When I tell you that I’m SHOCKED at how the winner of Survivor 41 was so underutilized in the story throughout the season…you obviously know I’m lying because this is sadly not so surprising.
Survivor has a long history of not knowing how to celebrate or showcase women as much as men. 41 tried to flip the script on what we knew the game and the show to be, but it was stuck in its same, predictable, old way of not knowing how to give a strong social player the spotlight over people playing with idols and advantages. Erika’s winning story made sense; it was explained enough , but why would people who pay super close attention to “the edit” have to accept “enough”?
I was very satisfied by the end result of the finale, but as I put my thoughts together on the last episode and season overall, I can’t help but feel frustrated by how I feel the audience was robbed of so much incredible content from not only Erika, but the rest of the cast, and I genuinely worry this could be the way this “new era” stays.
Erika didn’t just narrowly beat her fellow finalists at Final Tribal Council – she smoked them! She went from a lamb to a lion who devoured two goats to win herself a million dollars, and in a blowout vote that big, it equally blows just how bad Erika’s edit was when I think about how big it could have been.
Like I said, her game was explained “enough.” She was labeled a threat early at Luvu; she smashed her way onto the scene at the merge; she was socially and strategically aware when she spoke, but the show could have done so much more for Erika. Not that I like to talk about Ghost Island , but with her win, Erika has “reversed the curse” of men recently dominating the winners circle and also becomes the first Filipina immigrant and Canadian to join it. That’s something .
Pre-merge, Erika was a non-entity outside of the one failed attempt to throw a challenge and get rid of her. Instead, Deshawn was the voice of Luvu. His story was established immediately and elevated when he went on that “journey” with Evvie. Throughout the season, he had many confessionals talking up his game and explaining his moves as he was painted to be at the center of all the action. Likewise, Xander received a robust amount of content where he too talked himself up about how great he was, laying it on even thicker in the finale.
I try to avoid the “casual” side of the online Survivor fanbase, but I made the mistake of meandering over there to find a nauseating amount of “Xander was robbed” comments or chants of “Erika didn’t do anything,” and for once…I can’t totally blame them? Let me rephrase that – I can blame them for being assholes on social media, but I can’t fault them for following the season more through the eyes of Xander, or Deshawn, over Erika when, frankly, that was how the story was presented.
The show spent way too much time letting us hear from two of its losers over its winner – specifically, the two losers that lost to the winner in the final vote! That, to me, is wacko. We heard that Erika was playing the game, but we rarely saw it, and that’s just shit storytelling for a TV show: telling without showing. With the big push for more diversity in front of the screen, I assumed there would be an equally strong push to accomplish the same behind the camera, but evidently not – the editing room could still use some women in there to say, “Hey! We’re interesting too!”
Xander’s “type” is the show’s bread and butter. He wins challenges, he finds idols and advantages, he’s good-looking, he was an underdog when it came to numbers – Survivor loves making people root for a Xander, and it’s effortless to craft that edit. But what if he actually sucks at the game? Rarely did he dictate major strategic decisions, and at one point, Xander was even criticized for having “no relationships.” His one claim to fame, which I’ll give him, was the idol bluff that saved Yase for one vote over Sydney, but Xander should really be the one who has people crying, “wHaT dId He EvEn DoOoOo?”
He found an idol! He earned an extra vote! Of course, that’s what 41 was all about: shiny new playthings over the personal stories of people. Xander deserved the 0 votes he got at final tribal council because simply surviving wasn’t enough of a resume up against Erika or even Deshawn, and it’s ironic the same people who, I’m sure, trashed Heather all season are the ones now saying “Xander was robbed.” He was also a complete doofus in his final days – even considering keeping Ricard at final five should’ve stripped him of all credibility as a smart player, and having a totally backwards read on who the jury was rooting for at the final four is a critical flaw worthy of missing out on a win.
Noura did the same thing with Tommy in the season that shall otherwise not be mentioned – she took the threat thinking that robbing them of a “moment” would somehow weaken their game. With all of the “stuff” Xander found in the game too, thinking it was impressive, he’s basically a blend of Dean and Noura from that final three. Yet, Xander didn’t get the same “joke” edit that Dean, Noura, and other losing finalists have received in the past. Why not? My answer is because he’s not nearly funny enough, but I think the show’s answer is that he was their typical “golden boy” and they wanted to make sure he had plenty of fans so he wouldn’t feel bad about playing a 0-vote game. Was it one of the worst games ever? Definitely not. I’m just annoyed by the biased praise he gets when past players who have done arguably more than him don’t get near the amount of love.
I felt so bad for this guy during the entire after-show, letting that FTC pounding sink in.
While 1 jury vote isn’t much stronger of a showing, Deshawn at least would’ve made an okay winner. He’s who I thought would be taking it. An “okay” winner made sense for 41 . Not offensive, but nothing to rave about. Pre-merge, Deshawn was positioned very well, and he was heavily involved in the early merge strategy, but he fell apart after Shan left which is when Erika really picked up her game. Erika may have been a lamb in the beginning, but her game never reached as low as Deshawn’s did at the end. Maybe Deshawn started out higher, but Survivor is a long game often about consistency, and Erika being the more consistent player came out ultimately on top.
I look at other winners like her, going back as far as Tina, the first woman to beat the “alpha male” and divide the fan base. I’m one who always seems to be arguing why “ she should’ve won over him, but I don’t think you’ll find a season where a casual fan has ever said the same. Tina, Jenna, Amber, Natalie, Sandra (2.0), and Sophie all faced similar criticism from the casuals because, like Erika, they were up against men whose edits were more prominent and thus more compelling winner stories. A little more balance could go a long way.
All the show had to do was take a little time away from Xander and Deshawn and give it to Erika, and more people would’ve ended up happy. The superfans get our satisfying winner story, the casuals get better closure on why the losers lost, and no one is having to defend why an entire jury of their peers voted the way they did. I love that Erika won and I love that it was a surprise, but I don’t love why it was a surprise. I didn’t want to believe the show would introduce its winner practically halfway through the season like it did, and a 7-1-0 final vote is not evidence of someone who just slept for half of the game. Erika won, but I still would say “Erika was robbed” of a story far more celebratory of that win.
WORK IT, CHAMP!
DROP THE TWISTS, KEEP THE CASTING
I don’t have an official ranking of Survivor seasons, but if I did, 41 would be a little low. Not the lowest , maybe not bottom ten, but bottom half I think, and it’s entirely thanks to all the new twists and advantages that were in play this season that took away from what otherwise may have been one of the best casts ever assembled. Jesse has been delivering dynamite, but Jeff is just blowing shit up in all the wrong ways.
What most makes me think of ranking a season high is how exciting it could be on a rewatch, and that is 100% cast-driven. I don’t care about what’s going to happen because I already know what does. Instead, I care all about who’s making it happen. When it comes to 41, I feel like the season was more about the “what” and less about the “who.” We started getting snippets about the players’ lives, learning why we should care about them as people and not just pieces in a game, through those new intro packages and pictures from home, but those quickly took a backseat to things like the Beware Advantage and “Do or Die.” For every step forward the show takes, it takes two steps back. This isn’t new – I just hoped it would become old while the show had a whole year to rethink itself.
I still have some favorites, of course, but I worry that when I look back on 41, I’ll think more “what could have been” than what actually was. When the cast was allowed to shine, it shone bright – it was just overshadowed so often. For me, Tiffany, Evvie, Shan, Ricard, and Heather, obviously, were among the superstars in spite of the twist/advantage-heavy edit. Danny and Liana had moments for me too, and Voce and Genie were also two I think that left before their time. I liked Erika’s “lamb into a lion” story but, again, longed for more. Among them, though, there can only be one “Player of the Season”:
As a serious name to make the face of the season for me, it was a close call between Shan and Ricard, the magnificently messy power couple and the most captivating relationship to watch this season, but in the end … I just liked Ricard more lol, sorry, Shan.
Ricard played a hell of a game and while I gave him some grief early for letting Shan run the show, that decision is what allowed him to survive longer than her, and I think he always knew it would. Ricard would have been equally as amazing representation for this season as Erika, being a beautiful intersectionality of peoples and culture in the cast. His personal story was immediately introduced as being a family man, being a queer man, and it didn’t take long for him to become the boss man for me.
Ricard gave me everything I needed. On top of being an impressive player, he was funny, confessional gold, his facial reactions were fantastic, the savagery/sassiness – I thought Ricard would become the villain of the season (“Am I the drama?”) but I think he was actually pretty heroic? I’m not one to be moved by children, but Ricard’s story about him and his husband with the later finale reveal about baby #2 being so close to arrival, if not arrived already, had me hooked.
It really sucks that his game came down to not being able to find that goddamn stupid fucking final advantage in the woods. Had he had that, or had it simply not existed, Ricard would’ve won final five immunity and then I think he’d have made the final three one way or another to go on to win the game. I’m usually not a fan of someone challenge beasting their way there, but in the “new era” I guess I would’ve been forgiving of it if that someone was Ricard.
Ricard’s exit was one of the more emotional ones of the season, and Jeff seemed to like him. Even before Ricard’s torch was snuffed, Jeff was practically praising him as one of the greats to have never won the game (way to spoil the boot, Jeffrey…), so I think if Survivor makes it to another returnee season, Ricard will be on the shortlist. This season had a lot of dull moments for me, but anything that had to do with Ricard was never one of them, and I sincerely appreciate the fire and fierceness he brought to the game as a superfan.
Of course, the biggest award of my blog each season is not “Player of the Season” but something much more special. That’s right – it’s time for me to name the next recipient of the Debbie Donato Wanner Award for Best Performance on a Balance Beam, or DDWABPBB for short. Much like Tony has been the longest reigning Survivor champ since May 2020, the DDWABPBB crown has been sitting on top of the gorgeous noggin of Michele Fitzgerald for just as long.
There were two beaming moments for me in 41, and the rules of the Debbie Donato Wanner Award for Best Performance on a Balance Beam are a little laxer than “Player of the Season” so in a Kaiser Island first, I’m calling a tie between the two “later days” ladies:
The amount of courage it takes to drag your crotch across a splintery, wooden beam is truly a level of bravery I can only dream of having one day.
Tiffany and Heather were stars on and off the beam and brought a lot of joy to me throughout the season. If you’re a long-time reader, you know I love my Survivor moms, so these two definitely delivered A+ material for me. My biggest gripe about 41 has been how it hasn’t been that funny . Solid cast, sharp players, powerful and emotional public speakers … but they didn’t bring as much comedy as I would’ve have liked. I needed more comedy queens! Like Heather! She’d be on screen for like 0.2 seconds and I’d already be making a meme, or Tiffany would be flicking a bug off her shirt and I’d be falling on the floor.
What I’m now and what I have been saying forever is that I need a season of kooky moms. There was a spoof Survivor show on 30 Rock called “MILF Island” which was, ehhh, kind of problematic, but Survivor: Mom Island? I want to go to there!
Joking aside (no, but actually, make that into a season please), Tiffany and Heather had my heart and I appreciated Evvie giving them praise them during the after-show. Two queens yesterday, today, and any later day.
NEXT TIME ON SURVIVOR…
That’s about that for 41. Terrific winner, terrible winner edit, great cast, godawful twists, things I hope to never see again but know I will … Survivor is a rollercoaster unlike any other, and in just under 3 months we get to ride it all over again! The 42 logo alone already has me moaning and groaning. Is the game turning into Maze Runner? Will there be a game within the game within the game? Of course, the fan favorite Beware Advantage is back and this time apparently has people calling themselves … potato skins? Jeff, what the fuck – MAKE IT STOP!
I already love her, but also, the whole promo had my face looking like:
Survivor 42 – drop the 4, and fuck me!
As always, thanks for reading my rambling/rants!
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