Can you feel the Shantasy?
After Shan’s star-making blindside toward JD last week, Survivor doubled down on its love for the Mafia Pastor. She received an episodic holy trinity: An emotional backstory, a smart strategic maneuver, and near-constant screen time.
Her Ua tribe is dwindling with only three tribemates left: herself, Genie, and Ricard. At the start of the episode, Genie quickly finds the “Beware Advantage” rehidden after its previous owner Brad was voted out two episodes ago. Genie shares this information with Shan and Ricard, who convince her to leave it unopened. They wager it’s the three-way hidden immunity idol of which Xander is known to have the second part, but they believe the Luvu tribe still hasn’t found the final piece. This means the people in possession of parts one and two remain unable to vote at tribal council.
It’s a safe move, but Shan isn’t a safe player. So, behind Genie’s back, she and Ricard open the advantage and replace it with a fake immunity idol. Now, that’s a smart move, and this all occurs just five minutes into the episode.
Shan is dominating the season — and these recaps — to the point that it looks like she’s receiving a winner’s edit. This has happened before. Occasionally, when a player is just so good — or perceived to be that way — Survivor can’t help but become a one-person show. *Spoiler alert* Parvati received a similar treatment in Micronesia; so did Kim in One World, Tony in Cagayan, and Tyson in Blood vs. Water. Plus, if we read Shan’s active social media presence as tea leaves, it’s clear she’s invested in her growing reality TV celebrity status too. She’s a great contestant and quickly proving herself to perhaps be one of the Survivor elites.
Still, the Shan Show is a little concerning from a viewer standpoint. We’re not even at the merge, yet she is positioned as Survivor’s Lead Star of a Reality TV Series. (Could you imagine if this were an actual Emmy category? Her competitors would obviously include Kyle Richards in Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Symone in RuPaul’s Drag Race.)
There’s the possibility that Shan is receiving a *second spoiler alert* Jeremy in San Juan del Sur edit where her position as the season’s threat will lead her to be voted out promptly post-merge. It’s still early enough that I remain hopeful anything is a possibility.
Because, if you look around, Survivor has a stacked cast this season. They’re funny! It’s a welcome respite after a few very serious seasons of erupting fights, Big Little Lies-esqe tearful stares into the vast ocean, and vicious gameplay. Take Tiffany, for example.
She did not say Himbo Rights this episode. In a funny exchange, Xander informs Tiffany of his three-way immunity idol to bond with her. Except, he lies and tells her he found it that morning. Except, Tiffany already knows about the idol thanks to Evvie and calls him out, noting he’d already said the secret idol phrase at previous immunity challenges. She secretly mugs for the camera throughout the conversation and even gets Xander to apologize for lying in a game all about deception. Tiffany is a smart player, and I’m glad to see she’s in a power position in her tribe.
At the challenge, Shan and Xander say their immunity idol phrases only for Naseer to jump out of nowhere with his own oddball phrase at the last minute. We cut to earlier footage of Naseer finding the “Beware Advantage” in a tree on the Luvu beach, and suddenly the three-way immunity idol is activated (It took long enough). Naseer even shares a heartwarming story about his days training for Survivor: He’d spend every day finding immunity idols that his daughter had created and hidden in his backyard at their home. Naseer is a hard worker and a positive light on the show. I’m excited to see more from him — and the Luvu team at large who still haven’t made it to tribal council.
It won’t be this week. Yase and Luvu came in first and second at the immunity challenge — a classic Survivor net-rope knot-coconut toss course. This is followed once again by two players heading off on a secret adventure following the immunity challenge.
Yase picks Shan from the losing tribe and Liana from their own as tributes. Of all the secret adventure pairings this season, this one was the most emotional. Liana and Shan immediately bonded with Shan sharing a tearful story about growing up in foster care, finding her “higher power” through the church, and rekindling her relationship with her mother shortly before her mother’s death. It’s an emotional scene and proof the show can succeed in its new era with positivity and heart. They don’t need bullying castaways.
The trip ends with the two women at the “Protect Your Vote/Risk Your Vote Wheel.” Shan protects her vote so Liana can risk hers and receive an advantage. Liana receives a new advantage, “Knowledge Is Power,” that allows her to steal another player’s idol or advantage simply by asking them just once if they have an advantage, and they reply, “Yes.”
Meanwhile, Shan returns to find her tribe publicly airing their gameplay. With only three players left, they all might be gunning for one another. This leads to an intense scene between Ricardo and Shan. He wisely won’t return the Extra Vote advantage she snagged from JD last week because this is the exact move they made on JD last week before voting him out. It’s a tense scene of two deeply close allies seeing their trust tested.
This makes tribal council a heated three-way standoff, and Genie ends up being betrayed and sent home. It’s proof Ricard and Shan’s relationship is rock-solid — at least for now.
As we approach a merge or tribe swap that previews for next week seem to indicate is coming, there’s one thing to note. For all the focus on multiple advantages this season, including Knowledge is Power, Beware, and Extra Vote, they largely haven’t been used. Neither has the Shot-in-the-Dark at the tribal booth. Instead, the season is succeeding because of interesting characters playing at a high level and creating enough drama on their own.
This should make for a compelling rest of the season. Could the plethora of advantages lead to wonky gameplay? Possibly. And who knows what’s going to happen once the Luvu tribe breaks up and heads to tribal. Sometimes pre-merge episodes are expected and formulaic. This season hasn’t been the case, which should make a delightful post-merge (where the game really gets interesting). Here’s hoping.