I’m a bit late with my weekly Survivor thoughts, due to a long weekend with some Survivor friends of mine, but this episode may have warranted a longer reflection anyway. It was an incredibly tough one to watch, and as someone who tries his best to find the funny stuff every week, an equally tough one to recap. The episode felt divided into two parts: everything leading up to the second tribal council and then that tribal council itself. The lasting impression is obviously more focused on Maryanne and Drea’s discussion about race and the unique burden they and other minorities have to carry in Survivor. What came before that feels like a blur now, as it should, I think, because it certainly doesn’t have as big of an impact on the season as much as the night’s later segment.
The last two years in our world have brought a lot of the issues Drea and Maryanne talked about to the forefront of conversation, more so than ever, so it shouldn’t be a huge shock to see them spark similar conversations on Survivor. People tune in to their TVs each week for different things: the strategy, the challenges, the social politics, what have you — all usually for a fun hour on a Wednesday night. There certainly was nothing fun about this week’s tribal talk, but I would disagree with anyone whose opinion is that “this isn’t what Survivor is about.”
From the very beginning, Survivor was a social experiment, and while it evolved over the years into a lot heavier of a strategic game, because it’s played with real people, separating it from the real world is impossible, and especially the last two seasons I think we’ve seen more conversations about those “real world” themes because recent years have made most people more socially conscious. I’m of the belief that for change to happen, there needs to be action, and before action, there needs to be talk, so I do feel that this tribal council is a step in the right direction for the show, but where exactly do we go from here?
To answer honestly like Drea, “I don’t know.” I don’t know how it’s possible to create a “utopia” within Survivor where someone’s race or other identity doesn’t have an impact on the game at all. I think it can only happen when there’s less bias, whether explicit or implicit, outside the game and that’s an even bigger undertaking that will take more than just a season or two of Survivor to solve. The only realistic hope I could have within the game, at least, is for players just to be more conscious of what message they may send with their move-making. Most importantly, in and outside of the game, I think, is then just listening.
I felt a lot like Lindsay in this situation. It pained me watching Drea and Maryanne so emotionally shaken up, but I can only imagine what their true pain feels like. They both did a phenomenal job of explaining the extra baggage they carry into the game — Maryanne describing how the “1 in 18” shot isn’t equally the same for everyone felt spot-on, and I was able to grasp what that meant. I also appreciated Lindsay recognizing in that moment the bravery of both women as well as assuring Drea that she wasn’t being “aggressive” — that was a very important comment given how that specific word is often used negatively toward Black men and women. Lindsay’s contribution here was just a strong a message of, “I hear you,” and rather than adding to a conversation without really being an expert, I think Lindsay made a wise decision to recognize what Drea and Maryanne had to say while letting them lead and educate.
I was also surprised that Jeff listened as much as he did when he’s been known so much for trying to get his own quips in, and also making this “vote” an open forum discussion I agreed was best here because like Tori said, in another surprisingly self-aware moment, it would’ve minimized all of what had just happened if talk quickly then became, “OK, so about this vote …” I’m sure Tori had a difficult time deciding to play her shot in the dark as well, but by then the boot was between her and Lindsay, so I don’t think she was malicious at all there to do it when Lindsay had the same opportunity.
Drea confirmed she felt uneasy going into the vote and sensed an idol play was necessary, so I ultimately can’t say that I think a standard tribal council and vote would have resulted in a different person going to the jury. Even if Drea and Maryanne voted for each other, if Drea played her idol, Maryanne certainly would have played hers, and Tori would’ve been voted out after a “0 votes” initial vote. Thus, to Maryanne and Drea’s point, I hope no one out there is saying the outcome of this vote was changed “because of race” (though we all know that, unfortunately, there is).
Just like I’m sure that Maryanne and Drea can’t disassociate from being Black women in their daily life, they can’t disassociate in Survivor, so I think their reaction to seeing Rocksroy on the jury was totally justified. It evoked something in them that was “bigger than the game,” which was seeing people who look like them sitting on the outs, literally voted out of this “society.” I can only try to understand how hard that must have hit them at their core, but I can’t put myself in their exact shoes since I’ve never been there, so I am only ever going to agree with how they approached the night because it’s not my place to say otherwise.
Survivor can be played with whatever morals people want, and again, since the beginning it’s been about how far someone is willing to go to win. Both Maryanne and Drea essentially said, “I’m not willing to go that far,” i.e., continuing a pattern of an all-Black jury, and that speaks very highly of their characters. Survivor is complicated and sometimes like at this tribal council, it can be uncomfortably complicated. Again, “I don’t know” how this will impact the game — half the tribe wasn’t even there to witness probably the most significant tribal council of the game this season. It may be a little rocky of a recovery as I’m sure emotions will be high, but hopefully this will impact the season and show for the better in the long run.
If you’re a little exhausted by some of the social commentary showing up on the show more and more recently … imagine how exhausted people are living it every single day in the real world. If you only want to watch Survivor when it’s “fun,” then I would recommend taking some time away and going on a cruise.
OTHER IMPORTANT CONVERSATIONS
Plenty gets cut from the show for time, and this week was tough to fit a lot in with all that happened at tribal council, but when Dalton Ross released this week’s deleted scene, I was really pissed that the editors couldn’t find something to cut for these 3 minutes.
Romeo was having his own internal struggle over coming out, something that not everyone in his life knew about and evidently something that had yet to be shared with everyone on the island (we’ve only seen his one conversation with Hai). What added to this pressure was the fact that going on Survivor would make him “out” to millions of people — an emotionally compelling story thatv… was then not shared with said people? I don’t know the percentage of the fan population watches every deleted scene, but I can’t imagine it being anywhere close to those who watch the full episode every week, so just what the hell?
This was a HUGE FUCKING DEAL for Romeo and I’m sure he was nervous about this episode in particular knowing which day in the game would air, so while Romeo’s sexuality hasn’t been a secret on the show up until now, it had to be devastating to find out that such a huge moment for him in the game and in his life was deemed “not good enough” to make the cut for TV. Absolutely shameful.
I’m glad we at least got this in a deleted scene format — normally I don’t add anything about them in my weekly wrap-up, but this one felt too big to ignore. There was a lot of bravery on display this episode, and I just wanted to share the love to Romeo and make sure he was counted among those folks.
A vastly different “important conversation” was the one time I maybe laughed this episode, and the recipient of that was Jonathan. The “Taku talk” between him and Lindsay had nowhere near the larger importance as Drea, Maryanne, and Romeo’s conversations, but this one is probably significant to the narrative as early as the next episode. Taku will now make up half of the remaining Kula Kula tribe, and we saw here that while Jonathan has been carrying Taku physically, they’ve probably been the ones to carry him strategically, so who’s the real dead weight?
Not a great week for Jonathan. He was built up to be a big hero and in one episode fell pretty far from that. He was made to be a bit of an idiot when coming up with strategy (telling Maryanne she was the decoy boot and actually wanting her to be, even though it would mean losing all of Taku’s advantages) and an even bigger idiot for labeling Drea as “aggressive” at tribal council. 1) She wasn’t, and 2) that’s a major lack of social awareness to specifically use that word in that moment. Yikes. I think signs are starting to point toward it being time for the big man to be hit with a big blindside.
Rocksroy and Tori were such a cute couple. I guess it’s quite adorable that they shared the night their torches were snuffed, huh?
In the “new era” of Survivor, Rocksroy was super old school — all camp life, no campaigning. He tried this week to get something going with the guys (or as Hai hilariously called it, the “misogyny club”) but for no other reason than they were all guys, yet here we are with people mad about race being “used” in the game. We didn’t see Rocksroy have any major pre-existing relationships with the guys, or anyone really. I think his only “in” with the Kula Kula cool kids was Drea; other than that, this guy just did whatever we wanted and didn’t care what anyone else thought about that.
I admire that in a person, but not in a player. It seemed a little obvious Rocksroy’s ouster was on its way when suddenly he tried making a power move, and then it backfired incredibly when he landed on a mini-tribe of all men which meant he couldn’t vote out a woman. What a shame. Men always have it so rough on Survivor.
On the other mini-tribe, with Jonathan immune, it meant a woman was definitely getting voted out and after the events of tribal council, Tori was totally toast. She and Rocksroy both took their boots well, and I’m surprised we saw that level of humility and maturity from Tori rather than giving us an eye-roll as Jeff put out her flame.
When Tori went for her shot in the dark, I really thought the boot was then going to be Lindsay. All season, Tori has just screamed to me “0 vote finalist” so I just didn’t think I’d actually see her lose the game before final tribal council. That really would’ve been a fun one, though, Tori trying to talk her way to a win which I don’t think any juror would’ve supported. I think I may grow to appreciate Tori more as a juror, though, where she won’t be able to talk as much and instead just give us more looks like this:
NEXT TIME ON SURVIVOR …
We at least know Drea isn’t talking about Jonathan. There’s a lot of “he” talk in the preview which sounds bad for the whole “dudes are coming together” thing, but that could be a classic misdirect. The preview doesn’t really give us much of anything besides random pairs talking about who to vote out, so my guess as to who it actually will be is a shot in the dark itself. I’ll stick with Jonathan — I think the “he” Drea is talking about should be Omar, but I don’t know if everyone is onto Omar just yet. I hope that changes soon, though, because otherwise his textbook winner edit is becoming a little heavy-handed.
All three of these women — Maryanne, Drea, and Lindsay — were stars this week for me. Maryanne and Drea were for obvious reasons of leading brave, emotional conversations at tribal and Lindsay for being a strong supporter and listener, hitting at how I felt myself as a white, male viewer. It’s tough watching people pour their hearts out and wanting to but not knowing entirely how to help. I’m so happy and supportive of Drea and Maryanne standing up against something they didn’t want to be a part of, a tremendously difficult task both in Survivor and in life. I know not everyone loves when Survivor gets “heavy” but sometimes it has to, and if this episode opened up just one person’s eyes, then it made a positive impact on the world.
Ryan Kaiser has been a lifelong fan of Survivor since the show first aired during his days in elementary school, and he plans to one day put his money where his mouth is by competing in the greatest game on Earth. Until that day comes, however, he'll stick to running his mouth here and on Twitter: @Ryan__Kaiser