As hoped, the Survivor SA: Immunity Island merge delivered a tense, idol- and advantage-filled conflagration at Tribal Council, and a genuinely exciting outcome, as the ragtag Vuna alliance deployed a series of moves to seize the numbers advantage from the uncrackable Zambas. In a deceptively complicated move, Kiran and Anesu collaborated to send idol king Tyson to Immunity Island, allowing him to both protect Wardah and correctly play his second idol, saving his (sort-of) ally Chappies, and sending Marisha, a strong physical threat from the opposing Zamba alliance, to the jury.
The Vuna minority alliance succeeded despite Anela playing his vote steal, er, "Tribal insurance" advantage to prevent Chappies from voting. They succeeded despite Renier playing his idol for Nicole (which presumably was based on some suspicion someone had placed with the Zambas). It was a massive move that turned a 6-6 tie (allegedly 7-5, with Anesu pretending to side with the Zambas) into a 6-5 Vuna edge.
Most importantly, it was a move that just an episode earlier
seemed unlikely, simply because the Vunas didn't appear to be
particularly united. Chappies' only real ally was Santoni. Anesu
had been separated from Tyson, Kiran, Wardah, and Santoni by the
various swaps. But somehow, they worked together, came up with a
plan, and it all worked, in one of the most rewarding merge
episodes in Survivor history.
So many idols
This episode started with an idol find, and ended with a flurry of them being played. Perhaps the most heartbreaking part for Marisha: She's the one who both found AND knocked down the Vuna idol at the start. It's just that Renier, who was "helping," grabbed it first after it fell. To be fair, Marisha probably would have played it for Nicole if she had asked, and the result would have been the same. But it still has to sting a bit to have had the means of your salvation so close to within your grasp.
There's also the reverse situation with Chappies here, as Chappies very publicly searches for an idol, comes up short, then is given one at Tribal Council, right when he needs it. At the merge feast, Chappies is peeking under plates, looking beneath the table, desperately trying to find an idol. As the helpful camera operators note, there was indeed one there (well, probably a clue, at least), tucked beneath the table holding the wine and other beverages. Poor Chappies, however, seems to lose track of his mission as soon as he spots the wine, partaking of it, rather than looking beneath the table. Then he spends the rest of the episode fruitlessly following a fake series of clues in camp that Anela planted for him. Oh well. But then he's saved at Tribal by an idol anyway, thanks to Tyson.
Zamba's terrible sales pitch and Vuna's alliance of necessity
It's easy to credit idols with bringing about the outcome of the merge vote, and they were indeed a key part of it, but more than anything, the collective actions of the original Zambas drove the Vunas to re-group and oppose them.
We see a couple of instances where people like Marisha and Nicole reassuring Santoni that she doesn't have to worry, she won't be the target right away. The Zambas, you see, are planning to simply Pagong the entire Vuna contingent, then start actually playing once the only players left are the Zamba six. (This was the plan at least for *some* of them, like Anela, Marisha, and Nicole, possibly Shaun. It's unclear if Renier or Amy were really planning to go through with that.)
As Santoni objects in confessional, this is a terrible approach to the merge: It's patronizing. It tells the Vunas, "Tough luck, we have the numbers. Just wait politely to be voted out. You'll still get to sleep in the rain in our shelter for a little bit!" (The most puzzling part of all this: Where was this overconfidence coming from? They were tied, 6-6! Were they really *that* sure Anesu and/or Santoni was with them?)
This stonewalling approach has the effect of galvanizing the Vunas, who had hit the merge otherwise not particularly fond of each other. Wardah and Chappies don't particularly get along. Santoni and Wardah only recently made peace. Tyson and Kiran had considered getting rid of Santoni, and were never all that close to Chappies. But faced with this immovable, inflexible Zamba voting bloc, they really have no choice: It's either work together, or get voted out.
Obviously, because Anela could steal one of the Vuna votes, to overcome those six votes, a correct idol play was necessary, but they executed it perfectly. At its core: Vuna (perhaps from a kernel of truth) performed brilliantly in convincing the Zambas that they were happy to vote out Chappies.
Another aspect that really assisted the execution was that almost all the Vunas had some form of immunity. The Zambas thought Anesu and Santoni were with them (Anesu actually followed through and voted Chappies, it's unclear if they knew Santoni would not). Kiran had the necklace he won in the immunity challenge, and following Kiran's plan, Tyson bequeathed the Immunity Island necklace to Wardah. That left just Chappies and Tyson exposed. The Zambas were aware Tyson had an idol, and everyone was saying they wanted to vote out Chappies. So it made sense to target Chappies. Why vote for Tyson when there was a danger he would play his idol? Especially not when everyone was saying they wanted Chappies out!
The added benefit of this: The Vunas/Tyson could be sure they needed to play the idol for Chappies. (It helped that Santoni and Anesu were in on the Zamba plan.) So many moving parts, but all pointing to the same outcome: Playing an idol on Chappies, and idoling out the Zamba of their choice ... in this case, Marisha.
Even with Renier having an idol and being willing to play it on an alliance member (which the Vunas didn't know about?), Renier had a mere 1-in-6 chance of being right. (The Vunas, for example, could easily have punished Anela for using the vote steal against them, and that also would have worked.) Far worse odds than the Vuna's near-100% certainty that votes were coming Chappies' way.
In the end, thanks to some clever planning, Vuna had probability on their side, and then they had the numbers.
Looking forward: Vuna majority, or something else?
The first post-merge vote leaves Vuna nominally with a 6-5 lead over Zamba, and all the previously held idols and advantages have now been flushed and are theoretically back in circulation. The numbers advantage assumes Anesu is actually with the Vuna majority (why wouldn't she be, at least for this one round?), and that the Wardah-Chappies detente can last for at least one more round. Alternatively, a new majority could plausibly form by mixing and matching various groups from both tribes.
The latter scenario has a bit of support in this episode. Renier is still actively working both sides, and was shown doing so with Santoni and Anesu, who are sort of doing the same. He has a (fake?) alliance with Chappies. He's worked closely with Tyson and Kiran. With Marisha gone and Zamba in the minority, Renier's secret ally Amy may also be more amenable to trying something new. A Renier/Amy + Santoni/Anesu core only needs two more people to have the majority. There are a lot of potential free agents around, as well (Wardah? Shaun? Kiran and Tyson?) Chappies would undoubtedly be overjoyed to work with anyone who'll have him.
Despite all that, it seems too early for wholesale splintering of the merge episode's alliances based on original tribes. That's because it's hard to imagine any scenario where the Vunas would fight this hard to seize the majority, only to forfeit that on the very next round by doing something dumb, like voting out Chappies.
So instead, in the immediate future a lot depends on things that are not yet known: Will anyone find another idol? Which side will win immunity, and who gets sent to Immunity Island? Do you send one of your own, hoping for a useful advantage? Or do you send someone vulnerable from the other side, in the hopes they'll stay and play, losing their vote? Whatever happens, there are enough self-interested, game-aware players left here that it seems unlikely we'll have a simple, boring Pagonging, like the Zambas were planning.
- Anela sends Chappies on a futile idol chase: This was a really fun side-story. It didn't lead to any major, game-shifting outcome, but it helped provide some light entertainment amidst the heavy tribe-vs-tribe strategic maneuvering. This is why you let people keep their paperwork! And Chappies was the perfect target for Anela's trick: both absolutely desperate for something with which to save himself, and probably a good enough to sport to chuckle and wave his fist in futility once he found out he'd been hoodwinked.
- Tyson's idol wizardry: With two idol plays this season, now totalling a whopping 11 votes voided, Tyson has now erased more votes than any other Survivor player in a single season, or even in a full Survivor career ... with the exception of Kelley Wentworth, who holds both titles, with 12. But that means Tyson has a shot to tie or even surpass that total if he finds another idol. Either way, he's the most successful male idol player at voiding votes.
- Putting the IC in context: Tyson, Anesu, and "Get a Grip" champion Kiran all lasted over three hours. Kiran's winning time, according to Nico, was 3.5 hours. To put that in historical perspective, Ozzy won in Cook Islands in 2 hours, 15 minutes. In Heroes vs. Villains, Candice and Parvati stepped down at 1 hr, 35 min to let Danielle win. That's the amount of time it took Tai to win (over Ozzy) in Game Changers. None of the other US Survivor renditions went much over an hour. So these three ex-Vunas indeed put in an impressive amount of effort. (Although Matt Tarrant reports that in SurvivorAU 2016, Brooke and Kylie lasted 6 hours!)
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