Hot take(?): I loved this season finale. I felt like I had jumped into a time machine that had taken me back to the early 2000s when Survivor was pure. The night was simple yet surprising. Was the outcome what I wanted? No. Was I still satisfied? Very. I can’t believe I’m the one to be the optimist here, but it is possible to be both devastated for one of the losers and happy for the winner rather than titling this a terrible end to a terrific season which has been some of the chatter on Twitter.
Survivor finales for the past five or so years haven’t been all that fulfilling to me. Too often, especially since the casuals cried about Michele winning, the show’s recent editing has made the endings predictable — the one exception in recent history was Edge of Extinction , which was shocking for all the wrong reasons. Going into the final episode of Immunity Island , while happy for Chappies, I was a little bored by the idea of him winning in a Mike Holloway … way . I didn’t even consider the possibility of one of Anela and Nicole being named the Sole Survivor instead. I was so sure that even when Nicole won the final immunity, I thought there was still a chance she would pull a Colby and take the far bigger jury threat to the end. She didn’t, but in voting out Chappies, as sad as it was for me to see, Nicole made me excited to see what was going to happen next.
Since Kaoh Rong , I’ve tried to exterminate the Edgic knowledge in my brain, and in this episode, that provided a big payoff because I honestly wasn’t 100% sure who would win between Anela and Nicole. Logically, it had to be Nicole. She kept it way cooler, calmer, and more collected than Anela throughout the game, and not once, but twice did she single-handedly save his ass. However, in recent weeks, Anela has really been talking up his game which made me think maybe, just maybe, this was going to be a close competition.
I really appreciate the SA editors straying from the standard “winner edit” formula — it’s something I wish the US team would do more, but, again, since the Michele backlash, I think they’re too afraid to not give the audience exactly what they expect. If Immunity Island was a US season, the game would’ve ended with a final three and Chappies would be a millionaire — a happy however predictable final vote, possibly even unanimous. Instead, I was thrown onto a wild ride on which I didn’t know where I’d be getting off, and it was exhilarating — this must be why people love riding Space Mountain at Disney World. I, of course, don’t because on a real rollercoaster, I’d just puke, but luckily for me, no barf bags were needed from the comfort of my couch.
Ugh , what a devastating blow. One win away from setting a South African record and from being a millionaire. Chappies and Santoni carried this season as its biggest characters, and while Chappies would’ve been amazing winner, I can’t be too mad at him going out here. He played himself into a position where winning every immunity was his only way to reach the end. To his credit, he almost did exactly that, but I can’t call him a flawless player. Flawlessly entertaining though, that I’ll give him.
At the start of the season, I expected Chappies to be nothing more than a meathead, but he quickly emerged as someone multi-dimensional and magnificently charming who I couldn’t help but cheer on, even in some of his more mischievous moments. Chappies’ Diner? Iconic. That’s up there with Tony’s Spy Shack if I were to make a list of the Seven Wonders of the Survivor World which would also include Shane’s Thinking Seat and Casa de Charmin – basically, Casaya beach is Survivor holy ground.
I’d attribute a lot of the best pre-merge tribal councils to Santoni swaying back and forth between voting blocks, but in the latter half of the game, tribal council was Chappies’ Theater. There were smiles, there was laughter, there was heated drama, and finally, there were tears as he delivered one last monologue before Nicole chopped off his head. The ending to the Chappies story was tragic, but his sendoff was beautiful and I’m happy he’s at peace with the experience he had. He showed great humility in his final hours where perhaps his star-power shined brightest just before it burned out. Chappies was a headliner of his season and definitely is a franchise legend for me as well — I’d love to see him play again and while I wouldn’t expect him to win given his reputation now, we know that he’d be one hell of an entertainer for as long as his journey lasted.
I’m heartbroken for Chappies, but I’m happy that he’s happy, and he has every reason to be. The club of final three boots is an elite one, many considered among the “best to never win,” and Chappies is no exception. Kathy, Lex, Rob Cesternino, Cirie — some of the show’s best ever would be happy to take Chappies in and celebrate their collective close calls.
May Chappies skip merrily off into the horizon.
And then there were two!
As I said, there was something pure and simple to this finale that made it so satisfying. The name of the game is voting people out until there are no other options, and then it’s up to the jury to decide who among the final two should be the Sole Survivor. That’s it. To get to that final day, there’s one more challenge, one more vote, and one more torch to be snuffed. I was also overjoyed to see the return of the Hand on a Hard Idol final immunity challenge. It’s so straightforward, and the winner is the one who has the most will to survive; then, that person gets to make a unilateral decision of who they’ll face in the end. The entire weight of the game for one day is on that person’s shoulders, and even if the decision seems easy, there’s so much to consider that it makes their contemplation very compelling.
With a final three ending, it’s not up to just one person at final four to determine who sits there. Hell, sometimes we’ve seen the final immunity winner vote against the outcome that ends up occurring, and since 2017, we’ve been robbed of seeing a final four vote at all! After seeing this final episode, I know I’m asking the impossible, but I wish US Survivor would consider a return to its original format. Would we risk missing out on a “Chappies” type of winner (or any other dominant alpha male)? Certainly, which is why Probst will make sure this return never happens, but when there’s truly only one way to guarantee reaching the end — winning final immunity — it puts so much more at stake during that final challenge, and the audience can feel that pressure. Knowing the final four fire-making challenge exists, the final challenge feels like a total waste of time in an already-rushed finale these days.
My heart was racing when the final challenge came down to Chappies vs. Nicole, knowing that if Chappies won, he’d win the game, and if Nicole won, he wouldn’t. I miss that feeling during the final immunity challenge, and I miss watching one person weigh the big decision of which single person they’ll take to the end. That’s what this moment of Survivor should come down to — one vote taking into consideration 38 long days of the game, not one flame fueled by 38 seconds of striking flint. Obviously, I’d have been okay with this being a final three and Chappies winning, but just because this season wasn’t the “best” possible ending for me, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good one.
This episode was truly a celebration of Old School Survivor . "Hand on a Hard Idol," a final two, one-by-one jury questioning — seriously, a dream come true for me. Going into final tribal council, I thought Nicole should walk away with the win easily. Anela had been kind of a mess the last few rounds, and I was beginning to envision him delivering an equally messy final tribal council performance with the only question being who would sit next to and win against him. At final three, I assumed Anela was looking at 2nd place no matter which way the cards fell, but while I feel like a lot of what he said at FTC was revisionist and talking up more of a strategy than he actually had, the jury was kind of letting him run with it? The only one who appeared to share my same sentiment was Santoni:
As the night went on, I really thought Anela could have a shot. I felt Marisha and Santoni were locked Nicole votes; Chappies would likely respect the one who voted him out; Shaun was an obvious vote for Anela based on his speech, and while Anela ultimately betrayed them, I wondered if Kiran and Tyson would stay loyal to him with their jury votes. Adding up numbers, I thought the final tally could potentially be 5-4. Chappies and the chicks would vote for Nicole and the rest of the boys would write down, “Smash” — not for any gender-related reasons, but based on relationships and actions the final two made.
An 8-1 vote was not what I expected, but against Anela, I was happy for Nicole that the numbers landed that way. I think she played a much cleaner and more consistent game than Anela, and he 1000% would not have had any chance to win if it weren’t for Nicole — twice did she save him by winning immunity, during the Tied Destinies challenge and when she beat Chappies, who’d have taken Nicole to the end — so I’m glad the jury recognized her superiority. This season was so unpredictable to me, so it was fitting that up until the very last second, there were several surprises to be shared.
Comparing Nicole to some recent Survivor winners I’ve seen — Tony, Tommy, Nick, Wendell — she was like none of them. I love that. Like I said, the Survivor winner edit has grown stale. Between seasons 30 and 40, I think Adam and Chris are the only two I’d consider unconventional in terms of what we saw on TV. Adam had a much more honest edit highlighting his imperfections and Chris wasn’t really playing the game for 30 days so it was hard to highlight anything there. Michele was a shock to people who weren’t paying close attention, but her edit too was carefully crafted — “perfect” in the eyes of Edgicers.
I don’t like the idea of there being a formula on how to win the game. Compare the first six winners to the last: Richard, Tina, Ethan, Vecepia, Brian, and Jenna to Tony, Tommy, Chris, Nick, Wendell, and Ben. Not to mention the glaringly obvious lack of diversity in the latter group, it’s 6 wildly varied games from the early seasons to 6 “résumé-reviewed” recent wins, counting up how many “big moves” each man made. Nicole’s story wasn’t that. She wasn’t making a scene at tribal council, pulling tricks out of her bag, and she wasn’t trying to orchestrate blindside after blindside. Instead, she kept it low-key. She kept her head down and stayed quietly determined. I had her drawing dead after Marisha and Shawn left — she seemed the least connected to the Vuna majority at the time and looked like the obvious next to go.
Then, the Tied Destinies twist was revealed, and with one immunity win, Nicole completely rewrote her own destiny as well as the fate of the rest of the game. If neither she nor Anela won that immunity challenge, they’d have been voted out together in the twist — I have no doubt of that. From there, Vuna crumbles and we get a completely different game. I think Amy and Renier side with Chappies, Santoni, and Anesu and make a run to final five — almost the exact opposite final five we ended up with. If there’s a “Game Changer” of the season award, it goes to Nicole, and that is an amazing story that I wish I had been paying more attention to these last several weeks.
Nicole again defied her fate when she sealed that of Chappies by ending his immunity streak. She overcame immense odds to win it all, and I think that’s just neat ! An 8-1 victory is no indication of an underwhelming game. She was on the winning side of tribe swaps before the merge, so we didn’t get as much insight from her compared to, say, Santoni who played a significant role in almost every single vote, but when Nicole’s back was finally up against the wall, she fought back and she fought hard. Hers was a story of ultimate survival, and that’s ultimately what the game is about. There is no “correct” way to win Survivor — you adapt, and you do what you have to do to get it done, and that’s exactly what Nicole did. That is why I’m proud of her and proud to have her represent Survivor: South Africa – Immunity Island as its Sole Survivor.
LOL duh, this may be my easiest “Player of the Season” decision ever. I only wish this award came with a car…
Santoni is synonymous with Survivor: South Africa for me. This was my first SA season, and right out of the gates I found someone to stan hard. Immediately, I fell in love with Santoni, but just as much as I was rooting for her, I feared for her. Those early days on Vuna seemed to set her up as an easy first vote, but in keeping to the spirit of rewriting destiny, Santoni was spared and sent to Immunity Island in Episode 2, forcing her tribe to expose different cracks which blew the game wide open and would drive most of the season’s narrative.
Santoni played with her heart, and for that she faced criticism, but she gets nothing except praise from me. Again, there’s no “correct” way to play Survivor , a game that has next to no rules. Playing a double agent was bound to make her enemies, but it also put her in the position of being a critical vote. At times when players considered getting rid of her, they ultimately backed down, realizing that having her vote was more beneficial to their game than voting her out. Imagine the post-swap votes being strictly down tribal lines — blah. Santoni ensured that wouldn’t happen, and she and her tie-dye brought loads of color to what could have been black and white decisions.
Santoni reminds me a bit of Cirie in that she’s someone who I didn’t expect to be at the strategic center for so much of the game and make it as deep as she did, but they both blew my expectations out of the water ( back across the ocean) and delivered so much — both gameplay and entertainment value. I mean, if you look at my Twitter page, you’d think it was a Santoni Tumblr site, a shrine to my favorite moments.
I could go on and on, but suffice to say, Santoni is one of the greatest Survivor characters of all time, topping herself off with a legendary moment as a juror. “It’s a statement” gave me chills as she shut down Anela attempting to respond to her speech — major Kamala “I’m speaking” vibes for me.
I’ll miss Santoni, and if there’s any reason to ever put together an all-star edition of Survivor: South Africa , she is a top reason, but I’m grateful for the last few months with her on the Wild Coast. She’s everything one should want in a Survivor castaway – she brings as much game as she does TV gold. As we motion toward 41 , the bar is set high for my next Player of the Season, but who am I kidding? There will never be another Santoni, and I’d be crazy to think so.
Briefly, on the topic of all-stars, there are many names among this cast that could fill the list. Santoni, Chappies, Kiran, Anesu, Renier, and Amy are all locks for me, and per my last recap, I’d throw in earlier boots like Dino, Carla, and Thoriso as three I wish could’ve played more of the game. Nicole, of course, would earn a spot if winners were included too. I have no knowledge of prior SA seasons or how far back the show would even go to cast returnees, but if the season ever happens, I imagine it being stacked with Immunity Island alumni.
For some, the season’s end may have been damper to the overall experience, but I’m not of those fans. It wasn’t my first choice, but I’m happy with the finale we got. As for the overall season, it felt modern in terms of twists and advantages, but there was an undeniably classic charm which somehow made a season literally titled “Immunity Island” feel not so polluted with immunity opportunities. Episode length certainly played a factor as well as having a few additional weeks for the full story to be fleshed out on our screens. We got a great glimpse into the complex social dynamics, never feeling like I had to ask, “how the fuck did that happen?” like US Survivor has made me ask on recent occasions.
The pre-merge was anything but dull; the merge episode is close to rivaling Cagayan ’s as an all-time best, and the final stretch was literally the reverse of anything I tried to predict several weeks ago. That’s a major credit to the cast but also the producers for keeping us on our toes — just when I thought I had it all figured out, I would be sent spinning and left surprised up until the very end. I certainly care who wins, but I care more about the entire story of the season, and Immunity Island ’s was an incredible one from start to finish. The international waters have been tested, and I will now be first in line to dive back in to what this series has in store next.
Consider this one a Survivor: South Africa superfan.
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