Survivor SA: Island of Secrets – Episode 17 Recap – Judgment Day

Cory Gage recaps the penultimate episode of Survivor SA.

Photo: M-Net

Well, I wanted a front-runner to be blindsided this week, but you know what they say about asking for things? Be careful what you wish for. And you know what else they say? The best way to give someone what they want is to give it to them in the worst possible way. Okay, so what actually happened wasn’t the worst possible outcome because the plan I wanted to happen was off the table halfway through the episode, but what actually happened was still a waking nightmare that made me question why I ever believed this post-merge could be salvaged in the first place.

With Mike gone, the women know it’s time to strike. Nicole, Steffi, and Laetitia solidify their plan to oust Rob with his idol at the next Tribal Council and agree to keep it out of Durao’s ears. I said it last time, and I’ll say it again: the plan’s on a need to know basis and Durao doesn’t need to know. Nicole also reveals her idol to Laetitia, who says there are too many idols. Thank you, Tannie Laetitia! Finally, someone says it. There’s no way that line makes it into a US episode, so I’m thrilled to hear someone call out the idol surplus for once. Production should listen to her. Listen to your elders, producers! She’s right. There are too many idols in the game, and they’re about to see why it can be a horrible, horrible thing.

The Reward Challenge is nothing spectacular. It’s the classic “balance something heavy on an increasingly tall pole” challenge from the original Survivor: Samoa. Rob wins again and decides to take Nicole with him on a picnic date on Manono Island, which gave me One World flashbacks just from hearing that cursed name. If that wasn’t a bad omen, I don’t know what is. He also gets to send someone to the Island of Secrets and picks Laetitia because she’s never been there, which annoys a hungry Steffi who has to sit around camp with Durao for the rest of the day, unable to talk strategy. They do bond over killing and eating a chicken though, so if anything, they gained some newfound friendship out the ordeal that could help at the Final Tribal Council.

I actually really enjoyed this reward because it had super-sized hot dogs and giant bats flying around everywhere, and those are two things I love dearly. I swear, it’s cooler than I’m making it sound. But the real kicker here is the conversation between Rob and Nicole. Rob’s proud to be hanging onto the dream of an Amigos final three but has a little moment of melancholy when he thinks about how awesome it could have been to have Nathan out there with them to see it happen. Gee, I wonder whose fault that was? If only there was someone you could blame for Nathan’s sudden and preventable departure? It’s a real mystery, huh? 

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To protect herself, Nicole tells Rob that she revealed her idol to Laetitia the previous night out of fear that Rob overheard her conversation. My heart sank, but I was quickly relieved when she omitted the part about blindsiding Rob and pushed to have an idol-free final five Tribal. Her case: pulling out the idols in the final three would show how strong of a game they played and how much trust they had in their alliance. Or in short: bragging in front of the jury. And for a minute, it seems to weigh heavily on Rob’s mind. It does make sense. The man’s been all about trust since day one, so this hits home and opens that backdoor for a blindside. It wasn’t the pitch I would have made, but I don’t know Rob like Nicole does, and she knows him very well, so good on her for working towards the plan instead of ruining it!

Then we get a very foreboding confessional from Rob. He says he doesn’t want the money, as he’s already been rewarded in his heart for the game he played and wants Nicole to be the winner of the season because she “deserves” it. Can you imagine the ending where Rob and Nicole sit at the end, and Rob just gives up? It’s even more ridiculous than him going home with an idol at the final five. It’s a choice that would break a thousand hearts; hearts that desperately want the “best” player to win this game after dominating like nobody ever has. The jury has stressed the importance of owning your game on Day 39, and if Rob doesn’t own it out of fear that he would win, suddenly the game is wide open. Nicole’s despised by the jury, but if it comes down to her, a man who can’t own his game, and a person with no game to discuss, she might actually have a path to the millionWhat a crazy world.

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This week’s IOS visit sees Laetitia find another piece of magic jewelry: the vote nullifier. An idol nullifier would have been more useful here, but what’s cool about this little toy is that you can use it at the final four. And by cool, I mean totally broken because there can’t be a fire-making challenge, which means Rob the fire master can’t force a tie to save himself if he loses Immunity. But on the bright side, there’s no forced fire-making twist, Halle-freaking-lujah! With the adoption of the new Final Tribal format and other modern twists into Survivor SA canon, I was seriously worried they’d aim to recreate US Survivor to the finest detail, but the producers know what works and what doesn’t and thankfully avoided opening that can of worms. Thanks for watching out for us, producers! Except for the part where you threw this OP nullifier into the game right at the end. That’s a pretty sizable blemish.

The Immunity Challenge is the turnstile maze from Cagayan with the three-layer puzzle tower from Kaoh Rong at the end. One is cursed by a horrible endgame decision, and the other is blessed by a clutch Immunity win by the eventual champion. Which direction will this challenge swing? Possibly both, because Rob wins effortlessly and kills any chance of that big blindside happening yet again. It’s so anticlimactic that Nico upstages his win by praising Laetitia’s cardio endurance, which I really appreciate because Laetitia deserves to have some kind words thrown her way after her lackluster her edit. But with this win, it’s Rob’s fourth necklace, so anyone who wants to say he hasn’t played well physically is clearly not watching the season. Now he’s within one necklace of tying the US record of five wins, but just because you win five Immunities doesn’t mean you’ve won the game. Brad Culpepper, Ozzy, Colby, one specific SA runner-up I won’t spoil: all names that come to mind when you think about huge challenge beasts who lost at the end. Could we see another name join that list?

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With Rob immune, the women regroup and decide to go with Rob to vote Durao out. It sucks, but it has to happen. There’s still one more chance at the final four, so there’s hope. They all pull Rob aside and get him to shake on the plan to hold onto their idols, with the added bonus that Rob will put his idol around Steffi’s neck before the votes are read. Laetitia is pressured to reveal what she got on IOS, but she says the trip was a big fat goose egg and leaves it at that. And this is where things took a turn for the grisly. Laetitia only tells Steffi what she really found out there, leaving Nicole feeling suspicious about trusting Laetitia moving forward. While Steffi and Laetitia plot to control the final four vote with that nullifier, which would guarantee Rob or Nicole go home without a chance to make fire, Nicole runs to Rob and spoils everything

Seriously, I mean EVERYTHINGSteffi’s plan? Ruined. Laetitia’s game? Blown up. All the work the three women put into the plan? Lost at sea without a life jacket. And all because Laetitia wanted to keep a secret to herself and told an obvious lie. Of course, there’s going to be something on the Island of Secrets! It’s the final five, one of the most crucial votes of the game. Why wouldn’t there be some kind of power out there? And if she wanted to lie, why not just say she got to practice that tower puzzle ahead of time? That would make sense because there have many many challenge advantages in the past. But alas, Nicole spills the beans and everything goes down in flames.

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Do you know what the most agonizing part about this scene is? Nicole’s dedication to justifying this move as if she’s advancing feminism itself by doing Rob’s bidding. She thinks Rob’s the biggest feminist in the game because he took strong women along with him (Seipei would like to have a word about that) and didn’t take the easy road (he definitely did given the massive steamroll he accomplished). According to Nicole, a real powerful woman would honor the men who help them get to those high places. Steffi? Just some conniving gamer. Rob? A real hero who deserves to be adored! 

Nicole? Seriously, I don’t want to hear any more of this “collaborator” stuff. She’s a puppet. She couldn’t even make it one day without running back to Rob and spoiling everything. Is this some form of Stockholm Syndrome where Nicole’s fallen in love with her captor? Because that’s what it feels like to me. As soon as she was separated from Rob at the second swap, she went off the rails and cut Nathan’s throat. But when she saw Rob again, she hurried back to his side and prayed for forgiveness as if he could strike her down with lightning on the spot like a Zulu Zeus. And given that Rob thinks he’s a God according to Geoffrey, that’s a pretty apt comparison to make.

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After learning of the blindside, Rob pulls the strings on Durao and gets him to vote for Steffi alongside Nicole, while Rob plans to vote for Laetitia just so both “traitors” are in danger at Tribal Council. It’s a pointless split, but it sends a message. And with that, everyone heads to Tribal for the big showdown. I was just praying for the jury to save this episode with some more amazing reactions because Geoffrey’s color commentary has given me so much life this season and the inevitable trashing the finalists will get is more exciting than anything that’s happened on that cursed island in weeks.

I almost had to watch Tribal through my fingers because I knew what was coming. They didn’t let any suspense dangle in the air whatsoever. Rob teased the blindside with an allusion to the Greek myth of Icarus, the boy whose vaulting ambitions to fly higher and higher melted his wax wings and sent him plummeting into the Aegean Sea to his death. Applied to Durao it makes absolutely no sense, but for Steffi, the pieces click together. And speaking of pieces clicking together, the votes are cast, and it’s finally idol-geddon time. The three idols make their big debuts and Nicole takes center stage holding both her piece and Nathan’s in her hands. Then we get the big speech of the night, the one that’s supposed to knock all our socks off and shut us all the hell up with its brilliance. 

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Nicole is going to play the idol for Durao. Why? Because Nathan’s piece of the idol should belong to strong, courageous men, of course! Not slimy players like Steffi who don’t push for true female empowerment! Yeah, you tell ’em, Nicole! Show those men who are boss by… enabling them to beat you while looking like a total puppet in front of the jury once again. Seriously, watch that Tribal back, and you can actually see the puppet strings coming out of Nicole’s hands when she gives Durao the idol. 

You know what else infuriates me about this? The way Nicole says, “You betrayed the Amigos!” to Steffi as she’s automatically eliminated by an idol apocalypse. Uh, didn’t you betray the Amigos first, Nicole? You know, when you killed Nathan’s hopes of winning and told him to go change the world? Remember that? I certainly do, and I’m sure the jury remembers too. Retribution is coming, Nicole. I hope she’s ready for a brutal tongue lashing because even if by some act of the Survivor Gods she actually wins this thing, she won’t get the title without taking a serious verbal beatdown.

Steffi is now gone. All that speculation about her infamous “Nobody remembers second or third place” quote was ultimately a big waste of time. I originally thought it was ironic and locked her into a losing finalist spot, but when she started to plot against Rob, I realized it could just as easily be interpreted as the first winner quote of the season. But as it turns out, it was a meaningless red herring because she didn’t even make the finale. While I wipe this egg off my face, let’s eulogize Steffi, because her journey was polarizing, to say the least. 

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I didn’t think much of Steffi when she first stepped onto that beach, figuring her standoffish personality would eventually end her game early. But when the season needed her the most, she blossomed into a strategic player who had the biggest threat in the game on the ropes without him even knowing it. Despite her efforts yielding no real rewards in the game, thanks to her allies failing her when she needed them most, I greatly appreciated watching her learn to play harder and ditch the motto of trust and loyalty near the end. I’m still on the fence with her because of how hypocritical and arrogant she was at times, particularly during the Mother-Jacquer fiasco, but she won me over across these past three episodes, and I think she added more to this season than she took away.

The last hope of usurping Rob has been extinguished, and it looks like Rob will go the final three with an extensive resume and only an angry jury in his way. However, there is one piece of the puzzle he doesn’t know about: Laetitia’s broken vote nullifier. If she can pull Durao in and work with him at the final four, they’re guaranteed two spots in the final three and can take down whichever Amigo doesn’t win Immunity. That’s the obvious move, and they need to take it. But clueless Durao could predictably run back to Rob and Nicole for saving him and take Laetitia out, which is honestly what I’m preparing myself for because it’s what this post-merge deserves. 

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For Laetitia, the final immunity challenge could be her saving grace, because we all remember what Cirie once said about The Ball Drop: a nurse with steady hands has the innate advantage. Laetitia’s a nurse, and if there’s a challenge she can win, it’s this one. Plus this challenge does have a history of robbing great final jurors of their easy wins, so Rob could join Malcolm and Cirie if he loses focus for even a second. I’m expecting a Rob win though, even if he doesn’t want the title or the cash. I don’t think the jury will let him give it up to someone like Nicole, Durao, or Laetitia unless Rob actually gets up and walks off the set that night.

Now, let’s size up this final four. One of these players will walk away with the money next Thursday, so let’s remind ourselves who is in the running, where they started, and how they need to play in order to win.

Rob Bentele

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I do trust easily, and I think that could be a weakness of mine. So I’m hoping I trust the right people.”

When it comes to trust, so far, so good. In my very first recap, I wrote that bonds would be a driving factor in determining the winner of this game. From what I’ve seen, Rob has feasted off his bonds to get stronger and propel himself to the finale, outwitting all possible coups from people inside and outside his “senior management” crew. He’s won a ton of challenges, played an idol, controlled the entire post-merge, and now his only obstacle is the jury he molded with his own hands. That’s where things get tricky—if he even wants to win any more. 

Common sense would say he’d win in a landslide no matter who he sits next to because his strategic game has been world-class, but his jury management could be his ultimate downfall. His cockiness has soured a lot of jurors and even people like Mike, who should appreciate his success, have their qualms with the Robfather. That being said, his goal in the finale should be to keep Durao and Nicole from siding with Laetitia, or that new nullifier could majorly screw him over.

Nicole Capper

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“Beauty is not about clothes and makeup. Mostly, it’s about imperfection, and that’s what Survivor’s all about. I’m here to be the bravest version of myself.”

“Imperfection” is the perfect term to describe Nicole’s game. She’s played a brilliant social game and had everyone convinced she was on their side, and her ability to lie right to someone’s face even tricked Rob. Her recovery after the Nathan blunder showed how adaptable she is as well, and with some solid moves, and the most recent blindside of Steffi under her belt, she’s got a strong case to make. But we all know why she’ll struggle in the final three: the jury. 

This just hates Nicole. She comes across as fake and pandering one minute and arrogantly self-righteous the next. She (along with Rob) said the jury comes last. She has to find a moral reason for every move she makes instead of just owning them as her strategy. Every Tribal for the last few weeks has featured a segment about someone loathing Nicole’s guts and loudly saying so. I’d typically rule this type of person out as a winner on the spot because we all know otherwise good players can shoot themselves in the foot by not owning their games. I’m afraid Nicole won’t be able to own her game do when the time comes—mostly out of fear of damaging her “brand.” But with Rob willing to forfeit the title to her and nobody else having a solid case to make, perhaps the unthinkable is now possible, and we’ve all been snowed for the last several episodes.

Laetitia Le Roux

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“I’m a mom of five, I’ve got four grandchildren, so people may look at me, think that I’m too old. I will prove to you that I can be just as hard and cruel and do my best as what they can do.”

Aside from finding an idol at the final seven, Laetitia hasn’t lived up to her promise to play hard and cruel. She’s a nice woman, but she’s done next to nothing in the game and only made it to the merge by winning tribal Immunity seven times. And when she did make the merge, she promptly asked to be voted out over failing miserably in a Reward Challenge. I respect her ability to stick it out and endure for this long without quitting, especially with that hurt leg, but that only gets her so far with the jury. S

She missed the one chance to make a move with her idol and blabbed about it after telling herself she wouldn’t, but the nullifier, as broken and unfair as it could be, has given her that second chance to impress the jury… and she can’t waste it. If she does, it’s game over. Laetitia needs to gun for Rob as openly as possible, get Durao or Nicole on her side with a good argument, and take him out at the final four in front of the jury. And if she can put her steady hands to use and win the last challenge, after being written off for the previous 37 days, it’s just icing on the cake. This is the last chance she has to earn some respect, so she better put up the fight of her life and go balls to the wall.

Durao Mariano

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Durao was the only person in the finale to not be introduced in the premiere. Or the first three episodes. He said a total of six sentences before the swap and the first time he did anything on screen was when he solely bombed a challenge and couldn’t act to save his life. How he managed to get to the finale is quite clear (he was dragged by Rob), but he’s got a 1 in 4 shot at the million, so he did better than 17 others. His biggest obstacle will be presenting a win-worthy game to the jury because everyone knows Durao has been out of the loop all season. 

Hell, the jury was openly laughing at him and his clueless remarks about idols. He’s the court jester… the clown you rent for your kid’s birthday party… the guy you go to for some quick jokes and nothing serious. But in a finale where none of the finalists are really appealing to the jury, some funny jokes and a big heart could be all he needs to pull off an upset victory against better players. However, he needs to work with Laetitia and use that nullifier. It’s his only move left, and if the jury values his brand of goofy likability, they might find him worthy as a champion after all.

One episode remains. One of these four is just a few days away from being crowned the winner. It’s not the four I expected to see here, but it’s a developed and unique group of finalists who each went through a lot to get to the end. Regardless of who walks away with the title and the million Rand, it’s going to be a compelling finale—if only to see the jury finally unleash their fury. It’s been a long ride since May, but this story’s nearing its final chapter and I’m excited to see the conclusion. Will it be predictable but understandably satisfying? Or will it be the ultimate twist ending and throw the fan-base for a loop? It can only be one or the other, and as a fan of chaos, I’m tempted to root for the latter.

Written by

Cory Gage

Cory is a writer and student from Texas. He's a die-hard Survivor fanatic who's seen over 50 seasons worldwide, hosted his own season in high school from scratch, and hopes to one day compete on the show himself.

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