Well, it’s time. In this second installment of the two-part merge episode, Erika has some news to share.
But first, a quick refresher on last week’s episode: Before the three tribes merged into one, they split up and competed in a two-team challenge where the winners received immunity. However, Erika was selected by her former tribemates to live alone on Exile Island for two days. Luckily for her, Probst visited and offered a huge opportunity. She could metaphorically go back in time by smashing an hourglass (c’mon props!). This would give her and the losing team immunity this week. This means the winning team would no longer be safe at tribal.
So that’s where we start after a welcome recap of all the advantages in play and a few pensive moments with Erika on Exile. (I’d watch that HGTV show.) At the first individual immunity challenge of the season, Erika strolls up wearing her signature beaded headband, which I obviously adore. (Between her headband, Heather’s visor, and Evvie’s bowtie, it really is the season of the unexpected accessory.)
*Cue the dramatic music*
“I smashed the hourglass, and I changed the course of history,” she proclaims. And she is right to do so. Who wouldn’t take an opportunity for immunity, especially after you’ve been gone for two days only to head to your first tribal? The reactions to Erika’s announcement are varied. Heather appears thankful to now be safe, while Deshawn is ready to compete. Sure, as Danny later alludes to, it’s not exactly fair. But Survivor hasn’t been played in its purest form in years. This twist makes the merge even more unpredictable without making the chaos feel unearned. Those who saw their immunity taken away can still compete for individual immunity.
In fact, individual immunities are a cornerstone of what makes Survivor so great. You watch individuals compete all on their own. There’s rarely anyone to hide behind, and the stakes always feel high. In the best seasons, an individual immunity challenge isn’t even an individual game. Some players spend the whole challenge negotiating who should win and if it’s even worth winning.
But we’re not there yet. We’ve just got a bunch of players who’ve suddenly learned they might be going home and now need to save themselves in a Survivor classic: the feet stack challenge. Stack three layers of blocks and plant a flag in the middle using your feet. Maybe it’s the intense music or the dramatic start to the episode, but this is a gooooood challenge. Evvie, Sydney, and Deshawn go toe-to-toe(-to-toe) the entire challenge. Except, as the stealth king he’s proven himself to be this season, Ricard surges and just narrowly beats Sydney. He plants his flag and wins the first immunity necklace of the season — we stan a gay first immunity challenge winner.
With half the tribe safe at immunity and a plethora of advantages in play, this makes for a heightened post-merge elimination. Once again, Season 41 is proving to be a blueprint in the meta-Survivor era where some contestants are trying to become their own icons. But Parvati or Boston Rob didn’t become icons by emulating former players; they were originals. And in their efforts to become icons, players like Liana and Evvie might be falling victim to overplaying instead of following well-trodden paths.
Liana (who has the steal-an-advantage-by-asking-someone-if-they-have-an-advantage advantage) isn’t playing as secretly as she might think — her association with Shan has left her original Yase tribe questioning her loyalty. The problem here is Liana looks to be taking her cues from Shan instead of working alongside her. When her advantage becomes public knowledge thanks to Xander’s scheming, she goes to Shan for counsel. Most importantly, Shan convinces Liana to come on board with her, Ricard, and the Luvu tribe’s plan to target Evvie. That’s Liana’s former Yase bestie, but Shan gets her to flip.
Post-merge, Shan is still in control. Yes, she and Ricard are safe this week. Still, they’re coming into the merge having voted out their entire tribe only to find the biggest support system in former Luvu members. She’s clearly a threat, but they want to work with her, not against her. That’s impressive.
So on one side of the island, the target is Evvie. On the other side, she, Xander and Tiffany know they’re on the outs and decide to target Deshawn. He’s too well-liked on the island. Luckily for the Yase trio, they know about Liana’s advantage.
Then there’s Sydney. She’s a member of Luvu. But if all goes awry at tribal and Evvie doesn’t go home, she could be the next target. “I think part of my worry comes from the fact that I’m so self-obsessed,” Sydney says. I simply love this quote.
Tensions are high heading into tribal. Liana’s and Xander’s advantages are public knowledge. Deshawn and Evvie both know they’re targets, and Sydney is worried too. Jeff stokes the flames of concern, leading to a live tribal council with chaos and many one-liners. Evvie publicly says she’s depending on her “jungle little bro” Xander to save her, causing him to pull out his idol and Liana to enact her advantage. It’s show-and-tell night on Survivor.
“Do you have an idol, Xander?” Liana asks him with a grin.
“No, but you can have this fake,” he responds, handing her a fake idol.
A fake idol! Fake idols have a long history on Survivor. Eliza telling Jason in Micronesia, “It’s a fucking stick” is a personal favorite. But Xander presents us with a new iteration, where its presence is more threatening than its actual use. He not only found time to make it but sold it well at tribal, so much so that Deshawn even gives him props though it’s bad news for his game. Xander fooled everyone — including me.
Chaos has struck. At one point, the tribe huddles into two separate teams, showing where the true alliances lie. We have Shan, Ricard, Erika, Liana, Danny, Deshawn, Heather, and Naseer on one side. The smaller group is Xander, Evvie, Tiffany, and Sydney.
Sydney is now even more worried, so much so that she pulls her shot-in-the-dark. She’s the first one to do so all season. Sadly, her one-in-six chance of safety comes up empty. This means it’s her, Evvie, or Deshawn on the line. Xander talks Tiffany out of playing the idol for Evvie at the last minute, effectively sending Sydney home.
Whew! What an episode. Live tribals are contentious. Some Survivor fans find them chaotic, but I love them. It keeps the game interesting and shows that, as Probst says, relationships are the essence of Survivor.
This is the best episode of the season — so far. We’re seeing the payoff of all the advantages and pre-merge alliances come to a head. Add on a bunch of smart, personable, and competitive players, and we’ve got ourselves quite an enjoyable season with no clear winner … at least not yet.