Survivor is in its Ted Lasso era … I think? I have not yet watched Ted Lasso. What I’m trying to say is Survivor is having fun. Is that what Ted Lasso is?
Certainly, Survivor hasn’t always been heartwarming and humorous. Over its two decades on air, the show has appeared in various lights. The first seasons are essentially pseudo-nature documentaries about living and competing off the grid. The show hit its stride in the late-2000s as a true reality-TV show: an equal mix of gameplay and interpersonal drama. A few years ago, though, Survivor became a sporting event. The challenges appeared more intense, and the winners skewed heavily male.
Last year’s Winners at War was supposed to be a triumphant return of the franchise’s beloved players, but the Edge of Extinction twist left us with a story of perseverance against adversity. It was heavy content in an unexpectedly heavy year.
This season the theme is community building, and the community center leads — the Survivor production team — are here to have some laughs. We noticed this in the first episode with breaking the fourth wall to show the intense production crew we never get to see, as well as Probst’s gleeful return to hosting. The show’s newfound lightness has only become more apparent as the season has gone on, and this week solidified that Survivor isn’t beholden to any aged idea of what the show should be.
Probst announces at the immunity challenge this week there will be two winners and two losers. Yes, it’s a double elimination, but that’s not it. The castaways will compete as temporary members of two groups rather than one large tribe. They will also vote as two separate groups.
This is just another twist to the game in a season full of twists, but it’s one that actually makes it more interesting. Have we had post-merge groups before? I’m fine with it for a one-off episode, but I’m not sure it makes sense in the long run.
What this temporary group development does, though, is help avoid the mid-season slump where a dominating alliance picks off its adversaries one by one. Instead, players who might’ve sailed smoothly to the top six — Heather, Danny, Naseer, and Erika — now must make moves.
Props to Erika for landing on her feet first. In the immunity challenge, contestants stand on a small perch and hold onto a handle behind their heads. Erika beats out Shan, Ricard, Heather, and Naseer in the yellow group. This is an exciting win for her and proof she might be the threat Shan perceives her to be.
In the blue group, it all comes down to Deshawn and Xander. Evvie, Liana, and Danny all drop rather quickly. Deshawn eventually follows suit, and Xander wins himself immunity. He also wins his group much-needed sustenance in the form of a chicken and beef stew as a reward. Xander even spends a portion of the tribal council this week dissecting what makes a stew good: “hearty potatoes, warm broth, carrots, and onions.” Survivor cookbook, when?
We spend most of the episode hashing out who is going home in each group. It’s clear Shan is still in control while Xander is putting up an impressive and lasting fight to stay alive. Shan is calling the shots, though we got our first glimpses of her relinquishing some control this week. She did her closest ally Ricard a solid by voting out (as his request) Naseer and his unused idol. Still, Shan’s influence remains even when she’s not there as her allies in the other group — Danny, Deshawn, and Liana — send Evvie packing.
But the real star of this episode is Deshawn. This king from Miami has spent the majority of the season biding his time. As a member of the once-triumphant Luvu tribe, he never went to tribal council pre-merge and found himself in the majority alliance a few days later.
Now that he’s playing the game, he is making it very clear he will not be told what to do. First, he rebuked (and publicized) Evvie’s attempt at a secret alliance. Then he sparred with Shan at last week’s tribal council, resulting in the last-minute plea to vote out Heather changed at the last-last-minute.
Deshawn is saying I see every single one of you to his tribemates. More than anything else, though, Deshawn is funny. It doesn’t even seem like he’s trying. Between his bright megawatt smile and no-holds-barred quips in the confessional, Deshawn is constantly making me laugh.
I mean, the expression he dropped at this week’s tribal council — “Who’s Who in the Zoo” — will be living rent-free in my head this week. Maybe next week too. If there’s someone to take on the Shaniassance, it might just be Deshawn.
• Shoutout to Evvie’s post-elimination testimonial: ”Any queer kids out there, be yourself. You’re amazing. Love yourself.” Thank you, Evvie!
• There’s a brief tender moment where Deshawn and Shan apologize to one another and (seemingly) put their differences aside. More heartfelt moments, please.
• Petition to nominate Heather for Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her rousing rendition of a woman ready to go home at tribal, though knowing all too well Naseer’s blindside was on the horizon