SPOILERS for the outcome of Wednesday night's episode of Survivor ahead.
Survivor 41's grand finale was a triumph for one person and one person alone: Erika Casupanan, who rose up from the margins of her original tribe and staged one of the great Survivor comebacks to win it all. It was not, however, a triumph for Survivor's editors, who let the season's winner traverse the first half of the season virtually unseen, turning her moment of triumph into a head-scratcher for fans who didn't really see the game she played that earned her the victory.
A lot of that dissatisfaction on the part of longtime and/or hardcore fans of the show came from the fact that Survivor had always been an incredibly reliably edited show, and that while it hasn't always been easy to predict how a season would play out, certain tendencies held true since the very beginning. One of the most reliable of those tendencies was that the season's eventual winner makes their presence felt in the early part of the season in some way. Even the most unlikely winners — your Michelle Fitzgeralds and Tina Wessons and Sandra Diaz-Twines — who felt like non-factors in the game for long stretches had been seeded throughout the season as narrators or fun personalities. This wasn't done as some kind of secret code to tip off the audience; it was done so that by the time the season finished, we'd feel like we'd seen a complete story told. Erika's win defied all that, and in turn unmoored anyone who thought they could make sense of the way the season was going. Going forward, Survivor was going to be a more unpredictable game, but maybe also a less satisfying one.
So after last week's two-hour season premiere made room for pretty much everyone in this 18-person cast to get a moment except for two — Chanelle from the green Vati tribe and Marya from the orange Taku tribe — the temptation would have been to write off their chances of winning the game at all. But in a post-Erika world, that no longer applied. Maybe one of those two was our winner?
After this week's episode, there's a chance we're regaining equilibrium, as both Chanelle and Marya resumed paths more familiar to invisible season premiere edits.
Chanelle at least had one crucial scene in the season premiere, as her tribe began to pair up — Hai and Lydia; Mike and Jenny — and so she formed an alliance of necessity with Daniel. It didn't have any real bearing on the outcome of the episode, but it came up again this week when Mike found the first third of the Beware Advantage (the one that requires you to say silly phrases in order to earn an immunity idol) and confided in Daniel about it. Daniel not only schemed to have Mike not make a play to activate it yet — the better to keep as many idols deactivated as possible — but shared his plan with Chanelle, establishing the two of them as the strategic center of their tribe. Suddenly, Chanelle's quiet episode-one edit is starting to feel like a Tina Wesson-style slow play by the editors. She's one to watch.
Meanwhile, one of the oldest tricks in the editors' book came into play for Marya: the heretofore invisible cast member who suddenly gets a ton of backstory out of the blue. This has historically been a terrible omen and almost always results in the newly visible person getting voted out that episode. Marya was a nonfactor in episode one, but this week we heard all about her story: she's a stay-at-home mom who's playing for her brother, who was a nurse in the New York City hospital system and was, she tells her tribemates, the first health care worker to die from COVID in March of 2020. Marya's story is heartbreaking, and she seems like a cool person, but she's also the odd person out on her tribe, which has seen Jonathan and Omar form an alliance, Jonathan and Lindsay form a bond, and Maryanne's bottomless well of enthusiasm remain juuuust on the side of "not too annoying… yet."
Marya's only hopes when Taku loses the immunity challenge are a) maybe Maryanne's jumpy reaction to maybe being in danger (she immediately goes on an idol hunt) will make the rest of the tribe consider Marya the more stable option, and b) the Shot in the Dark dice roll, which gets deployed for the second time in as many episodes, already outpacing last year's usage. It doesn't work, and Marya finds herself voted out unanimously, the classic Survivor edit having re-asserted itself.
As for the rest of this week's happenings…
Player of the Week: Daniel. He's got a close ally in Chanelle and has earned Mike's trust enough that Mike tells him everything about his Beware Advantage. And then, Daniel makes the great move to convince Mike that he's safe enough that he doesn't need to speak the secret phrase ("There is such grace in a game of soccer, it makes me cry") at the next challenge. Thus, Daniel manages to keep any other immunity idols from being activated, keeps Mike under his thumb, and puts himself in the driver's seat of his tribe.
Honorable Mention(s): On Ika tribe, Swati entertains Drea's pitch of an all-girls alliance with the two of them and Tori, but then recognizes that Drea's advantages make an alliance with her unbalanced, and so she starts to sell Tori on targeting Drea next.
Sketchy Strategy: Oh, Mike. Letting Daniel talk you into slow-playing an immunity idol — keeping you without a vote at tribal! — is one thing. Completely forgetting where you hid the advantage in the jungle is next level face-palming, though.
Alliance Report: Jonathan and Omar make for such a curious pair. Omar describes Jonathan as his meat shield and he Jonathan's nerd shield, a fine way to describe the tough guy/smart guy dichotomy that has defined male friendships throughout history.
Coming Next Week: Mike loses his advantage again.
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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