The girlish shriek I let out when Jeff Probst popped up on my screen last night could've shattered glass windows all throughout Manhattan. After a 497 day wait, Survivor has finally returned! Season 41 kicked off last night with a two-hour premiere and birthed, what Jeff and CBS will remind us, a "new era" of Survivor. It was a jam-packed episode with a lot of changes, a lot of twists, a lot of promising characters, and some controversy. Luckily, I am here to break it all down for you guys. I have truly missed writing these recaps, so I'm glad to finally be able to do them again. But before you read any further.....
Survivor's resurgence over quarantine has finally allowed us to do a Survivor podcast, and I'm very excited about it. We're currently #2 in the TV/Film category which is pretty nuts. I really want to pass Jon Stewart so please make that happen. I know that new shows obviously always get that bump to the top, but to still get to the top 2 for a new podcast about a show that is in its 41st season is wild and speaks to Survivor's newfound popularity. Episode 1 is live now and we broke everything down: the changes, we each drafted our Survivor squad for the season, gave updated winner picks, and talked about the cancelling of "Come on in guys!"
Alright now let's get into my written breakdown. Typically, I just go chronologically throughout the episode, but I think that will get too jumbled as there was a lot of different stuff going on last night. Instead, I'll try to keep it sequential but also break the main topics down into different sections so it's easier to follow. Let's go.
The season kicked off the with the clip embedded above as Jeff welcomed us into Survivor 41. He gave us info on some new changes: shorter seasons, no daily food staple, harsher conditions, faster and more dangerous gameplay, etc. He also told us he'll be talking to us throughout the episodes to explain twists/advantages before the players get a chance to see them. He opened with the "Beware Advantage" which he said comes with risk, before hiding it in a tree. We don't really know what that is though. There's also The Game Within The Game which is puzzles throughout the season for "younger viewers" that I'll absolutely also be doing myself. More on that later. Jeff ended with what was a very authentic plea of basically just, "Hey, we're 41 seasons deep and trying to evolve the game to keep things fresh and entertaining for you guys." I totally get and appreciate that. My only concern is there was SO much thrown at us last night that it makes me a little nervous how newer viewers who binged and are watching live for the first time might feel. They fell in love with the first "era" of Survivor, and we can't afford to lose them if too much changes. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. But Survivor is still great no matter what and is ultimately a story about the cast, which does seem promising.
We got our first cast intros as they arrived at the boat and Jeff welcomed them to the new season. Some emotional stuff about how long it took them to get here with COVID delays and all that. Some player intros which always make me laugh when Jeff says "Guy in the red, what's your name?" when they've absolutely met before and he's well aware of his name. I just want someone to say once, "Jeff, we've met like 9 times what the hell?"
Early on, Naseer decided to break out his Final Tribal Council speech on Day 1. Bold.
He learned how to speak English from Survivor???? No chance I'm sitting next to his ass in the end. I do love Naseer though and think he's going to be a fun player to root for, I just don't love his chances to win. Some more player intros. Sweet story from Heather about her and her husbands being superfans. Then we get our first taste the "come on in guys" controversy. It's crazy to call it a "controversy" but ultimately by Survivor focusing on it last night, that's what happened. I'm going to give a way more full take on it later, but at this point Jeff just asked everyone if they were comfortable keeping "come on in guys" or if it wasn't inclusive enough. He said "Is the word guys okay? Or is it time to retire that?" An absurd question. Look at Liana trying not to laugh and Evvie's smirk. They knew how ridiculous it was.
Basically everyone, led by Evvie, said "No that's fine, we don't care" and she said she didn't feel excluded by it as a queer woman. It's just a phrase. Nobody disagreed. For now. More on that later.
For the opening challenge, the tribes had to collect paddles, get on a boat, and go race for flint. Winning tribe gets the flint, a pot, and a machete. Other two tribes got jack shit. The green tribe won (I don't do tribe names, just colors). Yellow couldn't find a paddle. Blue was still clipped to their anchor.
Survivor 41 was officially underway. We got a little taste of the theme music which was enough to give me goosebumps, but I do wish Jeff kept his traditional opening.
Nothing hits harder than that "ONE Survivor." I'll survive though
Would You Rather Count Some Triangles Or Do Four Hours Of Manual Labor?
The tribes got back to camp and we got our first "twist" (albeit a minor one) of the season. The losing tribes had a choice to make: Savvy or Sweat? Let's go through the options.
The Sweat Option meant two players had to use two small pots to fill up two big barrels of water, with this long trek on the beach. They had four hours to do it.
The Savvy Option
For the Savvy Option you just had to count fucking triangles. The whole tribe could participate. And you might think, "Okay that looks a little challenging. But give me about 10 minutes and I can probably figure it out. How long do they have?" FOUR HOURS. THEY HAD FOUR HOURS TO COUNT THESE TRIANGLES. I know it's tricky, and the puzzle was covered so they couldn't see what it looked like, but I mean COME ON. Somehow, both tribes decided to do the manual labor for four hours. If they completed it, they'd get tribe materials (flint, pot, machete) and if not, they wouldn't get them til after the first challenge.
For the yellow tribe, Xander had no problem doing it, but Voce was wisely hesitant. You don't want to isolate yourself from the majoirty of your tribe within an hour of the game starting. The name of the game in the first few days is just to follow the crowd. Like literally just always be standing around a majority group of people and don't be a complete weirdo. That's it. I'd probably hold my piss in for 3 days just so nobody had a chance to talk about me. But I digress. My main takeaway from all that was Voce is smart.
On the blue tribe, Danny and Deshawn volunteered to do it. Don't love that move because of everything I said above. And the move I really didn't love is when you start looking for an idol right away! Danny said, "If you're gonna look for the idol, do it on the first day." No you absolutely do not do that!!!!!
Especially when you're supposed to be completing a task to help your tribe get supplies! Danny and Deshawn move down my rankings for that. And neither found it, but did get caught by Naseer. He then told everyone back at camp and proposed a Final 4 deal of him, Sydney, Erika, and Heather. This was despite them agreeing to "not talk about strategy" while Danny and Deshawn were gone. Fucking Naseer. Love this guy. Not as a player though of course. Making a Final Four alliance on Day 1 just because the four of you were sitting around a circle together is absurd. And even worse for him is that Sydney later told Danny and Deshawn about that. I do like that move from Syndey though to buy some trust with Danny and Deshawn. She might be a better player than I initially gave her credit for.
Anyway, both tribes filled the buckets and got their materials.
The Risk Or Protect Vote Summit
Another new twist. Each tribe had to send one member to a secret getaway. Again, I probably don't want to be this person just because I don't want to isolate myself. Danny volunteered for blue since nobody else did. Don't love that. Xander went for yellow because they trusted him. JD went for green because he lost a rock draw. The three guys got to the island and bonded for a bit as they made a loooong walk up a mountain. At the top, they each separately faced a tough decision.
A classic prisoner's dilemma. I LOVE this twist. Requires a lot of strategy and something extra to analyze. I think a twist like this is way cooler/more strategic than finding something random in the jungle. Basically, they had to separately decide whether to protect or risk their votes.
If everyone protected their votes, nothing changed. Status quo. If everyone risked their votes, they all would lose their votes at the next tribal council. If it was a split decision, the player(s) who protected their vote kept it and got nothing extra. But the player(s) who risked their vote got to keep it AND get an extra vote. It was unclear at that point how long that extra vote was good for.
This is a tough call. Ultimately, I don't think there's a right answer of what to do. It depends on the situation. You need to have a good read on the other two players. If you think one is honest and trustworthy, you can risk it. But if you're weary of them, I'd protect it. You don't want to lose your vote at the first tribal council. Even though they are often a landslide, if your vote is needed and you don't have one, everyone is going to be like "what the fuck?" and then you've immediately put a target on your back. Also choosing "protect" makes it easier to just go back to your tribe and tell the truth instead of making up an elaborate lie and risk having them not trust you.
BUT the benefit of risking your vote is that an extra vote can be a pretty huge advantage, although it was unclear how long it would be good for. And worst comes to worst if you do all risk it, at least you also blocked two other players from having an advantage they can use against you later in the game. A lot to consider.
Ultimately, Danny chose to protect. He went back and told his tribe the truth, so they all believed him with the number of details he gave.
JD went back and told a weird, incredibly detailed story about the trek. He also says he led the trek for no apparent reason. He told a weird, kind of unnecessary lie changing the rules of the twist a bit. Saying that if two people risked and one protected, the riskers would lose their vote. It was all kind of convoluted. He risked his vote, but told them he protected it. And while JD thought everyone ate it up, Ricard was onto him.
Xander played it the best. He risked his vote too, but came up with a lie about how the extra vote was for the tribe, not just for him. And somehow, they all believed it! I didn't understand that AT ALL. What the fuck does an extra vote for the tribe even mean? How would that work? At a swap or merge, who gets that extra vote? How do you decide on it together? It was insane they believed him. Insane. But Xander is likable and appears to be this honest, young surfer dude so it worked. I like Xander a lot after last night's episode. He knows his shit.
Later at tribal council, it was revealed that the extra vote can last be used at Final 6. So it worked out wonderfully for JD and Xander. That's a big advantage.
Player Background Packages
We saw a good amount of footage from the three different tribes as they settled in and got to know each other. There were a LOT of emotional background packages for each player. Sara's grandma died of COVID. Genie was worried her mom wouldn't approve of her being lesbian but she did and gave her a ring. Ricard has a transgender pregnant husband. Tiffany was a cancer "previvor." And JD got bullied for being short in high school. That one felt a little bit like "one of these things is not like the other." Look, I know bullying is a real issue and I hope it wasn't too bad for JD. But it did also look like he was the prom king and a state champion in track so let's hope it wasn't TOO bad. My main takeaway from all this was that I just have no chance of getting on this show competing with stories like this. I didn't even get bullied in high school which is shocking. Overall, I did like the inclusion of real-life footage though. Gives better back stories to who they are as people. I just wish it wasn't all so depressing. Felt like 2020 NFL draft packages. Just wanted one person to be like, "Yeah life's great. Great job. Hot girlfriend. Love my family. Super rich. Living life right now."
"Come On In Guys!" Is Cancelled
Okay so it was time for the immunity challenge, and Ricard brought back up the topic of "Come on in guys!" He said he was too discombobulated to say something initially, but he now doesn't agree that Jeff should use the word guys. "I just don't really agree with it. Survivor has changed so much over the past 21 years" and all those changes allowed different minorities and sexualities to be here. Jeff says he's glad it's changing, and he doesn't want to say it anymore anyway. So that's it. "Come on in guys!" is officially cancelled.
I personally think this whole thing felt very weird, forced and almost scripted. Survivor got a lot of shit over Season 39 because of Creepy Dan, and with how progressive the world has become, they definitely wanted to cover their asses and be as inclusive as possible. Understandable, sure. BUT IT'S THE WORD "GUYS" FOR CHRIST'S SAKE. There was not a single person at home thinking, "Boy, I can't believe Jeff says 'Come on in guys.' That's so problematic. I can't watch the show until they change that." Not a single person. If anything, it almost would've been a joke of like, "Oh what's next? Jeff can't say 'come on in guys' anymore?" It's just absurd. It's going woke for the sake of going woke so they can pat themselves on the back. But if they truly only cared about being inclusive, then Jeff would've just started saying "Come on in" without this big ordeal. They made a mountain out of a nonexistent molehill. Now look, anyone who is going to stop watching Survivor over this is crazy. We'll forget about it by next week and just enjoy Survivor for being the best show on TV. A difference of one word doesn't change that. But the reality is that there definitely are some people who will stop watching the show because of this. It's crazy, but it's true. Take one scroll through Twitter and you'll see. And Survivor is not at a point where they can afford to lose fans. So to me, this was just a bizarre decision. People use "guys" all the time in every day discussion as a gender neutral term. I'm sure people will even say it around camp still to each other! It feels weird to lose an iconic Survivor line for truly no reason, but whatever. Let's move on because this shouldn't overshadow Survivor's first episode in a year and a half. But they asked for this.
I can see a world where I'm on Tucker Carlson soon to discuss this.
Shot In The Dark Twist And Immunity Challenge
Just a classic Survivor challenge. An obstacle course with a puzzle and all that shit. Only one tribe would win immunity though. Makes sense with the need to get rid of players faster with the shortened season. But first Jeff explained the new "Shot In The Dark Advantage." You get a dice that gives you the power not to vote and instead reach into a bag for a 1 in 6 chance at safety that night. You can't vote if you're using it, regardless of the result. You decide in private when you're voting so nobody knows your decision. An interesting twist. Jeff didn't explain it in the show but apparently it can only be used once during the season. I would like a little more clarification with that though. And also as another twist, the two losing tribes have to forfeit their flint. They get a chance to earn it back at the next immunity challenge. Another element of danger and harsher conditions. In the end, the blue tribe won and the other two were heading to tribal flint-less.
Yase (Yellow) Pre-Tribal Discussions
At yellow camp, it seemed like it was either going to be Abraham or Tiffany. Tiffany was viewed as a weaker player, but Abraham was kind of loud and bossy and blaming people for the loss. It's a tough call because with this season being more physically demanding, you need stronger players. Abraham kept preaching the classic "keep the tribe strong" line. But Evvie and Liana wanted to keep Tiffany around because they bonded with her and liked her. And ultimately, that's the most important thing in the game. Tiffany went looking for an idol anyway to be safe and the "Beware Advantage" was right in front of her face but she didn't see it.
Yase Tribal Council
At tribal, Abraham talked himself into trouble and Tiffany did a good job of applying the heat to him. It was clearly either going to be Tiffany or Abraham but both were confident so neither played the shot in the dark advantage. Voce also reminded us that it's actually a 16.7% chance and not 17% as Jeff said. But really it's 16.66666666% (repeating) so both are wrong.
In the end, Abraham went out with an easy 5-1 vote. It definitely won't help the tribe with strength, but I'd rather play with people I trust and like than people who are big and strong. Abraham was blindsided, but he had first boot vibes all over him. No surprise. Maybe he could've been a Phillip Shepard if he stuck around longer, but I guess we'll never know.
Ua (Green) Pre-Tribal Discussions
Sara was crying immediately because she messed up the puzzle. I hate waterworks Survivor. JD was the early target because he was playing hard out of the gate, but they decided he was too much of an asset in physical challenges. Sara and Shantel messing up the puzzle put targets on their backs. Brad even said right to their face they were both on the table to keep the tribe strong! Classic rancher, old-school Survivor thinking from Brad there. Ricard still had his eyes set on JD though and really didn't trust him. Ricard and Sara wanted JD out. Brad and JD wanted Sara out. Shantel was in control. Genie was doing her own thing.
Ua (Green) Tribal Council
It didn't take long for us to get a live tribal, when everyone just gets up and starts whispering. I think live tribals can be exciting and show the evolution of the game, but they also can be too chaotic for the viewer if you can't hear everything and they lose their appeal and unique-ness the more often they happen. But it still makes for good television.
It started with Ricard, Sara, and Shantel whispering as JD was answering Jeff. Brad's name was all of a sudden getting thrown out. Then Sara again. But Shantel told her she didn't need to play her shot in the dark. JD was paranoid too. It was pure chaos. They all brought their dice up to the booth but nobody used it. JD seemed to do a fake which made no sense. Don't know why you wouldn't just bring it up. Don't have to use it.
Sara was eliminated with a 4-1-1 vote. Ricard, JD, Shantel, and Brad voted for her. Sara voted Brad. Genie just doing her own thing voting Ricard.
Sara says she regrets not using her shot in the dark.
Uhhhhh yeah no shit. People holding onto their shot in the dark is going to be infuriating. If you're in trouble, play it. Take the shot in the dark. Hopefully you live to see another day. To me, it's just an extra thing so why not use it? Survivor never had it before so it's not like it's a big loss if you can't have it the rest of the season. And I know you lose your vote, but unless it's going to be a tight vote that won't matter anyway.
Didn't see much promise from Sara anyway. Lot of tears early on. No way she was lasting all season.
Game Within The Game
This is a new thing that's an interactive feature for fans all season with word puzzles and shit online. You can play it here.
Sundae-sun = Day
Wand-d = Wan or One
A + lions = Alliance
Day 1 Alliance. Too easy.
And this obviously is vote. Not exactly rocket science here but I guess this is for kids afterall.
Early Player Assessments
-JD is an enigma. He clearly knows the game and he got a LOT of screen time last night. Makes me think he'll be around for awhile. But there are already people weary of him, and he was getting some "buffoon" music at points. Didn't feel like a winner's edit but he'll be a character for sure.
-Shantel is my early winner pick. Loved what I saw from her last night. Made great social connections and thought very strategically. Likable. She's got it all.
-My preseason winner pick Deshawn didn't impress me after what happened with the water barrels and idol search. But we didn't see much from him overall so hard to say.
-Xander was a pleasant surprise. He's not just a pretty boy idiot. Definitely has a brain in that head. Devon vibes from Season 35.
-Voce was another guy who surprised me in a good way. Awesome understanding of the game. Thought things through. I do worry a little about his social game though.
-Evvie was also very impressive. Based on pre-season press, it felt like she would be arguing with men and be too in-your-face, but that wasn't the case at all. She had no problem with "come on in guys" and if she did, she thought strategically to just say it was fine and not cause a stir. And she got along with everyone really well. Very likable player who knows the game. She'll be around for awhile.
-Ricard has a very good read on people and knows the game. Played socially and his name was never mentioned as a target. He's playing a little hard, but I was still impressed.
-Brad was a disappointment. My hopes for him have diminished. Nice guy, but doesn't seem like the most strategic player.
It was just so great to have Survivor back. Sure, it wasn't a perfect episode. And I hope I don't come off as if I'm complaining too much. But I just love Survivor so much and know how important this season is so I want it to be successful. I love Survivor in its purest form, so I'm always a little weary of new twists and advantages. I thought Jeff could've done a better job explaining some of them to new viewers. But they haven't introduced anything TOO crazy, and I think we'll digest them more as the season goes along. Plus, it's more stuff to talk about strategically and think through analytically. The cast does seem promising too. Some compelling characters. And at the end of the day, the cast does drive the show. I'm excited for next week.
See you then for more Survivor talk.