Finale week is upon us! After the thrilling roller coaster that has been Australian Survivor 2017, we’re finally in the home stretch and looking at one of the most unlikely Final Fours we might have predicted. It’s going to be a scrap to the finish, and I can’t wait to see how this rounds out. It’s just a shame that we kick off finale week with one of the most awful twists ever concocted for Survivor.
The Jury Elimination was bad when it first showed up in Survivor: Kaoh Rong. Even with some positives tweaks in this iteration, it’s still abysmal. The ability to remove a Jury member has minimal impact on the subsequent game and is incredibly disrespectful to the players who fought their way to the merge and earned a seat on the Jury to have a say in the winner of their season. Voting out a Jury member – who has no real way to defend themselves against this unforeseen threat – casts them as inanimate pieces on a game board, rather than active participants in the game.
I implore Survivor to never go anywhere near this twist again. But this time, they have – so let’s talk about it.
THE JURY ELIMINATION
Instead of competing in their Final Four Immunity Challenge, the Final Four of Jericho, Michelle, Peter & Tara stared down a challenge for an Advantage – the ability to vote out one member of the Jury. The challenge itself was yet another stunningly unique battle as the contestants clung to pegs on a massive board, scuttling across the board to remove pegs one by one until only one player was left hanging. For a challenge that looked to favour longer limbs, Jericho’s victory was an impressive feat on top of his incredible run in the game so far (50 days and still no vote against him!). But now he was faced with a difficult choice: who to evict from the Jury?
Jericho is an intelligent Survivor player who is playing for his own success and analyses his situation well. He catalogues the Jury into two piles: those who are “Okay” – who will be likely votes for him (the Lukes, Henrys, and Sarahs of the world) – and those in a more nebulous “I Don’t Know” pile, whose votes are up in the air (the Jarrads, Annelieses, and Ziggys). The fact that Jericho doesn’t have a “Hell No” box is telling – his game has been strong enough that against the right opponent, he’d have a chance at every Jury vote. But he still had to choose one to throw out.
His decision to talk his power through with his remaining tribemates was an effective trap. As he asked for their input, Michelle, Tara and Peter pulled back the curtain on their own perceptions of the Jury and how they would vote. The candid conversations may not have been surprising in content, but they did reveal the biggest problem facing Jericho. He spent his entire pre-merge game on Asaga and had little to no interaction with Samatau players like Jarrad or Tessa, who in turn had been strongly aligned with Peter.
Peter’s attempts to sway Jericho away from Jarrad or Tessa were transparent in their motivation, but with his back already against the wall, it was worth the effort. Nevertheless, Jericho appeared to be strongly considering voting out Tessa – not only because they had only met at the merge, but also because he’d been directly responsible for the betrayal that led to her blindside in the historic 3-2-2-2 vote. Without having a full sense of her frame of mind, she was an unknown quantity that could undo Jericho’s game, and it was a logical decision for him to ultimately choose to vote Tessa out of the Jury to mitigate risk. Tessa was a wildcard for Jericho – and that was enough.
The worst part about the Jury Elimination twist is that it has less impact on the players still in the game than it does on the people who’ve already lost. Making the Jury is perhaps the biggest milestone in Survivor aside from Final Tribal or, well, winning. It means you are guaranteed to be a part of your season until the bitter end and that you will get your say in the outcome. If you doubt how much it means, look back to Asatoa’s ecstatic reaction in the Merge episode when Jonathan announced that they’d entered the Jury phase. To have that promise snatched away is devastating for the evicted Jury member – and particularly a big fan like Tessa.
Tessa had to claw her way through this entire game and found herself perpetually on the bottom. She caught some lucky breaks, like Tarzan giving her his Idol, but she fought her way out from the bottom again and again – whether it was building the social bond with Tarzan in the first place, jumping into A.K.’s alliance to flip the script at Samatau or being a key cog in the Champagne Alliance that pulled off one of the biggest moves in the game to blindside Henry with an Idol in his pocket. Tessa earned her seat on the Jury, and to lose it through no fault of her own is unfair, cruel and an unnecessary twist of the knife. If we ever get an All-Stars season, Tessa had better be at the top of production’s call list because they owe her after pulling this.
A DASH OF OPTIMISM
While I completely disavow this twist, I do want to note the couple of tweaks that Australian Survivor made to this advantage. Firstly, Question Time. This might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but the fact that Jericho had the opportunity to ask three Jury members a question at Tribal Council before casting his vote put a bit more meat on the bones of this advantage. It allowed him to glean valuable information about the Jury’s mindset – which is an even more impactful advantage than the voting power! – but it also gave the Jury a chance to have their say, albeit brief.
Jericho’s questions were incredibly well-stated and the answers given by Jarrad, Tessa and Anneliese were eloquent responses. Jarrad’s answer was indirect but hinted to Jericho that there were opponents in the game that could defeat him if he wasn’t careful, and he also made sure to carefully assure Jericho that despite their brief time together in the game, he understood his game through what he’d learned at the Jury Villa. Anneliese was asked what would dissuade her from voting for someone at Final Tribal, and she plainly stated that gameplay was her priority, and anybody who was perceived as having taken a back seat would be looked down upon.
The question posed to Tessa was more direct as she was asked to explicitly name someone she felt was undeserving in the Final Four. Unsurprisingly, she named Tara – who had been voted out and who had often been unaware of the game happening around her. It was the perfect answer for Tessa to give, openly telling Jericho that if he sat next to Tara, he’d have her vote – and on the one hand, it might seem that it should have swayed him to keep her on the Jury. However, even though I doubt that the questions actually impacted Jericho’s decision, I appreciate that they added more to the event than the completely cold eviction of the Kaoh Rong template.
The bigger positive is that this twist took place well before the Final Two. In Kaoh Rong, Michele Fitzgerald won the advantage once she, Aubry and Tai already knew they would go to Final Tribal Council together and so Michele was able to make the decision knowing her competition and without fear of repercussion. Here, at the Final Four, Jericho has no certainty of who he will be up against (or even if he’ll make it there) and so was forced to make a decision that took much more possibilities into account. For example, he might lose Locky’s vote if he were up against Tara, but he’d surely have it if he was against Peter or Michelle, so on the balance of probabilities, it’s better to keep him on the Jury. The earlier occurrence of this twist added an extra layer to the strategy of the decision-making beyond getting rid of someone who was a known vote against and left room for a wrong decision to be made.
Additionally, two more eliminations stand before the Final Two – and Jericho’s decision to eliminate Tessa, as well as the information gained and revealed, could directly impact the last leg of the game. It’s feasible that Michelle, Peter, and Tara could recognise Jericho as a threat and conspire to take him out. Jericho could use what he learned to pick his opponents for the endgame more carefully. Allowing the twist to have some impact on the last few votes gives it more purpose than a callous surprise, and the fallout from Jericho’s decision will undoubtedly be an integral part of these final couple of episodes. Production made a good modification here, but still, you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.
THE FINAL FOUR
The Jury Elimination was not a great start to Finale Week, but with two episodes still to go, let’s turn our eye towards a brighter future. The four castaways left in the game are on a very even playing field as all have strikes against them and all have compelling narratives. Tonight alone, we saw the Four scrambling to secure their future.
A notional three of Jericho, Michelle and Tara put Peter on the outs, and he certainly stands in a dire situation. He has a poor track record with each of his three opponents, often working at odds with them. Additionally, his gameplay was lambasted during Locky’s final Tribal Council when he was bluntly labelled as a goat and a follower. With the Jury clearly articulating that they wanted to see game-players and active move-makers win out, Peter has to be feeling extra concerned at this point. But he said it tonight – Immunity could be his only hope, and he’s no slouch in the challenges. He’s been within spitting distance of winning individual challenges on multiple occasions, and with the adrenaline saying it’s a win or seat on the Jury, it might be enough to give him the push he needs.
Michelle and Jericho, meanwhile, are fighting the social game to the end. Together, they have a Day One agreement to look out for each other, having started on Asaga together and working in tandem throughout most of the game. However, both are keeping their options open and look to Tara as an alternative. Jericho has a history with Tara through post-swap Asaga, but Michelle had little connection to her and Day 50 is pretty late in the game to get things started.
Yet Tara is playing hard too. It’s almost surreal thinking back to the entitled and petulant Tara that sulked her way to the precipice of going home back on Samatau. Tara’s growth in the game has been impressive, as she’s learned how to balance real social ties and a selfish game. Her campaign to take out her closest ally Locky speaks volumes to how far Tara has come as a Survivor player, and her continued use of her secret lolly jar to build trust is a clever ploy. Needing to secure her own options, Tara reached out to Michelle to share the sweets, and that small act of trust could be enough to get the two women across the line – particularly if Jericho begins to stand out as a threat to win.
With only four players left and a number of deals and end-game configurations on the table, it’s anybody’s game. It could come down to who wins Immunity. It could come down to who says the right thing – or the wrong thing. It could come down to the speeches before the Jury – that worked last year, after all! Or it could come down to just one vote.
But at the end of the day, it’s going to come down to the Jury.