This article contains spoilers about Season 41 of “Survivor.”
Finally, the long-awaited return of Survivor is here. For months, Jeff Probst has been promising a season unlike ever before. He delivered, but not exactly in a good way: this season is unlike any other; it’s more confusing and convoluted than any previous season.
The game starts with a twist right off the bat — a 26-day game instead of the usual 39. From there, the twists don’t stop. Tribes are now not only denied reward if they lose a challenge, they are also punished and deprived of their flint. There are expeditions not to Exile Island or Redemption Island, but instead to a big hill where players decide to risk their vote at the next tribal for the chance of gaining an extra vote or to protect their vote. If both players choose to risk their vote, then they — well, actually, I’m not really sure what happens because I’m already lost. But it’s fine, at least I’ll understand how idols work this season, right? You find it, you play it at tribal council and you’re safe. Right? Wrong. There are three idols, one at each camp, and none of them work until they’ve all been found, and every player who has one says a secret phrase at the immunity challenge. Oh, and also, if you’ve found an idol, you can no longer vote at tribal council until all three idols have been “activated.” Simple.
Thank God for the cast this season, or I would’ve given up by now. And it’s only episode two. To my great amusement, Mr. Long Hair Cross Necklace Muscle Boy (his real name is Xander, but my nickname is better) is the one to find the first idol. The paper attached explains all the ridiculous rules and tells him what the secret phrases are. Don’t get me started on the secret phrases. One of them is: “I just realized broccoli are mini trees.” It’s giving 2016 Buzzfeed. Anyway, Xander shows this note to his closest ally and the main character of this season, Evvie.
Evvie is the best. They’re the first genderqueer Survivor contestant, and they’re slaying the game. They wear rainbow briefs and fruit-patterned button ups, and immediately betray the men’s alliance on their tribe to band the women together against Mr. Long Hair Cross Necklace Muscle Boy as soon as he reveals the idol to them. Survivor has come a long way since editing out the lesbian couples’ kisses in the loved ones visit in season nine, and I’m so here for it. Evvie is not just bringing the personality to this season, though. They’re also the main strategic player, always five steps ahead of everyone else. If you can’t tell, they’re my favorite.
On the other hand, Tiff has got to be my least favorite. On the same tribe as Evvie and Mr. Long Hair Cross Necklace Muscle Boy, she has a lot of personality to compete with. She’s the oldest member of the tribe and can barely make it across a balance beam, so you’d think she’d get a lot of audience sympathy for being a target since day one. But Tiff is bad at Survivor. It’s true that you can be bad at challenges and good at the game overall (shoutout to the queen, Sandra), but this is not the case for Tiff. Evvie lays everything out for her. Mr. Long Hair Cross Necklace Muscle Boy has the potential to be a big threat due to all the advantages he’s finding, but he can’t vote at this specific tribal council. That makes it the perfect time to vote him out. Maybe that’s a sign proving my theory that the producers are making the twists too hard to understand, but honestly, Tiff shouldn’t even need to understand the twists to make good moves at this point. All she has to do is listen to Evvie and go from there. But, of course, she doesn’t. So when this tribe goes to tribal council in episode two, the women’s alliance is forced to appease Tiff and vote out neurosurgeon Voce instead. Hard times for this tribe.
Aside from this disappointing vote, tribal council was also just off in this episode for so many reasons. For one thing, Probst has decided to break the fourth wall before every tribal council this season, which is an interesting choice. It’s corny. Then in the middle of tribal council, Probst jumps on Voce for knowing the decimal version of the fraction 1/16. Did Probst forget that Voce is a literal neurosurgeon?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to watch every episode of this season and eat it up. But I’m also just a little bit miffed that production has decided for all the fans that what we want is more secret advantages, crazy rules and unexpected moves when all we have been begging for is more funny camp life scenes á la Philippines, pre-merge Game Changers or any old school season. Or for them to leave Fiji and the same beaches they have been using in every episode for almost 10 seasons now.
I guess this is what we get when Probst wants to one up the legendary “Winners at War” season. Instead of a quirky, fun theme like “Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty” or “Heroes vs. Villains,” the (unofficial, but heavily implied) theme is just “Monster.” Because the game is now a monster, and not in the “surviving in the wilderness for several weeks takes a toll on you” way but in the “we want the contestants’ minds to be completely burnt out when they leave and also for them to develop trust issues that will never fully heal” way. It’s interesting that that’s supposed to be a good thing. Survivor just wants to stay relevant, I guess. Was adding a new twist to the classic Survivor formula the way to do it, or is production losing sight of what made people love it in the first place? Time will tell.