After having been thwarted once by a production twist and once by the opposing alliance itself, Chappies and Santoni finally put (an Anesu-less) Operation Destiny into action this week on Survivor SA: Immunity Island, paring the power trio of Kiran, Tyson, and Wardah down to a duo, as they sent Wardah to the jury.
It was the long-awaited payoff to the saga of the Tribal Council Pass (from Day 12!), and the post-merge idol Santoni dug up, both of which were required for the move's success. Along the way, more advantages entered the picture — Tyson bought an immunity challenge advantage at the auction, Nicole bought an Immunity Island ticket, which she then turned into an as-yet-unused fire idol. But an announcement in the trailer for next week brought a surprising sense of urgency as well: All idols and advantages will expire at final six, which is next week's episode.
That feels right for this season. While the idols and advantages haven't yet felt overwhelming, an explicit attempt to avoid an Advantage-geddon situation, as well as to force the contestants to rely on social and strategic maneuvering in the late endgame, is quite welcome. Coming at this point, with three distinct pairs still in the game (Tyson-Kiran, Chappies-Santoni, Nicole-Anela ... sort of on the last one), the game played out perfectly for this to work, too.
It's also a brave choice, because that means there will still be two episodes plus the finale (Eps 14-16) with no idols or advantages in play (presumably no Immunity Island either?). This is something Dr. Mike Zahalsky requested after Heroes v Healers v Hustlers: That there be at least one vote before the final two/three where there are no idols or advantages. US Survivor currently has zero such votes, and seems unlikely to entrust their players with any such responsibility any time soon. Survivor SA will now have at least two, possibly three (!) such votes here.
If you're going to let the players play, this is a great cast to do that with. Let's hope they rise to the occasion.
Highs and lows of the auction
American Survivor has long since abandoned the auction, declaring it "broken." The original intent (as seen in The Australian Outback) was as a fun way to distribute food, keeping things light, keeping the contestant from dropping dead of starvation. Over time, advantages were added (first for an upcoming immunity challenge, later idol clues and/or game advantages), and the gamesmanship started. Spencer, Tony, and Tasha held back their bids for a shot at advantage in Caramoan. The last US iteration was in Worlds Apart, which to be fair, ought to have been the last dance for a lot of Survivor things (mostly Joe Anglim).
In the interim, Australian Survivor has taken up the slack, repositioning the auction more towards its original intent, offering fun twists ranging from the "king's (or beggar's) table" to an actual bed. (One of Survivor AU's best ideas, the advantage hidden inside a food reward that Shonee won back in 2018, has yet to be repeated.) This season's South African version had a little bit of both worlds.
There was a fun fake currency, "Nicos." There was a fun moment where the perpetually soggy contestants failed to bid on a bath ... and Nico threatened to use it himself. There were fun twists, like the "beggar's plate" purchased by Nicole as a blind/covered item, which worked like the Australian beggar's table, giving her a shot at a portion from every item purchased (or even *not* purchased, like the bath). There were two advantages offered, a challenge advantage (bought by Tyson, which he curiously didn't have to share with Nicole, who really could have used it), and the all-new "Immunity Island ticket" purchased by Nicole. There was plenty of food.
But there was also a bit of pain. Wardah was given a dilemma — vetkoek and mince for herself, or rice for the tribe — and she selflessly chose the rice. Kiran got royally screwed, making the then-highest bid of the auction (300 Nicos!) for a scroll ... that ejected him from the auction. Usually when this happens, there's some sort of consolation prize to soften the blow. In AU: Champions v Contenders, Shane Gould went from "out of the auction" to the beggar's table. In Worlds Apart, Will Sims was sent back to camp, where he found a private stash of food waiting for him. For Kiran? He got to hand over his Nicos to Wardah, and had to beg to buy his letters from home after the auction ended. Nico at least allowed it, but otherwise, poor Kiran.
Overall, though, it was worthwhile. Only Kiran, Wardah, and Santoni went without food. Nicole's over-the-top eating extravaganza (and bath) kept the tone light. Take note, US Survivor. (Note: they'll never see this.)
The fire idol: will it make a difference?
The newest entrant in the advantage pantheon was the Nick Iadanza-created "fire idol," allowing the bearer to force the two highest vote-getters at Tribal Council to participate in a fire-making challenge. (As Phoebe and Lydia did in AU: All-Stars, although each had already been "voted out.") If the person with the highest number of votes wins, the person with the second-most is out instead. In that way, it's sort of like a regular idol, but it doesn't require any guesswork (and obviously, it could still result in the top vote-getter leaving). Nicole used another advantage to gain access to this, and it can only be used at next episode's Tribal Council. Will it be used, and if so, will it be useful?
Signs point to yes, even though despite this episode's successful Operation Destiny, Kiran and Tyson still have the upper hand, in theory. They probably have Anela with them, and if he brings Nicole along with him, that's a 4-2 advantage, and using the fire idol would only put that advantage in danger.
From Nicole's perspective, though, why would she care? As long as it ends up with Kiran and Tyson targeting Chappies and Santoni (and vice versa), it makes sense to play the fire idol, regardless. Even if it's otherwise a 3-2 margin without her vote, the best play is to force a 3-3 tie, because instead of going to rocks, the fire idol forces the people who were actually voted against to be at risk. Then after someone from the other two pairs leaves, she and Anela can join up with either side, because they split their votes between the pairs. If they want, they can go with the winner and their ally for a 4-1 advantage in the next round, or they could both support the isolated ally of the person who lost. It's a power move for the people in the middle.
As for the fire challenge itself, everything we know from the show points to Chappies winning, assuming he doesn't win immunity first. He's an obvious target if he doesn't win the IC, but he's already won a fire-making challenge, way back in the first episode. He also has plenty of practice from his late-night rice-and-seafood feasts. It's a dangerous risk for anyone else to take on Chappies in firemaking, but the magic of the fire idol is: They don't get to choose, Nicole does.
Anyway, as long Nicole can ensure that the two main targets next episode are one each from the Tyson-Kiran and Chappies-Santoni pairs, it's in her best interest to play the fire idol and start turning those pairs into solo players. (In retrospect, it's disappointing that Santoni didn't end up with the fire idol last week, given her predilection for targeting pairs.)
Fire Idol firemaking >>>> final four firemaking.
- A charmed path: Nicole may be one of the luckiest people ever to play Survivor. She attended Tribal Council just twice in the pre-merge (one of those times because both tribes had to attend, and she got to eat). She has so far received all but one pre-merge reward, and all but one post-merge reward. She purchased a covered item at the auction that gave her a share of every other item. And in what may have been the final Immunity Island trip, she wound up with what is notoriously the easiest puzzle in Survivor history (above). And if she somehow reaches the final two? The jury already contains four of her former tribemates, three of whom were close allies. If she's in a final two against Santoni or Chappies (who are unlikely to get votes from Wardah or Tyson), that could turn into a near-unanimous victory, especially if she uses her fire idol to make a late-game move in front of the jury. (Nicole voice:) Yay!
- Quote of the week: Chappies, at the grand opening of the Chappies Diner: "At the reward today, I ate sweets. I don't see that necessarily as nutritional food. But I would have loved to have some protein, or some carbohydrates, at least." (Note: Candy is almost 100% sugar, which is a carbohydrate.)
- Sigh: I guess Tribal was entertaining-ish, but I would prefer a little less actual hostility and personal attacks, and a lot more gameplay. Less Ep12, more Ep11. Chastising people for lack of "respect" (as Chappies did to Tyson), calling people disgusting (as Wardah did to Chappies), and so on ... that's not fun to watch. Nico's response to this agitated grievance-fest at Tribal was the correct one: This is a game, it's your pretend society, you guys more or less make the rules. If you don't like what Chappies did, vote him out. If he gets to the finals and you still don't like it, don't vote for him to win. That's kind of the point of the game. Chappies has done some intentionally irritating things, sure, but he's also saved a couple of people from drowning. Hoarding/stealing food is never a great idea for anyone in this game, but come on, people, use the tools you have and play the game, don't play the refs. (Although Chappies yelling out "Operation Destiny" as his voting confessional was pretty funny.)
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