Survivor SA is only a third of the way over after six weeks, but it feels more like the season is nearing the halfway point. It’s more of a marathon than a sprint, and for someone who loves the show, I want more. But the season has found its footing as a worthy sequel to SA: Phillipines and it’s making my summer a ton of fun, so keep the episodes (and hopefully new seasons) coming. As for this episode? It felt like a turning point in a lot of ways, or at least the tremors leading up to the turning point that is next week’s “drop your buffs” moment. We saw new bonds take shape, a new villain revealed himself, a couple of the early favorites stumbled over their own feet, and one more heartbreaking elimination reminded me how tragic the show can be.
First, let’s check in with the Sa’ula family, aka The Amigos. They started as the dysfunctional tribe with no luck to their name, the big bad wolves who got tamed and had to earn their fangs back after some devastating early losses. The swap gave them the chance to expand their horizons and take control on three different fronts, but just as the Survivor Gods giveth, they also taketh away. And for the Amigos this was definitely a “taketh” kind of week. Seipei continued to soar to new heights on Laumei as part of the Band of Misfits, having escaped what could have been her doom had Felix not blown up his own game. She even managed to send two of her allies to the Island of Secrets and gave them a chance to gain even more power. But that’s where the good ends and the bad begins.
Last week, I assumed Cobus was in on Nathan’s plan to throw the immunity challenge. It turns out I was wrong; Cobus had no clue what was going on. Nathan was throwing the challenge even though he hadn’t secured the numbers. This wasn’t an Ethan Zohn throw, it was a Drew Christy throw, and Nathan could have easily been blindsided had Jacques been better at that slide puzzle. Consider that a dodged bullet. But Cobus and the old Laumei members believe Nathan’s head is out of the game and his poor challenge performance was a sign of him wanting to quit. And you know what’s worse? Everyone in the majority is trash talking him behind his back, meaning Nathan has no idea what’s brewing. When the rest of the tribe is excited to see you go to IOS because it clears out the negative energy (aka Mr. Sadface according to Cobus), you know you’re in a bad spot. If he and Steffi assume Cobus is 100% still with them, a visit to tribal might prove otherwise.
Speaking of IOS, Nathan’s visit alongside Nicole is just as much of a mixed bag. They do get a split idol that they combine to create a fully powered one, but here’s the issue: Nathan lets Nicole have it when Rob already has the original Sa’ula idol back at Nicole’s camp. I assume it’s still usable even if Paul was voted out because he gave it to Rob that night, so what gives? Is Nathan that confident about his 3-3 split and Cobus’ loyalty that he thinks Nicole and Rob each need an idol? Why not have one on your own beach just in case Cobus doesn’t join you and instead joins the Laumei Three? Even if those four split the votes on Steffi and Nathan, at least one of them could be safe and not give the four the final decision. But hey, it’s Survivor SA, where half the cast can switch into “Gabon Mode” at any moment and make some crazy, ridiculous choice that mortally injures their game.
Nicole and Rob don’t fare much better than Nathan though. On Ta’alo, Dante randomly emerges as a camp saboteur and steals the tribe’s flint. That’s the third case of Rob and Nicole being involved in some form of flint-gate this season. Utterly ridiculous. But this is Dante’s first next-level strategic move, and it’s… not really that bad of an idea? He plans to pin the blame on Rob, who’s been the camp’s fire maker since the swap and would be responsible for the flint at all times. What’s funny is Dante doesn’t even need to blame Rob because Rob literally takes the blame and asks to be voted out, not because he’s feeling guilty about it, but because he wants to draw the votes onto himself and idol out Dante! Both of them think they’re winning the war, but they don’t even know a war is going on.
Have I said ridiculous enough this week? Well, I’m saying it again. Ridiculous. Dante does feel a little guilty though since he’s both a provider for the tribe and the one starving them at the moment, but he’s playing a strategic game this week, so he’s willing to hurt his personal integrity to gain the upper hand. Even if his plan didn’t work out had Ta’alo lost, it was a smart, unexpected move that proves camp sabotage can be an effective strategy in the right circumstances. This clearly wasn’t it, but I appreciate the move on paper.
And now for Nicole. Oh boy. This is quite the episode for Nicole Capper. The upside: she gets an idol! Yay! The downside? She has to explain to the rest of Ta’alo what happened on IOS and is forced to come up with an incredibly convoluted lie in the process. We already know Nicole wants to leave the game with her integrity intact, so this is a big test for her, to see if she has the skills to throw out a convincing whopper. And does she? I guess she might have. I’m not totally sure it worked, but let’s break it down.
Nicole comes back with her idol and the note that came with it. Okay, not bad so far. Then she says the second half could be found at the entrance to her camp, as per a separate clue she recites by “memory.” And just to appeal to the emotions of her tribe, she says there were two options: half an idol with a clue to the second half, or a video message from home delivered on a tablet. Not that bad of a lie, except for the part where she didn’t have the second clue and had to throw out a catchy rhyme to make her lie sound somewhat believable. I don’t know why she couldn’t just say she took the message from home and let Nathan have the idol. Or just say both of them took the message from home, or come up with something less complicated like they competed for food, and she lost, but it is what it is, And at least nobody will be shocked if they find an idol in her bag during a snooping session.
But does the tribe believe her? That’s the big question here. I think so, but it isn’t a perfect crime by any means. Dante looks utterly braindead during Nicole’s teary story of Nathan’s sick dad, and Meryl sarcastically saying “Suuuuuure” after every one of Nicole’s sentences is… not a good sign. Meryl begrudgingly believes her though, even if her rhyme was sketchy, so Nicole seemingly gets off the hook. But does she gain anything from this? Oh hell no! Now everyone knows she has part of an idol and suspects she’ll find the other half, which doesn’t even exist because her idol is complete, so as far as they’re concerned, she has a full idol. All she accomplishes is building some paper-thin trust with her tribe and possibly taking some heat off her back. Her best plan now is to push that target towards Rocco and Laetitia who don’t openly have idols like the other duos on Ta’alo and would be “stress-free” votes, but she won’t have to. The swap or merge is coming so she thankfully has the chance to get away from that mess, but someone is bound to follow her to a new tribe and spill the beans. She needs to pray for a reunion with the Amigos or the Misfits. Or just have Rocco on her tribe again since he hasn’t lost yet.
Enough about the old Sa’ula family. Let’s talk about the tragedy of Lauemi, who face a third Tribal Council after dominating the physical reward challenge and seeming like they were on the upswing. Deeming themselves the Band of Misfits, they pledge allegiance to the solid four and swear to work together at a swap or merge, and to make that bond even stronger, Jacques reveals both his extra vote and immunity idol to the tribe, albeit a couple of days apart. I don’t know what it is with people announcing their secrets on a season with ‘secrets’ in the title, but that’s the recurring theme: loose lips that may or may not sink ships. But Jacques revealing his armory of advantages proves to work in his benefit this week as it saves him from elimination and makes him almost invincible at Tribal Council, just like good armor should.
After losing immunity by a second and having to break up their little crew, the Misfits sit down and debate in an open forum setting. Seipei is safe because she has the Amigos waiting to join her in the next phase of the game as four solid allies. Jacques is safe because his advantages can help the Misfits going forward, and eliminating him out of fear would only waste them. Durao is relatively alone, but he still has connections to the five former Laumei members left, none of whom have even seen Tribal yet and could join the Misfits later on. That leaves Tania as the consensus option to leave. And then I cried. No, not really. I wanted to though because there wasn’t much Tania could do here. She puts up a good fight and pitches the argument of taking Jacques and his armory out, pointing out the power Jacques would have for himself later in the game. But it isn’t the right move for Seipei and Durao, and Tania’s torch is snuffed.
As much as I loved Tania and wanted to see her stay, it was the best choice for the tribe going forward. Tania had no allies on other beaches, only enemies. She offered nothing but a single vote and a big target for the other tribes to throw their votes at. She had no advantages to share, no connections to pull from; not a single thing beyond her amazing personality. But Tania went on quite a journey for a six-episode player. There’s a universe out there where Tania is voted out first and goes down as a great first boot alongside the Zanes and Chickens of the series. But we landed in the universe where Tania starts off on the worst foot ever, gets a miraculous second chance by the grace of Seipei, trolls her entire tribe, makes amends with some of her enemies, survives two Tribals in a row, and leaves the game loved by her cast and a ton of Survivor fans around the world. Now that’s a great arc.
Tania truly redeemed herself and brought a lot of great moments to the show. But if we must take a lesson away from her exit: just because you’ve risen from the ashes like a phoenix, doesn’t mean the embers aren’t still hot enough to burn you. Though in this case, it’s more like the phoenix got shot before it finished rising, but you get the point.
So what’s coming next? We know everyone is told to pack their things, so it’s either a swap or a merge… or something totally unexpected. I’d rule out the possibility of a merge since there are still a whopping fifteen people left in the game. Plus I’ve paid attention, and there are ten jury seats at Tribal Council, so a merge of 13 or 12 is probably where we’re heading. Juror removal is still an option after last season’s finale threw it in for giggles, but a fifteen person merge seems a little too out there. Though if we are merging with such a large number, I’d honestly hope to see them pull off one my most requested Survivor twists. An un-merge where tribes merge for a couple votes and then revert back to the tribal phase before merging for a second and final time, like a longer lasting version of Ghost Island’s double Tribal twist.
Getting back to reality, another swap is what I’m expecting to see, one that retires the three tribe format and creates two tribes of seven while sending one person to IOS until Tribal, where they join the losing tribe after the vote. But my expectations want to be subverted, so I’m heading into this thing open minded and hoping for some sort of welcome surprise.
Before I close up shop, I would like to address something that has started to bother me: the sheer number of idols and advantages present in the game at the moment. I’ve been tolerant of them since the premiere, but I think we’re reaching critical mass with the introduction of Nicole’s idol. As of this episode, Jacques has an idol, Meryl has an idol, Rob has an idol, and Nicole has an idol. Plus Jacques has an extra vote that can only be used at the merge Tribal and nowhere else. The extra vote I don’t mind since it’s so situational and can only impact one night of the game, but having four idols in the game at once is potentially game-breaking if they don’t get played in time.
I can’t see these idols being sat on forever given who has them and how nuts this cast is with making random moves, but there’s always going to be a little bit of paranoia in my brain about another Advantagegeddon happening. It’s now mathematically possible for everyone to be immune at the final five or someone to be automatically eliminated at the final six. I know SA: Philippines had a lot of idols, including four that existed at the same time, but three of them were played in one night right after the fourth one was found, giving the idol count a hard reset without totally screwing anyone over or breaking the game in the process.
Survivor SA is running a risky business right now. More idols means more potential for blindsides, big moments, and power shifts. And to be fair, I don’t think they expected two hardcore allies to end up with both halves of the IOS idol and decide who got the whole thing without any drama. They obviously wanted two people from different cliques to get sent to IOS, but it just didn’t work out that way. Flawed game design? Maybe. But I see what they were going for. That being said, I sincerely hope they cut back on the advantages and idols until the ones already in the game start getting played, which I hope is very soon. If I see a fifth idol show up before any of these get played I might actually scream at my screen. I don’t want to stress my poor vocal cords, so here’s to hoping for a lull in idol introduction.
Aside from the increasing number of idols, I don’t have many complaints. The first third of the season was a lot of fun and even broke my heart a couple of times, which is all I can ask for from a good Survivor season at the end of the day. There’s still a ton of game left to be played though, and with the next episode bringing a huge wild card to the table, I can’t wait to dig in and see what the show has in store for us next.