Survivor 41 Episode 11 Recap: The Bigger Picture

Sometime the game isn’t just a game…it becomes something bigger. While this is a Survivor recap, if you’ve been reading this column at all this season, you know that there have been more than a few mentions and comparisons to another CBS reality competition show, Big Brother, specifically its past season, Big Brother 23. The all-African-American alliance named “The Cookout” was able to stick together, creating an all-African-American Final Six, and ensuring that it would produce a person-of-color (POC) as its winner. It’s no coincidence that race has become a major theme this season on Survivor 41 as well, as this is the first year that CBS had implemented a new policy for all of its reality shows, where they would ensure that at least 50% of all of their reality programs casts were made up of POC. The results have been fantastic in my opinion, creating two of the best and most authentic casts in each show’s history.

Check out last week’s recap for a deeper dive and my explanation on why Big Brother and Survivor are two completely different games, but there are so many added layers of complexity to Survivor than in Big Brother, despite how both games have recently centered on race, specifically African-American culture. These themes were discussed in great detail during this week’s Tribal Council, and I thought it was a tremendous discussion for America to have witnessed. Of course, this isn’t the first time that race has come up on Survivor, but never has it been approached so directly and constructively. This is not a racial discussion for exploitation (something that Season 13, Survivor: Cook Islands, can rightly be accused of with its initial tribal divisions being based on race). And it’s more important than ever before, in today’s climate, to have these talks. The vulnerability of Deshawn as he discussed the internal struggles he was having after voting out Shan last week. The perspectives of not only Liana and Danny, but also Xander and Heather addressing their white privilege and the importance of learning, growth, understanding and asking questions. Even Liana capping things off by addressing what some viewers might be feeling while watching their favorite show get “deep.” We’re sorry if you tune in to Survivor to escape the real world. But these are real people, facing real-life issues, bringing in and representing things that are much larger than the game of Survivor itself.

There are parallels in all of our lives. Yes, I recap Survivor, but I also am dealing with “bigger picture” things in my life, like the shock and sadness I’m carrying with me this week as a community less than 30 minutes from my home, Oxford, MI, deals with yet another tragic, fatal school shooting…my wife, a high school teacher herself. As I try not to let that affect my mood or my writing, I’m a human being. As we all are. Life seeps in. And the best reality shows, in my humble opinion, are ones that remind us from time to time that the people on our TVs are also real human beings, and not simply characters created for our entertainment value. Yes they are putting themselves out there and to a degree need to be prepared for what’s coming and the situation they are getting themselves into, but I for one love when Survivor, from time to time, puts out a little positivity into the world. Empathy is what makes us human, and whenever and wherever I can find it, I seek it out.

If you’re still reading, yes, the game did march along. If Survivor 41 produces an African-American winner, it won’t be an African-American female…that’s because Liana was the target this week after Deshawn‘s historic “Do or Die” situation. Being the first one to be eliminated from the voluntary Immunity Challenge (Heather and Liana sat this one out), Deshawn was forced to choose one of three boxes at Tribal Council. Only one box would keep him in the game, the other two would send him out and there would not even be a vote at Tribal. This is called the “Monty Hall Problem,” after the famous The Price is Right host, and its theory says that Deshawn actually had better odds had he decided to switch his initial box. The fact that he didn’t, and that he correctly picked the right box on his first try, is quite astounding. Any Survivor winner will tell you that luck is a HUGE part of any winner’s story, and if Deshawn goes on to win this game, tonight’s “Do or Die” moment will definitely become even more of an astounding symbol that luck was surely on his side. On the flip of this is bad luck, something that Liana can claim to having now that she’s somehow on jury and Deshawn isn’t.

The dynamics of the game have definitely shifted big time once Shan was blindsided. Xander, who is one of the smartest, most aware players this season, who is also a physical and social threat, has somehow reached Final Six with that Idol in his pocket. Just wow. He did play his “extra vote” advantage this week, a good use of it really, since he didn’t fully trust Erika and his extra vote was the only assurance to make sure the vote stayed on Liana. It’s only fitting too that Xander would be the one to ensure Liana’s exit, as you’ll remember, Liana tried (and failed) to end Xander’s game and steal his Idol, and then foolishly continued to underestimate him by asking to hold on to his Idol at other Tribals.

We’re down to just six players and two episodes! Five paragraphs in and I didn’t even mention Ricard, who is still somehow also alive and kicking. I think the only player who can’t win at this point is Heather, just based on her edit, but she and Erika are one of two power-duos (the other being Deshawn and Danny) left in the game, and there are scenarios where I think Erika could come out on top. However I think things will all come down to Xander, Ricard, Danny and Deshawn…four great players, all in different ways, who only need to navigate a few more days of the game in order to be the last one standing.  It should be good, and I’m here for it!

Episode Take-Away. I was really moved by this week’s Tribal Council, but also found the in-game dynamics to be fascinating in the huge crater that Shan left after being ousted. Jeff announced that the “Shot in the Dark” twist is now over, so I think it’s safe to say that it ended up being a pretty big dud…it was only used once, ineffectively, and was hardly talked about. The “Do or Die” twist that was introduced could have also been interesting, but Deshawn‘s quick exit sucked the drama out of that (you could see the disappointment on Jeff’s face in real-time). Had he gone home by choosing the wrong box, I think people would have been hating on this twist pretty severely, but the fact that he remained in the game did create a nice moment.  Overall though, I hope we’re done with big twists, and we just let these great players duke it out from here on out.

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,, and I urge you to support this amazingly talented former Survivor player!

Voted Out This Week: Liana

Individual Immunity Winner: Danny

Vote: Deshawn escaped the “Do or Die” challenge. Xander used his extra vote advantage. 5 – Liana (Xander, Xander, Erika, Ricard, Heather), 3 – Ricard (Liana, Danny, Deshawn).

Current Advantage Tally:

  • Xander has 1 Immunity Idol

Next Week’s Episode: Uh oh, it appears that a new Idol might be in play next week in addition to the one Xander has! And with just six people left, are new alliances forming? Just one episode remaining before the two-hour Finale episode on Dec. 15!

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, 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.


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