Spoilers ahead for “Survivor” season 41, episodes 1 through 7.
Is this the most Jewish season of “Survivor”? I’m going to answer my own question: Yes, this is absolutely, 100% the most Jewish season of “Survivor” that’s ever aired.
There are four Jewish castaways: Tiffany Seely, 47, a Jewish mom and teacher from Long Island; Evvie Jagoda, 28, a Jewish PhD student from Westchester, New York, currently living in Massachusetts; Liana Wallace, 20, a Jewish student from Evanston, Illinois, currently attending Georgetown; and Sydney Segal, 26, a Jewish law student from L.A. currently living in Brooklyn.
Though Sydney was voted off last night, the fact that three Jewish players made it to the merge, and four played for half the season, is historic. Tiffany, Evvie and Liana were on the Yase tribe together, while Sydney was on Luvu.
Before season 41, there had been 20 Jewish players total on “Survivor,” including three winners: Ethan Zohn, Adam Klein and John Cochran. There’s never been a Jewish woman or nonbinary person who has won the show. (Maybe this year?!)
Ethan was only 27 years old when he became the reality competition’s third-ever winner in 2001. He competed again in “Survivor All-Stars” in 2003, and returned for “Survivor: Winners at War” last season, in 2020.
Ethan credited his Jewish upbringing in helping him win. “The values I learned growing up in the Jewish community worked well with the people that were there,” he said in 2019. “It was more about being selfless in a selfish game, being the teacher, being a member of the community, being a leader who works well with other people. Those are the things I learned growing up within the Jewish people.”
And, notably, at a food auction — a classic reward challenge — Ethan refused to eat ham, though he was starving 30 days into the competition:
Most hilarious moment in the history of Survivor(according to me).When asked what scenes from from #Africa you want to see.The #BigTom “He’s a Jew& won’t eat the ham” Food Auction was most requested. After 30 days, I still didn’t eat the ham!#survivor #ham #jewish @survivorcbs pic.twitter.com/CdJ661KFd9
— Ethan Zohn (@EthanZohn) February 11, 2020
While we’ve seen no ham refusal on season 41, we did get Tiffany’s incredible “Baruch Hashem” moment last week — when Tiffany scooped a spoonful of rice after losing a challenge and let out a classic “Baruch Hashem,” or thank God.
— Tiffany Seely (@tiffanyseely) October 28, 2021
But like I said, Tiffany was joined by three other Jewish contestants this season: Evvie, Liana and Sydney. The four of them are all showing the many faces of what it means to be Jewish in America today. Let’s meet them:
In addition to being part of the first season of four Jews, Evvie made history on “Survivor”: They’re the first nonbinary and genderqueer contestant. As spotted by viewers, Evvie has a rainbow flag tattooed on their ankle with the word “YAY” above it.
Coming out, Evvie explained, prepared them to compete on the show:
“I think a life experience that prepared me for the game was actually coming out. I really wasn’t able to admit to myself that I was queer until after college. It was something that I was keeping below the surface for a long time. Eventually, I came out, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I spent my whole life thinking, “Will it be okay if I was gay?” And then it turns out that from coming out, my life is so much better than okay. It’s like 1000 million trillion times better than it was before. That really opened my eyes that when you actually let yourself be yourself and go for it and do things that are scary, it can have the most amazing transformative effect. And I try to take that lesson forward into every aspect of my life. And coming into the game of Survivor, it’s all about taking huge risks and things that seem like they’re going to be scary, and hopefully, they have a really amazing outcome.”
Plus, Evvie put on their contestant bio that their pet peeve was “men,” making her instantly iconic.
Evvie is a PhD student at Harvard and their Twitter bio reads “be gay, do science.” Obviously, we love them.
Liana, a Black Jewish student and activist, is from Evanston, Illinois, and currently attends Georgetown University. She describes herself as “adventurous, loving and outspoken” and performs spoken word poetry.
She read a poem called “American” in June 2020 at a Black Lives Matter rally, and part of that poem reads:
And her name will be America
When I am shouting into this microphone
Standing here Jewish and Black
Spanish randomly rolling off my tongue
From stolen people
That her name will be America
Even when we can’t stand her
Even when we burn her flag
When we set fire to corporations
That this is America
You can watch her perform at 01:10:37 in this video:
Additionally, in a blog about Liana’s college application essay, the note reads, “Liana is a student activist, a spoken word artist who has lived in Japan with her family, honors her Jewish and African-American heritages equally, and is fearless in the face of injustice.”
Liana, too, is part of “Survivor” history. In 2020, CBS announced a new diversity pledge: “Survivor” casts would be 50 percent people of color. When the merge happened, Liana, Shan, Deshawn and Danny immediately linked up in an all-Black alliance — something that wouldn’t have been possible in previous seasons.
When Shan brings up the possibility of allying, Danny, a former NFL player, replies, “You’re making my heart sing right now,” and Liana adds, “After this year, we need that.”
— shan (@shantelmsmith) October 28, 2021
As Deshawn said, “I’m used to being around a lot of African American people. But I thought that I probably wouldn’t get a chance to play with Black people in this game. And that’s not the case. This season, the beauty of having a diverse cast is that it kind of busts your possibilities wide open. It would be foolish not to work together.”
In Liana’s confessional, she explained why the alliance mattered to her so much: “As people of color, there is a shared experience. You’re like, ‘Oh, you’re the only one in your classroom that looks like you? Me too.’ And so you have this bond and this connection right off the bat. We do want to uplift one another in this game and that would be a really beautiful thing.”
As Liana said before the game: “I believe I can be the final Survivor because too often, women of color are overlooked and undervalued.”
Cheering for Liana, always.
Sydney got significantly less screen time than the others on the list — because her tribe kept winning. However, when all the tribes merged, or pre-merged, or whatever you wanna call what they did, Sydney was the first to go.
Sydney Segal, who goes by @queensydney on Instagram, calls herself a “future president.” She often posts about her travels, and has a goal of traveling to every country in the world.
From Tel Aviv, she posted, “Just hate me cause you ain’t me ❗️xx your favorite Zionist forever and always.”
She went on Birthright in college, and identifies as proudly interfaith — Jewish and Catholic, explaining to Columbia’s paper, “Since I see Catholicism as my religion and Judaism as my culture, they almost complement each other in a way.” She became a bat mitzvah in Israel while on Birthright:
As she wrote after her trip, “What an unbelievable experience in Israel these past 10 days. I can confidently say I’m forever changed. Made some lifelong friends along the way. Off to Europe ✡✝ #interfaith.”
As she said before playing on “Survivor,” “I feel like I’m either first out or I’m winning.” Sad to see you go, Syd!!
Last but certainly not least is our Jewish queen, Tiffany Seely. Tiffany is an English teacher, a boutique owner and a BRCA gene spokeswoman living in Long Island. She’s a mom of two, and describes herself as “funny, loving, LOUD.”
— Tiffany Seely (@tiffanyseely) November 1, 2021
She obviously captured our hearts with her “Baruch Hashem” moment, but what is wonderful about Tiffany is that she seems to be the same person both on and off the show — in her words: funny, loving and loud.
Tiffany has family in Israel, and her mom passed away when she was young. “My life has always been about survival. My mother died of ovarian cancer, which happened to have come from a genetic pattern called the BRCA gene. And I was one of the youngest people in the U.S. to have a prophylactic double mastectomy and oophorectomy,” Tiffany said. “Had I not made that decision to do that, had I not met that doctor, I don’t know that my fate would have been the same.”
This led Tiffany to become a BRCA gene spokeswoman; Ashkenazi Jewish women are 10 times more likely to have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation than women in the general United States population.
Ahead of the season airing, out of all the “Survivor” winners she identified with, she picked another Jewish winner, Adam Klein: “I like Adam a lot. I identified with him. He was losing his mom at the time. He was quite young. I was quite young when I watched my mom die of ovarian cancer. And he was doing it for his mom. And I think my whole life, I’ve done everything to make her proud of me, even though she’s not here on earth with us. But I know she’s with me and her light shines through me constantly.”
Baruch Hashem for Tiffany, and for Jewish representation on “Survivor.”