It’s been over a year since I left Kaiser Island deserted and socially distanced myself from US Survivor until the hopeful return of Season 41. However, on a bit of a whim, I finally got my feet wet with international Survivor – a little more than just my feet, actually. By now, I’ve pretty much dived completely in to Survivor: South Africa: Immunity Island!
With 10 players booted and 10 still battling it out, I felt this was an appropriate time to bring back the blog from the Edge of Extinction and share my thoughts on what’s been a really incredible season of Survivor and admittedly a breath of fresh air for the series. I’m excited for "41" (hopefully the title has no tie to how many hidden immunity idols we can expect to see in the game) and am eager to see what CBS has changed in its year-long hiatus, but SA: Immunity Island has raised my bar with what I want this fall: a competitive cast, twists that have a purpose other than sucking up airtime, and I’d greedily ask for longer episodes, but I know better than to set the bar that high.
I’d love to go into my usual nitty gritty detail, but nine weeks packed into one recap is a tad much, so I’ll keep this one high-level with what’s made my weeks on the Wild Coast particularly wild and exciting.
THE TWIST: IMMUNITY ISLAND
I was skeptical of the "Immunity Island" twist at first, thinking it would just be an easy way for the game to become bloated with idols and other advantages with Nico granting immunity Oprah-style. "You get immunity! And you get immunity! And you get an immunity!" However, I‘ve ended up loving the weekly immunity choice and how it’s impacted social politics. With the added ~15 minutes each episode compared to a US episode, the twist also doesn’t force critical plot points to be left on editing room floor. *glares at Edge of Extinction and Ghost Island*
Two early standouts in the cast for me where Thoriso and Santoni, so naturally, I cursed them and they became two immediate standouts as targets on their original Zamba and Vuna tribes. With Immunity Island in play, though, not only were they able to be saved by the other tribe after losing an immunity challenge, but the opportunity for safety extended even further than one episode with the ability to play for an additional power. Kind of a double win, eh? So long as you can beat the Minute to Win It game.
Immunity Island forces tribes to plot beyond just the next easy vote, and when that happens, things get complicated, and complication causes chaos which is usually a good thing in Survivor – it’s only not when it’s in the form of a whispering war at tribal council. The result of two "easy" boots being saved by going to the island was two great episodes of scrambling and vying for Plan B votes. Imagine a premiere where it would’ve taken Zamba five seconds to finalize a 9-1 Thoriso vote, robbing us of this instantly iconic screenshot:
I only wish Pinty would’ve done this in Episode 2 so we could’ve dubbed her "Pointy."
The "stay and play" or "give up and go" decision in the beginning seemed like a straightforward one – why give up and go to tribal council without individual immunity? Ah, but when someone realizes that their vote is more powerful than immunity, that’s when the game gets good. Exercising your right to vote is very important (see: November 3, 2020).
When Carla was the first to forego the game and go back to camp, it added a new layer to the twist beyond just a grab-bag of advantages. It was bold and ballsy, so when she went back to camp, it was a definite "oh shit!" moment for me because it was so unexpected, especially after she was clearly on the bottom after the Mike vote. Ultimately Carla’s choice wasn’t a game changer since Santoni’s wheels were already spinning a shift to Paul, but it set the stage for one hell of a show at the merge when Tyson also decided to "give up and go" so that his Vuna alliance wouldn’t lose a number in the tight 6-6 split. When someone gives up individual immunity for the sake of their alliance having more numbers in a vote, that’s compelling stuff and also sends that person’s stock up as someone willing to take big risks for big payoffs.
The advantages also haven’t been too terribly game-breaking, and I’m happy that all but one (if my count is correct) were burned by the end of the merge episode. Immunity Island idols made an easy Thoriso vote on the post-swap Vuna spicy and made the merge vote one for the record books as two deadlocked alliances threw almost everything out on the table to go all-in on a grab for numbers. I also appreciated players using relics from the island – or trying to (RIP Chappies) – to stir things up at camp. Anela rubbing his hands together devilishly as he sent Chappies on a wild goose chase for an idol which didn’t exist was TV gold.
My fear was an obvious road to another Advantagegeddon where someone is eliminated near the end of the game simply for being the only one to not have collected a trinket along the way, but as of now, only Anesu’s Tribal Council Pass is in play, and just one idol is hidden at Immunity Island. I think this is an appropriate number of advantages in the game. Two idols going out didn’t mean two idols being re-hidden, so Survivor SA has a little more chill than US Survivor, whom I wouldn’t put it past to insert three idols in if two went out, especially if Ben Driebergen or Rick Devens is playing.
As Osindile shrinks, the weight of the choice between "stay and play" and "give up and go" will only become heavier. One vote could be the difference at tribal council, but an idol or something else could be the Hail Mary move needed, especially for an OG Zamba right now. Selfishly staying to play guarantees immunity for one vote, but if your vote is lost, you’re more vulnerable than ever at the next tribal council, especially if your choice to stay and play meant for one of your allies, "get up and go to the jury." Oops!
Overall, I like the choice and consequences of Immunity Island. It threw wrenches into majority alliances’ plans before the merge, and it will continue to do the same post-merge. As long as we don’t see someone get Cirie’d at the final six, I’ll be satisfied with the drama this season’s twist added to the game. Immunity Island obviously borrows a bit from Ghost Island, but Survivor SA has done more with the twist to make it an important element of each episode rather than have it be a waste of time (i.e. random "No game for you" notes). I can barely remember what happened at Ghost Island aside from everyone just getting there and crying a lot.
THE SWAP: VUNA VS. ZAMBA
The three episodes after the first swap were what moved this season from "good" to "great" for me. I thought a swap at 18 after starting the game at 20 was a little too soon, and a random buff draw resulting in two tribes each with 6-3 splits of former tribes immediately made the next votes foregone conclusions for both sets of 3 on the bottom, but my savior Santoni ensured that the bottoms weren’t sealed to a fate of getting screwed by the tops.
It wasn’t just Santoni sharing the whereabouts of a hidden immunity idol that would cause chaos, but hot off the trails of Vuna’s first vote, the 6 Vunas swapped to Zamba were far from best friends and had some shit to sort out ahead of this becoming a simple Vuna vs. Zamba game.
Santoni was already a star for me, but the swap is where she shined brightest. She’s been criticized for playing too emotionally (an easy scapegoat statement when someone’s strategy doesn’t align with someone else’s, especially when it’s a woman), but those "emotions" are what have made this season what it’s been. At the first NuZamba vote, Carla, Mike, and Wardah tried preaching "Vuna strong", but the perfect Vuna members (for us, not for them) had been swapped to Zamba together. Paul and Chappies had been alienated specifically with the Pinty vote, and Santoni had been alienated in general at Vuna, so together, these three flipped in favor of saving the 3 former Zambas. Amy, Anela, and Shaun hardly had to do any heavy lifting here and instead, it was the vengeance-seeking former Vunas that blew the game wide open.
So, a new minority of Carla and Wardah had been established, right? Wrong! Santoni hates the number two and wanted to break up "the twos" on her tribe – Paul & Chappies and Carla & Wardah, starting with Paul and Chappies. Chappies and Santoni had a special bond, and with Paul out of the picture, I think Santoni knew she could replace him and become Chappies’s #1. This wouldn’t make them a "two" – no – just two super close "ones." Completely different thing.
After two votes where the majority ate itself, the next episode was double trouble with both tribes going to tribal council – as "twos," not as "one" which has been a stupid twist seen on US Survivor a few too many times. Somehow, Santoni’s tribe became the straightforward one as she sought to break up the remaining pair and sent Carla packing. At NuVuna, however, what could’ve been a straightforward vote as well became a shitstorm on the shoreline.
I still don’t entirely understand Thoriso’s thought process here. She decided to tell people she had an idol so that they wouldn’t vote for her, but she only showed them the idol note rather than the idol itself, blatantly refusing to go that extra step with sharing information. That was one of the worst bluffs I’ve ever seen, and it pained me because I really like Thoriso. I also don’t know why Tyson decided to go along with this, giving Thoriso his idol note and letting it easily be traced back to him.
Some original Zamba members wanted to just forgive Thoriso’s fumble and focus their targets on Tyson and Kiran, but Marisha and Nicole pushed to get rid of Thoriso who would’ve been a liability for them going forward – a fair point. Tyson and Kiran caught wind of everything and felt their only play was to have Tyson play his idol as a gesture of trust, set up votes on Thoriso to expose her lie about the idol, and then Kiran willingly placed himself in a hot seat as the fall guy if this all went horribly wrong. For the former Zambas, this plan meant one of Tyson, Kiran, or Thoriso going home, which was a win no matter which way they looked at it.
Of course, we knew Thoriso didn’t really have an idol, so we saw her exit coming a mile away, but the amount of paranoia and confusion she caused on her way out was worth the obvious outcome. Still, this made 4 post-swap votes in a row where the vote went the opposite way that the original swap numbers should have suggested. That was awesome.
Just like Thoriso.
The second swap? Ehhhhhh, that’s another story and probably the weakest point of the season for me. The result of the NuNuZamba and NuNuVuna was a proper swapfuck with little fanfare. With Immunity Island still in play, Anela was sent twice in a row, leaving Dino and Qieän defenseless. The only other name on the chopping block was Santoni, almost sacrificed by her original Vuna tribemates, so I was at an internal conflict with myself. I didn’t want the votes to be easy and down old tribal lines, but the alternative was losing Santoni, and she just had too much more chaos to cause to let her go here. That brings me to my next topic…
THE FALLEN: GONE TOO SOON
No disrespect to Jason, Pinty, Mike, Paul, and Qieän, but their stories served their purposes of setting up others to shine. However, they went down in some memorable votes that elevated this season, so they’ve all got that to hold onto. When it comes to Dino, Thoriso, and Carla, though, these are three I wished were still around.
Dino was the token super-duper-fan who’d been dying to play Survivor forever. Fun fact, he also was the first to tip me toward tuning into Immunity Island in the first place. Dino gave me a follow on Twitter and I saw he was just announced as a member of the new SA cast whose season I learned was set to premiere in June. I had exclusively stuck to US Survivor in the past, but it had been a dry fucking year with no Survivor in my life, so after a quick look at the SA trailer as well as another nudge from Jeff here at TDT, I was ready to commit to giving SA a chance. Worth a shot! (Always)
Dino came in hard and delivered – a little too much as a player which made him an early target but with the perfect amount of humor and quips in and out of confessionals that made his run on the show a good time. He recovered from some early shakiness but then Swap 2.0 happened and his game was immediately over. There unfortunately was no puzzle for Dino to beast his way through and use to win his tribe’s way to the merge, and Anela got the golden ticket over him to go to Immunity Island, so save from a Santoni miracle, he was toast. The final nail in his coffin was actually voting for Santoni which has yet to prove a successful strategy for anyone.
Dino knows the game inside and out and could have really flourished at the merge with some major flip votes in store in our near future. I do think he was able to shrink his early target a bit, but when it came to a vote between Dino and Qieän, it’s a no-brainer to go for the more dangerous Dino with the merge looming. Early on, I thought Dino would be an end-gamer for sure, so his exit has been the biggest "Dammit!" moment for me thus far, but if I can mentally recover from Natalie Cole not only not winning David vs. Goliath let alone being a pre-merger, I think I’ll manage here with Dino too.
…that may have actually just opened up an old wound for me. Fuck. T_T
I love a badass woman who takes the game by the balls, and that was Carla. Like Dino, she was noticed for playing a little hard too early, but I can appreciate her taking the initiative from the onset of the game. Her boldest move was choosing to "give up and go" at Immunity Island, putting her own neck on the line to help protect her only ally left in the game after surviving a huge blindside. Personally, I’d have said "Fuck Wardah" and held on tight to that necklace, but luckily for Carla, there were no Caryns around to stop a women’s alliance from happening, so Paul was pushed out over Carla and Wardah.
Another victim of Santoni’s duophobia, Carla was then left without any more cards to play, and between her and Wardah, it was obvious Carla was capable of more causing more trouble after her Immunity Island lie, so she got the chop – cut too short.
Speaking of trouble, Thoriso caused a bit of thunder herself. She never found her place in a tribe like she did in my heart, but she had a great downfall arc even if it stood out only for a single episode. Thoriso likely would’ve been the first boot of the season had she not been saved by being sent to Immunity Island, and she earns the distinction of being voted out at tribal council without ever casting a vote in the game. I’d have to defer to Jeff on whether that’s a unique distinction, but I’m leaning toward a "yes"? If it’s not, then it’s an extremely exclusive club. Also, my knowledge base is only US Survivor.
Thoriso knew she was on the bottom and I think she hastily made the move she did with the idol bluff. Perhaps with a little less sense of doom and desperation, she could have worked that better. Having the "No Vote" was also a huge hindrance because it prevented Thoriso from taking advantage of an original Zamba split vote. She’d have needed to solidify a plan with Anesu so she’d return from Immunity Island, get Zamba to split 3-2 between Tyson and Kiran, convince Tyson to use his idol, and Anesu’s, Tyson’s, and Kiran’s votes then would have been determined which Zamba went zooming out of the game. That would’ve been a lot of legwork for Thoriso, and Zamba may have sniffed it out and just placed all their votes on Thoriso anyway, but that’s my best attempt at coming up with an alternative route Thoriso could’ve taken.
It didn’t work out for her, but Thoriso’s exit still made for a great episode. There was enough distrust there that the vote could’ve been a slam-dunk 7-0, but what we got instead was 4-2-1 and an idol flush. I hope we see more overly complicated and complex votes like that in Thoriso’s absence, but she had true loyalty to no one which would’ve made her a very sought-after player and wild card at the merge, and I always wish for wild cards like Thoriso to stick around for as long as possible.
THE MERGE: #CHAOSCAST
The Survivor SA: Immunity Island merge episode is a top tier merge episode for me. After all the chaos of the first swap, mostly driven by Vuna cannibalizing itself, we entered the merge at 6 original Zambas and 6 original Vunas. Once again, a lot of the fun has been driven by Vuna being Vuna. Zamba has remain relatively united since the start of the game, only letting go of Thoriso, but Vuna is purely in an alliance of necessity at the moment. We have a tight Chappies and Santoni, a threesome of Tyson, Kiran, and Wardah, and Anesu floating on the outs, feeling an uncomfortable, new distance with Tyson. They all know they can’t turn on each other yet, or they’d be giving the game to Zamba, but they’re chomping at the bit to do it and that makes the chaos beautiful.
The first Osindile tribal council was wild. Started off with a steal-a-vote and followed by two idols, I half-expected a rock draw to result somehow just to top off the night. The sheer glee in Chappies’s eyes juxtaposed to the fear in Nicole’s as she begged Renier for his idol, only for Marisha to be the big blindside, was absolute perfection. Despite three big-ticket items coming into play, only the one idol played on Chappies is what mattered, so we’re now at a soft reset on advantages in the game with Anesu’s pass being the one exception. I couldn’t have written a better script for the night.
After the huge fireworks of the first vote, the second was expectedly less eventful. Vuna had a firm 6-5 majority and still wasn’t quite ready to let go of it, so it was a simple Shaun vote. The only hiccup was Kiran initially proposing an Anela vote, but Santoni was a hard "no" for that, so Kiran backed off at the risk of pushing Santoni to vote with Anela and Zamba.
I love the possibilities of what could happen next episode. Will Santoni and Anesu finally flip? Will they get flipped on first, or will Vuna hold out for one more vote? Will an OG Zamba get sent to Immunity Island to claim a clutch immunity idol that they’ll use to take out an OG Vuna? Who will the target be? Predictions are always fun and even more fun to look back and laugh at when I’m totally wrong, so to close out my mid-season recap of Immunity Island, I’ll put on my Cao Boi hat and try to have a psychic vision to determine which of the Final 10 has potential to triumph and who will simply… tank.
Amy has been on my radar since the very beginning as a top contender to take home the tile of Sole Survivor. Her one stumble has been her lie about the camp raid, but that’s been long forgiven and forgotten. Amy has played a quieter game, but up until losing numbers at the merge vote, she was always with the "in" crowd. Her social game saved her from being swapfucked, and of the remaining Zambas, I think she’s perceived as the smallest threat, so when it comes time for Vuna to crumble, she’ll be there to facilitate the flip. I expect Vuna – parts of Vuna – to have control of the votes for the rest of the game, but if they let Amy do what she’s done best and sneak her way into Final Tribal Council, she’s going to have a lot of Zambas on the jury giving her their votes for the win. I think this is Amy’s best path to the end – lying low and just letting Vuna get her there – and she may just do it.
Anela is already a target and likely has been for a long time as a physical threat. You can’t have the nickname "Smash" and expect to tiptoe to the end. Santoni was a saint to Anela this week, and since we’ve seen their relationship highlighted, I expect it will play a key part in Santoni’s eventual next flip, so Anela should survive long enough to be a part of it. However, when the numbers inevitably flip back again, Anela’s strength should be his undoing. I don’t see an Anela win happening.
Renier is tight with Amy and Anela, but I think he’ll land closer to Amy in terms of success in the game. Unlike Amy, Renier always had the luxury pre-merge of landing within a Zamba majority, but he’s lost two critical votes at the merge now, so I’m interested to see how he can play from the bottom. He’s also crafted a fake alliance with Chappies that should have some significance soon, potentially a point in favor of Chappies flipping on Vuna, but even if this happens, I think Renier will be quick to turn the tables back around on Chappies once it’s safe. Renier and Amy are the two Zambas I can see making a legitimate push to the end; Renier will likely have to push a little harder than Amy will, but he’s got a sharp mind and we’ve seen a strong social game from Renier as well, so I’ll call him out as the other potential Zamba winner within Osindile – that, or he’ll come very close.
Nicole, like Anela, has already been noted as a physical beast. Santoni has also called Nicole her nemesis which doesn’t bode well for Nicole. Most people who’ve given Santoni any sort of bad vibe have been booted. Nicole should stand behind Anela in the Zamba pecking order, but if he wins immunity, I’d guess Nicole being the target over Renier and Amy. She already felt vulnerable enough to ask for Renier’s idol, and obviously there was some truth behind that sense since Renier obliged. Nicole needs Vuna to crack now. I don’t know how early they will, so Nicole could very well be next to go.
Anesu has far and away played the best game this season, and if she remains on the right path to a win, she’d go down for me as one of the best across the Survivor franchise. After the first swap, Anesu spent 5 weeks on the bottom and never once was she in danger. She’s connected to everyone but to no one enough to label her as any sort of threatening pair or trio. She’s now playing the middle between Vuna and Zamba, and both tribes are playing into it. A superb social game is often one that isn’t so easily showcased by the edit, but Anesu’s has been crystal clear to me since the start. Put Anesu in front of a jury, and her well-spoken demeanor will help her deliver a dominant Final Tribal Council performance. She knows everything that’s going on and everyone wants to work with her. Her social game reminds me of Kim Spradlin’s, but even Kim was called out just after the merge as a threat. So far, Anesu has stealthily managed to avoid that. The only way I don’t see Anesu winning is if Amy or another Zamba reaches the end with her and the jury votes down original tribal lines. Otherwise, this game is Anesu’s to lose, and she’s my front-runner pick to win.
P.S. There was something so mesmerizing with the way Anesu was standing in this week’s immunity challenge. She looked so calm and confident – the stance of a winner, perhaps?
Kiran has built quite a resume for himself, but not the kind one wants in Survivor. He’s won 2 of 2 individual immunity challenges since the merge, and his reputation beforehand was making a bold play with putting his butt on the line at the Thoriso vote. He’s becoming a bit of a meat shield for his trusted partner Tyson, and with the trio of Tyson, Kiran, and Wardah already being looked at as a target, Kiran’s probably the most vulnerable even though Tyson’s pulled two idols out of his bag of tricks. Kiran’s also pushed for Anela to go, and swinger Santoni wants to protect Anela, so if Kiran pushes again, that may just be the push for Santoni to flip the vote on Kiran. I fully expect Kiran to be the victim of the first Vuna betrayal.
Tyson has played closely with Kiran for the whole game, but between the two, I see Tyson holding more cards. He’s talked about how information is currency and a lot of people have paid up to Tyson. He needs to quickly make amends with Anesu, but when Kiran and/or Wardah are voted out, I think that’ll happen. The way I see this going is Kiran & Wardah being the flip vote victims, but the next Vuna on the chopping block will be Chappies, driven by the reunited Tyson and Anesu wanting to break up the Chappies/Santoni pair. I could then envision Tyson and Anesu being the duo that dictates the rest of the game, especially if Tyson can pick up another idol. If both make it to the end, as much as I love Anesu and am amazed by her game, Tyson could have that flashier show that juries love more. Hopefully Anesu can suss this out, but if she doesn’t, then I see Tyson as the next most viable Vuna winner.
Wardah admittedly has lasted longer than I thought she would. I thought she’d fall somewhere in the first or second swap, but she’s still here. Unfortunately, her only major connections are within Vuna which as a whole is barely holding itself together. Wardah’s downfall will be Tyson and Kiran who may be able to pull off an immunity win or idol play, leaving Wardah vulnerable in some kind of split vote. Wardah’s also been vocal at some tribal councils, feisty like a "Wardog," and while I like that, it’s not ideal for Wardah’s game. I could see Wardah losing her cool after losing Kiran or Tyson with her going down in fighting flames as a result.
I love Chappies. Looking at him pre-season, he fit the mold of "alpha male douche" but I’m glad he’s been so much more than that. He’s had his moments of cockiness and playing a little too bull-headed, but Chappies has made for many fun moments throughout the season. His drunken antics at the merge feast were high comedy and he always delivers memorable confessionals – Chappies is clearly having a blast in the game, if that wasn’t evident enough by him literally prancing around naked on the beach. The problem for Chappies is that he’s such a big, bright star which means he’s going to burn out soon. I think Chappies will be on the right side of the first big flip at this merge, maybe ride a few votes after that, but Chappies will have a tough time making the finale. Santoni can’t literally carry him there on her back, and the only reason he wasn’t the merge vote was because Vuna still needed him as a number. Once Chappies is expendable, his exit will be quick. I hope we’re still several weeks from this, though, and we get a few more Tony-inspired TV moments from Chappies.
Saving the best for last! Anyone who’s watched Immunity Island doesn’t need to be reminded who Santoni is and what she’s done. Someone as colorful as Santoni is hard to miss, and that made her an early target along with her less-than-vibrant showing in challenges. However, Santoni quickly recovered and has since been in the driver’s seat this entire game, making her a star of the season and an instant Survivor icon. She’s been called "Idol Whisperer" and "007" which would indicate she works outside of the stage light, but nope, she’s front and center! This has made her a joy to watch but also makes her one to watch out for among the other players. Working both for and against Santoni is her status as a shaker and flip-flopper. On one hand, this makes Santoni someone everyone not only wants to work with but needs as a number on their side. No one can vote her out because her vote has been so critical in any major coup made. On the other hand, this means Santoni will be burning a lot of "allies" and if she continues swing-voting her way to the end, I don’t see the jury being as big of Santoni stans as I am. It shouldn’t surprise me that the person who proudly touts tie-dye attire is the one who has everyone talking this sesaon, but talking in terms of winner potential, I don’t have as much to say. Santoni will continue shining bright on our TV screens and she could be a shoe-in for Final Tribal Council, but I think that’s where her triumph will end and the win will go to someone with just a little less blood on their hands. I hope Chappies at least throws Santoni a vote so it isn’t a shutout.
Verdict: Triumph, then Tank
NEXT TIME ON SURVIVOR
"The shock of the season," huh? It must finally be revealed that Thoriso did have an idol; she just didn’t think she needed to play it. Tragic.
If these 5,000 words haven’t made it obvious, I’ve loved Immunity Island, and I’m glad I finally became a dual-Survivor citizen. I’ll have more to say at the end of this season, and after that, I’ll be back in my weekly full swing for Survivor 41 – it’s almost here! Thanks for reading, and may you be bequeathed the blessing of The Church of Stantoni.
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