Survivor this week is all about mess: messy gameplay and messy comments. But this episode is also about support: supportive tribemates and supportive mementos. Survivor is at its best when it’s balancing this line without veering too far in one direction. It’s managed pretty well this season, so far, at least.
Returning from Ua’s tribal council, where Brad was blindsided, Genie is pissed. Ricard, Shan, and JD kept her out of the loop on axing Brad, so she rightfully airs her grievances in a tense post-tribal scene. Still, it’s Ricard who drops the best line of the bicker.
“How are you gonna write down two of our names, and you’re mad at us?” he laments to Genie. Genie wrote Ricard’s name down at the first tribal council, and he’s still holding it over her ahead.
Ricard is publicly running the tribe alongside Shan. It’s working in their favor as the Ua tribe continues to downsize, and they’re still standing, but it’s still unclear if they’ll be able to ride this power wave past the merge where it will actually matter. If JD and Genie make it that far, they could easily align with another tribe and turn on Ricard and Shan for being withholding.
Still, the merge is days away. We’ve got our first reward challenge of the season to attend. Ua wins and receives the honor of having a Fijian man visit their camp and offer tips on mastering island life. This is a standard reward and one that’s actually helpful for the tribe. It’s Yase’s prize for coming in second that truly shocks me: food in the form of one colorful blue fish. Honestly, it is a little traumatizing to see a dead-ass aquamarine fish just sitting on a platter in the hot sun while Probst announces the challenge. They killed Rainbow Fish and with it memories of my childhood.
Though they lost, Luvu still receives a truly special moment. Heather can’t finish her leg of the obstacle course, which requires tossing a ball through an overhead track and high stepping through a rope course to catch the ball before it drops. She falls to the ground in tears after the loss, and her teammates comfort her. “You don’t have to apologize to us. We win or lose together,” Danny says. In a game where anger, pointing-fingers, and backstabbing are encouraged, it’s nice to see a team rally around their crestfallen player instead of cutting them further down. Even more impressive, Survivor doesn’t immediately jump to scenes of Heather’s teammates talking behind her back. After years of pulling those shady moves, perhaps the show really is invested in spotlighting resilience over division.
Or maybe they’re just going to highlight both because the second half of the episode is all about manipulation.
Luvu, feeling their first taste of defeat, is restless to play the personal game. They’ve yet to lose an immunity challenge and go to tribal council, but Erika wants to show she’s more cutthroat than her teammates might think. So she proposes to Deshawn it’s time to vote out Sydney for being a hothead. However, Deshawn is better aligned with Sydney and Danny and tells them about Erika’s proposal. It backfires for Erika. Deshawn and Danny decide to throw the immunity challenge and vote her out.
This week’s immunity challenge involves a water race, a hidden key, and a ring toss. It’s comical watching Danny and Deshawn try to throw the immunity challenge (Deshawn literally re-ties knots that need to be untied), but they’re no match for Naseer and his excellent ring toss skills. The man unknowingly saves his team from a much-wanted loss. Amazing!
So Yase wins, Luvu (against their wishes) comes in second, and Ua is headed right back to tribal council.
It’s clear to everyone on Ua that either Genie or JD are going home, but Shan isn’t willing to risk anything, and, oh boy, does the Mafia Pastor deliver one hell of a sermon.
But first, a little Survivor backstory for the newbie viewers. In season 16, Fans vs. Favorites, a.k.a Micronesia, four queens changed the course of Survivor history and emerged as gay icons in my life. With their alliance having lost in the final five immunity challenge, Parvati Shallow, Amanda Kimmel, Natalie Bolton, and Cirie Fields convince the sole remaining male castaway and winner of the immunity challenge, Erik Reichenbach, to give them his immunity necklace as a token of trust. A bit naive, Erik agrees to give up immunity only for the women to vote him out seconds later. And this is how these Survivor women came to be known as the infamous Black Widow Brigade.
Now back to Season 41. Shan concocts a similar plan. She’ll feign paranoia that JD and Genie are voting her out, which will cause JD to give his extra vote to her as a token of trust that they’re still aligned. JD, a self-proclaimed Survivor superfan, even states in a testimonial during their conversation scene that he doesn’t want to become “one of the dummies” who ruins the game of Survivor. Except he gets caught in Shan’s trap and gives away the advantage. Oh no!
Obviously, Shan, Ricard, and Genie vote JD out at tribal later that night. It’s a great play by Shan and proof she might be on the receiving end of a winner’s edit. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out and if the extra vote advantage will matter in the long run. Either way, it’s a thrill to watch a new Survivor assassin emerge in Shan.