Deshawn would like to clarify a few things. Deshawn feels unjustly scapegoated after a tense tribal council last week where he was called a “snake” by Shan for contributing to her blindside. What results is more than just a fallout episode. This week is a modern Survivor classic, exemplifying everything that makes the show so good … and so frustrating.
This episode revolves around Deshawn. First, Liana critiques him and Danny for dissolving the all-Black alliance. They broke her trust, and Deshawn’s response to Liana’s disappointment is telling. He points blame at Ricard for originating the Shan exit, not him and Danny. “Why is it that every time I do something, it’s on the front page of the freaking newspaper? I did not come up with the idea,” he laments to Danny.
Later that night and in front of other tribemates, Deshawn does damage control and publicly attempts to push responsibility onto Ricard for orchestrating the Shan plan. It might be too late to help Deshawn’s game. A new alliance forms that night, including former players on the bottom, Xander, Erika, and Heather, plus Ricard. This leaves Deshawn, Danny, and Liana on the outs.
This episode proves Probst’s repeated claim that Season 41 ushered in a new era. Ideologically, the game is entrenched in the ramifications of a fraught American culture. Life outside of Survivor isn’t on pause. It’s part of the game on a macro and micro level.
The editors address this by centering the episode around the remaining Black contestants: Danny, Deshawn, and Liana. We finally receive an in-depth understanding of Danny’s backstory. It’s the 25th anniversary of his father’s death, and Danny says he was just 8 years old when his father passed. Competing on Survivor is helping him grieve this loss.
It’s a touching segue into the immunity challenge. Probst informs the remaining seven castaways of the latest twist: Do or Die. The first to drop out of the contestants who choose to compete in the challenge will have to pick between boxes for immunity at tribal council. If they pick correctly, they’re immune, and tribal council continues as usual. If they pick incorrectly, they’re immediately eliminated.
The challenge involves holding handles to an increasing number of cylinders while balancing a ball on top of the aforementioned cylinders. (Honestly, it’s very difficult to describe Survivor challenges. There are only so many ways to say the contestants do stuff often with tools until they don’t do those things anymore.)
Liana and Heather sit out, later citing little expectation of victory in the challenge. Danny triumphantly wins his first immunity challenge of the season. It’s a much-needed boost for his Survivor résumé. Deshawn, who’s already having a tough episode, is the first to drop.
So we go into an uncertain tribal council with only a few guarantees. Xander, Ricard, and Heather plan to vote out Liana, while Deshawn, Liana, and Danny target Ricard. Two variables remain: Erika (the swing vote) and Deshawn (the Do or Die competitor).
Deshawn repeatedly faces disappointment this episode, and odds are he’s going home. He’s in an especially vulnerable spot, and this might be his last chance to speak directly to the tribe, jury members, Jeff Probst, and the Survivor audience while still in the game.
So he diverts the typical tribal Q&A to relitigate Shan’s blindside. He clarifies that he agreed to vote out Shan because Ricard told him Shan was gunning for him. “In this game, morals and gameplay intersect,” he says. That line is important. For Deshawn and his fellow Black players, they aren’t just playing individual games. They’re also carrying the weight of playing as Black players the season after a CBS diversity pledge.
At the end of 2020, CBS committed to featuring at least 50 percent of contestants of color on its reality shows, including Survivor. This came after Black Survivor alums called out the show for depicting them in harmful stereotypes, as reported by NPR.
The diversity pledge and the cultural uprisings of 2020 appear to inform nearly every aspect of Season 41. So far, we’ve seen Probst do away with the word “guys” in his ubiquitous catchphrase “Come on in, guys.” Players of color like Naseer and Erika chronicled how their familial and racial backgrounds influence their strategy. We’ve also seen Shan, a Black woman, dominate the first half of the season and explain to viewers the personal and cultural importance of committing to an all-Black alliance alongside Liana, Deshawn, and Danny.
Now, we’re seeing Deshawn surface this undercurrent in one of the most heartfelt tribal councils to date. This episode isn’t just about whether or not Ricard and Deshawn spearheaded the Shan blindside, though time is spent rehashing this. It’s about ethics.
At one point, Probst asks Deshawn why he’s concerned about his “integrity.” Integrity is the heart of Deshawn’s struggle in this episode. It’s also quickly becoming this season’s overarching theme. Deshawn explains his intent going into Survivor was to represent the Black community as well as he could.
It’s an emotional moment watching Deshawn cry while answering Probst’s question. Deshawn is keenly aware of what it means to be a Black player in the modern age of Survivor. Shan understood this pressure, too. Shan told Rob Cesternino on his podcast this week that filming began amid the trial of the killing of George Floyd. “I was very sensitive to it,” she says on the podcast. “Playing Season 41 in 2021, I was very, very dialed into that.” It’s important to understand the headspace players operate in because it informs their gameplay.
Probst, sensing the weight of Deshawn’s honesty and possibly his responsibility as host to foster his moment, opens the conversation to the entire tribe. In addition to soliciting Xander and Heather to discuss their privilege and solidarity, he allows both Liana and Danny to be heard.
“Coming into the game, it wasn’t about taking this and all Black people get to the end. It was more about showing those connections and that diversity,” Danny said.
You really do need to watch the tribal council in full, especially any Survivor fans uncomfortable with the show’s more openly inclusive era. “To those people, I understand. But it just means that we’re human beings, and the game is a little bit more complex. And we’re a microcosm of the real world, too,” Liana says.
It’s an important hour of reality TV, and frankly my recap can’t do it justice.
As for who goes home, well, Deshawn miraculously saves himself by selecting the correct box of three. It makes for a triumphant moment after an emotional speech, but Survivor really could cool it with the twists. Sure, they lucked out with this climactic moment for Deshawn. However, these honest conversations and their impact on gameplay are far more rewarding than any new trick.
So a tribal vote commences with Deshawn and Danny immune. Xander uses an extra vote to ensure Liana’s elimination, even though Erika ultimately voted for Liana.
For such a fruitful episode, it is disappointing to see another woman voted out moments after discussing the layers of authentic representation. Of the six remaining players, only two are women. Meanwhile, the jury is entirely composed of women, save for Nasser. Keep in mind men have won the last six seasons of Survivor. So the ultimate question of the show’s ability to fully honor its commitment to inclusivity remains unanswered.