If you thought Australian Survivor Season 2 was good, then hold onto your smashed avocado because it’s only getting better with every passing week. The first two episodes following the merge were a roller coaster in their own right, but Tuesday night’s epic installment may be one of the best episodes of the series, full-stop.
In large part, it’s all thanks to the cast: a group of castaways willing to get their hands dirty and play the game for their own interests. Rather than getting bound to alliances, long-term schemes or a moral compass, they’re playing with no strings attached. At the merge, Michelle and Locky flipped on their tribe. The next vote, Ziggy bailed from a perceived sinking ship and doubled down on her move with the use of her Super Idol.
Then, once again, everything was turned on its head as lies were revealed, secret plots hatched and an unlikely coalition assembled around a shared goal. This is no new alliance. This is a moment of opportunistic collaboration achieved because, this season, every player is playing for themselves: they’re not tied up to anyone.
As one wooden marionette would say, “There are no strings on me!”
WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR
After Jarrad’s blindside and the crippling double-defeat of Ziggy’s betrayal and Anneliese’s elimination, the future was grim for Peter and Tessa. A lone pair against a majority of eight. Even after Tessa pulled out a clutch Immunity win thanks to a pair of steady doctor’s hands, basic math would indicate that the obvious result should have been an 8-2 vote against Peter. However, easy votes are not so easy when everybody has their own agenda, and it was prime time for a move to be made – an answered prayer for a desperate minority.
However, the uprising against the seat of power, newly occupied by the power trio of Henry, Locky, and Ziggy, was no simple task – and it required deft play, skillful communication and misdirection and a whole lot of trust from every one of the six players who ultimately cast their votes for Henry.
But the fairy tale began not with a devious plot, but once upon a Survivor Auction. The Auction is a Survivor institution, and as its presence has become increasingly rare on the US show, it’s thrilling to see Australian Survivor embrace it with their own flair. Scattered amongst the tempting food items (from the meme-baiting $500 smashed avocado to a coveted Mexican feast) were a good ol’ blind dud in the form of an ice-cold coconut, an emotional phone call home and a challenge advantage. The highlights, however, were two huge rewards that helped shape the course of the upcoming vote.
The first was the ridiculously overpowered Table for One. For a cool $320, Luke bought himself every single item purchased at the auction – plates of food, booze, phone calls – even a challenge advantage. The reward could not have gone to a better candidate as the ridiculous Luke hammed up his good fortune, taunting his unlucky tribemates with the kind of good-natured ribbing only he could get away with. It still amazes me that Luke can be literally be served a buffet by Jonathan LaPaglia, tease his tribemates and get away with it, scot-free.
The second major item – an overnight camping trip complete with champagne, junk food, and a cosy bed under a roof won by Tessa – was big enough in itself. However, her ability to share it with another player gave her the opportunity to wield her power strategically, choosing an ecstatic Michelle to join her. Correctly identifying Michelle as an emotional voter, Tessa played on Michelle’s gratitude and love of pampering, as well as ample time away from camp to build a new connection and forge a new relationship. Of course, the lucky Luke tagged along for the girls night, permitting the three players to put a new plan in place.
After Ziggy’s power play with the Super Idol, her new allegiance with top dogs Henry & Locky was certainly cause for concern even within the 8-strong alliance, and the night away for Tessa, Michelle & Luke allowed the opportunity for a counter-attack. The plot developed with surprising ease – whether just serendipitous or spurred on by Michelle’s champagne-fuelled gossip about Henry’s Idol, the three readily came together with a plan to blindside Henry with an Idol in his pocket. Even Luke, who admitted he preferred to be making moves on his own terms, agreed with the women’s plan.
It was an incredibly risky scheme, but a necessary big move for these players. For Tessa and her ally Peter back at camp, it was their ticket off the bottom of the totem pole. For Luke and Michelle, and their Asagan allies Jericho and Sarah, it would open up their options moving forward. For everyone involved, it removed a triple threat in Henry and would also serve to flush his Idol. Thus, over pizza, chocolates, mutual benefit and liquid courage, the #ChampagneAlliance was born.
Intelligently, the three recognised that their extended absence from camp could create suspicion and in order to preserve their dangerous plan, they would have to work hard to keep the plot under wraps as they brought in the three other votes. The good news for them was that, in another moment of providence, the same plans were coming into focus back at camp.
AN ACTOR’S LIFE FOR ME
As Sarah departed the Auction, despondent that Tessa had the unmitigated gall to choose Michelle for the night away, I was baffled. Hunger and tiredness can make people do stupid things, and as Henry and Locky worked to fuel Sarah’s burning outrage back at camp whilst Peter desperately tried to stamp out the flames, I grew fearful that the scheme being concocted on the reward would fall apart over relatively petty jealousy. Besides, this was not the intelligent, strategically-minded Sarah we’d known before.
Yet even the editors have got no strings this season, duping the audience just as Sarah manipulated her tribe – it had all been a ruse! Cooked up to create a perceived rift between her and Tessa, Sarah’s convincing performance managed to misdirect the increasingly confident Henry into trusting her more – right as she went to work to throw him to the dogs.
The question of who knows what about the Idols has been a muddy topic this season, but Sarah’s second-hand knowledge about Henry’s Idol (thanks to intel from Anneliese) allowed her to make a pivotal move to crumble Jericho’s cookie alliance once and for all. For all his mischievousness, there’s been a part of Jericho that has been earnestly loyal – whether it was his anxiety over Luke and Sarah feuding on Asaga or Henry’s cockamamie ploy with the Idol clue. When Sarah initially revealed the truth to Jericho, he seemed incredulous, but as the pieces began to fall into place, the innocent boy transformed into the bloodthirsty warlord in the space of one “mother-trucker.” Of their own accord, Sarah and Jericho began to concoct their own plan to take out Henry, recognising that they needed to continue to act the part of his best friend in order to fool a smart man with an Idol on hand.
BELLY OF THE BEAST
With two separate plans to target Henry on the board, it seemed like a blindside should have easily coalesced. However, after returning from the Immunity Challenge, Mother Nature threw one last curveball: it was pouring down rain. The heavy rainfall forced the Asatoa tribe into a huddle by the fire and under their makeshift shelter which gave very little room for the two sides of the new scheme to communicate and enact their plan. However, with no ropes binding them in place, each player found an innovative way to coordinate a secret attack.
Afforded flexibility by outcast status, Tessa boldly pulled Peter aside and the two went for a chilling walk in the rain. There was little need for contemplation – it was their best option, and they just needed to pour all their energy into misdirecting Henry and Locky to ensure the Idol did not foil their plans. By staying out of the shelter to raise suspicions of desperate Idol-hunting and playing the part when chased down by Henry and Locky, who offered them a painfully obvious fake agreement, the minority pair managed to add more fuel to Locky’s perception that they would continue to come after him. The only other thing left for the two to do was to hope that the plan played out.
Meanwhile, the old Asaga had to figure out how to orchestrate a blindside in plain sight, as stepping away from the huddle of the Alliance of 8 would raise too many eyebrows. As Luke boldly employed the ancient art of mime, mouthing the plan to Jericho across the huddle, Michelle pulled Sarah aside under the guise of smoothing out any hard feelings about the Auction. Luke and Michelle both have a great knack for sliding under the radar in terms of perceived threat level, but they are both incredibly savvy and opportunistic players, and their clever tactics to spread the word – literally in the seconds before Tribal – paid off in spades.
LISTEN TO YOUR CONSCIENCE
Tribal Council was a game of ‘What’s the Time, Mr. Wolf?’ as the six rebels carefully navigated a minefield of questions to avoid raising the suspicions of Henry, Locky, Ziggy or Tara. There was much talk of easy votes from the former Asaga, and Tessa and Peter continued to put up a fight against a broadly defined “select group” who had had a scary rise to power – which Locky continually interpreted to be a direct attack against him.
Given the delicate nature of the blindside plan and the narrow window in which the scheme was put together, it was almost surprising that it went off so smoothly! But every player’s contribution paid off – Tessa’s strategic reward picks, Michelle’s information pipeline, Luke’s bold tactics, Sarah’s acting skills, Jericho’s vengeance and Peter’s trust. It all came together. Four votes Peter, six votes Henry. Done and dusted, dead and buried and the Zen Hen went home with an Idol in his pocket as his alliance reeled from a total blindside.
But what of Henry’s last days on the Island? Henry played a high-stakes game from Day One. He forged multiple alliances, found Idols, threw challenges, and wheeled-and-dealed in information and misinformation. He’s vacillated between scrappy schemes and arrogant delusions, but always with respect for the game and for the people he’s playing against. For all his mischief, Henry was a likable player, willing and eager to make the most of his Survivor experience, both for himself and for his family in a trying time. Given his long-time fandom of the series, there was something poetic about the fact that Henry played a full 39 days, only to be knocked out as soon as the clock ticked over onto Day 40.
As Henry worked with his new alliance to orchestrate a simple vote against Peter, who he knew he couldn’t trust in the long run, Henry made savvy plays in trying to hammer in the wedge between a bitter Sarah and outcast Tessa. Even though he was out-played by Sarah’s acting skills and even as he confidently sat on his Idol despite Locky’s paranoid plea to play it, it’s hard to paint Henry’s departure from the game as a downfall. There’s no precise moment to point to that turned people against him or undid his chances. If anything, it was the slow accumulation of smaller errors along the way – his lies and leaked information – that finally caught up to him. Henry was a player that had never let himself be tied down – he was always in it for himself. It just so happened that his fellow castaways had cut their strings too.
I’M A REAL BOY!
We’re down to nine! Jericho, Locky, Luke, Michelle, Peter, Sarah, Tara, Tessa & Ziggy. Nine well-rounded characters, each with their own compelling narratives and strategies to make it to the end to win. With nothing holding these players back, anything could happen next week – it’s almost a guarantee that there will be more blindsides, more new alliances and more mayhem down the final stretch.
It’s refreshing to have such an open field as we barrel towards the end game of Australian Survivor – it feels like just about anybody could make it to that Final Tribal Council to plead their case. This season has been a phenomenal ride so far, building on the achievements of the 2016 season to mature into something just as dynamic, fascinating and riveting as the best seasons the US has to offer.
Australian Survivor, you’ve well and truly earned your wish. You’re a real boy now.
OTHER #SURVIVORAU COVERAGE on INSIDE SURVIVOR
Australian Survivor will be back with another three episodes next week, starting Sunday at 7.30pm AEST. Be sure to come back to Inside Survivor where Alice, Dylan and I will be back to recap everything that goes down, down under.