 41 would be “the dawn of a new era” for the game. Having had more than a year off, he and his fellow producers were able to take a step back, analyze what was working and what wasn’t, and re-assess. The results boiled down to a very simply premise for Survivor moving forward: Make it fun. “Dangerous fun,” to be exact.

What we got with the two-hour premiere of Survivor 41 was a show that – thank goodness! – felt familiar…even as it definitely felt oddly different. Small touches as to the way the show was produced – like Jeff Probst occasionally breaking the “fourth wall” and addressing the TV audience, shots of the actual production team shooting the show, or the use of backstory flashbacks – were noticeable changes. Probst’s overall demeanor also seemed to be injected with “dangerous fun”: Go back and watch his progression through the seasons and it’s clear that Season 41 Jeff Probst is having so much more fun being a part of the game than the serious Tribal Council steward that he once was. His approach this season to get the audience to be more involved in the game was contagious, and to old-school Survivor fans (like myself) who have been around for a while or even since the very beginning, can simply mark this season up as the latest Survivor “experiment.” Lord knows there have been several experiments with the show over the years – some good (Immunity Idols, tribe swaps) and some bad (here’s looking at you, Medallion of Power) – but the show has been so consistently great, that long-time fans have given Probst and his producing team a long leash when it comes to trying new things. Gone, by the way, is the Survivor currency twist “Fire Tokens” from last season. If any of the new changes in Season 41 end up being terrible busts, I’m sure that the show will make a course correction in future seasons.

But the way that the show looked were not the only noticeable differences. In fact, the biggest changes have to do with the game itself. The game’s format has consistently consisted of 39 days (but not always…Season 2, “Australian Outback” for example, was 42 days long). Survivor 41 will be 26 days (the main reason being production logistics: Cast/Crew have to add 14 days of quarantining to their time away from their real lives). In order to “adjust” the game for the shorter timeframe, this season will be more challenging, more physically and mentally exhausting, than ever before. Most every other season, contestants would at least be given some rice to ration among them, but this season not only is there no rice, but the opening marooning challenge granted just one of the three tribes with an essential starting prize: One machete, One pot and some flint for fire-making. The other two tribes were forced to participate in a “Savvy or Sweat” competition back at their camps, needing to complete a grueling four-hour-long water-hauling challenge in order to score their flint. Even though both tribes did participate and won flint, at the first Immunity Challenge of the season, BOTH losing tribes had to give up their flint as a penalty for losing! In the past during a three-tribe challenge, only the last-place finishers would end up at Tribal, but during the first episode, we saw both losing tribes sent to Tribal Council, in addition to both having to give up their flint.  Brutal!

The other big in-game twist this season is the addition of the new “Shot in the Dark Die.” It works like this: A player can choose to roll a die while in the voting booth at Tribal Council, for a one-in-six chance to win Immunity that night. In order to get a chance to roll the die, the player must give up their vote though, and this attempt can only be made once per season. Basically, if a player has nothing to lose and feels like they are in danger, they can leave it up to chance, or a “Hail Mary” as Probst called it, by trying to save themselves via the Shot in the Dark die. This challenge adds a whole other level of strategy and uncertainty to the game, and could undermine even the best-laid strategic plans.

One thing that remained the same for Survivor 41, is a season is only as good as its cast…while it’s still way too early to tell, this cast seems like a good group. One thing is for certain, it is one of the most diverse groups of 18 players that the show has ever had, and is a straight-result of a new company-wide diversity initiative that had recently been announced by CBS, where they pledged to cast at least 50% people of color in all of their reality programming. More so, Survivor 41 seems to have incredible LGBTQ+ representation, with contestants Genie, Ricard and Evvie all representing. The new awareness on the show led to what has become the most controversial part of the Premiere (at least according to Twitter…), where following a discussion with the cast and at Ricard’s request, Probst‘s iconic “Come on in, guys!” pre-challenge announcement has been changed to simply, “Come on in!”

Look…if this change bothers you then I urge you to take a deep breath and try to relax. First off, there are far more important things going on in the world than to get hung up on a line of dialogue from a Reality TV show. I think that it was appropriate, given the new make-up of this season’s cast, to question this phrase and to make sure that no one was put-off or offended by it. When Probst first brought it up at the opening marooning and Evvie told him that in the context of the game, that the word “guys” was totally acceptable, the phrase “Come on in, guys!” was going to be left alone.  And I was fine with that. But after Ricard gives it some thought and brings it back up to Probst, they decide to lose the word “guys.” Which I am also fine with. Why some might work themselves up into a furious frenzy with their hatred of all things “woke,” this phrase seems inconsequential to my love of Survivor and the love of this game. What you may see as “woke” I see as getting caught up with the reality of life in 2021. I am unapologetically all for inclusion, and there are much bigger hills to die on than whether or not the word “guys” is included in a throw-away part of Survivor that doesn’t have any affect on anything whatsoever. And by the way for those online who are offended by this who have countered with an argument that we should change “The Tribe Has Spoken,” the reason they are not changing that famous phrase is because to do so would be absolutely ridiculous…it’s sort of an imbecilic comparison. I say let’s have empathy for one another, and if something is offensive then why say it when it doesn’t hurt to simply change the phrase? My two cents. I’m sure more money will be thrown into the comments section…

Back to this cast…who among them stood out to you? JD had an interesting journey for me from the start of the episode to the end, where I loved hearing how he was born post Survivor Season 1, but who really ended up rubbing me the wrong way. He seemed to be a bit too needlessly cocky, but he not only survived his first Tribal Council, he left it with an extra vote advantage, earned during the “prisoners dilemma” summit that he went on with Danny and Xander (Xander also earned an extra vote, with Danny being the only one to select the “protect your vote” option). Sara was the one voted out instead of JD, who may have been a little too innocent and trustworthy…two qualities that might have been assets back in the early days of the show, but that are huge liabilities in the “new era” game. Other than JD, it’s the giant rancher Brad Reese who seems to be in trouble…his direct approach, naming Sara and Shan as targets directly to their faces, doesn’t seem to be a winning strategy either.

The remainder of the Ua Tribe (forever to be referred to from here forward as the “green” tribe), Shan, Ricard and Genie all seem like solid, likable players.

The Yase (yellow) Tribe sent home Eric Abraham, the cyber security analyst who felt completely blindsided by his mates. It was a unanimous vote, so we don’t quite know who was responsible for pulling the strings, but school teacher Tiffany seemed to be the other name being thrown around, meaning that she is likely toward the bottom of the yellow tribe pecking order. Evvie and Liana looked like strong players, but with Liana only being 20 years old, Survivor history is not on her side, as younger players have not fared well as far as going on to win the game. David Voce – referred to as Voce and not David in the first episode – was seen complaining and being grumpy for most of the time…his inability to shift himself out of the water-hauling challenge might be an early sign that he isn’t going to be as persuasive a player as he thinks he might be. Xander though looks like a great early threat…a young and charismatic player who doesn’t strike you as “threatening” in any real way, who is physical enough to want to keep around early on. He was also pegged not as trustworthy, but as “the player that we all feel is most-trustworthy enough” to be sent to the three-tribe summit. That means that Xander’s early social game is also strong. Add to this that he came away with that extra vote advantage and he’s really an early player to watch.

The one tribe that got through the Premiere Episode unscathed is the Luvu (blue) Tribe. Former NFL player Danny is there to play, but showed with his “protect your vote” choice that while he’s a physical beast, he may be too pure of heart for this game. I liked what little we saw of Sydney, who stirred things up by telling Deshawn and Danny about how Naseer had caught them looking for immunity idols. In previous seasons, getting caught would have been an instant red flag, but in today’s game, the target shifts to the person who tattled instead. For Heather and Erika, we weren’t given too much air-time with them, and given that the blue tribe avoided Tribal Council this episode, it’s way too early to tell what the actual tribe dynamics are or how either of these women fit into the tribal hierarchy.

Episode Take-Away. It was a welcome site to see Survivor on my TV screen, even if it somehow feels like a new version of my favorite show. It feels that way because it is. There was lots of love heaped into the show, and players talking about their love of the game. Probst‘s excitement was palpable, and the opening perfectly matched the hunger and anticipation many of us had for this show that had been off the air for way too long. I was a little scared I must say, when I heard pre-season chatter about how the game’s format was going to be shaken up, or how there would be a push to include younger Survivor players with a “game within a game” (I didn’t discuss this element, mainly because I didn’t participate and don’t quite know what this is still…did any of you check this out and is it cool or distracting?). But while it was a bit weird when Probst turned and addressed the camera, I loved that for the most part, the show still felt like Survivor to me. It does seem really honed in on the fun and the adventure of it all, and I liked the early twists (like the “Shot in the Dark Die”) and challenges that were introduced. I think nothing but good things can come from the new focus on diversity, although I personally felt that the flashback sequences were quite lame (did we really need a shot of Voce walking through a hospital hallway to prove to us his claim that he’s a doctor?). I always liked that on Survivor, I always felt marooned out there with them for the length of the episode, so I’m against anything that pulls us off the island (even photos of Genie from back-home were too jarring for me given that they take me away from Fiji). That being said, I LOVED the few shots of the production that were shown. As a video person myself, I’m always wondering how they pull of the production anyways, so to see these shots felt like a behind-the-scenes bonus and also reminded me just how many people are involved in pulling this show off each and every week.

It’s too early to know whether or not this will be a “good” season or if some of these changes will become annoying and/or grating as the show marches on. All I know is that it felt damn good to see Survivor again, and it feels damn good to be back here recapping the show that I love!

Who the heck am I, anyways? These opinions and thoughts in this column are of course my own, but who am I you might ask? I’ve been a long-time fan of Survivor, having watched every single episode since the show’s debut in the Summer of 2000. Beginning with “Heroes vs. Villains,” Season 20, I began covering the show professionally for various sites, and have been the resident Survivor recapper here at RealityTea since “Millennials vs. Gen X,” Season 33. I’m also the film critic for ABC-affiliate WXYZ in Detroit and the producer and co-host of the half-hour show “Movie Show Plus.” I have appeared as an “expert” on Rob Cesternino‘s “Rob Has a Podcast” podcast, and was one of the few members of the press to vote on the inductions of the “Survivor Hall of Fame.” I appreciate all of my long-time followers and readers as well as any new fans of Survivor that have stumbled across this column. I love more than anything to interact with fans of the show, so I look forward to your comments, critiques (constructive, hopefully!) and thoughts on the show as we progress through the season!

Erik Reichenbach DabuDoodles Art. For those that followed this column the past few seasons, you also know that this page is the EXCLUSIVE home to new artwork from none other than two-time Survivor contestant and legend, Erik Reichenbach. Each week, Erik contributes a brand-new, original piece of artwork relating to the new week’s episode. It will appear here usually in the days after the show’s airing, so if it does not appear here now, check back usually by the weekend following an episode and give this page a refresh. All of Erik’s work as well as past works can be found and purchased on his site, DabuDoodles.com, and I urge you to support this amazingly talented former Survivor player!

“New Game, Same Mistakes”

Art by Erik Reichenbach – DabuDoodles.com

Voted Out This Week: Abraham (yellow tribe) and Sara (green tribe)

Won Immunity: Blue Tribe (Danny, Naseer, Sydney, Heather, Deshawn, Erika)

Vote #1 (yellow tribe): No dice rolls, no idols/advantages played. 5 – Abraham (Xander, Voce, Liana, Tiffany, Evvie), 1 – Tiffany (Abraham). Abraham voted out.

Vote #2 (green tribe): No dice rolls, no idols/advantages played. – 4 – Sara (Shan, JD, Ricard, Brad), 1 – Ricard (Genie), 1 – Brad (Sara). Sara voted out.

Next Week’s Episode: A pretty non-descriptive preview of next week shows some shenanigans taking place, but nothing too specific…it ends by driving home the theme of this week: “This is a new game.”

Quick Note! I appreciate that you are reading this recap! Those that have followed me also know that I am also a RottenTomatoes-approved film critic and I encourage you to check out my past movie reviews and my movie show (episodes are also available online at the website, www.MovieShowPlus.com.) As always, the easiest way to get all of my Survivor coverage and movie reviews is to follow me on Twitter – @tomsantilli – or on Facebook.

TELL US – WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE NEW “ERA” OF SURVIVOR? WHAT DID YOU LIKE/DISLIKE ABOUT THE NEW WAY THE SHOW IS BEING PRODUCED? AND WHICH PLAYERS ARE YOU ROOTING FOR/AGAINST?

[Photo Credit: CBS/Monty Brinton/Robert Voets/Timothy Kuratek/Jeffrey Neira/Michele Crowe/David M. Russell]