Episode 1 of Survivor 41 is in the books, and instead of the traditional summary/recap, I am here to breakdown the episode into 10 big moments, storylines, and takeaways. If you read my MTV Challenge recaps, jump right in, it is much of the same except with Survivor as the focus.
For Survivor fans, thank you for giving this article a shot; this is not your typical recap. I try to mix an informal tone with analysis and hardline opinions. There is so much I am probably wrong about, and I want you to comment with where you differ because seeing both sides of an argument allows one to understand the game better. My goal is to keep you entertained and engaged while reading about a show you care about. I also want to note that not all recaps will be this long; it’s just we had a 2 hr premiere, which meant double the content I had to key in on. Even then, there is still so much from the episode itself omitted in the recap.
Let’s jump into the breakdown.
10 It’s Good To Be Back, and There’s So Much New Stuff To Unpack
I thought I loved Survivor before the pandemic, but missing out on a Fall/Spring season in 2020/21 gave me a greater appreciation for the show and game. Premiere day is almost like a holiday as I sent out and received so many DMs from various internet friends talking about how excited we are to have the show back. Hell, I got more DMs from random people on Survivor premiere day than I do on Christmas! Sometimes it takes losing something to understand how much it means to you.
Survivor 41 feels like when you visit home after being away for a couple of years. For those who haven’t been following all the updates online, Jeff informs us the game is picking up pace going from 39 days to 26 days (wow!), players won’t be getting rice (holy shit!), and there will be penalties for losing challenges (hardcore parkour!). They introduce the shot in the dark twist where players essentially get a 1 in 6 wheelspin to forgo their vote at tribal for immunity. I know a fan favorite will get randomly doomed by this twist and will forever be known as a Robbed King/Queen. There is also an intense focus on inclusion and diversity, which if these are things that stop you from watching Survivor, you have some more significant issues you probably need help with.
What was fascinating was the conversation regarding Jeff saying, “Come on in guys,” to which most of the cast had no problem with the term guys, and even Evvie (Yellow Tribe) said as a queer woman, she does not see guys as an exclusive term. Later in the episode, Ricard (Green Tribe) brings it up again at the challenge that he is not cool with the term, Jeff agrees, and from now on, he will be saying come on in, hold the guys. When I think of all the long-time TV hosts, Jeff Probst is actively working to amend some of his past choices and words that have not aged well. I agree with most people online that if they were planning to get rid of it already, he should have just done it and not had a forum where suddenly it’s cool and then not cool. At the end of the day, though, I appreciate cyborgian Jeff Probst, showing a willingness to adapt.
9 New Editing Style
Survivor 41 uses some of the editing techniques from the Australian Survivor, where they are using photos and footage of players from home to give a better insight into their backstory and who they are as individuals. It is a helpful style of editing that allows an understanding of why a player is here and what their motives are; this type of exposition is beneficial due to the fast-paced nature of what will be a 26-day game.
The common complaint I saw about all the backstories was they were all gut-wrenchingly sad. Media, in general, loves to focus heavily on the lowest part of every individual’s life; the NBA and NFL Draft have begun to feel like soap operas when in reality, it should be time to party and celebrate. We couldn’t get one person giving us their backstory like: “Yeah, my girlfriend is hot, I make 6-figures annually already, my dental plan is the best you can have, and I have the second biggest dick in my friend group. Going on Survivor has been my dream since a casting agent approached me after I won my county’s Chili Cook-Off for the third year in a row.”
8 Nobody Wants to Count Triangles
There were a couple of twists thrown into the game. After losing to the opening challenge to earn flint, the Blue Tribe (Luvu) and the Yellow Tribe (Yase) were given a second chance via a challenge that would last four hours. They could either have two team members trek back and forth across the beach with ocean water to fill up two large buckets or get one shot to solve a puzzle where they have to figure how many triangles are in a diagram. The fact you could only guess once led to teams choosing the physical challenge as it guaranteed them the flint.
From the Yellow Tribe, Xander stepped up, saying he and Voce could do it, much to Voce’s dismay (he went along as not to create waves). On the Blue Tribe, DeShawn and Danny stepped up. In most seasons, doing this physical challenge could put a target on your back; however, with the emphasis on physicality in the game, these four men are now seen as strong players within their tribes. Danny and DeShawn decided to use some of their time during the challenge to idol hunt and quietly got caught by their tribe member Naseer. Sidenote: Naseer saying he learned English by watching Survivor is some wholesome ass shit that earned my vote if he gets to Final Tribal.
7 Prisoner’s Dilemma
There was also a twist where one player from each tribe took a journey: JD (Green), Danny (Blue), and Xander (Yellow). These three players embarked on a hike, bonded a bit, and talked about their athletic pedigree. JD and Xander asked Danny if he played in the NFL, to which Danny said he played at LSU and runs a Youth Football Camp today, which is a believable lie. If people see you as an NFL player, they will vote you out with zero remorse thinking you already have seven figures in your bank account. Xander humbly notes his athletic/fitness background, and then JD flexes he is a 2x State Champ in Track for no reason.
The players get to the end of their journey and get put into a Prisoner’s Dilemma, where they can either choose to protect their votes for the next tribal or risk it and possibly earn themselves an extra vote in the future. What they receive is predicated on what all the other players choose. Danny and JD protect their votes, and when they go back to camp, Danny does an excellent job of explaining the task and what he did; JD does a terrible job which leads to distrust within the tribe.
Edit: I am an idiot. JD risked his vote, got an extra vote, but sold it poorly to his tribemates. Apologies for this brain fart.
Meanwhile, Xander stole an extra vote, gave his tribe the 411, and then sold it to them as him getting the tribe an extra vote.
6 Immunity Challenge
I mentioned it above, but the Green Tribe (UA) won the initial off the boat challenge to earn flint, to which it must get noted that the Blue Tribe (Luvu) lost because they forgot to unclip both parts of their boat, keeping them in the same spot as they tried to row forward. Moving on to the actual immunity challenge, Tribes went over a net climb and under a low beam, then worked together to transport large bags of puzzle pieces using a pushcart. They then maneuvered the cart up flights of stairs with the bags before solving a 3D jigsaw puzzle. The first tribe to finish won immunity, the other two straight to Tribal Council.
Sending two small tribes straight to tribal council Episode 1 is pretty hardcore. The Blue Tribe (Luvu) pulled out a come from behind win in large part due to Erika and Deshawn’s puzzle skills. When the Green Tribe (UA) lost, all eyes were on Sara and Shan for not coming through in the puzzle. In contrast, the Yellow Tribe (Yase) has been an all-around disaster in challenges despite them having some of the most dynamic personalities. The losing tribes also get their flints taken away, which to be sad from losing the challenge and then going back to a cold camp must be brutal.
5 State of the Blue Tribe (LUVU) Union
Luvu winning the first immunity gave them much less screen time than two tribes who had to scramble & strategize. Danny & DeShawn became closer after completing the water challenge together and will be known within their tribe as their immunity challenge assets. From this tribe, Sydney is looking like a cutthroat force. Sydney carries herself powerfully, is physically fit, knows her worth, and has her wits about her. Erika has a fun and lively energy, and she came in clutch with the puzzle cementing her status within the tribe.
That makes you look at the other two people in the tribe. Heather only got one confessional, and she seems like a super nice lady. Sadly, I can see Heather getting labeled weak due to her age. In the trailer for next week’s episode, you can see players talking about Naseer as someone they need to learn Survival aspects from, and once they do, they can vote him out. So as it stands, I think Heather & Naseer are on the outside looking in. My brain envisions Sydney, Danny, and DeShawn as an immovable trio because they are physically stout and likely have the same goals in the game. Thinking back to previous seasons, Sydney, Danny, and Deshawn could be a much more likable version of Scott, Jason, and Cyndey from Kaôh Rōng (apologies to Cydney for being associated with those clowns).
4 State of the Yellow Tribe (Yase) Union
First, we need to talk about Abraham. He boasts his work as a cyber-security analyst, where his goal is to identify weak/blind spots and eliminate them. Abraham believes he can translate this style to Survivor and tells the men in the game that they should focus on strength and vote out Tiffany as she is the weak link. Targeting the older woman first due to perception of physical weakness is a typical Survivor mindset males carry in the game; what hurts Abraham is his headfast style, where he is trying to call the shots. Abraham is on a tribe with free-thinkers like Voce, Xander, and Evvie, who are all thinking through future moves in their head at all times. While they might actually agree with Abraham’s short-term mindset, they see how he is trying to call the shots as a potential impetus for their own games.
Ironically, I think Abraham could have easily gotten Tiffany out if he said nothing. Talking about Tiffany, she is an absolute delight; her confessionals and backstory have me invested in her, even though I think her potential as a player is a bit limited. College Student Liana is someone I enjoyed; I just want to see more from her. Then there is Voce, who is a player that most pegged as a boom or bust type prospect as he is intelligent but potentially lacks self-awareness. In this episode, he proved to be very self-aware, competing in the physical challenge when he didn’t want to and is cautious not to overplay. Xander and Evvie are two standouts from this episode which I’ll be going into greater detail below.
3 State of the Green Tribe (Ua) Union
Good lord, the Green Tribe is a mess. After their loss at the immunity challenge, Ricard begins to politic to get the votes to take out JD as he does not trust him. Ricard pitches the idea to Genie, and she says she doesn’t want to vote anyone out, and when he throws the name JD at her, she seems unsure, and he just moves on acting as if she agreed to the pitch. He then goes to Shan and Sara and says Genie wants to vote out JD to push his game plan; they seem cool with the idea until Cattle Rancher Brad walks in. When they ask Brad if he is down to vote out JD, he says they need him to keep the tribe strong for challenges and that they should vote out either Sara or Shan (saying it directly to their faces). His bluntness is jarring and discombobulates the tribe.
Ricard is trying to snake and mastermind. Genie is in her world. JD is the superfan who is unaware of how he is coming off. Brad moves in such a straight line that nobody can tell what he is doing. Sara is grasping for straws. Shan is in the middle of it all, trying to make sense of left and right. In this episode, Shan got a unique editing feature, where she now has her a personal musical theme, and this Reddit Interaction between users Stormofscript, Telphsm4sh, and afkstudios, illuminated how special it was that she received such an honor:
Rick Devens was the main character of EOE, and if Shan is special enough to get the same treatment, it could mean big things are in her future. Likewise, someone pointed out the Eagle Cry that Coach would get on Tocantins. While neither Coach or Devens ever won a season, they made lasting impacts within the franchise. Hopefully, Shan goes down a similar path with more success.
2 Individual Focus: JD, Xander, Evvie
For this second to the last takeaway, I’m going into detail on three players who stood out the most to me. We will start with Evvie as she had the first confessional this season, which generally does not indicate where a player finishes in a season. However, Tony did win Winners at War after having the first confessional. Evvie is smart and willing to speak her mind. When Abraham pitched for them to vote out Tiffany, she mobilized the votes to save her, stating Tiffany was a familiar voice/face she could manage. Evvie will be playing a game of asset manipulation while appealing to the emotions of others. Evvie has some Aubrey Bracco arc-type vibes, except Evvie is coming out of the gate swinging. Maybe Evvie is a less overtly nerdy Christian Hubicki type. Hoping at one point, she asks Jeff what a macaron is.
Moving on to Xander, God, this guy might be my winner pick after Episode 1. The guy is handsome, well-spoken, in great shape for challenges, and doesn’t come off as too threatening either. How Xander convinced his tribe that his extra vote was an asset for all of them is some Grade A manipulation that you rarely see this early in the game. Some overambitious strategic players will have Xander’s game looking not-so-obvious. People who are physical marvels similar to him will allow him not to be the immediate comp beast people go after once the merge hits. Xander is someone everybody in the game would like to have as an ally, which makes him dangerous.
Last, we need to talk about JD. His first confessional made me think of him as a potential winner as he has vibrant and lively energy. Then he kept talking and talking, and it put him in less than desirable positions. People could not trust him because he was doing too much. If JD just put his head down and spoke less, people would love him since he is charismatic and a tribe asset as an athlete. JD walked away from the episode with the most confessionals of any player (11), and I think he will find a way to recover as part of me believes they would not have featured him this much if he was an early boot. One of his most intriguing quotes was that he mentioned he wants to play a game like Ozzy or Woo, which made my brain think: “You want to come in 2nd Place next to an all-time great!?!” Wholeheartedly, I like JD a lot, and there could be an Adam Klein-esque path to victory; simultaneously, I could see him getting voted out Episode 2 as well.
1 Snuffed Torches
Subtitle: Au Revoir Abraham & So Long, Sara!
Let’s first talk about the Yellow Tribe (Yase). The discussions at camp become split between Abraham and Tiffany, and the votes result in Abraham going home by a 5–1 vote. Abraham is an old-school player whose focus was on strength, providing at camp and keeping everything steady. He did not get the memo about the speed of modern Survivor, how people don’t like to get checked up on/policed, and more than anything, keeping everything steady does not fit a game where tribe swaps and merges happen so quickly. When I look at everyone left on the Yellow Tribe, I think many of them are good savvy players, and someone like Abraham could shackle their gameplay.
The Green Tribe (Ua) had a much more chaotic tribal which had a lot of whispering and scrambling. Of all the changes Survivor made, the one most wish for is Tribal whispering to stop. Which I’m going to be an immediate hypocrite by saying all the scrambling Episode 1 had me excited and on the edge of my seat; I just know by Episode 5, I’m going to be completely over it. The result is a 4–1–1 vote, with Sara getting knocked out due to perceived weakness as she failed the puzzle. Sara seemed like a nice girl and kind of looks like Joey King from the Kissing Booth franchise. Her getting voted out shows how seriously players are taking the challenge aspect of this game. If Jeff had given them rice and not taken away their flint, it is possible Brad or JD would get taken out instead of Sara. Sara voted for Brad, and Genie’s vote went rogue in the direction of Ricard. I think Genie is out of the loop and does not trust Ricard; for that reason, if Ua loses again, she is who I expect to get voted out next. That is unless Ricard tries to force a JD vote out so hard that it could backfire on himself.
The recap is over, and now what I’m excited about most is a new episode next Wednesday. Make sure to come back every Friday for one of these recaps; come on in, buddies.