Episode 9 of SurvivorSA: Immunity Island was mostly about processing and repositioning after the massive blindside that Kiran, Tyson and the Vunas engineered at the merge vote. It was a quieter episode, but it also had the feel of those episodes of Game of Thrones where while the hour is spent on armies marching or sailing to a different battle location, you get to see the main characters laying out their plans for victory. On its surface, the vote for Shaun was a Vuna Strong win, and perhaps a sign of a Pagonging to come. But as Anesu made clear to Amy, and Santoni also seemed to be thinking separately, that was all a ruse, and this division along original tribal lines won't last for long.
And that's an exciting development. Because as much as Kiran, Tyson, and Wardah are rootable former underdogs — and the genuine friendship between Tyson and Kiran in particular is endearing — it's always more interesting to see power shifts, or at least attempted power shifts. As long as nobody is sitting back, happy to coast along and finish in 4th or 5th place, something interesting will be happening the rest of the way.
That's one of the greatest strengths of this season: the cast. The people left are all thoroughly game-aware, they're cognizant of appearances, of voting together to build trust, and of managing threat levels, while also of maintaining enough of a connection to people outside their core alliances that big moves are still possible. (Okay, except maybe Anela with Wardah.) They're all playing at a high level, and it's fascinating to watch. What was most prominent this week was seeing how willing and capable the various players are to bend and adapt their games to the situations in which they find themselves.
Anesu and Amy are secretly working together. Anela and Santoni also appear to have a connection they're trying to keep alive, but under wraps. Kiran correctly assesses the threat Anela poses, but also wisely eases up and allows the last people brought into the Vuna alliance to set the agenda for the boot, to keep them on board, while still fully planning to take them all out later. Even the Zambas are cool with taking a hit for one round (as long as it ain't them, personally) in order to move forward in the future.
Because this was a quieter episode, this recap will be fairly short. Also because Ryan Kaiser just wrote over 5000 fantastic words on this episode (and the rest of the season so far), and you should also check that out.
Idols and advantages? They're coming, too
Two events this episode also offered a sneak peek at what's still coming in the near-term. At the pizza reward (much to Santoni's self-flagellating chagrin), everyone searched for then listened to the clue Renier found, stating that there's an idol at Immunity Island, but also that finding it requires someone to Stay and Play. So there's at least one idol available for the taking. (Although there may also be one in camp, and it would be hilarious if production buried it under the sign, exactly where Anela's fake breadcrumb trail led.)
When Wardah was making her decision to Give Up and Go at Immunity Island, the instructions promised "a new advantage in the game." So that's also on offer (whatever it is), should someone be able to complete the I.I. task. And the trailer for Episode 10 promised a new twist: "Destinies tied in pairs of two | What happens to them will happen to you." A pairs immunity challenge, and a vote where two must leave? Or is this just Renier being overly dramatic about a paired reward challenge? Either way, as we well know, Santoni hates pairs!
We should also not forget that Anesu still has a Tribal Council pass advantage, which allows her to jettison herself from an unfavorable vote, and it's still active until seven are left. That means it could be used at any of the next four Tribals, although it's not obvious how useful that will really be if Anesu can keep herself in the majority, particularly if margins are tight as alliances reshuffle.
You could imagine a scenario where both Santoni and Anesu flip on the Vuna majority, one of Tyson or Kiran gets taken out in a massive power shift, and the remaining Vunas declare war on Anesu in the aftermath. *Then* it might be helpful to bail on Tribal for a round. Hopefully there's something more creative in store for it, though. (Santoni and Chappies flip, and Anesu, seeing her vote isn't needed, just heads back to camp, keeping her hands free of blood?)
Immunity Island twist appreciation
We're more than halfway through the season, and so far, Immunity Island as a twist has been a roaring success. Early on, it protected players seen as easy targets (mostly Thoriso and Santoni), and forced the tribes to make more difficult strategic decisions than a simple unanimous boot of the "weakest" player. It also provided exciting advantages and disadvantages (Santoni's Tribal Council idol, Thoriso's no vote) that made for more interesting future Tribals. After the second swap, it protected one person (Anela, twice) who would otherwise have been swap-screwed.
Immunity Island in the post-merge has been even more interesting. Both times, players have had to fend off the temptation to Stay and Play, which is dramatic on its own, but the decisions to both send an ally to Immunity Island and bequeath a necklace upon return have also revealed additional layers of complexity. In this episode, the Tyson/Kiran/Wardah trio see the necessity in keeping the visit within their core group, even when the visitor has to give up and go, because it prevents any opposing alliances from having access to an idol. Smart thinking. This approach can only continue as long as one of the three can win the Immunity Challenge each time, though, and while Kiran has been great so far, it's unlikely he'll pull off a seven- or eight-challenge win streak. So more intrigue is almost certainly coming there.
But there's still more: Santoni talks about viewing the bequeathing as a litmus test for how much the power trio actually values her as an ally. Shaun has been gunning for Santoni all episode, and if Wardah hands her the necklace at Tribal Council, Santoni will know they value her as a member of the alliance, more than just a number. But instead, Wardah "returns the favor" and gives the necklace to Tyson (who protected her in the same way at the merge). As we see on Santoni's face, in this simple, perfectly defensible act, they've unwittingly created an enemy. There are just so many layers of complexity here.
This again demonstrates the benefits of casting smart, capable players. Everyone is playing so well and making such intelligent decisions, that even a minor oversight like this can create chaos.
- Even the editing is top-notch: As Amy and Anesu are discussing their plan to work together after the Ep9 vote, the editors spliced in some particularly ominous footage of the rest of Osindile preparing to slay the rooster, including someone (Chappies?) slowly stalking after it, wielding a machete. Not subtle in any way, but still brilliant as foreshadowing.
- Jury management math: The most dangerous player right now is Amy. She's friendly with everyone, hasn't pissed anyone off (except maybe Shaun, for outing his idol hunt on Day 1), and isn't at the top of anyone's hit list. Most importantly, the first two jurors have been original Zambas. With the merge tribe/jury pool split evenly between original Vunas and Zambas, a final three with players from both tribes gives a 5-4 juror edge to whichever F3 person is the sole representative of their tribe. And the longer it looks like Zamba is getting Pagonged, the more impressive Amy's run to the end will look to people like Marisha and Shaun. And if she's up against, say, Chappies and Anesu, those two could easily split the Vuna votes (with Santoni voting for Chappies, perhaps). If any Vuna wants to win, that's the risk they face in working with someone like Amy or Renier or Anela.
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