Holy shit, they actually did it. I have been debating for over 2 months now whether Shan was being set up as arguably the most dominant winner ever or the players would do what needed to be done and dethrone her … and the latter delivered! Survivor gave us a classically exciting episode focused on deeply complex, personal relationships and an epic send-off for the season’s star player. Ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday, it was like Christmas came early because this episode was truly a gift.
YOU STILL WANT TO WIN FOR YOURSELF
Shan was credited for yet another terrific tribal council where she successfully used her extra vote to blindside Naseer and send him out of the game with an idol in his pocket. The target on Shan has been obvious, but still no one had actually tried to take a shot at it. Finally, though, that shot at Shan was brought up between Erika and Deshawn — well, a couple weeks after it was first mentioned by Heather, but of course the show won’t admit that! There were two idols in the game to deal with, and between Shan and Xander, Shan was the more dangerous holder. An important quote for later in the season, I think, was Erika calling out Xander for having “no relationships.”
It seems obvious to try and flush an idol, but we’ve yet to see a seriously strong push to go for Xander and his, but Erika may have explained why here. Outside of having an idol and extra vote, is Xander really a threat? On the surface, he may look like the lovable underdog, but if he gets to the end by immunities or idols, given the intensified level of gaming that’s been going on this season, I don’t think that’s a respectable route to win 41.
You can’t win Survivor if you have “no relationships” and everyone else around Xander may recognize that. His advantages are scary but only if the tribe tries to vote him out. Maybe the rest have realized that he’s one who they could beat in the end, so they’re letting him keep his loot. It's rare that Survivor would give Xander’s archetype the “goat” edit, but in the biggest episode of the season, he got hardly any edit at all which I think effectively eliminates any status he may have had of being a big threat to win.
Back to Shan, she obviously has those relationships that could win her a jury vote. One of the best moments of this satisfying episode was Shan and Deshawn having a candid conversation about their loyalty to one another. We know that these two have been working with Danny and Liana as a statement to society and as Shan said, to give a reason for the Black community to celebrate. However, Survivor is still a game, and Deshawn talked about the complexity of this “duality” and still wanting to win the game when it may contradict the bigger picture that’s wanting to be painted.
This is why I love Survivor. It’s complex, and it’s complex enough when you just let the cast play with themselves rather than play around too many idols and other advantages. Deshawn and the rest of his alliance want to make history this season by having four Black people make up the final four, but each person in that foursome wants to win, and winning may come at the cost of achieving that historic accomplishment. This was such a good scene, and seeing Deshawn break down a little in confessional conveyed just how heavy the emotional weight of this game can be. This was purely the human mind trying to process what’s personally right and wrong for them when there may be no perfectly “right” answer at all.
I appreciated the show taking the time to dive further into what Deshawn, Shan, Danny, and Liana have been going through. In a season heavy on strategy, twists, and advantages, it was refreshing for this talk not be so simple as “Shan’s the biggest threat; she needs to go” but instead to explain the more personal implications of that “big move” — a reminder that Survivor is, was, and always will be more than “just a game. ”
REWARD – STAR ASSEMBLY
An individual reward challenge with a dramatic choice at the end over who to take on a reward trip? It was classic Survivor! The challenge itself was kind of simple, but I’ll take it because these choices always stir up some chaos.
Ricard’s choices were certainly … choices. In an attempt to be diplomatic — feeding those who have missed out on most of the feasts — I think he left the wrong group of people at camp and it nearly did cost him dearly. Shan being Ricard’s biggest (and only?) supporter, it may have been safer to let her keep an eye on the tribe while he was away, but then again, Shan may have also felt betrayed if Ricard didn’t take her on the reward, so he was probably just in a lose-lose situation where he’d have been the drama regardless of what he decided. It was exactly why I love these individual reward choices — instant drama!
IT'S NOT THE TIME
Following the honesty between Shan and Deshawn, Shan and Ricard had another raw and real heart-to-heart at this reward while Heather and Xander enjoyed their pizza in ignorant bliss.
Survivor has had many iconic duos, but what’s interesting about this Shan and Ricard one is that Ricard stated they never actually agreed to “final two.” Instead, it’s been a working partnership with a mutual understanding that it would one day have to end well before “final two.” The pair openly admitted that they didn’t think they could win against the other, thus acknowledging that they’d have to vote each other out. Ricard reinforced, “I don’t think it’s the time,” but, as we’d learn later, time moves quickly.
Shan brought up her biggest concern that men tend to beat women in the end while Ricard rebutted that given the soft reboot of Survivor, he thought this season would specifically be the opposite of that. I see both arguments as valid but what was more interesting was that Shan and Ricard were so casually commenting on their dilemma ( … right next to two other players). Sometimes in these Survivor duos, one member ends up regretting the move to stick with their partner until the end or not voting them out while they had the chance — Stephen, Domenick, and Colby to name a few infamous losers — and with Shan being the center of the story so far, it’s felt like for a long time that Ricard could fall into that group, so the question was for me, “If now is not the time, when will it be?”
ARE YOU DOWN?
While Shan and Ricard agreed not to go for each other on their reward, back at camp, what went down was about what one would expect after Ricard made his reward picks. Danny and Deshawn noted Ricard picking up a lot of steam — winning challenges, being very likable — and roped in Liana to discuss possibly voting him out. They knew they’d have to do it without Shan, but as the old saying goes, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission. By voting out Ricard, Shan would have zero other options but to stick with this final four, and Danny, Deshawn, and Liana all recognized that. This seemed too easy, though, to be set in stone this soon in the episode.
Liana expressed mixed feelings about going behind Shan’s back. On one hand, Shan was her closest ally, but on the other hand, making a move that Shan was not a part of would have separated Liana’s game from Shan’s should they sit in the end together.
After sitting on it for a day, Liana decided that even if it was idiotic for her to sit in the end with Shan, Liana didn’t care and chose to be loyal to Shan over anything else. She referenced the Summit moment where the two women connected over their moms, their Blackness, and their womanhood as something too important to her to risk ruining by being a part of a Ricard vote behind Shan’s back.
Yeah, you could scream “Liana, you’re an idiot!” but this was another emotional scene that showed just how hard Survivor is and that personal feelings inevitably interfere with what may seem like the best game move. For Liana, that personal bond with Shan was too strong to betray and my gut says she’ll suffer for it, but again, we understood where Liana was coming from because the show allowed the time for her to explain her internal struggle.
The tears were not dry yet as Shan soon shared the news to Ricard about Danny and Deshawn plotting against him. Interestingly, Ricard seemed less surprised that this plot was in motion than he was surprised that Shan would give him the heads up on it. To Shan, it seemed like a no-brainer because they’d been together the whole time, but Ricard repeated that one day the two would have to fight each other. In Ricard’s mind, this probably looked like like “the time” for Shan to do that, so maybe in this moment was when Ricard realized “if she’s not going to make the move today, maybe I should.”
IMMUNITY – HANDS ON YOUR POLE
This episode felt like it was going in the direction of initially Erika, per Shan’s wishes, but then Deshawn came after Ricard, so *shocker* Shan was going to switch the vote to Deshawn and save her ally. Of course, the show doesn’t like making things obvious, so I went into the challenge thinking Deshawn would win just to complicate everything.
When he didn’t, I thought, “could this really be a straightforward Deshawn vote now?” No, surely everything would just go back to “square one” as Danny said after the challenge, and we’d land on something even easier like Erika. That seemed most on-brand for 41 to me — let’s talk all episode about all these different names on the chopping block, but then the obvious outsider will still go home.
YOU BROKE THE CODE
That immediately felt like the fate in motion for us. Once Ricard was immune, Shan no longer felt as compelled to go after Deshawn, so instead she could “have it all” by keeping both Deshawn and Ricard in the game and go for the easy vote in Erika. However, in the shock of all shocks — no sarcastic *shocker* from me this time — Ricard suddenly decided “today is the day for Shan to go,” and I honestly had no words. Did I hear that right???
I did! Ricard approached Xander and Heather to say that between them and Erika they’d have four votes, so they’d just need one more. That fifth vote, though, is what Ricard struggled to secure. Liana certainly would not be an option, and while Deshawn initially threw out Ricard’s name this round, Deshawn may have realistically been the most viable candidate to cast vote #5 to get out Shan. Alexa, play Avril Lavigne because this was about to get complicated!
Ricard approached Deshawn and gave him an opportunity to come clean about trying to vote out Ricard, but Deshawn denied it which annoyed Ricard to no end, but Ricard said he could deal with that “tomorrow” and that “today” he still had use for Deshawn. That’s another beauty about Survivor; sometimes your enemy is your friend when you both share another common enemy, and today, that common enemy was Shan.
Deshawn didn’t like that Shan (via Liana) ratted him out to Ricard, and in Danny’s words, Shan “broke the code” with that breach of trust. With Deshawn and seemingly Danny down to vote out Shan, there was only one dilemma: her idol.
If six votes were sent Shan’s way but she sniffed it out, Erika would be who would face the ricochet from the bullets fired at Shan. A split vote made sense here, going 3-3 between Liana and Shan to ensure that one from this pair was sent packing. This seemed like a done deal, but Danny still was talking in confessional about having a “choice.”
Also given the story of the season, Shan leaving didn’t make sense. This has been her story. Would they actually vote out the main character? Danny talked about how voting out Erika could have been the bigger move here, the biggest LOLWUT-worthy moment of the episode for me but the one that had me thinking, “ah, here’s how the master plan falls apart.” Without Danny, Deshawn would also likely bail on the Shan blindside, and not having enough votes to pull it off, so would Ricard and then we’d be back to everyone voting for Erika while trying to flush Xander’s idol. Thus, that’s exactly what I thought would happen as the tribe left for tribal council.
WHAT A MOVE
This vote was edited spectacularly. I still felt the entire time we were getting an Erika vote, but as soon as we got to the tie, I was stunned, left speechless for the rest of this tribal council. I love that the show made the re-vote completely transparent, letting us hear from Ricard about how he and Shan gave each other “permission” to cast this vote when the time was right. Shan decided it wasn’t the right time for her, but Ricard decided it was the right time for him.
Instead of Shan passing the torch to Ricard, it was as if he ripped it from her, and that was as eerie as it was epic. I think the bulk of the credit for this move goes to Ricard which is ironic because Shan was the one to get most of the credit for almost all of the game’s “big moves” thus far, but arguably the biggest move gets added to Ricard’s resume, the one who we worried was playing too much in Shan’s shadow. The Shan and Ricard relationship could have only ended one way, and this was the most perfectly beautiful ending it could have received.
Equally beautiful was Shan’s send-off and while I watched alone, I could feel the applause from the audience everywhere. I don’t know if we’ve ever had a player exactly like Shan and it’s abundantly clear that we’ll see her again if she’s up for it. Shan got her own theme song in the premiere as well as her own literal swan song — those aren’t just coincidences. I also don’t think it was just a coincidence that among Shan’s final words were the exact same ones spoken by the Queen when she too was voted out for the first time.
To say I’m shocked that Shan really was voted out of the game would be an understatement. It seemed like the obvious play, and yet, it also wasn’t. The only exits that compare even slightly to this are Marcus’s in Gabon and Josh & Jeremy’s in San Juan Del Sur where early on in the season, the winner seemed obvious and then — PSYCH! — the playing field became wide open when they were blindsided. There have been other arguably viable contenders this season, but in the back of my mind I always knew it would be Shan. Now that it won’t be … we’ve got ourselves a game!
Shan had her ups and downs. While her “winner edit” was strong, she wasn’t exactly perfect, but that will ultimately make me look back on her edit as one of the best. She could’ve easily been edited as a gamebot given how central she was to the season’s strategy, but we instead witnessed many moments of emotion from her — some positive like at the Summit with Liana and some negative like when Shan would get defensive if a vote wasn’t going the way she desired. She kept it raw and real and it was fascinating to watch someone like Shan play.
Survivor has been long overdue for another woman to be the season’s protagonist, and especially after 2020, even better that she was a black woman. Shan has been one-of-a-kind. It’s so rare that the most dominant player of a season and the biggest threat to win is a woman, so Shan is definitely a “win” for casting and the Survivor Diversity Campaign that helped put this cast together. One of the reasons Survivor is special is how it can allow everyday people at home to see themselves in the everyday people out there playing the game, and Shan is an inspiration for women, for people of color, and hopefully just for people in general. She has to work on her threat level management before she plays again, but I do look forward to that day. In a game that’s lately been dominated by men, Survivor needs more “Shans” to come in and kick ass as much as she did. She may have lost the game because she played too hard, but I’d always rather see that than not playing hard enough.
NEXT TIME ON SURVIVOR…
Why do I fear that I’m going to be saying the exact same thing once Jeff reveals the new twist next week? Well, it’s because I know this show too well. I think the twist is out there on the Internet, but I’ll stay tight-lipped in case anyone doesn’t want to be “spoiled.” However, I can confidently say I will be repeating Liana’s words, so I feel like I’d be doing a disservice to anyone reading if I didn’t say “brace yourselves for the bullshit.”
I’d bet they’re both safe. With Xander having an idol still and us getting another fake-out on the alliance of five falling apart, a safer bet is that the boot will be Heather or Erika. It doesn’t need saying who I prefer there.
Ricard – I meeeeaannnnn, Ricard was the ringleader behind voting out the biggest threat in the game who was also his closest ally. That’s “Player of the Week” if there ever was one. He did exactly what I wasn’t sure he’d be able to do — not that I thought he wouldn’t know he had to do it; I just worried he’d never wind up with the numbers to get it done. Thankfully, most everyone else saw the truth in what he was preaching. Where does Ricard go from here? By taking out the #1 threat, he may have just taken that title as his own. Ricard will have a rocky road, I think. Danny and Deshawn are already after him and getting credit for this move will not shrink the target on Ricard’s back; plus, he now has three individual challenge wins. I’d still love to root for a Ricard win, but with the incredible episode he had this week, I may just be setting myself up for heartbreak by calling him my #1.
Danny – Danny was another standout to me this week and had Ricard not won immunity, he may have gotten the most credit for the boot, assuming the majority of the tribe sided with him to vote out Ricard rather than with Shan to vote out Deshawn. Danny still received some credit as a critical vote, in the end being painted as the one to weigh options between Erika vs. Shan. I’m glad for the sake of the show that he made the actual bigger move to vote out Shan, but it looks like he’ll take some heat from Liana for that. Much like the position Shan would’ve been in had they voted out Ricard, where else will Liana go, though? If Ricard is now the biggest threat, maybe Danny, Deshawn, and Liana will rally the rest against him and more or less commit to final three with each other. Who wins there? Probably not Liana, and while I think it would be Deshawn, Danny’s gotten some good strategic insight throughout the season that wouldn’t have me totally floored if the pro-footballer takes home the trophy.
Erika – While still not the biggest presence, Erika’s transformation from lamb to lion relied on taking out her biggest personal threat, who was Shan. Who’s to say who was the first person to come up with the split vote idea, but Erika got credit with the edit which is by far the most important takeaway. If Ricard is the next target and there’s in-fighting between Deshawn, Danny, and Liana, could Erika actually have a path to the end with Heather and Xander? I feel like this is the only way she wins as it stands now, and while it would suck for the winner to be virtually non-existent before the merge, the editing this season has been all about trying new things, so I’d say there’s a non-zero chance of it happening. They’ve got a lot of work to do to have it be truly “satisfying” for me, but there are still 3 weeks left. I want to see some real teeth from the lion!
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