Even with Deadman’s Island, the first season of Survivor SA was fairly straightforward in terms of strategy. Loyalties were unwavering to your original tribe, and the team with the numbers at merge had the advantage (at least, they did until the aforementioned twist). Malaysia is much the same, even with a tribe swap to complicate matters. Still, the second season feels like the logical next step towards the more cutthroat game we know Survivor to be today.
Players toy with ideas synonymous with the new school era of the game and openly discuss their choices beyond dilemmas of right and wrong. The cast is blunter and far less willing to play nice, even with a million rand at stake. Yet, at the end of the day, the winner was the player that contributed the most to camp. All in all, this dichotomy makes Malaysia a much more complex season than it initially appears to be.
Still No Nico
Not much has changed on this front. Mark Bayly is still the host, and he’s more or less the same as his first season. It’s clear he’s more comfortable in the role this time around, but we’re still a far cry from the charismatic host we’ve come to know and love with Nico Panagio. Thankfully he steps in as the permanent host next season.
Iban was the blue tribe and the origin of this season’s dominating alliance. They started on a rough patch, losing two of their members before the tribe swap and fractured by their opinions on how to best play the game. While they won the day over Bajau when it mattered most, they only barely did so, and they struggled to hold onto their lead even after that.
Nevertheless, they were a group of persistent, hardworking, conniving players that struggled to balance the personal and the strategic in a way that just didn’t exist with Bajau. They were proof that a dominating alliance doesn’t automatically equal boring.
For all of Iban’s faults, they at least tried to appear as a cohesive unit. However, the yellow tribe, Bajau, was a different story entirely. None of them seemed willing to back down from an argument, even at the expense of their own games. At the very least, some of them seemed aware that there was a game to be played here, but their plans to get to the end didn’t quite match their methods.
That being said, this tribe was full of standouts, for better and for worse. From the premiere, Bajau made it clear that none of them were there to make friends, and had the tied vote gone differently, one of them likely would’ve won.
Empu was the name of this season’s merge tribe. The tribe swap may have made the social dynamics more fluid, but everyone returned to the status quo the minute they received their red merge buffs. Everyone stuck to their original loyalties all the way to the merge vote, where Iban came out victorious.
Malaysia was the first season of the South African franchise to feature an idol. The clues to its whereabouts were given away in a reward challenge, which Mandla Mbau won and found the idol as a result. This idol worked similarly to Survivor: Guatemala’s idol, but players took it to mean that he was immune until the final four. This automatic safety worked well for Mandla, and he never had to actually play his idol.
Final 4 Elimination
Malaysia kept the twist from last season of having the player that came in last in the final four immunity challenge be eliminated from the game. The players had to endure a test of patience and balance, and despite Mandla’s dominance in other challenges, a foot injury did him in. This was the last time this game mechanism was used in Survivor SA, and frankly, good riddance.
Hein Makes Fire
Survivor SA made history this season when Hein Vosloo became the first contestant of any franchise to make fire without flint. Bajau had been struggling at camp, but survivalist Hein had assured his tribemates he could make fire without any aid. The tribe wasn’t convinced and even went so far as to bet him 100 rand each as an incentive. Hein fulfilled his promise and made fire on his own, leaving the game 500 rand richer for his efforts.
Unlike its predecessor, Malaysia surprised its players with a tribe swap fairly early in the game. Bajau and Iban gained new life with the shakeup. While original tribal lines did end up being important in the merge, here those loyalties were tested. This was when the season was at its most unpredictable, and it started with a random buff draw. The new Bajau had the majority of physically dominant players and overwhelmingly outmatched Iban in the immunity challenge. Elsie Smith was injured as a result and voted out immediately afterwards.
The Risky Dilemma
This reward challenge was the talk of the season well beyond the episode it took place. Post-swap, the new Bajau won Risky the goat for their reward. They were given two choices—they could keep Risky to live on the island with them, or they could choose to have the goat “killed” (off-screen by a third party) for the meat. The tribe was torn but ultimately chose to have the goat meat instead of a pet. This proved to be a controversial challenge to audiences at home, but Mark assured us at the finale that Risky was not actually the goat that was killed, and he was, in fact, living on a farm.
The Merge Vote
The merge vote in Malaysia was the most suspenseful part of the season. In fact, it was so highly anticipated that the merge episode ended on a cliffhanger, making viewers wait until the following week’s episode to find out who got the boot. This season the merge began at eight, comprised of four original Iban members and four original Bajau. The connections made during the tribe swap were instantly forgotten, and everyone planned on voting with their original tribemates. The problem was that no one knew what the tiebreaker would be, and they had no way to plan their votes around it.
So original Iban voted for Hein, the biggest threat in the game, while original Bajau voted for Lorette Mostert under the assumption that Hein could beat her in a tiebreaker. The tiebreaker ended up being nothing related to strength or survival skills, just a test of who could count the closest to 30 seconds without going over. Hein was the one sent packing, leading to the rest of Bajau’s demise as a result.
Angie Gets Bored
The final four was just within Iban’s reach after they successfully voted out Hein and Dyke Higginson. All they had to do was outlast Amanda Hoosen and Angela Beck, and they make it to their goal. However, Angie Bennett wasn’t satisfied with this plan—she was a little bored of it. So, to add some excitement to the game, she offered Amanda and Angela a deal to vote together to take out Lorette, her fellow Iban member with whom she didn’t get along.
Upon hearing this information, Amanda and Angela made their own plan to vote out Angie and take Mandla to the final three instead. Angie would win immunity this round, but in the next episode, her scheming ruined her game when Mandla and Lorette teamed up with Amanda to blindside her.
Upon my first watch of this season, I have to admit that Lorette was never someone I considered to be a contender for the win. On this rewatch, her win makes perfect sense. In a season where the contestants placed such a high value on hard work, camp life, and social connections, Lorette fit the bill to a T. As the player that was voted into the game by fans, she had a lot to live up to. What better way to show the right choice was made than to win?
Her game may not have been the flashiest, but she did a lot in her time on the island. She was in the majority alliance, won multiple immunities, and pulled off a major blindside. A well-earned victory from the player you would least expect.
Grant had all the makings of a great new school Survivor player. Unfortunately, he was playing in 2007, and the flaws in his social game were enough to cost him the win by one vote. From Day 1, he was in a position of power, maneuvering from one side of Iban to another to create the perfect alliance for himself. His alliance members and adversaries may have been at each other’s throats, but Grant was content to wait in the wings to benefit from others’ struggles.
There is no denying that he was an excellent player, but his final tribal council performance didn’t live up to the powerhouse we saw in the game. All in all, while I expected a Grant win and would’ve been happy with one, it’s understandable why that isn’t how it panned out.
From Day 1, Amanda was the undisputed underdog of the season. So, to end the season in third place, just short of the final tribal council, was pretty impressive. She dealt with disrespect from many of her tribemates, yet somehow she always managed to come out on top. Facing the uphill battle to the end that she did would wear down even the strongest of players, but Amanda never gave in to the game’s expectations.
Consistently playing from the bottom as she did is no small feat, and she managed to make every episode entertaining by seizing any opportunity she could get.
Survivor SA is filled with players that were victims of twists, swaps, and other unfortunate circumstances. That being said, very few come as close to being ‘robbed’ of the win as Mandla. The first idol holder in South African history, he was never in danger of going home until he lost the final four immunity challenge. He had a mentality of an old-school Survivor player, but the thought process behind his strategy was particularly well thought out.
Even when Angie planned on flipping the game with Amanda and Angela, they agreed that they’d rather go to final three with Mandla than her. It cannot be understated how excellent of a position he was in throughout the game, and him going out when he did was nothing short of tragic. Without a doubt, he was the most well-rounded player of the season.
Love her or hate her, Angie made the season that much more interesting. From her unnecessary scheming to her blunt confessionals, this was a villainess well before her time. For the most part, she was able to place the game over any personal feelings, and she knew better than anyone that this was a game for a million rand. She struggled to follow through with her plotting in a way that was beneficial to her, a fact that led to her downfall when Mandla and Lorette betrayed her first.
Still, players like her helped pave the way to the more cutthroat game we know today. Her vote for Lorette to win the game was perhaps the most shocking part of the season, and I’d like to think she was content with the fact that she was able to surprise the audience one final time.
Malaysia feels like the natural strategic progression from its predecessor. Contestants are still in tune with the game’s survival aspects but are not content to blindly follow their tribe’s wants without question. The cast is more aware that Survivor is a selfish game and are far more willing to break the status quo to benefit themselves. All in all, it’s a solid old-school season, even though it lacks the heart that was present for much of Panama.
While Malaysia ends with a winner who was all about honor and integrity, the question of ethics in Survivor is explored much more in-depth with the next season, Santa Carolina, which features the greatest player you’ve never heard of.