We finally get to peer inside the post-swap Vuna tribe during Episode 5 of Survivor SA: Immunity Island, and what we learn is that despite two full episodes to bond, the outnumbered original Vunas (Anesu, Kiran, and Tyson) and old Zamba outcast Thoriso are all still on the bottom of the power structure. Unlike the similarly outnumbered original Zambas (plus Santoni) on post-swap Zamba, however, these four don't really work together to drive a wedge into an ex-Zamba crack, but rather each scramble semi-independently to keep their own head off the chopping block.
What follows is basically four separate stories that barely intersect, or at best join then split apart, with the three original Vunas loosely collaborating with, then actively working against Thoriso. Technically that's still whittling down the ex-Zamba numbers, but not really in a productive way, since it leaves a 5-3 majority intact, instead of forcing the split into the three groups we saw on post-swap Zamba.
The Vuna stories all present interesting contrasts to the successful path Amy (and Shaun and Anela) and Santoni took at Zamba, one that continues to proceed as expected this episode. There, the plan Santoni announced in Episode 4 — to break up the Carla and Wardah pair — is carried out exactly as expected. There's not a lot of suspense there, so let's look instead at what the various Vuna tactics achieved. Like the Amy/Shaun/Anela trio, all three original Vunas came through their first post-swap Tribal unscathed, and Kiran and Tyson were even the only Vunas who voted for the person booted. But it remains an open question which, if any, of these attempts will be successful in the long run.
The escape artist: Anesu goes to Immunity Island
This episode featured a staple mechanism for when both tribes must attend Tribal Council: A reward challenge where the winning tribe votes first, then gets to devour a feast while observing the hapless losing tribe's Tribal Council proceedings. But Survivor SA threw in an outstanding wrinkle here: There was a *separate* challenge (doing the exact same thing, balancing rice) where the participants were very publicly abandoning the chance for a tribe reward to instead play for an individual payoff, a trip to Immunity Island.
It wasn't particularly surprising to see Thoriso compete in the latter option. She'd been at the bottom of the old Zamba tribe's hierarchy, and could tell she hadn't made much headway since the swap. So it made sense to play for the chance at guaranteed safety. In contrast, it was a bit of a shock to see Anesu also playing for a trip to I.I. Anesu, whose social skills had made her part of seemingly every alliance on original Vuna, now hoping for the safety of the I.I. necklace. Thanks, random swap.
If anything, Anesu's desperation is a pretty solid sign that maybe there really were no useful cracks to be found in the ex-Zamba alliance. Nothing obvious that anyone could exploit, anyway. So it shouldn't reflect poorly on Thoriso or the original Vunas that two full episodes later, they were still in the same predicament they'd found themselves in immediately after the swap.
Still, in opting to go to Immunity Island, Anesu is also visibly abandoning Kiran and Tyson for the rest of the episode, leaving them to fend for themselves. Tyson has an idol, sure, but that leaves Kiran completely exposed. Again, the original Vunas were probably all aware that things looked grim for their forced trip to Tribal, so maybe Kiran and Tyson won't hold Anesu's vacation against her, but that's something we'll have to see play out over the next few episodes.
Once at Immunity Island, Anesu makes the most of her visit: Winning a "Tribal Council Pass," which appears to be the fully powered version Luke Toki used to great effect in SurvivorAU, and not the half-measure version Jeremy Collins had in Winners at War. Anesu's pass lets her send herself or someone of her choosing back to camp, safe from and unable to participate in the vote, once Nico announces it's time to vote. This item *could* be really useful in the next vote: If she, Tyson, and Kiran can convince just one ex-Zamba (Dino? Qieän?) to vote with them, that would allow them to turn a 4-4 tie vote into a 4-3 victory. It's active until seven are left, so there may also be other opportunities.
Or Anesu could just use it to escape a vote, herself, again. Hopefully she'll opt for the more long-lasting, alliance-strengthening effects of the other scenario, though. Much depends on how her return to Vuna camp is received.
Tyson and the semi-secret idol play
On balance, Tyson's gambit with his idol probably bought him about as much trust/social capital as it could. He'd already potentially burned some trust with the Zambas by letting Thoriso use his idol parchment to fool Dino and Renier, so had he not revealed the idol to *someone* before playing it, there would have been a fair amount of blowback, especially once the ex-Zambas realized Thoriso had been using his paperwork.
From Renier's confessionals, it sounded Tyson's big reveal legitimately created some trust, as Kiran had predicted. But will it be enough that something can grow out of Thoriso being idoled out?
That's unclear. Tyson talks about having been excluded from all the new Vuna strategy discussions, some of which Kiran participated in himself. Maybe the new connection with Renier can be Tyson's bridge back into the tribe's good graces. Maybe Kiran's increasing acceptance by the ex-Zambas can also help. Maybe Anesu's calming presence can help the tribe re-unify. Maybe Tyson can just find himself another idol. Of the three original Vunas, though, Tyson feels like the one most on the outside of the current Vuna tribe.
Kiran's big, self-sacrificing move
Even more daring than Tyson begging people to vote for him was Kiran doing the same thing, while having no idol with which to protect himself. Kiran proposed, as a test of trust, that the ex-Zambas keep their voting plans the same, with a split between Kiran and Tyson (while he and Tyson vote Thoriso), but that they pile enough votes on Tyson so that if he does play an idol, the remaining votes against Kiran and Thoriso would then be tied. The ex-Zambas would see that Kiran had been straight-up with them, while Thoriso had lied, and could vote her out.
It was a tricky move, and relied on the majority following through and *not* splitting their votes 3-3. None of them were apparently aware that Thoriso was stuck with her "no vote" disadvantage, so that was a variable that could have screwed things up, and had Thoriso been told to vote Tyson, they could have ended up at 3 votes Kiran, 2 votes on Tyson (both voided by his idol), 2 votes Thoriso. So Kiran's plea to receive just two votes here (the number he was sure he could match with his and Tyson's votes) was a good move.
Kiran view of this as a trust-building measure seems like it should be accurate. By putting himself at potential risk, it's a path similar to the one Dino seems to have taken to move inside the ex-Zamba majority. If Kiran and Tyson are both tight with Renier, that could create a second solid New Vuna core, one that could potentially try to break up the Nicole/Marisha pair. (Although breaking up Tyson/Kiran seems more likely, especially now they don't have an idol.)
All of these moves were obviously done in Anesu's absence, so it's unclear where this all leaves her. But for Tyson and Kiran, despite both of them receiving votes at Tribal, their scrambling appears to have worked, at least for now.
Thoriso, Qieän, Dino and the disparate paths of the Zamba outsiders
Thoriso went out swinging, for sure. Before Tribal, Thoriso was well aware that the idol clue bluff at best might only protect her for this one Tribal, and that she'd be done for after that, pretty much. It was all or nothing. That desperation sits in stark contrast with Dino's and Qieän's relatively quiet movement into the ex-Zamba majority's good graces over the past two episodes. That does raise the question: If Thoriso had just relaxed and gone along with a basic Tyson/Kiran split-vote plan, would that have served her better? (Was one ever on offer? It's confusing.)
It's hard to say for sure, because it's not clear how far in the past the "Previously On..." scene where she pledged to work with Tyson took place. Trying to leverage the idol parchment was a good idea, although why didn't Thoriso try to flesh it out a bit more with a fake idol, as well? None of the original Zambas had seen an idol yet, so theoretically, the parchment could greatly add to the perceived authenticity of a fake idol. Meanwhile, in practice, the parchment by itself obviously just raised questions of why Thoriso didn't have the idol with her. A swing, but perhaps not one with the optimal mechanics.
Maybe the bridges to Dino/Renier/Nicole, etc. had been burned long before the idol parchment ruse, though. Or at least long before it became clear that both tribes would be visiting Tribal Council this episode. Either way, at that point, Thoriso's decision to compete for an Immunity Island trip probably was her best available shot at self-preservation, even if it did engender doubt that she really did have an idol. (Actual challenge performance also notwithstanding.)
After that attempt also failed, she was really kind of stuck. If she stays with Tyson and Kiran, they're hopelessly outnumbered, 5-2, and her "no vote" parchment adds nothing to any vote-split-thwarting scenario they could concoct. At that point, her best bet would have been to stay Zamba strong, but the ex-Zambas had long since established that they didn't trust her and that she in turn did not trust them. So Thoriso really had nowhere to go. Thoriso's last-ditch bluff at Tribal that she really did have an idol, she wasn't going to show anyone, and that they could believe her or face the consequences was well-acted, but ultimately fell short. It was a good try (but again, would have benefited from a fake idol to support it).
The contrast to Dino and Qieän here is quite acute. Dino worked tirelessly since the swap to endear himself to the ex-Zamba core, participating in the camp raid, volunteering for the Hero Challenge, then making team-oriented, selfless choices at the subsequent Fresh Stop reward (with Marisha as his witness). He wants them to think of him as loyal and trustworthy, despite his rash earlier self-oriented decisions, like the Day 1 necklace grab. And it seems to be working. We haven't seen much of post-swap Qieän, but she somehow appears to have done the same, drawing herself closer to the ex-Zamba core.
The downside of all this, from Thoriso and the original Vuna trio's perspective, is that Dino and Qieän now appear to be unflippable. Rather than the fluid, pendulum-like situation on post-swap Zamba, where the outnumbered minority group has happily pitted warring original-tribe factions against each other, the post-swap Vuna tribe appears to be a monolith, one run by a rigid, impenetrable ex-Zamba majority.
That's why everyone was scrambling separately, because there was clearly nothing to be gained by joining together with inferior numbers. Sometimes there are no good moves that can really be made, and surviving another round by whatever means necessary is the best possible outcome.
- Stop, stop! He's already dead! Poor Chappies is already alliance-less, outnumbered, and picking up stray votes as the decoy target on Zamba. Was it really necessary to finish him off symbolically with the classic kiss-of-death shot (fire is life, and water quenches fire) of getting clobbered by a wave?
- Cramming in the exposition: This was the second episode in which the "Previously On..." segment just introduced a plot point that hadn't previously been shown (Tyson actively working with Thoriso). The focus on Zamba in the two previous episodes probably didn't leave room for that to be shown earlier, so on balance it's fine, I guess, to pre-load it into the episode where it's relevant. Still, it's always unsettling as a viewer to wonder if maybe you missed an episode.
- Best take award: The back-and-forth of various short-lived plans on Vuna is really difficult to follow. (Was the scene with Qieän leaking the vote split plan to Tyson shown on the wrong day? It doesn't seem to fit.) At various points in the episode, Dino, Renier, and Nicole all say they believe Thoriso has an idol. Marisha seems to flat-out reject the idea, so hers is probably the best overall read. But perhaps the most nuanced, game-aware take is Renier's, where he wonders whether maybe she either doesn't have an idol, or "can't use it." Had Thoriso received a half-idol at Immunity Island, one that required her to survive at least one Tribal Council unprotected (as in Edge of Extinction, for example), that would make sense, and might explain why she would only briefly flash (part of) the paperwork. It's a reminder of just how many crazy variables people have to consider these days.
- Mutiny time is running out: Chappies earned the Diplomatic Immunity bracelet way back on Day 2. It's now Day 13. There is still at least one, probably two, perhaps even three chances for him to use it, on himself or (so he claims) someone else before the merge. Will we see that happen? If it was never used, it would have been relatively easy to chop it out of the premiere episode (although then we also wouldn't have context for Tyson's suspicion of Chappies after he returned from the Hero RC). Chappies is in about the most mutiny-inducing position he's been this game: still far outside the numbers on his tribe, even if Santoni doesn't seem that eager to boot him. Still, you have to think with the merge inching ever closer, people will start to want to take out individual challenge threats fairly soon. So maybe mutiny makes sense? The optimal time to use it is the last Tribal before the merge. Will he use it? Correctly?
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