The highly anticipated first returnee season of Survivor South Africa has arrived. And instead of an All-Stars season, it is Return of the Outcasts—promising players who fell short of the finale, either by one place (Chappies, season 8) or by being first out (Seamus, season 6). The 20 castaways are divided into two tribes. The pre-merge boots are the red tribe YONTAU (meaning ‘fire’ in Vulcan) and the post-merge players are the blue tribe MASU (meaning ‘water’). The extraordinary Leroux Botha, the creative producer and series director, boldly slipping Vulcan in where no Vulcan has gone before.
Sweeping drone footage shows us we are on the stunning Eastern Cape of South Africa once again, this time on the Sunshine Coast. Host Nico Panagio strides heroically over a sand dune to announce the season. The castaways zoom up a handy river in two boats, divided by tribe.
In the Yontau boat, Toni (S6) gets the first confessional. She tells us this season is going to be brutal. As the castaways eye each other, both within and between their tribes, Felix (S7) warns of pre-existing relationships, both allies and enemies, and seems excited about the coming “sh*t show.” Phil (S5) is ready to grasp this dream of returning, which has been eight years in the making. Shona (S5) says her one wish was to not play with volatile players but mock-screams when she spots Tania (S7) and Pinty (S8). Killarney (S5) says her advantage is that other players know very little about her, as she was in the game for such a short time (first out from her tribe, third boot overall).
In the Masu boat, Steffi (S7) is pleased to see Chappies because he is such a clear target. Meryl (S7) is delighted to see Dante (S7) for the opposite reason—he is her boy. But she worries that being a clear pair makes them a target. Shane (S5) has a happy heart because Marian (S5) is his blood sister. Palesa (S6) is content to have no immediate connections. She feels this will make her game more fluid.
39 days, 20 castaways, 1 survivor.
The castaways arrive and Papa Nico says he is more excited to see them than they are to play the game. It’s certainly broad grins and cheers all around. Seamus says his heart is beating out of his chest, Toni questions his possession of a heart. Thoriso (S8) is excited to be back for a returnee season, despite not doing well in her original outing. Tejan (the sole representative of season 4) reflects that it has been over 11 years since he played, and the youngsters clap for him, though he is not only not the oldest, he is not even the oldest man. Chappies lets out a big yell and says it’s a privilege to play with everyone. In confessional, he says he doesn’t know some of them, certainly not as well as they know him.
Nico confirms a final 2. Then he drops the bombshell that the prize money has doubled to 2 million Rand (about $116,644 US dollars).
The first reward challenge: Run out in pairs into the water to collect a ring and return to your tribe’s post. The opposing pair are trying to do the same. The first tribe to 3 points wins flint. This great challenge opens the door for some fun biffo.
Dino (S8) says you only need to see Steffi to know this isn’t even a contest. And he is proven correct as, despite her ACL issues, Steffi skims across the water, there and back in a flash, as she and Palesa beat Killarney & Thoriso. The second match-up between Seamus & Felix vs Chappies & Dante is a predictably thrilling smack of muscle. After a swift ruck, Dante dashes away, earning another point for Masu.
Yontau manages to gain a point as Tevin (S6) & Pinty beat out the duo of Toni & Tejan. However, in the longest match of the challenge, Marian drags the ring and the other three women (Shona, Tania, and Meryl) to her tribe pole and scores the winning point for Masu.
At the Yontau camp, the tribe finds their one pot and one machete. Thoriso notices a symbol notched into a tree and hopes for a hidden immunity idol. Dino laments the bounty that they started the previous season with.
On Masu, Dante vows to integrate into the tribe this time rather than play the loner game. Chappies and Dante have a love-fest in the bush, complimenting and admiring each other. Chappies also has an out-of-game relationship with Steffi. Marian and Steffi go to the beach, where Marian warns that PK (S6), Toni, and Tevin have matching tattoos, making them an inseparable threesome. But in confessionals, PK worries that Toni will play on her emotions like in their season, and Toni says that PK thinks he is in power, which suits her as he will be a target before her.
On Yontau, Tania confesses she had planned to hold back, but it only lasted 20 minutes. She approaches Pinty and Thoriso for a pinky-swear alliance. But Tania is also pursuing Killarney. Elsewhere, Dino and Seamus break up tiny little sticks while professing to have each other’s backs. Dino worries it is too soon for him to play again. Seamus confesses he was messed up for a long time after playing but now feels that season 6 has made him the man he is today.
Shona cheerily proposes that the tribe watch the sunset together. Pinty suggests they take a pineapple to snack on. Shona says they are too green and they will have unhappy tummies. Pinty goes away for a private stomp-and-swear moment at being spoken to like that. Ah, Pinty. Tania takes the machete and pineapple to the beach, and they all eat the perfectly ripe fruit. Tania calls them the wolf pack.
On Masu, Marian, Meryl, and Steffi bond. The strength of this alliance of three is that they each have another player to bring in. Marian has Shane, Meryl has Dante, and Steffi has Chappies, making a majority six in their tribe of ten. On the beach, Dante beckons to Marian and asks her to be his ‘island wife.’ Unbeknownst to him, he does this in front of her ex, PK, whose nose is definitely out of joint. Naturally, there are two sides to this story, as we hear in their confessionals.
Day 2 at the Masu camp, and the newly formed six find themselves left by the fire. They reaffirm their majority and name their alliance The Breakfast Club. Steffi wonders why the other four left them at camp. PK, Toni, and Palesa plot together on the beach, wondering how they can build a majority. They are going to target Shane and Tejan. Later, Marian spots the symbols carved into two trees and signals to Shane, who digs surreptitiously while Marian informs Dante of her discovery.
The episode ends with a trip to the Outpost, where two players from each tribe are instructed to negotiate for supplies. Thoriso and Seamus from Yontau and Shane and Steffi from Masu arrive at the Outpost. Each pair gets to choose two things from a display of biltong, rice, lentils, pap (maize meal), dried fruit, hatchet, hammer, handsaw, and flint. Yontau chooses rice and flint. Masu chooses lentils and pap. And all seems well until a second instruction is opened and read.
As a foursome, they must decide who of the other 16 castaways will receive the Outpost Idol to be played at the first tribal council. If that person’s tribe is immune, they will still attend the tribal council and play the idol for a member of the other tribe. Although the four may discuss who they will vote for, the vote will be in secret, and the result will be announced by Nico before the next immunity challenge. Seamus says, “What a twist,” and he’s not wrong.