And there it is! The first season of the “New Era” of Survivor is in the books, and there is a lot to discuss about the last few days of the game, and the winner of the season. No more intro needed: let’s jump right into it!
Ricard’s Eulogy: How Does His Game Stack Up to the Greats?
Considered by the remaining castaways as the best player remaining in the game, Ricard is voted out in the final five after failing to beat Erika with her advantage in the immunity challenge earlier that day. Even though it had to be done, many of the castaways (especially Erika and Xander) appeared to truly be conflicted as to whether to vote him out or not, and instead get rid of Deshawn who had ruffled feathers in the most recent tribal council. We then learn that Ricard’s second child is about to be born, and we sit with him in the tribal council discussion as he reflects on his personal growth while on the show. It was a fitting send-off for a castaway who probably played the cleanest of anyone on the season.
I made note that Ricard’s season performance was labeled as “one of the best ever to not win” by Ricard himself and he got a bit of a Jeff Probst cosign on that as well. Did Ricard play one of the best games by a player who didn’t win? Maybe too early to tell, but you must respect how he consistently stayed in power with Shan in Ua, then avoided the chaos of the early portion of the merge, and then capped it off with a lethally clean blindside of Shan. Even after the blindside he was able to survive another vote based solely on trust he built with other castaways, and he was good enough to win challenges with three victories (and who knows what happens if Erika does not have an advantage to beat him with in the final five challenge). We may look back at this season in a few years and put it in the upper echelon of Survivor games. What I do know is that Ricard has guaranteed himself an invite back on some sort of second chance season in the future with his gameplay. I don’t think we even saw peak entertainment Ricard, given how much passive sass we saw him try to contain in confessionals and arguments with Shan.
Deshawn’s “Truth Bomb” Fallout Defines His Game as a Whole
Deshawn’s tribal council “truth bomb” to try to split up the Erika and Heather pairing was a good example of his downfall this season. While he was open to making plays and building relationships with everyone on the island, the intentional game aspects of his interactions rubbed more than a few people the wrong way. Erika and Heather are genuinely hurt that Deshawn painted their friendship as fake, and are unwilling to work with him because of it even after he apologizes and dismisses it as purely gamesmanship. Ultimately, Deshawn was seen as overly emotional and a bit of a backstabber who uses social relationships to position himself to blindside players, and he falls short of winning the season.
Most Nail Biting Moment: Deshawn Beats Heather at Firemaking
Seconds were the difference in an exciting conclusion to the final tribal council. Deshawn gets fire first then smothers, then Heather builds a healthy fire that gets close to the all-important twine of victory, then out of nowhere Deshawn creates a tall fire and burns the twine to raise the flag seconds before Heather. In the end neither would have been close to winning but hey, gotta enjoy the spirit of the do-or-die competitive moments of Survivor. Speaking of Do-or-Die, maybe do something like this next time instead of picking a box?
Xander’s Million Dollar Mistake?
After Xander won the final immunity challenge in impressive fashion (He really did great in that more difficult version of the wobbly block stacking challenge), I felt like with the edit he got that it was simply his game to lose. He has a choice of one person to take to the end and he sends the other two to firemaking. From the outside looking in, Heather seemed to be the clear choice to take as she was the weakest player left, and then Deshawn and Erika duke it out at fire. However, Xander makes it clear early that Erika is going to the end with him, as he thought the jury appreciated his game a lot more than Erika’s and he would beat her easily.
What Xander didn’t realize is that Erika’s game had a lot of respect on it by the jury, which was indicative of Xander’s weakness as a whole. While Xander had got the advantages, made the big idol bluff on Liana at that explosive merge tribal council, and worked his way into the numbers for the late game, he struggled to make the necessary reads of castaways to understand the direction of the game. I had noted in my debrief last week that Xander felt either out of the loop or a simple follower on multiple votes; that came to bite him at FTC, especially when his former Yase tribemates piled on about how he was unaware of how in the know his advantages were and how unified the girls were in schemes to vote him out.
Best Moment of Unintentional Comedy: Xander Being Shook to his Core when he Sees How Bad Erika is at Fire
Just some excellent facial expressions when he realizes the threat he saved from making fire actually was pretty awful at it. Xander is another player I’m sure we will see in the future. I think as a whole package he was the most entertaining in the cast and he’s young so he has a lot of room to grow.
Erika Casupanan: The Overlooked Champion of Survivor 41
At the very end of it all, it was the little Canadian that could, Erika, who won Survivor 41 with a 7–1–0 victory. Given how the jury voted it seems this victory was well deserved by Erika, but given what we the spectators saw in the episodes, it came off a bit surprising. Erika championed her ability to be in the know on votes and used her naturally diminutive profile and energy to lower her threat level and help her avoid being the primary target. While those are the pieces you need to play a great under-the-radar game, it also results in being a non-factor in screen time which hurts the viewer’s opinion of her as a winner as we spent much more time with the big-game players. It also hurts her legacy given how well-rounded the cast was this season, meaning less time to get to know Erika throughout the season. I remember wondering in my debriefs early in the season why we have seen zero of Erika: given that she won the whole thing I’m even more confused.
I don’t want this to be a knock on her victory though, she won an incredibly competitive and twist filled season. Her best moves have to be her involvement in Shan’s blindside and general involvement in all the votes (she was on the right side of every tribal council she was at this season), her twosome alliance with Heather that lasted 25 of the 26 days of which she was viewed as the one in control, and her ability to make people overlook her highlighted by Xander taking her to the end and Erika subsequently beating him soundly at FTC. If there was one asterisk to her winning game, it would be that she benefited immensely from being the one to smash the hourglass at the merge twist (Of course, most winners have some sort of asterisk). If she was just at exile normally instead of getting immunity purely from a game shaking twist, she was target number one to be voted out at the subsequent tribal council by the Luvu members that wanted her gone. I think we will look back on Erika as a good but unexciting winner. Her win feels like if in Cagayan a polar opposite personality version of Trish was the one that won. Lots of big game players in that season and this one, but the person who had a key part in the dominant alliance rather than one with the flashy moves gets the victory
Survivor 41 Cast Vibe Check: A Quick Ranking of Who We’ll See Return for Another Season
For Sure Returning: Xander, Shan, Ricard
These three players brought the most from entertainment and strategic perspective this season. Lock them in for an All-Stars type season.
A Chance at Returning: Naseer, Deshawn, Liana, JD
Naseer was a premier personality from this season, and would fit great in a Fans vs. Favorites style season. Deshawn Liana and JD are all young, big game players who could come back with more life experience and be even more developed as characters in a Second Chance style season.
Slim Chance at Returning: Evvie, Tiffany, Brad, Sydney, Danny, Erika
Evvie and Tiffany were decent on Yase and seem like they would play again, but I’m not sure they did enough in the season to get a second call from production. Brad and Sydney both have a lot of character (Brad the old school guy, Sydney the snarky villain) but I don’t think they lasted enough episodes. Danny got far and is likeable but he wasn’t flashy enough as a player to garner a callback, and his storyline had the closure for a one season player. Erika can come back for Survivor 80: Winners at War 2
Definitely a One-Time Player: Heather, Genie, Voce, Sara, Abraham
All early vote-outs except for Heather, who had little screen time for how far she got and just feels like she has a one season arc type of player
Thanks for reading my debriefs! I’ll probably post more Survivor season reviews in the future and maybe some other reality TV articles too, but the timing is in the air as my life is changing a lot with a job change and moving to another state in my near future. Season 42 is in March, so if I’m in a place to have time to write more debriefs I will!