The last boot before the merge is always bittersweet. This is true, as always, for Survivor SA: Immunity Island because poor Qieän never quite got things going. She was caught red-handed going through stuff with Shaun on Day 1, looking for idol clues. Shaun recovered from this debacle, but Qieän never did. In her first post-swap tribe, she was still an isolated, not-well-integrated number. She was then swap-screwed by the second swap. Dino went first, as a bigger target of an outnumbered minority pair, but when the thoroughly outgunned Zamba 3.0 predictably lost again this time, Qieän was the only original Zamba left to vote for, after the Zambas on Vuna 3.0 protected Anela by sending him to Immunity Island again.
The loss was fairly obvious, the boot even moreso. But as
always, this episode made up for that lack of suspense with some
production surprises. The winning Vuna's tribe's Mexican food
feast reward? It also came with videos from home! So we get some
extended character development for a bit more than half the
post-merge cast, which is nice. Anela's trip to Immunity Island?
He also got the same feast items! But wait, there's more! He
also got a free
Steal-a-vote, er, "Tribal
insurance" advantage! Apparently, the show was just clearing out
all the unused pre-merge advantages, and giving them away on a
first-come, first-served bases. But then Qieän was still
booted, as was obvious. Wait, did we mention the merge is next
All in all, it's fine. The third-edition Zamba tribe had an approximately 0.0% chance of ever winning a challenge, so this at least puts them out of their misery. Plus it's Day 18 now, which is a respectable time to merge. If we had to have a predictable set of events, at least we had some solid emotional content. On balance, worth it.
Anela smashes everything at Immunity Island
Of all the surprises in this episode, Anela's jackpot visit to Immunity Island was the most unexpected, mainly because he reaped enormous benefits with zero risk, which seems to run counter to the Immunity Island concept as it had thus far been presented.
Anela was all but told "Stay and play, because trust us, there is no play." Anela was already planning to do this, because staying meant he was immune at Tribal Council this time, which he desperately needed. His additional reward for staying? A free Mexican food feast, complete with margaritas, just like the people on the winning tribe received. Okay. Not particularly fair, since he (again) risked absolutely nothing to receive this. But if SurvivorSA is just giving away free Mexican food, can't complain about that.
Naturally, the food also came with a video from his loved ones. Again, this was part of what the winning tribe received. Makes sense in that regard. But then his brother ends the video with "Look behind you!" (Which, quite cleverly, has been known as the episode title for weeks.) And thus begins a treasure hunt, in which Anela follows a series of clues.
None of the clues are particularly difficult, and Anela has a full day and a half to complete the quest. He does so in maybe five minutes. His *additional* reward, on top of immunity, on top of the feast, on top of the video from home? A "Tribal insurance" advantage, which is the steal-a-vote advantage, just with a sponsor-oriented rebranding. Conveniently, this cancels out the "no vote" disadvantage he picked up on his last visit. He'll only be able to vote once, but someone else will be unable to vote.
So Anela was saved twice, and now has a weapon to wield at the merge (stealing someone else's vote). At Tribal Council, Nico extemporizes about how Anela now has a "debt to pay" to his allies who sent him to Immunity Island twice. It's unclear (to the audience at least) who those allies actually are, besides the likely explanation of original Zambas. But Anela was already going back to those people at the merge, so it's unclear why this line of theorizing was highlighted both in the show *and* in an online "Nico's diary."
Sure, it would be fascinating if the original Vunas all decide to band together, and Chappies or Tyson or Kiran pulls Anela away from Amy/Shaun/Renier. But that seems pretty unlikely, when he and Wardah refuse to speak to each other. So instead, we'll probably see some other configuration at the merge, and Anela's choice there is important? We'll see soon enough.
It's the merge? It's the merge! How the post-merge might break down
The biggest questions for the post-merge are several: (1) How unified are the original Zambas, really? (2) How many of the suballiances we've seen on the various swapped tribes will be maintained after the merge? (3) Can the original Vunas really come back together, and if so, is Anesu the glue that holds them?
We ask all these questions because there are a *lot* of potential suballiances and working groups. Trust clusters, if you will. Let's try to sort them out:
Renier, Marisha, and Nicole have been together since Day 1, and were part of the original Zamba core. But Renier has a side-deal with Amy, a tenuous one with Tyson, another with Chappies, and had also been on good terms with Kiran. Marisha and Nicole also had a suballiance with Amy. Amy has a side-alliance with Anela. Anela was sort of working with Chappies after the swap. Chappies has a strong relationship with Santoni. Santoni has worked with Tyson and Kiran, has at times been at odds with Wardah, but has since made peace (?), and worked closely with Amy, Anela, and Shaun. Shaun seems close with everyone, although weirdly, we generally only see his connections when someone's leaving, like Jason or Carla.
We enter the merge with things theoretically evened up by original tribes. Renier, Marisha, Nicole, Amy, Anela, and Shaun are six, all original Zamba members. Anesu, Chappies, Santoni, Tyson, Kiran, and Wardah also number six people, originally from Vuna. So *in theory* it's tied, six-six. But would Wardah really ever work with Chappies? Seems unlikely, although she and Santoni worked together twice. The Zambas, in contrast, are much more visibly united (the only doubt there being this episode's refrain of "Anela owes someone a debt").
The one element that's been missing from the various warring Vuna factions is the calming presence of Anesu. Remember original Vuna? Everyone (except Santoni, as far as the edit showed) was in an alliance with her! So theoretically, she could help patch over the various differences within the tribe. Maybe Santoni and Chappies can pull in Anela? Maybe Shaun? Probably not, because ....
Everyone wants to target Chappies. It's the post-merge. He just demonstrated what an obvious physical threat he is two episode ago. All of third-edition Zamba thought he was running things over at Vuna 3.0, even though the only running he was actually doing was giddily streaking into the ocean. Wardah despises him. An important question: Will the winner of individual immunity get to send someone to Immunity Island after the merge? If so, being Chappies' friend might turn out to be useful. (Unless Marisha or Nicole or Renier, who were all 9/10 in tribal challenges, just win every time, and in looking at the merge IC — "Get a Grip," above — Nicole and Anesu are the obvious favorites there, because this challenge massively favors their body types.)
Santoni should benefit from the merge, because she's not a physical threat. But her closeness with Chappies could still work against her. If Chappies wins immunity, an anti-Chappies contingent could target Santoni instead, just to weaken him. (Unless Chappies can send her to I.I., of course.)
All in all, it's hard to escape the feeling that the Zamba alliance are still the favorites. They're more united. They have at least three people who are challenge threats, so in theory, they can keep the Vunas from winning immunity. The Vunas have just one all-around threat, and half the tribe/alliance wants him out. Once Zamba establishes a numerical majority, though, the Renier/Amy pair seems like the one most likely to take out their competition (maybe with Shaun and/or Anela's help?).
There are also other elements creating intrigue at the merge vote. Anela has his Tribal Insurance advantage, so he can turn a 6-6 tie into a 6-5 advantage. Sending someone to Immunity Island could also be a way to break the 6-6 tie. If they stay and play, all of a sudden it's 6-5 (or maybe the 6-5 advantage Anela was expecting becomes 5-5). This particular vote feels like the spot for a Give Up and Go choice. Anesu can also use her Tribal Pass advantage to just bail completely. A potentially deadlocked merge vote seems like not the best time to use that, but you never know.
No matter what happens, this is an astute, game-aware set of players, and we're potentially headed for a nail-biter of a vote, one that could determine the direction of the rest of the game. No pressure.
- Maybe we just like liking things: Wardah's in-challenge support of Santoni, helping her compete despite her fears from the traumatic events of the previous water challenge, was really gratifying to see, and was a nice echo of Chappies's hero turn in the previous episode's water challenge. Paired with Shaun just hugging everyone as they cried after their videos from home, sometimes it's nice to see reality-competition show contestants being nice to each other. When US Survivor tries this sort of thing, it's awkward, inauthentic stuff like Jeff Probst arbitrarily forcing Cirie to complete the balance beam after the challenge has ended ... to build character, or something. Here, the emotions were real, raw, and related to completing the challenge in the first place. Well done, SurvivorSA.
- Things lost at the merge: We saw the re-hidden idol at Vuna camp after the swap. In theory, there should also have been a clue at Immunity Island, except there was instead a treasure hunt for the Tribal Insurance advantage, which was in the spot where Santoni previously found her idol clue. If Vuna camp is used for the merge tribe, there's no need to re-hide an idol. But Zamba camp seems to be the one people prefer to live at. Hmm.
- Farewell bracelet, we hardly knew ye: As we hit the merge, it becomes clear that the reason we never had a complete look at the rules surrounding the Diplomatic Immunity bracelets (can they be used on other people, etc.) was because it was a moot point. With the merge, Chappies' safety wristband has now expired. Better luck next time you're tried, im-mutiny.
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