The adverts promised a bombshell at Tribal Council, and they certainly delivered. After seven episodes of straightforward, excellent Survivor, it was only a matter of time before we put on the Chubby Checker vinyl to do The Twist again like we did last year.
Australian Survivor has certainly had a chequered past with twists, with its first season boasting lows such as the pick-your-own-tribe and Sue’s kidnapping to highs such as the Episode 5 Double Tribal Council. For better or for worse, tonight’s big twist took its cues from the Double Tribal – voting players out of the tribe, rather than out of the game – but the tweaks of execution are already sparking passionate responses.
Is it unfair to pull a fast one on the players after they’ve voted someone out, calling ‘psych!’ keeping them in the game? Is it just the kind of status quo-shaking, drama-injecting mix-up that will help to keep the game fresh and unpredictable? I do have my reservations about the long-term impact of ex post facto twists, but I’m also optimistic about the entertainment and responsive gameplay that could emerge from the scenario that played out tonight – and that’s what ultimately keeps me excited about this season.
LET’S MAKE A MOVE
After the epic blindside against Aimee, Samatau remained divided, with A.K.’s majority of five alongside Jarrad, Tessa, Peter & Ziggy squared off against the blindsided minority of Tara, Locky & Anneliese. In the end, the majority stuck together and managed to pull off a risky split vote to send Tara packing. But as she was about to have her torch snuffed, Jonathan instead sent the tribe off to immediately vote out somebody else – a horrified Anneliese. Yet even then, Jonathan kept his snuffer at bay – rather than Tara and Anneliese being voted out of the game as expected, they were only voted out of their tribe and sent off for a reclusive night at Exile Beach before joining Asaga the next day.
The twist may be what burned brightest this episode, but the fiery embers making up the meat of the episode weren’t bad either. There was fantastic and faulty gameplay on both sides of the fence in the lead-up to the tribe’s return to Tribal Council as power-players wrestled for control, and new threats emerged from the shadows.
Ziggy has been a quiet factor in the opening stretch of the season, effortlessly shifting her allegiances without ever being in the cross-hairs. Tonight, she finally stepped into the spotlight as an essential swing vote and showed herself to be a smart, underestimated and quick-thinking player. When called to vote out a second player at Tribal Council – without any time for strategy – Ziggy loudly announced her vote against Anneliese to help marshal her alliance’s numbers to ensure a successful vote. This clever ploy was certainly her boldest move, but her gameplay earlier on the beach was similarly savvy.
We’ve been told that she was part of the core of her alliance with A.K. and Jarrad, but the strength of those bonds was questioned as she weighed up her options – stick with her current alliance to vote out Tara, or continue to play the middle by flipping against A.K.? For Ziggy, it all came down to timing.
Timing is often underestimated in Survivor – a big move is only an effective move if made at the right time. Taking out A.K. is on Ziggy’s radar as a necessary move, but it clearly wasn’t a good time – why give up a secure five for being an obvious fourth? Ultimately, Ziggy made the smart move for herself by sticking with her alliance at Tribal, but her management of the minority was phenomenal.
As Locky courted her as the swing vote, she agreed at every instance, and when it came time to actually pick a side, she made sure to assuage the concerns of the minority by assuring Anneliese, Tara, and Locky that she was 100% with them. Her bold-faced lying to them could come back to haunt her thanks to the twist, but for the moves she thought she was making, her emphatic assurances helped keep the minority quietly confident and prevented any desperate recklessness that could have upset the delicate split vote orchestrated by the majority.
It was surprising how readily Locky, Tara & Anneliese accepted Ziggy’s assurances that she was with them. Maybe it was relief clouding their perceptions, perhaps hunger for vengeance or just renewed over-confidence that they were due a win. Whatever the cause, they still found themselves duped by their competitors – although their strategies were not without their merits. Collectively, their management of Ziggy when she assured them her vote showed great self-awareness, as they told her to pretend like she hated them and avoid being spotted talking. It’s a simple strategy, but it’s one that can be easily overlooked and the fact that this often cocky minority made attempts to mask their moves was promising.
For his part, too, Locky played from the bottom well. He and Tara had picked out Ziggy as a potential swing, and he delved into that strategy with vigour. There was nothing subtle about the arguments he put forward to Ziggy, but he delivered them in an appealing form. While the two of them braved the pouring rain to try to keep the tribe’s fire alive, Locky emphasised A.K.’s unwillingness to contribute to camp – and that laziness was clearly a bugaboo for a hard-working, competitive, team player athlete like Ziggy.
Anneliese also initially played her position well. Her plan to play double agent by claiming she was seeking to abandon the sinking ship of the Locky/Tara alliance afforded her essential information about a narrow split vote that almost led to the undoing of the majority. This allowed her to choose her path forward much like Ziggy – stick with a plan to upheave the majority or side with them to survive? Unfortunately, the numbers did not work out in her favour when Ziggy’s decision to stick with the majority alliance left Anneliese out in the cold. But once Ziggy’s betrayal was apparent, Anneliese’s position went off the rails as she panicked and flipped her re-vote to Tara and then became the unfortunate – and obvious – target of the surprise second vote. Her game unravelled quickly, but luckily, she’ll have a chance to pull it back together.
But let’s talk about that split vote. After having seen two Idols played already, it was fathomable that an Idol could again be in play, but splitting a majority of five against a minority of three was risky. A.K.’s plan to put three votes each on Locky and Tara seemed hare-brained as all it would take was one flipper – a Ziggy, for example – to jump ship and he’d be toast. Even if the original plan fed to Anneliese (3 votes Locky, 3 votes Tara) was a con, the final vote (3 Tara, 2 Locky) rested on an incredible amount of trust within the alliance of five. It’s a testament to this alliance that they had accrued this much faith in each other to attempt a move so perilous.
A.K. may have succeeded in building a secure alliance, but he’s getting dangerously smug. Tara and Locky may be the faces of cockiness on Samatau, but with A.K. revelling in his “top dog” status and boasting about not having to make the fire, he could be getting too big for his britches. While it’s frustrating that his good gameplay in assembling an unlikely alliance has been undercut by the twist keeping his nemeses in the game, it could also serve as a necessary humility check. He’s in power, but as tonight’s episode revealed, power in Survivor is fleeting.
LET’S TWIST AGAIN
So that twist…
It was a shocking reveal, equal parts enticing and frustrating, as a majority who’d outplayed their fellow castaways instead got beat by a bunch of inconsistent rules – and two players who got voted out – just like the seven players before them – instead received a second life in the game. But was it a good twist?
I’m on record that I thoroughly enjoyed the Double Tribal twist from last season, where Saanapu and Vavau attended the same Tribal Council, unknowingly voting Conner and Nick onto the opposing tribe. It felt fresh and dynamic, it kept the players on their toes and created a new energy in scorned players surviving to take their revenge another day. On paper, tonight’s twist played out the same way. Neither Samatau nor the tribes of Season 1 knew that the twist was in play when they cast their vote, with Jonathan only revealing the truth after pen had hit paper and the decision was final.
However, unlike Season 1, where an unprecedented Tribal with two tribes casting separate votes might have implied that something unexpected was coming, there was nothing about Samatau’s Tribal to suggest that the unexpected could be in play. Season 1 had the feel of an event; tonight was just like any other Tribal – at least until Tara had already been voted out. There was nothing the players could have done to anticipate even a hint of this twist, and as a result, it felt a little cheap. It would be like someone taking their chess opponent’s Queen, only for a spectator to declare that Queen invincible and put it back on the board. Players like A.K. and Ziggy made a move at this Tribal Council to advance their own games – but after that move had been made, they were retroactively punished for it when their target Tara got the rare chance to fight another day simply because the rules of the game changed.
Survivor isn’t fair. But the players can’t play a game if they don’t know the rules. Can you even call it a game if there aren’t rules, and if you can’t rely on the rules you’ve been given, is it even worth playing? I always prefer Survivor twists where the players have a chance to play with it, rather than be played by it. Wouldn’t it have been more interesting to see Samatau go to Tribal knowing they were voting players onto the opposing tribe, rather than it be sprung on them when they had no chance to react?
But no matter how it all went down, Tara and Anneliese still have their torches burning, and they’re still in this game. Perhaps it’s best not to look at the incidents of this Tribal as the twist in and of itself because Tara & Anneliese’s tribe swap will inevitably result in opportunities for the castaways to play “with” the fallout of this tribe swap. Tara and Anneliese are still in the minority on their new tribe and will have to play well to infiltrate the numbers. The Majority 5 Alliance may still hold the numbers on Samatau, but they’ll have to work hard to keep those numbers and mitigate the damage of their enemies persisting. Asaga looks to be in a dilemma of their own as they respond to the shakeup. This opens the door for players to respond to the twist, just as if it were any other tribe swap. With over a month left on the Island for these castaways, perhaps the outcome of the twist is more important than the manner in which it happened.
So do I like that this twist was executed through a sham Tribal Council? Not at all – and I think chipping away at the finality of Tribal Council is a dangerous production choice. But do I like the story and strategy that could emerge due to this twisty tribe swap? Without a doubt.
FIRE + WATER
So what of the tribe Anneliese & Tara are set to join? Good news for them – it’s thoroughly divided. In the wake of Mark’s elimination, Luke and Jericho reacted with vindictive pettiness, extinguishing the fire and refusing to help start a new one. Their frustration is understandable after having been on the wrong side of the vote (their own failed coup, admittedly), but their actions were ultimately self-serving and self-defeating. Revelling in the misery of others is never going to win hearts and minds.
Unless you’re Luke, who somehow possesses an infectious charm that supersedes his regularly erratic behaviour. In fact, after a couple of days of refusing to help with the fire and driven by his own hunger, Luke started a fire for his tribe and was celebrated as a hero. How Luke manages to do it is unfathomable, but impressive – and Henry was certainly right to fear him as a social threat.
The problem for Henry, though, is that he and Jacqui have a growing target on their back. While Henry was able to sway the tribe against Sam and Mark – who were seen as aggressive, controlling or paranoid – he won’t necessarily have the same ammunition against someone as likable as Luke. Over-confidence is also brewing as Henry takes players for granted like Ben and Michelle, who he literally dubs “useless.” His power couple with Jacqui is not immune – and if Luke is lucky enough to scoop up the Samatau outcasts, he may find himself in danger – where no amount of Idols or tweezers can save him.
Stepping away from the tribe politics, Asaga’s first reward – a luxurious retreat under a beautiful waterfall – was a bizarre sequence. Between Ben emerging as Narcissus and Luke deciding to shave his Tickle-Me-Elmos (all hilariously narrated by Kent), the highlight was surely the “clue” bait-and-switch. Henry and Luke both managed to swipe small parcels that resembled Idol clues laid out in plain sight amongst the spa reward but later discovered their precious game advantages only turned out to be a pack of nail scissors. It may have been a ludicrous outcome, but it certainly emphasised that the paranoia between the two remaining alpha males on Asaga is going to come to a head sooner rather than later.
KEEP ON BURNING
With the tribe dynamics up in the air as Anneliese and Tara join Asaga (and Asaga appears to send two of its own back to Samatau), the game is in for a shakeup. Although the nature of this tribe swap was not the most elegant or satisfying, it is always intriguing to see the power structure shaken up.
There are still 35 days left to play – and in this game, fire represents life. As long as the fire is burning, hope stays alive. Twist or no twist, there’s still plenty of bright sparks flying on this season.