A merge (alternatively referred to as a merger in early seasons) is the coming together of the two or more competing tribes into a single tribe. This means that the tribes will now live as one in one camp until the end of the game (Day 39 in most seasons and Day 42 in The Australian Outback). This also signals the game's halfway point and typically is near the start of the jury phase.
The initial merged tribe can contain anywhere from 8 to 13 members. Since Nicaragua, there has been a clear tendency to merge with at least 11 castaways remaining, as opposed to the first twenty seasons which did so only once.
The merge signals the halfway point of the game as it often takes place during days 19-20 or thereabout. It is where the castaways will live as one new tribe until the final day of the competition. Once merged, they will receive a blank tribe banner (with a new color), new buffs, and poster paint (as they will be painting their banner). They would also have to christen a name for the new tribe. From this point forward, the game shifts from a team-effort competition into an individual game, although some challenges would still be team challenges. The Final Two or Three would then face the jury on the last day of the competition at the Final Tribal Council, where the jury decides who will be the Sole Survivor.
Determining the Camp
Determining the merged tribe campsite varies almost each season. While the tribes convene for the merge, the migrating tribe(s) will immediately relocate to the chosen tribe's camp, while their personal items, such as rewards, luxury items, and remaining supplies are moved to the new camp. This happens when the tribes compete in a challenge, where the Survivor Production Team ships the items of the tribe(s) moving to the new camp. Sometimes, the camp of the starting tribe that was most dominant in challenges becomes the merged tribe camp, though this is not always the case.
In most seasons, the tribes pick which camp they would like to live in. This decision mostly depends on tribes' living conditions (e.g. having more food sources, more livable shelter, etc.). For example, during Thailand, the Sook Jai tribe, who created their own shelter, moved to the Chuay Gahn campsite, because they had a cave as their natural shelter.
In other cases, the producers determine the campsite, choosing any of the existing camps, usually to the tribe with more members at the time of the merge (as seen in Gabon, where the host told the new tribe to move to the old Fang camp) without any input from the contestants, or a totally new one (as seen in The Australian Outback, The Amazon, and Redemption Island, where the new tribe moved to an untouched beach).
In All-Stars, the Chapera and Mogo Mogo tribes merged at the old Saboga camp (which was dismantled long before the merge). The items they left at the old Chapera and Mogo Mogo camps were not moved to the new camp. This style also occurred in Philippines, when the Kalabaw and Tandang tribes merged and moved to the dismantled Matsing camp.
Due to the nature of the merge, the game shifts from a team effort to an individual affair. Certain post-merge challenges, usually for reward, may see the tribe temporarily divided up into two or more teams, with one of these teams winning the challenge.
Loved Ones Challenge
Strategy on the merged tribe differs from pre-merge strategy, as jury management and strategic voting start to take hold around this point.
- The Pagonging strategy is where the majority tribe comes together as one alliance and systematically votes out each member of the minority tribe. This strategy is named after the Pagong tribe from Borneo, the first victim of the strategy.
Ways of Merging
Over the years, there have been several ways of merging the tribes:
- "Summits:" In Borneo and Marquesas, one member from both tribes will convene for a "summit," where they enjoy a feast, while discussing the pros and cons of both tribe camps, under the premise that they will decide which of the two camps they will reside at for the rest of the game. The two would also receive a new tribe banner, some poster paint, and new buffs. After deciding the tribe camp they felt was the more livable one, the two representatives will then proceed to the tribe whose camp was not chosen, where they will fetch the contestants who live there, after which, they will proceed to the other tribe's camp.
- Night-Out: In The Australian Outback, the remaining players were segregated by gender, with the males staying at the Kucha camp, while the females spent a day at the Ogakor camp. The two groups then convened at a new camp, where their new supplies await.
- Before a Challenge: The host signals a merge right before the contestants were subjected to their first post-merge challenge.
- Immediate Migration: In a more straightforward way of merging, one tribe will receive a Tree Mail that instructs them to move to the other tribe's camp. In Guatemala, after a Tribal Council, the Yaxhá tribe was instructed to go to the Nakúm camp for the remainder of the game. In One World, both tribes went to a Joint Tribal Council where both tribes merged at the end of the Tribal Council, and were instructed go to the original One World beach for the remainder of the game.
- After a Redemption Island duel: This type of merge happens in seasons with the Redemption Island twist. The person who wins the duel when the merge is announced gets to go back in the game. This has happened in every season containing the Redemption Island twist: Redemption Island, South Pacific, and Blood vs. Water. A variation of this was used in Edge of Extinction and Winners at War where the tribes were merged before it was revealed that an additional castaway would be re-entering the game from the Edge of Extinction. The remaining castaways then proceeded to spectate the re-entry duel, with the winner officially joining the merged tribe.
See Fake Merge.
A Fake Merge is a game-changing twist, where the remaining contestants are led to believe that they are merging tribes, however, in reality, they are not.
There was one instance where no merge occurred due to a tribe being reduced to one member. In Palau, Koror completely dominated and never lost an Immunity Challenge, decimating the Ulong tribe until one sole member, Stephenie LaGrossa, remained on that tribe. Stephenie was absorbed by Koror on Day 22, after which the individual portion of the game commenced. Therefore, no merge occurred at all this season.
- Nobag is the merged tribe that existed for the shortest amount of time, lasting from Day 27 until Day 39.
- The most frequent merged tribe color is black, with 14 seasons featuring black merged tribes.
- Chuay Jai is the smallest merged tribe, with 8 members.
- Vata is the largest merged tribe, and largest tribe in general, with 14 members.
- Palau is the only season to have no merge, as the Ulong tribe was "conquered" with their final member absorbed into Koror.
- On the merge flag, members usually put the tribe name and names of the members and sometimes a picture.
- The members of the Rattana tribe painted the Borneo logo on their flag.
- The members of the Chuay Jai tribe, along with putting the merged name on their flag, put the name of the location within Thailand in which they were playing, Tarutao.
- Gitanos was the first and only merged tribe to paint their flag in a portrait-type fashion.