"The tribes already know we're going to merge from Tree Mail, but this is [Season 41], where they've already learned that nothing is easy. What they're about to find out is that even when you earn it, nothing is guaranteed," Jeff explained.
Jeff went on to explain what was going to happen -- the "biggest twist so far."
"We're going to run a big challenge, and when it's over, a group is going to believe they're safe -- but they're going to be forced to send one player away, which is always dangerous," Jeff teased.
"And in doing so, they will knowingly give that player a historic amount of power. The question is going to be, 'What will that player do with the power?' This may ruffle some feathers!"
The three tribes then met Jeff, who announced the castaways had entered "the individual portion of Survivor."
Jeff asked the three tribes to drop their buffs, which led all the players to assume they had reached the merge and would be forming one large tribe.
But, on the contrary, Jeff announced, "Not exactly! It may be better to say you're not merged. In fact, at the moment, you are without a buff and without a tribe."
Jeff explained to the castaways they must earn their way into the merge for the first time in Survivor history.
Jeff proceeded to have the castaways draw for two teams and then compete in a physical challenge, which required the players to dig up a massive boulder and push it through a series of obstacles while retrieving keys along the way.
Once at the end of the obstacle course, the players were instructed to climb to the top of a tower and use those keys to unlock a Survivor word puzzle. The first team to finish the puzzle would earn their first proper meal in 12 days, plus "the merge buff."
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In addition, the winners would not have to participate in the first Individual Immunity Challenge. Instead, they would be automatically safe from the vote.
"The losing team -- no proper meal, no buff, and you will have to participate in that challenge to be safe at Tribal," Jeff pointed out. "And to be clear, everybody will still vote at Tribal Council."
And there was one more layer to the big twist.
Jeff announced how the castaways would be drawing rocks and two players would be stuck with gray rocks. Those two people would not join a team and would not participate in the challenge ahead of them.
"Your fate will be decided by the winning team," Jeff declared. "A Survivor player's journey often comes down to a moment, and sometimes, the moment starts with a luck of the draw."
The two players who drew gray rocks were original Luvu Tribe members Naseer Muttalif, a 37-year-old sales manager from Sri Lanka who currently resides in Morgan Hill, CA, as well as Erika Casupanan, a 32-year-old communications manager from Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada who currently resides in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
The rest of the castaways drew blue or yellow rocks and were split into two teams of five.
The Yellow Team was comprised of Xander Hastings, a 21-year-old app developer from Jacksonville, FL who currently resides in Chicago, IL; Heather Aldret, a 52-year-old stay-at-home mom from Charleston, SC; Liana Wallace, a 20-year-old college student from Evanston, IL who currently resides in Washington, D.C.; Tiffany Seely, a 47-year-old teacher from Forest Hills, Queens, NY who currently resides in Plainview, NY; and Shantel "Shan" Smith, a 34-year-old pastor from Toronto, Canada who currently resides in Washington, D.C.
The Blue Team featured Ricard Foye, a 31-year-old flight attendant from Lynnwood, WA who currently resides in Sedro-Woolley, WA; Danny McCray, a 33-year-old ex-NFL player from Houston, TX who currently resides in Frisco, TX; Sydney Segal, a 26-year-old law student from Los Angeles, CA who currently resides in Brooklyn, NY; Deshawn Radden, a 26-year-old medical student from San Bernardino, CA who currently resides in Miami, FL; and Evvie Jagoda, a 28-year-old PhD student from Westchester, NY who currently resides in Arlington, MA.
"You can't just waltz into the merge; you've got to earn the merge!" Jeff reiterated of the new twist.
Naseer and Erika then watched the challenge for food, buffs and immunity unfold from the sidelines.
Despite a huge effort from the Yellow Team to come from behind, the Blue Team won the challenge and were told they'd be taken to a sanctuary to enjoy a feast and spa day.
Not only would they receive buffs, but they'd automatically be safe at the next Tribal Council.
Jeff then asked the Blue Team to choose either Naseer or Erika to join them for the exciting day.
"The person you choose to join you, for them, it will be as if they won -- food, buff and immunity. [It's a] very big strategic decision because that is a gift," Jeff announced.
"For the other person, they will be taken to a separate island, where they will live alone for two days and two nights... with no company and no shelter. So for very different reasons, also a strategic decision."
The Blue Team quickly talked amongst themselves and claimed they had made a decision based on a game of "Rock, Paper, Scissors." The team therefore concluded Naseer would join them and Erika would be sent away.
As for the losing team, they'd head to Luvu's camp -- the "merge home," according to Jeff -- and would have a little rice waiting for them, just enough rice for the day.
Erika wondered if the supposed game of a chance was just "a nice cover" to not hurt her feelings because she assumed the Blue Team would have chosen Naseer over her. Erika confirmed that she had never expected to join the feast.
"Hearing I'm going to be alone on an island is honestly a nightmare," Erika said in a confessional in tears.
"My first 12 days on Survivor was not what I thought was going to happen. I didn't expect to have moments where I was perfectly safe and feel so powerless. I didn't expect to be exiled for two days. But as long as I get it done and do it, that's what matters!"
Evvie, a big Super Fan of Survivor, insisted this was definitely the most challenging season of Survivor yet because she went many days eating "zero" calories and not even having rice at all.
While the winning team enjoyed their meal, Naseer felt safe and comfortable with a hidden Immunity Idol in his pocket.
Danny told the cameras his team had wanted Naseer with them all along and it was important to keep a man in the competition since the women seemed to be eliminating men one after the next on the other two original tribes.
Danny wanted to keep the men's numbers up, and he said it therefore made "the most sense" to send Erika home next.
Meanwhile, Erika was able to make fire on Exile Island and she bragged about being ready to play Survivor "like a lion" even though her fellow castaways probably viewed her "like a lamb."
Shan then exposed Liana's Extra Vote advantage to Tiffany, which Liana had not planned on sharing.
However, Liana and Shan teamed up, and Liana told her pal that if she asked someone to give her an idol or advantage -- and asked the correct question to the right person -- that person would have to give up the idol or advantage to Liana.
Liana thought Tiffany was aggressive and playing the game really hard, and so she considered Tiffany "poison," and Tiffany, on the other hand, wasn't sure she was going to completely have Liana's back going forward due to Liana's secrecy.
The Blue and Yellow Teams then merged, and everyone talked about how Erika was "dangerous," assuming she would receive some type of advantage on Exile Island.
And they were right! Suddenly, Jeff arrived on Exile Island via boat and shared with Erika how the Blue Team was unaware that by casting her away, they had given her "tremendous power."
Erika was given an hourglass filled with black sand. The sand at the bottom of the hourglass represented the time that had already passed in the game of Survivor 41.
"If you want, you can leave the game in its natural state and the events that have happened, happened -- what is, is. That's our history," Jeff said.
Jeff then presented Erika with a second option, telling her, "You could go back in time and change history. You have the power to reverse the outcome of yesterday's merge challenge."
"Oh my God!" Erika responded.
"So those that have immunity would have it stripped from them, and they would have to compete and one of the six of them would be voted out. You and the other five would be safe and guaranteed a spot in the Final 11," Jeff explained.
Jeff left Erika with that huge decision, to possibly "make history by changing history" and smashing the hourglass.
Erika was told that she'd have to make her monumental game-changing choice by the next morning.
"What makes it complicated is the six who are safe are the majority of my original tribe," Erika reasoned. "So this could burn bridges with the people I do have some type of trust with."
Erika realized this move would be something Survivor fans talk about for "a long time" and she was feeling "a lot of pressure."
When Wednesday night's Survivor broadcast began on Night 11 following Genie Chen's elimination, the UA Tribe was comprised of Shan and Ricard, who were beginning to lose trust in one another.
The Yase Tribe was made up of Tiffany, Evvie, Liana, and Xander, with Xander on the outs of the tight threesome of women.
And the dominating Luvu Tribe consisted of Naseer, Danny, Deshawn, Erika, Heather, and Sydney. Luvu pretended to be a strong six considering they never had to vote someone off at Tribal Council, but there were definitely cracks in the mold.