Ever since they stopped running “recap” highlight shows each year, the Thanksgiving Eve episode of Survivor usually has delivered the goods. This year was no different, and we were once again given one of the best episodes of the entire season. It leaned heavily into what makes Survivor so great: Inter-personal relationships and internal struggles that reveal character and lead to important in-game choices. Man I love this cast – as I’ve said pretty much every week here – and they all are so good in their own unique ways. They all are playing the game, and it took a masterful, epic plan to finally take down the game’s one sure-fire future All-Star player. And they pulled it off.
That All-Star player is Shan, the pastor who came up with her own villainous theme song, who played so hard and was clearly the largest force-of-nature in the game. Her story arc has been the backbone of the season…without Shan, there’s no question that Survivor 41 would be considered an unequivocal failure. Her complex relationship with Ricard has been my favorite storyline, and it has built up to the moment we witnessed tonight, where Ricard struck first. We knew that two players of Shan and Ricard’s caliber were going to have to turn on one another at some point, and to watch the chess match play out the way it did was pure Survivor bliss.
In recent weeks, Shan‘s portrayal has turned hardcore villain, as she was shown as an almost unbearably intense decision-maker. She has rubbed Deshawn the wrong way, as well as Ricard on occasion despite their alliance. So its only fitting that Shan ended up getting blindsided, ultimately, because of her empathy, humanity and loyalty. Every season there is talk of how there is no hiding from the game of Survivor, that it will 100% of the time reveal a person’s true self. Shan was in it to win it, and drove many of the vote-outs this season, but tonight we saw her put her guard down and try to help Ricard. Ricard – who just climbed up a few rungs himself towards future All-Star status – knew that this was his chance. A weaker player would never have had the guts to do what Ricard did. He took down a behemoth in the game, who also so happened to be his closest ally, and one that had an Immunity Idol in her pocket to boot. It was the right move at the right time, if only based on the fact that Shan would have unquestionably done the same to him when the time would have come.
There’s been lots of talk about the four African-American players left in Survivor – Shan, Deshawn, Danny and Liana – and the comparisons to this past season of Big Brother, where “The Cookout” alliance ran the table and produced an all-African-American Final Six and eventual winner. The Survivor version has been called “The Picnic” or also “The Cookout 2.o,” and some will now criticize or question the fact that one of their own, Shan, was taken out of the game by the two male members, Danny and Deshawn. What’s important to note about the comparisons to Big Brother, are that they pretty much end with similarities of the group’s intentions to reach the end together. Survivor is a vastly different game than Big Brother first of all, and by the way a Final Four is a MUCH different dynamic than a Final Six like on Big Brother.
If these four would have gone to the end of Survivor together, they would not have been on “equal footing” like The Cookout was on Big Brother, because Shan had a distinct advantage over the others by possessing an Idol. Also there is much less wiggle room at Four than at Six, where a “let’s fight it out when we get there” mentality is much more realistic. The list of differences go on and on, but it’s important to note that just because Shan was voted out tonight, that does not mean that there will not be an African-American winner this season on Survivor, and it also doesn’t mean that there can’t even be an all-African-American Final Three (although judging by Liana‘s reaction on next week’s episode, that seems increasingly unlikely). I love that they really spent time on the dynamics and the dilemmas that each of the four faced, and how Deshawn and Danny specifically struggled with their ultimate decision. It’s definitely a situation that will spark debate, but you’re crazy if you think that what happened to Shan somewhat reflects poorly on the cultural significance of their in-game alliance. The CBS diversity initiatives instituted this season have given us such rich, fresh representation across the board, and it’s produced one of the overall best and most memorable casts in the show’s history.
For a season that was lambasted and criticized for having too many advantages (by me included), we enter next week – Episode 11 – with only two advantages remaining in the game, both belonging to one player. That’s right, somehow Xander is not only still in the game, but he now possesses the lone Immunity Idol as well as an Extra Vote. He’s always a target, always a threat, but even though two consecutive players were blindsided with Idols in their pockets, somehow the heat seems to remain off of Xander. We’re down to seven players, and Xander is slowly going from severe underdog to power player before our very eyes.
Shan‘s exit opens up a lot of room for other players to shine. Erika is the most intriguing to me, and what a story it would be if she were to somehow reach the end…here’s a player that was targeted by her camp, ostracized and forced to sleep out on Exile Island, only to re-enter the game and slowly work her way up. Even if it wasn’t all-the-way-true, I liked that she took credit at tonight’s Tribal Council for planning Naseer‘s blindside. She has a solid ally in Heather and there are still many bigger fish to fry than little ole Erika.
Speaking of bigger fish, Ricard is the deadliest shark remaining in the Survivor pool, a fact that Danny was keen on heading into this episode but can only be more concerned now. Orchestrating Shan‘s exit was huge, but it also reveals the sort of player Ricard is and how he can’t be trusted. He’s now won a Reward Challenge and two individual Immunity Idols so he’s a physical threat. And when Shan was voted out and she announced that Ricard has her million dollar vote, that probably isn’t going to sit well with anyone left in the game. Ricard is going to need to make it to the end while flying squarely in the center of the radar, but with next week’s previews showing Erika is also perhaps gunning for him, Ricard doesn’t seem to have anywhere left to turn. Don’t forget that his number one ally, Shan, is now out of the game, and he is aware that Danny, Deshawn and Liana were about to vote him out had he not won Immunity. If there’s anyone who can figure a way out of a jam like this, it’s Ricard.
I think the most intriguing storyline left to explore is the fall-out that this Tribal Council will have on the remaining members of The Cookout 2.0. Liana is PISSED and most likely will not reconcile with Deshawn and/or Danny, but she’s also burned bridges with Xander (remember she tried to steal an Idol from him and also foolishly asked him to hand it over to her just to “hold” at the following Tribal). She’s going to have to align with someone, somewhere, and it also doesn’t seem like it will be Ricard, who just voted out her best friend in the game. Where Liana fits into the rest of this game is anyone’s guess, but it should be interesting to see play out. Her loyalty to Shan ultimately led to what happened this week at Tribal (in a domino-effect sort of way). As for Danny and Deshawn, they now find themselves as perhaps the game’s last remaining “power couple,” and I’d be shocked if one of them isn’t targeted almost immediately.
The only thing that you can count on moving forward? Heather seems nice, but look: She isn’t going to win this season. Beyond that, I can’t wait to see what happens, and I’m totally on-board and ready for the ride. Just three episodes left people!
Episode Take-Away: A glorious episode, one that was full of drama, all based on the interactions between the players. I love watching complicated strategies take form, and it’s even cooler when they can actually be carried out at Tribal. I knew it would take the biggest of big moves to get Shan out, and it’s only fitting that Ricard was the one holding the knife. Shan’s exit will hurt the show, I think, because love her or hate her, she was at the center of it all. I find myself rooting for Ricard somehow at this point, having respected his big Shan blindside and just his overall game play and how his Survivor-mind never seems to turn off. But I’m also rooting for Erika and Xander. Heck, I’m rooting for Deshawn and Danny. And it’s not that I’m rooting against Heather or Liana, I just feel like they have the least chance of winning the game at this point. I’m starting to feel confident that this season is going to produce a great Survivor winner…heck, how could it not with the caliber of this cast?
Oh and also…Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I sure am thankful that after all these years, I still get to write, chat and debate about the show I love, the best Reality TV show on the planet…Survivor.
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!
Voted Out This Week: Shan
Individual Immunity Winner: Ricard
Vote: No Idols or advantages used. 3 – Shan, 3 – Liana (the show did not reveal the vote counts, but votes were split 3-3 for Shan and Liana, between Ricard, Deshawn, Danny, Xander, Erika and Heather), 2 – Erika (Shan, Liana). Re-Vote: Unanimous vote-out of Shan.
Current Advantage Tally:
- Xander has 1 extra vote and 1 Immunity Idol
Next Week’s Episode: Liana explodes on Danny and Deshawn in the aftermath of the Shan vote-out. Most interestingly of all though: It appears there is some sort of twist dealing with the Immunity Challenge that will require great risk…at this precise point in the game, it seems like a great time for another twist!
Important Show News! CBS recently made some big announcements regarding Survivor. First off, the Season Finale of Season 41 will air on December 15th. Also, March 9th, 2022 will mark the debut of “Survivor 42” coming out of the gates with a two-hour premiere. Mark your calendars!
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 THIS WEEK’S EPISODE? WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON RICARD’S BIG MOVE? AND WHICH PLAYERS ARE YOU ROOTING FOR/AGAINST AT THIS POINT?
[Photo Credit: CBS/Monty Brinton/Robert Voets/Timothy Kuratek/Jeffrey Neira/Michele Crowe/David M. Russell]