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Survivor 42 and the Art of the Perfect Exit

One of the best Survivor seasons in years delivered what may have been the best goodbye ever.
  • Even Jeff Probst was tickled. (Photo: Robert Voets/CBS)
    Even Jeff Probst was tickled. (Photo: Robert Voets/CBS)

    SPOILERS for the outcome of Wednesday night's episode of Survivor ahead.

    For about a dozen reasons, I should have been devastated, annoyed or both by this week's Survivor episode. Titled "Battle Royale," it featured the return of the Do or Die twist, the wildly unpopular wrinkle that was introduced last season in which the player eliminated first in the immunity challenge must play a game of chance, and if they lose, they're eliminated without the benefit of a vote. It's a twist that runs counter to the entire premise of the game, and the show is incredibly fortunate that in the two seasons they've tried it, they've managed to avoid anyone getting sent home from it. This time around, it was Lindsay who fought valiantly in the immunity challenge against Jonathan but ultimately dropped, and since they were the only two brave enough to risk their safety to win, Lindsay had her future in the game decided by a game of chance. Luckily, she chose correctly and was thus immune from the vote, but it'll be very interesting to see if Jeff Probst keeps this one in the rotation next year or if he tosses it where it belongs: on the scrap heap of failed Survivor twists alongside Redemption Island and the Medallion of Power.

    With Lindsay safe, the target fell on Drea, and despite some phenomenal scrambling on the beach with Omar and the deployment of not one but two advantages at Tribal Council, Drea was simply too big of a threat, and thus she was ousted. It was sad for a bunch of different reasons, not least of which was that Drea is a great Survivor contestant who played the game hard and was hugely entertaining. It was also devastating that this episode teased a Drea/Omar supremacy, where the two of them would band together, oust Mike, and make a sprint towards the finals. Alas, not to be.

    But rather than sad or tragic or frustrating, Drea turned her ouster into one of the best moments of the season. Happy exits on Survivor are less rare now than they used to be. In the early and middle seasons of the show, a blindsided player would, at best, mutter angrily and at worst get some kind of last licks in on their way out. But as the years have gone on and players have grown up with the show, the idea of getting outplayed in a blindside has become a weird badge of honor. Somehow, in a world tumbling quickly down the tubes, Survivor is the one place where people seem to have gotten better, become better sports, and are more appreciative of a game well played. We saw this with Hai last week after he was blindsided. Rather than acrimoniously lash out on the allies who betrayed him, Hai just marveled at the good move the others made and wished them well. So when Drea responded to the deciding vote similarly, with a big smile on her face, it wasn't a huge surprise.

    What followed, though, was less typical and more delightful. After Mike began to ask her if she'd cast her extra vote on him as well, Drea excitedly and playfully admitted it, and the two jumped around like a couple kids at having each tried to snake the other. Drea then went down the line, handing out parting lines to each of the final six. Most were positive, though she kind of jabbed at Jonathan for targeting her when she never went after him, and at Romeo for being a goat. She also gave Mike a bit of a crown of thorns by saying, "If you make it to the end, you'll probably win." But she shouted out Omar for being her secret-keeper, told Lindsay she was rooting for her, and ended by telling Maryanne to "keep being you, babe." It was a lovely moment of humanity that struck even Jeff Probst, and it's especially heartwarming when you remember how Drea almost went out, in that double tribal council where she was about to be blindsided after having been given a stark reminder about how Black players are often early targets. That Drea got this end to her game instead was a gift, if not to her than to those of us in the audience who rooted for her.

    As for the rest of this week's happenings…

    Player of the Week: Omar. Yes, again. To be honest, it'll be a surprise if anyone else snags this honor for the rest of the season. After being mostly on the sidelines for much of the episode as the target passed between Romeo, Drea, Jonathan, and Mike, Omar emerged in the final act, after Jonathan had won immunity and Drea became the for-real target. That's when Drea revealed her Knowledge Is Power advantage to him and the wheels began turning. Now Omar had options, and Omar loves options. He could allow Drea to steal Mike's idol and make a move against Mike or warn Mike about it and keep him safe (while acquiring Mike's idol, at least temporarily) or he could warn Mike about it and then vote Mike out anyway, burning one of Drea's advantages and keeping Mike's idol for real. Omar ultimately decided to warn Mike and axe Drea, the wrong move from the perspective of a viewer who wanted the two to team up, but probably the right move from the perspective of a player looking to oust a huge threat to win.

    Honorable Mention(s): Even in losing the immunity challenge, Lindsay continued to show herself to be a huge competitor. Jonathan won the challenge, but it's Lindsay who keeps winning the respect of her tribemates, and for someone who a few weeks ago seemed like she'd have no case to make in front of a jury, she now might be the most likable player remaining. (Which, uh, maybe watch out for that, at this stage of the game.)

    Sketchy Strategy: Monty Hall. It was a rough episode for probability nerds, who, for the second season in a row were made to look foolish on national television. At Tribal, Lindsay was faced with the Do or Die, which, as we learned last season, is the classic Monty Hall problem, inspired by the old Let's Make a Deal. On that show, contestants would be presented three doors, one with a good prize and two with booby prizes. After selecting one door, the host (Monty himself) would reveal one of the non-selected doors with the booby prize behind it, then give the contestant the choice to stick with their original door or swap to the other one. Probability math says you always choose to swap, because your initial selection is only 33% likely to be right, and thus twice as likely to be one of the other two doors. When one of those two doors is removed, there's a 66% that the remaining door is the right one. And yet for two straight seasons, Survivor contestants have told the probability nerds (this season represented by Hai on the jury) to suck it, as both Deshawn last year and Lindsay this year stuck with their original choice and won. Survivor may be increasingly a game for strategy nerds, but it's still no country for mathletes.

    Alliance Report: The four-strong alliance of Jonathan, Lindsay, Mike, and Omar held firm this week, but given the fact that Lindsay was plotting against Jonathan, and Omar was plotting against Mike, that bond is far from rock-solid.

    Advantage Report:

    • Drea played her Knowledge Is Power advantage and her extra vote, to no avail, and she went home with her Advantage Amulet in her pocket, as Hai did last week.
    • With Drea gone, Lindsay's Advantage Amulet has now attained the rank of a full immunity idol.
    • Maryanne has an immunity idol and an extra vote.
    • Mike handed his immunity idol to Omar to avoid the steal from Drea; Omar can hand it back to Mike, but he hasn't yet.

    Coming Next Week: The "Taku 4" are fixing to eat one of their own. Romeo continues his inexorable march towards getting zero votes as a member of the final three.

    People are talking about this week's Survivor in our forums. Join the conversation.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer 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.

    TOPICS: Survivor, CBS, Jeff Probst