Last week, Survivor SA delivered one of the most highly regarded merge episodes in the franchise’s history. Naturally, this is a hard act to follow, which is probably why episode 9 dedicates a generous amount of screen time to the fallout of Marisha’s blindside. And while the original Zamba members lost another one of their own this week, to say that they are completely down and out would be severely underestimating this cast of characters. I learned my lesson and refuse to make the same mistake twice.
Was the merge episode the best this season will have to offer? Unlikely, the game is far too fluid for a stagnant post-merge. This episode should be treated as a bridge between what we’ve seen from Season 8 so far and what is yet to come. Here, the divide between the personal and the strategic is given a closer examination, and we finally get a better look at possible avenues for intertribal alliances. Not to mention, Immunity Island has a tempting offer awaiting one castaway; it’s just a matter of who is bold enough to go for it.
Playing the middle? Results may vary.
The tension at the Osindile camp is at an all-time high after Marisha is voted out of the game. Zamba is at a loss about what happened (which, to be fair, is why it’s such an epic blindside in the first place). With the way that the votes add up, it is evident that swing votes Anesu and Santoni picked different sides last round, with Anesu voting Chappies and Santoni voting Marisha. In some ways, this is great for them, Anesu gets to maintain some level of trust with the original Zamba alliance, and Santoni solidifies her (perceived) loyalty to Vuna.
Their respective decisions also serve as the center of the primary conflicts in this episode. Anesu’s relationship with Vuna is strained, as they are all fully aware of the game she is trying to pull off, one that only benefits herself. Of course, this is exactly what Anesu should be trying to do, but all good deeds can not go unpunished in the game of Survivor. While Anesu saw the merge vote as an opportunity to save face with Zamba, it comes off as disingenuous to Tyson and her other allies. As a result, this round, Anesu is focused on mending that relationship by voting with them.
While Anesu is busy repairing trust with her initial allies, Santoni is being treated as the fall guy for Vuna finding out about Zamba’s plans. Obviously, this doesn’t sit well with her, and she wastes no time letting Zamba know that Anesu was fully aware of what was going to happen at the last Tribal. The players that are most hurt by Santoni’s vote are Amy and Anela, whom she grew closer with after the first swap. We haven’t seen too much of this relationship before this episode, and while Santoni still cares for them, alliances still remain divided by starting tribes, if only by circumstance rather than personal preferences.
Anesu and Santoni tried to play the middle, and the fallout of this choice was mixed for both of them. The dominant concern for each of them is that everyone is aware of the type of game they are trying to play. This means they will be useful as a possible swing vote, but neither side fully trusts them. Their wavering allegiances could be a determent to either of their games, but the proven resilience of both women means that they will be the ones to watch for a power shift.
For now, I will give the edge to Anesu, if only because she gave a fantastic explanation to Amy this episode about why she would not be able to vote with their alliance this round. Essentially, she let them know that by sacrificing one of their players (in this case, Shaun), it opens the door for their core group (Anesu, Amy, Anela, and Renier) to make a bigger impact down the line. However, Santoni has other reasons for her ultimate decision here, so it’s difficult to compare the two at this point.
Your idol? You mean, our idol.
Oh, Santoni… such an exceptional player in many ways, but absolutely terrible at keeping any secret regarding an idol. This has been a recurring theme throughout the season, and it comes up again when she goes on reward with Chappies, Wardah, Tyson, Renier, and Amy. Despite the mix of alliance members present, Santoni accidentally forces them all to work together when she openly brings up the possibility of idol clues. Renier will be the one to find it, giving him no other choice but to read it out loud. This couldn’t be a worse clue to share, as it tells them outright that there is an idol on Immunity Island hidden under a rock, one that can only be retrieved if the player chooses to Stay & Play.
While Renier is looking to be the mastermind of the season, his flaws as a player are on full display here. He asks the other players at the reward, the majority of which did not vote with him at the last Tribal, if they would send him to Immunity Island next since he found the clue. To the surprise of no one, his request is denied. With this being a crucial time for both sides, no one will even bother to pretend Renier’s suggestion makes sense.
The issue of the Immunity Island idol will have to be saved for another time because, as of now, it has not been found. Knowing that the vote split will likely be 6-5 here, Vuna’s side needs their numbers more than they need the idol. So, when Kiran wins immunity again, he specifically tells Wardah that he’s picking her to go to Immunity Island with the expectation that she picks “Give Up & Go.”
For any other player, the options may have been more tempting, but Kiran really could not have picked a more loyal alliance member for this task. Wardah sticks to her assignment, keeping her vote but losing the chance to find the idol. In these circumstances, this was the right call for Kiran and Wardah to make, but there are two complications that could come back to bite them later. For one, the trio of Kiran, Tyson, and Wardah has bigger targets on them than ever before. Secondly, they have to hope that one of their trio wins immunity again next round, since the winner will likely be choosing the idol holder. This is a group no stranger to taking risks, but they now have no other choice but to win out next round.
Shaun vs. Santoni
It’s no secret that Shaun took Marisha’s blindside particularly hard, especially considering that he was one of the only Zamba players to predict that something like this would happen to them. Now, he is planning revenge, and he has his sights set on Santoni as his first target. With his back against the wall, Shaun spends his time going to all of the players to let them know Santoni can’t be trusted.
This is a plan that I completely expected from Shaun. When his back is against the wall, he attacks, and he will stop at nothing to place the target on someone else. Unfortunately for him, he picked the wrong person to pin the target on. Once Shaun started his smear campaign against Santoni, she wanted him out and would accept no other options. Kiran even tries to push the vote onto Anela at one point since he is seen as the bigger threat, but Santoni was adamant about Shaun being the one to go.
In the final 11, with a 6-5 vote split, every vote is crucial, including Santoni’s. Kiran knew this, which is why he eventually concedes. In another last-ditch effort, Shaun finally has a one-on-one with Santoni where they hash things out. He makes a final plea to her, begging her to vote Wardah with original Zamba and break up the trio that is currently running things. Shaun truly fights until the bitter end, but it’s too little, too late, and he is voted out 6-5.
Shaun’s been a fantastic character in the game whose unpredictability made for some of the most poignant Tribal Councils. To go from almost being the first boot to the second juror is quite a feat. So, while he did a lot of things wrong this round, he certainly did a lot of things right for himself in the game. But what can I say? Come for Santoni, it’s gonna cost you.
Vuna Stong… For Now
Overall, this episode delivered an encore to the tumultuous beginning of the merge. And really, with everyone in such precarious positions, what else could we have expected? The lines were drawn in the sand, but with Anesu and Santoni both still in the picture, there’s no doubt in my mind that those lines will be toyed with. Now that Shaun is gone, Vuna has maintained their majority over Zamba by a 6-4 margin. If the original Vuna members wanted, they could pull a Pagonging, especially if one of their members wins immunity again. It could happen, but whether or not it actually does is a whole different story.
The fact of the matter is that we’re only two rounds into the merge, and there are far too many variables at play to believe the next few votes will go smoothly. There is still an idol on Immunity Island that the majority of the players are aware of. There is Immunity Island itself, which we can only expect has several more twists to offer those who choose to Stay & Play. After all, not everyone is going to be as dedicated to their alliance as Wardah.
Most importantly, it has been made abundantly apparent that this cast is self-interested in the best of ways. With Anesu and Santoni trying to mend fences with both sides, I find it hard to believe that Zamba is going to get picked off one by one. Kiran, Tyson, and Wardah have been the most successful trio in the game, but their luck may run out if one of them doesn’t win immunity next round. The way they work together has been efficient and effective, but is it also long-lasting? And who would take the fall if it is not?
If another power shift is to happen, the next episode is a likely place for it to occur and not just because of the numbers. The preview for next week hints at a new twist coming into the game, something that we haven’t yet seen in Survivor SA. Immunity Island was also a new twist that has worked out spectacularly from an entertainment perspective. Still, I’m wary of whether or not they will strike gold twice. Suffice to say that whatever it is, there is a lot to live up to.