A Fake Merge is a game-changing twist, where the remaining contestants are led to believe they are merging tribes, however, in reality, they are not.
In the first four seasons of Survivor, a merge happened when there were only ten contestants remaining. In the fifth season, Survivor: Thailand, this fact left contestants assuming of its advent and prematurely devising strategies and schemes they would use once they merge, completely forgetting that the game of Survivor is always in a state of change. Introduced after two consecutive seasons with tribe switches, the fake merge became a key plot in its debut season.
Returning in Survivor 41, the cast was made openly aware of the fake merge. Jeff Probst informed the final twelve contestants that they would have to "earn" their way into the merge; by winning the first team challenge, they would have immunity at the first Tribal Council of the individual phase and thus be guaranteed entry into the jury phase. Probst has expressed that this format will likely hold for seasons in the foreseeable future.
The fake merge twist originated in Survivor: Thailand. On Day 19, the contestants met the host Jeff Probst, who divided the ten remaining contestants into five pairs, each having one member from Chuay Gahn and one member from Sook Jai. One pair was instructed to visit both tribe camps and decide which one was better. The contestants were then instructed to migrate to the Chuay Gahn camp. The ten remaining castaways were under the assumption that the tribes had merged, and immediately created their tribe name "Chuay Jai". One Sook Jai member, Shii Ann Huang even went far as plotting with the Chuay Gahn members. Two days later, the tribes met Probst at the following Immunity Challenge, where he stated that the tribes were not yet merged. The two tribes were merely living in co-existence, but had yet to officially merge. Sook Jai lost, and they immediately disposed of Huang for her premature scheming.
The tribes eventually merged with eight castaways remaining: five from Chuay Gahn and three from Sook Jai.
Though this was possibly unintentional, at the final ten, everyone was expecting a merge. Instead, a tribe switch occurred. The merge came three days later.
In Survivor: Fiji, the ten remaining contestants met on Exile Island and found a box containing ten purple buffs and a note telling them that they were merged into one tribe. They all subsequently returned to the Moto camp.
At the following challenge, they drew rocks to divide into two teams for the challenge. The winning team would win a barbecue feast back at camp and be exempt from attending Tribal Council. After the challenge, the losing team of Dreamz Herd, Mookie Lee, Stacy Kimball, Alex Angarita, and Michelle Yi went to Tribal Council where Michelle was voted off and became the third member of the jury.
Unlike the other seasons on this list, the tribes actually did merge, but played the following round as if they had not merged.
In Survivor: Gabon, the Fang and Kota tribes convened for what they thought was a merge. They were treated to a feast which included a clue to a Hidden Immunity Idol. Marcus Lehman convinced everyone to dig up the idol and throw it into the ocean. After the feast, they read a note which revealed that there would be no merge; instead, there would be a second tribe switch. The new Kota tribe would go on to lose the Immunity Challenge and Marcus was voted out.
The tribes merged on Day 27.
Heroes vs. Villains
In Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains, there was no intention for an early merge or fake merge. However, the Villains tribe misunderstood their Tree Mail and thought that the Reward Challenge on Day 19 was a merge feast. The Villains even packed their whole camp to the challenge, thinking that they would merge and move to a new beach. At the Reward Challenge, Jeff Probst clarified that the tribes were not to be merged and would compete against each other as a normal challenge with the pizza feast being the reward, which was ultimately won by the Heroes.
The tribes merged on Day 25.
In Survivor 41, the final twelve contestants were told they had to "earn" their way into the merge by competing in a team Immunity Challenge; the winning team would be granted "entry" into the merge, winning the merge feast and immunity at the final twelve Tribal Council. The castaways were split into two teams of five, with Erika Casupanan and Naseer Muttalif sitting out. The blue team won the challenge and made the choice to send Erika to Exile Island, where she was faced with the Hourglass twist. She broke the hourglass, reversing the results of the team challenge and forcing the winners to instead compete in an individual Immunity Challenge to guarantee their safety. Following the Tribal Council on Night 14 where Sydney Segal was voted out, Jeff Probst formally declared the remaining castaways "merged". The tribe formally christened themselves "Viakana" the next day on Day 15.
Similar to the previous season, in Survivor 42, the final twelve contestants were told they had to "earn" their way into the merge by competing in a team Immunity Challenge; the winning team would be granted "entry" into the merge. After the orange team chose to share their reward with Lindsay Dolashewich, Rocksroy Bailey was sent to Exile Island, where he received (and accepted) the opportunity to reverse the challenge outcomes by virtue of the Hourglass twist. Stripped of their team immunity, the orange team and Lindsay then competed in an individual Immunity Challenge. On Night 14, Lydia Meredith was voted out, after which the jury phase commenced and Jeff Probst declared the final eleven castaways "merged". The next day, the tribe named themselves "Kula Kula".
In seasons subsequent to Thailand, the possibility of a merge has occasionally led to late tribe switches as a twist, thus delaying the actual merger.