It’s been five episodes of prime A-Grade Survivor. Larger-than-life heroes, love-to-hate-them villains. Awe-inspiring challenges, Idol shenanigans, mischievous gameplay and shocking blindsides. Australian Survivor has been giving its all, and it’s showing no sign of slowing down!
The plight of Samatau is one we’ve seen before – a tribe sent back to Tribal Council over and over again, whittled down before the merge is even on the distant horizon. It could have grown repetitive as the same people fight the same battles, episode after episode, but this tribe has never gone stale. Even though the eliminations of Adam, Kate and Mark H. picked off the minority alliance, each vote was still surrounded by intrigue worthy of a prestige drama.
By the time that tonight’s episode rolled around, and the Alliance of Eight finally fractured, the stage was set for a delectable blindside. So grab your pot and parma from your local pub and gather around as we sink our teeth into Episode Five.
HUNGRY FOR AN UPSET
Tessa, saved by Mark H.’s gifted Idol, knew she was staring down the barrel of the gun. The purportedly solid Alliance of Eight up against her solitary one. It could have been easy pickings, and if this were Australian Survivor of 2016, it might very well have been. However, the castaways this season are eager to play, and it was incredibly satisfying to see them each take the knife and try to cut themselves off the biggest piece of the pie.
The battle lines have been slowly etching themselves in the sand, but tonight was the first time that the power dynamics of Samatau were truly elucidated. Unsurprisingly, A.K. was the low man on the totem pole, with his allies Jarrad and Ziggy beside him. Also no surprise: the big cheese was Locky, calling the shots with Aimee and Tara by his side, leaving Peter and Anneliese hovering in the middle. Over the course of the episode, these two factions turned on each other as they both honed in on the perfect pawn in their game: free agent Tessa.
A.K.’s side played these few days perfectly. A.K. consolidated his alliance with Jarrad and Ziggy, who both agreed that this could be the time to make their move against Kingpin Locky, and recognising that they should make the move to pull Tessa on side. From what we saw, A.K. was the one to extend the branch to Tessa, utilising his position as the outlier to appeal to her desperation for a miracle. For once, A.K. didn’t overplay it – he laid it out bluntly in a way that was logical and appealed to Tessa’s intellect: he admitted he knew he would be next after Tessa and he needed to keep her in the game as his shield. But together, they could stage a coup.
Of course, Tessa was only number four, and A.K.’s team needed to sway one more. Given Peter’s apparent ties to Tara, it initially seemed as though the alliance might target Anneliese as the swing vote, but in a stroke of genius, the alliance took a different tact. Tara was getting awfully close to Locky, and that tension had put enough strain on the Tara/Peter relationship to break it. With his “softer touch,” Jarrad approached Peter about where his head was at, giving Peter the space to raise his own concerns about Tara – and her alliance with Locky and Aimee, opening the door for Peter to suggest the idea of taking out Aimee himself. Jarrad’s subtle approach to the game may not turn heads, but it’s incredibly effective. Just as he whispered to Tessa after the Immunity Challenge, assuring her “Let’s make a move tonight,” he has been able to work his influence in a way that somebody as bold as A.K. cannot. Nobody suspects he’s playing – and no one is looking at Peter either.
Peter has barely made a peep in these first couple weeks – and what we did see made it appear that he was toeing the party line. He pointed out the irony of Tessa trying to get A.K. to flip after she dragged Tara through the mud over flipping; he harped on the idea of the Alliance of Eight or the united strength of his tribe leading into the challenge. The flag of the SS Mateship was slowly rising up the mast – but it seems we, the audience, were similarly duped into underestimating him. Peter has emerged as a shrewd player, and he carefully weighed up his options this episode to make a move in his best interest. He knew his closest ally’s true allegiance to him was weakening and he ultimately made a play to break up his competition. Peter doesn’t worry himself with armies or minions or control – it’s just about his relationships and his position in the web, and by only worrying about himself, it made this an easy vote by the time that Tribal rolled around.
HANGRY FOR CONTROL
On the other side of things, Locky and Tara were growing over-confident in their place in the tribe. Particularly Tara, who began itching to make a big play and take out a long-term adversary. Her instincts were right: Tessa was a free agent, desperate for a lifeline, and this could be a perfect opportunity to eliminate a threat like A.K. The trouble was that she came upon this scheme more by happenstance than careful planning. Whereas A.K. and his crew spent days carefully cultivating their coup, Tara seemed to be struck by the idea in the middle of dinner-time, hours before Tribal.
She acted on it impulsively, turning to Tessa and throwing out the option to blindside A.K. with no warning or preparation with her alliance. It was only afterwards that she solidified the plan with Locky and Aimee, who roped in Anneliese for good measure. Aimee might have been impressed by Tara’s scheming, but it was more sloppy seconds than fine dining. Tara is a player who does have the guts to make strong moves, and she does have some solid instincts, but her impulsiveness can lead her into recklessness. “Stepping away” from her alliance after a bad conversation worked out in her favour, but she isn’t always going to be so lucky – as the events of Samatau’s fourth consecutive Tribal proved.
Before we get to that delicious moment, though, let’s bring this back to Tessa. She and Tara have been flipping each other suspicious glances for a few episodes now, and it was incredibly naïve of Tara to think that she could bring Tessa back on board with just a throwaway plan over the dinner table. It may be that Tara didn’t think she truly “needed” Tessa’s vote to pull off her plan (perhaps thinking that Peter was on side with her), but it was still a half-baked attempt to resolve a long-simmering feud.
So ultimately, Tessa made the right decision in siding with A.K. and his crew. She has far more room to move in the motley crew of A.K., Jarrad, Ziggy, and Peter than in the so-called “Misfit Alliance” helmed by power couple Locky & Aimee and her long-standing rival Tara. Tessa has survived in the game by the grace of Tarzan twice, but she is an intelligent player who knows what she needs to do to make his sacrifices worth it. As she said at Tribal, “Loyalty is what got me [in trouble] in the first place,” and loyalty could be what gets her out of this pickle for the time being. If she can get her feet under her, she could utilise this new alliance to propel herself deep into the game.
SPEWIN’ THE DUMMY
As A.K.’s alliance turned their sights on Aimee, I did wonder if they could pull it off. She was an inoffensive person not making efforts to aggressively play the game, willing just to follow the leader in Locky. Yes, taking out an enemy’s loyal sidekick is a smart move, but would it really be something that Peter, the apparent swing vote, would risk his game for?
But then Aimee opened her mouth at Tribal, and it became clear that she was not just a foot soldier in the other army – she was a dangerous loose cannon. Question after question, the Alliance of Eight all played dumb. Despite each and every one of them looking to break that allegiance, they all focused on Tessa as the outsider and their numbers staying strong. Aimee, #RealTopSheila that she is, wasn’t going to play such silly games – and openly and without provocation stated that “There’s never a Strong Eight.”
Her honesty sent shockwaves through the tribe as each player tried to figure out how to respond. It was no jaw-dropping revelation, but for Locky and Tara’s alliance, it betrayed their intended blindside – and for A.K. and his alliance, it forced them to double down on playing dumb. Slowly, the façade cracked as Locky and Tara also admitted to thinking about the long-term plan for the alliance – to the point where Tara made what could be considered a more damning statement about the alliance eating itself: “I don’t see the difference, today or tomorrow.”
However, Aimee bore the brunt of the foot-in-mouth moment, but it didn’t seem to faze her. As far as she was concerned, betrayal and back-stabbing was not the lead story on Survivor – rather, “a fair whack of it is about loyalty.” Aimee was an enigma through these first five episodes, more of a series of reaction shots and one-liners than a well-rounded character. Her True Blue Aussie colloquialisms were an endearing button to this homegrown production, but I had expected her to be a far more prominent character this season. Although it was thrilling to see the applecart upset by an unexpected uprising, it’s a shame it came at the cost of losing one of the unique personalities on the cast.
Nevertheless, the blindside faces were cathartic, and as Aimee thanked “Jonno” on her way out the door, the Samatau Alliance That Was is now a dog’s breakfast. With a tentative new majority, an enraged Tara and a new kingpin in A.K. on the table, anything could happen.
CRUMBS OF AN EMPIRE
Meanwhile, Asaga was (barely) in the episode too! For the second episode in a row, the Immunity-hogging tribe’s storyline was reduced to Jericho’s Cookie Empire. Jericho has popped out of nowhere this week to emerge as a force to be reckoned with. His gleeful exploitation of his cookie jar has verged on brazen, but he has massaged his situation into a profitable enterprise. Last episode, he used the cookies to solidify his alliance with Luke, the Elmo to his Cookie Monster, and to bring in Henry as a potential number.
Tonight, Jericho also made an interesting – and somewhat unexplained – decision to target Sarah as another ally in his growing empire. I don’t fully understand why Sarah – from what we’ve seen so far, she seemed to be a close ally to Samantha who has been positioned as the arch-enemy of Jericho’s closest ally Luke. It’s puzzling, but maybe the truth is as simple as presented on the show, where even Sarah seemed to question why Jericho came to her.
But he played it off well, telling her that he could only give the cookies to one other person and the reason he shared them with her was that “we don’t scheme.” There was a lot of emphasis on Jericho’s perception as the young, innocent, Christian boy last episode – and it seems he’s playing off this demeanour in his pitch to Sarah. He’s sharing cookies with her just because he likes her and he’s a nice guy. That goodwill could serve him well in the long run. Sprinkling breadcrumbs on his tribemates, however… It might have worked for Gollum against Samwise, but it’s a pretty dangerous piece of mischief on Survivor.
Nevertheless, Jericho has made substantial headway this week in forming an alliance by bringing Luke, Henry, and Sarah into his growing empire, but four into eleven does not make a majority (even if you asked Brad Culpepper). However, it’s a start, and Jericho has certainly proven he’s willing to risk it to get the biscuit.
GRUEL & POTATOES
I can’t wrap this up without praising the challenges once again. I do enjoy the challenges on Survivor, but they’re not the reason I tune in – yet without a doubt, Australian Survivor Season 2 is reinventing how this game is played! Literally! I don’t think we’ve had one challenge so far that’s a direct replica of a US challenge. It’s refreshing, it’s riveting and tonight’s epic endurance Tribal Immunity was no different.
Perched upon the now-iconic Bennett Rock, home of the legendary Hand on a Hard Idol Final Immunity of Season 1, this challenge was incredible. The crashing waves and cutting wind added to the sheer brutality, but the design of the challenge was so elegant, testing not only the literal endurance of the castaways but also their ability to work together as a team. That it came down to an unlikely 1-hour 45-minute showdown between muscly studs Henry and Mark W. for Asaga and “the Olympian and the Couch Potato” in Ziggy and A.K. for Samatau only served to cap off the gruelling challenge. I would love to see more collaborative endurance challenges like this going forward, so here’s hoping my sweet dreams come true!
NEXT ON THE MENU
With Samatau shaken and stirred by a massive blindside and the shifting allegiances of Asaga slowly coming to the boil, the outlook for Week Three of Australian Survivor is definitely promising. Will A.K.’s new power position be a spud or a dud? Or will Tara and Locky be able to make lemons into lemonade? Will Jericho’s Empire rise like dough, or sink like a failed soufflé?
Whichever way the cookie crumbles, you can bet it’s going to be a treat!
OTHER #SURVIVORAU COVERAGE on INSIDE SURVIVOR
Australian Survivor will be back next Sunday at 7.30pm AEST – and Dylan Vidal will be on hand to recap everything that goes down, down under.