Whether you’re a seasoned Survivor fan or more of a novice, chances are you’ve heard players and fans alike emphasize the importance of the social game. As we’ve seen several times before, contestants’ immunity wins and voting records can be worthless if they don’t have any social capital to back them up. This does not just mean that you are at the top of your tribe’s food chain; rather, you need to make sure that your relationships are strong enough with everyone to minimize the bad luck that may come your way. That’s the lesson that we’ve seen reaffirmed in the latest episode of Survivor SA.
From the previous episode recap onward, we’re reminded of how the dynamics in Survivor can change on a dime. Just when you think you have it figured out, things change. At Vuna, Chappies and Paul are rightfully feeling on the outs after being the only two that didn’t vote for Pinty. Meanwhile, Carla is feeling high and mighty as the mastermind behind the blindside (even if, to her distaste, Paul doesn’t give her credit for it). The alliance of Carla, Mike, Kiran, Tyson, Wardah, and Anesu is in power now, and if they have their way, Chappies will be the next to go before he gains too much momentum.
On Zamba, the original alliance of Renier, Anela, Amy, Nicole, Marisha, and Dino are still going strong, with one minor difference. According to Thoriso, Shaun has successfully infiltrated the alliance and has usurped Dino from his spot. This has almost as little of an explanation as Anela now going by Smash, but I digress. Thoriso, Dino, and Qiean are the new bottom of the pecking order, with Thoriso being the most obvious vote if they go to Tribal Council.
In the spirit of Survivor, all of these future plans are thrown quickly out the window at the reward challenge when Nico tells them to drop their buffs. Players randomly select their new buffs, and new tribes are formed. Vuna 2.0 consists of Anesu, Dino, Kiran, Marisha, Nicole, Qiean, Renier, Thoriso, and Tyson. Zamba 2.0 has Amy, Anela, Carla, Chappies, Mike, Paul, Santoni, Shaun, and Wardah. Some players like Carla are elated that they swapped onto the right side of the numbers. The same can’t be said for Tyson, Anesu, and Kiran on Vuna, or Amy, Anela, and Shaun on Zamba, who are immediately outsiders based on tribal lines.
The reward challenge is a face-off between players for various items, but that’s not what’s important here. Earlier in the day, Santoni told Chappies about the immunity idol clue that she found, but they weren’t able to find it. Now that she’s been swapped onto Zamba, she realizes that she’s lost her opportunity to find it herself. She tells Paul about the clue and how they need to relay the information to one of the original Vuna members. Given the challenge structure, Paul is able to face off against Tyson and tell him how the idol is three paces north of the water well. Tyson hears it, but he also makes himself stand out once Dino points out that they were exchanging a message to each other (oh, the irony in this statement).
When the challenge is done and over with, the new tribes settle into camp. Anesu, Tyson, and Kiran understand the gravity of their situation on Vuna. They went from being settled into their comfortable alliance of six to being on the outs in their own home turf. Tyson doesn’t do himself any favors by disappearing for a noticeable amount of time, but it pays off for himself and his alliance members in the end. He finds the idol exactly where Paul told him to look, and honestly, he’s the perfect person to find it. Having the idol doesn’t necessarily mean he will be safe if they do go to Tribal, but it could be the extra thing he, Anesu, and Kiran need to navigate their change in luck.
The new Zamba tribe is struggling more to find their footing, the consequences of the majority of their tribe having been a part of the most recent Tribal. Mike recognizes that the best way to move forward is to stick together with the original Vuna members. The problem is that his closest ally Carla is making this goal much harder to achieve. She seems physically incapable of hiding her dislike for Paul and Chappies, who were already on the outs. To make matters worse, she tells Anela, Amy, and Shaun all of this information, essentially giving them the key to turn things around in their favor.
Amy is the first to strike, proposing to Chappies that they take out Mike at the next vote. Since this is exactly what Chappies wanted anyway, it’s no surprise that he agrees, as does Paul. If you really want a taste of how obvious the pecking order was on OG Vuna, look no further than Santoni. Despite not being able to vote at the last Tribal, she is fully aware that she was expendable to her original tribe. Not only does it make sense strategically for her to flip, but she also just feels better on a personal level going with this new majority.
Of course, it’s one thing to agree to a plan to flip, but another thing to actually follow through with it. Zamba loses the Immunity challenge, meaning that Santoni, Paul, and Chappies will have to decide very soon if they are going with who they know or players they just met. While Amy’s on Immunity Island, it’s up to Anela and Shaun to secure the numbers. They know the other side’s votes are going on Anela, but they stick to their plan of taking out Mike. Carla might be causing the most drama, but it’s clear to them that Mike will be the bigger threat down the line.
The irony is not lost on Mike that his fate in the game is now in the hands of the people they left out only one round ago. He’s not going down without a fight and gives the closing argument of his life for why they need to stay Vuna strong on the new Zamba tribe. If they start taking out one another, it gives the original Zamba members the opportunity to pick them off once the merge hits. To Mike’s credit, this argument does make sense, and his skills as a lawyer are on full display here. However, he’s not making his case to a judge or a jury, he’s making his case to Chappies and Paul, and they’re still not sure what they’re going to do.
Tribal ends up being a back and forth between the two sides. Chappies, Paul, and Santoni are stuck in the classic Survivor dilemma. Do they side with their original tribe members to have a better chance at longevity in the game, or do they create a new majority and oust the players that have already screwed them over once? In the end, they decide to forge a new path for themselves and disregard the tribal lines. Anela receives 3 votes, but Mike gets the other 5, and he’s voted out of the game.
While Mike was a star this episode, with his vote out comes the best of tribe swap situations. Just when the tribe dynamics appear to be stagnant, the game is thrown for a loop. Those that were once on the top now have to face the consequences of their social game, for better and for worse. Santoni, Chappies, and Paul saw a chance to potentially change their fate in the game, and they took it; original allegiances be damned.
This was a great episode for all these reasons, and I don’t think this will be the last of the alliance flips that we see. Thoriso, Dino, and Qiean are on the other tribe, and I’m sure they were more than aware of their standing with the original Zamba members. Combine this with Tyson’s idol, it’s fair to say that all hope is not lost for Tyson, Anesu, and Kiran.
Another loose end that will be covered next episode is the results of Immunity Island. Amy lost her challenge during her stay there. As a result, the other tribe will get to raid her tribe’s camp and take any 3 items they’d like. Amy doesn’t know how she’s going to break the news to Zamba, and it looks like she gives a flimsy lie to save face. Whether this comes back to haunt her is yet to be seen, but I can’t wait to see how Mike’s vote out and the camp raid impacts this season’s future.