*SPOILERS OBVIOUSLY AHEAD*
Ladies and gentleman..... we have a winner. After 13 episodes, Survivor 41 wrapped up last night with a three hour finale where Erika was crowned the winner, beating out Deshawn and Xander at Final Tribal Council. A lot of people walked away from that finale underwhelmed, and that's completely understandable. While I think the finale itself was very entertaining (had the best fire making challenge ever and some other good moments), Erika is a very underwhelming winner. I don't blame her for that. I think the editing did a horrible job with her all season, and it's left a lot of viewers feeling like we didn't really know the winner at all and couldn't connect with her. She also certainly didn't play the flashiest game ever. She'll go down as a bottom tier winner but I don't think it's a grave injustice that she won. I'll explain all that in this blog. But first let's do a full episode recap.
And of course, listen to our Snuffing Torches recap of the finale. We had our full crew, and it was probably our best, most in-depth episode of the season. We broke everything down and tried to make sense of what happened. Listen on Apple or Spotify.
Okay now onto the full recap. I wanted to make this quick to have the blog out earlier but I ended up writing so much that it took me all day.
Final 5 Advantage And Challenge
When the Final 5 got to their new camp, they learned they'd have one last advantage in the game. Everyone got a word puzzle to unscramble which would give them a clue about where to find the advantage. Erika is the one who found it despite figuring out the word puzzle last, and her advantage was a pretty significant head start at a few points in the Final 5 Immunity Challenge. Some of her ladders were already partly put together and that was enough for her to win the challenge. Otherwise, Ricard would've won easily because he got close without the advantage.
A lot of people had a problem with an advantage this huge this late in the game, but I didn't really feel that way. To me, I just looked at the word unscramble and scavenger hunt for the advantage as part of the challenge basically. Everyone had a fair chance at gaining that advantage and getting a leg up in the challenge. It's not like some random bullshit hourglass twist that Erika lucked into. I thought it was fair because everyone had the same chance of gaining it. So if you just look at it as the first half of the challenge, it's really not so bad.
Final 5 Vote
The vote was set up to be either Ricard or Deshawn. Erika and Heather had their steak reward to try to mend fences after Deshawn's truth bomb at tribal earlier, and it was clear they were still pissed at Deshawn over it. Heather even hit Erika with a Marshawn Lynch "no comment" earlier in the episode!
PS: Their steak looked gross. Bring back the Outback sponsorship.
GrillMaster Tommy could do way better.
But anyway, Erika was saying crazy things like she'd rather go to the end with Ricard because she respects his game more than Deshawn. It's crazy how butthurt her and Heather were over Deshawn's move that really wasn't that bad at all by Survivor standards. He was just trying to save himself in a Hail Mary effort. Them not immediately saying "Ricard is clearly the biggest threat to win. Let's get him out" was stunning.
And even more stunning was Xander considering giving his idol to Ricard!!! They had an emotional moment on the beach where they talked about their bromance and Ricard said he had another baby on the way due next week that he told no one about. This really struck a chord with "Uncle Xander" and he told Ricard he would consider giving him his idol since it was his last night to play it and Xander was getting no votes anyway. This would've been monumentally stupid. He could've just written Ricard the million dollar check right there if he did that. Even considering it was a mistake by Xander. Because this just made Ricard probably even more bitter towards him. The right move for Xander would've been to never say anything. And then at tribal, get up and play the idol on DeShawn. Say something like, "Sorry Ricard, you're just too good at this game." Would've been a flashy move for the jury to see and while it only would've cancelled out one vote, it would've been way more effective than playing it on himself which was useless.
Ricard at tribal council really tooted his own horn quite a bit. He said he thinks he can be an all-time great Survivor player without winning. He also played the baby speech two tribals too soon. Have to whip that out at Final Tribal Council like Jeremy did in Cambodia. Doing it then just gives people more reason to vote you out. The best player in the game now has an emotional story? See ya. And Ricard was ultimately booted with a 4-1 vote, which was the right move.
Ricard was clearly the best player on this season. His understanding of the game and strategy was far superior than everyone else. But I don't know if it's because he was that good or everyone else was that bad. It ended up being his downfall that there was truly nobody else he could put the target on at Final 5. He was so obviously far and away better than everyone else. There's no way they could've taken him to the end. I'd love to see him back on a returnee season with a stronger cast and see how he does.
That gave us a Final 4 of Xander, Erika, Deshawn, and Heather. And as one last kick in the dick after this rough season, there was a big storm on one of their final nights.
I've seen some past Survivor players take issue with these players calling it the toughest season ever when it's only 26 days as compared to the usual 39. Totally fair for them to take issue with that because the extra 13 days must be grueling, but I'm sure the lack of food and resources this season did make up for some of that.
Final Immunity Challenge
The final challenge involved balancing with the rope as they completed the "Final 3" block puzzle. It's one we've seen several times before. I usually like when the FIC is more endurance based, but we've had so many of them this season that I was fine with this. It really wasn't close as Xander pulled away and won easily. I was getting a little nervous for him at the end when he was taking FOREVER to get his second foot behind the blue line, but he got it done and then had a cool little moment with Jeff.
Xander finally got his little emotional package. He talked about how he never thought he'd get on the show and what a dream it is to be cast. It's very funny that everyone else this season has this emotional trauma of like "This family member just died tragically" or "I have a transgender pregnant husband" or "I've been discriminated against my whole life" and Xander's was just "I was a little chubby and then started to run track."
But Xander now had a huge decision to make. Who would he protect and take with him to FTC? And who would he send to the fire making challenge? His decision was to save Erika. He feared that she was good at making fire from her time on Exile, and her making fire in front of the jury would be a big winner's moment that could push her over the edge. He wanted to rob her of having that chance. Sort of makes sense I guess. But we now know Xander clearly underestimated how much the jury liked Erika. She didn't need that extra moment to gain their respect. And it turns out Erika may not have been as good at making fires as Xander thought.
Unless she was just hustling him, but I think that's unlikely. It was almost enough for Xander to change his mind.
If I'm Xander here, I would've saved Heather. She was clearly a goat that would've been easy to beat in the end. Assuming she would've gotten no votes, it basically would've made it a Final Two against either Deshawn or Erika. You go from a 33% chance to win to a 50% chance to win just using simple numbers. I think Xander really outthought himself here, and it cost him. His other option was to go up against Erika in fire-making himself. His best chance to win was a Final 3 against Heather and Deshawn. And if he had that extra moment of winning the fire challenge, it could've been enough to win. But hindsight is 20/20. I don't blame him for not wanting to risk it in a fire making challenge. I wouldn't do that either. He wasn't Chris Underwood who played like 4 days and needed to do something big. But it turns out that was probably his best chance to win.
Fire Making Challenge
When Xander chose to save Erika, you could see it stunned the jury. That should've been the first sign that Xander made the wrong move. Shan even said something like "That's a poor read." Shan proved to be insufferable even while on the jury. But it was too late. Deshawn and Heather made fire and it was the best fire making challenge maybe in show history. Heather got out to an early lead and it seemed like she was going to win it. But her rope just wouldn't burn. Maybe it was because she was in the "unlucky" seat on the outside where she's more exposed to wind. But it was the most Heather thing ever for her rope to just not burn. She just couldn't do anything all season and that didn't change here. Deshawn came back and won in a very dramatic, emotional finish. Heather got a nice ovation as she left. I'll never forget Heather. Just a beautifully pure and useless soul. She started off invisible, learned about racism, and then almost won the fire making challenge. She was remarkably bad in challenges the whole season and didn't really do anything, but that's okay. She left an impact on our lives forever.
Final Tribal Council
So we have our Final 3 of Xander, Deshawn, and Erika. They had their nice little Day 26 breakfast which is a milestone moment. Probably the thing I dream about most in life. Although as Glenny said on the podcast, it would be nice if someone cooked it for them instead of having to cook themselves. After they each got their little emotional winner's package, it was time for FTC.
Here were some key takeaways I had from Final Tribal.
-Evvie got us started off with an absolutely useless speech. I hate the "You all played great. Good luck tonight" speeches. Just get into the questions and fireworks.
-Ricard still appeared to be very bitter. He was a great advocate for Erika and maybe swayed the jury. He worried the jury didn't know what a good game she played. I'm sure he did some serious lobbying at Ponderosa, and given how much everyone respected his game, I wouldn't be surprised if everyone just said "Well, let's just listen to Ricard. He knows what he's talking about."
-I thought Erika herself did a good job at FTC. Not a crazy great performance but she explained her game and answered every question well. She did enough to win.
-Xander I thought did fine too. He stumbled over the one question from Liana, but regained his composure and gave a solid answer. It just seemed like the jury didn't respect his game at all, and there was nothing he could've done to change that. Too little, too late. This quote from Danny really explains how the jury felt towards Xander.
I think Xander played a better game than he got credit for, but it's hard to tell. We see so little of what actually happens out on that island. They were there for 26 days and we saw only about 13 hours of that total. So I guess if everyone really held that opinion of Xander, maybe there was something to it? It's hard to say. Because from a viewer perspective, I thought he definitely played a solid game. Not great, but solid and better than he got credit for. He should've got at least one vote.
-It was clear Deshawn had no chance to win. Shan was still very bitter towards him. She said he threw temper tantrums and sulked a lot, and also accused him of betraying their all-black alliance and a real life social issue to advance himself further in the game, which Deshawn strongly denied. I know it's a slightly different situation, but I'd sell out my Italian brothers and sisters so fast to win Survivor. Would wipe my ass with the Italian flag if it got me further in the game. But alas, different case here. I did feel very bad for Deshawn because you could tell he realized his chances were slim and he was just down bad. I thought he also played better than he got credit for, but it obviously wasn't enough.
-Overall, I don't mind the new format of the more open discussion. Allows for more information to be shared. Can get more cross examinations and come to a better conclusion of who the winner should be, which is the entire point of FTC. But I do miss the individual moments we'd get with jury members (Sue, Corinne, Big Tom, Spencer/David Murphy etc).
-They definitely should bring back closing statements. Give everyone one last chance to explain their game in a minute or so and say anything they didn't get the chance to say. I miss that.
Final Vote Reveal
Jeff stunned everyone, besides the audience, by revealing that they'd read the votes right there for the first time since Season 1. Everyone was shocked. Pretty cool moment. The vote itself was pretty anti-climactic. Erika won 7-1, with Danny's vote going to Deshawn. Xander was shutout.
They then also had the after show right there with pizza and champagne. For a second, it looked like Erika thought they'd be surprised with their families. But nope. Just shitty pizza. Nothing really of note from the after show. The emotions from the game were still very recent and raw which led to decent discussion. But I do like seeing everyone dressed up months later after getting to see what was shown on TV and what the public reaction was.
-Erika is an underwhelming winner. But I don't think that's necessarily her fault. Her edit was weird. She was barely shown pre-merge. That's partly because she never went to tribal, but they still could've given her some more screen time. Other people on that tribe were still shown a bit. Then she had the weird hourglass twist. Then she kind of got in a majority and was on the right side of votes down the stretch. We heard other people describe her as a threat, but we didn't really see it for ourselves. I think the audience likes when we can really see the winner's story unfold. From start to finish, I like seeing their story be told in full. I don't think that was the case with Erika. She just kind of floated until the end and then we were told she's this big threat who the jury respected. But we were never shown why. I blame that on the editors. I know she didn't play a flashy game, but there obviously was something there that made 7 people vote for her. I like to feel like I understand why the winner won. And I don't necessarily think we got that this time.
-That being said, I think Erika played a better game that people are giving her credit for. A lot of people online are saying she did nothing and was dragged to the end. But in her defense, she did vote correctly in every single tribal council starting with the Sydney vote. She didn't vote wrong the entire game. She deserves credit for that. She might not have orchestrated every vote, but being on the right side of the vote is the key to this game. She then also was a big part of the majority alliance that controlled the end game. Again, she's not an all time winner by any means. But I'm not screaming that she didn't deserve it either.
-Xander and Deshawn were not robbed. Xander probably would've gotten my vote based on what we saw. But again, that's based on what we saw. 8 people out there actually played the game with him and 0 voted for him. We had to be missing something. And he did make a few mistakes throughout the game. He didn't really do anything of note with his idol. And his Final 4 decision ended up costing him the game. I do think he had a huge moment with the Knowledge Is Power move against Liana, but I don't think he was robbed. He played a nice game. Was a good guy. Young kid who did well. I'd like to see him back on another season and I'm sure we will. And as for Deshawn, he clearly just rubbed too many people the wrong way.
-I think the big problem, which I've said all season, is there were just too many twists and advantages. It took away from the players and made it more about the advantages. So it was likely that we'd end up not connecting to the winner because so much time was spent on these stupid twists that didn't end up mattering in a lot of cases. Just let Survivor be about the players and let them play their own game and that usually gives us a great final product.
I'm not jumping for joy after that trailer. Looks like more of the same next season with the twists and talk of the "dangerous game" and whatnot. It was filmed right after 41 so it will all be new to the players, but it won't be new to us. And since it was filmed before 41 aired, Survivor didn't get to see how much fans really hated all the changes this season. But hey, it could still be a great cast of characters with great gameplay. Let's hope it's an improvement on Season 41 and then they better right the ship for Season 43.
And that's a wrap. Thanks to everyone who followed my blogs all season long. And a special thanks to everyone who gave Snuffing Torches a chance and listened all year. (Make sure you subscribe and leave a 5-star review!). We'll be back for Season 42 and will try to do some interviews in the meantime to pass the time. Even if it wasn't the best season, Survivor is truly the greatest show on TV and I hope you guys enjoy it as much as I do.