DAMN! Australian Survivor has certainly wasted no time getting back into the thick of it. After a season plagued by players tentative to make a move against a mate, it’s almost impossible to believe that two episodes into our second season we’re seeing the strategic game take the front seat.
Like a fox in the hen house, the Hidden Immunity Idol cut a swathe through the events of this episode – and perhaps gave us some of the most fascinating Idol shenanigans in a long while. The power of the Idol itself can make for a thrilling shake-up, but where its genius truly lies is in the way it tips the delicate balance between trust and paranoia in the castaways. Tonight alone, the Idol both forged alliances and shattered them, forcing its players to confront the impact of tangible strategic advantages against the fluidity of the critical social game.
This episode was a cautionary tale of the dangers of overplaying and its impact on trust. But unlike a fable full of chickens, geese and fowl play, this story did not conclude with a pithy moral: it ended with a convoluted web of attacks, counter-attacks, contingency plans and intrigue so dense I’m still trying to make sense of it. So let’s begin at the beginning…
RUNNING AROUND LIKE CHICKENS
This episode was all about the showdown between Adam and AK. Both came into the game with such ferocious energy for playing Survivor that it was inevitable that one would destroy the other. They sized each other up as threats and set their sights on one another instantly. As we opened on Samatau tonight, it seemed as though Adam held the power – he had surrounded himself with a capable alliance including people he considered his “pawns” – Kate, Tessa, Ziggy – and he had a strong bond with Tara. Meanwhile, AK was on the outside looking in, and resorted to one of the most hilariously harebrained ideas Survivor has ever seen: the “Chicken Idol.”
Not just an Idol – but a “Chicken Idol,” purported to give a choice between a coop full of chickens or the regular vote-cancelling power of an Idol. As AK fed the lie to Jarrad, which led to the rapid filtering of the rumours through the camp, it began to stir the pot of paranoia. While AK hoped to upset the status quo, it could have exacerbated the distrust his tribemates felt towards him. Throughout the episode, as AK continued to direct attention towards the Chicken Idol, his tribemates grew warier – Aimee called him a “goose,” Jarrad called him “sketchy.” Unnecessarily complicated, the Chicken Idol scheme seemed like a desperate move doomed to failure.
Fortunately for AK, somebody made even bigger mistakes. Adam was well-positioned when he found the Idol clue in the tribe’s new outrigger. He could have kept it to himself (or between a close ally, as he did with Kate) and scoured the Island with subtlety. Instead, he abandoned his tribe’s efforts to construct a stronger shelter to go Idol hunting in plain sight – only to be literally standing on the Idol without spotting it. Strike one. When caught by AK, he abandoned his post to leave his enemy to search the Island unsupervised – ultimately giving AK the opportunity to find the Idol. Strike two. He returned to camp to tell his inner circle about the clue but led with a threat: if you’re with me, come search for the Idol. Adam’s decision to test the loyalty of his allies in this way left Tara feeling betrayed, particularly as he dismissed her reasonable assertion that shelter was the priority. Strike Three.
By the time, Adam, Locky, and Ziggy returned to the Island to discover the abandoned pink ribbon of the Idol parcel, causing a flustered Adam to tell them just to vote him off, he was already struck out. Adam had grown overconfident in his position within the majority alliance on Samatau, and in a quick succession of poor judgment feeding reckless decisions, he completely unravelled his game. In pursuit of the golden goose in the Idol, Adam ostracised key allies like Tara and Locky, who became distrustful of his suddenly skittish behaviour, and ultimately it sealed his fate.
DUCK, DUCK, DUCK, GOOSE
At first, it’s not wholly apparent what went down in the wake of Samatau’s narrow defeat at the Immunity Challenge, given it ended up with four names on parchment at Tribal and an Idol played for a fifth. Reviewing the tapes, however, showed that just about everybody followed the plans laid out in the post-challenge strategizing.
After struggling with the hammer in the challenge, Anneliese was concerned that her name was on the chopping block, and AK took advantage of her insecurity to plant the seed that Adam was trying to throw her under the bus. From the guy with a piece of coral on a string as a decoy Idol, it was an unexpectedly deft manoeuvre. Naturally, Anneliese retaliated and, having no love lost for Adam, she, Aimee, Locky, Peter, and Jarrad agreed to target Adam, dropping a couple of back-up votes on Kate in case he had found the Idol. On the other side of the tribe, Adam attempted to marshal his allies Mark H., Tessa, Ziggy, Kate and Tara to split votes against AK and Anneliese.
Of course, in such large tribes and with four names being thrown around, it was far from a cut-and-dry scenario. To their credit, both Adam and AK had realised that they’d made massive missteps that had lost them allies, and in an elegant parallel, both sought to apologise and mend their relationships with Tara and Jarrad, respectively. Fittingly, both were reluctant – Tara still stung from Adam’s flippant approach to their allegiance, and Jarrad was uncertain of AK’s trustworthiness in light of the Chicken Idol nonsense. In the end, these players were the deciding factor in the final tally of the votes, and their role in the outcome only highlights how the Idols, for all their purported strategic power, still require a strong social game to be managed effectively.
Come Tribal, the theme of trust versus paranoia carried through, as Adam and AK were both held accountable for their initial overplaying. Notably, Tara highlighted that she had to stick with the people she trusted – an omen for her ultimate decision to side with the plan against Adam, by throwing her vote at the back-up target Kate.
However, the most interesting trust management was AK’s peculiar Idol play. Not since Amanda in Micronesia has an Idol been found without us seeing the discovery on screen, but the editors hid AK’s finding of the Idol only to blindside the viewer with an even more unpredictable moment: AK’s almost inexplicable decision to play his Idol for Jarrad. At face value, it was an incredibly foolhardy move. Knowing he was in the crosshairs, the gutsy play could have seen AK voted out with, essentially, an Idol in hand.
But in reality, AK had read the room well enough to figure out he was not the biggest target (in fact, only getting one vote) and decided to use his Idol to repair his broken trust with Jarrad. It was a bold use of Tribal Council as theatre, making a public demonstration of AK’s loyalty – he was willing to burn an Idol to demonstrate that he could be trusted. But was it a smart move, or another instance of overplaying? It could help to strengthen his allegiance with Jarrad, but it could also alienate his potential allies more, highlighting him as an unpredictable quantity. It also seems like a dangerous decision to throw an Idol aside, knowing he could be in danger going forward. But AK emphasised that he wanted to play to be remembered, and this move alone is certainly one for the history books, success or failure.
For Adam, however, his short stint on Australian Survivor certainly looks to have ended in an unfortunate failure, as he saw his torch snuffed in a 5-4-2-1 vote, as everybody but Tara stuck to the plans already laid out. Adam was clearly a passionate fan, and it’s always devastating to see fans lose out early. But he dug his own grave within the space of a day, going from a solid alliance to an untrustworthy pariah simply by mishandling the currency of trust. It could be easy to eulogise Adam as somebody undone by the paranoia of an Idol he never had, but it’s far more suitable to point to the way he crumbled under pressure when his agenda did not align with those of his allies. For an episode all about strategy and Idols, Adam’s time was ended by the social game.
BIRDS OF A FEATHER
The Idol fever did not end at Samatau, however, as Asaga also saw an Idol forge a new power couple. In spite of Luke’s attempts to infringe on Tony’s SpyShack by constructing a listening post by the water well, Henry and Jacqui located a clue to the Hidden Immunity Idol located under the handle of the well lid. Almost effortlessly, the pair recovered the Idol shortly thereafter, and although Henry was the official owner of the Idol, the experience appeared to strengthen the unlikely bond between them. Between Henry’s man-bun and super-fandom and Jacqui’s tough-as-nails attitude and fit physique, it could be a Malcolm & Denise 2.0, and their allegiance could definitely be a key factor in the growing war.
After Joan’s elimination from the game, Asaga divided into two camps. On one side, Samantha had formed a close five with Henry, Jacqui, Sarah and Mark W. However, on the other, Luke, Michelle and Jericho were all frustrated with Samantha’s control of the tribe after she led the charge on the split Joan-Kent vote. Joining forces with Ben and Odette, Luke and Jericho were determined to change up the game and planned to turn Kent against the other five in order to gain the upper hand. In the episodes to come, there is no doubt that the battle lines will deepen on Asaga – though, with someone as unpredictable as Luke in the mix, anything could happen.
Let’s hear it for the challenge department! Australian Survivor has been knocking it out of the park with challenges that are big, exciting spectacles. After the blockbuster Immunity Challenge in the premiere, two thrilling challenges were packed into this episode.
The Reward challenge (named “Slip, Slop, Slap” in honour of the Aussie sun-smart campaign) was a spin on some of the challenges we’ve seen in the past, but served to highlight just how well these two massive tribes are matched. A couple of tough one-on-one battles were hard-fought, and the final 7-5 score is proof of the intense competition. AK’s admission to Henry of his outcast position in his tribe could open up storylines in the future, but it’s probably fair to say that Locky’s uncensored cheeks were what made the headlines for many viewers.
The muddy Immunity challenge was also a thrilling nail-biter as Asaga made a great comeback to claim the win. The gruelling obstacle course tested the strength of the tribe as a whole, and the requirement for five separate castaways to wield the hammer forced more players to have to step up to compete. While I do enjoy a good puzzle, it was also refreshing to see the final leg come down to throwing accuracy, keeping the challenges in a sweet spot of variety.
The promotions for this season have massively hyped up the challenges. I think I can safely say it is living up to the expectations, and I hope to see many more intense, exciting and fun challenges in the weeks to come.
FOR THE BIRDS
Episode 2 has certainly made it clear that the second season of Australian Survivor is coming in strong, with a cast full of people willing to play aggressively, stir the pot and play the game. With Asaga assembling into the straight-up war, and Samatau a divided army, the weeks to come will surely see some exciting moves – good and bad – made by a cast of entertaining characters. I don’t want to count the chickens before they’ve hatched, but I’m very optimistic about what lies ahead.
We’ll see you back here tomorrow for new writer Dylan Vidal’s review of Episode 3. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Alice Barelli’s review of Episode 1.