While my heart still aches from losing Tania so close to the swap, I must continue to press onward just as the season has. With 15 people left, it’s time to drop some buffs and take the game into its next chapter, where ideals are shifting and people are becoming more cutthroat. The episode focused more on the strategic conversations than the wacky character moments, but it was a healthy balance and made for a good transition into what I assume is the final pre-merge chapter of this epic novel that is Survivor SA: Island of Secrets.
Since this was a strategy heavy episode with two challenges to include, our opening scenes are short and sweet. The Misfits return to camp and forge a final three pact comprised of blood from all three original tribes. On Ta’alo, Nicole tries to “dig up” her other half of the idol in front of the other players while Rob and Dante have a Cold War over who carries which tools to the mystery occasion. Dante thinks Rob’s game is all about being the wandering, tool bearing gypsy and controlling camp life, and removing his precious tools would cripple him. And on Sa’ula, Cobus is tired of all the game talk going on and just wants to enjoy being in Samoa for a day. Sorry, dude. Not in this episode.
Everyone meets up at what looks like a dinner table with 15 spots to feast and some of the players are confused as to how a 15 person merge is even plausible. And it isn’t, because this is indeed a swap from three tribes to two: Ta’alo 3.0 and Sa’ula 3.0 with one person being randomly sent to IOS and joining the losing tribe after Tribal. I do love the gimmick they used to swap the tribes though. Having everyone open lids (that honestly looked like a line of island toilets) to reveal a pool of purple or teal paint is way cooler than just drawing buffs from a tray. And I can thank the 55-minute runtime for it since they have the time to go through every single person and let them do something wacky with the paint. It’s the most creative and colorful self-baptism ever, and after a long segment, we have two new tribes and one person heading to IOS for the time being.
Ta’alo 3.0: Cobus, Jacques, Laetitia, Mike, Rob, Rocco, Seipei
Sa’ula 3.0: Dante, Durao, Geoffrey, Meryl, Mmaba, Nathan, Nicole
Island of Secrets: Steffi
It’s a pretty evenly split. No tribe has an outright majority, and all the big alliances are broken up, plus each tribe has two idols to mess around with. The actual dynamics are a little confusing, but let’s see if we can’t decipher what actually happened on our screens this week, even if the episode didn’t explain it as much as I hoped.
On Ta’alo, Jacques and Seipei are together and can bring in Rob, who is able to bring in Mike due to the latter’s bond with Nathan… which we’re just learning about. Okay then. I thought Cobus would still be bitter towards Jacques, but we don’t hear much from him, and he’s included in this new majority as well. Rocco is clearly the most prominent target, but he has his own plan going on to oust Rob, his biggest physical competition and the perceived leader of the Amigos, by spilling as much info as he can to the others. And then Laetitia is just there like she’s been all season. It’s working for her though.
Sa’ula is taking a similar shape as a clear majority is forming. Geoffrey and Mmaba are away from Mike, but Nathan and Nicole are also a tight duo, and Durao is quickly finding a place as the innocent, sweet puppy with no home who needs someone to take care of him. His charm works, and he’s absorbed into the vague alliance that is an anti-Meryl and Dante coalition. Those two have found themselves fitting into the “big threats” mold for the past couple weeks, and the show hasn’t been exactly kind to them, portraying them as vaguely villainous when it gets the chance, but I don’t really buy into that much outside of Dante’s flint stealing scheme. They’re just crafty players who get a little shady in their confessionals.
And then we have Steffi, stranded alone on IOS while everyone else has time to bond. It’s not the place she wanted to be, but she’s dealing with it in her own way by relinquishing her future to the game itself. She’s glad she doesn’t have to choose a tribe to join, which is definitely not the right mindset to have out there. Tania’s advantage at the first swap was a godsend for a reason: it let her dictate her own destiny, so if she got swap screwed it was her own fault for choosing the wrong tribe. If I were in Steffi’s position, I’d be dreading having no choice in the matter. All it takes is one group of people to decide the Amigos need to go and she’s joining a tribe in the middle of a culling. Steffi can talk about the benefits of her predicament, but I fundamentally can’t see them (except getting another Coach-style walking stick out of the deal obviously). That doesn’t mean her perspective isn’t compelling. I like seeing different points of view on the game and having an entire cast of big move hungry gamers with no opposing philosophies to contend with can only be so much fun before you start craving a different flavor. Even if I disagree with Steffi’s points regularly and wouldn’t play like her, I can appreciate the unique perspective she brings to the show on all fronts, and I hope more fans can do the same without writing her off as another athlete who doesn’t want to play the game.
These new tribes aren’t exactly straightforward, because even with clear outsiders there’s still a game to be played and nobody is going down without a fight. On Sa’ula, Dante and Meryl are pretty much screwed if the other five unite against them and split the votes. They don’t have the numbers, and Meryl’s idol is almost useless in that case. But things aren’t cut and dry with Nathan and Nicole. Okay, I take that back. Nathan’s cut and definitely not dry because his hand is bleeding all over the place after a clumsy knife slip. Just when you thought he was back to normal health, he goes and does that, and just when you think his position is improving, Geoffrey steps in to call him out for being a drama queen and seeking attention. I have no idea what’s up with Nathan, and I want answers. During the Foot Saga, he was a huge favorite around camp, and nobody wanted to vote him out despite his injury. But now he’s getting on some nerves, and the non-Amigos can’t stand him. Except Mike for some reason even though we never really saw them interact on Sa’ula 2.0. I’m as confused as you are.
Nicole’s having trouble as well. She’s close with Nathan and even washes his hair for him, which is just the epitome of island relationship goals if you ask me. And she’s getting close with Geoff and Mmaba. But Dante throws her under the bus, telling them that she’s playing too hard, throwing names out, running around from person to person, and has an idol that could be a threat to them. Mmaba and Geoff don’t buy into it though. For now, it seems like Nicole is in a safe position, but she’s still at risk. Revealing her idol last week was a pointless move, and it’s already coming back to bite her, and if Geoff and Mmaba feel like the Amigos are too powerful after this week, all they need to do is flip their votes, and she could be blindsided with the idol in her bag. I still really like Nicole, and I love watching her learn the game as she goes, so I’m hoping she makes it out of this tribe alive.
Luckily for the new Sa’ulas, they win immunity in one of the biggest blowouts yet. I normally don’t focus too much on the challenges, but this version of Hot Pursuit raises some questions about fairness. Ta’alo started in the watery side of the course, so they’d automatically be forced to slow down while Sa’ula could simply bolt across the sand and gain an early lead that was never lost. Would Ta’alo have won if their positions were switched? I don’t know for sure. Seipei and Laetitia were struggling, and Sa’ula was just better equipped for this challenge overall, but the starting advantage Sa’ula had made it nearly impossible for Ta’alo to win. Having one side of the course in the water was just bad challenge design, in my opinion, and the challenge could be fixed if you held it on land or in the water entirely. But not both.
Ta’alo loses, and it’s not much of a competition. Only one person drops out during the challenge, and that person is Laetitia, who actually put up a solid fight despite being the oldest person in the cast. But in a stroke of bad luck, a rogue wave comes out of nowhere and smashes her into the sit out platform, cutting into her leg, and according to her, it scraped the flesh off to the bone. I’d say that’s a little hyperbolic and would probably be a case for a medical evacuation, but it still hurts nonetheless and makes Laetitia an even bigger liability in these intense physical challenges. Laetitia won’t give up though, because she’s here to prove she can play just as hard as the 20-somethings in this game. So her pitch is to cut Seipei for, well, a lot of reasons.
I said in my second recap that Seipei’s mouth had turned from a liability to the key to her success. Well, the Seipei from episode one is back because her mouth is once again causing trouble. It’s the middle of the night and Seipei has a plan: get all the big challenge beasts to turn against each other instead of voting out the “weak” people again. Great plan, Seipei. Love it. 10/10. But she makes a huge mistake and loudly announces it to the people she wants to get rid of. I’m not kidding. She literally stands in front of Rob and Rocco and says the big threats need to turn on each other. And just to piss off a couple more people, she says Laetitia and Mike haven’t been playing the game due to their long line of immunity challenge victories. People are offended, of course, but the funny part is they know she’s right. It was a great message but piss poor delivery. Thankfully Seipei has a legion of allies on her tribe to protect her, and there are other fish to fry, but in terms of long term benefits, I can see this costing her if she gets to the end. Mike said it best; it was just patronizing. Nobody likes being preached to about “needing to play the game” no matter who’s doing it. I thought her big mouth troubles were over, but she’s not out of the woods yet. If anything, she was out of them five weeks ago and just now wandered back in.
Jacques, on the other hand, is taking what I call the summer vacation approach. He’s hiding his advantages, going off the grid, and biding his time until it’s time to return to work in the last few days of the game. No pushing of strategy, no preaching, nothing that could put a bigger target on his back. A smart choice considering how many times he’s swerved on and off the road so far. Slowing down and letting the more reckless players knock each other out should benefit him in the long run unless his extra vote at the merge completely exposes him as a threat.
As Tribal looms, Laetitia and Seipei somehow fall entirely off the chopping block because it’s a war between Rocco and Rob, the two physical titans of the tribe. Rocco makes a pitch to take out Rob because the Sa’ula five are strong in numbers and in loyalty, and he even compares Rob to a high school bully who’s oppressing the rest of the kids. That’s a bit far fetched, but we’ll roll with it for the sake of a good confessional. On the other side of the battle lines, Rob is pitching a Rocco blindside because the dude’s won every single immunity challenge up to this point and would dominate after the merge. It’s the same story we’ve seen from the likes of Joey Amazing less than two months ago: a guy wins too much and makes everyone fear him, resulting in his elimination the second he’s vulnerable. Rob easily pulls in Jacques and Seipei, and Mike’s been on board to vote out Rocco since the first day of the game, so the majority comes together rather quickly. Cobus has no reason to vote with Rocco and Laetitia’s down to vote anyone out as long as she survives the night, so Rocco’s pretty much dead in the water.
The “Superman” label gets applied to Rocco quite a bit with some jokes flying around about who this mysterious Superman person really is. Rocco sees through the scheming and promptly figures out the plan, but it’s too late, and he’s taken out unanimously, 6 to 1. As usual, I have opinions on something, and that something is this move to cut Rocco this early. As much as I love Laetitia and the Amigos, getting rid of someone in that group was the right move here if you’re Mike and Cobus. Getting rid of Rocco because he’s a physical threat is more speculative than anything given the types of challenges that appear after the merge. Going back to SA: Philippines, the early challenges involved balance and endurance, meaning the fit and lightweight people will be early winners, not the hulking hunks. Rocco won’t be a favorite until the middle of the post-merge or later, giving them plenty of time to cut him before then. Plus he acts as a meat shield for as long as you keep him around, so voting him out now just causes that target to go somewhere else, namely the other fit guys in the tribe – like Rob.
Instead, voting out Rob or Seipei would have the best long term benefits. The Amigos are a close alliance, and Steffi was joining Ta’alo at the end of the night, meaning if an old Sa’ula didn’t leave, there would be a three-person alliance sitting on that beach the next morning. That is terrifying in a seven-person tribe, especially when Jacques is close with Seipei and probably won’t turn on her if they lose again. Mike, Cobus, and Laetitia are now in a pretty clear minority with no protection. Mike can fall back on his new connection with Rob which might save him, but Cobus is on Jacques’ hit list. Remember that “This is for Ting Ting. One down, three to go!” line? Cobus could easily make that “two down, two to go” if he tries to pull something on the Amigos and they get wind of it. And then there’s Laetitia, who I think is everyone’s obvious choice to go, but I thought she was the obvious choice to go since the first episode and when she finally goes to Tribal she doesn’t even get any votes. So what do I know?
But let’s say that Seipei and Rob weren’t in line to be voted out at all. Let’s say, Jacques, Cobus, and Mike weren’t going to go for Rocco’s plan in any timeline, and it was down to Rocco and Laetitia for the boot. The right move is to cut Laetitia instead of saving her for another day. Why? Well if you win the rest of the pre-merge immunities and Laetitia makes the merge, she suddenly becomes a big under the radar threat. We’ve seen injured players remain in the game because they’re less threatening in the cases of Tyson and Missy. With Laetitia’s leg cut up, she’d be out of the running in most individual challenges. Literally, she wouldn’t be able to run. Rocco, as I said, is a perfect meat shield whose archetype hardly ever gets the money at the end of the game because, well, they rarely get there to begin with. This applies to Rob as well, who now has Rocco’s target following him around. Only now it’s harder for Rob to paint himself as this sacrificial meat shield when he has two obvious allies on the tribe, two more waiting across the sea with one having a public idol, and a big move to his name with Rocco’s elimination at his hands. That’s not a meat shield. That’s a full on sword, and it’s super sharp, and everyone can see it.
I’ve sung praises and sour notes for the Amigos so far. It’s like they’re both the A-Team and the B-Team at once. How they’ve avoided losing a member since Paul back in episode two is a mix of good luck and good skills, but is their empire growing too powerful? Is it set to collapse so that the outsiders can pick through the ruins and rebuild the game for themselves? Okay, I’m being too dramatic here, but you get the point. The Amigos have teetered between brilliant victory and utter disaster since the beginning. One of these days they’ll have to slip bad enough to cost them something or someone. I’ve seen quite of bit of “Oh, the Amigos are obviously going to steamroll the whole game. It’s over! Might as well give them the check!” being tossed around, but I don’t think it’s a done deal. Rob’s going to be a huge target, and one idol can only save you for so long. Nicole and Nathan have their ups and downs as well as friends and enemies. Seipei’s mouth is a blessing and a curse. And Steffi… doesn’t seem like she cares as much about the Amigos as she did before. I guess the long distance relationship thing and Nathan’s sneaky scheming wasn’t quite her style. The point: don’t write the game off as already played, because Survivor SA delivered the ultimate one-two knockout punch last season to silence similar complaints.
And that’s Episode 7. It was a lot of talking for not much action, but like past episodes, it’s mostly set up for events to come. The game is finally heating up as the players get more antsy about making moves on their enemies, as promised by the previews for the next episode. I’m excited as always, and I hope the season keeps up the pace and continues to remind me why Survivor SA deserves the love it’s getting.