SPOILERS for the outcome of Wednesday night's episode of Survivor ahead.
Jeff Probst, you are WILD for this one. As we near the endgame of this near-reboot of a Survivor season, longtime fans have been reeling at the onslaught of new twists and advantages that the players have had to wade through. It's not that Season 41 has been bad — it has boasted one of the best Survivor casts in a while, and has featured several standout episodes, including last week's epic blindside of Shan. But for every satisfying character moment or strategic decision, fans have been handed some kind of fundamental change to the game we love, and the latest iteration of that came at this week's immunity challenge, when Probst announced to the final seven a new twist: participation in the immunity challenge would be optional, but for those who did compete, the first person out would need to play a game of chance at tribal council to determine their fate.
The idea of a player in the top seven losing their chance at a million dollars because of a game of chance is pretty unfathomable to this game. This is the same show that was so unsettled after the tie-breaking drawing of rocks in season four that sent Paschal home that they completely rearranged the rules to discourage further rock-draw scenarios unless absolutely necessary. Survivor used to live and die by the vote, and this new twist was threatening to bypass the vote for random chance. No good.
Worse still, the person who dropped first out of the challenge and thus was now subject to this fickle new twist was DeShawn, whose narrative has been among the strongest in the last few weeks, as he's struggled between conflicting impulses towards showing up for his community versus playing his own game. In fact, the fallout from the Shan vote had a long shadow over this episode, appropriate since Shan had loomed so large all season. Like all Survivor jurors, Shan wasn't allowed to speak, but she and her rad giant hoop earrings looked on as tribal began as an airing of truths after the Shan vote and then evolved into a forum on Survivor's new diversity initiatives in casting.
After initially returning to camp after the Shan vote and trying unsuccessfully to rally some resentment towards Ricard, DeShawn hit tribal council in a confessional mood. Shan calling him a snake as she exited really hit him hard and — as he did last week in interview segments — DeShawn talked in front of the whole tribe about how hard it's been to try to show up for his Black community (i.e. his alliance with Shan, Liana, and Danny) and his wish to play the game to his own advantage. The latter impulse won out last week as he voted Shan out, but a tearful DeShawn was clearly still emotional about it at tribal. His feelings managed to pivot into a more wide-ranging conversation, with Liana and Danny both talking about the pressures they feel to to be both Black and Survivor contestants at the same time. Survivor, to its credit, gave them ample time to talk, and the result was a fascinating, emotional, and personal conversation. Xander even got props from Danny for being a good ally!
Of course, the good vibes couldn't last forever, and ultimately DeShawn had to step up and face his game of chance: three boxes, only one of which contained safety (subtitled Liana: "That's 33%"). Just an absolutely rotten thing to do to someone who's played his heart out to make it to top 7. But after DeShawn selected his box, Probst opened one of the unselected boxes to reveal a skull, which would mean elimination. Suddenly DeShawn's game of chance became a classic Monty Hall Problem (subtitled Xander: "It's a Monty Hall Problem"). As explained here, the Monty Hall Problem, inspired by Let's Make a Deal, is a statistics brain teaser that presents pretty much the exact scenario DeShawn faced: three blind choices, only one of which is good, followed by the host then revealing one of the wrong answers and giving the selector one last chance to either change his selection or stick with it. The math says that you should always opt to swap for the other box. It's a probability thing: when you have 3 options, you have a 66% chance of picking wrong, so sight unseen, you should assume you've picked one of the two wrong boxes. Thus, when the host reveals the other wrong box, the probability is now 66% in your favor that the remaining box is the good one.
It's a good thing DeShawn apparently doesn't watch explainer videos. Defying math and probability, DeShawn chose to stick with his original box, and it was the right call: he was safe from elimination and now immune from the vote, clearing the way for what was ultimately a vote-out of Liana by the newly formed ragtag alliance of Xander, Ricard, Erika, and Heather. That is a weird lil' crew.
Truly, a disaster was averted by DeShawn besting the Monty Hall Problem. If he'd have been eliminated because he picked a box and not because he'd been voted out, it would have felt like an incredibly cheap end for an increasingly complex and endearing character. If Survivor is going to keep going with these rapid evolutions of the game, is it too much to ask that at least the central premise of voting people out not get messed with?
As for the rest of this week's happenings…
Player of the Week: Xander. This guy is unbelievable. Not only did he get his desired outcome (Liana getting voted out over Ricard), but he successfully played his extra vote to do so, AND in perhaps the week's biggest jaw-dropper, he actually said "this is too good to be true" (of the fact that he, Erika, Heather, and Ricard are now the majority alliance) and it didn't turn out to be the kiss of ironic death. He's now at top 6 with an immunity idol in his pocket and, seemingly, Ricard as a shield. Xander's looking good to maybe win!
Honorable Mention(s): Ricard. He survived what was easily the most dangerous week for him, where he was suddenly the biggest threat to win the game. Erika was likely right to want to get rid of him, but Ricard's bond with Xander kept him safe.
Sketchy Strategy: Liana's inability to make allies outside of her core four alliance finally did her in. If she'd made side deals with an Erika, a Heather, or even her hated Xander, she might have survived.
Alliance Report: DeShawn and Danny are now an outnumbered pair, against the majority alliance of — and this bears repeating — Xander, Ricard, Erika, and Heather. In a million years, I'd have never expected to put those four together in the driver's seat.
Coming Next Week: It's an idol hunt for a desperate DeShawn and Danny.
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Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.