Time for our yearly pre-finale look at how perception will shape how the season ends!
(How’s that for a swift preamble?)
1) The jury
Needless to say, the jury’s collective perception is the most powerful one: they get to decide who wins.
With Danny’s departure, three of the four “Campout Alliance” (aka Core Four) are on the jury; what are their priorities? Shan (as the strongest voice) will likely focus on representation (race, gender, and LGBQT), which means Xander and Heather are in trouble. Ricard gets their vote if he’s there at the end; after that, I think Erika wins over Deshawn (whose game has been too messy).
It won’t just be Shan pushing for this season’s winner to be a statement about acceptance and inclusion, though. Evvie, Naseer, and Tiffany will be inclined to embrace that approach, too; solidarity matters. As a result, I think they share a set of criteria, leading to a common ranking:
Ricard >>> Erika > Deshawn >> Xander >>> Heather
More on the jury below…
How she perceives herself: Does Heather believe she can win the game? How the heck could we possibly know? We never see her articulating any endgame plans; her few confessionals are about other players or connect to her emotional journey. I want to say that she knows she can’t win, but I’m not entirely certain of that. There are undoubtedly moments when she thinks she can sway the jury with an argument based on her age and how she survived being targeted (since she caught a handful of votes), particularly if she’s sitting next to Xander and Erika. Almost no one at the bottom sees themselves with no chance to win; the human ego is quite good at protecting itself. It would be fascinating, though, to hear her talk through how she feels about her position in the game. The fact that we haven’t heard anything at least hints that she’s content to sit at Final Tribal as a goat.
How she perceives the other players: She undoubtedly believes that Ricard will win the game if he gets there. Given that she wanted to target Deshawn this past week, she probably assumes he would beat her, too (although perhaps not, given that she ultimately agreed to vote out Danny instead). There’s a good chance that she buys into the narratives around Xander and Erika, however: that no one respects Xander’s game and that she and Erika are equals. In her mind, sitting next to them gives her the best (only) chance of winning.
How the other players perceive her: For the first time all season, we heard players talk about Heather’s game — and, shockingly, Deshawn and Erika suggested that Heather is seen in a somewhat positive light. Now, to be sure, Deshawn’s comments were part of his plan to get Erika to take him to the end over Heather (so are exaggerations if not outright lies), and Erika’s support of Heather’s case was tepid at best (her default Survivor setting is “agree with whatever the other person is saying”). In their heart of hearts, everyone still in the game probably feels confident that they can beat Heather in the end.
How the jury perceives her: I’m sure it rankles every single one of the jurors that Heather got further in the game than they did. I will be stunned if anyone votes for her. And other than a cursory question or two, they’ll ignore her at Final Tribal if she gets there.
How the viewer perceives her: The edit all but screamed “she got what she came out here for” this past episode as Heather talked with Deshawn about what he said at Tribal. Before that, she was one of the most invisible players in Survivor history. She’s not winning — and that’s precisely what the editors wanted us to think.
How he perceives himself: As I wrote about last week, Xander clearly believes that he will win if Ricard joins the jury. He may think he has the Yase votes locked up and he probably feels that he’s earned some endgame points with the fake idol move and his solid challenge performances (the latter argument could be bolstered at F5 and F4, particularly if his win is what seals Ricard’s fate). He also believes that he was targeted for much of the post-merge game, so getting to the F3 would feel like a major triumph to him. And doing so while sitting on an idol which now guarantees him a spot in the Final 4? Why shouldn’t he win, he’s awesome!
How he perceives the other players: He knows Ricard can beat him, but he’s dismissed everyone else. To some degree, you can see why: Deshawn has made some enemies and taken heat for his emotional decisions; Erika hasn’t made any high-profile moves; and Heather is a non-factor. He’s unwise to overlook the danger that Erika and Deshawn present, of course, but he’s viewing the game through the lens of someone who believes that he was born to play Survivor, and his presence in the endgame does nothing but affirm that belief.
How the other players perceive him: Everyone gave up fearing Xander’s idol ages ago, which means they’ve dismissed Xander as a threat to win.
How the jury perceives him: Xander may think that Tiffany and Evvie will support him, but he’s wrong about that. They may be on his side, but they won’t be impressed with what he’s chosen to do since the merge (Evvie in particular will think he missed obvious opportunities to use his extra vote and idol to change the game). Add in the fact that the Campout Alliance won’t be eager to reward a Probstian prototype (white, male, young, athletic), and Xander may be surprised to find out that he’s drawing dead. Indeed, I have a feeling that he’ll be genuinely shocked by how the jury perceives him if and when he gets to the end.
How the viewer perceives him: If the Baker household is any indication, Xander is a divisive character. My wife and daughter love him; my son and I don’t mind him but believe he has no chance to win. He’s had his moments all season long, and the editors are extremely comfortable telling Xander’s type of story. But when he says that he’s the biggest threat after Ricard, the musical cue reminds us that this is delusional thinking; we’re not meant to take Xander seriously as a potential winner. We’ve been told what his argument will be, but we have not been encouraged to believe it.
How he perceives himself: Deshawn is self-aware enough to know that his game has been all over the place. As a result, I’m really looking forward to his confessionals during the finale as he breaks down his chances (particularly in the aftermath of his truth bomb at Tribal). Like Xander, Deshawn probably assumes that he wins if Ricard is out of the game because he’s been active, involved, and played from both ahead and, more recently, behind.
How he perceives the other players: Deshawn knows that Ricard beats him. After that, he probably has an accurate read on Xander’s rep (at the very least, he knows how the Campout Alliance sees Xander), and he knows that Heather can’t win. It would be enlightening to find out what he thinks about Erika heading into the finale; in the past, he saw her as a snake, someone he needed to take out before she got dangerous. He failed at that … does he now see her as someone who could possibly beat him at the end? I’m guessing he doesn’t (but he should).
How the other players perceive him: Ricard wants everyone focused on Deshawn at F5 (thus, the teaser clip of Ricard saying that he doesn’t want a specific player to find the idol/advantage awaiting them at their new camp; I think it is safe to assume that he means Deshawn); you have to wonder if he sees Deshawn posing a threat at Final Tribal. Heather wanted Deshawn out this week, so she sees Deshawn as potentially disruptive. Xander would probably prefer to sit next to Erika and Heather, but he clearly believes he played a better overall game than Deshawn. Erika is the one remaining castaway who sees Deshawn as a potential pawn in her own game, so much so that she swayed Heather, Xander, and Ricard to take out Danny instead. While it may seem like that backfired with Deshawn’s efforts to expose Erika at Tribal, that, I would argue, actually helped her: Deshawn’s outburst, followed by the reveal that he wasn’t the target, only confirms the general impression that Deshawn is a mess when he isn’t in control.
How the jury perceives him: Other than Danny, who will want to vote for Deshawn, there isn’t a lot of love for Deshawn on the jury. The clashes with Shan are well-documented; Liana, too, believes that Deshawn is responsible for the downfall of their alliance. Tiffany, Evvie, and Naseer will probably be open to hearing Deshawn’s arguments, but his attitude and approach have vacillated in ways that impacted their games, so they may prefer someone who articulates a more consistent approach (Erika).
How the viewer perceives him: We’ve seen the good and the bad, the highs and the lows, the triumphs and the tears. His edit has been three dimensional, providing both emotional and narrative substance. At various points this season, it felt like he was being edited as a winner, but now it feels more like the story of a journey player. We’re meant to think that he stands a chance (maybe he and Erika make fire against one another, and we’re supposed to believe that whoever wins that wins the game), but there’s been too much negative content to think that he has the respect of the jury.
How she perceives herself: Add her to the list of players who feel that they can win as long as Ricard isn’t sitting at Final Tribal. She knows she has work to do: differentiating herself from Heather (although this is undoubtedly overblown), building her endgame résumé (getting everyone to keep Deshawn over Danny qualifies), and making sure that she’s ready to articulate her approach at Final Tribal (the players have been telling us all season long that she’s smart, and that’s likely to pay off with a strong argument to the jury). As long as she does that work, though, she believes (correctly) that she’s got a shot.
How she perceives the other players: Ricard has gotta go; everything else is negotiable. She’s defanged Deshawn; she can now argue that he’s in the game only because she saved him. She’ll talk circles around Xander at Final Tribal (he’ll assume he should win because he’s Xander, and she’ll point out the entitlement that this exemplifies). And everyone knows who is calling the shots in the Erika/Heather tandem. She knows that three of her four remaining adversaries have arguments to make, but I suspect she has faith that in the end, her case will be stronger.
How the other players perceive her: No need to belabor this point now, but I’ve been saying for weeks that there’s a reason we keep seeing the other players comment on how smart, savvy, and sneaky Erika is. They see her as a threat. That perception is now reality. She was targeted, but she survived. She’s now in a power position, and she single-handedly controlled the most recent vote. If Ricard leaves at F5, and she wins her way into the F3 (immunity or fire), the other players will see her as someone worth their vote.
How the jury perceives her: To be sure, this jury believes that whoever gets into the F3 benefited from the mistakes of others; for example, Shan will insist that if everyone had listened to her, Erika would have been voted out long ago. Still, if Erika is sitting next to anyone not named Ricard at the end, the jury will hear her out and be inclined to support her. Not just because she’s a woman and a person of color (although these will be factors), but also because she played the game that was available to her and made the moves she needed to at the end.
How the viewer perceives her: A lot of people (including Stephen Fishbach and TDT commenter extraordinaire Alex Keisler) have made the argument that there’s no way CBS/SEG would edit Erika this way if she won, given that she would be the first woman to be crowned Sole Survivor in seven seasons (and only the fourth person of color to win since Sandra in Heroes vs. Villains). It’s a strong, valid argument. I suspect, though, that Probst and production chose to lean into the Shanarrative and use the Campout Alliance as the vehicle by which to tell the story about race and Survivor. With that front and center, focusing too much on Erika would call too much attention to her (like Michele in Kaoh Rong). Instead, they waited for the Campout Alliance to fall apart, emphasized the emotions attached to that, and only then allowed the winner to emerge. How can anyone look at last week’s episode and not think that Erika has a legitimate shot to win? She talked about how long it’s been since a woman has won (and worrying about letting people down by voting out Liana). She talked about race (theme of the season). She talked about her endgame. She talked about Deshawn and Danny, analyzing their games. And, lest we forget, she engineered Danny’s departure. If your winner is someone who ducked while the bullets were flying then took over the game (and who benefits from a jury that makes Final Tribal a referendum on race in reality TV), this is how you do it.
How he perceives himself: I will win if I get to the end! (Yes, Ricard, you’re right.)
How he perceives the other players: I can beat you all! (Indeed.)
How the other players perceive him: I would prefer it if you didn’t keep publicly proclaiming that I’m the biggest threat in the game! (Oh, hush now, Ricard, you love that the jury keeps hearing that.)
How the jury perceives him: They love me and I will get all of their votes! (But does the edit, despite how creative the producers have been this season, reflect a dominant winner?)
How the viewer perceives him: I took out Shan! I’ve won a lot of challenges when I really, really needed to! And I took out Shan! (Okay, you’re right, we’re supposed to want you to win, even if you did go digging around in Danny’s bag.)
So, what do each of these players need to do to win the game? Glad you asked.
Hope that Ricard leaves at F5. Expect the winner of the F4 immunity challenge to take you to the end. Sit next to Erika and Xander at Final Tribal. Watch as Erika and Xander tell the jury that they’ll spend the million on edibles and lotto scratch tickets. Profit.
Play your idol just for funsies at F5. Ricard leaves. Win the F4 immunity challenge. Take Heather. Get excited when Erika beats Deshawn (or Ricard) at firemaking. Convince the jury that a straight white cis male should win a season taking place during a moment in history defined by race, gender, and sexual orientation.
Everyone wises up and takes out Ricard. Win the necklace at F4; if not, then build a fire against Erika. Burn the rope, win the game.
Keep Ricard thinking that Deshawn is the target even though Ricard is. Vote Ricard out if he doesn’t win immunity (first step: make sure that Ricard doesn’t find the advantage at the new camp, which pretty much has to be something that helps in the immunity challenge, right?). Xander probably wins the F4 challenge; don’t ask him to take you to the end, though. Volunteer to make fire! You need more on your resume; this is the risk you were talking about. And let’s be honest, he was taking Heather no matter what. Might as well get credit for the thing that was going to happen anyway. Once you’ve got a seat next to Xander and Heather at Final Tribal, the million is as good as yours.
Win the F5 immunity challenge. Win the F4 immunity challenge or the ensuing fire-making challenge. Win.
12) Since very few people read post-finale columns…
… let me say a few quick things here:
** Thank you for reading the Dozen this season! A special nod goes to those who make brilliant use of the comment section. Always enlightening.
** As some of you know, I’ve started podcasting (you can find me at B13Podcast.com). Let me know if you’d be interested in a Survivor podcast to accompany the Dozen.
** If you like this column and/or the other blogs here at True Dork Times, please spread the word. If you frequent Survivor-related Facebook groups or message boards, let them know how to find us! The more, the merrier.
13) Finale Prediction
I’m sticking to my guns this week. The community here at TDT is so sharp, so perceptive, that I often find my opinions being swayed. I have to remind myself, though, that my read is often right, even when brilliant minds disagree. To be sure, I can be wrong, too, sometimes monumentally so. But this season, I think I’m on the right track. With that in mind, my boot order:
5. Ricard: He’s got the edge in almost every challenge, but Xander is strong, and I’m not ruling out a Deshawn or Erika win (particularly the former; don’t overlook the fact that the editors included player conversation around Deshawn being good at puzzles). Everyone has openly admitted that Ricard is the biggest threat left in the game; no amount of pleading his case will save Ricard from Probst’s snuffer unless he’s wearing the necklace.
4. Deshawn: Edited as the journey player, and they often depart in 4th place. His edit supports a loss in the F3, too, so perhaps he makes it there. Honestly, I’d really love to see a Deshawn-Erika-Xander Final Tribal, but I don’t see any way that it happens.
3. Heather: If she’s not wearing purple during the post-finale deep dive, I’ll be cranky.
2. Xander: I wonder if he’ll get a vote or two from jurors who want to make sure that he comes in second place?
1. Erika: Unthinkable at the merge, now easy to envision.
Baker When he’s not blogging about
Survivor, Andy Baker helps run a Survivor-based LRG and is
podcasting about TV shows. Which is to say he spends
entirely too much time in front of the TV, typing on his
laptop and muttering about bad narrative decisions.
Andy can be found on twitter: @B13pod.