Obviously, the big story this week is the central twist, "Tied destinies". The never-before-seen wrinkle in the game, which lasted only through this episode's round of voting, made it so that the contestants' fates were joined in randomly-assigned pairs: Anela with Nicole, Anesu with Kiran, Amy with Renier, Chappies with Santoni, and Tyson with Wardah. Every reward and punishment that one member of a duo earned, be it immunity, an idol, a reward, or as we saw at the end, being voted out and sent to the jury, was also bestowed on that person's partner.
It was a big idea, and one with big consequences. The presentation was clever, with fun paired confessionals. To SurvivorSA's credit, the exact rules of how everything was going to proceed was completely spelled out to the contestants (and the audience) at the top of the episode. They had all the information they needed, and it was a short-lived obstacle they had to endure, or ideally overcome. To that extent, it was fair. Most importantly, though: Was it any good?
There, the signs point pretty firmly towards no. It was a rare misfire in an otherwise sterling season, one that worked out spectacularly destructive to Amy, who joined the jury despite never being voted against, despite successfully spearheading a splendid recovery after a dreadfully unfavorable first swap, despite spending the entire game working across original tribal lines, despite carving out a hard-won position in the game with multiple viable options to move forward, despite seemingly doing everything right.
The returns weren't much better for the guy actually voted out, Renier. He had also put in a significant amount of work building cross-tribal relationships, and keeping his perceived threat level low. He perhaps came across as too much of a challenge threat after the second swap, but that was really his only visible flaw. And yet he, like Amy, was also ousted. Why?
Well, mainly because the numbers did not favor anything but another vote along original tribal lines, and the two people the Vunas most wanted out, Anela and Nicole, were immune, thanks to the twist. Renier or Amy were the only viable voting options, and voting for one meant the other would also depart. And so, depart they did. Together.
It's a disappointing development, although to be fair, almost everyone left has brought a lot to the season, and would also be missed. Two at once, however —especially under such fluky, unnecessary circumstances — that just hurts all the more.
Still, let's try to sort through the good and bad aspects of the twist. If there's anything we missed, feel free to let us know below, in the comments.
Pros and cons of the twist: Pros
Pros: Had the rock draw gone in a more interesting way, the twist might have been better - Ideally, the twist should have forced the players in the majority to make some difficult strategic choices, such as sacrificing someone from their own alliance, in order to remove a threat. But alas, the rock draw ended up pairing people cleanly along original tribal lines, resulting in three Vuna pairs, two Zamba pairs. Even the quasi-Vuna outcasts, Santoni and Chappies, ended up together! But the luck of the draw gives, and the luck of the draw takes. Where the first swap worked perfectly, the fates regressed to the mean here, and produced the least-desirable outcome possible. Curse you, Survivor gods!
Perhaps this was in part an error of timing. If this twist were to be used again, it really only has a good chance of working if the two alliances are evenly matched (6-6, 5-5, or maybe 4-4 ... the smaller the total numbers, the bigger the risk it ends up as it did here). Would you really want to do it at the merge, with 12 people? Eughh ... probably not. If it's done with 10 players left, split evenly 5-5, you're guaranteed to have at least one mixed-alliance pair, and there's a decent chance for more than one. So this was the right spot, just the wrong numbers.
And ... that's it for the pros. As we'll go through below, the cons so dramatically outweigh these moderately probable, limited payoff scenarios, the central question remains: Why? Why do this? Why let fate take someone out through no fault of their own? Why not trust the players to create a more interesting outcome?
Pros and cons of the twist: Cons
Cons: Instead of making the strategic decisions more complicated, it made them simpler - In fact, the twist completely obliterated a big move that was already underway. Chappies and Anesu may have flipped on Tyson, if it weren't for the twist. The original Vunas outnumbered the original Zambas, 6-4. Without the twist, Chappies and Anesu were planning to take out Tyson (or Wardah, or Kiran), and then flip back to Vuna to make it 5-4. With the twist, there's an extra person out, which as Chappies notes, creates a 4-4 tie after both Tyson and Wardah are out, and that is not at all favorable to the people making the move. (So long, dental plan! / Lisa needs braces!)
Cons: No Immunity Island - The one thing that would have saved Amy and Renier was a trip to Immunity Island. They wouldn't need to vote if they had an idol, and both knew there was one already sitting there, waiting to be grabbed. Had that happened, all four original Zambas would be immune at the vote, due to the twist. (Which also doesn't seem particularly fair — one person winning immunity and being able to protect four total people, including her entire outnumbered alliance — so maybe it's for the best.)
Sadly, though, no trip to Immunity Island was on offer, only a day at the waterpark. No idol appeared to be available at the reward. The Vunas scoured Osindile camp, and didn't find one. Amy and Renier were just completely screwed, unless they could convince Chappies and Anesu to flip. But again, the twist got in the way of that, too.
The biggest con, obviously: Don't mess with voting - This twist is the inverse of giving someone a second chance after they have already been voted out — whether via Redemption Island, or Edge of Extinction, or any of the myriad ways Australian Survivor delights in overriding its own contestants' preferences — those twists have never felt right, because they thwart the will of the players. You remember the players? They're the ones supposedly setting up their own society, one where they have to adapt, or they'll be voted out of the tribe?
This twist does the same (ignoring voter preferences), but backwards. Amy is a passive casualty of the vote against Renier. Now to be fair, the Vunas (except Anesu, maybe Santoni) all seemed perfectly okay with losing Amy alongside Renier, because she was an original Zamba. Perhaps Amy should have been even more willing to cross lines than she already was. Perhaps Renier should have, too! Both were shown putting in the work on this front throughout the season, but sadly, it ultimately did neither of them any good.
Really, the primary culprit in torpedoing Amy here was Nicole, who had demonstrated no interest whatsoever in working across lines, except perhaps for Anesu's plan to flip, because it put her back in the majority. But Nicole's split-second reward choice of Amy (and Anela) set off alarm bells in every Vuna, who clearly interpreted Nicole's "no brainer" decision as proof she would never consider working with them. So Nicole was their real target, but they couldn't vote for her, because she was immune. (Anela was probably the #1 target ... also immune, thanks to the twist.) So they had to vote for Renier (and Amy). The twist removed all the available choice. Vuna really wanted to remove Anela, then Nicole. So *both* Renier and Amy were collateral damage. Sure, it's results-oriented thinking to say it, but it's hard to argue that this outcome is anything other than disappointing.
Nicole revealed well before the merge (way back on Day 12, at
the Ep5 RC!) that she was a massive challenge threat in anything
involving balance and endurance. But because she wasn't the one
driving the votes, she was allowed to stick around. Clearly, she
should have been the next target after Marisha. This is why you
vote out challenge threats at the merge! So they don't win
immunity and screw up your plans! (Shaun was an odd choice
for Juror #2: Socially pretty well-connected, but he wasn't a
challenge threat, and never seemed to be near the top of the
Zamba hierarchy, but they targeted him anyway.) Oh well, better
luck next time?
- Right after this shot, something tragic happened: A day at a COVID-abandoned waterpark was already a strange (but fun!) enough reward. It's the kind of thing that can only happen during a lockdown, in a filming bubble, but the absence of crowds still had a slightly spooky feel. Add on top of that the juxtaposition of Amy and Renier's (and Anela!) clear discomfort at having been picked for the reward, their grim surety that this has sunk their games, with their desperate attempts to put on a good face and act like they're having fun. Who said Renier's acting was bad?
- Can anyone win this? As more time passes, and we get a better view of the opinions the two sides have of each other, it's getting harder to predict who might win (especially with two top picks suddenly out of the running). The Vunas and Zambas all seem to dislike Santoni's gameplay, even though they all happily accept the info she provides. Chappies remains a persona non grata to most of the potential jurors. Kiran sees through Anela's attempts to create new options for himself (and he and Wardah still don't seem to be talking). If any of the Vunas flip, that could damage their old tribemates' view of them. At least it's probably a final two, which should make the jury's decision easier?
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