How do Survivor fans keep up with Australian Survivor like this every year? I feel like my life the past 4 days has been wake up, work, watch Survivor SA, sleep, repeat … and I loved every minute of it. The Survivor: SA part, that is — sometimes the sleep too.
The first four episodes promised that we are in for one of the best seasons of Survivor ever. Not only did I get to see some of my favorite people play again, but they are already DELIVERING the drama. The Masu tribe, the ones who allegedly were better players the first time, is a gorgeous, disastrous mess. Yontau seemed like the more unified tribe initially, bonding over their shared bruises and bad memories from their previous performances, but they had their own blow-up that was one for the Survivor history books.
With 4 hours of Survivor every week, I would literally die if I wrote a full recap every night for every episode, so instead with this summer season, I’m going to try to cover all my persona highlights each week, the players who popped the most for me. In honor of a glaring omission to this season (I’m only convinced that they’re saving a later to season to rig for her like US Survivor did for Boston Rob), I’m going to be handing out what I have dubbed *drum roll* SANTONI STAN STARS!
Since I don’t have Santoni to obsess over and give all my praise to, I’ll get to share the love this season! Each episode, this forever Santoni stan will award stars to those that I — you guessed it — stanned the most. I’ll keep a running tally throughout the season and see just who shined the most in my eyes once it’s all said and done. This is totally a 100% original idea and definitely not none stolen from any other reality TV franchise.
Now let’s start throwing stars!
Chappies, of course, delivered 10/10 performances in the first two episodes, earning him top stan stars for both. Immediately out of the gate, Chappies’s energy was just where it was when we left Immunity Island. He and Dante dominated the opening challenge, doubly pleasing to Chappies as he got to compete alongside someone who he’d fanboyed over in the past. His excitement level was unmatched, and being a star of his original season, it was cute to see him man-crush so much over Dante.
In what would be his last episode, Chappies for the betterment of the audience but to the detriment of his game, went a little back to his old ways, sneaking away from camp to get mixed up in mischief — only this time, he got caught. It reminded me of Tony and his “spy bunker,” and it did the same for the rest of the tribe. Chappies unfortunately had no idea, as he later would comically comment on how he felt about a “2” on a 1-10 scale of vulnerability. He really gave me everything I needed from him, but I sensed in his edit that he was being showcased so much early because he wouldn’t be long for the game. I just didn’t think he’d be the first one out, but his star shone too bright, so that’s why he gets two from me! A 100%-win rate — no one else will be able beat that record, so there you go, Chappies! You still won something.
Survivor: SA giveth and Survivor: SA taketh away. Tania was an amazing surprise when I first saw this cast and possibly who I was most looking forward to of the pre-mergers just because of how much insanity I expected from her like the South African Debbie she is, and also like Debbie, Tania doubly delivered two stan star-worthy performances. She had me cracking up in the first episode where she said she tried to play it cool for all of … 20 minutes, and then she was immediately trying to get a “lady alliance” together. Her quick tiff with Pinty too was trouble brewing, I knew, but a pot that I knew would soon overboil.
Episode 4 was a GIGANTIC episode for Tania, an easy star to hand out, but a sad one with it being her last. She was admittedly too pushy about the Pinty issue and made 100% of her game focused on getting rid of the greedy — not greedy fucking though — pig. We don’t see this kind of drama anymore on US Survivor — fighting over food and fire space? YES! Tania called a town hall meeting to call Pinty out one final time but essentially gave the Yontau tribe an ultimatum, putting Tania in a tough spot. When Phil spoke up about preferring Pinty go and Tevin saying if Tania could get the numbers, he’d vote with her too, I was reeeeeally hoping she’d make it happen. That hero speech about standing up for herself and for the tribe? ICONIC. Throwing in Tania’s take on Tony’s spy shack, the finale of Week 1 was the Tania hour. I didn’t expect her to go far given her reputation and the make-up of the tribe, but for every second she was on this season, Tania was dynamite, and I’m devastated that her tribe saved the “greedy pig” over “the pig in shit” this time.
The final superstar with two stars from Week 1 is the only one who will live to see Week 2! I loathed Steffi on Island of Secrets. She had some small flashes where I thought she okay, but most of her preaching of loyalty and judgmental attitude was one of several reasons that season sucked, but as a returning outcast … what a 180! She came out of the gates much like Chappies, strong and repeating her Jesus-like running on water in the opening challenge. In Episode 1, she gave a lot of great insight and seemed to be making great inroads with the tribe, impressing me by how much calmer and, frankly, nicer of a demeanor she had. Of everyone on Masu, I thought Steffi stood out as the most changed and thus had maybe the most “winnery” edit (though Survivor: SA doesn’t follow the same script as US when it comes to that).
Steffi stepped up again in Episode 3 with her showing of amazing compassion for Marian — with Steffi being so focused on physical strength and athleticism her first time out, it was refreshing to see her supportive of someone who was having an emotional breakdown after being labeled as “weak.” Overall, a great week for Steffi despite initially ending up on the bad side of the numbers. This was also new for Steffi, and rather than freaking out like I could’ve expected, she handled the situation well and bounced back into the tribe’s core alliance, later sounding like a voice of reason when she spoke about needing to deal with the tribe’s egos and listen more. I also appreciated her retort to Toni being nervous about voting out all the men, affirming that the tribe had just as strong women too (proving herself in the third immunity challenge). I didn’t expect to be anywhere near a Steffi stan, but here I am.
Seamus was another who’s come into this returnee season a completely different person in my eyes. In Philippines, he was a little shady, too aggressive too early, and I didn’t like his attitude. He spoke about how his poor performance really made him reflect far beyond just the confines of the game, and had that season not happened, he’d not be the person he is today — how touching. Like Steffi, I didn’t expect to be stanning Seamus in the slightest, but his premiere episode I thought stood out more than anyone else’s when it comes to the theme of redemption. He stayed strategically involved the rest of the week too, but Episode 1 is where he shined biggest for the star, so big that I’d say he’s my current pick to win it all. I think it’d be an incredible comeback story for a first boot to become the next Sole Survivor (justice for Francesca!)
Tevin earns himself a stan star this week as well for being a catalyst at Masu’s first shit show of a tribal council in Episode 2. He was given the floor to ask one question to the opposing tribe, and in doing so, he blew the tribe wide open, revealing to everyone that Steffi and Shane had asked Seamus and Thoriso to vote to give the Outpost idol to Tejan. After that, Tevin just sat and smirked, seeing the mania he had set in motion.
Tevin’s doing well so far, but that’s not surprising since he’s the closest thing to a “merge” player as there is on Yontau. That maneuver he managed to squash the rumor of him having an idol by leading a tribe search for it was genius — he’s definitely playing like someone who made the merge their first season, but for that same reason, I’m not so sure that Tevin won’t end up exactly where he did last time. He’s good, but everyone knows it.
I’m not trying to just hand out stan stars to everyone — I do think most had at least one episode that made them shine. For Meryl, it was Episode 2 as I watched her navigate her mess of a Masu tribe, making her way to the middle of the web of alliances. Her Breakfast Club didn’t last longer than a small cup of coffee, but in every alliance that existed on Masu, Meryl was a member. Even with that eleventh hour Dante vote devised by Shane, it was Meryl he was shown approaching to make it happen. Meryl’s not playing as flashy of a game as others, but I’ve definitely got my eyes on her as one to watch. This season is so far seeing a lot of the big personalities go, and I think Meryl’s masterful at letting those players play themselves out of the game. She’s someone who should do well in any swap too, so of all the merge Outcasts, I think Meryl is the one best positioned to make it 2 for 2 in seeing that stage of the game. Right now, I’d add she’s a close 2nd contender to win with Steffi too.
I knew absolutely nothing about Shane coming into this season, and I’m definitely not taking him very seriously as a winner contender, but his not-so-great gameplay was exactly what earned him a stan star from me in Episode 2. Shane saw himself as the one running the show with a perfect pulse on everything, being the one to deduce that Dante was playing a little devilish – to be fair, Shane was totally right, but he was completely wrong about where he stood with the rest of the tribe. He gave me minor Coach vibes so I’m excited to see more of him this season. What really won me over too was his “All by Myself” Celine Dion reference as he snuck an extra spoonful of the tribe’s rice in addition to digging for idols behind his back.
This guy thinks he’s so smooth when he’s so not and I’m kind of into it.
Marian is another who I didn’t know anything about personally, but I was told I’d love her, and I can confidently say that I was told correctly. If I only gave out one stan star per episode (how lame would that be?), Episode 1 would’ve gone to Seamus, Episode 2 to Tevin, Episode 4 to Tania, and Episode 3 to Marian. I caught myself up to speed with her story and her skin condition, an ongoing struggle she faces even though she’s overcome hopefully the worst of it in her life (so proud that she’s made it back to Survivor!) Being called out as “weak” to the tribe was triggering, and it wrecked her for a short while. It was really inspiring to watch her instead, though, use that as strength to fuel her and her game. “If you’re gonna come for me, you best believe I’m gonna come for you” — and came for Toni she did … by going after PK! I love Marian’s feistiness and her fighting spirit, and how could you not be rooting for her right now? She was a superstar of that second Masu tribal council and is another reason why Masu is must-watch TV. Marian was a villain her first season, I’m told? She’s nothing short of heroic so far for me, so I’m excited to see her journey which I’m sure is going to be a wildly entertaining ride!
Maybe my most controversial stan star of the week, but it’s at least not for Toni’s Episode 3. Not a great look bringing Marian’s vitiligo into the game as a “strategy” to target her as a weak member of the tribe. It was framed a little as “concern” for Marian’s well-being, but I can understand how Marian was rightfully offended and went on the defensive. I did feel for Toni, however, in Episode 4 where it was her turn to take a few shots. Dante came in hot after tribal council, and Toni wasn’t ready nor was she able to handle his aggressive tone in that moment, especially after admitting that she’s faced abusive men in her past. She had to remove herself from Dante a few times in the episode which I think was a good call rather than fighting back and making matters worse. Many in Toni’s shoes would consider themselves done, but Toni only said she was done with the “psychopaths” on Masu, vowing to turn on them if she makes it to the swap. Toni’s one of the more emotional players and sometimes that characteristic gets the best of her, but I appreciate the authenticity and vulnerability she brings to the game by being herself, so she gets a star from me for the final episode of Week 1.
Another surprise to see in this cast was Thoriso, who stood out as a big character for me in my first ever Survivor South Africa season — she didn’t play the best game by “objective” standards, but she 100% brought the chaos. She started off so well this season with her Outpost commentary on “tact” and how this time she wanted to show more that she had the best interest of the tribe in her mind rather than being a bit of a lone wolf like she was the first go-around. Then … in Episode 3 she blew shit up again. Thoriso loves hidden immunity idols, but what she loves more is making up lies about them, so she thought a smart move was to convince everyone that the idol had already been found so that she would be the only one still looking for it. That would have worked perfectly except for the fact that everyone shares everything in Survivor. When asked who had allegedly found the idol, Thoriso blurted out “Tevin” which set the tribe, including Tevin, into a tizzy. Oh Thoriso … never change. You may not win with that kind of “tact” but you got yourself a stan star from me, and isn’t that better than 2 million rand? Eh, probably not ….
Tania’s greedy little pig. Normally a move like Thoriso’s would be first boot-worthy, but not when you have people like Pinty and Tania going to blows. Holy hell was their battle a hot one. I was obviously rooting for Pinty to go over Tania in Episode 4, but I have to admit that Pinty had me having lots of fun in Episode 3, so I had to give her at least a small stan star. Her attitude is awful, I won’t deny that, but I just found it so entertaining watching her complain about how hungry and starting and dying she was on Day … 5. Pinty either has zero self-awareness or just gives zero fucks — I honestly think it’s the latter, and for that I have to love her a little bit. If people like Seamus and Steffi have stepped up their game, Pinty has simply doubled down on playing for a pre-merge placement. I was talking to Jeff while he was watching Episode 3, and he said, “Mostly I’m excited to see if Pinty can get herself booted 2nd again despite her tribe being immune,” and I legitimately thought if anyone could do that, it was Pinty. I’m really fucking pissed she beat Tania in their battle, but I don’t think that’ll be the last pounding Pinty finds for herself, so I can at least rest a little easier knowing that Pinty should deliver enough of that chaos that I live for on Survivor.
Not a lot of Shona in Week 1, which is a shame because I was excited to experience her for the first time myself, but she had enough of a moment in Episode 4 to earn a stan star for her fake idol she planned to place at tribal council. Across more than 40 US seasons and however many international ones, no one has thought of this yet, or at least no one pulled it off successfully to warrant it making air which tells me that Shona’s moment to shine with that will definitely come. That’s incredibly impressive to be coming up with new ways to play Survivor this late into its run — if this is standard Shona stuff, then I instantly understand why she was brought back to play this season.
This dude is literally such a Survivor superfan that he threw himself into the campfire just to pay homage to one of the show’s best seasons, The Australian Outback. Dino really set the bar high for me should I ever get the chance to play. I’m going to have to stab a spike into my knee and threaten to cut my fingers off as tribute to Fans vs. Favorites or something. Thanks Dino! For surviving what could have been a much scarier situation (not that second-degree burns aren’t scary), he definitely earns a stan star. Pre-season, I definitely got ~the vibe~ from Dino as someone who could come back and win. He’s had a little more lukewarm of a start aside from the fire incident, but like I said, we’re seeing the big personalities get taken out first, so I think Dino is smart to stay in the background. I know he has to be dying to do better than he did last time, so I expect him to play safe until the merge, and that’s when we’ll really see Dino set things on fire — maybe even literally if he sticks to the “fire” theme and goes full Butch Lockley on their asses.
So that’s where the Santoni Stan Stars sits at the end of this amazing first week of the season! I’m most sad about Palesa not cracking the top 4 in any episode, but hopefully that means she’s just a late-gamer whose story will emerge later! She knows she’s a big threat, so she has to start off under-the-radar (still queen of getting her hands on idols though!)
I’ll admit that it looks a little weird that two of the first three boots are tied for the lead right now, but hey, though their stays were short, I can’t deny how much they delivered. I may be biased, but it’s my own fucking system and my rules — of which there are many — so I’m 100% allowed to be. I was generous this week, giving out 4 stan stars per episode. I’ll eventually narrow that down to 3 about a third of the way through and then 2 per episode for the home stretch. At the end of it all, the four with the most stars will compete in a lip-sync lollapa — wait, wrong show. I don’t know — whoever has the most stars after 24 episodes will be the person I end up stanning the hardest this season which … should be obvious by that point anyway, but THIS IS GOING TO BE FUN, OKAY??
OUSTED OUTCASTS – WEEK 1
Like most Survivor returnee seasons, this one is already off to a sad start losing two of my top favorites — no shade against PK, but I wasn’t as high on him coming into this as I was others, but he definitely was worthy of a return. Note to self: never play Survivor with someone who has a matching tattoo with me. It sucks for PK that it was more his past relationships that impacted his future in this game, but that’s how these go sometimes. For Chappies, he got the short end of the stick by being arguably the “best of the best” this season. With no winners in the mix, Chappies was the closest thing to one, sort of like Rob Cesternino in US All-Stars – when there isn’t a winner to vote out first, tribes go for the next closest thing, and that was Chappies. As for Tania … she did about as well as I expected. She wasn’t the first boot, so I’m happy about that. She left her mark on another season, so now she can sit back, roll a fatty, and enjoy the rest of it like the rest of us.
By “fatty” I definitely didn’t mean she’d be rolling around that greedy fucking pig Pinty.
Ryan Kaiser has been a lifelong fan ofSurvivorsince the show first aired during his days in elementary school, and he plans to one day put his money where his mouth is by competing in the greatest game on Earth. Until that day comes, however, he'll stick to running his mouth here and on Twitter:@Ryan__Kaiser