I’ve been enjoying this season of Survivor SA so far, but this episode took it up another notch and delivered an excellent hour of television across the board. We had an intense journey of an idol find, two challenges full of memorable moments, the return of a great fan favorite from SA: Philippines, and a satisfying blindside to send it off.
But first, there’s one thing I want to point out: the new opening credits with new intro shots for everyone. It’s nothing important, but it shows how much the people behind the series care about the product. They didn’t have to take the time to edit new shots for the players, but they did. Because they love Survivor and want to make the show feel alive in the moment. Kudos to you, Survivor SA crew. Two thumbs up.
Let’s get the big news out of the way: BIO-STRATH IS BACK! Yes, the fan favorite returns for a second season, and I couldn’t be happier, not only because I loved the Bio-Strath memes of yesteryear, but the product placement on this show is oddly super fun, especially when they tie it into the challenges. It’s not as ridiculous as the cheesy movie tie-ins of Survivor US fame (remember Probst and Coach desperately trying to relate a high stakes social game to Adam Sandler’s atrocious Jack and Jill?), but it’s hilarious how they incorporated it into Survivor’s classic item matching game.
Instead of revealing real items, the players flip tiles with images painted on them. Most of them tropical themed, like shells, fish, seahorses, anchors, turtles, hooks, etc. You know, things you’d expect on a season set in Samoa. But because this is a Bio-Strath sponsored challenge, some of the tiles have out of place images like “stamina” and “energy” instead. And then there are the “immune support” tiles which are just so… delightfully on the nose. I still have no clue what Bio-Strath actually is, other than it looks like cough syrup, boosts your immune system, and is pretty expensive on Amazon, but this is the perfect amount of cheesiness to make the show more charming.
The challenge itself isn’t that spectacular in terms of highlights. Nobody pulls a Lisi and plops off the platform like a dunce. But we do get to see Laetitia scold Rocco and call him a “typical bloody male” for being too bossy during her turn on the field. I loved that. There is one important strategic moment to talk about, and that’s Nathan and Rob’s sit-out bench reunion. Rob spills the beans about the Ta’alo dynamics, stating his intentions to pull in Rocco (who supposedly isn’t playing the game) to take out Dante and Meryl, the two people he doesn’t trust. Rob also throws Jacques’ name out there as a big threat. Nathan, on the other hand, is considering throwing the next immunity challenge to break up Mike and Geoffrey. With Cobus and Steffi roped in it would be a 3-3 split, and a lucky Island of Secrets trip would send a former Laumei out of camp for the night and let the vote play out without the threat of a rock draw or last-minute flip to ruin it.
Here’s the problem though: IOS doesn’t give anyone immunity this week. Ta’alo wins the challenge, and the Bio-Strath smoothie bar reward, as well as the chance to pick someone from the losing tribe (Sa’ula) to go to IOS. Nico even tells them the person who goes will be back for the next immunity challenge, yet Rob and Nicole push to send Geoffrey anyways. In my opinion, it’s a terrible choice. It does break up that Laumei trio for a day and gives the Rob/Nicole/Cobus trio time to solidify their bond, but it also offers Geoffrey the chance to find something on IOS that would let his alliance maintain control. Granted, what he brings back is ultimately harmless, but I’d call it a dodged bullet. If Geoffrey came back with something like an extra vote, a vote blocker, an idol clue, or that “send someone to IOS” ticket Rob played for and lost, his alliance would be even more powerful than before, and Sa’ula would be screwed.
Let’s talk about Geoffrey’s jar of candy because what could have been a simple, fun moment turns into a great moment of ingenuity on Geoffrey’s part. The choice is between a box of firewood and a jar of sweets, but when Geoffrey returns to camp with the mostly-full jar to share with his tribe, he stretches the truth and says there was a third option: a secret advantage just for himself. This is what So Kim’s neutral box lie should have been in Worlds Apart. Geoffrey takes the more selfish option, turns it into a selfless one, and makes it look even more selfless by telling everyone he turned down an advantage in the game. And if you’re on that new Sa’ula tribe and think Geoffrey is a big strategic threat, hearing that he turned down an advantage to get some candy might make him look a little less threatening than say, Mike or Mmaba. Geoffrey could still be targeted, but as far as taking every chance he can to improve his position, he’s been on a roll this season.
This episode also sees a fourth idol enter the game, hidden at the immunity challenge and found by Meryl. But this isn’t a case of her simply finding a scroll in the woods and following the instructions. She has to be crafty because the clue is hidden at the reward location. And just to be funny, it the package is hidden behind a board with “Immune Support” written on it because who doesn’t love a bit of whimsy in their idol hunting? Meryl knows she can’t reach it alone, so she recruits Dante to make the move for her as she distracts the rest of Ta’alo by naming random Samoan islands like Manono (no One World memories please) and “Vanuatu… or something.” Nobody catches on, and Meryl’s distraction works, giving Dante enough time to snag the package. It’s a pretty clean operation, and the only time I thought they’d get caught was when Laetitia loudly interrupted their whispering to show them how to clean a peanut butter jar with her fingers. Mission: complete.
Returning to Laumei, the tribe is enjoying their Bio-Strath as Seipei turns up her mom skills, saying nobody would ever think about voting out their mom. I guess she’s not familiar with Ciera Eastin and the “biggest move of ALL TIME!” Jacques and Durao bond over being annoyed by Felix, who’s fed up with his entire tribe and doesn’t like anyone on that beach for some reason. Felix has now dropped to the bottom of the tribe, so that whole “Ta’alo Strong” mentality lasted about… three days? Yeah, that’s what I was hoping. SA: Philippines was awesome, but the inter-tribe connections weren’t that strong and ended up creating strong tribal loyalties entering the merge, apart from a couple last minute flippers who solidified a pecking order. The Jacques and Durao relationship gives me hope that the game will be more up in the air in the future and we won’t see one starting tribe hold a tight grip on the flow of the season.
On Sa’ula, Nathan puts his plan to throw the immunity challenge into action by bringing Steffi into the equation. But Steffi, who I once said came from a background where winning is winning and losing is losing, refuses to throw a challenge. Not just this one, but any challenge. Do I blame her? Not really. Throwing challenges can offer benefits (see Ethan using a throw to take out Silas in Africa), but it can also spell doom for players if something goes wrong (see the entire Zapatera Tribe getting wiped out because they were a member short at the merge in Redemption Island). With three former Laumeis on that tribe, and Cobus up in the air as the swing vote, I would be afraid to lose. Cobus is not guaranteed to force a deadlock, and the possibility of Geoff, Mike, and Mmaba pulling out an idol is a real threatening idea if you’re not sitting at home with all the information like we are.
At the immunity challenge, Meryl rockets through her slide puzzle and takes the win for Ta’alo. The post-win celebration gives her the chance to grab the idol and stuff the comically oversized package in her bikini bottom, then her cleavage, and finally her shoe. And all this is done in plain sight from not only her tribe but Laetitia and Steffi on the sit out bench as well. Dante says she was spotted and convinces her to reveal the idol in public when they return to camp. That’s the second idol so far to become a “tribe” idol, but I don’t see Meryl making the same mistakes Paul did with his. She’s not going to sling it around someone else’s neck with a 2-2-2 split in the tribe, especially when she went on two nerve-racking stealth missions and endured Laetitia’s peanut butter lecture to get it. And to her own benefit, Rob and Nicole are looking at her as someone trustworthy and off-limits as a target at the moment. Revealing the idol might be a long-term disaster if everyone finds out and tries to blindside her, but in the short-term, it might have been Meryl’s golden ticket to the merge.
Nathan’s plan to throw the challenge hits a roadblock though. Even with Steffi sitting out and unable and ruin his scheme, Nathan’s intentionally bad slide puzzle skills are outmatched by Jacques’ actually terrible slide puzzle skills. The guy bragged about solving them on his phone in 90 seconds, but almost two hours pass and Jacques is still befuddled. Seipei tries to help him along, but Felix gets fed up with the long wait and starts a fight with Jacques by making some snide remarks from the sidelines. Felix jokingly asks Meryl to come and help solve their puzzle in exchange for an idol, since Jacques is a lost cause, which only makes the rest of the tribe more angry with him since it makes them look even more pathetic.
If Jacques was actually doing that poorly, I get Felix’s frustration. Trusting someone to handle the most critical leg of a challenge and then watching them botch it for two hours is pure agony, but Felix needed to keep his mouth shut and let Jacques focus. I’ve done slide puzzles myself, and they require more focus than most other puzzles since you need to plan your moves and visualize them several steps ahead, even undoing moves to get the pieces in the right place for the long-term. Having someone loudly complaining in your ear would make that nearly impossible unless you’re really good at tuning people out or have temporary deafness from all the yelling.
More time passes, and Jacques is taking so long that Nathan and Cobus decide to give up their plan and finish the puzzle. It’s a pathetic mercy kill for Laumei, and they’re all dejected about the disastrous loss, but at least there’s a common enemy to unite against unlike last week. The post-immunity segment at Laumei doesn’t even try to convince us of a different outcome: Felix is going home, and it’s going to be a blindside. They don’t even give us an alternate boot option. It’s literally ten minutes of people complaining about Felix being annoying and coming up with a plan to humiliate him on his way out. Will it annoy some people that the episode basically gave itself away with a few minutes left on the clock? Yes. But I think these types of episodes are always a lot of fun, just to see how a plan is pulled off step by step on an unassuming victim.
Tania and Seipei storm off into the woods to rant about Felix, and bring that energy back to camp while Felix is off on a lonely swim. Jacques and Durao are in with the women, but there’s one more variable heading into this Tribal: Durao’s fake idol. He goes to Felix and says he’s worried (because the plan is for Felix to think Durao is the real target), but he also says he’ll play his idol which Felix hasn’t even seen yet. What’s the plan here exactly? Well, Durao wants to flaunt his idol at Tribal to scare Felix and get his heart rate up just before delivering the real coup de gras with a 4-1 blindside. I think. Jacques, Tania, and Seipei hear about Durao’s scheme and Seipei isn’t a fan. She believes it’s needlessly cruel, even if the victim is someone who annoyed her for the last couple days. Mom’s always looking out for her kids, even the pesky, annoying one who gets on her nerves.
But because this is Survivor SA where random craziness is a daily occurrence, Durao loses his idol in the ocean when it falls out of his pocket. While it would have been amusing to see Durao put some more Razzie worthy acting on my screen at Tribal, I adore how this two episode subplot of Durao’s obviously fake idol ended in the biggest wet blanket of a conclusion possible. Nobody believed him in the first place, so it was almost like the Survivor Gods came down to personally slap him in the face; to tell him to cut it out and stop wasting his time with something that would never bear fruit. As for me, I’m just hoping someone finds it washed up in the future and thinks it’s a real idol. I’d call it hopeless fan fiction, but Survivor SA is the show where that hopeless fan fiction becomes a reality, so I’m not ruling it out.
The blindside goes through without a hitch and Felix is booted unanimously, ending this Jacques vs. Felix civil war way earlier than I anticipated after all that build up. The remaining four are happy to survive the night, but I have mixed feelings about this move and how it was carried out, especially for Jacques. Blindsiding Felix might seem like a pointlessly cruel move at first since he knew Felix was defenseless and telling him probably wouldn’t do any harm, but nobody else knew that Felix was idol-less. If Jacques had been open about Felix’s departure, that would show the rest of the tribe that something was making Jacques especially comfortable. And since Felix knew about Jacques’ idol, blindsiding him was the way to limit the odds of Felix blabbing to save his own skin.
So I liked the idea of blindsiding him. But was getting rid of Felix in the first place the best move here? I would say no, because this leaves Tania and Seipei as a tight pair moving forward, which could force a 2-2 tie if Laumei loses again. Jacques had Seipei next on the chopping block following Rose’s elimination for a good reason: it would force Tania to stick with him, and once Durao was pulled in to create a tight three, Felix would be easy to get rid of. But if the tribe is split down the middle, Jacques might have to use his idol (again) or face a pre-merge rock draw. Of course, Laumei could win the rest of the challenges in this phase and all this worrying is for nothing, but Survivor is unpredictable, especially with IOS throwing wrenches in everyone’s plans as of late.
It would be fairly easy for someone like Seipei or Tania to return to IOS, find an advantage, and then take power for themselves if Tania can’t be persuaded to flip on her biker queen savior. And that’s why I hope Tribal sees some fresh blood next time, because I don’t want to lose any of these four right now. They’re all fun in their own way, and some of the other tribes have their own dynamics going on. I want to see if Sa’ula goes to a 3-3 deadlock. I want to see how the 2-2-2 split works out on Ta’alo. I want to see more of the other tribes in general since their dynamics haven’t been fleshed out that much. Laumei’s post-swap story feels complete to me. They’ve taken their punches, expunged the bad egg, and are united going into whatever is in store for them next.
This episode was great. Honestly, it’s probably my favorite of the season so far. There were so many little fun moments thrown in there, and all the players were performing at the top of their games as entertaining television characters. If I had any complaints, I would have liked to check in with Cobus to see how he feels about his position since we were told he was with the Sa’ulas instead of shown that. But that’s just a minor issue, and I’m being too picky given how good the rest of the episode was. The season keeps ramping up and building on itself as a great season should, and if the previews are anything worth noting, next week’s episode should be a dynamic one.