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Why Survivor 41’s merge was ludicrous, lousy, and likely pointless

Why Survivor 41’s merge was ludicrous, lousy, and likely pointless

“People are going to talk about this one for a long time,” Erika said at the end of Survivor 41’s sixth episode. She was referring to the nonsensical amount of power that Jeff Probst handed to her.

But she could have been referring to this episode, which was absurd from start to finish, and seems to me might be talked about as the episode when the show actually tumbled off the tracks and into a ravine.

When Probst broke the fourth wall and told us, “time to bring you in on another big twist—so big this is a two-part episode, so no Tribal tonight, nobody going home,” I was already annoyed. No Tribal Council?!

This was the merge episode, but there wasn’t a real merge, but a half episode masquerading as a full episode. We skipped normal things like a tribe celebrating together, and then bonding, aligning, and fracturing, to make room for another ludicrous series of twists.

I’ll let Jeff Probst explain everything:

talking blah blah blah GIF

That GIF makes about as much sense to me as what happened. Right now, the tally is one in six episodes of Survivor 41 that haven’t been nonsensical piles of twists, and this was not the one.

Nearly all the conversations between players were about advantages: Shan and Ricard rehashing their extra-vote argument again, complete with flashbacks as if we haven’t seen enough of that already, and Liana revealing her ludicrous advantage to Shan and Tiffany.

The only real conversation was a very brief one between Shan, Liana, and Deshawn, who decided to align together. Shan said, “I want us to be on the front page, like, look what we did,” and Liana said later, “we do want to uplift one another in this game.” (I really hope the people who were mad about Black people working together on Big Brother aren’t watching this.)

The fake-out merge arrives

The Survivor 41 merge feast, which was only for half the cast, because why merge the whole cast when you can merge just half?
The Survivor 41 merge feast, which was only for half the cast, because why merge the whole cast when you can merge just half? (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment)

When the tribes—one that’d been decimated, one that’s never gone to Tribal, and a third—showed up to the challenge field, they dropped their buffs and learned they’d been tricked.

Instead of merging, they were competing to make the merge and get immunity.

Yes, half the cast will have immunity! The losers will play for individual immunity next episode, meaning that, ultimately, more than 50 percent of players will be immune at Survivor 41’s first post-merge Tribal Council, and that’s not including any advantages or idols that get played.

(A version of this happened 14 years ago, during Survivor Fiji, when half the merged tribe won immunity and the other half went to Tribal Council. That’s not my favorite, but bringing it back and adding sixteen additional twists on top of it is just dumb.)

To find out who the lucky ones are, the two teams competed in a challenge, which was narrated by Mr. Overproducing standing and screaming things like “COME ON HEATHER, PULL!” and “ONE OF THE MOST AMAZING DISPLAYS OF TEAMWORK IN THE HISTORY OF THIS GAME.” (It was not.)

The winning team got a merge feast and immunity and tattoos saying “lucky ones.” The losing team got shafted. Or so they think!

The losers did go back to camp, where they got a tiny amount of rice but not much more. Xander labeled this “mergeatory,” a perfect portmanteau of “merge” and “purgatory;” he also called the people who won the challenge “Red Buffers,” since they got their merge buffs.

Oh, I’ve forgotten about the two people were totally left out of the challenge, and weren’t even allowed to compete. Naseer and Erika drew gray rocks and thus joined no team, because why let players actually play Survivor?

The winning team chose Naseer to join them as Red Buffers, and sent Erika to Exile Island, which has been resurrected. (Even if the team was lying, I loved that they said they chose Naseer using rock/paper/scissors, thus depriving Probst of a dramatic moment. He said, in disbelief, “Really? Okay.”)

While Erika was alone with just a tiny amount of rice and some water, she was obviously going to get some kind of advantage, and lo, she got to appear on a Very Special Episode of The Jeff Probst Show.

Jeff Probst, host and showrunner of Survivor
Jeff Probst, host and ruiner of Survivor (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment)

Probst showed up and, after asking questions designed to squeeze out some tears and emotion, revealed the reason for his visit: a chance for her to reverse the previous day’s challenge outcome.

“In sending you out here, what they didn’t know, is they gave you tremendous power,” Probst told her. “You can go back in time and change history. You have the power to reverse the outcome of yesterday’s challenge.”

So yes, because she drew a gray rock, she alone can now undo an entire episode’s worth of content by smashing an hourglass with a hammer. Even that doesn’t make sense: Why not just flip the hourglass? Isn’t that a better visual representation of reversing time?

Obviously, Erika is going to smash it, right? And if so, what the hell did we just watch this episode for?

Had this been a two-hour episode, instead of a two-part episode, that might have been a little more tolerable. But now we ended on a cliffhanger after an episode that will probably have its outcomes erased next week. Sigh.

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.

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