Fuck, this season is really almost over, huh? Then it’s back to US with confusing narratives and storylines centered around twists and advantages … sigh. This felt like a more spread-out week with four episodes and only two boots, but I found it to be a fascinating look into the complex social strategy that plays out as numbers dwindle. At a high level, the Tejan and Felix boots would’ve still made sense even without 2 hours devoted to each, but watching the No BS alliance breakdown in slow motion was really something spectacular and an example of how “paranoia can destroy ya.” Marian was the superstar for me that set it all in motion and set the stage for the upcoming finale week, I think, to be one that all will remember — and one that I hope whose watercooler talk on Twitter inspires other US-only or US/AU-only fans to find their way to SA!
If you’re not stanning Marian, we aren’t watching the same season — this was another top performing week for her, and while Shane screwed up the first vote, she steered the ship back to the course she wanted with the second and is positioned perfectly to potentially win. Marian’s was a multi-episode arc in her quest to sew distrust spread BS in the No BS alliance, starting in Episode 17, where Marian’s STANdout showing for me was her planting the seeds for the Felix vote, telling Dino that Felix was coming for him — he wasn’t, but again, paranoia is a powerful player in the game, and Marian marked Dino as the one most susceptible to that power. I also loved Marian stating how she wanted Felix out so that Phil would come home to her where he belonged, essentially establishing that Marian would have a tight 1:1 relationship with everyone who now makes up the Final 5.
One of my favorite things about Marian is her ability to read people — she really should’ve been a member of the No BS alliance because no BS makes it past her. In Episode 18, the star moment for Marian was her interaction with Phil when he was trying to explain to her that he knew of an idol hidden out Outpost, after he had been seeing digging up the entire Salan beach. The way she said, “so now I know that Phil is lying to me,” sent some chills down my spine. Like, shit, Phil — pack your bags!
Speaking of bags, what did it for me in Episode 19 was Marian taking advantage of Phil’s building buffoonery throughout the week, including when he left his idol-occupied bag at camp while he went on his spa reward. Marian realized there was one way to find out whether Phil had an idol or not, so she simply emptied his bag and found exactly what she expected to find. I know bags are “personal” but this game isn’t new — it’s a rookie mistake to leave your “bag of tricks” vulnerable to a search party, especially when you have a stone-cold killer player like Marian just waiting for the second you step away.
As mentioned, Marian has an incredible web of allies and a close connection to everyone remaining in the game. She’s been with Shane since before the season even started, her and Dino have bonded over their superfandom, Phil admitted to having a secret alliance with her, and now she’s even manipulated the mastermind herself, Killarney, into thinking they’re the tightest alliance in the game. It’s Marian’s game to lose right now and the only question will be whether everyone realizes it or not. Dino and Phil still see each other as big threats, and I don’t think Shane or Killarney view Marian as the most dangerous to them, also keeping their sights set on Phil and Dino. If whoever takes down Marian wins the game, kudos to them, but damn would it be satisfying to see Marian take the title of the Sole Survivor after the masterful game she’s played this season. She’s got the game, she’s got the story, and she’s got my vote.
A close second to Marian remains my love and adoration for Dino. Although a little sad to see him so played by Marian as well as played by Phil only as a result of his own personal paranoia, Dino has still played a strong game and is a big contender to win going into finale week — his flaw, though, is that he’s the most visible threat in the game right now. Everybody loves Dino, but everybody knows that everybody loves Dino (Danté pointing that out I don’t think was too crucial in getting that point across).
Like Marian, Dino does know how to work a crowd. He knew he needed Shane and Killarney to stick with him if he was going to bounce from No BS, so what earned him a stan star for me in Episode 19 was when he talked about letting them think they are driving when we all know those two are not in the driver’s seat. I laughed out loud when he asked Killarney for her opinion on who the vote should be, citing that she sees threats from a mile away and referencing “her” moves against Steffi and Meryl. That was some brilliant bullshit from the No BS-er.
In Episode 20, what did it for me was Dino actually driving the vote for Felix by trying his hardest to fool Phil into getting him to play his idol for Dino when Dino didn’t really even have to ask in the first place. Every step of the way, Phil proved his loyalty to Dino, just one day too late in Dino’s eyes, and this really sent Dino spinning. The paranoia between this pair really made for a lot of fun moments this week.
Dino has to worry about everyone coming for him, and I don’t think Dino makes it to the final two without at least an immunity or two at the end. If he does make it to the end, the only person he doesn’t easily beat is Marian, and I also worry that in a final three with, say, Marian and Shane, Dino’s damn heart may win out over his head, and he’ll pull a Colby and take “Tina” (Marian) instead of an easy “Keith” (Shane). We’ll see. I do think he’s smarter than that, but deep down, he is that nice which makes me worry just a little bit.
Phil is the comedy king of the season. His idol hunt in Episode 18 had me in stitches, and I was loving every moment of his commentary. The best, of course, was when he read the clue which referenced something “in the middle,” to which he frustratingly responded, “middle of WHAT?!” before the camera cut to him digging in what looked like a giant fucking desert.
Once again, the SA editors are making ART of this season and it shows how much of a passion project it is!
I look back on Week 1 where Phil wasn’t on my radar at all, and now I can’t imagine this season without his colorful narrating. You’ve got to stan a star storyteller like Phil. In his gameplay, however, is where Phil fumbled a bit this week, mismanaging his relationship with Dino and not being able to see that Felix probably wasn’t the right move for Phil to make, but I still can’t help but love him. Despite Dino no longer trusting Phil at all, really, what made me still give Phil a star for Episode 20 was when he still played his idol for Dino rather than letting it go to waste. That’s a true ally, there, and I don’t think it was so much manipulation from Dino as it was Phil just looking out for his main man.
I think Phil can still win, but he has to get to the end with Shane or Killarney, and I fear for Phil that his end will come at Final 5 unless he has immunity. Phil may have to win the next two challenges, maybe even all three, if he wants to sit at the end, but he is a BEAST, so it wouldn’t be totally unbelievable. Though, I’d be happier with a Phil win if he managed to make his way there without having to win everything. That shouldn’t be the story of this season’s Sole Survivor.
Killarney continues to have the quietest edit of the cast, but wow did the show bury the lede on her story. She came out of nowhere in Episode 17 with the tragic sharing of how she lost both her mother and her partner just a few months before re-entering the game. I tweeted this, but I’ll say it again: it’s amazing that this season can still give me a gut-punch like that this late into it. Realistically, Killarney still won’t win this game, not with everyone talking all season about how much of an easy opponent she’d be, and I don’t think we’re going to get a surprise like Killarney coming in hot at the end and flipping the jury. However, now knowing what Killarney’s kept to herself — having to mourn in the middle of such an already emotionally exhausting experience — makes me have a huge amount more respect for her. Hers may not be the most typical “Survivor” game, but she’s sure as hell has endured a lot to make it this far.
I really need Shane in the final two, honestly. As fun as a face-off between Dino and Marian would be, Shane trying to convince a jury that everything that happened in this game was all part of some master plan of his would be an epic tale of bullshit for the ages. Shane couldn’t give a shit about what anyone else thinks about him — he’s just here for the 2 million rand, saying as much in Episode 17 which is where his stan star of the week comes from. I also loved that Shane scoffed there at getting a chance to talk to his loved ones in that episode’s reward. He knew his family was fine and that he’d see them soon anyway, so he didn’t need to hear from them then. What a heartless legend.
This season has had so many powerhouse personalities that Shane is almost a side character which speaks to just how stacked this cast is. In a regular season, Shane surely would be Coach-level iconic with some of the shit he says – another reason I should watch Champions, I suppose. I love Shane, but I don’t think anyone else loves Shane more than Shane loves Shane, and that’s what I love most about him. Somehow, it’s endearing and doesn’t just make him a douche.
Ahh, Felix did his best, but he just came out to play a little too late. I thought he really showcased some spectacular gameplay in Episode 18, though, surviving that clusterfuck of a split vote. Felix was right on the money with his reads about the No BS alliance no longer being without BS, but unfortunately, he didn’t have the social capital with the remaining players to buy a few more days for himself beyond what he got. I really hated Felix his first time, so I’m glad we got to see a softer side of him this season — ditching Danté I guess was what I needed in order to become more of a Felix fan. I didn’t expect him to do much this season, but he impressed me especially at the merge with how he was able to maneuver play with many options. He was simply a victim of not turning on No BS before they turned on him.
Marian takes the official, lone lead in stan stars! I could see that holding true at the end of next week too, but with 5 players and 4 episodes remaining, a lot can happen.
If I were to predict how this final stretch will go, I think we’re going to see Phil finally be the Final 5 boot (ending his immunity run). At four, I don’t think the lone No BS boy’s story will be over just yet and that Dino will win immunity, forcing Marian and Shane to vote for Killarney and Killarney to vote for Shane. What Dino would do there is interesting — I think he should vote for Shane. Shane would probably win at fire, but in the process, Dino would definitely secure Killarney’s jury vote if he was going to get to a final three with Shane and Marian either way at that point. If it’s to be the fairytale ending that I want, Marian will win final immunity where she’ll make the logical choice to send Dino to jury and go on to win the 2 million rand … which I discovered last week is only like $120,000 US dollars???? Can we get a GoFundMe going? The winner of such an epic and amazing season deserves more than just a slightly bit above what every US runner-up receives. Marian or Dino not being substantially richer than Russell Hantz doesn’t make sense with my fantasy or reality.
OUSTED OUTCASTS – WEEK 5
Tejan and Felix taken out this week weren’t total shocks, but like I said, I loved seeing the dynamics of these two seemingly straightforward votes because they were anything but that. It was a reminder of how so much more game is played than what we usually see in the US. We saw every beat of the No BS breakdown rather than what US would’ve edited to be a quick “Dino doesn’t trust Phil anymore because he withheld that idol, so … Felix is now the boot.”
This has been a special season because of the time and care spent on storytelling, and 24 episodes is a lot to ask for a season of US Survivor, but they really should be taking notes because I think some of this could still be accomplished in a shorter season. I’m invested more in this season than I have been with US for years — even though a season as big as Winners at War was iconic celebration of the franchise, it was still not the best season ever because so much of the story was a mess, and the US series has just gone off the rails since then (I’m sure we’ll go further in 43 and 44 too). We need some of these SA producers in the US editing room and for Jeff Probst to get the fuck out of there.
Honestly, we’re getting close to Jeff having more confessionals than some of the cast these days. Just give the US show to Leroux!
Ryan Kaiser has been a lifelong fan of Survivor since 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