In Survivor NZ: Thailand's fourth episode, Kaysha Whakarau was the surprise blindside victim at Khang Khaw's long-awaited first Tribal Council. She followed Franky March, who Chani sent packing last episode. Both were "wildcard" contestants, who were gained their spots in the cast via public competitions. How much did being known by the rest of the cast long before the season started hurt Kaysha and Franky?
Kaysha and Franky were announced as Survivor NZ: Thailand contestants way back in October, after winning competitions run by NZ radio stations ZM (Franky) and The Hits (Kaysha). Given that these competitions were highly public (Kaysha endured a series of Survivor-style challenges, Franky ran ZM's Snapchat account for a day then won an online vote), not only did their fellow castmates know whom they would be facing before playing, there may have even been some members of the cast who had been rooting for their final wildcard opponents. That seems like an unfair burden for any contestant to bear, particularly in a season where two of the men were secretly longtime friends. (Although, to be fair, there didn't seem to be any bias against the U.S. Sears casting competition winners, Nicaragua's "Jimmy T" Tarantino and South Pacific's Rick Nelson.)
At this point, it's probably worth pointing out that, unlike US Survivor, the NZ contestants apparently spend time together before filming, where they can talk to some extent, at least enough to learn each other's names, if not more. That probably should mitigate some of the information disparity. Kaysha entered the game preceded by pre-game press that (accurately) portrayed her as a fan, and a strong young woman with a fierce fighting spirit. From the start, it seemed like several of her tribemates didn't trust her, particularly Tess, and may have spread from there. (As an avowed novice, Tess seems unlikely to have been on top of this news, but maybe she looked into it after being cast?) Did that come from Kaysha's pre-game exposure, or from the game itself?
Look, for example, at Khang Khaw's disparate reactions to Tess's and Kaysha's visits to the Outpost. Tess told a highly entertaining but equally implausible story about mattresses. Apart from a few odd stares, no (at least in the edit) expressions of disbelief from her tribe. Kaysha returns from her visit, tells the complete truth, and receives a near-cavity search from Adam, amid grumbling from others. Same problem this episode, with the divergent responses to drawing sticks: Kaysha tries to ensure a fair draw by taking over for Tess (admittedly doing so poorly), and her handling sends Josh to the Outpost. Brad remains skeptical, even after the fact. Meanwhile over at Chani, JT happily admits to rigging their draw to send Arun, and nobody seems even remotely suspicious.
That Kaysha became the first Khang Khaw boot was also surprising because she was such a strong presence in challenges (her collapse in "Smash & Grab," the Ep2 RC, notwithstanding). She held Franky and Karla at bay, allowing Tess to score in the Ep1 RC, "Battle Dig." She outlasted all three Chani tribe weight-bearers in the Ep2 IC, "Shoulder the Load." Then she was 3-0 in this episodes "Sumo at Sea" bouts, a mark matched only by Josh. With a clean slate coming into the game, she might have been the type of player Josh and Brad would want to keep around for team strength.
Instead, Kaysha played 12 days, and was unable to erase doubts about her veracity. Everyone on her tribe probably viewed her as a long-term threat before they met her, which can't have been helpful, and maybe being seen as part of a tight pair with Dylan didn't improve things. Maybe it was also a bad idea to concoct a rumor that Dylan had an idol, thereby shifting the easiest target directly onto herself. Furthermore, this was Khang Khaw's very first vote, and any little thing that makes a contestant stand out at a first vote is a potential liability. Kaysha had that.
With Franky, the same was true, although the situation was slightly different. She received some pushbach (apparently) from online fans after winning the wildcard competition as a non-fan, a reception that some of the superfans in the cast may noticed. Unlike Kaysha, though, Franky made it through two Tribals before eventually being voted out. She was able to find at least some footing in the game, she just ran up against a poor tribe draw with hapless Chani, and eventually her name came up.
Overall, there's no direct evidence that being Wildcard winners hurt Kaysha and Franky's games. But the correlation seems strong enough that maybe the best outcome would be that Thailand becomes so popular, the show doesn't feel the need to repeat that particular casting experiment. Besides, have *any* good ideas ever come out of the Nicaragua through South Pacific run of seasons? We rest our case.
Side note/question: Without Kaysha and Franky, Survivor NZ: Thailand had nine men and seven women. Each Wildcard final featured a woman vs. a man. Were there two men who were added at the last minute, after Kaysha and Franky won? Or were there two women who were already cast who were then dropped?
Outpost update: Sit-outs become strategic
This week, the Outpost did away entirely with duels, and instead just asked the visitors to think... about who would sit out the next immunity challenge. Publicly, in front of each other. As an added twist, that person would also be immune at Tribal Council, should their tribe end up losing. Also strongly encouraged: cross-tribal fraternizing. This was a bit of a surprise, and because it forced Arun and Josh to think on their feet, was a lot of fun..
The discussion was a bit awkward, in part because both parties were understandably guarded about how much to give away, knowing/suspecting a swap or a merge was imminent. In the end, both smartly decided to try to build some sort of connection/ pretend trust. Josh openly discussed Khang Khaw's interest in getting to Tribal Council, which was surprising. In contrast, Arun was noticeably more circumspect about his alliance, not admitting his connection to JT.
What made this work was that, regardless of how they framed their decisions, which person they chose to sit out revealed a lot about that person's place in the tribe. Josh played it straight, but he could have claimed he was on the bottom of his tribe, and that he was sitting out to take advantage of guaranteed immunity. Arun also gave a valid reason to sit Eve (wanting to win), but did not let on that in sitting her, he was also protecting a key member of his alliance. (That aspect was not lost on Renee, who immediately felt her own boot looming when Arun announced his choice.)
This truly was a dilemma, and it made for another inspired entry from the Outpost's ever-changing bag of tricks.
Chani: Worst tribe ever at challenges?
With the swap ahead next episode, original Chani produced a record of six losses in eight challenges; 8/10 if you count the Outpost. They lost the first four straight (five counting the Outpost). One of their two "wins" came when Khang Khaw (Tess and Brad, at least) actively threw this week's immunity challenge. The other came in last week's also-suspicious RC, where it looked like Khang Khaw certainly wasn't trying very hard. Last season, Mogotón managed three losses in four tries before the swap. Same ratio, but a much smaller sample size (also no throwing by Hermosa). So at least original Chani is the losingest tribe in Survivor NZ history.
But how does Chani stack up against historically bad U.S. tribes? Here's a short list of comparable contenders:
The worst (two tribe format)
Bad, but hard to compare (three-tribe format/ few challenges)
Conclusion: Chani was not quite Ravu-level bad, but it's up there with some of the worst. They have some decent players though, in at least Arun and JT. Hopefully things pick up for them after the swap.
Jeff Pitman is a New Zealand expat, 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, you can do so on twitter: @truedorktimes
Other NZ: Thailand Episode 4 recaps and analysis
Exit interviews - Kaysha Whakarau