Many “Survivor” fans were blown away by last week’s episode of “Survivor 41,” in which Shan Smith, the strategic mastermind and dominant leader of the season’s powerful “Black alliance,” was sent packing. Shan’s exit interviews are coming a bit late due to the Thanksgiving weekend, but luckily she has since weighed in on what we missed during her time on the island, why race was such an important factor this season, and why she trusted her all-Black alliance so much. Here’s what she had to say.
Shan Explains Her Close Relationship With Ricard
In her Rob Has a Podcast interview with Rob Cesternino, Shan said that she was feeling “super emotional,” and that watching the episode had been “bittersweet,” since production gave her “such justice…the arc was beautiful, I can’t complain.”
Shan stressed the importance of her relationship with Ricard Foyé, who she said she “loved,” and jokingly called him her “gay husband on the island.” However, she said that a turning point in her game with him came during the “Pizza Under the Stars” reward in last week’s episode, where Ricard openly told Xander Hastings and Heather Aldret that he and Shan did not have a final 2 alliance, in front of Shan.
At that moment, she said, “my heart sank…because I wanted to ask him to be final 2 with me…It’s the only moment in the game, notwithstanding pre-game, that I was [afraid to] put myself out there because I thought he would reject me and say, ‘no I think we should do our own separate things’.” She went on to say that, “I wish I would’ve just locked in a final 2 with him but I don’t know how that would’ve worked with a Black alliance.”
She elaborated in an interview with TVLine that she later learned that Ricard only said that because he didn’t want Heather and Xander to know how close they actually were. “But in that moment,” she explained, “I thought, ‘Oh, damn, maybe he’s moving away from me’.”
Why Race Was Such an Important Factor in ‘Survivor 41’
Shan also emphasized why race played such a strong role this season, and how “Survivor” is different for people of color than it is for white people. Shan, who describes herself as an “activist” who was “leading the protest in L.A for Breonna Taylor, for Ahmaud Arbery, [and] George Floyd,” explained in RHAP that the season took place in the backdrop of civil unrest surrounding racial justice (which she said was “high on my radar … I was very, very dialed into that”), as well as the trial for Derek Chauvin, the verdict of which had not yet been announced by the time they started playing.
As a result of such a monumental backdrop, she explained, she felt that Black players needed to stick together to prove their worth. She elaborated in an interview with Parade, “[forming the Black alliance] was the moment where my gameplay shifted from being an individual game to playing a group game for something bigger. The Black community had just gone through so much in 2020. I really wanted to prove to the world that Black people could come together and really work together and achieve greatness in this game, if not in the real world, where systems oppress us all of the time. So I was really sold for that mission.”
It was because of this, she explained, which is why she felt so betrayed by Deshawn and Danny. Deshawn in particular promised “on the culture” earlier that day that he would not betray her. She elaborated in TVLine:
That morning, Deshawn promised and swore on the culture that he was in for the mission. I said, ‘This is where my head is at too, and I know we’re having a hard time with our relationship, but I do want you to feel heard. I love you bro, you’re my family. Let’s get to the end and win this thing together’ … I never in a million years thought they would flip, and they did. That’s the hardest part.
She elaborated in RHAP that, due to these pre-existing bonds and promises based on something outside the game, she “absolutely meant” her parting words to Ricard and Deshawn (that the former “[has] my vote for $1 million” and that the latter was a “snake”), and did not simply say so to put a target on Ricard’s back. She felt that Ricard, who was not part a Black player and hence didn’t share that connection with her, “made the best move of the season,” by voting her out, “because I wasn’t going to take my foot off the pedal going to the end … he saw the influence that I had.” However, she did reassure listeners that she and Deshawn are on good terms now. “I know that in the game of Survivor you can get caught up and things can get crazy,” she said. “But I know who [Deshawn] is at his heart and he’s a good person.”
Shan also spoke about the privilege that white players have on “Survivor,” versus players of color, both in terms of what it means for their community, as well as how they might be perceived by the audience. She explained in RHAP:
The privilege that white players have … is that they don’t have to worry about the world, they don’t have to worry about what’s happening in society, what’s happening in the white community, that’s not a concern for them. They have the freedom to go and play, that privilege carries on into the game of Survivor. For people of color though, you’re always worried about the optics, you’re always worried about, ‘Am I gonna look like a sellout? Am I gonna look like i failed’?”
What Viewers Missed in Episode 10
Shan also added that there was a key element in episode 10 which was not shown on television.
In a number of interviews, Shan explained that she hadn’t gone to the bathroom in 18 days and hence needed medical attention. As a result, she was with the medics all afternoon and missed out on a great deal of strategy talk. She explained in Parade:
What they didn’t show was, after the challenge, I was actually really sick. I had that one conversation [when Liana told Shan she was being targeted], and I was with the medics the rest of the afternoon. I came back maybe ten minutes before Tribal. I really wasn’t anywhere on the beach. So when I got to Tribal, I was trying to recover from my visit to medical. I wasn’t trying to read the room. I know people are asking, ‘Did she not play her idol because of ego?’ No! If I had been on that beach that day, I probably would have played my idol.
When first asked by EW if she would play again, she responded, “it’s too soon,” but then added, “I hope so. I mean, maybe, I don’t know. Only with Ricard. No, I’m just joking.”
One thing is for sure; Shan, who has grown to be a fan favorite and was one of the biggest players of season 41, will likely be asked back in the event of a future returning players season. As of now, however, Shan will have a voice in who wins season 41 as the fourth member of the jury.
Be sure to tune in to “Survivor 41” Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on CBS. The season finale will air December 15.