What a lot of fuss over some cookies and an idol!
This episode opens with Jonathan LaPaglia saying that “previously on Survivor” tensions were high at Samatau camp, and the Kate vote-off has done very little to ease that pressure. Tessa is playing nice by giving a general apology/explanation to the tribe even though she’s not entirely sure what happened to have Kate go home although she suspects MarkZan might have something to do with it. Tara, who bore the brunt of Tessa’s verbal fire at tribal council, is shocked that a) Tessa would act that way and b) That she would be seen as a flipper.
Whether Tara is a flipper or not is another debate in itself (thus far she has only ever voted with the same people at tribal council – although she was ostensibly aligned with Adam, Tessa and Kate at one point too). Tara and Tessa show good social game here when they’re willing to mend fences in the light of day. Tara apologises for not coming to her straight after tribal council, Tessa explains she was just swinging for the fences to save herself. But both are quick to tell the viewers that hard feelings are remaining and we may see a clash of the T’s later on in the season.
The general vibe at both camps is one of most people getting along, playing games, revelling at the Samoan setting and building friendships (or bromances). Tessa learns that MarkZan was her saviour the previous night and says that he is like a dad to her. MarkZan says he didn’t save Tessa for strategic reasons but that it was “a person thing” and he has no expectation of her saving him although it would be nice if she did.
Both tribes turn up to the next challenge, and it’s a coconut collecting-surfing-throwing-hubbub that will be rewarded with tea, coffee, and spices to help make meals more enjoyable. Luke, who had a confessional about looking skinny and it only being ten days in, certainly seems keen and I can only imagine a hot cuppa on a cold Samoan night wouldn’t go astray.
The main strategy of the challenge is deciding who will be the “surfers” as they will also be the people responsible for knocking down the statues. Samatau debates Locky as a surfer and initially decide against him but hastily swap him in when they see that Asaga has selected big guns, Luke and Henry. What bothers me most with this decision is that they based their choice on what they saw the other tribe doing. It’s a valid concern that Locky, the heaviest Samatau male, could sink the raft and they adjusted their challenge strategy accordingly.
There’s even a moment of discussing how the two surfers could best collaborate to get the statues knocked down quickly. It’s disheartening that they made changes to go with how Asaga was playing the challenge as opposed to how they wanted to play the challenge. It may have worked out in their favour this time but how many times can they play in response to Asaga instead of with an aggressive strategy of their own and come out on top? Samatau doesn’t seem to notice that Asaga didn’t select their heaviest males (Kent and Mark W). I also wondered for a moment why they didn’t select someone who not only has a light frame but whose career suggests a good throwing arm in water polo Olympian Ziggy – surely any throwing challenge should have her as a top contender, but so far males have dominated the throwing portion.
Both tribes start strong. Ziggy has a star moment tossing coconuts across both rafts with astonishing accuracy – particularly when compared to Sarah who belts Jericho in the head and misses the raft completely. Asaga begins to break away from Samatau when they run into trouble with Locky sinking the raft. Asaga is first to shore, but when it comes to the Luke vs. Locky showdown, Samatau pulls ahead and bring home the win for a basket of herbs, spices, tea, and coffee. Asaga seems disappointed, but as Sam aptly points out, “I don’t need variety, I just need immunity.”
Back at camp, the sweet taste of opportunity is going to come to a lucky few. MarkZan (fire magician and all around good guy) and Jericho (labelled “too nice” by the other castaways despite wielding a machete and joking he’s going to kill his tribemates) find a big jar of biscuits, a pile of firewood and a scroll. The scroll poses a moral dilemma: either take the firewood to share with the whole camp or keep the jar of biscuits (“cookies”) hidden from the tribe for your own use.
As with most of these conundrums put forward on a show like Survivor, it’s not about what you choose; it’s about how you play with what you’ve chosen. Back on the US season Survivor: World’s Apart, two castaways selected the option most benefitting the tribe but were still regarded suspiciously by the remaining tribemates. Choosing the firewood can make you seem like a good team player and could help build trust. Choosing the biscuits is a selfish move, but if you can hide it (or use them strategically as we will soon see!), then the camp is not at a huge loss for the lack of firewood.
The scroll is vague and seems to indicate that the jar of biscuits can’t be shared with the tribe: it’s for the castaways own use. That being said, there are no limitations given about how they can use the biscuits. Mark interprets the note as meaning he can’t share the cookies at all and begins to get emotional thinking he would like to share them with the whole tribe. Mark has had a few moments this episode pointing towards him struggling with the inherent loneliness of the game. The morning after tribal council Mark talked with Tessa about it being nice for someone to have your back in the game.
Mark’s mid-moral-dilemma is focused on the individual nature of the game: “all you’ve got is yourself.” The choice between a team decision and an individual decision really does seem to be a moral choice for Mark and (unsurprisingly) he chooses the bundle of firewood to take back for everyone at camp. Mark does make a good observation after the rest of his tribemates tell him he should’ve grabbed the bikkies, that the rest of them probably would’ve taken the food, implying that they’re not group minded in the way that he was.
Over at Asaga, Mr. Nice Guy Jericho rapidly decides to take the jar of biscuits and plans to use them “to build an empire.” This sort of strategy was a surprise coming from Jericho even if it wasn’t a shocking strategy in itself. If I had read the note, I would’ve thought that I cannot use the biscuits for game purposes. Jericho interprets it as that the cookies need to be hidden, but he can use them to sweeten up his fellow tribemates. Jericho notes that Luke is his closest ally, and he will share the biscuits with him but has a bigger target in mind to share them with first. Jericho has his eyes on Henry and spins him a tale about receiving four biscuits for a task that he plans to share so that they get two each. Henry is ecstatic.
Jericho makes more references to Cookie Monster than a three-year-old and even denotes Luke as his “Elmo” in the game. Jericho is planning to use these cookies to build some sort of Sesame Street Gingerbread Castle, and I can’t wait to see if he can step up and be king.
Chocolate chip based tactics aside, we are only shown the strategic ongoings of Samatau camp this episode. It’s a pretty good indicator of who will be going to tribal council (particularly when combined with the outrageous ads this week touting “Mark’s Big Move”). Tessa is fighting for her life and says that the main alliance is based on Locky and his gaggle of girls (Tara, Aimee, Anneliese, Ziggy). She approaches Locky with MarkZan to try and sway him (using the argument to vote out the weakest and preserve tribe strength), but Locky isn’t ready to budge one tiny bit.
The immunity challenge involves a group of builders helping a group of runners traverse the course. Even though Samatau comes up with some interesting challenge hacks that initially put them ahead, Asaga is able to win in another throwing showdown.
Tessa knows that she’s really in trouble and that an idol may be her only hope. As soon as the tribe arrives back at camp, she leaves to go searching for it. Usually, I would cringe at the person in the most danger leaving the rest of the tribe to talk about the vote in their absence but there is no messing around, and everybody knows that Tessa is well and truly on the chopping block. The group agrees to unanimously vote out Tessa since they are confident she doesn’t have an idol (and given she won’t stop saying how she is looking for one I would think the same too).
In a stroke of hilarity, MarkZan goes out for a light bit of idol hunting and seems to turn it up almost immediately. His first move is to check in with Locky that the plan is still to vote out Tessa unanimously which puts up a red flag for Locky who confesses that “Tarzan doesn’t roll over.” For reasons I’m not entirely sure of, Mark gives the idol to Tessa in front of AK in a move I can only assume is meant to sway AK into voting their way.
AK has been a volatile player so far, and volatility in this game often goes with a willingness to rapidly change alliances and follow what is in an individual’s best interest for that moment rather than for the long term. AK has certainly given the impression of being this sort of player but in the more recent past has also seen the error of his ways and is working to regain trust with his tribe. To be honest, when AK played the idol he may have done it unsuccessfully, but he did manage to scrape some of the target off his back since playing it meant he no longer had it and, as such, isn’t as much of a threat to ruin plans at tribal councils. AK never commits one way or another to voting out Locky (Mark’s chosen target).
Tribal council is once again a chance for Tessa to take the witness stand and try to plead for her life. She points out that herself and Mark may be on the bottom now but that somebody will have to be after they have gone. She even suggests that Mark’s strengths (challenge prowess, lighting the fire, being a good man) may make him more valuable that one of the many members of the group alliance. Tessa also points out Locky as the top dog in the group. Jarrad says he thinks he’s in the middle but that everybody probably thinks that way. AK shows some self-awareness by saying he knows that he’s on the bottom but that his own actions put him there. Locky assures the core alliance to “stick to the plan” (sadly he does not spit) and everybody votes.
JLP asks for any idols, and it’s the fact that nobody looks particularly surprised when Tessa stands up to play one when my heart began to sink. JLP reads the votes. The first five are for Tessa. The next is for Locky who looks a little tense. Then we get to the real soul crusher: a vote for Tarzan (Mark). As soon as that first Mark vote came out, it was a done deal in my eyes. Two more votes for Mark come out of the urn, and he is the fourth castaway to leave the island. MarkZan seems cheery enough calling “HooRoo” to the tribe and encouraging them to win. The footage played over the credits show that Mark voted for Tessa (presumably since he gave his word that he would) so even if they had swayed AK to vote Locky out Mark would have still gone home. Four tribal councils in, two idol plays and a massive blindside.
As a fan of the show, I love characters who are willing to play the game and make moves in different ways. Mark certainly wasn’t this sort of castaway. As a person, however, Mark was probably my favourite on Australian Survivor this season. For international viewers, Mark is probably a stereotypical Aussie straight from the pages of a storybook, idioms and all. As an Australian, Mark embodied parts of our identity that I treasure: a genuine concern for others, being a team player, fighting for the underdog. I certainly did not want a season full of mateship, but it was still nice to see that such a genuine, kind human is in our midst. I didn’t have high hopes for Mark to win the game but I certainly had hoped we might get a little bit more of Australia’s favourite lime farmer than we did. Is it too early to say All Stars?