One thing working in this season’s favor is that even in episodes with straightforward votes like this one, there’s always a bit of that Survivor SA brand of chaos weaving its way through the game to keep things lively. Despite its unfortunately bittersweet ending, this episode delivered a game-changing public idol exchange, promises kept and shredded alike, and somehow a sense of heartwarming growth at the end. So let’s dig in.
With Pinty finally eliminated and Killarney firmly aligned with Toni, Tejan, and Steffi for the forseeable future, Felix and Thoriso are stuck on the bottom of Masu 2.0. They don’t have much of a saving grace to turn to, forcing them to scramble for their lives in the game as the old Yontau factions crumble.
Toni and Tejan, still hoping to find that Masu idol, orchestrate a plan to dig it up early in the morning. Tejan finally makes a breakthrough and digs up his possible ticket to the endgame, but unfortunately for the Prince of Darkness, he cannot use it for his own protection. Instead, he wants to pass it to Dino, hoping to work with the fellow superfan to disrupt the Breakfast Club alliance and pave the way for a strong counter alliance at the merge.
But Tejan, of all people, randomly hugging Dino at the challenge would make things too obvious to prying eyes, so it’s up to the more touchy Toni to make the exchange happen without setting off any alarms. And after a devastating close loss, Masu’s hopes of avoiding Tribal are wrecked. But one tribe’s dismay is another tribe’s chaos because Toni’s exchange is a big ol’ bust. Dino might get the idol, but by the end of the episode, the exchange will have been anything but discrete, sending the new Yontau into a frenzy of rumors and whispers galore.
And at the heart of it all is Shane, who’s finally back on our screens doing what he does best: running around being domineering, often to his own detriment. Antsy for a blindside and fearing his own game might be in danger should he wait too long to strike, he’s down to target Dante, hopefully bringing in extra support with not only outsiders Dino and Phil but fellow Breakfast Clubbers Meryl and Marian. But nasty reputations are hard to kill, and Phil’s not buying anything Shane throws out. He’s too cocky, too upfront, and too Godfatherly to be trusted. But don’t worry. It gets worse. Much worse.
As Yontau enjoys their pizza party reward and heads back to camp for the night off, the women openly mock Toni’s messy idol exchange. Palesa, once keen on working with Dino, is suddenly turned off the idea. She wants Toni as her number one to help infiltrate her growing alliance, and if Toni is just passing free idols to Dino across tribe lines instead of saving herself with them (granted, Palesa isn’t aware the idol had to be passed to be activated, so we can cut her some slack), it just proves Dino’s in the way of Palesa’s master plan.
Shane, having heard the news of the exchange around camp, immediately pulls Dino aside to sell out Palesa, aiming to bring in Dino as a loyal number in a Dante blindside. And once again, as we just saw with Phil, Dino’s not buying any of it even if it’s 100% genuine on Shane’s part. Between his blunt delivery, subtle strong-arming, threats of having a lot of pull in the tribe (which could be turned on those who don’t fall in line with his plans), and his reputation as arguably the biggest villain in Survivor SA history, Shane’s words go in one ear and out the other with these people. And it won’t be long before it comes back to bite him.
Dino fills Phil in on their new idol, just in time for Palesa to show up and ask Dino about the exchange herself. Dino casually deflects all the heat to Shane by revealing their previous conversation, and Palesa is so annoyed she heads to the confessional for a nice dragging session. Shane’s trying to play a double agent game, but he can’t manage all the pieces properly because he reveals real information to both parties, and all of his assumed associates are smart enough to compare notes. Suddenly, working with Dino might be in Palesa’s best interest if it means Shane’s out the door.
But Yontau are all safe this time, so this chaos will continue to bubble under the surface. Instead, we have another Masu Tribal to worry about, and it’s a fairly simple breakdown. Tejan, Toni, Steffi, and Killarney are in power. Thoriso and Felix aren’t. A simple split vote in the event one of them has an idol should be enough security for the majority to survive. But in a season this cutthroat, nothing could ever be that simple, right?
Despite the doom and gloom, there is a bit of debate between keeping Killarney or Thoriso. First, the pros of keeping Killarney: she’s stronger in challenges, will be loyal to a fault, and, as far as they know, won’t be keen on making any big moves, so she’s basically a free goat offering herself up. The pros of keeping Thoriso: she’s easier to strategize with because she knows the game, and she’ll bring solid connections to this new alliance at the merge, so long-term benefits are aplenty.
Tejan comes to the outsiders with a proposal: he flips on Killarney, blindsides her in a classic 3-2-1 vote, and deals with the fallout later. It’s a glimpse back at the old Tejan, the one who’d stab any back within reach if it meant his prospects got a boost, but there’s one little flaw in his pitch he didn’t quite see coming. Thoriso, if she can put her feelings aside, can ignore the small chance of Tejan flipping and take the role of backstabber for herself, writing down Felix’s name to create her own 3-2-1 vote and avoid elimination at the cost of a friend.
After a Tribal filled with awkward, humorous tension as both factions debate what counts as a “controlling alliance” and a “compliment,” the votes are read… and it’s a three-way tie. Bummer. On the re-vote, Thoriso is sent packing unanimously, making this six original Yontau’s in a row meeting a similar pre-merge fate on their second chance.
While Thoriso wasn’t without her mistakes, she definitely wins some massive points for improvement. Coming into this season, she was a bit of a meme casting choice. The fans enjoyed her in Season 8 and wanted her to do well, but her reputation was all about social apathy and weird moves and never even casting a vote. But what a turnaround she had in Season 9. She lasted twice as long, gave so many great confessionals with an infectious smile on her face, delivered fun strategies both clever and chaotic, and formed genuine bonds with the other players that could’ve carried her to the end had some challenge results gone differently.
But in a tragic twist, her downfall this year is the exact opposite of her previous one. Had she been more detached from the social game and not built a strong friendship with Felix, she could’ve easily saved herself with a selfish vote against him. But she stuck with her friend to the bitter end and paid the price, though not without having a great second chance experience she’ll treasure for the rest of her life. It’s heartbreaking to see her leave pre-merge yet again when she seemed primed to learn from her mistakes and go deep with a long-term plan to win, but that’s the nature of a cast this stacked.
Every vote will hurt like hell, but as long as the players can walk away satisfied with their journeys when all is said and done, there’s always some positivity to cling to on this crazy ride of ups and downs.