At the end of last week’s four-part odyssey and the Tribal Council where both tribes voted, Nico presented the surviving 11 castaways with their merge buffs, neatly rolled on a tray. (Apparently, a few hearts were set a-flutter as they were initially mistaken for sausage rolls.) What a simple but wonderful innovation.
The castaways had voted almost unanimously 10-2 for Palesa, with only Palesa and Toni voting for Meryl. Merging then and there at Tribal Council meant they walked back to their improved camp, a tribe united—in name at least. The merge buff is yellow, by the way. Or is it purple?
Let’s set the table before we thunder into the second half of this thrilling game. The former Philippines players from S6 are all but gone, with just Toni left, and she is about to become the first juror. Immunity Island S8 is similarly stricken, with only Dino remaining. Champions and Island of Secrets (S5 and S7) have both lost just one, and each goes into the merge with four remaining. Tejan was and is the sole representative from Maldives (S4).
But we are a long way from old season alliances, and this game is—what is the word?—fluid. As for Dino, Felix, Killarney, and Phil, they have reached the significant milestone that all of Original Yontau craved: the merge.
And what does merge mean to a player who has been on very short rations for 20 days? The merge feast! Would you settle for cereal and bananas? If you were on this season of Survivor SA, you might just have to. Unless…
The castaways find themselves at a reward challenge that tasks them with breaking two plates with marbles fired from a slingshot. As each breaks their two plates, they can run to the Survivor SA Buffet, which features various meals from ribs and beer to a solitary boiled egg, along with, as Nico puts it, “some interesting surprises as well.”
First come, first served. But not necessarily best served, as second place-getter Steffi finds when she lifts a large cover to reveal a huge bowl of white rice. There’s something about someone crying while eating that is both heartbreaking and funny. Phil comes up even shorter by revealing rice and spices for the tribe. Dino and Meryl get mystery pouches.
It’s intriguing when individual challenges reveal or conceal relationships. We’ve seen it in Touchy Subjects, where players must choose whose rope to chop. Here, the players get unexpected insight when Killarney, Meryl, and Toni are left struggling to smash their plates. Dante, Felix, Phil, and Shane go to help Killarney and Meryl. When Toni gripes that no one is helping her, Dino trots over to win her the egg.
Nico asks Meryl to reveal what is in her pouch. She has the OutSurance Bonus Reward Send Token, where she can hop onto any reward she chooses, so no food for now but a promise of food to come. Dino is more cagey about his advantage, saying he has a lot to think through, but in confessional tells us he has the Save The Date Advantage. (And sweetly, he and his fiancé sent their Save The Date cards just before he came to play). The Save The Date parchment holder will be sent to the Outpost on day 32, which “could change who wins the game from that point on.”
Individual Immunity Challenge
Nico reveals the individual immunity necklace. It’s always a wonderful moment of drama with the castaways now sure they are in the individual portion of the game. This necklace is truly lovely, a simple shape featuring nine rough pieces of beautiful South African amber glowing Salan yellow, one for each member of the jury.
Castaways must stand on the balls of their feet, leaning out over the water while holding onto a knotted rope. This is the sort of challenge which punishes shoulders, abs, and calves and requires good balance. As the challenge starts, Phil calls out for forgiveness from Nico, but it is his tribemates downwind who need to forgive him as he lets fly with a little pee. The challenge comes down to Steffi and Phil, with Phil (perhaps now feeling lighter) holding on longest.
Voting Blocs, Fluidity, and Chickens Coming Home To Roost
Three named alliances have made it to the post-merge. The Breakfast Club (Dante, Marian, Meryl, Shane, Steffi), who shed one of their own on Day 3, have gone their separate ways to form other relationships and now are back together five strong. The Full Package (Marian, Meryl and Steffi), a trio within the larger Breakfast Club alliance. And the No Bullsh*t alliance (Dino, Felix and Phil), which was formed on the early days of Yontau.
Of these alliances, Steffi seems the most insulated, having not only a tight two with Marian but the trust of Toni and the respect of Killarney. And now Dino wants to work with her. Although Toni gives Dino advice on how to approach Steffi, he doesn’t think Toni knows as much as she thinks she does. Dino and Steffi have a nice chat by the rock pools, where she suggests that he vote for Tejan.
Tejan worries that speaking out at the previous tribal has put him in the hot seat. He is in the hot seat, but that’s not why. The Survivor SA editors are at it again, those gleeful Agatha Christies. They love to sprinkle clues for us that make sense down the track. The glimpse we had in episode 7 of idol-hunting Tejan standing on the well to climb into a tree above pays off here as he looks up into branches and sees a yellow ribbon. He climbs the tree and finds a Hidden Immunity Idol.
Toni approaches Shane to play with her and Tejan. She pitches Dante. Though Shane readily agrees, of course, he wants to vote for the person who has the biggest potential to upset things for him. Toni thinks there are changeable voting blocs, and she wouldn’t be surprised if her name is thrown out. But she feels she will be protected by Felix, Dino, Phil, and Tejan. And that is true only in that they don’t write her name down. Toni feels she has the numbers for a split between Dane and Meryl.
The Full Package and subsequently the Breakfast Club agree to vote for Toni. Killarney is relieved when Steffi tells her to vote that way. No Bullsh*t meets for a cute pinky swear. Their main goal is to protect each other. Privately, Felix tells us he is going to sit back and watch the others fight and then select his side. Like Steffi, Felix has friends everywhere, although he is going to claim at tribal that he doesn’t know what is going on.
Tejan wants to take this chance to shift the balance of power to his and Toni’s side. He doesn’t want to play his idol, but better safe than sorry.
Fluid Turns Solid
At tribal, Nico warmly greets the former pre-merge boots who have made it to the merge. There is talk, as always, of fluidity, which is a nice disguise when you don’t want to say anything definitive. Shane says that now comes the pay-off for decisions made pre-merge. And he should know; he had a pretty great merge on Champions… until he didn’t. He’s right, but some of the people listening don’t fully catch the danger they are in. Gloriously, Steffi, the centre of power, says it’s too early to say where the centre of power is.
Tejan plays his idol for himself, and Toni is stung that he didn’t tell her about it. With Tejan and Toni sticking to the split vote plan, the No BS Boys vote for Tejan and the rest for Toni. As Nico reads the votes, Toni calls her fellow tribemates “sneaky’.” And not in the fun way.
I like that the game bends and stretches and innovates, but one thing I vote against every time is players trying to influence the game after the last ballot is read. Toni, clearly upset by the blindside (and that part is understandable), stands to take Salan to task. “Guys, I’m super disappointed in a lot of you, seriously disappointed. And Dante, if you get to the end, you’ve got my vote babe,” she says.
In her final words, she sums up the game of Survivor. “I’m so disappointed in the people I played with,” she says. “Because they let me down, they lied to me, and they betrayed me. They looked me in the eye and they proper lied.”