Survivor 41 Episode 7 Recap: Fake Out

Say what you will about Season 41 of Survivor, but I think this week’s episode has solidified something important: This is truly one of the best all-around casts in quite some time. Technically it was a “part two” episode after last week’s anticlimactic dud, but just when we think we might give up on Survivor, they always pull as back in.

I for one, am officially pulled back in. What a terrific episode – not without flaws (we’ll get to them) – culminating in an epic Tribal Council. It began the way we knew it would, with Erika of course deciding to “turn back history” by smashing her hourglass advantage, and reversing the outcome of the previous challenge. This was a very controversial advantage, in that some could look at it as penalizing those that actually won a challenge. I’m glad they included Danny‘s dissent and frustration with it, as it mirrored that of many of us watching from home. But Deshawn had the proper reaction: Look, this is the game now. And you can either adapt and move with it or else get swallowed up by the “monster” that is the game itself.

There was some great game play tonight, resulting in self-proclaimed “Queen” Sydney virtually sending herself home. Sydney had all the potential to be a memorable player, and definitely had the self-confidence to be a Survivor star. But her legacy falls way short of greatness, and she’ll likely be remembered more as a “wanna be” than anyone new coming on the show and saying that they “wanna be” anything like Sydney was in the game. It didn’t have to be this way, and I don’t blame Sydney for using her “shot in the dark” advantage, which ultimately failed and sealed her fate. But had she not used her “shot” and had she placed her vote on Evvie, it would have forced a tie, after which Evvie would have most certainly gone home.

My big problem with the episode, specifically this Tribal Council, was that as good as it felt, imagine how much more rewarding the vote would have been had the players NOT been allowed to huddle up for long periods of time. I’m all for a “live” Tribal, and there has been debate among fans as to whether they like the new trend of whispering back-and-forth, and getting up to talk last-minute strategy in the ears of an ally (or an assumed ally). I have always liked it, way more at least than the Tribals where everyone comes in knowing exactly what is needed to be done in order to “stick to the plan” as former player Keith Nale once famously put it. The “live” Tribals does add a bit of uncertainty and nervous energy, which is always a good thing.

But I think this week’s Tribal was a step too far. Not only can the players get up and whisper to one another, but now teams of players can huddle up together for long stretches of time, during Tribal Council? I don’t like it. Once Xander and Evvie pulled off their incredibly impressive “fake out,” rendering Liana‘s “Knowledge is Power” advantage useless, the entire tribe was thrown into chaos and knocked back on their feet. No one saw that coming, least of whom Liana. Even Deshawn took a moment to congratulate Xander and Evvie on their scheme. As good as Tribal Council was, imagine if they had been forced to vote right in that moment? Not only did the show not seize on that opportunity for what would have been one of the sloppiest merge votes in the history of the show, it gave the majority alliance ample time – way too much time – to not only regroup from being knocked off of their toes, but to have enough time to think everything through to the point where they realized they could actually split votes and still come out on top. When twists happen in the game, the fun of it is the unexpectedness of the move…but to have all of that time – during a Tribal Council – to develop a new strategy felt like a giant let-down to me.

That being said, what ended up going down still was great, and made for good TV. I love love love how the show is using flashbacks when it comes to game moves (not so much how they are used for personal player background). In seasons’ past, we would always know who had what advantage going into Tribal, because they would show players pre-strategizing or finding said advantages. After Liana asked Xander if he had an Idol and he replied, “No, but you can have this fake one,” I loved that the show immediately went back in time and showed us how their plan developed. Prior to that, many of us were screaming at Xander…how can you be so stupid to show Liana in plain sight that you have the Idol! That quickly changed to “Liana, how can you buy any of this, Xander and Evvie are pouring things on way too thick!” That was an exciting game moment made better through editing, and I again love love love the idea that at any time in the game moving forward, a player might just pull out an advantage at Tribal that we didn’t know he/she even had. Kudos to the producers on this show tweak, and it’s good to point out changes that HAVE worked…they’ve definitely been ridiculed enough this season for what hasn’t worked.

The aftermath of Sydney going home is that we are now most likely left with the 11 players that will comprise our jury of eight and our Final Three (there’s been no confirmation of this, just an assumption). Liana‘s game blew up before everyone’s eyes, but let’s not forget that it was Shan that let the cat out of the bag about Liana’s advantage. There is a core alliance of Liana, Shan, Deshawn and Danny that still exists, but they will need to navigate rocky waters for several Tribals in order to get to a place where they have any sort of majority alliance. But if we’re to judge based on how the votes went down, Evvie, Xander and Tiffany are clearly on the bottom, making the fact that they survived the last vote without needing to use Xander’s Immunity Idol a very huge deal. It should also be highlighted that a former NFL athlete, Danny, has now made it to the individual portion of the game, and he has yet to be on the losing side of any challenge. Would some players turn on Danny at the first opportunity should he lose a challenge? Physically and based on current in-game alliances, Danny is in quite the good spot to make a deep run.

Episode Take-Away. A solid, strategy-based episode through-and-through…my favorite kind of episode! As mentioned, I had my quibbles with the huddles that were allowed to form at Tribal, but what an entertaining episode. My goodness, when Xander told Tiffany not to play her Idol, with Evvie quietly begging her to do so? Man I thought Evvie was toast after that. The quick thinking on the part of the dominant alliance to split the votes was also expert-level, even though Deshawn ended up spending his extra vote in the process. If you are rooting for Evvie, Xander and Tiffany (and who doesn’t root for the underdogs?), then you have to be happy with the outcome…this was maybe about as good as it could have gone for them this week, despite their uphill battle in weeks to come.

I’m still hanging on to hope for this season as a whole. While it definitely feels like a different show and a vast departure to what we’re used to, if it were to string together a solid stretch of episodes and end with a strong finish, it would not be the first season in Survivor history to have had an uneven run of pre-merge episodes. This cast has me hooked, and I’m all-in on the advantages right now if they’re going to be played and countered the way that Liana‘s “Knowledge is Power” advantage was this week. These people are not just smart, they’re Survivor-smart, and I’m here for it.

Sydney by the way, became the very first player in Survivor history to not only use the “shot in the dark,” but also the very first player to have never cast a vote…neither an elimination vote or a jury vote (without having quitted or having been medically-evacuated). So she will go down in the Survivor history books, just probably not exactly the way that she wanted.

Note! No Erik Reichenbach DabuDoodles Art for this week’s episode! But Erik will be back next week with another of his unique and always hilarious renditions.

Voted Out This Week: Sydney

Immunity: After Erika smashed the hourglass, she became Immune along with Shan, Xander, Liana, Heather and Tiffany. Ricard then won the first Individual Immunity challenge.

Vote: Liana unsuccessfully used her “Knowledge is Power” advantage. Deshawn used his “extra vote”advantage. Sydney unsuccessfully used her “shot in the dark” and therefore lost her vote as well. 5 – Sydney (Naseer, Erika, Liana, Heather, Shan), 4 – Evvie (Danny, Ricard, Deshawn, Deshawn), 3 – Deshawn (Evvie, Xander, Tiffany)

Current Advantage Tally:

  • Xander has 1 extra vote and 1 Immunity Idol
  • Shan has 1 extra vote and 1 Immunity Idol
  • Naseer has 1 Immunity Idol

Next Week’s Episode: Chaos at camp! Everybody is left scrambling wondering who the next target shall be.

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