It’s not very often that Survivor gets the opportunity to break the anticipated rhythm of an episode. Camp life, challenge, strategizing, Tribal; rinse-repeat like a Monster-of-the-Week. It’s a tried and true formula, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with an episodic format that’s been delivering for over seventeen years. Sometimes, though, an unconventional episode is demanded – sometimes it’s an untimely medevac, at times it’s a dreaded quit. For Australian Survivor, though, it’s not unexpected exits from the game that trigger unusual episodes – rather, it’s a necessary evil.
The inside baseball is this: in order for a show like Survivor to be produced in the Australian television market, more episodes need to go into a season. That’s why we have 26 episodes instead of 14; 24 castaways instead of 16-20; 55 days instead of 39. It’s also the reason why we have non-elimination episodes. If we want Australian Survivor, then we have to swallow that pill.
To its credit, the show’s second season has stepped up its game with the non-eliminations. Instead of episodes just suddenly ending with a sunset on the beach or immediately after a reward challenge, this year we’ve seen Tribal Council – and the vote – remain an integral component of the climax of the episode. With the controversial tribe swap last week and an inverse Tribal tonight, Australian Survivor is doing its best to make their non-eliminations mirror the usual format. I was cautious last week, but this time around, they knocked it out of the park.
This may have been one of the most unconventional episodes of Survivor we’ve ever seen – and I loved every minute of it.
AN INVERSION OF PERSPECTIVE
After 17 years, it’s not often that completely new ground is broken on Survivor. However, the “Ultimate Reward” Challenge introduced such a fascinating element into the game, turning everything on its head and forcing the castaways to figure out how to make a decision that could have strategic consequences in a manner that was entirely unprecedented. After beating Asaga in a nail-biter finish of a challenge, Samatau were sent to Tribal Council to vote for one of their own to take part in the chance to win the Ultimate Reward. With Jonathan LaPaglia coy as a schoolgirl about what that actually meant, the castaways had to scramble to make sense of it all.
Locky and Henry, the low men on the totem pole, had very little opportunity to wrangle the Ultimate Reward for themselves. Henry, perhaps weary from the starvation and the sudden (and self-imposed) downturn in his game prospects, seemed to resign himself to the chaos of the unknown reward. Locky tried to build a case out of whole cloth as their most physically strong asset, but even he knew it was a weak argument. But this twist was not designed to save the outsiders – it served to make the power players look at their own game in a new light.
For the dominant alliance of A.K., Jarrad, Ziggy, Tessa and Peter had a straightforward job to do – for once, they had to keep the votes from ending up on their adversaries Locky and Henry. The trouble was figuring out which one of their own should get the votes. Almost all of their names were thrown around – Jarrad suggested Tessa, A.K. wanted to vote for Jarrad, Ziggy was a solid all-rounder. But without knowing what the reward would actually be – something for the tribe or something individual – the trust within this majority alliance was tested in a way like never before.
The currency of trust is a common concept when it comes to building relationships and alliances, but it’s always easier to build trust by uniting against a common enemy than it is to cast the introspective eye on the hierarchies and trust within your own faction. A.K. found that tonight – he wanted to push to put the votes on his right-hand man, Jarrad. With another quiet and astute argument, Jarrad talked A.K. down from the ledge – making such a move would only expose the strength of their partnership. It was better to put the votes on someone else – but it had to be someone they trusted immensely. You can trust yourself, but can you trust everyone in your alliance?
IS IT A BIRD? IS IT A PLANE? IT’S A SUPER-IDOL!
The biggest challenge to this whole scenario was for Samatau to elect a champion based on very little information. Even after the tribe played Twenty Questions with Jonathan at Tribal, they still had very little to go on: the champion would remain part of their tribe, but would not return to camp tonight, and would compete for a reward that could be either for the tribe or themselves. Was it food? Was it comfort? Was it a game advantage? It was a crapshoot, and when you can’t elect someone based on specific criteria, it all comes down to a little trust – and Ziggy had plenty.
Ziggy’s stock in this game is soaring – and her status in the tribe is phenomenal. She has been a gun in the challenges, and her physical and mental strengths were likely a huge part of why she became the common choice to take on an unknown challenge. Yet her social game, while a more subtle story, is off the charts. Everybody trusts her, particularly her alliance’s decision-makers, and that’s an incredible position to be in. It certainly yielded concrete benefits tonight, but being so ingrained in the alliance – without being an obvious target – is a huge boon. Of course, being singled out by this twist could cast aspersions on that hard-earned faith, and so the question will be: how well can she wiggle her way out of the limelight and back into the tribe’s confidence.
After being voted as her tribe’s champion, Ziggy was sent alone from Tribal Council to an eerie lantern-lit mangrove where she was tasked with finding a Super Idol. The only trouble was that it was hidden within the waist-deep mangrove, and she had to find it before sunrise with only the light of her torch. Not since The Mummy Returns has a race against the sun has never felt so high-stakes as Ziggy scoured the swamp for over five hours before finally spotting her prize. It was a gruelling effort – Jonathan was right, she certainly had to earn it.
I was worried when I heard whispers that Australian Survivor was bringing a Super Idol into the mix this season. The overpowered nature of an Idol that can be played after the votes have been read has failed to deliver in the past, and it’s one of the most despised twists in Survivor’s pantheon. Thankfully, though, this wasn’t the Super Idol that Ben predicted during Tribal Council.
Rather, the two part Idol that Ziggy found is a more balanced and more enticing concept. Part one is a regular old Hidden Immunity Idol, but part two allows her to cancel another Hidden Immunity Idol. This brand new twist is incredibly powerful, and if players learn that this kind of power exists, it could also force players to have to leverage Idols with far more caution – it’s no longer just a get-out-of-jail-free. It’s a fresh idea that opens the doors for some intriguing gameplay down the line – and in the hands of a savvy social player like Ziggy, we could be in for a real treat.
FOR SENTIMENTAL REASONS
The Ultimate Reward wasn’t the only part of this episode that had an unusual tone, as a surprise package dominated the first act of the episode: sentimental items from home, delivered to camp, free of charge. In most recent cases, letters from home or luxury items are reserved for coveted rewards, and it was admittedly strange to see them show up on the beach as a Day 25 gift from production.
Family visits and such are not every viewer’s cup of tea, but, personally, I love these moments. As captivating as the “game” of Survivor will always be, I am grateful when we get an opportunity to learn more about who these players are. They’re not robots engineered to play out some strategy exercise; they’re humans with hopes, dreams, and regrets. Whether it’s fun moments of relaxed camp life or through the lens of family, seeing the real side of them is a treat.
We got a bundle of great moments of lightheartedness as the castaways each unwrapped their sentimental items. Jericho’s giant teddy bear and Ben’s Thomas the Tank Engine toy were fun, and A.K.’s jar of love notes from his girlfriend (a “Heart Attack”) was a feel-good beauty, but nothing was going to top Anneliese’s gloriously ridiculous popsicle tee-shirt when it came to pure entertainment value. But the segment belonged largely to the revelation of a few key player’s backstories.
Luke has talked about his family a few times over the last few weeks, but in the midst of his hyperactive gameplay and larger-than-life personality, it’s been easy to forget the budding shark-fisher is not just some wacky sitcom character. His love for his wife and his two sons, the eldest diagnosed with autism, was palpable throughout this scene as he praised them and talked about taking them out to the movies when he got back. Whether or not he’ll get to use the half-mill to take them all to Disneyland remains to be seen, but this humanising moment added a lot of light and shade to Luke’s character.
Meanwhile, Henry was brought to tears as he received the charm necklace his mother had worn through palliative care. Tragically, his mother passed away from pancreatic cancer a mere six weeks before he left to play Survivor, and although it is understandable that he wouldn’t want to share this information with his fellow competitors, it’s unfathomable how challenging it would be to face such a difficult time so removed from family. However, Henry’s fortitude only solidified as he vowed to win the game to make good on the promise he’d made to his mother – and his emotional confessionals reminded us that for all of his hubris within the game, it’s because he’s not going to waste an opportunity like this.
Lastly, Odette finally emerged from the background! As players like Michelle and Ben have stepped into the spotlight, it was only a matter of time before we learned something – anything! – about Odette. When it rains, it pours, and a lot was hiding behind those bright green eyes. After losing her only allies in Kent and Jacqui, Odette knew she was alone on her tribe – and despite feeling overwhelmed by it, she was resolved to keep fighting for her family. As a single mother of a young son, Odette talked of her motivation to make her boy proud of the way she played, but the deluge of emotion emerged when she received her gift: a framed picture of her mother, who raised her alone and tragically died in a car accident when Odette was 14. It was a powerful and moving revelation – and a hell of an introduction to a player who has been nearly invisible these first few weeks. Whether this episode signals the beginning of a new game for her remains to be seen, but learning more about where Odette has come from has prompted me to want to know where she’ll go next.
DROP YOUR BUFFS!
The game looks to mix it up again next episode as the fifteen remaining players are about to be shuffled into new tribes by random draw! Will it be a straight-up swap, or will we be spreading out to three tribes of five? With Idols in the hands of Henry and Anneliese, a brand new Super Idol in Ziggy’s control, and alliances and enemies scattered throughout the cast, this season of Australian Survivor shows no sign of slowing down.
OTHER #SURVIVORAU COVERAGE ON INSIDE SURVIVOR
Missed last night’s episode? Never fear, Alice Barelli’s recap of Sunday’s episode will bring you up to speed! Later in the week, Flick Egginton and Nick Iadanza of Season 1 will be back as their fight for the Ultimate Reward of Power Rankings Champion continues.
Australian Survivor will be back on Sunday at 7.30pm AEST – and Dylan Vidal will be back to recap everything that goes down, down under.