Picking up from last episode’s cliffhanger, the final four round keeps rolling, unlike Phil and Dino’s wheels. Phil, a bit too hasty after a tumble, accidentally drops one, giving the win to Marian and Shane. It’s a hard pill to swallow for the firefighter, losing not only his first challenge in several days but an all-time great reward as well. But heading back to camp with Dino has its strategic perks, and there’s still an immunity challenge to be won.
Escorted by helicopter, Marian and Shane venture to the Mantis Founders Lodge for a once in a lifetime experience, and it’s a once in a lifetime experience for hardcore Survivor SA fans too. The thrill of seeing Shane and Marian, two SA legends from a bygone era, back together after nine years was already a treat, but to have them sharing an epic adventure of a reward at the final four? It’s heaven on Earth and great television at that.
Treated to a savanna adventure in search of the near-threatened white rhino, the duo learns about the anti-poaching efforts enacted as a last resort to protect the species and even help dehorn one of the animals themselves. And Marian, particularly touched by the plight of the rhinos and the hard-working people who strive to protect them, has an epiphany that humans have become the animals in the modern world in their quest for wealth. It’s an apt lesson to learn on a show like Survivor, though, because soon enough, another player’s dreams will be crushed in the name of winning the two million Rand and the title of Sole Survivor.
Treated to a five-star meal, Shane and Marian are devoted to winning the next challenge to end Phil’s hot streak. But there’s also the added wrinkle of Phil having all the time in the world to flip Dino to his side undisturbed. Marian’s not concerned about Dino flipping, but she is concerned about her name coming up as the obvious choice should Phil earn another necklace. She hasn’t played an outwardly flashy game, but between her inspirational story, her subtle yet strong game moves, and her big legacy coming in, she knows she’d be a tough opponent for any of the remaining men.
And back at camp, Phil and Dino reach similar conclusions. Phil acknowledges Dino as his biggest challenge threat but fears Marian’s potential favor with the jury in a final two. Dino, on the other hand, wants Phil out as soon as possible but wants to keep him aloof to his true intentions just in case Phil’s winning streak continues. Together, they plot a 2-1-1 vote, hoping to pitch different names to the Champions duo and split their votes, giving the remnants of No B.S. all the power as they cruise to the final two, where the best man wins. But with Dino firmly against Phil behind the scenes, it’s all on Phil’s shoulders to keep this messy plan afloat by winning immunity.
At an intense immunity challenge, Phil is finally dethroned when Shane, the last to arrive at his puzzle station, completes the hardest puzzle of the season after 90 minutes. Just like that, Phil’s back on the endangered species list with no protection, Shane’s in the final three with a growing resume, and Dino’s ready to pull the trigger on his No B.S. buddy.
As soon as the scrambling commences, the red flags fly high for Phil. Dino breaks rank and runs to Marian after a short conversation, spilling Phil’s entire strategy to his true number one. Marian’s a locked vote against Phil, and once Dino confirms Shane’s vote, it’s a done deal. Meeting up after their individual conversations, Phil realizes the 2-1-1 is a no-go, proposing an easier solution of the two No B.S-ers voting for each other, hugging it out, and letting Shane and Marian pick their poison.
But Phil’s been fighting for his life long before this one vote, so playing a bit dirty isn’t out of the question. If Dino can run to Marian and throw him under the bus, Phil can do the same in return. Spinning a few lies, Phil warns Marian that Dino will vote her out because she’ll “emotionally blackmail the jury” with her story. But if Phil stays, he’ll take her to the end and roll the dice, whereas Shane and Dino would pounce on the chance to claim Marian’s elimination as their trophy.
This last ditch lie evolves into a fiery and passionate Tribal Council discussion. When Marian’s “story” is alluded to, she wastes no time setting the record straight. Her vitiligo isn’t a sob story to be paraded in front of the jury for money. It’s a story for the people at home who suffer from the condition and need a strong, fierce role model on their screens, one who doesn’t let her skin dictate her life and rises above her struggles to do amazing things. If Marian wins this season, it will be based on her gameplay, not her skin, and she’ll ride that mantra to the two million.
Phil also brings up an old Survivor theory that every final four will fulfill four animal archetypes: the fox, the bear, the bunny, and the goat. While the last term is basic Survivor terminology, the others are a bit obscure. To explain, the fox is the big threat to beat, the bear is the fox’s loyal ally and eventual opposition, the bunny is the likable jury threat who typically needs to win out, and the goat is drawing dead against any opponent.
Shane is assigned the goat role, which is likely correct despite his overall strengths as a player. But to fill in the other blanks: Marian is the uber-strategic fox, and everyone knows her winner equity is sky high; Dino is her loyal bear but also the player who threatens to take the title from under her nose; and Phil is the likable bunny underdog surviving on immunity wins. And in typical bunny fashion, Phil’s time is up as the other three players unite to send him packing despite his best efforts to campaign against Dino.
It goes without saying that Phil dominated the season in terms of raw entertainment, from his hilarious, bombastic confessionals to his late-game challenge beasting that ultimately sealed his fate. And if there was anyone who made the best use of this second chance season aside from the eventual winner, Phil has my vote. He evolved from a fun but largely forgotten pre-merge boot on an old season few modern fans were familiar with… to being the breakout star and likely fan favorite of the first SA returnee season with four immunity wins to his name.
Not to mention, he’ll surely be in the mix to return for a third season should a full All-Stars theme ever get the green light. So even if Phil wound up as a fallen angel, his journey was a wild ride from beginning to end, bringing a much-needed sense of lighthearted humor to an otherwise serious and game-heavy season.
And then there were three. Will Marian be taken out just shy of the prize, or will the die-hard superfan’s subtle strategy earn her the title? Will Dino’s fears of falling just short come to fruition, or will the scrappy strategist go from rags to riches against the odds? Will Shane’s under-the-radar game style guarantee a loss, or will the iconic Survivor villain use the tricks up his sleeve to claim an upset victory?
With one challenge left to be played, one sole vote to be cast, soon-to-be nine jurors with plenty to say, and two million Rand on the line, we’re in for a satisfying finish regardless of how this historic season comes to a close.