Warning: Major spoilers ahead for the premiere of Survivor 41!
Thanks to a lengthy hiatus due to COVID-19 shutdowns, it's been a hot minute since Survivor has graced our screens with betrayals and blindsides, but the show is finally back in the CBS lineup for Fall TV's big premiere week. That said, it's not quite the same game fans will remember. We already knew the timeframe was shortened from 39 days to 26 days and that there aren’t resounding themes anymore. But Survivor 41’s premiere also introduced some risky new twists and the series' first ever double tribal council opener, which immediately and considerably complicated matters for this season's contestants.
Right out of the gate in the Survivor 41 premiere, contestants Xander Hastings, JD Robinson and Danny McCray were each chosen by their respective tribes for an unknown task, and what ensued was ultimately a prisoner's dilemma. In other words, the three strangers were asked to assume the others’ intentions. In private, they each had to choose between protecting their vote or risking it. If their choices were unanimous either way, then everyone would either lose or keep their vote in the next tribal council. If it wasn't unanimous — ding ding ding — then whoever chose to risk their vote would get an extra vote later to use at their leisure.
Ultimately, Survivor's tri-sided game of chicken landed Xander Hastings and JD Robinson with extra votes for their gamble. Neither used it in their back-to-back tribal council votes — which was expected, since they would basically be throwing away a huge power way too soon — but judging how the majority of Robinson's team expressed wariness around him at camp, his extra vote could mean pulling off a big move in the next tribal if he is still in trouble. And that outcome could spell unexpected disaster for someone else.
But while that was was all fine and dandy (except perhaps for Danny McCray), the juiciest new twist to the game of Survivor this season is called “Shot in the Dark.” True to the name, and in keeping with the prisoner’s dilemma conceit, it entailed quite at this bit of risk. Basically, a contestant has to decide at tribal council if they want to secretly gamble for a one-in-six shot at safety. (Or a 17% chance, as resident mathematician Jeff Probst claimed). Failure means losing one's vote entirely, though.
With this twist, obviously Survivor contestants can opt to do nothing, they can win safety and throw a monkey wrench in someone else’s plans, or they can lose and lose big. It all depends on how safe someone feels in that moment, which can obviously change rather dramatically, depending on timing. In Survivor 41's premiere, the double tribal council night combined with the unforeseen choices of the twist was a recipe for multiple blindsides.
At the Yase tribal council, Eric Abraham was the target, but he didn't even know it and therefore didn't know to gamble for that safety before being voted out. Conversely, the Ua tribal council went “live” after a lot of whispering and panic over the new twist, and Sara Wilson went home after only 5 of 6 votes were read indicating that someone felt unsafe but that the risk didn’t bear fruit.
Though Jeff Probst claimed that themes will be gone for good in this ‘new era’ of Survivor, it’s obvious from the Season 41 premiere episode that there is something of an unofficial conceit at work. The prisoner’s dilemma and “Shot in the Dark” twist are laying the foundation for chaos to ensue, so it could be said that this absence of themes is one in and of itself. What we've already seen so far sets up the potentiality for anyone and everyone's plans to be ruined at the very last of last minutes, and I’m loving it so far.
Tune in to Survivor 41 on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. EST on CBS to find out how much farther players are willing to gamble for $1 million. And be sure to keep up with all the other big premieres coming to the 2021 Fall TV schedule!
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