Crow tastes terrible. I’m just getting that out of the way because I have to eat a lot of it after how wrong I was about… pretty much everything that went down this week. I said I’d happily chow down if the Spit-Shakers turned on each other and the outsiders survived, but after this absolutely tragic episode, I’m seasoning that crow with my tears. I got too comfortable; just like this week’s victim. I thought I could pin the season down and call the shots, but Survivor SA smacked me back to Earth and humbled me once again. But that’s part of the fun. Not knowing where the season is going has made it an emotionally taxing journey but a rewarding one as well.
That being said, there aren’t many stories to talk about with this episode because there was really only one story: the sudden fall of Biker Queen Seipei and how the coup flawlessly transpired right under her nose. There was a fresh new twist in play too, so let’s just get that order of business out of the way and explain why it works so well.
Production can see the game unfolding a certain way. The outsiders are getting picked off, the Spit-Shakers aren’t fracturing just yet, and there’s a depressing lack of bold moves being made. So what do they do? They add more variables, or in this case, immunity necklaces. It’s a twist I’ve always wanted to see in Survivor US, and the whole “one necklace for the men and one for the women” twist just doesn’t come close to having this much potential. Not one, not two, not three, but four people were immune at Tribal. Three people won immunity and a reward in the usual challenge, but two people were also sent to the Island of Secrets to duel for a fourth necklace.
Disregarding the winners of the necklaces and the outcome itself, I love this twist. With so few outsiders to pick off, a couple lucky wins can force the majority alliance to turn on itself if they can’t get their desired targets out. It’s something you can’t do with just one or two necklaces, and it definitely had an impact, but I never felt like it was unfair. It’s not like the outsiders were just handed immunity. They had to find a way to win by working as a team with the Spit-Shakers in the regular challenge (which could have been thrown by someone in the majority). Or luck into a 50/50 chance at getting safety on IOS. Or perhaps if they did lose, they could find a way to get an immunity holder to hand them the necklace. The strategic options with this twist are more impressive than what we actually saw take place, so if this twist were to be run again next season or in a different country’s version, I’d welcome it with open arms.
Anyways, Cobus and Nicole have the honor of spending some time on IOS by random draw. Considering neither of them needed safety this week, I could have hoped for a better couple of people to get this chance. But I will always be grateful for some more iconic Cobus quotes, so how can I stay mad? Cobus beats Nicole’s ass (his words, not mine) to win immunity, but Nicole sees it as an opportunity to find a new ally and build a bond for the future. A smart move considering what’s going on back at camp later that day will throw the game up in the air.
The immunity and reward challenge isn’t much of a competition. Dante, Jacques, and Mike win, and it’s not a close race. Their reward: a nice spaghetti lunch with a view. No clues, no idols, no advantages. Just three bros having a refreshing day off and taking in the gorgeous sight of a massive Samoan waterfall. But that doesn’t mean the guys aren’t there to talk game. Jacques feels comfortable, as does Mike since the Spit-Shakers seem locked in for the long haul, but Dante is dropping some truth bombs. He’s right when he says a few people are assuming they’re making it to the endgame together. His read is dead on. But the problem is Dante’s on the outs and most likely would have been voted out if he wasn’t wearing the necklace, so the real question for most of the people in the majority alliance is “Why bother listening to him?”
Even when he gets back to camp and tries to rally numbers, Dante’s pitch to blindside Rob falls on deaf ears. He only has himself to blame though. His social capital is the lowest out of anyone by his own doing, and his pitches aren’t that great. First, he tried to get a six-person alliance at the final 13, and now he’s trying to get a five-person alliance at the final 11. Nobody should want to go with an alliance that’s putting itself in the minority. But you have to give the guy credit where it’s due: he knows what’s going on, more than the person in charge does perhaps. He has the right reads and the right ideas, but he just can’t find a place to implement them without facing an impasse.
In some alternate reality, Dante never blew up his game in the pre-merge and actually entered the next phase with allies and a good reputation. In that reality, Dante would be incredibly dangerous and holding all the cards, much like Rob is at the moment. But in this reality? Oh, it’s bad. It’s really bad. Both for his game and the games of all the other outsiders. Nothing’s more frustrating than someone serving up the truth on a golden platter, and nobody wants to eat it, and Dante’s been serving it real hard and putting more of a target on his back than he would if he went with the flow for a couple votes.
But there is one story that completely takes over the episode from beginning to end: the titanic collapse of Seipei, who finds herself decapitated by a guillotine she never even noticed hanging over her head. In terms of epic downfall arcs, I don’t know how to feel about this one. I think it was set up well because Seipei was definitely a fan favorite who seemed like a solid winner contender once she got a grip on the game, but I have to admit I was a little put off by how negative the tone surrounding it was. It felt like Seipei was targeted because she was personally hated, and nobody liked her all of a sudden, not because she was the biggest threat. Sure, you have your stray haters like Mike, who didn’t like Seipei from the moment he met her, but she seemed to be getting along well with most of her tribe and had real friends out there. Yet the voting confessionals I watched were so full of venom towards her that I have to ask: what the hell happened out there?!
It even seemed like the audience was meant to root for her downfall with how many cocky, out-of-the-loop confessionals she gave. Yet she’s been a complex hero of the season, so it didn’t feel quite deserved. I felt unsatisfied with how it was portrayed, especially when it was the only possible outcome from the beginning and lacked any red herrings to make it feel more surprising. Instead of a dramatic sniping, it was a brutal, merciless beat down – a complete dog pile on an unsuspecting victim. While I couldn’t look away, it was morbid curiosity driving that urge instead of an edge-of-my-seat excitement, like how a person can stare at a car crash even if it’s not something pleasant.
I said to myself, “It’s not this obvious, is it? They literally haven’t brought up any other names, and Tribal is starting!” But in my heart, I knew what was coming. In my opinion, this is the kind of episode that should be reserved for players who deserve obvious downfalls, like Roger Sexton’s infamous boot episode in The Amazon where it was just 44-minutes of Roger bashing with Rob Cesternino getting some good digs in there about prune analysis and doing Casey Kasem impersonations. Roger had it coming and watching him remain aloof and arrogant throughout the episode was incredible television. Seipei’s boot episode? Not so much if you ask me.
But that’s just how the editors presented the episode. I had issues with the way the story was told, but I have even more issues with some of the moves made this week, especially by Rob and honestly, only by Rob because this move was good for almost everyone except him. If this was the final seven or eight and Rob pulled this move off, I’d applaud him. He masterminded Seipei’s elimination, got her half of Nicole’s idol back without raising suspicion, and didn’t burn a jury vote because she respects the game so much. However, it’s the final 11. There are still at least seven Tribal Councils left until the finals and Rob lost another shield. No longer can he point to Seipei and say “Hey guys, maybe you should take her out because she’s a sleeper threat!” when he himself is in danger.
Getting to the end would be hard enough with Sepei at his side and something that might be the tallest order of the season without her. Rob might have the likes of Mike, Durao, Steffi, and Nicole working closely with him, and he still has an idol in his pocket, but Jacques got burned and should realize he can’t trust Rob anymore. Also, Dante tried to take him out and will probably try again, plus Cobus, Mmaba, and Laetitia are wildcards who might find new alliances to call home once the dust from Seipei’s hard fall settles. The game is more up in the air than it’s been in a long time and Rob just put himself in a risky position out of paranoia and fear when he could saved this move for the perfect moment.
And can we talk about Rob’s analysis of the Seipei situation? Because I have no idea what to make of it. Seipei approaches Rob and throws out the idea of working together with Jacques to get to the final three, eliminating Laetitia and Durao in the next couple votes, and later, Steffi and Nicole once only eight remain. While I agree that’s not the best set up for Rob, it’s still giving him a road to the final three. Seipei was honest when she said he was going to the end with her. Yet Rob doesn’t want to hear any of it and deems Seipei a traitor to the Amigos and the Spit-Shakers, even though she wasn’t locking any plans down and just wanted to throw some options out there. Also, I find it laughably ironic that he calls Seipei a traitor while working with Nicole, who actually betrayed the Amigos by going through with Nathan’s blindside and somehow calls herself a hero after doing so.
Do you know what the most mind-boggling part of the whole thing is? Rob thinks Seipei is this mysterious Puppet Master figure Nico alluded to in the previous Tribal. Uh, is he not aware that he himself was and still is that shadowy figure in question? Because it’s pretty clear as a viewer that Rob’s the one pulling all the strings. How Rob himself hasn’t figured it out yet is beyond me. Sure, Seipei had some influence, but she was far from the most connected strategic threat out there given how most of the tribe willingly cut her without hesitation and seemed to take immense joy in killing her dreams. Seipei wasn’t building an army in the background. That’s Rob. Seipei wasn’t going behind his back to get work done. He went behind hers. If anything, Seipei coming to Rob with her ideas proved how loyal she was to him, not that she was out to get him. Like I said, she was honest when she said he was in her ideal final three. As far as her game was concerned, Rob was safe. But Rob held the gun in that situation and took the shot when her back was turned.
But before Seipei is cut loose, the Amigos need to get her half of Nicole’s idol back. Steffi wanted to just steal it when Sepei wasn’t looking (I guess she must’ve loved SA: Champions then), but Rob shuts that down with the rulebook and works with Nicole to hatch an idol rescue mission. Seipei happily hands Rob the idol on the promise that he would act as the middle man for it, controlling who it was given to between Nicole and herself depending on who needed it most. Seipei tells him not to give it to Nicole, but he did anyway. It’s been a wild ride for that idol. Nathan handed his half to Nicole, who then blindsided him and gave that half to Seipei to make up for the betrayal, only to blindside Seipei and take the piece back. Let’s face it, that half of the idol is cursed. Don’t touch it. It’s evil.
But enough about that. Let’s give a eulogy to one of the season’s biggest players. Seipei began her adventure as an outcast on Sa’ula alongside first boot Lee-Anne and barely scraped by with Nathan’s help. Once Paul was gone, she found a ticket into the Amigos and became one of the game’s most powerful players, helping her allies survive swap after swap while forming new bonds with the Misfits. Her game always had a fatal flaw though: her mouth. While it was her greatest strength and opened the doors to making close bonds, it was also her greatest weakness by alienating others and making her come off as pushy or aggressive with her game.
However, what’s impressive, especially in the context of this season, is that Seipei did all of her best work without idols or advantages. All she needed was some close bonds and the info that came with them to have a taste of power and taste it she did. Unfortunately, she got a little too gluttonous and talked herself out of the game, the exact cause of her would-be ousting in the premiere. It’s a tragic, full-circle story, and Seipei was a tragic, full-circle character. Despite the hole in my heart, I’m glad we got as much of her as we did. It’s never a guarantee for the older, more abrasive women to stay in the game for more than a couple weeks, let alone to have control, so Seipei’s remarkable success is a bit of a mold-breaker. Throw her on the list of possible Survivor SA: All-Star contenders while we’re at it, because the more Seipei I get in my life, the better.
With Seipei gone, the Spit-Shakers fractured for one vote, and only ten people left, where is the game going? First things first, Jacques is on the outs. His strategy of laying low might come to an abrupt end now that his ride or die Misfit got blindsided behind his back and couldn’t be saved with a timely idol play. If there’s anyone to watch on the rebound, it’s him. Dante should be the easy out since he refused to join the anti-Seipei train and voted for Rob anyways, but suddenly his numbers might add up if he can grab Jacques, Cobus, Mmaba, and one other person to combat the rest of the Spit-Shakers if they remain intact. I’d hope and pray these four realize they’re on the bottom and Rob’s the true Puppet Master, or we could be in for another slow couple of weeks.
The question is who else can be pulled in to form this new alliance, because four doesn’t cut it without an idol, and everyone knows Jacques is packing some heat. My first candidate is Laetitia, believe it or not. Laetitia has talked about wanting to play big and now’s her chance to make the magic happen. She has no allies and seems to float wherever the majority is, so why not put a tick mark on her list by flipping to the outsiders? She desperately needs to gain some respect from the jury, and that could do it. Candidate number two for the flip is Mike, who seemed pretty satisfied with going to the top seven with Rob and loved the idea of getting Seipei out alongside him. However, I have faith that Mike can see where the real power in the tribe resides. He needs to understand that going to the end with the Three Amigos is just asking for fourth, fifth, or sixth-place; that Rob’s wheeling and dealing like there’s no tomorrow, that something needs to change if he wants to win.
The big issue for any coup against Rob is whether or not Durao is told about it. Durao’s a loyal, lactose-intolerant puppy to Rob and reports information back like a military scout, so the second he gets wind of an uprising, he could be quick to rat them out to the Robfather. Dante assumed Durao was an outsider though, which has me worried sick for any possible rebellion going over smoothly since Durao will most likely be told of the plan in advance and given all the cards. And because he has a line in the preview about destroying everyone… I’m scared. Make fun of his bad acting and dopey moments all you want, but he’s in a great position.
As it stands, Survivor SA came out with a strong message this week: they tell it like it is. As much as it can be underwhelming when votes are telegraphed with no red herrings to keep us guessing, sometimes it’s better to understand everyone’s thought process going into a vote and how plans come together. While I don’t think this was the right situation for this kind of storytelling at all, I do appreciate that everyone got to throw their hat into the ring and give their personal take on the anti-Seipei movement (except Mmaba because she’s still barely in the show).
A lot of Survivor episodes tend to prioritize blindsiding the audience, sometimes to the point of not giving us any information, so it is refreshing to see the game shown in such detail even if it costs us some shockers along the way. I’m dying to find out how the loss of the Biker Queen will impact the rest of the season, so hopefully, this is a sign that times are changing and the gameplay is only going to get more chaotic from here on out.