Survivor 41 finale recap: History is made

·20 min read
Survivor 41 finale recap: History is made

She made history by changing history. Twice! Erika Casupanan not only set the world record for number of times describing herself as a lion dressed like a lamb, but she also made history as the first Canadian to win Survivor and the first woman to win the game since the year 1843. And she won big, in a 7-1-0 vote. It was a huge statement victory after what has transpired over the past 15 seasons, of which men have won 12, including the last six. In those last six seasons, men received 62 final Tribal Council votes, while the women sitting next to them got a total of six. Yes, 62-6.

Jeez Louise, look at me launching straight into a bunch of boring stats like a Bruce Wayne Batcomputer that has been reprogrammed to do nothing but spit out stupid Survivor facts. Usually I'm just kind of warming up at this point, talking about cheap beer, getting loose before following Jeff Probst's advice to "dig deep" into the nitty gritty of an episode, but here I am jumping straight into what was (for many) a very surprising victory due to Erika playing a low-key flash-adverse game that many deemed impossible to lead to victory.

I thought otherwise. The clues were there all along, especially the way producers added in multiple comments from both Erika and Shan as to how long overdue it was for a woman to once again be crowned champion. But even though Stephen Fishbach laughed in my face and told me I was wrong and then went and deleted all the social media evidence of ever doing so, the truth was out there. (Which is not an X-Files reference meant to imply that aliens have landed and infiltrated my favorite reality show, although that would be kind of an awesome twist I think everybody could get behind: "Okay, Zork and Faddle, it's Do or Die time. You can either compete in the challenge or pick which of the three boxes has a fire symbol and which…. Wait, Zork, don't eat the box. Dammit, Zork!")

The truth is, we saw Erika playing very hard from very early on. Her opponents on Luvu clearly respected her game from the beginning, which is why they tried to throw a challenge to get her out. And once she got her opening post-merge (which we'll get to in a minute) she pounced. She, more than anyone, seemed to receive the credit for going Marquesas style and getting seemingly un-aligned factions on the bottom to work together and flip the script to take over the game. She was seen as steady, smart, and, in contrast to Xander (who was viewed by the jury as being too showy with his clearly calculated moves to sit out of challenges) stealth.

Survivor
Survivor

Robert Voets/CBS Erika Casupanan on 'Survivor 41'

It was that stealth that threw viewers. All through the season, the spotlight was trained on huge personalities like Shan, Deshawn, Ricard, and Xander, obscuring the fact that there was someone within their midst who was respected by all and disliked by none. It led to a bit of a disconnect in terms of whom viewers and the players themselves viewed as the biggest threat. It kept the lion looking like a lamb.

Of course, the lamb needed a bit of help. Which brings us to the Hourglass twist. You could easily make the argument that it is the worst twist in the history of the game. It also saved Erika, who most likely would have been voted out pre-merge without it. To be 100 percent clear, there should be no asterisk next to her win. There have been many, many winners before who were saved by a new twist or tribe swap or some other random act of fate or interference. But it is interesting and certainly worthy of note as we chart Erika's journey to nod to what would have happened had Jeff not handed her that hourglass. She was the near-unanimous pick to be voted out and most likely would have had to save herself with an individual immunity win.

That was close shave No. 1. Close shave No. 2 was Xander's seemingly inexplicable decision to pick Erika to sit next to him at the final two instead of Heather. Clearly, Xander made a wrong read on the jury and the way they responded to Deshawn's truth bomb last week. And his comment about being worried about giving Erika another notch on her belt with a fire win certainly has merit (and shows yet again why the fire-making challenge is such a horrible addition to the game).

But Xander could have beaten anyone at fire (as we saw), so he should have taken on Erika at fire himself (another stupid aspect of the final four fire-making is that it punishes the last immunity challenge winner by forcing them to let someone else improve their résumé or forcing the winner to go to fire anyway… ugh, I hate it so much).

The jury was so flummoxed by Xander's decision to bring Erika instead of Heather to the end that it confirmed their suspicions that he didn't have the strategic chops to warrant the win. In the end, the guy who many viewers probably thought was a shoo-in got blanked by the jury. And as for Deshawn, the sense I've gotten from talking to the jury is they viewed his game as sloppy and over-emotional. That made them the perfect two people for Erika to sit next to, because the contrast emphasized her strengths. Again — steady, smart, stealthy. The jury never saw Xander and Deshawn as great players, but they did with Erika, or at least they saw her as the closest thing to it.

However, since steadiness and stealth does not always make for riveting TV, a lot of Erika's work on the island never translated to the screen. It's why Stephen Fishbach is still deleting his social media missives. But as much as I love to razz the guy, I get it! This is not the type of win we are used to seeing, and certainly not one producers are used to showing. Hmmm… maybe we should drop the 4 and keep the 1 after all. Okay, let's hit on a few other things from the finale before we put a bow on Survivor 41.

Survivor
Survivor

Robert Voets/CBS Jeff Probst and the 'Survivor 41' final five

New island, same problems

Probst sent the final five to a new island with minimal supplies for the final few nights. Honestly, I didn't really get the point at first, but the torrential downpour on night 24 with no shelter to protect them showed that to be a good call on the producers' part. No matter how many times the cast insisted this was the toughest season ever (even though they have no comparison whatsoever to base that on), and even though it was a bit annoying how, any time someone talked about how hard it was, editors put it in the episode to drive that point home, I do believe producers did a super solid job of simulating the 39-day experience as best as possible in 26 days. Do I think they needed to tell us about it every seven minutes? No. But they did their job making this no cake walk.

By the way, I've said it before and I'll say it once more: I will be SHOCKED if we ever get a 39-day season again, even if COVID is eradicated from the planet. Once the network sees how much money they saved by cutting their filming schedule by a third (or 33.33333333 percent, as Voce would say) there is no way they are going back. Why spend more money for the same amount of product?

Anyway, new island. Fine. But things were not fine between Erika and Deshawn after he blew her up at the previous Tribal. "I'm not ready to talk to you right now, but you're welcome for being here," she snapped when he tried to smooth things over. She also then complained that it was personal what Deshawn did. I have to strongly disagree with that. Nothing about what Deshawn said at Tribal struck me as personal. It was a game move, pure and simple. Maybe not a very good game move, but a move from someone who at least thought he was out of other options. This wasn't Varner in Game Changers. This was 100 percent completely within the boundaries of the game. Erika also talked about all the work she did for Deshawn before he went and "pooped all over it," but it was unclear at press time as to whether she was referring to an aqua dump or traditional latrine.

Simple is sometimes better

The first immunity challenge could have been amazingly epic, but they had to add an advantage into the mix. UGH! You all know how I feel about this: People competing on a level playing field is inherently more interesting than making the challenge easier for someone. Because then if that someone wins, you'll never know what would have happened had they all played by the same rules. And this challenge ended up being Exhibit A in that department.

Producers decided to hide one more advantage. Everyone was given a clue to solve to find it. I do appreciate that aspect of it. It was an equal opportunity to find it, so my gripe has nothing to do with fairness. If you want to simply think of the advantage hunt as the first part of the challenge, then fine. I just believe in my bones it is inherently a lot more interesting to watch people go toe-to-toe in an actual challenge without having one toe cut off.

Erika found the advantage on the beach, which gave her a big head start in putting her two ladders together, and sure enough, she made it to the puzzle first. Then, she barely beat Ricard in the puzzle to win immunity. But aren't you kind of dying to know who would have won had there been no advantage? Well, guess what? We'll never know! That's what I find frustrating. Again, not taking anything away from Erika. She found the advantage fair and square, which gave her a leg up in the challenge, and she won. In fact, I'm glad she won because there is nothing I love more than drunk people at Tribal Council. I just don't like the way it plays out dramatically. Give me an even race any day.

Survivor
Survivor

Robert Voets/CBS Ricard Foyé on 'Survivor 41'

Ricard's last dance

I mean, he's a dancer. So it's probably not his last dance. He can dance as long as he likes. I don't know why I made it sound so dramatic. But it became pretty clear Ricard was a goner after he didn't beat Erika on the puzzle. Xander entertained the idea of playing his idol on him, but that would have been a hilariously poor decision on his part and Xander was clearly saving his poor decision for the final four.

The only time I doubted Ricard was getting voted out was WHEN THEY MADE IT SO OBVIOUS RICARD WAS GETTING VOTED OUT! Ricard started talking about having another baby on the way (usually a final Tribal speech… just ask Jeremy Collins about that one), Probst started talking about how Ricard couldn't stop what was coming, the music started changing to a swelling triumphant score as the host went on and on about how you can have a victory without actually winning.

By the time Probst said he didn't see a blindside coming, I was all "Holy mother of Shambo, there is a blindside coming!" But there wasn't. In making the vote-off so glaringly obvious, those cagey Survivor bastards somehow managed to fool me into thinking it wasn't obvious. This was some total Dread Pirate Roberts vs. Vizzini "I know that you know that I know" iocane powder action happening here. The ultimate reverse psychology. Well played.

Ricard was such a gamer. Great in challenges. Even better at strategy. And he had a social game that enabled him to slit throats without anyone faulting him for it (which confused and frustrated Deshawn to no end). He added a ton to this season, had a great run, and came up a bit short. That's okay. I am pretty positive we have not seen the last of Ricard. He's one of many from this cast sure to be back. (Have I mentioned how much I loved the cast this season yet?)

Survivor
Survivor

Robert Voets/CBS Ricard Foye, Heather Aldret, and Xander Hastings on 'Survivor 41'

Wobbly game to wobbly gameplay

The last immunity challenge mixed a classic concept (transport and stack a bunch of letters on a wobbly platform without having them fall over) with a new twist (the curved walkway players had to traverse was wobbly as well). I like this challenge a lot, just not as a final contest. It just lacked a bit of the epic scope I would want from the final challenge of the season. Maybe that's just me.

This one was Xander all the way, which led to a hug with the host and a personal backstory package where he talked about maturing from an insecure and chubby kid who found his purpose through running track and cross country. As the parent of two collegiate runners myself (one actually has a friend on Xander's team), I certainly appreciate the XC shout out. It's not exactly known as a glamour sport that gets a lot of media attention, but let me tell you, if you love watching people collapse and look as close to death as humanly possible at a finish line, nothing beats cross country.

We've already gotten into Xander's decision to take Erika to the end, but the most interesting thing of note here is how after he told Erika he was taking her, he noticed that she appeared to be terrible at making fire — or at the very least, she was struggling mightily in that moment. Xander, who had no trouble getting a flame, began to consider flipping the script and not only not bringing Erika, but stepping down and taking her on himself. So why did he pull a Domenick Abbate instead of a Chris Underwood? That will be a question I will be sure to ask in my exit interview, but like I said, all your options are terrible if you win that final challenge.

Fire woman

Oooh, that's a Cult reference for your latest subhead. Not their best song, mind you. A bit of a "She Sells Sanctuary" rip-off if I'm going to be honest. I love when bands rip themselves off. It's like, "You know that one hit we had that everybody loved. Let's do that again." Sorry, off topic.

Anyway, after Xander told everybody how smart he was for noticing that the jury loved it when Deshawn took Erika down (whoops!), Deshawn and Heather had to battle it out at fire — a fire battle in which Heather appeared to somehow both win and lose. Am I crazy? It seemed like she had a fire burning through that rope FOREVER. Seriously, at one point I wondered if producers had used flame-retardant rope on her contraption just so the competition would last long enough in the hopes of doubling Heather's screen time for the season.

But even though her fire was much higher than Deshawn's for much longer, she somehow lost. From my living room couch, it appeared maybe Heather did not adjust for the wind when she built her wood and that she lost a lot of flame off to the side instead of straight up. Oh well. Just think: She was that close to tying Xander with zero votes.

Heather didn't get a lot of respect from other players this season, and she didn't get a lot of respect from the editors either, but she went out on a high note here, even in defeat. It was a valiant effort and the jury recognized it as such, giving her a loud ovation on her way out. You would have thought we were watching Cirie Fields get her torch snuffed with all that hooting and hollering going on. I will say, someone who didn't get in the water for 35 years after almost drowning and then competed in water challenges in Fiji is worthy of a few claps in my book. Perhaps even a dramatic slow clap if I'm feeling generous.

Survivor
Survivor

Robert Voets/CBS Heather Aldret on 'Survivor 41'

Final notes on final Tribal

Erika won. We've established that, but a few observations about the Q&A that preceded the vote. First off, I'm really not sure why everyone just kept running with Danny's four quarters analogy. Like, he talked about there being four quarters to the game, but then only discussed three phases (pre-merge, post-merge, final eight), so I was already confused right there. And then everyone stayed on that whole thing for way too long. It was also interesting watching Naseer give Xander props for stepping out of challenges since the majority of the people voting seemed to see that as a pretty transparent jury ploy.

Obviously, the big shot from the jury came at Deshawn's expense after he talked about the social capital he formed early in the game and how that paid dividends later. Upon hearing that, Ricard excused himself from the jury, found a solid WiFi connection, went and streamed Arnold Schwarzenegger's Commando, freeze-framed the scene where Schwarzenegger fires a four-tube thermobaric rocket launcher, took a screen grab, sent it out on the dark web with the message "Need one ASAP and need it modified to shoot out words and not rockets. Will trade for immunity necklace and unlimited supply of hair ties," continued to watch the entire Schwarzenegger catalog in the hopes of finding the movie where he utters the line "You should not drink and bake" (NOTE: it was Raw Deal), finally received the rocket launcher after annoying supply chain delays, walked back into Tribal Council, pointed the absurdly large gun in the general direction of the finalists and then blew everything up with his word weapon by noting that on day one of the merge, Deshawn told them all that Erika needed to go, Sydney needed to leave so Danny lost an ally, and that he didn't have a connection with Heather. Daaaaaayum.

I actually think the producers did a really good job of making you feel that each finalist at a certain point had a decent shot at winning — especially for such a blowout. But as Tribal continued, and Xander stumbled over Liana's question about his social awareness and his decision on whom to bring to the end, and Deshawn had to answer to Shan's observation that his strategic moves seemed more like temper-tantrums, the Erika victory seemed the most probable outcome. For Xander to not only get zero votes, but zero Yase votes, had to be a shock to the system for a guy that seemed very confident of victory walking into final Tribal.

But the show wasn't over once Erika was announced the winner, because… WHO WANTS PIZZA?!?

Drop the reunion, keep the after-show

As soon as the winner was announced crew members started bum-rushing the Tribal Council set with giant signs and champagne and set dressing for an on-location after show. While there is a genuine thrill in seeing how people look months later back off the island, and there is much more insight that can be delivered after the players have watched the episodes play back on TV, and this new format meant nobody pre-jury got to take part, Survivor producers made the right call doing the post-game chat back in Fiji.

They had to play it safe. After what happened with the remote Winners at War vote reveal and no after-show whatsoever due to COVID, the producers had to ensure something like that did not happen again. With no conceivable way to know what the future held with the virus, they had to make sure they had something. And with omicron raging now, it looks like they made the right call.

The downside, of course, is that some of it just kind of felt a bit like an extension of what we already saw with the same things said that were said a few minutes earlier at Final Tribal rather than a clean break with an all-new perspective thanks to the players having seen everything on the episodes that they weren't privy to out on the island. But that's a sacrifice well worth making to make sure we got something — including a giant group hug!

Sooooooooo, I guess that's about it, right? OH NO IT'S NOT! Because we still have our exit interviews with the final five. In fact, my chat with the new champion Erika is right here! And here's Deshawn! And here's Xander! And here's Heather! And here's Ricard! I highly encourage you to read all of them because there is TONS of insight and intel on things that never made it to air.I've also got Jeff Probst talking about NEXT season of Survivor. You can also follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss and Instagram @thedaltonross. And if you are super bummed to be done watching Survivor 41… don't be done! We've got one more deleted scene for you at the top of the recap after so go fest your eyes on that..

Oh, and if you're wondering whether the Survivor 41 season ranking moved up or down after the finale, I think I'll keep it as-is for now. Nothing super spectacular nor insanely annoying happened to really budge it from its spot, at least not yet. Let me mull it over for a few months and we'll see. (And you can see my always controversial season rankings right here.)

Okay, I need to wrap this up, but thanks again to everyone for taking time that would clearly be spent better doing other things to instead read these stupid recaps. I've been doing them for 20 years now and that is clearly insane, but I thank you for supporting that insanity. Your kind words make the long hours worth it. Thanks to the amazing Survivor crew (from Jeff Probst down to the Dream Teamers) for getting this truly international production back on the air during a global pandemic. And thanks to the cast for going full-speed and allowing their pain to become our gain as viewers. I enjoyed feasting on it all each and every week, and now, I am truly all out of the crispy.

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