Liana Wallace entered Survivor 41 with the hopefulness, initiative, and energy of a college student. Her mind was set on one idea: Make big moves. It’s a philosophy she followed throughout her near-three weeks in the game. As a result of her philosophy, she made and broke pivotal relationships, harbored everlasting grudges, blindsided, and was blindsided in return. And at the end of it all, despite an up and down last few days, she walked out of Tribal Council with no regrets.
From the early days of Yase, Liana helped take control of the tribe in a women’s alliance with Evvie Jagoda and Tiffany Seely. But despite maintaining a position of power in the premerge, Liana was not completely happy with the state of her tribe, in particular one person. Xander Hastings had survived the vote, despite not having one to cast. Yase kept winning challenges and was seemingly more unified as a group of ragtag underdogs. But the turtle shell over them was fragile, as Liana continued to harbor resentment towards Xander, eagerly awaiting the day she could take him out.
The day before the tribes merged, she got a first glance at that opportunity when she had an afternoon with Shan Smith. Liana immediately connected with the pastor, as they shared a tender moment and quickly blossomed into a close and trusting partnership. And so she left the Yase group behind to form a new alliance with the remaining Black players in Shan, Danny McCray, and Deshawn Radden. Her first move with the new majority was to strike off-handedly at Xander, using her new advantage to steal his idol. Unfortunately, it was indeed true that knowledge was power, but in this case, it was everyone’s knowledge of Liana’s advantage that gave the other Yase members power to survive the vote. Liana continued to dominate with her new alliance despite the setback, confident she would see the endgame with them. But she was soon sideswiped when she was the only person not involved in a huge coup to take out Shan. In the next round, with Danny immune and Deshawn with a 33% chance of immunity himself via the new “Do or Die” twist, it seemed like Liana’s number was quickly up. And though it was, she went out in an emotional Tribal Council where she got to discuss representation on television, and what this cast will hopefully mean to people watching back home.
Now out of the game, Liana talks with Parade.com about how she expected to survive the night and move forward, all of her thinking behind changing alliances, and the impact of the conversation in Tribal Council and the overall representation on this season.
Tribal Council must have been a mixed bag for you. Obviously, you get voted out, and your dreams of a million dollars are crushed. But you also get to have this open and frank discussion about representation on the show that I imagine you had wanted to have for a while. What were your emotions upon leaving the game?
Something that I did every day that I was out on Survivor was meditating. I thought about my family and all the people that loved me and were important to me. In being able to speak my truth in the game and what was weighing on my mind, it was incredible. I honored people like my great-grandma who passed away. Unfortunately, my torch was snuffed. But I was like, “At least I could leave knowing I spoke my truth.” I wanted to play an authentic game, and I did. I was really happy about that.
You end up not playing your Shot in the Dark on the last day to do so. That indicates to me that you thought you had at least one person with you to vote against Ricard. Who was that?
There were a couple of things going on in my mind before Tribal. I obviously didn’t want to work with Danny and Deshawn after what had happened, but I had no other options. Now the tables had turned, and I was on the bottom. I’m trying to pull in any numbers I can get. I know Danny and Deshawn are going to vote with me against Ricard because he’s a huge threat. My gamble was Erika and Heather. The entire day, I’m talking with Erika. “What are you thinking? Ricard’s a huge threat. He’s winning all these challenges. He’s good at everything.” I’m trying to throw Ricard under the bus! (Laughs.)
The second thing is that, of course, there’s this idea of the Shot in the Dark. But I saw in Sydney going out how the Shot in the Dark could backfire. I thought the value of my vote could be the differentiator between me staying and leaving. So I wanted to use my vote and not take the Shot in the Dark. I was banking on Erika and Heather really pulling through. Right before I left for Tribal, I was looking Erika dead in the eye and asking, “Are you voting for me?” It was a gamble.
As you mentioned, unhappy would be the mildest way to describe how you felt about Danny and Deshawn after they voted off Shan. If you had survived last night’s vote, would you keep working with them? Or did you have another endgame in mind?
If I had survived that night and established an Erika/Heather connection, I would have run with that as best as I could. I would have turned on the Liana charm and just tried to create a social connection with them that I had failed to make because of other relationships that I had in the game. I think I really would have leveraged that and gone beast mode. I’ve survived “Do or Die”; now it’s do or die! (Laughs.) I would have really tried to pull out all the stops. Even when I left, I was working on Xander. I was like, “I know we’ve had this crazy relationship. But please, can we work together?” Any angle I could get I was going to work with.
Well, we have to talk about the Xander of it all. So I’m assuming the two of you will honeymoon in Fiji? (Laughs.)
(Laughs.) No, actually. I’m in a really happy relationship with someone else.
Well that just brings even more awkward context to the secret scene that’s been making the rounds!
(Laughs.) Definitely. It’s like the cherry on top.
In all seriousness, let’s talk about that dynamic. Bring us into why you had him in your sights since the first few days of the game.
I don’t think fans understand where the dynamic between Xander and me even came from. Back at Yase, I think three major things contributed to my and Xander’s relationship. The first is the scene where he finds the idol. He goes left; I go right. He finds it; I don’t find it. That’s just the game. But the second thing is that, in camp, as soon as he did find the idol, he managed to tell everyone in our camp about it. But he was really adamant about the fact that he didn’t want me to know about it. And so, from very early on, I’m like, “Okay, I don’t really know why. But Xander clearly does not want to work with me, and now he has all these advantages. He’s a huge threat in the game.”
If Yase lost an Immunity Challenge, he had all that power. I didn’t want one of us three women going home. So I was like, “Evvie, I think you should really play up this relationship with Xander. I’m going to step back so that he feels comfortable.” And if we’re going to Tribal, he’ll think maybe I’m going home because he’s had it out for me anyway. So the entire 14 days I’m in Yase, I’m playing myself down. I’m trying to make Xander feel comfortable. And that’s eating away at me. Because I could have had him out. So it’s this constant thought of, “Oh, my God. This person is a threat to me and a threat to my game.” But no one wanted to really take me seriously on that and vote him out.
In retrospect, do you feel you were too fixated on getting him out, considering all the other targets that popped up at the merge?
The biggest thing with Xander and me is that there wasn’t any bad sentiment. It was more like, “This person is dangerous. This person has advantages. This person can get far in the game. That doesn’t make sense collectively. Let’s get him out.” I don’t think I was wrong in that sentiment. Because the reality is, Xander and Tiff were good for Evvie’s game. Those were Evvie’s connections. But I needed new life in the game. When I got to merge, I wasn’t trusting Xander. Evvie and Tiff thought Xander would use his advantages to protect them. I didn’t think for one second that he would do that. I knew he was playing an individual game. Those weren’t numbers for me. So it was in my best interest to create a new life in the game to find new connections. And I did.
Let’s talk about that relationship with Evvie, because it surprised me that you went from calling them your number one in the early days to targeting them at the merge. How did that dynamic evolve?
On day one, when Evvie and I first meet each other, I’m like, “Evvie, I feel a genuine connection to you. If you don’t write my name down, I’m not going to write your name down.” And they said the same thing to me. And so, we developed this really strong relationship right off the bat. So it was hard when we got to the merge. When I’m thinking about playing the Knowledge is Power advantage, I’m banking on the fact that Evvie and I have this trustful relationship and the connection that we’ve had so far to think that I would never, ever go against them. That was a really challenging dynamic to see.
But like I said, again, when I got to merge, Xander and Tiff and that group weren’t necessarily in the best interest of my game. It didn’t really benefit me. So Evvie and I had this conversation. And we’re talking about who we want to see go out in the game. One of the people I mention is Xander. And they had a completely different opinion. So at that point, I’m like, “Okay, we have two very different ideas of what’s good for this game. And what’s best for both of us is different, because we have different games and different social connections.” So it was important for me to draw that line.
That’s helped by the fact that you end up meeting Shan right before the merge, with who you end up forming an instantaneous connection. Talk to me about what drew you so close to her immediately.
What’s crazy about this season of Survivor is the Summit. You have literally just competed in an Immunity Challenge. You’re exhausted, and you’re climbing up this hill. You’re going to bond with someone when you’re on an experience like that, no matter what. Because you’re going through something that’s really physically challenging. And you’re talking about your game and where you come from, and you’re meeting this person for the first time.
Having that experience, it was such a beautiful moment on top of that hill. One thing that my mom told me before I went out to play the game was, “When you look at the ocean, Liana, think of me.” My mom represented the ocean out there for me. And so I’m on top of this hill, and all of a sudden, Shan’s disclosing this thing about her mom. And I’m like, “Oh my God, I’m seeing my mom right now, too.” And so I really, really connected with her at that moment. And that’s so hard to find in a game like this, a genuine sense of trust and connection with someone. It made me feel like all those days I spent on Yase, downplaying myself, I finally felt like myself again. I was making a genuine connection with someone openly and freely. It was an amazing feeling.
That gets us to the merge, when you choose to leave Yase behind in favor of Shan and this new Black alliance. You laid out your reasoning, but I can imagine how difficult that is to do, considering how you forged a bond with your tribe. Talk to me more about your decision.
That was a tricky decision. It’s an entirely new alliance. I don’t know Danny or Deshawn, and I kind of knew Shan. But I came into the game wanting to play with my values. When I got to camp, I didn’t raise the idea of the Black alliance first. Danny and Deshawn brought that to me. And I’m like, “Okay, well, this is something that’s bigger than the game; I’m going to trust that because it does mean something to me. Blackness means something to me. And I know it means something to a lot of the viewers as well.” So I felt comfortable trusting that because it meant so much to me personally.
Talk to me about everything Knowledge is Power. How do you look back on how you used it and everything leading up to that attempt to take Xander’s idol?
Okay, let’s start from the beginning. So I get the advantage. I do not tell anyone in my tribe; I make up a lie. And it worked; nobody thought I had anything. But as soon as we get to camp, Shan reveals to Tiffany that I have something. I have to do damage control now. Once Tiff knows, I immediately go to Evvie, because they’re my number one. I really try to smooth it over; I let them know what it is that I have. And the entire day before Tribal Council, I am with Evvie, consoling them, making sure that they feel comfortable, that they would never think that their number one connection on day one is going to turn against them. So I was really banking on that going into Tribal Council.
Furthermore, I asked Shan, who had a real idol and knows what it looks like, to check and see if Xander’s idol is real. And she said it’s real. So the entire day, I’m also gambling because this Knowledge is Power advantage has become commonplace. Everyone knows that I have this advantage, so it loses its power. Is it going to be a liability if I keep it even further after this vote? So I’m going in thinking about all these things. And I genuinely do think the idol is on Xander’s body. Hindsight is 2020. If the idol happened to be on Xander’s body, I would have gotten it. I knew I was gambling no matter why. But like I said at the beginning of the season, I wanted to come out and play. And I did play. That was a move that I thought I had to make.
In last night’s Tribal Council, you presented an argument against those who claim these types of conversations about race should not belong on a show like Survivor. Now you’ve had the opportunity to see those arguments play out in real-time throughout your season. How have you looked back on what you were talking about at that moment?
I think the biggest thing is, in creating a Black alliance, it’s not about exclusion. It’s about very real things that happen and is happening to Black people in America. That was my entire reasoning behind standing behind that. I isolate blackness when I talk about this, but there are people in the broader POC community at camp too. But the way that race is set up in this country, it does revolve around this binary of whiteness and blackness. So I was isolating that.
There also needs to be a conversation around the fact that we represented so many different racial identities out there, and I value that, and that’s super important. And I had connections with these other people as well. It wasn’t just the Black folk. There’s a lot of nuance in the dynamics that were happening in the conversation. And I hope at least by us making this decision to have a Black alliance and seeing these different dynamics that people begin to have conversations about that and what that means. It makes sense not a lot of people who never had conversations around race are going to see that and be like, “Oh, yeah, that makes sense to me.” It makes sense to me that people are struggling with these claims and have so many questions about whether it’s exclusive or not. But the main thing that I wanted to focus on was the fact that in America, Blackness means something.
In your final words, you mentioned you learned a lot about yourself playing Survivor. Considering you are one of this season’s youngest contestants, what are you going to take away from your experience into this pivotal part of your life?
One of the hardest moments of the game for me was after I played the Knowledge is Power advantage. I felt like my entire game just blew up in front of my eyes. But that was my favorite moment of the game. Because I had to sit with myself and talk to myself. I’m like, “You just have to pick yourself up. Tomorrow’s a new day. And you have to make connections with people. I was trying to make this move in the best interest of my game, and you just defend it. Stand by what you did.” That was huge for me. I was so in the dumps, beating myself up after it. But I was still trying my hardest and playing my hardest game even after that. And that was something that I’ll take with me for the rest of my life. Because it just shows resilience and getting back up after you face really, really hard things.
https://parade.com/1302816/mikebloom/liana-wallace-survivor-41-interview/ Liana Wallace Post-Elimination Interview (2021)