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Quintavius 'Q' Burdette Is Survivor 46's Secret Weapon

A chaotic, unique season deserves a chaotic, unique winner. And there's no one quite like Q.
  • Quintavius 'Q' Burdette in Survivor 46 (Photo: Robert Voets/CBS)
    Quintavius 'Q' Burdette in Survivor 46 (Photo: Robert Voets/CBS)

    It’s no secret that Survivor isn’t the same show now that it used to be. Since the “New Era” began in Season 41, purist fans like myself have cycled through the same basic complaints: too many gimmicky advantages, too short of a game, and too much focus on personal-growth narratives at the expense of exciting gameplay. In many ways, host and executive producer Jeff Probst’s desires for the show have long been at odds with a large portion of the fanbase — and his recent interest in creating a more sanitized, family-friendly experience accounts for much of that dissonance.
    Take Probst’s controversial disinterest in casting traditional reality TV villains, a stance he explained on Rob Has a Podcast in February. “By merely changing the type of twists we put into the game, we can create negativity,” Probst said. “I’m not interested in [the negativity] anymore, and I think it’s a direct reflection not only of where the show was but of how it needed to evolve. … In the hands of somebody else, I can tell you, for sure, there would be more ‘villains,’ more negativity, more yelling at each other. It’s just not going to happen when I’m part of the show. I’m just not interested in it. There’s too many other things we could do and still have fun.”


    Now that we’ve seen all but two episodes of Survivor 46, though, Probst’s comments are slightly confusing. After a rocky start dragged down by the predictable decimation of the Yanu tribe, this season has really come alive precisely because of how turbulent and, yes, negative it is. Compared to the cast of Season 45, most of whom seem to be on good terms, the cast of Season 46 seems to harbor an unusual amount of lingering animosity — unusual, at least, for the relatively wholesome New Era. That gives this post-merge a delightfully messy feeling reminiscent of classic older seasons. And when it comes to evaluating a chaotic season, it’s worth praising its most reliable chaos engine: Quintavius “Q” Burdette, one of the biggest casting miracles of the last five years.
    Q is a polarizing figure in the fan community, and it took me a while to figure out how I felt about him: did I love this guy, hate him, or love to hate him? Q’s shown an endearing side since early in the season, when a fumble during an immunity challenge triggered some unresolved high school football trauma. But he’s often been framed as a bully at worst and a control freak lacking in self-awareness at best.
    To be sure, Q’s gameplay is often both needlessly cold-blooded (he famously chose not to bring a starving Liz Wilcox on the Applebee’s reward challenge, which didn’t necessarily pay off strategically) and deeply confusing (twice now he has asked his tribemates to vote him out). He formulated an alliance of six that sounded good in theory, then proceeded to target or at least acquiesce to the elimination of four people from that alliance in a row. It’s easy to understand why players on the jury wouldn’t like him, especially Tiffany, whose game he sank by telling people about her hidden immunity idol.
    But when you set aside a knee-jerk reaction to over-inflated male ego and appreciate Q for what he brings to the TV show, it’s easy to see why he’d already be on Probst’s invite list for Season 50, despite contributing to the exact sort of negativity and interpersonal conflict Probst claims to dislike. Q might not serve the same explicitly villainous role as an older contestant like Richard Hatch or Russell Hantz; I’ll always defend his decision not to bring Liz on that reward, especially after watching this sweet deleted scene. But he has a hilarious way of pissing people off and shaking up the tribe dynamics that lends itself perfectly to reality TV — especially because it’s rare that his savagery comes from a place of real cruelty.
    Q’s energy is distinct in a superfan-heavy cast; there’s a level of unselfconscious intensity and perhaps-delusional overconfidence that stands in stark contrast to the typical endearingly (or not) nerdy game-bot, a forcefulness that can alienate people without ever nearing Phillip Sheppard levels of insufferableness. Maybe that makes him a helpful model for villainy in the New Era: his guileless, overzealous coach vibes and love for the game (despite any near-quits) make him an oddly lovable screen presence.

    In recent weeks, nobody has been able to land a shot on Q, partly because he’s almost too obvious and easy of a vote — as Tiffany put it in exit press, “people would rather deal with a nuisance than a threat.” But considering how much great TV Q creates, that’s basically a best-case scenario for us as an audience. It’s difficult to know where Q’s arc goes from here; one of Survivor 46’s biggest assets is its lack of predictability, and that extends to his life in the game. Either way, we’ll have spent the vast majority of this season with him. His star status is cemented.

    Maybe Q will meet his inevitable end in tonight’s episode, but it feels just as likely that he’ll make it to the end and walk away a zero-vote finalist, dragged along by someone better respected by a vengeful jury. Or maybe his consistent visibility at the center of this story points to a Cagayan-level unlikely win. When I think about who I’m rooting for to win this time, I tend to think of the methodical players who have managed to weather the storm without drawing too much attention to themselves — calm, methodical players like Kenzie Petty or, especially, Charlie Davis. But maybe a chaotic, unique season deserves a chaotic, unique winner. There’s no one quite like Q.

    New episodes of Survivor 46 air Wednesdays at 8:00 P.M. ET on CBS. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Ben Rosenstock is a culture writer and critic who primarily covers TV and film. His writing has appeared in Vulture, TV Guide, and TIME, among other publications.

    TOPICS: Survivor, CBS, Quitanvius 'Q' Burdette, Reality TV