‘Survivor’ caps off a difficult, twisty season with one of the more matched final three in years.
by Jeremy Fogelman
Previously on Survivor, the show was back and the shorter season got us here, with too many twists and a lot of stress and emotion along the way.
As the twists and turns settle and the mystical hourglass of time puts itself back together, we ponder the final question of the season: So why did Erika win? Coming into the finale it was clear that Ricard was by far the strongest threat to win, and everyone acknowledged it. After that, the only game that we knew could never win was Heather’s, despite all of the talk of Probst saying that she never gave up and her kids would be proud.
The most interesting things about Heather were in this episode, one was the reveal of her apparently long term alliance/friendship with Erika that drove so much to this point and the other was her extremely close final firemaking challenge with Deshawn, perhaps the closest one I can recall (other than the Becky/Sondra one which was the race to the bottom). Still, despite being the only person that couldn’t win, at least she went out on a high.
There were a few final twists in a season chock-full of them, starting with the advantage puzzle race, which had some fun misdirects until we saw Erika win -- and probably helped her win immunity. After that, there seemed to be no way that Ricard could stay in the game, and then Xander brought up his idea to maybe use his idol on Ricard... I was actually not sure if the dude would do it after all of his sometimes risky moves so far.
But no, Xander realized that he couldn’t beat Ricard either, so he took the path he thought was the best one -- even though he was ultimately entirely wrong. He mistakenly thought that he could easily beat Erika and misread how the jury saw Heather -- these were ultimately certainly game-ending mistakes. Could he have won against Heather and Deshawn if he had brought along either instead of Erika? Probably not, but perhaps he had a shot if he had done the classic “play fire for myself” instead.
As for Deshawn, he probably had a more competitive game until he threw that “truth bomb” which only served to make himself look worse and Erika look better. It also didn’t help that both Ricard and Heather, the last two sent to the jury, were clearly in the tank for Erika and that Ricard in particular was absolutely brutal in his attacks against Deshawn and Xander. I couldn’t suppress a laugh when he did the “oh, and that’s why it hurt when Deshawn betrayed everyone” line.
But I also had the same reaction when Erika, after hearing that Xander was taking her, wondered to us: “Wait, do I suck?” Clearly not, but Xander absolutely thought so -- and despite being such a fan of the game and pretty well spoken for his age, he clearly didn’t have everything thought through.
Just look at how long it took to answer Liana’s question about social awareness and his game moves -- that delay in itself tells a lot of the story unfortunately. With these three, I was actually rooting for Erika who I thought had played the best game of the three, even if she was definitely saved by the hourglass twist. The best of the season?
Well, these days it’s known that “threats” are really the strategic and social ones, as the days of a physical threat barreling to the final tribal are in the past. So yes, that includes more visible players like Shan or Ricard, and the only way they lasted as long as they did was a combination of social and sometimes physical game.
Which ultimately means that the game really does still matter for the balanced game, and the “under the radar but actually game savvy” game is the best way to win. But as we heard from the jury, many of them tried the same one -- it was only Erika that managed to pull it off. Another great moment was the various speeches from Naseer, who is absolutely a highlight in a cast that is already uniformly stellar.
I mean not since 'Millennials vs Gen-X' or 'David vs Goliath' have we got such a well-balanced cast, and although Erika dominated the final votes (only Danny voted for Deshawn), it was perhaps the strongest final three in recent memory (and it wouldn’t be fair to count Season 40 since those were all winners).
And just like then, a cast that will be hard to pick favorites that you really need to see back -- each of those casts had like ten people and Season 41 may be even more than that. I strongly expect to see Shan back, but I could easily see plenty of others in the mix. Overall, the season was a pretty fun one, a decent trip back to Fiji -- mayhaps the twists got a little out of control, but we had a great cast and deserving winner.
Next season on Survivor 42, dangerous as ever, different sorts of challengers, new risks, crazy twists, “no food” and a relentless pace that will push them to their limits.
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