After the loss of one of its major protagonists, Survivor SA returned to showcase the fallout from one of the biggest moves made so far. What transpired was an episode that can best be described as several swings, several misses, and one big (if completely pointless) hit. At face value, not much changed from the status quo. The people on the bottom continued to sit on the bottom. The people on the throne (which I assume is made of Steers burgers and bottles of Bio-Strath because the sponsorship tie-ins have been way too absent recently) continued to hold power. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t a lot of plans flying around the island this week.
The return to camp is intense. Jacques and Cobus feel ostracized after being left out of the vote, and Rob’s excuse of “I didn’t have enough time to tell you” isn’t fooling anyone. As Cobus says, Rob had all day to let them in on the plan, so there was definitely plenty of time to share that information and Rob just didn’t want to. Jacques defends himself by saying he would have gone along with the Sepei vote and seemingly repairs the rift between him and the rest of the Spit-Shakers. But as the episode continues, it becomes clear that this rift has been patched with a flimsy band-aid rather than anything long-lasting.
Dante, on the other hand, is a lone wolf and figures his best bet is to reserve his energy and beast through challenges since nobody wants to listen to his admittedly good ideas. Without a solid social game and lacking in allies, Dante only poses a threat in the challenges—something Rob and the rest of the Spit-Shakers have been more than aware of. It’s so noticeable that Rob vows to stop Dante from winning anything at all costs just so he can’t keep feeding himself on more rewards and taking them away from Rob and his allies.
If Dante was a Joey Amazing who had all the jury votes waiting for him at the end, I’d consider it a worthwhile endeavor. But Rob’s laser focus on removing Dante from the equation isn’t something I agree with. Not only because I admittedly love watching Dante, but because Dante is yet another big target that Rob could use as a meat shield as the endgame approaches. The coffee shop owner isn’t a social threat and has been unable to rally a single number to his side since the merge, acting as the sole vote for Nicole and Rob at the last two Tribals and eventually Cobus at this week’s Tribal. If the only problem with keeping him around is his ability to win challenges, then let him slide by a couple rounds and let that frustration keep boiling. Even Jacques and Cobus were annoyed by his everlasting winning streak in reward challenges and seemingly forgot they were left out of the last vote. It truly became a jealousy-driven anti-Dante movement, throwing him into a non-stop fight to survive through clutch wins.
And win he does! Dante narrowly defeats Jacques at the last stage of the reward challenge and wins a night of good sleep and an authentic Samoan feast complete with fire dancers as entertainment. But this challenge is individual, so he can’t go alone. Laetitia, Mike, and Mmaba are his picks, and Durao is sent to the Island of Secrets, and let me tell you, when Dante made these choices, I was beaming! “Yes!” I said to myself. “Pick the people on the bottom and turn this game around!”
However, I was quickly smacked with frustration when Dante openly admitted he didn’t want to take anyone in the first place and brought the three because he had to, not because of some great strategy. Granted, he did have some strategy to his picks: let the weaker players get some nourishment instead of the big challenge threats. But his social game didn’t need another deep wound. Telling everyone he wanted to go alone is just… so bad. Dante had a chance to forge some stronger bonds and basically told them they’re tag-alongs on his vacation.
I was also disappointed in Dante neglecting to take Jacques and Cobus on the reward after how betrayed they felt the night before. If he wanted to form a new alliance to combat the Amigos, those guys would be great assets to have on his team. Instead, he lets them go back to camp with Rob to stew over their loss and reunite that alliance. And to make things worse, he decides the reward group, along with Durao, should target Cobus and Jacques first instead of Rob. Even if the odds of turning the other old Ta’alo boys against the Robfather were somewhat slim, there was a little crack there to be exploited, and Dante’s new plan only seals it up and seals his fate.
Mike, Laetitia, and Mmaba were interested in the new plan though, so for a few minutes, it looks like Dante’s scheme might actually work. But,
of course, it fails as soon as they get back to camp because Mike goes and spills the beans to Rob. For all the talk of making big moves, Mike sure is waiting in the wings to make one. And even worse, the plan couldn’t be carried out in the first place because Durao (who probably wouldn’t have gone along with it anyway) was unable to vote that night. It’s become a running joke that Dante comes up with good plans and ends up voting by himself, and this time is no different.
And speaking of Durao, can we just acknowledge that he is the only person in this episode to come up with a plan and actually achieve total success? Because between Dante’s plan falling apart before Tribal, the scheme to flush an idol going down the drain, and Rob failing to stop Dante from winning the reward, it’s almost a clean sweep of failure. I guess you could say Rob technically succeeds in eliminating his target, but the other half of the plan (getting Jacques’ idol out of the game) fails miserably, and I will go to my grave saying that voting Dante out is a bad play. So that leaves good old Durao with the only 100% successful idea of the week, which actually isn’t that impressive considering his victory is both cheap and arguably pointless in the long term game since he doesn’t actually need immunity.
Durao’s trip to IOS gives him a choice: head back to the game with nothing but keep his vote, or give up his vote to get a “Cheat Code” for the upcoming memory Immunity Challenge. Durao really wants to win that necklace this time, so he takes the advantage and the “”No Vote”” parchment that comes with it, unknowingly throwing Dante’s plan in the trash from across the ocean. What I love about Durao is how utterly confident and chipper he is about the game. He’s very Fabio-esque: kind of goofy and dopey at times, but ‘he’s a good dude with a huge heart and a love for the adventure. But Survivor doesn’t like rewarding goofy comic relief characters very often, and Durao once again stumbles along the path, this time by forgetting the fact that the sun sets every night and reading is impossible without light. And since ‘there’s no fire on IOS and his advantage is purely visual, he almost screws himself out of an easy win.
But what time he gets to study proves to be enough and Durao destroys everyone in the memory challenge, earning his first Immunity necklace and a spot in the top nine. Not bad for a guy who wasn’t even in the first three episodes. The goal here is to prove he can win a challenge and show the rest of the tribe whose boss around these parts. But it’s laughably clear to everyone that Durao had a challenge advantage, so any attempts to humble-brag about his god-tier memory skills only serve to make him look like a walking meme. I can see the timeline where Durao sits in the finals and gets raked over the coals for being, well, Durao. But another part of me can see the jury feeling endeared to his goofy personality and big heart regardless of his transparently awkward game. Either way, I just want to see him pitch a case at the Final Tribal Council because I want to hear his argument.
Then, just when you think some plans might actually work out, another one flops. When Mike returns to camp, he runs back to Rob and pitches a split vote to flush Jacques’ idol in an attempt to weaken one of the game’s most threatening players. Rob is excited to make it happen, and any hopes for Dante’s plan go flying out the window. And yeah, flushing Jacques’ idol is a good move for Rob because the kingpin has an idea where Jacques’ loyalties truly lie after the last vote, and that idol could be trouble. But there’s one big issue with the plan: they split the votes the wrong way. Instead of putting the majority of the votes on Jacques, they decided Dante should be the primary target and Jacques can be “convinced” to play his idol with scare tactics.
Steffi is put in charge of spooking him into wasting it, but her delivery is so blunt and on the nose that it only serves to convince Jacques to stay put. Shaming him for not being upfront with his allies about owning an idol is the worst way to approach the move and make it so obvious what’s really going on. And once the votes come in, Jacques gets away without a scratch. That’s why this move is as bad as it is. If the votes were split five for Jacques and three for Dante, the idol is 100% leaving the game that night no matter what happens. Either Jacques plays it, and Dante is out, or he doesn’t play it and another idol mishap is added to his up and down Survivor legacy. But putting the targeting votes on Dante leaves a wide escape path for Jacques where he can’t possibly go home unless Dante is saved by an idol, and no way was that happening given where the idols are at the moment.
All this move does is annoy Jacques, alienates him for the second Tribal Council in a row, and leaves a dangerous idol in the game, all while giving the jury a pretty poor perception of Steffi and Rob, whose remarks earn some nasty juror reactions. I’m probably making the move sound worse than it actually was, but aside from getting Dante out (which I still consider a questionable move on its own), nothing went the way of Rob and his closest allies. They lost more than they gained on almost all fronts. Though the eternal bright side of Tribal Council is getting one more person out of the way, and with numbers so crucial right now, Rob’s crew are in a good position to control the next round as long as everyone stays on cruise control.
But what will happen next? Once more, the previews are teasing a shake-up by Mike. As tired as I am of the figurative blue-balling I’ve gotten from the last couple previews, I’m still holding out hope for the game to completely change. Seipei’s blindside was a good start, but the game refuses to stay fluid for more than a couple hours, so the axe keeps falling on the people struggling to stay alive under Rob’s empire.
As much as Rob’s performance throughout this week and the last triggered red flags, he’s definitely played a remarkably tight game up to this point and has his fingers in every pie. His allies always struggle to turn on him when the chance presents itself, and people outside of his alliance aren’t directly gunning for him anymore. Also, he has an idol and knows where the others are, and most importantly, he has a definitive plan every week and executes it most of the time. Looking back, failing to flush Jacques’ idol is his only real post-merge blunder in the short-term sense. I still have significant issues with his long-term planning, and it definitely feels like a downfall is on the horizon, but playing cycle by cycle and throwing spotlights on other threats have actually worked well for him so far.
That’s not to say the jury would see it the same way though. Last season’s mastermind, Werner, received some bad reviews from the jury, so I’m super interested to see how this jury develops in the season’s home stretch. Almost anyone can win given the right finalist combinations. As much as we laugh at Laetitia and Durao or write off Mmaba as a non-entity, there’s always a chance for an upset victory in Survivor SA.
The next vote will be crucial, though. The Amigos have control, and time is running out to break them up. If Mike’s really ready to take a shot at that alliance, he needs to swing hard but swing stealthily to get past those two idols they have. Common sense would say Steffi is the best choice to target because she’s defenseless, but flushing an idol out would be the move with the greatest reward, so Rob or Nicole should be the name he throws out regardless of who he actually targets. Laetitia is keen on making moves and wants to play hard, Mmaba was down for a blindside until it got spoiled and forced her to side with the old majority, Jacques was left out in the cold by the Amigos again, and Cobus is close with Jacques so his vote could follow suit.
That’s five votes, and it’s all they need, but Durao is still that wildcard I’m afraid of. He’s the guy who can screw it all up if he’s told the plan and informs the Amigos, which is why taking him out wouldn’t be that bad of a move from my perspective as an audience member. Openly broadcast an anti-Amigo vote, let Rob and Nicole play their idols, and then take out Durao with a blindside to remove as many assets from that alliance as possible, so the new five can move ahead and pick off the Amigos without stepping on any figurative landmines in the endgame.
Regardless of what goes down in the final third of the season, I’m still enjoying the show, and I adore how much passion goes into the final product. Sure, the post-merge game hasn’t been as great as the pre-merge portion (a running trend with most Survivor seasons in recent years I sadly admit), but I’m having fun with this cast, which is all a season needs to pass the test sometimes. Everyone feels like they have a place in the story, and each perspective has been given attention when it comes to the votes. You still have your Mmabas and Laetitias who struggle to get a lot of confessionals compared to the Robs and Jacques who’ve been consistently in the spotlight from the first episode, but I have a good grasp on who everyone is, who they’re working with, what their goals are, and how the other players perceive them.
Survivor SA has been smart enough to realize that uninteresting vote outcomes open the door for character-driven storytelling in place of strategic suspense, something the US show has lost sight of in recent years. I haven’t been on the edge of my seat for a vote since Meryl was taken out, but I’ve never felt like my 55-minutes were wasted. Every episode matters and builds on the overall narrative of this season, and it’s a narrative that probably won’t make total sense until the jury votes are read. This could be the story of Rob strong-arming his way to the final three and winning for the fallen Nathan. But it could also be the story of Laetitia being underestimated because of her age and making the biggest move of the game to claim her victory. It could be the story of Jacques’ many ups and downs on the road to the million rand, but it could also be the story of Durao meme-ing his way to the end and winning on dorky likability. Or maybe everyone’s wrong, and Tania comes back at the final five to win it all through a secret Edge of Extinction twist.
That’s the fun with Survivor: you don’t know the real story until the last five minutes. You can try and predict it, but Survivor SA has been a tricky beast before and will probably be a tricky beast again. So even if the writing appears to be on the wall for a certain outcome, you can’t always trust what you read.