Jeff Pitman's Survivor 46 recaps
What comes next
By Jeff Pitman | Published: June 3, 2024
Survivor 46 Episode 13 recap/ analysis

What comes next

It's now been almost two weeks since the Survivor 46 finale, and I'm just now getting around to cobbling together a recap. Not because the finale itself was inadequate, but because the extracurricular drama around the cast was so dispiriting. It's draining, it's exhausting. Every contestant is of course well within their rights to be upset about how things turned out for them, but when popular players become publicly aggrieved, and that sets off waves of toxic fandom from the audience, it's all a bit too much to sit through, and it's easier to just tune out, do something else, and not think about the show for a while. So here we are.

Eventually things will settle down, and we'll look back on this as a mixed season that dragged catastrophically at the beginning, yet managed to recover based on the strength of some big characters, sloppy gameplay, and a confounding, historic series of blindsides of people holding idols. It featured a delightfully hands-off (for production), advantage-free last four episodes, and a overwhelmingly contentious cast.

All in all, it's fine. It'll never be my favorite season, but I also didn't care for Gabon, and people who live for inter-contestant drama love that season. It's just not for me. Like what you like. But on the whole, outside of the nastiness, this was a season that eventually dug itself out of the massive hole the first four episodes (and Siga, probably) put it into.

It's disappointing that the outside-the-game conflicts have overshadowed the season itself, because on paper, this was one of the best New Era finales, mainly because production took a less-is-more approach, and did away with a lot of the unnecessary fluff that has overstuffed recent finales (switching camps for no reason after the F6 Tribal, the Morning 24 scramble for a challenge advantage). It also featured the closest vote of the New Era (tied with 45), AND at least allegedly had jurors who changed their votes based on the Final Tribal performances of the finalists.

Even the ending, while controversial, made perfect sense. We'd seen Kenzie all season as a core narrator, and we'd seen her social game in action - comforting Ben after his night terrors, besties with Tiffany. Many have compared this jury vote to Kaoh Rong's, but to my eyes, Kenzie's win was far better explained than was Michele's. We knew how well-liked Kenzie was by the jurors. Similarly, where Aubry's loss was a confusing down note that seemingly came out of nowhere, Charlie's inability to complete a victorious run was well-telegraphed. Charlie played a solid strategic game, but he focused so much on threat management that he went too far, shrouding his entire strategic game in mist, and was unable to convince the jury that he deserved credit for what he'd done. As Josh Kettles pointed out on twitter before the finale, Charlie's mid-game "Am I what goes Kaoh Rong?" was stunningly prophetic.

Of course, this finale was still less than perfect. It still had forced Final 4 firemaking and the Aftershow, both of which continue to drag down the overall experience, especially the latter, because it was physically painful to to have to watch poor Charlie struggle mightily with processing his loss and coming up with a composed, polite answer to Probst, who was directly pushing Charlie's emotional buttons, minutes after he had barely fallen short of the million-dollar prize. Can we please stop doing that?

So to sum up: some good changes, some bad lingering status quo. Since so much time has passed, instead of rehashing the finale and Aftershow, let's spend the rest of this looking ahead. What things should Survivor consider tweaking to further improve the overall experience for both audience and contestants. It's obviously too late to fix 47, which is already filming, but there's still time to influence Survivor 48 and 49. (To the extent that a lonely, under-read fan blog influences anything, which is ... not at all.)

1. End the aftershow

End the aftershow

Jeff Probst keeps insisting that going directly from jury vote reveal to grilling the finalists about the win (or losses) is great, because the emotions are raw, and you're getting pure, unfiltered reactions from the players, unblemished by post-game apologies and fact-checking at Ponderosa. While it's true that the still-starving finalists are raw, Charlie's lengthy silence before responding to Probst showed that that's not necessarily a good thing. This has been said six(?) times now, but there's absolutely no reason to do this right after the vote reveal. Almost every losing New Era finalist (and some jurors) have complained that this format is brutally painful to sit through. So fix that, please?

The Aftershow could easily be done the next day, after the finalists have eaten, slept, and bathed. At least show them some basic human decency before prodding them like performing animals in a sleazy circus that's under investigation for animal cruelty. Chances are, people will still be plenty upset the next day, but they'll at least have had a basic chance to reconnect with the real world outside the game in the interim. Let them rest, compose themselves, get a headstart on accepting the outcome. If you want, sequester them from the jury, or at least prohibit them from game talk until they've been on camera again. But please, again, just let them rest.

If one extra day at Ponderosa is not in the budget, just ditch the aftershow entirely. SurvivorAU has a live reveal (with loved ones!), shoots off some pyrotechnics, hands the winner their check, then ends. Honestly, that's better than this. Nobody enjoys watching you torturing people, Probst. Please indulge your Jack Bauer fantasies on your own time.

2. Stop tearing down the Tribal Council set every season

Stop tearing down Tribal

This is a suggestion that originally came from Rob Cesternino, as a hot take in the Summer of Survivor Kickoff podcast with Shannon Guss and Mike Bloom. But it's a fantastic suggestion. Rob pointed out that while the decorations are great looking, and would probably be spectacular if you're actually there, they're not really visible on-screen ("it's so fricking dark!") for most of Tribal Council, so why keep re-building them? Rob has a point: The vast majority of shots are close-ups of individual contestants (or Probst), tight shots on 2-3 people at once, or very occasionally wider shots of the entire tribe - but even then, the set itself is out of frame. You really only see it in detail when people show up for the first time, and then only for a few seconds. Or as incidental B-roll during voting.

From my vantage point as a simple fan, the every-season Tribal rebuild seems like something Survivor probably does because they always have, and several years after the decision to permanently stay in Fiji, they're still doing it, because that's how it's done. In the early days of the show, tearing everything down at the end of the season was a necessity, because they were always moving on to the next location, and they (quite reasonably) wanted to leave the location as close to the way they found it as possible. Now that the show is permanently in the exact same spot in Fiji every season, there's no reason for this. As Rob said, "Build one kick-ass Tribal, and call it a day!"

It takes a lot of time, materials, and labor to build a Tribal Council set. It's like building a small house from scratch, complete with one-of-a-kind, bespoke internal decorating choices. It's so involved that construction begins many weeks before the rest of the crew even arrives on location. It's hard to overstate how wasteful that all is, when as Rob accurately pointed out, the audience barely sees it. Not only that, but because the show no longer has locations as themes, sometimes the decor is a repeat of past seasons - how many times has the shipwreck theme been used?

When the location was the theme, it made sense to incorporate local art and architectural traditions. Now that it's always Fiji, we're either repeating an earlier look, or doing something that has no connection whatsoever to Fiji, like 44's medieval Europe, or this season's Japanese (Torii arch, mostly) theme. Why? Couldn't that money and effort be better used elsewhere, like on an epic challenge build? Or bumping up the contestant payscale, which hasn't changed since 2000? A million dollars today was worth about $550,000 in 2000. The doubled prize money in Winners at War barely kept up with inflation.

That said, there are smaller parts of Tribal that could benefit from season-to-season variation, like the voting booth. That's well-lit, we see the contestants there (often admiring the set design) every week, and there have been eye-catching additions to it that were welcome (the chessboard in 44, which looked like the perfect place to distribute an at-Tribal advantage or idol, but was sadly never used as such). Change that out every season! Change Probst's podium and snuffer. Let the poor old guy have a recliner to kick back on during whispering sessions! I don't care, but there's no reason to demolish and rebuild the entire thing every season.

I suppose it's possible that part of the show's contract with whoever owns the property in Fiji on which they film is that they have to remove everything after the second season films. If so, fine: renegotiate. Make the Tribal Council set a tourist destination. Let the owner take a cut, then donate the rest of the profits to local charities. It's not that difficult to turn this into a win for everyone involved. If you can keep going back to the same Sanctuary, you can keep going back to the same Tribal set. At most only a few viewers will even notice.

3. More choices

More choices

One of the under-appreciated surprising returns this season (actually last) was the addition of one more individual reward challenge. (The auction got so much press, I guess we didn't notice?) Combined with food at the F5 IC, that means one person had to assign reward food to some of their tribemates, but not others, in Episodes 10, 12, and 13. That's surprisingly on par with the good old single-digit seasons, which generally had three individual post-merge RCs.

As Liz reminded us this season, these decisions are a potential powder keg for the person making them, which is why most strategy-minded fans have known the "correct" move for an individual RC is to intentionally lose it, every time ("always be throwing"). The show adapted by leaving out part of the reward announcement (such as the letters from home, sprung on Charlie after he won what he thought was just food), or tacking food rewards onto an individual immunity challenge. Whatever the case, the more choices like this the contestants have to make, the more stress on alliances the show induces, all without having to resort to anything extreme like taking people's votes away. It's something that was working, the show moved away from it, then rediscovered it. But hooray for this rediscovery!

With that in mind, let's have the contestants make more organic choices: Bring back schoolyard picks for team reward challenges. In the Tribal phase, rather than an artificial journey, let the winning tribe pick one person from a/the losing tribe to join them for reward. Way back in Samoa, Probst made a big deal about that season giving the contestants more opportunities to face the consequences of their choices. THe New Era has been almost exclusively about taking away contestant choices (and votes), and replacing them with games of chance (journeys, Earn the Merge, Do or Die). Adding an extra individual reward challenge reverses that trend. Let's keep that going.

4. Every "you have to earn it" thing is wrong

No more you have to earn it stuff

This finale, we saw the departure of the arbitrary "you have to move to a new camp after the F6 Tribal" twist, and the final five just went back to camp. Nobody missed it. Along those lines, let's dispense with a lot of the other "earn it" New Era twists, since this reversal turned out so well.

There is absolutely no justifiable reason to not give the contestants rice. The decision to do so in the first place was clearly overcompensation for the shorter filming calendar, a way to say "The 26-day season is harder! Look, no food!" Again, it's ridiculous to say, "The season is now 67% of its original length, so you will get 0% of the food," but that's Jeff Probst logic for you. Had the show listened to its own contestants, they would already know that this starvation plan was unnecessary.

Vytas Baskauskas said after Blood vs. Water that the shortened time between Tribals he faced (one day after Aras's boot, due to a double-boot episode) made it impossible for him to do the necessary social gaming he needed to get back on his feet, game-wise. So the now-standard two-day boot cycle is intrinsically more difficult than the original three-day one. Stop listening to the few, loud old-schooler voices who haven't played the new era game: It's strategically harder, even if you didn't take away all of their food.

This season, we saw the entire cast courageously reject Probst's attention-seeking twist of forcing immunity challenge sitouts in exchange for rice in the early post-merge (almost twice, even). Let's hope the entire no-rice twist has now quietly been retired going forward. Just give everyone rice to start with, not a single person in the audience will care that they're eating, but we all might benefit from improved, more creative gameplay. (Then again, if this was all a petty attempt to dismantle the SJdS cast's extremely cringe #WhiteRiceWednesdays hashtag, you also won at that, so please celebrate your victory and move on.)

5. Kill forced F4 firemaking

Kill forced F4 firemaking

This is not a New Era twist, it's one that's been stinking up the show for 12 seasons now. Which means that we have a large amount of data to back up this argument: Forced F4 firemaking is unfair to the person who wins the Final 4 IC.

In the 12 seasons since forced F4 firemaking was, well, forced on us in HvHvH, the person who made fire has won the game seven times. Meanwhile, the person who won the Final 4 IC has received the lowest percent of jury votes overall. In fact, only twice has that person won the game in that span: Dee Valladares in 45, and Nick Wilson in David vs. Goliath, who won in part because firemaking winner Mike White actively campaigned against himself at Final Tribal.

What does that mean? It means production has created a scenario where, if you're in the final four, and you want to win Survivor, you should absolutely be throwing the F4 IC, every single time. People who win the final immunity are at a huge disadvantage with the jury. Here are the stats to back that up:

Position Wins % of jury votes
Fire winner (total) 58% (7/12) 40%
F4 IC winner (+ fire) 50% (1/2) 41%
Taken to F3 29% (4/14) 33%
F4 IC winner (no fire) 20% (2/10) 26%

The F4 IC winners have won the game just three times total (one of those times after the winner, following instructions from the jury, put himself in fire-making anyway), and received the lowest average percentage of jury votes, receiving just 26% of them if they don't also make fire. In contrast, the fire-making winner has received 40% of the jury votes, on average, good enough for 58% of the last 12 wins. The person given a free pass to the F3 by the IC winner falls somewhere in the middle, with 33% of the jury votes (right where random distribution of votes would put them), but keep in mind this group's score is buoyed by some winners who were incredibly popular with their peers: Tommy, Maryanne, Yam Yam. (In Tommy's case, relative to his opponents.)

That jurors favor the fire winner is understandable: It's a highly dramatic event done entirely for their benefit. The person who wins had been in dire jeopardy, at risk of being eliminated without a vote. It's actual "do or die." In contrast, only one of the eight jurors ever sees the last immunity challenge, and no matter how impressive that win is, the jury is much less likely to care about it than something they saw with their own eyes.

We have forced fire-making at F4 in the first place because Probst was mad that his favorites (Ozzy Lusth, Malcolm Freberg, Kelley Wentworth, David Wright) kept getting eliminated right before Final Tribal (in what was at the time the only vote at which idols were not active). So the show came up with this as a backdoor entryway to the final three. Hilariously, in addition to firemaking eliminating some outstanding players directly (Devon Pinto, Rick Devens, Jesse Lopez), voting out strong contenders has simply shifted to final five now (Janet Carbin, Ricard Foyé, Maria Shrime Gonzalez).

The solution to all this is painfully obvious: Kill the forced F4 fire-making. Bring back the final four vote. If someone can talk their way into forcing a 2-2 tie, that's great! Their reward is firemaking, along with the attendant drama it produces. Let the players create the theatrics on their own, stop disfiguring the game by forcing artificial spectacles like this into it.

One last thing ...

While you're here, if you haven't already, please take a few (okay more than a few) moments to make your preferences known in Anthony Cusumano's poll for the returning players in Survivor 50, which should start casting in earnest in the fall, when we're all distracted by Survivor 47's airing.

-> Click here to vote in the Survivor 50 contestant poll <-

Jeff Pitman's recapsJeff Pitman is the founder of the True Dork Times, and probably should find better things to write about than Survivor. So far he hasn't, though. He's also responsible for the Survivometer, calendar, boxscores, and contestant pages, so if you want to complain about those, do so in the comments, or on twitter: @truedorktimes