Survivor is known for its twists. In a never-ending quest to both evolve the game and keep both players and viewers on their toes, the show is constantly trotting out new twists and wrinkles. Some — like hidden immunity idols — are immediate success stories. Others — Medallion of Power, anyone? — are best not mentioned at all.
But the most controversial twist in Survivor history — even more controversial than wrinkles such as the Outcasts, Redemption Island, and the Edge of Extinction ones that allowed voted-out players to re-enter the game — was unleashed on Survivor 41. In a twist that producers call Change History, but is more commonly known as the Hourglass twist, all the players right before the merge except for two were separated onto two teams to take part in a challenge, with the winning team automatically receiving immunity for the next Tribal Council, giving them a fast-pass into the merge. The losers would have to take part in an individual immunity challenge and one of them would be voted out.
The winning team was then able to choose one of the two players that did not compete to join them on the winning side, while the remaining unchosen player — in this case Erika Casupanan — was sent off to Exile Island with an hourglass and a hammer. If Erika chose to smash the hourglass, it would reverse the result of the challenge — meaning those who won were now in danger of being voted out, and those who lost (including Erika) were now completely safe. Needless to say, Erika's smashed the hourglass (and also went on to eventually win the game).
Robert Voets/CBS Erika Casupanan and Jeff Probst on 'Survivor' 41
That meant that Sydney Segal — who was on the winning team for the challenge — ended up voted out. The uproar from viewers was immediate. But it wasn't just from viewers. "It's not even a twist, it's a lie," Segal told EW. "We're told one thing and then something else happens." In addition, Sydney told EW that Danny McCray, who was also on that winning team, was so upset about the deception that he brought his gripes straight to the host.
"We're competitors," Danny told EW after he was voted out in sixth place. "A lot of us leave a lot of things at home to come out here and play this game. And we put a lot on the line and there's an essence to competition. You play to win so you can win something, right? That's the only reason that you would go out there to compete. And the fact that he was able to lie to us, to trick us and make us work as hard as we did just for it to be taken away from us, it just wasn't cool with me. And his response, you know, it was what it was. I won't really get into that, but it just didn't float with me. So I didn't like it."
How much did he not like it? While appearing on the Surviving Snyder podcast this week (hosted by yours truly, along with former Survivor players Rick Devens and Brendan Shapiro), McCray revealed that he almost quit the game because of it. "There was a point where I was checked out and I was going home," says McCray on the podcast. "And they were like, 'What do you need to do in order to stay in the game and feel better about moving forward in the game? Do you want to talk with Jeff about this? I'm sure he wants to hear your thoughts so he can feel like we're keeping the integrity of the game.'"
Robert Voets/CBS Danny McCray on 'Survivor' 41
McCray says he took the producers up on their offer and said his piece to host and executive producer Jeff Probst: "When I went out there, my assumption is he already knew exactly where I was coming from because this has been going on for all day, and it was just kind of one of those moments of listening to what I had to say so we can move on. So I don't think he was surprised, but I do think that he felt that I really thought that it was unfair. He felt that from the rest of the cast too."
A former NFL football player and recent champion of The Challenge: USA, McCray lives for competition, as long as that competition takes place on a fair playing field. But the former Dallas Cowboy is also quick to point out that while he came to the host firmly, he wasn't huffing and puffing and trying to blow the Survivor house down.
"It wasn't like I was out there yelling at him and I'm gonna tackle him or anything like that," McCray says. "I was just speaking my mind and saying, 'Hey, look. This ain't right. This ain't right. Winning is winning, and what is the point of competing if you are then going to be stripped of what you just competed for. I'm only competing for a prize. I'm not competing for anything else. And when you remove the prize, there's no reason to compete.'"
Robert Voets/CBS Danny McCray on 'Survivor 41'
And to his credit, the host listened. When Probst told EW that the Hourglass twist was gone for Survivor 43, it must have felt like vindication for the man who spoke out against it in the moment, but McCray told Surviving Snyder that his vindication came when the episode first aired. "Man, I felt vindicated when I got off the show and I got to see the reaction of a lot of the fans when they saw it happen."
While McCray still shakes his head over what went down on seasons 41 and 42, he's glad others will now not suffer the same fate. "I'm happy for the people that are on the show now that they don't have to now go through something like that. Because they all go on there to compete, it's been that way for 40 something seasons — let 'em get back to playing that game where a win is a win and you get what you earn when you get that win. So I'm happy. I lived through it so they don't have to go through it again. Just imagine if Jonathan would have had to go home last season because of the Hourglass twist after he had the performances that he had in those group challenges and in that merge challenge. It would have been horrible."
But while fans and current players may no longer be talking about the Hourglass twist, it will never truly go away for those who lived through it. "I saw Sydney is Spain recently," says McCray. "We were in Ibiza, and all the way across the pond we're still talking about that stupid Hourglass twist."
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