Survivor 42 split the post-merge tribe into two temporary tribes for two Tribal Councils, which not only exposed some fault lines, but revealed that the players were on track to repeat an ugly pattern that’s been common on Survivor and throughout reality TV history.
The episode opened with Rocksroy trying to put together an alliance of men, because as we all know, men really struggle to get far in this game. After all, when this season was filmed, men had only won Survivor eight of the last 10 times. Good grief, get your shit together, bros!
Hai shut down the idea of a “boy’s alliance,” saying “I’m not part of the misogyny club here.” But he soon found himself in that alliance, alongside his new mortal enemy Romeo, who’d dared to cast a vote for Hai at the last Tribal Council.
“The way that Rocksroy talks to people makes me upset,” Hai said. “He’s quickly making his way up the ranks” of targets. That ascent was rapid.
To make way for two Tribal Councils, the reward and immunity challenges were combined into a recycled immunity challenge.
This challenge is not one I love, mostly because it’s not an equal playing field for everyone: waves move the platforms, which makes it difficult, yes, but also means one player might get knocked off by a wave that totally misses another player.
And I had that feeling the moment I saw that it was this challenge, before the wind and waves made themselves known. As Jeff Probst said, the players this season were facing “unprecedented swells and wind on an already-difficult challenge,” and it’s “very difficult to do this challenge on a flat sea.”
A reverse merge post-merge reversing
The twist of this challenge was that there were two immunity idols—and two teams of five competing separately for that immunity, and then heading separately to Tribal Council.
Basically, there was a reverse merge two episodes after the actual merge was reversed. My brain hurts.
The teams produced two temporary tribes: Hai, Mike, Omar, Rocksroy, and Romeo (aka Rocksroy’s guy’s alliance) and Drea, Jonathan, Lindsay, Maryanne, and Tori.
Immunity went to Hai and Jonathan, with Jonathan winning reward for his temporary tribe.
Romeo seemed immediately resigned to going home, especially considering his rift with Hai, but not everyone was on board with Rocksroy’s guy’s alliance of players who make a decision and stick to it and that’s that now where is my dinner?!
Rocksroy said “guys are more rigid in making a decision, so I’m banking on that.”
Then he went bankrupt.
Rocksroy’s exit was telegraphed throughout the episode, so I was not surprised. But I was disappointed that we didn’t get to see it actually come together, especially if it was all grunting.
But seriously, Omar repairing the rift between Hai and Romeo, and then Hai convincing his ally Mike to go along with that plan: that’s interesting! Show it!
By the way: Omar’s game is an A+ right now. He was skeptical of Rocksroy’s alliance of dudes plan (“Are you insane, Rocksroy?” he said in a confessional, referencing, among other things, having to compete in individual immunity against Jonathan). But he managed his skepticism well, in the same way he later managed to gently float the idea of blindsiding Rocksroy while also managing to get Hai and Romeo together.
Jonathan’s big man moves
The temporary tribe’s vote was fairly standard: a player who thought they were in control discovering that they’d been blindsided. With that, Rocksroy joined the jury.
On the other temporary tribe, Lindsay pointed out that “Tori might be the easy target here”—especially given Tori’s dual individual immunity wins.
But Jonathan, he’d been “waiting for my moment to make a big move.” His plan was to vote for Drea, flushing her idol, and he told Maryanne she’d be the goat.
Maryanne immediately realized the problem with this, because she’d be voted out if Drea played her idol, and was annoyed that “Jonathan treats me like a young little girl, the sheep that needs to be led.”
Drea, meanwhile, was told that the target was Maryanne, and told us “that’s a red flag for me.” If the tribe is targeting people with idols, she said, “this girl has one, too.”
Lindsay tried to point out the problems in the plan to Jonathan, namely that if Drea played an idol, Maryanne would be voted out, along with her extra vote. The blank look on his face said everything, as did his increasing condescension at having to think about things.
“I know more than you know,” Lindsay told him, and the gears just ground together. In a confessional, she said, “Jonathan is impossible to talk with.”
“We’re not supposed to trust anybody out here,” Jonathan mansplained, and then told Lindsay, “You’re getting really worked up.” She said, “sorry.” Ugh.
When their temporary tribe entered Tribal Council, their jaws all literally dropped. They were stunned to see Rocksroy on the jury, a member of the big alliance cast out.
But Drea and Maryanne noticed something else. Suddenly, there was a pattern on Survivor 42: a jury composed of only Black players, and only Black players, and two more Black players about to vote for each other and add to that jury.
And then Drea and Maryanne saw that they were about to contribute to that pattern, and decided to stop that.
After some chat, Drea said, “I was so proud because we had four Black contestants on Survivor. And it always happens where the Black contestants get voted out, boom boom boom,” Drea said. “That’s exactly what this is right now, so I’m pissed.”
“Do you think it’s race-related?” Probst asked. Then he said, Do you think my hair is wet from all this rain?
“I think it’s just subconsciously a little bit of that, unfortunately,” Drea said. “I’m playing my idol tonight so I can stay in this game. I’m not going to let that happen to another one of us.”
What they were talking about was not a single vote: flush an idol, go back to camp. That’s an individual, isolated decision. So was Drea’s vote for Chanelle last episode, and the previous temporary tribe’s vote of Rocksroy.
After some whispering, Maryanne said—and I am so grateful to her for this—”You know what, everyone can hear me.” She talked about how there was about to be “three Black people in a row,” and how she didn’t want to be “part of perpetuating a problem.”
We didn’t need to see an example of white fragility, but that’s when we got one in Jonathan’s immediate defensiveness. “Ya’ll are coming at this like we’re racist,” Jonathan said.
“No one ever said that,” Drea said. No one did, but Jonathan heard that, just as so many Big Brother fans watched a group of Black people work together and read that as an attack on white people.
Maryanne and Drea talked about implicit bias and patterns of behavior; Jonathan made it about himself.
As Survivor alum Julia Carter tweeted, “Jonathan is a good representation of the ‘I’m not racist’ person that actively contributes to problem. Instead of listening to understand, they get defensive and gaslight.”
Jonathan then made this worse by telling Drea, “You are being aggressive” when she was most definitely not being aggressive at all. (Chanelle and Rocksroy’s faces on the jury expressed the immediate shock and dismay that Jonathan decided to perpetuate that old stereotype.)
Seeing Jonathan get defensive in real time was perhaps a window into some living rooms, judging by some responses on social media.
There was more to what Drea and Maryanne said, but watching it is better than reading a transcript. I appreciate their open discussion of this frequent reality TV pattern.
If you don’t see the need for these conversations on Survivor, I encourage you to go dip your toes in the Facebook Survivor waters for just a few minutes, and see what you find.
Another error in judgment from Survivor’s host
Once again, I think Jeff Probst made a colossal error: this time, in suggesting that they dispense with the Tribal Council formality.
“We can skip that pomp and circumstance,” he said after everything. Um, no. This is a game for $1 million, not a fucking talk show, and it has rules.
Also, voting in private—well, with cameras watching!—is a key part of the game. So is a player’s decision to play an idol or not, including their ability to threaten to do so and then not actually give up their idol.
Turning the vote into a performance erased all of that. Jonathan literally asked Probst “would they turn in their idols?” as if it was something they’d decide together. Both Maryanne and Drea immediately stood up and played their idols, answering the question definitively for him.
Ultimately, Tori became the target, played her shot in the dark, and was voted out.
While it was on a much smaller level, I think Probst’s decision to talk through Tribal Council instead of having an actual vote is equivalent to Survivor 41’s biggest mistake: fundamentally altering the game and its editing at the same time that the cast was diversified, which allowed racist fans to link the two.
Instead of just letting the players play the game, Probst intervened. Maybe, like Jonathan, he should have just shut up.