The previews promised a heavy hitter, and yeah, they definitely weren’t lying about that. Call me hyperbolic here, but I think this was a top tier Survivor episode, one that will go down in the record books once the season ends. It delivered big time, and I’m ready to dig into this five-star meal of an episode. But in a different manner than usual.
The next episode brings the merge, and Survivor SA’s social media team posted a trailer for the next stage of the game featuring all 13 members of the merged tribe. This trailer was so good that I’ve decided to handle this recap in a similar fashion, going through every player one by one, discussing their contributions this week and hypothesizing what could be in store for them once the game turns individualistic.
Jacques: This was an incredibly quiet week for Jacques. He seemingly disappeared, and I can’t recall him even speaking. But this is exactly what he promised last week: going under the radar, chilling out, and just letting the game play out around him until it’s time to strike. With his extra vote coming into play at the next Tribal Council, it won’t be long before he warms his engine and races back onto the track. Though he’s in such a great spot that not using it might be best for his game, just to keep the target on his back as small as possible.
Durao: He told his entire tribe about Jacques’ idol in the Previously On segment. Just figured we’d get that out of the way since it might become relevant in the future. Anyways, I can’t believe the guy with six sentences in the first three episodes has become such a game-changer in just one episode. As the week’s IOS candidate, he was gifted two things: knowledge that the merge was just one day away, and an idol that can only be used at the next tribal, guaranteeing whoever uses it a spot at the merge. But Durao also showed off his goofy puppy side once again by telling the same lie Nathan told two weeks ago, claiming he had the chance to pick a video from home or a “juicy pizza” on IOS. Nathan didn’t believe it, but nobody else questioned it. Dante and Meryl have to know someone lied at this point. They’ve seen both fake stories.
But can we talk about how Durao held on to his one-time idol and has another fake? I really want to see Durao try to pull this fake idol scheme on someone, so he better stay out of the ocean like his life depends on it. He’s been in love with this plan, and maybe he’s a little obsessed with making it happen, but the idol is real, only powerless. It will fool people if he can give a good acting performance. But we all know Durao and great acting skills don’t go hand in hand. Either way, he’s stumbled backwards into having the greatest fake idol of all time, has connections with no enemies gunning for him, and has a great social game. I might sound insane here, but don’t sleep on Durao. He could be one to watch.
Seipei: Strategically, she didn’t have much to offer, but pound for pound she was on fire when it comes to providing fun TV moments. Whether it was repeatedly screaming “REFUSE, MIKEY!” at the reward challenge or offering a gross spit-shake pact to cement the Ta’alo 3.0 alliance, Seipei was as entertaining as ever. Would it be a stretch to say she’s one of the best-positioned people in the game? I don’t think it is. She has three Amigos left to work with along with Jacques and Durao as her Misfit allies in case the Amigos fall apart. That’s pretty good insulation if you ask me. She isn’t the most liked person there, but with all the fighting going down on the other tribe, I think the biker queen will continue to weave through the oncoming traffic and avoid the pile up once the buffs drop one last time.
Laetitia: Laetitia had another fairly quiet week to add to her streak. Her presence in the premiere was solid and set her up as an underdog to watch, and that’s exactly where her story has continued to go. She’s proving the old lady can make it on Survivor. By sheer luck, she avoided Tribal all but once, and now she’s finally made it past the hardest part of the game for her archetype and could become a big threat if anyone lets her get close to the end. It seems like everyone likes her and she’s not a visible threat, so I expect her to hang in there for a little while. She promised to show the youngsters she’s just as hard of a player as them, so I hope she finally breaks out and shows us what she’s got up her sleeve.
Cobus: Cobus didn’t have much to add to the discussion until the end of the episode, but his plan is pretty clear: keep Ta’alo 3.0 together for at least one more vote. This plan, devised while sipping tea with his tannies, might not get very far with how many connections were formed through swaps and whatnot. Plus Rob’s concerned about Cobus becoming a wildcard threat, so the guy’s playing a relatively weak hand here, and he knows it could backfire. However, there’s now an Ace in the deck after this week’s big blindside took out Rob’s partner in crime, so Cobus might actually get his way if the cards are dealt in his favor and targets fly elsewhere. As long as he steers clear of making waves and drawing too much attention to himself, I think he should be safe for now.
Mike: Mike’s still flying the same course as last week: sticking with the people he trusts and waiting to hook back up with his Laumei allies in Geoff and Mmaba. He’s succeeded, so that group will be one to watch moving forward, for better or worse. Now he has Rob on his side and even got him to reveal that the Amigos still have Paul’s idol in their possession. Another Survivor Mike (of The Emoji Movie writer variety) once said that knowledge about the idol might be more powerful than the idol itself, and I’d say the same applies here. Mike is in a perfect position to blindside Rob and the Amigos at a future vote if he wants to take the shot. Rob clearly trusts him and protected him from being targeted by Steffi, but Mike’s a superfan. He was hungry for a blindside from day one, and I can’t see him stopping with Rocco. He’s got a great path forward with Rob and knows just where to strike if the opportunity presents itself. I’d keep an eye on him.
Mmaba: Mmaba had a really solid week despite remaining in Geoff’s shadow. She got the result she wanted but didn’t lose the amount of social capital that Geoff did, and she even had an endearing emotional moment at Tribal that might win some people over out of sympathy. I’m disappointed to see her actual presence in the show lacking week after week because she’s been playing a good game overall by having a hand in controlling things without being the head of the snake. Her connections with Mike and Geoff might cost her if a more powerful alliance decides she’s the least likely to have/play an idol and puts their votes on her instead, but she has a good chance of surviving at least a couple more votes if she keeps her head down and lets the big dogs fight it out.
Geoffrey: While Dante assumed he was the hero of the week, Geoffrey took pleasure in becoming the villain, so much so that I almost expected him to stage a big musical number about how awesome it is to be delightfully evil and lie to people. There weren’t any musical numbers this time, unfortunately, but Geoff succeeded in carrying out his master plan even if he took the bumpy, off-road path to get it done. It wasn’t a perfect situation by any means, because Dante wasn’t exactly fond of his and Mmaba’s lack of work around camp and affinity for social strategy. Geoff, being the outside the box thinker that he is, actually found a way to use this to his advantage by stoking the flames of Dante’s inferno, giving him the perfect smokescreen to execute a killer blindside against Nathan.
With how much power the Amigos have amassed since the first swap without losing any members, this was by far the right move to make. Dante and Meryl are clearly on the bottom of this whole game and probably won’t be able to rally many numbers after how poorly perceived they’ve been for the last couple weeks. Nathan, on the other hand, had four allies across the game, two of which have idols. The Amigos have controlled who visits IOS as well, putting advantages in their own hands more often than not. Getting one of them out and possibly recruiting Nicole to their own side is masterful despite the absolute tidal wave of blood he got splashed with as a result of pulling it off in this specific way. Geoff’s been great at keeping his alliance together, but not so great at pulling in new members.
Remember when he said aligning with Laetitia would be pointless because she wouldn’t last long? Well, he was wrong, and she’s still here and has no reason to align with him. He might have Nicole on his side, but the talk of the town has been “Mike, Geoff, and Mmaba are a solid trio and need to be broken up” for weeks. Nicole’s a good ally, but he’ll need more than just her to have control over the merged tribe right away. I have some faith in his ability to think on his feet and come up with a plan, but seeing him leave as the merge boot would not surprise me whatsoever.
Steffi: In just one day, Steffi went from letting the game decide for her to playing too hard and too fast, much to the annoyance of her assumed allies. It was a bad week for her, as people she should be close to have started viewing her as an untrustworthy thorn in their sides and totally ignored her strategic input. Her move was to take Mike and weaken the original Laumei numbers, the right move in my book, but Rob was turned off by her lower-than-expected opinion of Nate, Rob’s numero uno bro. Even Seipei didn’t feel like Steffi was genuine and didn’t listen to her at all. Steffi’s first words of the season echoed those of Sabrina Thompson from One World: nobody ever remembers second or third. If Steffi’s game continues to earn this much disrespect, she might be in line for that exact nightmare if she gets to the end: no respect and a silver or bronze medal.
Rob: Rob entered this episode on top of the world, over the moon, whatever you want to call it. He was comfortable, confident, and ready to move ahead with his people. He had allies on both tribes and an idol in his pocket, and he won a great reward to boost morale. And for the most part, this was a solid week for him since he didn’t go home, didn’t go to Tribal, and maintained a solid position heading into the merge. Until the end threw all his plans out the window, for the time being, that is. Is there such a thing as a “second-hand downfall” in Survivor? I think this would qualify. Rob’s motto of the week was “Nate and Nicole are the only people I really care about at this point, and I can’t wait to reunite with them and reform our tight unit.” And what happened by the end of the episode? He lost Nathan, and Nicole might have just jumped off the Amigos bus, leaving Rob in limbo. Does he work with Nicole to rebuild their bond? Or is it in his best interest to turn on her and side with new allies in the spit-shake alliance?
Nicole: Yeah. I have no idea what she was thinking. I get making sacrifices to strengthen new alliances, but she literally voted out a number one ally who gave her an idol and told him to go change the world. Nathan wasn’t turning on her any time soon. Maybe near the end of the game, but not this soon. I’m truly baffled. I always like to look for any positives in visibly bad moves, but in this case, it’s really hard to find any. Do I need to repeat it? Nicole voted out a top tier ally who gave her an idol!
Her reasoning was confusing because according to the episode, the move was made to keep the tribe strong, yet the move was so out of character for Nicole and just happened without any hesitation. She definitely felt emotional about it when pen met parchment, but the story that went down wasn’t even about her decision. She didn’t have some grand scene about weighing the pros and cons and struggling with the idea of blindsiding someone so close to her. She was approached by the Laumei trio, heard about the plan firsthand, and went along with it because she felt like it was the right move. It’s not the first time someone in Survivor SA blindsided their closest ally out of the blue (looking at you, PK), but it’s still ridiculous.
And you know what the most tragic part of this whole mess is? She probably wouldn’t have voted Nathan out if Durao told his tribe about the timing of the merge. Now she’s down an ally, betrayed the Amigos, might have just killed her relationship with Rob and could be forced to rely on Geoff’s alliance to move forward. I’ve liked Nicole as a player, but man, it’s hard to defend this. I guess you could make the point that Geoff, Mmaba, and Durao were going to blindside Nate without her vote and joining them was her best move to stay in the majority, but she could have warned Nate about the plan and flipped to join Dante and Meryl to blindside Geoffrey, or played her idol for Nathan. Those options were still on the table, but she didn’t take them. Now she has to sleep in the bed she made.
Meryl: She hardly spoke this week, which might be good for her prospects outside the game since she avoided the toxic mudslinging altogether and came out of the episode looking more or less clean. But as a player in the game, Meryl’s in a horrible spot. Her only close ally made a bunch of enemies, her idol play was a total bust, and she really doesn’t have anywhere to go but the bottom of a larger alliance. Her best move at this point is to either grab Dante and hitch their wagon to a majority, or ditch Dante and let him fend for himself as she makes new connections on her own. It depends on whether or not she and Dante will be targeted immediately though. If they are, she might as well throw him under the bus and hope the rest of the players forget about her for a while. Or just find another idol. That could work too. We all know they give those things out like Halloween candy this season.
Dante: Remember when we thought Dante would be a chill surfer dude without a mean bone in his body? Yeah, well welcome to Dante’s Inferno, people. (Yes, I’ve been waiting all season to make that joke; it writes itself). He melted down. Plain and simple. But let’s look at his perspective: he’s someone who values the physical game over the strategic/social game and even said it himself. If you want to play the social game, go home and do it in some coffee shop. The tribe needs more physicality and workhorses and his sworn enemies Geoff and Mmaba haven’t been contributing that way. All they do is sit around and talk game and scheme.
So obviously I didn’t agree with Dante’s point of view and found him to be utterly ridiculous this episode, from screaming at people during the reward challenge to complaining about “feeding the **** that want to vote me out” to flat out threatening to punch Geoff in the face as Tribal. Sorry, “hug Geoff with his fist.” But Dante lost it, and it will come back to bite him. He played perfectly into Geoff’s hands, burned his bridges with Nicole and the Laumei members, and his ally wasted her idol. Now he’s going into the merge with only Meryl by his side and maybe Cobus if he’s willing to risk touching the nuclear waste that is this maligned Dante/Meryl duo. But Dante will be a big target at some point, leaving his fate in his own hands when it comes to saving himself. He wanted a more physical game to be played, and it looks like he’ll have to bring it to the table himself. Feed everyone fish, win immunity, suck up to the kings and queens of the island, and hope he can pull himself out of the lake of boiling fire he created.
And finally, our latest castaway to leave the game, Nathan. Pardon the pun, but the Castle has been stormed after holding out against the siege for weeks on end. He started out in a position of power, nearly left the game over a wounded foot, found power again after the swap, let it get to his head and annoyed several tribemates, found even more power in the form of that half-idol, and finally met his doom at the hands of the trustworthy woman he gave it to. It’s a brutal way to go, but the journey there was insane and made for a great Survivor story, one great enough to hopefully earn Nathan consideration for a future All-Stars spot if that season ever comes.
But could Nathan have saved himself? Even with three votes coming his way, getting sent to IOS and getting that single-tribal idol would have saved him, as would winning immunity on the vertical maze. Yet he found himself on the only part of the challenge he could possibly struggle with: pulling a rope with an injured hand. Nathan’s forceful last second pull caused Sa’ula’s final ball to rocket out of bounds, so you could say he held his own fate, and it slipped through his fingers. But it’s not as if he was targeted out of the blue. Even with solid allies in the game, his bizarre strategies and mixed bag of an island attitude labeled him as an easy out long before Nicole put his name down to seal the deal. I had trouble seeing Nathan winning without a seriously great post-merge game and sudden downfalls by all his enemies, but how he would have played in that phase will remain a mystery.
It’s shocking when we lose big characters this close to the merge, but I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Survivor SA is unpredictable. And it’s only just getting started.