Last Night’s Episode Of ‘Survivor’ Proves The New Era Is Better Without Villains

A new season of everyone’s favorite stranded-on-a-deserted-island reality show started its 45th season last week, and there’s already so much to talk about. From someone quitting in the very first week to an entire twist that got cut from the first episode, this season is a madhouse and I’m loving every minute of it. Last night’s episode, the second so far in the season, had something happen that’s unheard-of in Survivor: An unlikable, villainous-seeming player had a redemption arc and it worked in their favor. It highlights something important about the new era of Survivor: Villains are out.

*Spoilers for the first two episodes of Survivor ahead.*

Almost within 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 an advantage in the game, she fought back in a way you don’t normally see in Survivor, especially when you’re only just getting to know everyone. Later in 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 end of the episode, she was saved from the by Hannah volunteering to leave (thanks to nicotine withdrawals and a serious case of “hating the outdoors, it turns out.”) By all accounts, Survivor was setting her up to be this season’s villain, something they haven’t highlighted since the new era began with season 41.

That all shifted in last night’s episode. While tensions were high in the Lulu tribe at the beginning, as they usually are when a tribe is just getting back from tribal council, that changed the following day. Tribemate Kaleb Gebrewold, someone Emily had been trying to oust from the game 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 adorable 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 plenty 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 always 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 listen 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 are not stocks. People have feelings and emotions. You can’t brute-force things in life, and I tried to brute-force this game. And now I’m trying to take these lessons to heart.”

And, true to her word, they showed her making up with the rest of her tribemates, complimenting them, giving them hugs, and it all felt so genuine. The character that fans have been dogging on all week was now showing the world that she could change–and fast.

It all came to a head during the team’s tribal council at the end of last night’s episode. The tribe had to decide whether to get rid of Emily or Brandon Donlon, an admittedly likeable player who happened to be royally bombing every single challenge. Do they do what every tribe in every season does and keep a liability around just because he’d align with them during a merge, or do they keep the girl who appeared to be a villain of Survivor seasons past who was actually listening and changing her behavior?

In the end, they kept Emily. Reviews of the episode and the tribe’s choice have been largely positive, praising the character growth that Emily achieved in one episode that usually takes other questionable players an entire season to learn. While it remains to be seen if she’ll keep up these new tribe-first positive vibes, it’ll fun to watch regardless.

The new era of Survivor has been lacking villains, and, frankly, it’s much better this way. Congrats, Emily, for breaking the mold.

You can catch new episodes of Survivor on Wednesday nights on CBS or on Paramount+ the following day.

About the author

Trisha Bartle

Trisha’s your resident tarot reader, rom-com lover, and horror connoisseur. In addition to using her vast knowledge of all things cinema for Thought Catalog’s TV + Movies entertainment section, she also offers her astrological and tarot expertise to Collective World. Trisha splits her time between making art and being awesome.