Survivor 41 doesn’t know what kind of game it wants to be. Does it want to be a minimalistic game of strategy and survival against the harsh challenges? Or, does it want to be an unpredictable game of superpowers and twists shaking everything up? Survivor 41 wants to be everything, but it has become too convoluted in the process. “The Strategist or the Loyalist” and “Ready to Play Like a Lion” were jam packed episodes that spent a lot of time debating over its twists and how the players could work with them. Sure, Survivor deals with unsuspecting powers, but these new elements have exposed holes in the process. Survivor 41 barely feels like Survivor anymore.
One such troubling twist came from Liana’s new power: if she asks someone if they have a hidden immunity idol or advantage, the player must give her their power. This ability could prove interesting when she knows someone has a hidden immunity idol to steal, which is the case as she knows Xander, Naseer, and Shan have idols. The problem, however, is that there were no set guidelines about how or when she could use that power. Could Shan steal the idol right before someone uses it at Tribal Council? Can she stop them even if they call on Jeff Probst to use the idol to save themselves? Many variables could happen, but it didn’t seem like Survivor 41 cared to address them. In theory, the power sounds like a fun element hiding in the game, and it’s an excellent move for Liana to steal an idol from someone, but the possibilities of how it could go wrong make this a messy power.
The biggest issue came from Erika’s new power on “Ready to Play Like a Lion.” What was Survivor 41 thinking?! Her ability to reverse time, claim immunity, and switch the safety of players made the game incredibly chaotic and messy. (If this is your first time reading about this twist … yes, these are all elements said with a serious face.) Survivor has always hinged on one guaranteed truth: winning an immunity challenge guarantees you safety. It’s a constant that carried the series for the last 40 seasons and reassured the players because they can work towards a goal each episode. Taking that guarantee away because of power will hurt the game for seasons to come.
Why would future castaways now trust the show at their word? Furthermore, why would the castaways on Survivor 41 try their hardest in future immunity challenges? There’s no guarantee now winning a challenge would give them immunity; instead, there’s a chance it could bite them in the butt. It’s more advantageous for players to be sent to places like Exile Island or have strong alliances to guarantee their safety. If I were them, I’d look at every challenge with a side-eye for producer manipulation. In this case, of course, Erika is going to use the twist! The power guarantees her immunity, and she was outcasted by half the cast to go to the island—Survivor 41 threw her a guaranteed pass that she’d use this ability. There’s no suspense or drama—it’s all very messy.
The gameplay of the castaways has also taken a hit due to the complicated twists. “The Strategist or the Loyalist” showed how Genie crumbled under the possibilities of the “Beware Twist.” Instead of having an immunity idol, there was an unnecessary back-and-forth about opening it and using the powers. Shan and Ricard stood out as solid strategists for manipulating the abilities (like the steal-a-vote and beware idol); their quick thinking will benefit them well into the season and merge. Though the episode’s gameplay hinged on using and working around the powers, it isn’t clear how to follow the layers. Hopefully, these powers get used quickly so the gameplay can revert to focusing on votes and how to backstab each other.
Genie would’ve done better playing Old School Survivor. She valued surviving the elements, honest gameplay, and showcasing her value by improving camp life for her tribemates. Those moves work well in the early phases, but she didn’t make any strategic moves to push herself forward. Genie needed to think strategy first and come up with plans to backstab her fellow players, but that gameplay didn’t seem like something she wanted to do. She got outwitted by Shan and Ricard. Unfortunately, the game moved too fast for her to catch up before it was too late.
Heading into “Ready to Play Like a Lion,” I liked how the strategies shifted to think about the merged tribe and the numbers. The players didn’t immediately turn to their tribe lines, so this was a breath of fresh air. Survivor gets boring when the tribes stick with each other and pick off the weaker tribes one-by-one. The original Luvu players being ready to turn on Erika was an exciting move that would’ve helped them long-term; it would’ve made them look less like a threat with their numbers. However, I hated how Danny and Deshawn made their pitch from a place of trying to “stop the women” and ensure there wasn’t a “women’s alliance.” This strategy is a classic toxic trope in reality TV that needs to end.
I’m curious to see how the alliance of Shan, Liana, Danny, and Deshawn goes throughout the rest of Survivor 41. Big Brother 23 had a similar alliance created, but The Cookout was formed with a clear mission to right the wrongs of Big Brother’s past and create history for the franchise. This alliance on Survivor 41 doesn’t have that foundation keeping them together, and the four players are strong challenge competitors and strategists. Could they turn on Shan if they feel she’s too much of a mastermind? Might they blindside one of the men to eliminate a challenge threat? Alliances make and often break on Survivor, so there’s no telling how this foursome will move through the game.
Plus, Liana’s and Shan’s abilities weren’t a secret anymore. Tiffany could spill that information around the tribe, which would make them bigger targets in the game. The pair should’ve checked before talking game when Tiffany was around; now they have an unpredictable member who knows more information than she should. Just like the fall of the Ua tribe, you should aim to work with people you trust and who could hold your secrets. Tiffany will do whatever Tiffany wants to do.
Episodes 5 and 6 of Survivor 41 added new layers to the game that could blow everything up. However, it could blow it up in the worst way. The castaways are always a few steps away from making it to the merge, but this time-traveling twist could cause a lot of drama and tension. Sure, we love drama—bring it on! But can’t we go back to the strategy elements of Survivor? When did the game become a revolving door of overblown powers?
Survivor airs new episodes Wednesdays at 8 p.m. EST on CBS.