After over a year of no new Survivor due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Survivor South Africa is officially back! They’re the first of the English-speaking franchises to come back to air, mostly because they kept it local this season. Season 8 was filmed in the Wild Coast, and my only critique of this choice is that I can’t believe no one has used this location before! The bright, vibrant colors of South Africa can only be rivaled by Santoni’s tie-dye shirt.
With a new season comes 20 new castaways vying for the cash prize and title of Sole Survivor. While everyone had at least one confessional, some gave us a better sense of who they are as players than others. The juxtaposition between Shaun, just one of the premiere’s many chaotic forces, and Pinty, who believes honesty will win them the game, was incredibly evident. In addition, we have superfans like Renier ready to put their years of Survivor knowledge to the test and competitors like Tyson, who admits that he would rather die than lose.
To officially kick off the season, the cast meets Nico and each other while he gives them an idea of what to expect for this season. The titular twist is Immunity Island, where players will have the chance to change the game for better or worse. After the Immunity challenge, the winning tribe will select a player from the losing tribe to go to Immunity Island, which means the chosen contestant is safe from the vote but will face a dilemma during their stay.
The first official order of business is to assign the two starting tribes. Castaways’ fate is decided at random by selecting a concealed buff that has a tribe color. Players make their selections, and then our starting tribes are formed. Vuna, the orange tribe, consists of Pinty, Anesu, Carla, Santoni, Wardah, Chappies, Mike, Tyson, Kiran, and Paul. The green tribe, or Zamba, has Qiean, Thoriso, Nicole, Marisha, Amy, Dino, Jason, Shaun, Renier, and Anela.
First impressions aren’t always accurate; it certainly doesn’t stop the castaways from making them. Some players are impressed with their teams, and others are not so much. No matter their feelings, they still have to get to their first reward challenge of the season. Scattered across a course is a variety of items that will make their camp life easier. Players have to grab any items they find and place them on their team’s mat. However, within the course are two Immunity necklaces, one for each tribe. If a player finds their tribe’s necklace, they are safe at the first Tribal Council they attend.
A challenge like this is a great way to expose the players’ priorities right out of the gate. It serves its purpose here with Dino, who goes straight for the individual Immunity, and Renier, who keeps his eye out for an advantage. They both get what they wanted, but at the potential cost of exposing themselves so early in the game. Renier’s advantage ends up being for his entire tribe, a survival kit that they get to add to their haul. With their reward challenge complete, the players finally get to see where they’ll be living for their time in the game.
Once they arrive at their respective camps, it doesn’t take long for tribe dynamics to take form. On Zamba, Jason stands out as a leader to build the shelter given his profession as an engineer. It could have earned him some points with his tribemates, but they are quick to decipher his hesitancy in taking full charge at the risk of being a target.
While confessional queen Thoriso is easily able to analyze her competitors, she’s finding it difficult to fit in with this group. She’s a big presence throughout the premiere, but the real drama begins when Qiean and Shaun search for an idol clue in the tribe’s reward items. Unfortunately, they are caught in the act, and no one buys their excuse that they were looking for a secret flint. These actions make it easy for the rest of their tribe to form a 7-person alliance of Renier, Jason, Dino, Anela, Nicole, Marisha, and Amy. As Dino points out, nothing unites people like a common enemy.
Vuna is also going through the motions with their plans to build a shelter, but their alliances are much more fluid than their rivals. Smaller groups are forming to secure their own safety, but the real kingmaker in the alliance game right now is Anesu. She knows Wardah from their shared yoga professions and Kiran from university. Her other alliances include a trio with Pinty and Chappies, a group consisting of herself, Mike, Carla, and Kiran, another trio with Carla and Wardah, and a final one with Tyson and Wardah. And that’s just what I could keep track of.
After contending with the rain on their first night at camp, morning tree mail instructs the players to select one tribe representative to compete in a challenge related to fire. Chappies is chosen from Vuna, and Jason is picked for Zamba. The two go to meet with Nico, who reveals that this is a classic fire-making challenge. The first player to build a fire that burns through their rope will win a fire-making kit. Whether Chappies’ plan to psych out Jason actually worked remains a mystery, but either way, Chappies is the one that wins the duel.
Of course, this is Survivor, so there’s more to this challenge than a fire-making kit. As ambassadors of their tribe, Jason and Chappies are granted “Diplomatic Immunity” in the form of a leather bracelet. This means that if at any point before the merge, their tribe loses the challenge, they can invoke their Diplomatic Immunity and permanently deflect to the other tribe. All they have to do is hand Nico the bracelet after he gives Immunity to the other tribe.
It’s a lot to process, and we’re still only about halfway through the episode at this point. After the challenge, Chappies proudly brings his reward back to a celebratory tribe. All is well at first, but the other Vuna eventually ask Chappies if there was anything else in the challenge besides the fire kit, which he vehemently denies. To paraphrase Mike, no one buys his excuse for a second because why would there be so much emphasis on this one challenge if it was just for a simple prize?
Back at Zamba, Jason’s return has almost the opposite effect. He tells his tribe he lost the challenge, but everyone is very understanding. Thoriso doesn’t believe it will impact his place in the game because he’s someone that can afford to lose the challenge. It’s hard to argue with this since Jason appears to be in a pretty solid spot at this point, even forming a bond with Shaun over the past few days on top of his 7-person alliance.
Right before the Immunity challenge begins, Dino lets us in on a little secret. During the first reward challenge, he made a connection with Paul and directed him towards the Immunity necklaces. Paul didn’t grab it in time, but Dino’s hoping that he can continue this cross-tribal work, particularly now that Immunity Island is involved.
For a while, it seems like Zamba will be victorious at the Immunity challenge, as Vuna is consistently behind them for the majority of the time. However, in typical Survivor fashion, the puzzle proves itself to be the great equalizer. Anesu and Carla breeze right through the final round while Thoriso and Amy are falling behind.
When it becomes clear that Zamba will lose, Dino takes the moment to put his plan into action and tries to catch Paul’s attention. To say that this plan fails is an understatement. I’m still not entirely sure that Paul even knows Dino’s name at this point, and also, Shaun catches Dino in the act. To add salt to the wound, Vuna does win Immunity and decides pretty quickly to send Thoriso to Immunity Island so that the tribe won’t target one of their presumably weaker players.
While the rest of Zamba is left to scramble, Thoriso feels perfectly at home in Immunity Island, her paradise in paradise. The island has everything a castaway could want, including food, a bed, shelter, and, most importantly, fire. Thoriso knows she was a likely candidate to be voted out after losing the puzzle, so to be given the opportunity to be safe is the lifeline she needed.
As Nico said at the start of the game, everyone who comes to Immunity Island will face a dilemma. Thoriso is faced with two options. She can “Stay and Play,” earn herself Immunity for Tribal, and possibly something extra, at the expense of her vote. On the other hand, she can pick “Leave” to keep her vote but will be vulnerable at Tribal. For some, this may be a more difficult decision, but given her current social standing, Thoriso really has no other choice but to Stay and Play.
The Stay and Play challenge is to dig through a sandpit and find a red bag before the timer runs out. If she succeeds, she has a clue to the hidden immunity idol. If she doesn’t, she loses her vote at the next Tribal (meaning that she loses her vote two Tribals in a row). Unfortunately, Thoriso is unable to find the red bag and loses her vote. On the positive end of things, she’s safe this round no matter what.
Possibly another plus for Thoriso is that she avoided the complete madness that was the Zamba camp. Amy takes responsibility for losing the challenge, but we all know she’s not in danger of going home. Dino also takes responsibility for trying to get Paul to send him to Immunity Island, which absolutely no one other than Shaun saw. He essentially outed himself for overplaying his hand, but since he’s safe for the night, the tribe needs to come up with someone that’s not immune.
At first, it seems like the vote will come down to between outcasts Qiean and Shaun. It’s incredibly apparent that most players are content with choosing between those two. That is, everyone except Jason, because Jason wants to keep his side alliance with Shaun protected. To achieve this, he pitches to Anela and Reiner to go after one of the three blondes (Amy, Nicole, or Marisha), who are already an inseparable trio.
Anela and Renier not only completely shut down this plan, but Jason’s attempts to manipulate Renier really set him off. As Renier eloquently puts it, he can afford to have unpredictability outside of his alliance but not within it. So a new plan is formed to blindside Jason, which leads to the already iconic scene of Renier pointing to Jason behind his back (or, rather, right next to his face) in order to reveal the plan to Dino.
By the time we head to Tribal, the names on the table are Qiean, Shaun, and Jason, not that he’s aware of this. On the other hand, Shaun is fully aware that his name has been thrown out and plans to grab every opportunity he can to pitch why he shouldn’t be voted out. Thoriso makes her return from Immunity Island, safe but without a vote. She’s excited to see the tribe loyalties be tested and get a sense of where everyone’s heads are at.
I almost forgot that Jason and Qiean were contenders to go home because Shaun is the one milking every bit of camera time he can get to defend himself. He puts up a valiant effort, but there was no need. When the votes are read, the count is 2 votes for Qiean (cast by Shaun and Jason) and 7 votes for Jason, an outcome that neither Jason nor Shaun saw coming.
After going so long with no new Survivor, this was the perfect premiere to come back to. The cast is heavily stacked with a myriad of personalities, and we got to see a little bit of everyone in this first episode. The twists were abundant and hard to keep track of, but this is just what we need after a year-long drought. I’d be remiss if I didn’t make it a point to say that the visuals were nothing short of breathtaking. A fantastic Tribal set, a stunning voting urn, and the Wild Coast itself provide what is quite possibly one of the most beautiful landscapes we have ever seen in Survivor history.
Players like Renier, Anesu, Thoriso, and Dino were definitely the standouts of the premiere, but I’m confident we will have more rising stars in the next couple of episodes. If this is any indication of what is to come, we are in for something truly amazing.