Picking up after last episode’s cliffhanger, it’s a showdown between Phil and Felix for immunity. Phil’s late start advantage allows him to net the win with ease, leaving Felix totally exposed with Marian coming for his head. But Phil’s victory isn’t without its drawbacks. Reluctant to take the title of Challenge Beast, he’s put a massive target on his back as the one to beat, one that will be hard to shake when immunity is the only sure defense in a looming idol-free endgame.
Back on the beach, Phil, Felix, and Killarney stumble upon an idol clue marked with the Salan symbol. Phil scrambles to grab it first, unaware that one little parchment will shatter his No B.S. alliance in the coming days. With Phil running off to examine his discovery, Felix is forced to talk game with Killarney, who once again, in one of the funniest running gags of this post-merge, takes credit for all the blindsides thus far. She’s worried the jury will be upset with her if she makes the final two, and yeah, they definitely will be. Just not for the reasons she expects.
Most of the episode is devoted to the world’s most unnecessarily drawn out idol hunt, though, whether you like it or not. The next clue (informing the finder the idol will be hidden under the urn at Tribal Council) is buried on the steps leading to the water well. Even with the rest of the tribe searching the area, Phil finally digs up his treasure after two days of frantic searching and locks down his spot in the final five.
But the actual idol hunt is merely a catalyst for the real meat of the episode: the gradual fracture of the No B.S. boys. Marian stokes the fires of Dino’s paranoia to turn him against Felix, and when told about Felix’s plan to strike at Marian, Phil assumes he’d be next due to his growing threat level. And it’s not a bad conclusion to reach. Felix isn’t the loudest player, but he’s gradually moved up the power rankings with clever, stealthy moves. He’s certainly a dark horse, but anyone who knows their Survivor SA history knows the dark horse wins more often than not.
Meanwhile, Shane tells Felix that Dino’s gone rogue and thrown him under the bus to Marian, setting off alarm bells in Felix’s mind. Tejan is looped into the information and believes every bit of it, revealing his long-term strategy is to play in Goat Mode as a clueless number until the time is right. Against Killarney or even Felix, he feels he could talk his way in with the jury and pitch a strong underdog story to blow their minds. Unfortunately, Felix might be off the table given the direction of the votes, but Tejan won’t throw a fit as long as he’s safe another night.
As No B.S. spirals, Dino wants to believe the rumors of betrayal are all seeds of doubt planted to tear them apart right at the finish line. But to unknowingly cement his fears, Killarney joins the idol hunt and informs him of Phil’s not-so-secret clue from the beach. The two convince themselves that Phil not only found the idol but is leading everyone on a wild goose chase to weaken them.
Killarney runs off to inform Marian, who confronts Phil the following morning. The firefighter spins a quick lie about the clue pointing to an idol at the Outpost, but after digging up half the camp, his attempt falls flat, and Marian adds Phil to her growing hit list. And Phil doesn’t help his case with Dino either. Eventually, revealing the idol clue as a sign of trust (albeit a whole day too late) only makes Dino more certain that he’s getting toyed with.
But there’s still more Telephone to be played. Tejan throws Dino under the bus to Felix, who relays the info back to Phil. Marian, Shane, and Double Agent Dino: that’s the tight three who need to be broken up. But for some reason Felix can’t grasp, Phil’s locked and loaded to reunite No B.S. and send Tejan home of all people. Not a big threat with power and numbers, but the lone wolf struggling to survive vote by vote. It’s baffling, and if you thought Phil’s prospects couldn’t get messier, Shane catches a glimpse of him finding the clue on the steps and alerts Marian and Dino.
So now we’re left with a Phil who could easily smoke anyone in a jury vote… but will have the steepest uphill battle to even sniff Day 39 because few people trust him, everyone knows what tricks he’s got up his sleeve, and his allies are actively scared to keep him around for fear of an immunity run. So yeah, it’s a mess.
Although Tejan should be safe with Felix in the hot seat, he’s not totally secure with the idea of a 4-3 vote including his name. He fashions a fake idol with a stone and an old parchment, intending to spook a couple paranoid people and change their votes for added security. But if the guy was hoping to fly under the radar until then, he’s proven sorely mistaken. The topic of the night (goats and whether they should be allowed to stick around) drags him into a battle to defend his game against a cast so vehemently against the idea of a goat sitting at the end.
This discussion of goats is nothing new for the season or the franchise in general, but it’s been a bit tiresome to watch the weaponization of the term over the past few episodes. And worst of all, it’s taken a self-righteous turn that isn’t at all fun to watch. While players like Killarney and Tejan are close to drawing dead when it comes to winner equity in most final twos, they’re still players with intentional strategies, whether the rest of the cast likes them or not.
I totally understand the desire to see a great final two in a season this historic for the SA franchise, especially when this version is known for its shocking trainwreck winners. But to label people as undeserving and actively target them based on some moralistic duty to “respect the game” just doesn’t sit right with me. It’s a controversial old-school philosophy draped in a new school disguise, something that goes beyond clearing a presumably token spot in the final two.
If players want to cull a goat or two to boost their odds, that’s totally cool. And that’s exactly what’s happening this season. But it’s hard to watch a valid, respectable strategy warp into a low-key personal crusade against those deemed “unworthy” of representing the season when said goats are hardly given the chance to prove themselves.
And unfortunately for poor Tejan, he still won’t get that chance. His fake idol scheme tragically backfires as Shane presumably flips his vote to flush the idol as part of a last second change of plans. Or maybe Shane just gets confused by the split and votes for Tejan by mistake. Either way, the Prince of Darkness earns another seventh-place finish, sparing Felix in the closest shave of his game so far. It’s a confusing ending, and I’m sure the next episode will explain it all, but something went horribly wrong for Tejan and miraculously right for Felix.
Tejan’s two-season arc is nothing short of tragic. In Maldives, he played years ahead of his time but never won the respect of his cast. Instead, he went through nine layers of self-righteous Hell just for playing the game strategically. This time, he had the chance to play with others who valued his style of play, only to be self-righteously ostracized again because he wasn’t playing well enough for this cast’s liking.
Between the grueling bottom-feeding outside the many majority alliances and the lack of actual feeding as the cast denied him reward after reward to keep him weak, it was a rough run for the lone Season 4 representative. But just seeing this man on our screens again was a delight, even if he wasn’t allowed to play the same devious game twice. While his loss surely stings, I wish him the best meals of his life at Ponderosa for the remainder of the game.
This was a bit of a ho-hum episode in the end, definitely not one for big character moments at least, but it’s set up a potentially insane final six round. No B.S. is imploding. Phil has an idol. Dino is due for a trip to the Outpost. Felix survived by a hair. And on the other side of the tribe, we have three members of the old Champions Utara tribe with their own strategies. Marian’s set on giving Felix the boot and crowning a so-called “worthy” winner. Shane’s set on winning even if he must drag a goat to the end to do so. And Killarney’s set on taking as much credit as possible whether it’s due or not, all while tackling the grief of loss behind the scenes.
It’s a chaotic, individualistic endgame, and because it’s Survivor SA, nobody can be ruled out as a contender for the title, even the alleged goats.