A recent season of everyone’s favorite stranded-on-a-deserted-island reality show began its forty fifth season last week, and there’s already a lot to speak about. From someone quitting within the very first week to an entire twist that got cut from the primary episode, this season is a madhouse and I’m loving every minute of it. Last night’s episode, the second to this point within the season, had something occur that’s unheard-of in Survivor: An unlikable, villainous-seeming player had a redemption arc and it worked of their favor. It highlights something necessary in regards to the recent era of Survivor: Villains are out.
*Spoilers for the primary two episodes of Survivor ahead.*
Almost throughout the first five minutes of last week’s premier of season 45, we’re introduced to the abrasive and aggressive attitude of Emily Flippen. Calling out returnee Bruce for having a bonus in the sport, she fought back in a way you don’t normally see in Survivor, especially once you’re only just attending to know everyone. Later within the episode, she went on to have what her fellow Lulu tribemates described as a “negative” attitude and furthered that energy into tribal council. Despite being on the chopping block at the tip of the episode, she was saved from the by Hannah volunteering to go away (because of nicotine withdrawals and a serious case of “hating the outside, it seems.”) By all accounts, Survivor was setting her as much as be this season’s villain, something they haven’t highlighted because the recent era began with season 41.
That all shifted in last night’s episode. While tensions were high within the Lulu tribe initially, as they typically are when a tribe is just returning from tribal council, that modified the next day. Tribemate Kaleb Gebrewold, someone Emily had been attempting to oust from the sport the previous episode, was giving her the pep talk Emily apparently needed.
“Everybody’s hating on her, but I can’t help but think to myself, how can I possibly help?” Kaleb told the camera during his confessional following an cute and emotional conversation between the pair. While he outlined his reasons as strategic, it was also clear he meant it on an emotional level, too.
While loads of abrasive or villainous (or those just lacking some serious self-awareness) players of seasons past have had a talking-to from their fellow tribemates, they were all the time followed by that player ignoring all their advice. That’s not the case with Emily, though. In a surprising show of understanding and empathy, she appeared to genuinely take heed to Kaleb. She told the cameras during her own confessional:
“When things get stressful, what do you do? This is an emotional game, I’m discovering that. People usually are not stocks. People have feelings and emotions. You can’t brute-force things in life, and I attempted to brute-force this game. And now I’m attempting to take these lessons to heart.”
And, true to her word, they showed her making up with the remaining of her tribemates, complimenting them, giving them hugs, and all of it felt so real. The character that fans have been dogging on all week was now showing the world that she could change–and fast.
It all got here to a head throughout the team’s tribal council at the tip of last night’s episode. The tribe had to choose whether to eliminate Emily or Brandon Donlon, an admittedly likeable player who happened to be royally bombing each challenge. Do they do what every tribe in every season does and keep a liability around simply because he’d align with them during a merge, or do they keep the girl who seemed to be a villain of Survivor seasons past who was actually listening and changing her behavior?
In the tip, they kept Emily. Reviews of the episode and the tribe’s alternative have been largely positive, praising the character growth that Emily achieved in a single episode that typically takes other questionable players a whole season to learn. While it stays to be seen if she’ll sustain these recent tribe-first positive vibes, it’ll fun to observe regardless.
The recent era of Survivor has been lacking villains, and, frankly, it’s a lot better this fashion. Congrats, Emily, for breaking the mold.
You can catch recent episodes of Survivor on Wednesday nights on CBS or on Paramount+ the next day.