The Survivor “off-season” is fickle, especially for a die-hard fan. Do you spend your time binge-watching your favorite past seasons? Do you take a break from a show that spans about eight months of the year? Do you waste your time on Reddit, trying to think of your craziest conspiracy theory or spiciest meme? Do you, as I did, try (and fail) at a homemade version of Survivor?
Your opinions on the quality of the past few US seasons aside, we’re in a golden era of Survivor, but it’s one that most are unaware of – International Survivor. While I can’t speak to any version that isn’t predominantly done in English, the Survivor-verse currently has three fantastic international versions: Australian Survivor, Survivor: New Zealand, and Survivor: South Africa.
Well, brush up on your Afrikaans (only joking, it’s in English), because my return article will get you up to speed on the South African version right before the merge episode presumably drops later this week (episodes are usually posted on Thursdays). I’ll break down the article into a few sections, but know that I’ll keep the content spoiler-free. Then, if you’re interested in watching, I’ll write up a sectional recap with spoilers, so you can join in at the merge – if you’d like to skip to the present.
As a general disclaimer, it must be said, this is not a season of US Survivor, so there are specific nuances between the two. However, Survivor: South Africa (which I’ll refer to as S:SA moving forward) stays incredibly faithful to the show you are used to seeing. Additionally, there have been previous seasons of S:SA, but the one I’ll be talking about is the one currently airing, Season 6, called Survivor: South Africa – Philippines.
THE CHEAT SHEET
Location: Palawan Province, Philippines
Prize: $1 Million South African Rand (approximately $75,000 USD)
Duration: 39 days (you’d think that would be obvious, but Australian Survivor plays for 55 days)
Breakdown: 18 contestants and 2 tribes, named Mindanao (Blue) and Luzon (Red). Wait, did I just say Luzon? Yes, your favorite dumpster fire of a tribe (and the largest island in the Philippines) is the namesake for the Red tribe.
THE SEASON SO FAR
The best way that I can describe S:SA, without spoiling too much, is that it’s so captivating thanks to a humanizing portrayal of the cast and their tendency to play the game in a way that breeds pure chaos.
“[Survivor] is a lot like losing your virginity. Hella nervous but mostly excited and the only thing on your mind is that you last longer than the other.”
Okay, so maybe this line, uttered by Seamus in Episode 1, was what won me over on watching the first episode, but I think it perfectly encapsulates why I like S:SA so much. For a few years now, I feel like US Survivor has been relatively predictable in its delivery, packaging plot and characters in a specific way to fit the determined narrative. S:SA, however, presents the castaways and events in a way that seems very organic, hearkening back to the glory days of Survivor. For almost every contestant, you not only see the parts of their game that could make them a fantastic player, but also those that show the cracks and downsides. In many ways, the players play like they’ve got the “big movez” mantra being shouted at them each day, but it never comes off as cheesy or gimmicky.
In the short of the pre-merge, I feel like we’ve gotten to truly know each and every person as a player, shy for maybe one or two people. That said, I couldn’t tell you much about anyone’s personal life. Where the US version hones in on a person’s life narrative to paint how they play, S:SA focuses on the person as a castaway and doesn’t spend much time on the personal side of things. Sure, you’ll learn a handful of people’s occupations and a few tidbits about their lives here and there, but rarely will you get the narrative that X is aligning with Y because they grew up without a father and that person is a father figure to them… and then they are targeting Z because they don’t trust that person based on their occupation or life story.
Speaking of characters, one of the main potential drop-offs in an international season is not having Jeff Probst. Whether you like him or not, Jeff, and his passion for the game, is arguably what makes US Survivor so special. The host of S:SA, Nico Panagio, is not your strapping doctor like Australian Survivor’s Jonathan LaPaglia, but he is a very, very serviceable host. Businessman and former soap star, Nico maintains a good level of enthusiasm, all while avoiding the sugar coat. I really enjoy watching him at tribal council, as his questions skip through the “surface” thoughts and prod the players to constantly evaluate their long-term trajectory. To top it off, he’s not afraid to crack a joke or call someone out.
And if you’re thinking that people don’t play as hard because it’s not the US version, you’re sorely mistaken. This dynamite cast, plus quality challenges and the constant threat of idols, has forced each contestant to stay on their toes. Erratic gameplay has produced unexpected votes, alliances, and some results that just leave you confused. One thing that I’ve learned to appreciate about S:SA is that these players are not afraid to draw battle lines. In the US version, you see so many votes where everyone votes with the majority to avoid creating waves. In S:SA, it’s very clear who is aligned together, who is feuding, and they vote along those lines – no #-1 vote just to appease the majority.
I promise I’m trying to sell the season without any spoilers (and probably losing the luster a bit), but I can promise you that this season is worth watching. You’ll quickly get drawn into the tribal dynamics. And if all else fails, you’ll quickly love the quirks of each person… or the outlandish moments, like where someone says it would be fine if another cast member died because no one at home loves them, or where someone literally eats a clue to the hidden immunity idol to make sure no one else can find and read it.
Also, this is one of the opening shots:
You can’t tell me that this doesn’t intrigue you. In other news, he is a genius level IQ psychopath, so any scene featuring him is pure gold.
HOW CAN YOU WATCH?
Watching international versions, S:SA included, is only possible thanks to uploaders. Luckily for us, a very generous person on Reddit uploads the episodes for fan consumption. If you are interested in watching, check out the /r/SurvivorSA subreddit and the top-pinned post or contact me, as the watch method is not for public posting.
Okay, I really mean it. I’m going to start spoiling some minor things, so if you don’t like that kind of thing, stop scrolling/reading. I won’t reveal boots or specific alliances, but don’t blame me for ruining stuff if you keep reading.
Right, now I can finally talk about the good stuff! This season has been downright brilliant, thanks to the chaotic nature of many of the castaways, and LOTS of erratic gameplay. Idols have been incredibly present, but haven’t actively affected the way the game has played out.
S:SA does have a tendency to take you on a rollercoaster, however. For some of the season’s highlights (idols at challenges, rock draw(!!), major fights, psychopaths), there have been some real downers (quitters). There has also been enough tribal shakeups to keep things interesting, and they have prevented a majority from completely taking over. The game has been broken into three main phases based on tribe shakedowns, each building on the other. The harsh battle lines being in place for a tribe swap was really fun to see play out as the two tribes broke down into three.
So far there have been eight eliminations, and each one feels like it actively shapes the metagame, which is really refreshing to see. Sure, there are those players that are playing “harder” than others (at least as the edit shows), but no one feels like they’re a total non-entity. At this stage, I could see basically all of the remaining players have a strong enough resume to win. With this season slipping under the radar for many, it’s been fun to watch such a quality game play out.
I genuinely hope you take the time to check it out so we can keep following this season together!