The New Era of 'Survivor' Seems to Make the "Mergatory" a Mainstay

Beware advantages. Shots in the dark. The “mergatory.” The New Era of 'Survivor' is full of new twists and turns.

Jamie Lerner - Author

Apr. 4 2024, Published 9:06 a.m. ET

'Survivor 46' players during mergeatory
Source: CBS

Every season of Survivor hits a turning point at the merge when a game of tribes becomes individual. In Survivor 46, that turning point came in Episode 6 during the “mergatory,” a limbo between the official merge and the tribal portion of the game. In the New Era, the mergatory has become a tradition, but it wasn’t always like that.

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For old-school Survivor fans just picking up the show again after years of watching, this part of the game might be a bit confusing. Since the mergatory has now happened for the sixth time in a row, host Jeff Probst didn’t give it as much explanation as he normally does. But don’t worry! We’re here to explain what the mergatory is.

'Survivor 46' players before mergatory rock draw
Source: CBS
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The “Mergatory” is a phase of ‘Survivor’ in between the team and individual phases of the game.

If you think of Survivor as having two phases — the tribes and the individual phases — the “mergatory” falls somewhere in between. It actually didn’t get its name from the Survivor producers but from the players who felt “stuck” in it, often credited to Season 41 player Tiffany Seely. It’s a mashup between “the merge” and “purgatory” symbolizing this phase that’s essentially a limbo in the game.

In every season of Survivor before Season 41, when players were told to “drop their buffs,” it was either because of a tribe swap or a full merge. They would almost always get a new buff (the exception being players sent to Exile Island in a couple of seasons). But in the New Era, when the castaways drop their buffs, they don’t automatically get a new one.

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'Survivor 46' mergatory rock draw
Source: CBS

Instead, castaways are split into two temporary “teams” via a random rock draw to compete against one another in an immunity challenge. Whichever team wins the challenge also wins immunity in the next Tribal Council, during which all remaining players of the game vote. In addition, there’s typically one player left over, who has the option to side with whichever team they think will win and therefore stick with them, win or lose.

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So, for example, in Survivor 46, Tiffany chose correctly and sided with the winning team. Seven players were immune and six were vulnerable at Tribal Council, but all 13 were able to cast a vote (unless they previously lost their vote through a disadvantage). After the voted-out player was eliminated, the remaining five “vulnerable” castaways got their buffs and officially joined the merge.

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The “mergatory” is a controversial aspect of the New Era of ‘Survivor.’

According to Jeff, players now need to “earn the merge.” Many have argued that this is silly — players already earn the merge by getting to that point in the game. But podcaster Rob Cesternino argues on RHAP that the “mergatory” is a version of a tribe swap. In older seasons, the merge doesn’t typically come until there are only 10 players left, although that was increased to 12 players in certain seasons.

Often before the merge, tribes would swap from three tribes to two tribes for one or two episodes. This would often create new dynamics in the challenges and in Tribal Council. The “mergatory” is essentially just a version of this, except that all players have a say in who goes home.

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But it does create some unfair dynamics. For instance, only the team that wins the challenge gets to actually enjoy the Merge Feast, which used to be a milestone for many Survivor players. This also sets them up with more calories and energy for future challenges in the individual portion of the game. In addition, the winning team, which is typically a majority because of the random seventh person who can often correctly predict who will win, has much more power in the vote, which can decide the direction of the game.

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At least it’s not as bad as the Season 41 and 42 hourglass twist, officially called the “Change History Advantage.” In those seasons, the mergatory came with an additional twist in which an extra player was sent to Exile Island and had the option to turn back time by smashing an hourglass. In doing so, the team that lost would then be given immunity. But players and fans were so upset by this unfair twist of fate that it was removed from subsequent seasons.

Now that we’re six seasons into the mergatory, are we accustomed to it? Or is it still a twist that should go to Ghost Island, along with the hourglass twist, the Medallion of Power, and several other Survivor twists that should never again see the light of day?

New episodes of Survivor air every Wednesday at 8 p.m. EST on CBS.

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