Eight episodes into Survivor South Africa’s first returnee season, the franchise has further cemented itself as global Survivor’s best-kept secret.
A second week of devastating blindsides, massive flips and raw emotion saw predictions shattered, games toppled, and hierarchies flipped as Yontau went to Tribal Council three times, demarcated onto either side of a swap. Three pre-merge favourites met a similar fate to their previous games, three consecutive blindsides were orchestrated, and someone almost broke a rib.
It was all a not-so-gentle reminder that Survivor giveth and Survivor taketh away, and this week it really did take.
If you recall last week, the Yontau tribe of former pre-mergers were still dusting off the cobwebs of second-game jitters with Tevin as their leader selling the dream of making it to “the other side”, the great beyond of the merge that none of them had tasted, with stability as the mode of transport. This week, that stability train came to a grinding halt commandeered by a new group consisting of Phil, Felix, Dino, Thoriso and Pinty, each with their own individual assertions about the dominance of tribe kings Tevin and Seamus, which eventually coalesced onto the same page.
This new collection of power players kicked into high gear, taking out Tevin and then Seamus, with Pinty and her ever-realistic arguments as a distraction and Phil’s snarky confessionals as the perfect soundtrack. For Tevin and Seamus, and their fans, these were heartbreaking departures, compounding years of disappointment with a second early exit. Conversely, the new flying five experienced the sweet taste of power, two whole seasons and up to eight years in the making. Survivor giveth.
When things are going swimmingly it’s a sure bet the game will throw something at you, and that shake-up came in the form of the swap. On new Masu, Tejan and Toni embodied swap luck, going from the outs of their first tribe to swing votes in its new iteration, with Thoriso and Felix (and I guess Pinty tangentially), and new workout buddies Steffi and Killarney, vying for their votes.
On the second Yontau (Yon-two, if you’ll indulge me), viewers were experiencing what I like to call Dino’s Odyssey. As you’ll remember, Dino’s return journey started by falling in the fire, he then assumed a new majority, took out Tevin, became Seamus’ target and took out Seamus, earning even more allies with a superb social game in the process.
It was already a rollercoaster, then came the swap where he found himself, Phil and Shona outnumbered with five formers Masus, four of them from the unbreakable Breakfast Club (except that one time they broke in the very first vote), along with Palesa. With Phil just trying to stay alive, Shona teetering on the edge of a medevac due to the aforementioned rib injury and Dino in alliance leader Danté’s sights as a strategic puzzle master, it wasn’t looking promising. However, things started to turn.
Dino found an Idol! He approached Palesa with that Idol intel and earned her connection and information! Shona wasn’t medevacked! With all these pieces perfectly in place, and Dino and Phil approached to join a Shona vote so the majority could try to split on Dino and Shona, the plan was in motion. Dino would play the Idol on himself, nullifying three votes from the majority and the former Yontau three would actually vote for Danté, sending him home three votes to Shona’s two. The plan went perfectly! Palesa kept their secret, Dino played the Idol and nullified three votes, two votes for Danté came out of the urn and I can admit I was out of my seat and cheering for an all-time blindside on a major kingmaker against the odds and by the underdogs.
Then the final vote was revealed. The building music cut to a record scratch, then silence. Shona. Phil had switched his vote, I theorise because had they actually split on Phil and Shona, not Dino and Shona, Phil’s own vote for Danté would have sent himself home on a 3-3 revote. Voting for Shona as a sacrificial lamb ruined their long-term epic plan but ensured, with near certainty, that he would be coming back to camp. It’s self-preservation incarnate, and probably not the conclusion of this heroic story you were envisioning, but compelling, head-in-hands viewing nonetheless. So, Dino went back to camp, idol-less, on the bottom and as a prime target and I learned a valuable lesson about not counting your chickens before they hatch, and about how Survivor taketh away.
Let me set the scene. An already incredible season of Survivor South Africa is elevated even more so when innate threat Tevin is brutally taken out despite being in a seemingly perfect position just the episode before. Tevin’s first vote out four years ago set the benchmark for the franchise reboot and this blindside cuts just as hard, or even harder leaving with the idol he had just found in his pocket. You know you’re a pillar of the show when your vote out officially signals that it’s game on – twice.
Seamus personified the plight of the pre-mergers as the only first boot on the season and the emotional toll of that instant exit in his personal journey becoming a narrative feature, something he spoke about right through to these final words. His exit here was, therefore, devastating as Seamus congratulated Dino for living the pre-merge dream and making big, successful moves, while Dino tearfully apologised. While both Seamus and Tevin couldn’t fully hold back from strategising as a priority before making genuine bonds or standing out as clear targets, their returns did cement their place in the lore of this fantastic franchise. For viewers, it meant witnessing reignited heartaches and repeated missteps, or at the very least repeated results, while sobbing into our popcorn... or is that just me?
Shona’s exit followed a pivotal decision. Just like the most recent Australian Survivor winner Mark Wales, Shona was given the choice of her swap tribe, and her opposite decision had the reverse outcome. Where we loved Mark’s tough choice to forgo sleeping next to his wife to keep his numbers, eventually leading him to a win, Shona chose to try to claw the numbers back with Phil and Dino, rather than opting to go to an old Yontau majority on new Masu. There was merit there, and her number is what gave them even a fighting chance at the plan, but she misjudged Phil who saw her as a shield and a sacrifice more than an ally, rejecting her help in favour of strategic cushioning. It meant another pre-merge departure for this queen, who has possibly willed her fake tribal idol to Dino in the process, and who leaves us with the memory of that creative move and so much more.
Speaking of Shona’s superbly original fake Tribal Council Idol, Seamus had the same idea one episode later, hiding his expired clue and packaging on the vote path. While both players are now out of the game, these innovative mirror plans happening in consecutive episodes just speaks to the calibre of this cast.
While Tevin’s idol left with him and Dino’s has been played, Steffi found an Idol she’s managed to hold onto and only told Marian about. In return, and reflecting their important bond, Marian will bring Steffi over to her tribe with Diplomatic Immunity if Steffi’s tribe ever loses a challenge.
At this week’s stint at the Outpost, Tejan and Danté found a clue to a fan favourite mechanism – a pre-merge idol that can only be played by someone on the other tribe. Australian Survivor fans may recognise this from our 2019 season, where Golden God Dave and Shaun Hampson were in possession of the pair, and fake idol shenanigans spurred much entertainment and intrigue through the season. Currently, Danté has found his part and is waiting for Tejan to do the same. If they have even half the ingenuity and pure insanity that Dave had, this should be fun.
Biggest Winner: Phil’s final vote will raise eyebrows, but he was the only player to vote correctly three times this week. A connection with Marian, well-managed threat level, power in the pre-mergers and post-swap survivalism is maintaining his current goal – staying alive.
Biggest Loser: Killarney has been all of a decoy, split vote target and a sacrifice just this week, and her new connection with Steffi may be stolen away if they lose a challenge. Whatever her short-term options may be, it’s hard to change perceptions when you’re seen as so expendable.
Shocking Moment: An Australian Survivor-style challenge involving mud, wrestling and giant balls amounted to several injuries, an episode cliff-hanger and plenty of tears. When even Shane is crying, you know it’s bad.
Best Quote: Palesa has Danté in her sights: “He’s trying to cut off everyone else’s tentacles, and I’m slowly counting how many he has so I can prepare myself a nice octopus meal.”
Prediction: Dino, Phil and Palesa shake up the game by flipping on another split vote to win 3-2-2. Wait, sorry, that’s not a prediction, it’s a wish, but I’ll have all my limbs crossed through the weekend for this unlikely outcome.