In Episode 3 of SurvivorSA: Immunity Island, the Survivor gods (a.k.a. random chance) produced a tribe swap that couldn't have more perfectly broken up both tribe's power structures if it had been scripted. The three people outside the majority alliance on original Vuna — Chappies, Paul, and Santoni — not only decided to work together shortly before the swap, but ALL ended up on the same new tribe, alongside three outnumbered ex-Zambas. It was exactly the shift in fortunes they needed, and they all ended up on the right side of the vote as the episode ended.
Nowhere was the change in fortunes more evident than in the new Zamba tribe's vote totals: Almost everyone voting for Mike had either been left out of or had been ineligible to participate in their original tribe's prior vote (Chappies, Paul, Shaun, Santoni). The sole remaining Mike voter, Anela, voted correctly the first time, but picked up votes against himself this time. Meanwhile, the three people on the losing end of the vote (Mike, Carla, Wardah) had all correctly voted for Pinty in the previous episode. The only person who really didn't see a major difference in outcome was poor Mike, who received multiple votes at his second straight Tribal Council, and this time was voted out.
On the other original tribe (Zamba), the three people identified as most in trouble were Qieän, Dino, and Thoriso, and they also found themselves on a new tribe with three people desperate to stay in the game, also outnumbered 6-3 along original tribe lines (Anesu, Kiran, and Tyson). It remains to be seen how the new Vuna tribe's power dynamics will shake out, but it has all the same ingredients as new Zamba, and Tyson now has an idol with which to protect his trio (or so Kiran and Anesu hope). Kiran was the hero of the immunity challenge, and since everyone always likes Anesu, at least this threesome also stands some chance of avoiding being swap-screwed.
Even though this episode's vote took out a superfan with a compelling backstory, it was still fun to see random luck shake things up in just the way needed to change the trajectory of the season. Furthermore, it was refreshing to see a power shift brought about by old-fashioned negotiations and alliance-making, rather than by idols or advantages. It's a reminder in Survivor that while blindsides can be exciting to pull off in the short term, Survivor is still primarily a social game, and there can be consequences to battle lines that been drawn too early, too concretely.
The outbreak of in-challenge whispering
There has been a lot of whispering during challenges this season (Dino in Ep1, Paul and Tyson in Ep3). This feels a bit like a callback to Russell Hantz and JT Thomas in Heroes vs Villains, or perhaps Henry Nicholson and Mat Rogers in SurvivorAU: All-Stars. Both of those idol transfers ended up not really paying off as intended. But here, Tyson's take is probably partly right: Paul whispering the location of an idol to him should appear less threatening than actually giving him an idol, since nobody knows what Paul said.
Even so, it was particularly amusing that the last guy caught red-handed (red-lipped?), Dino, was the one who called out the whispering in real time. And the guy whose attention Dino was trying to catch in the premiere (Paul) was the one doing the whispering this time. Did it work out as badly as the Dino/Paul whisper? Well ... not yet, anyway. There's reason to believe it might, as later, when Tyson mysteriously disappeared for a good chunk of time when they returned to camp, most of new Vuna (particularly Renier) seemed a bit suspicious. They certainly have reason to think Tyson might have an idol, #crotchidol concealment plan or not.
Would it have been better if Tyson had waited for a more inconspicuous moment to go looking for the idol? Absolutely, especially since they later won immunity. But considering their 3-6 deficit along original tribe lines, he played it about as well as could be expected, and looping Anesu in on the find was a solid idea. Still, the original Zambas' suspicions might harden those original tribe lines, and reduce the chance of the original Vunas hooking up with the old Zambas who were on the outs (Dino, Thoriso, Qieän). But they got a 2-plus day reprieve by winning immunity, and at least they'll have an idol to work with in the meantime.
Questions about the Reward Challenge
Normally, tribal challenges have one big prize that goes to the overall winning tribe, even in head-to-head contests like "Sumo at Sea." This episode's reward challenge, in contrast, delivered a reward to the winner of each bout. In that sense, it was less of a tribal RC, and more a series of one-off Hero challenges (like the firemaking contest Chappies won in the premiere), where one person competes as the tribe's representative.
Still, the choice to limit the action to just five head-to-head bouts, alongside the choices made in the immunity challenge (which had only seven defined roles available), was also a bit disappointing in forcing/allowing multiple people to sit out of both challenges (Thoriso, Qieän, and Santoni competed in neither one, at least as far as was shown). Also, this particular challenge — battling-for-a-pillow in sand, a staple of SurvivorAU — is just not all that entertaining. Every bout went pretty much as expected just from looking at the participants: The bigger/stronger person almost always wins. That can be amusing when it's Bob Dawg picking up Ruth Marie and plopping her on the finish mat, but there were no size mismatches nearly that ridiculous. Except maybe Dino vs. Anela.
Then again, the challenge *did* provide opportunities for the just-swapped contestants to semi-privately transfer information to their former tribemates/allies. If this was by design, then that part worked pretty well. Alternatively, it was also a nifty way to ensure each camp had something to steal for the forthcoming camp raid. An all-or-nothing situation for the comfort items might have left one of the camps bereft of useful stuff, which would not be ideal.
So in that sense, well done. It's just that the Santoni-to-Paul-to-Tyson idol clue chain of communication was really the only particularly interesting thing going on otherwise. Certainly the most fun Dino had during the challenge, anyway.
Will we ever see a Give Up and Go at Immunity Island?
From her pre-task comments, it sounded like Amy was pretty underwhelmed by camp raid "reward" that Immunity Island was offering her. It's a tribal advantage, not an individual one, and as Amy noted, coming right after a swap, it's a team advantage that would punish some of her old alliance-mates.
So for a second there, it looked like she might instead choose to Give Up and Go, and hand the necklace over to Anela. But alas, she didn't, and the GUAG option remains unchosen after three Immunity Island visits. Will it ever be picked? Or will it languish, forever unchosen, like the sad "more fishing gear" reward option in San Juan del Sur?
In this case, it's possible Amy correctly anticipated that handing the necklace to Anela would almost certainly shift the Carla/Mike/Wardah votes over onto herself, and she (reasonably) didn't want that. So maybe the Stay and Play path was the only one with a moderate chance of payoff. (How she hadn't practiced a standard Tangram puzzle is more of a mystery.)
The deeper question perhaps is how bad does the punishment (and the "reward") have to be to make Give Up and Go viable? Certainly in these early stages (three consecutive first Tribals for a particular grouping of players), the lure of guaranteed personal immunity is probably always going to win out. The only person who might consider giving the necklace to someone else right now is Tyson, since he has his own idol. And even then, having the safety of a necklace you don't to think about is pretty tempting.
The other consideration in GUAG is keeping your vote. Amy knew that without her vote, she and Anela (and Shaun) were either in the majority, 5-3, or in the minority, 6-2. If she kept her vote, it would be 6-3 in both cases. So either way, her vote did not matter. If losing her vote had somehow induced a 4-4 tie, she would have been far more likely to keep her vote, and instead opt to Give Up and Go. It also probably helped that she had a brief, multi-hour stay at Immunity Island. Had she been there for a full day, as Santoni was last episode, there was a lot more time for the vote to shift in her absence.
We'll probably get a Give Up and Go someday, but that day doesn't appear to be particularly imminent.
- Previously on ... wait, what? Was anyone else disoriented by the "Previously On..." opening synopsis of the last episode, which mostly seemed to highlight scenes and plot lines (Paul and Chappies are working together as outsiders!?) that hadn't actually been shown before? Did anyone else briefly worry that they'd somehow missed an episode, even though the last one aired just one week earlier? Maybe it was just me.
- Kindness pays off, sort of: Chappies helping an exhausted Santoni in the reward challenge in Ep2 was an act that he probably intended simply as a gesture of kindness and team spirit. But that, combined with Santoni observing he had been left out of the vote that episode, may have been the impetus for her to share her idol clue with him. It was a good move on her part, even if it didn't pay off directly for either of them, and it was Tyson who ended up with the Vuna idol. (It still seems pretty likely that the Zamba idol is in the same spot in their camp.)
- Basically a bad challenge choice? The selection of the ring-tossing challenge for the IC was not just problematic for participation reasons (with roles for only seven of the tribe's nine people), it's also a bit suspect because the last time it was used in US Survivor, it was thrown, in a brilliant scheme by Basic Badass Drew Christy to boot himself in San Juan del Sur. So when Zamba somehow blows a one-ring advantage and loses the challenge, you have to wonder if shenanigans were involved here, as well. Let's hope it wasn't Mike's doing, at least.
- Autopsy on Mike's exit: It's not really clear what Mike did wrong, what caused original Vuna to turn on him and Carla so quickly. We did a glimpse one complaint that he was too condescending in explaining game/strategy stuff, but his "closing argument" pitch to stay Zamba strong didn't seem at all that way. If anything, he inaccurately received credit/blame for Carla's blindside of Pinty, and people like Paul who were left out of that move resented Mike for it, even though he was mostly just happy to tag along on it, since it (temporarily) saved him. It's a little like Molly Byman's surprisingly early exit in Island of the Idols: Sometimes your tribe just perceives you as too powerful, even when you really aren't, and that's all it takes. It's disappointing, because Mike was a big fan, and he gave thoughtful, insightful confessionals. But on a season full of fans, that's bound to happen to one of them.
Jeff Pitman is the founder of the True Dork Times, and probably should find better things to write about than Survivor. So far he hasn't, though. He's also responsible for the Survivometer, calendar, boxscores, and contestant pages, so if you want to complain about those, do so in the comments, or on twitter: @truedorktimes