A big difference between Australian Survivor and U.S. Survivor is how a story is told. When Australian Survivor first returned, the story seemed like it was moving at a snail’s pace, but as time has gone by and the editing has been fine-tuned, the show has allowed for the majority of castaways to become fleshed out characters. A week following the back to back eliminations of two major characters, I barely remember their impact when I’m watching King Grub, Shonella, Lynch Pin Monika and the Triple S Alliance battle it out to be the Sole Survivor. Challenge queen Lydia, everyone’s least favourite giant Zach, and Rubik’s cube world champion Jackie are mere memories.
The ability to go in depth into each castaway is a double-edged sword, however, as for every castaway that is a shining light, there is a shadow. The previously rootable Sharn and Shane now seem bitter in the face of adversity. Both lack ability to use bonds they have made prior or to establish new ones and I don’t see much evidence of them even trying to with anyone aside from Monika – even then it isn’t until after the immunity challenge that Sharn sees fit to approach Monika and butter her up in an attempt to form a bond. The Triple S Alliance (Shane, Sharn and Steve) have shifted from the nucleus of a dominant alliance to having to scrap their way to find a foothold in the game. Meanwhile, Shonella, the perpetual underdogs giggling their way through the game, has become a power duo and a guaranteed pair of votes for any alliance.
This week has presented the original Champions in a new light: instead of steamrolling through the game oozing love and light, each of them now shows a villainous side. Sharn denotes the Triple S alliance as ‘the good side’ and continues to use this moniker throughout the episode, most notably to try and flip Miss Universe Australia back to her side. Survivor rarely goes by without the formation of ‘sides’ in the game. They are almost necessary to advance in the game, and they facilitate drama for the viewers. What is not necessary is for the sides to be given a label such as ‘good.’ In a game like Survivor, there is no basis for what is good versus what is bad. Everybody has the same goal to get to the end as we are continually reminded throughout this episode by Jonathan and castaways alike.
The episode opens with the aftermath of tribal council and Steve’s newly anointed role as Dead Man Walking. Sharn, Steve and Shane talk to Monika about what has just happened. Monika is visibly emotional and questioning her decision out loud. Monika herself is unsure about her choice but is trying to put emotion aside and play in a way to serve herself well going forward, something she is forthright in explaining to Shane and Sharn. Sharn (and to a lesser extent Shane) tell her that she is being ‘played’ by Brian and are trying to exploit her emotions by laying the guilt trip on thick instead of being a pillar of support for her in this emotional time.
Neither Sharn or Shane seemed to work particularly hard to cultivate an alliance with Monika up until this point. Shonella, who have seen ally after ally eliminated, have rebounded and treated others with dignity. In contrast, Triple S seem outraged that their plans could not work out. The kicker is Sharn’s confessional to the camera which leads me to believe that things are going downhill for her: “I don’t even understand how it happened but it happened.” Clearly, Sharn understands that Monika and Brian joined forces with Shonella but what she can’t comprehend is that Monika moved out from under her thumb and made a move that was good for Monika but not Sharn. Sharn’s allies and subsequently her game are ‘getting away’ from her and she can’t reel them back in. The side effects of a long time dominant alliance are rising to the surface. Triple S cannot grapple with their situation and as such are dealing with it poorly socially and strategically.
This episode, just as it was yesterday, is somewhat of an ode to Monika. Monika is now the only castaway remaining who has voted correctly at each tribal council she has attended and her lack of confessionals has been made up for by her frequent questioning at tribal council. Monika is beginning to take the game with both hands and move away from playing with emotions. Initially pegged as “most likely to be Russell Hantz’s ally,” Monika has been under the radar through the swap and the merge. She gives me Kristie Bennet vibes. Even when she is in a key position, Monika is not considered to be voted out. She always seems sincere in her interactions with others and honest when she shares her thoughts.
I only have two qualms with Monika: that every time she talks at tribal council she sounds like he is answering a Miss Universe Contest question and that I can’t tell if she has played under the radar up until this point or if she has coasted and is picking up her game in these last days. When people like Mat, Sam and Sharn discussed their “core alliance,” Monika was never one of their closest allies. It was just a given that Monika would vote with the Champions as the game progressed.
Steve’s new role as the Dead Man Walking earns him a solo trip to Exile Island while the remaining castaways complete the reward. Throughout the season thus far Steve has been ‘seen but not heard.’ Aside from meditating, the Commando has been on our screens but not in a confessional. Throughout the weeks he was the right-hand man to Mat, always an ally to the original Champions, still a threat but never the narrator. Steve takes the time at Exile as a reward for himself and gets to setting up camp (for his one or two nights there). We see his softer side reflecting over pictures of his family.
The Reward Challenge is a three versus three competition where Shane, Sharn and Brian win in a blowout because Monika cannot paddleboard to save her life (and Shane won’t give her any tips, nice social game there Shane). The reward is an Indian Feast with a side of being convinced to flip on Shonella. At the Indian Feast reward, Brian is transparent with Shane and Sharn. He tells them Steve is the target for being a threat, but if he wins immunity then likely Shane or Sharn will go. He has a plan going forward and he shares it with them. They are not part of it.
Part of me admires Brian’s forthrightness with the ladies because he isn’t in the business of dangling false hope then snatching it away. The other part of me cringes as Brian lies back and lays out his plan with no shred of sympathy. Similarly to Monika, I wonder how much Brian coasted to this point or if his absence from major strategical ongoings was deliberate. The extended length of the game is such that castaways can learn the game on the fly to some extent. It seems nobody learnt that being the kingpin doesn’t result in game longevity, but there are still ten days to go. Needless to say, the lunch meeting doesn’t meet Sharn’s goal of flipping Brian, but it does reveal Shane’s new target is Shonella. The “unbreakable” pair is now the biggest threat according to Shane.
Everyone’s eyes are on Dead Man Walking Steve going into the Immunity Challenge. He admits himself that the easiest path forward is for him to win immunity. Steve and Brian are the two standouts in the challenge and compete in such a way that could be a metaphor for their own games. Steve moves smoothly through the course. He advances steadily without any significant setbacks but falls at the final hurdle. Brian drops his ball in the first two seconds before he even gets to the first obstacle. He’s consistently rushing, making mistakes but somehow manages to get ahead by a nose right at the end when it really counts. It’s the Master of Meditation versus the Master of Mess, and right now the mess is winning.
Back at camp, the lines are clearly drawn. Brian proposes a split vote in the case of idols: two on Steve, two on Sharn and revote on Steve if it comes to it. Meanwhile, Triple S has Fenella in mind for their target and Sharn collects Monika to “get firewood” and try to reel her in. Monika seems to be treating Sharn as a confidante. She asks if she needs to play without emotion and for a second you can see Sharn’s façade flicker. She eventually agrees that playing without emotion is necessary, but you can see she wants to disagree if it means Monika stays with Brian and Shonella.
Monika still doesn’t want to flip without Brian, but none of Triple S can make headway with him. Steve seems to be playing harder than ever before – he even has a strategic confessional! Steve says he might not have a vote at tribal council, but he can try the power of persuasion. He tells Brian that Monika will cut his throat. With only two votes from three people Sharn, Shane and Steve are relying both on Monika flipping back to them and the split vote plan going ahead or the vote will end in a 3-3 tie (most likely followed by a 2-2 tie and a mess possibly involving rocks being drawn).
I have to ask though, why on earth is Steve the target? The only possible upside of being the Dead Man Walking is that having no vote also reduces your threat level in the game. Brian and Fenella both individually say that Steve is a threat yet he has won no immunity challenges and Sharn has won two. His strategic game so far has been “hold onto Mat’s coattails.” I don’t see any issues with his social game, but he doesn’t have strong bonds with anyone aside Shane and Sharn at this point. And most importantly, he has no vote in the next tribal council. Keeping Steve means that the S Trio (or S duo it would be by then) might have two people but only one vote.
For Shane/Sharn/Steve to have one less vote next tribal council requires an immunity challenge win AND finding a hidden immunity idol to prevent one of the remaining two from going home. Send home Sharn – so far the most persuasive castaway of the three and the only one to win an immunity challenge – and you have fantastic odds of being able to vote out Steve or Shane the next week. The only reason I can see to vote out Steve is that his best mate and another former ally are both sitting on the jury and have the capacity to sway how they vote. On the flipside, it makes sense why Fenella is the target as the tight pair of Shonella needs to go and Shane believes Fenella is the driving force behind the duo.
Tribal Council talks around the notion of what a threat is and the importance of an individual’s perception during the game. Monika gives a Miss Universe Answer by saying that “everyone is playing their own game and in their own individual game there are different kinds of threats.” Now that I’ve pictured Monika in a crown and sash for one tribal council answer I can’t stop. Everything she says seems almost polished and rarely emotional in the way we have seen others get (Matt, you were taken too soon).
Steve begins pulling out every trick in the book. He’s saying he’s not a physical threat (possibly justified), that non physical players will make moves because that’s all they can do, that he will influence the jury away from those who vote against him and finally that people won’t survive in the game as most of them have been carried as far as camp life goes. He does put out an interesting thought, that the title of Sole Survivor is not won but awarded, and the jury is a huge part of the game for this reason. Shane agrees that Exile Island would be a good experience for everyone since some people don’t help out at camp. Brian points out that Shane and Monika could have been carried challenge-wise since they sat out the most – an argument that Monika rebuts by saying she made more contribution to the camp than he did. Sharn is confident she has Monika’s vote. Brian is confident he has Monika’s vote.
Brian’s vote goes off without a hitch. The initial vote count is 2-2-2 for Steve-Sharn-Fenella. Shonella, Shane, Brian and Monika revote and Steve goes home 3-1 to join the boys club at Ponderosa. The game is still wide open – there are two clear pairs in the game (Shonella and Shane/Sharn) with two individuals ostensibly together but most likely a marriage of convenience going forward. Only two more tribal councils remain for Brian to play his idol and only ten more days on the island are left. With only four tribal councils remaining anyone has time to emerge from the rabble and be awarded the title of Sole Survivor.
OTHER #SURVIVORAU COVERAGE on INSIDE SURVIVOR
Australian Survivor will be back Monday October 1 at 7.30pm AEST, and Dylan Vidal will be on hand to recap everything that goes down, down under.
Also be sure to check out our Power Rankings with AU Season 2 legends Luke Toki, Sarah Tilleke and Tessa O’Halloran, and keep an eye out for exit interviews with the Champions and Contenders after their torches are snuffed!