From lamb to lion to queen, Survivor has its first female winner since 2017.
On Survivor Season 41 Episode 13, Erika Casupanan won the title and the million in a Final Three against Xander Hastings and Deshawn Radden.
It was a long, hard road to the end, but it was a thrilling, twisty journey from beginning to end.
(This review contains spoilers from Survivor: Cook Islands, Survivor China, Survivor: San Juan Del Sur, and Survivor: Edge Of Extinction)
Many of the castaways have indicated this throughout the season, but the sentiment that kept coming up was, "I'm just happy to be here."
Even Jeff seemed to have a spring in his step. When the season began, it felt like we were getting some normalcy back. Survivor is a luxury that we certainly don't need, but it's something so enjoyable and steady and has been a part of television for the last 20 years.
At the last challenge, Erika and Heather greeted Jeff in their usual friendly manner. Erika asks if he will miss them, and he let himself realize that he actually would.
This cast has been wonderful and lovable, but this Survivor season has been special for reasons that transcend the game itself.
The episode showed another beautiful, human side of Ricard, as he finally divulged a secret to Xander that he'd been holding in -- he had a baby due back home any day.
I gave up a life moment to be here.Ricard
Xander felt for his friend deeply and even considered playing the idol for Ricard. This might have been a mere misdirect to keep the suspense for the audience because it would have been a TERRIBLE move on Xander's part.
Ricard acknowledged the confidence he found in himself. It's not a new thing to get voted out for being the biggest threat to win, but Ricard can absolutely hold his head high knowing that he played an incredible game.
Though it was devastating for us watching at home, knowing how amazingly Ricard has played, Xander made the right move.
If you don't win, it can still be a victory.Jeff
Xander made so many great moves -- the big, bold kind that Survivor tends to reward., or at least has in the past. He held on to an idol, won some clutch immunities, and outsmarted Liana when she tried to play her Knowledge Is Power advantage.
Xander has been our unreliable narrator this entire season. He's good-looking, charming, and big on himself. He dominated the screen this episode, and we always knew his takes on most of the goings-on -- whether they were accurate or not.
Xander threw himself into the game, even reveling in a thunderstorm, with an unapologetic enthusiasm for Survivor matched possibly only by Naseer.
The big question was always why would the others not try to get him out when he had this idol? The answer was surprising -- because nobody believed he was a threat to win. Deshawn talked about his own skewed perception, but that was a huge part of Xander's game.
What he believed was confident came across as showboating. His final idol play was a good move, but his way of doing it undoubtedly soured some jurors.
The decision to take Erika to the final three with him made sense in theory -- he thought he knew how well she could make fire, and he didn't want her to get that moment to show off to the jury. It was fortunate he had a chance to explain that in tribal council.
Erika was so clever to downplay her game to Xander. She stated in the end that part of her strategy was to capitalize on the fact that she was constantly underestimated, and it worked on the person she needed it to the most.
Erika played a consistent, strong game, much of it invisible, but her winning move was convincing Xander that she wasn't as big a threat to him as Deshawn.
Deshawn and Heather tried to convince Xander to get her out, but Xander believed his read on the situation was the most accurate.
Deshawn and Heather's final fire-making showdown was incredible and the closest a victory has ever been.
This is Survivor but I feel like a thriver.Deshawn
Heather probably knew better than Deshawn that they were competing for a runner-up position, but it didn't matter. They both worked on their fires with everything they had in them, and Heather walked out proud of what she had done.
Heather's lack of screentime this season was almost more frustrating than Erika's, but perhaps this defeat is why -- if we had actually known anything about her, we might have been rooting for her harder and been more disappointed that she lost by seconds.
Still, Heather's arc, when she was present, was inspiring enough -- an older woman who kept failing but knew she had it in her to keep trying, and she built a strong fire. The support and encouragement that came through for her from the jury during the fire-making was truly touching.
It was also nice how supportive Jeff was of Heather -- he knows what it takes to be on this show, and it was clear he respected her tenacity.
The block-stacking "A Bit Tipsy" challenge has to be one of the hardest, but it feels like Xander performed it better than anyone else ever has, historically. Did he even drop once? If he did, I must've blinked.
Honestly, it would be nice if Survivor could come up with some new challenges. It is fun seeing the old favorites every now and then, but when every challenge is a repeat of something that has happened multiple times over the last ten or so seasons, they cease to be as interesting.
It doesn't have to be all-new challenges in every episode for every subsequent season, but a few new ones in the rotation wouldn't go amiss.
The location will be the same for the foreseeable future -- Fiji is stunningly beautiful, and production has a good relationship with the locals, so it makes sense to keep things there. It would really be worth thinking up some original ways to make the contestants sweat!
At Final Tribal Council, the outcome started to crystallize pretty quickly, and Xander realized that he had made a fatal error in bringing Erika. There wasn't necessarily anything he could have done from the point he won final immunity, though.
The best Xander might have done was pull a Chris Underwood and take on Erika at final fire-making himself. In a final three with Heather and Deshawn, his odds would have improved greatly.
I was like the tumbleweed bouncing awkwardly in the middle.Xander
Deshawn had an incredible episode, but much like the rest of his game, it was full-throttle, emotional, and misguided. It was clear the jury respected Erika's more controlled game and how she quietly asserted dominance over him time and time again.
Even his apologies felt more like "I'm sorry you feel that way" rather than "I'm genuinely sorry I hurt you" -- until Shan got to him. But by then, Erika had it all wrapped up.
After four and a half years since the last female winner and six men in a row taking the title, Erika managed to accomplish what so many had hoped for but worried might not be possible.
A few statistics about our winner (based on US Survivor only):
- Erika Casupanan is the first person of Filipino descent to win.
- Erika is the first fully Canadian player to win. (Todd Herzog from Survivor: China has dual Canadian/American citizenship)
- Erika is the third person of Asian descent to win, after Yul Kwon and Natalie Anderson.
- Erika is the only woman of color to defeat two men in a Final Three.
That's a lot of money in Canada, so thank you.Erika
Erika's win is a coup for the quiet players, for those under-the-radar strategic threats. The best part was that she knew how to articulate the strength of her game to the jury, and kudos to them for recognizing the skill with which she pulled it off.
However, production did her a disservice by downplaying her game so much in the so-called "first quarter." It's true there were plenty of stories to tell, and it makes sense that Xander and Deshawn got a healthy amount of screentime so that the final episode could feel suspenseful.
It's great to keep casting players like Erika -- not just for the inclusivity/diversity factor but to recognize that there is no one right way to win Survivor. Some games are flashy and bombastic, some are quiet, complex, and layered, and if that gets you to the end, then it's worth showcasing. Let that be part of this new era that keeps being touted.
That's it for season 41 of Survivor! Here's hoping for another charismatic and watchable cast for Season 42.
What did you think of the Finale? Are you happy with the winner! Did you enjoy the after-party? Hit the comments to share your thoughts!
You can watch Survivor online right here at TV Fanatic!
Mary Littlejohn Mary Littlejohn is a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She loves television, cinema, and theatre (especially musicals!), particularly when it champions inclusivity, diversity, and social justice. Follow her on Twitter.