SURVIVORS READY!? We are back!
Last year was all about heroes and mateship, but this year it seems like Channel 10 has heard the cry for a smarter and more strategic game. So far, they are delivering in spades. The start of the episode flashed back to one of last season’s strongest moments which saw underdog Kristie wrestle victory in the final immunity challenge (and ultimately the title) off of the Mateship King (and now apparently car ad star) Lee. Samoa is as beautiful as ever but the season already has a different feel. The opening shots of the cast were bathed in darkness: a barge full of supplies and the silhouettes of shivering castaways moving through a rain storm to an unknown destination. It seemed like the opening of an epic, and I can only hope it’s a good sign of what’s to come.
The opening confessionals last year were about being strong and becoming a hero while this year sees a parade of confessionals with castaways discussing their intention to lie, deceive, betray and do whatever is necessary to be the Sole Survivor. Many of these confessionals focus on what each player can bring to the show but also how they will need to frame it to win. This ties in with a secondary theme of castaway’s needing to hide part of their identity. Mark W opens up about his special ops background and how it makes him a strong player but quickly explains in his next confessional that he needs to keep this to himself to prevent becoming a threat. Henry has given himself a makeover as a yoga instructor because he thinks it will help him progress in the game. There’s also a trend of castaways who believe they will be underestimated – Sarah, most notably, hopes she’s seen as ‘just’ a pretty face. Many contestants bios discussed how they would be underestimated or that nobody would see them coming, so the season is set up for an intricate dance between a group of people who (thankfully!) are here to play hard.
Jonathan LaPaglia (JLP) welcomes the castaways to the 55-day odyssey. The set up for a strategic and tense battle is driven home when JLP lets all the castaways know that they are playing “the greatest game on earth” and encourages them all to “play hard.” The host separates the castaways into two tribes. Asaga, who wear teal buffs, is made up of Ben, Jericho, Luke, Kent, Joan, Sarah, Sam, Mark W, Jacqui, Henry, Odette, and Michelle. Samatau, wearing the pink buffs, are AK, Adam, Aimee, Anneliese, Jarrod, Locky, Tarzan (Mark H), Tessa, Ziggy, Peter, Tara, and Kate. JLP explains how both tribes will gather supplies and race to collect a single bag of rice on the beach. The boat appears to be laden with different things – fruits, building materials, ropes, firewood – and they can load anything they want onto their supply nets to take with them. Both teams are thrilled with the prospect of starting the game with such a bounty, but this wouldn’t be Australian Survivor if there wasn’t a twist. Only the first tribe to get their hands on the rice will get to keep any supplies they gather. The other tribe will go to their beach empty handed.
Both tribes start out filling up their nets quickly, but once the race to the shore begins two different plans emerge. Asaga keeps all their supplies and relies on good teamwork and direction from Mark W. Samatau start to piff their supplies overboard to make it easier to move through the water. Both teams are neck and neck as they get to the beach – Samatau has totally emptied their net in order to carry it overhead up the beach while Asaga uses the waves to help bring theirs ashore. The challenge ends in a tussle between Jarrad and Sam to pull down the rice. (The bag of rice is a lot bigger than it looked initially and could be used as some sort of wrecking ball to take down a flimsy shelter if needed). Jarrad manages to snag the rice. Samatau wins! The first underdog story of the season and we’re only twenty minutes in. That being said, the rice is all that Samatau wins – the rest of their supplies are bobbing in the water or on their way to Davy Jones’ locker.
Samatau tribe heads to their camp (a location worth one’s ‘right nut’ according to Mark H) and the introductions begin. There are tears shed over family at home before the typical first-day chores begin. Locky finds others are “looking at” him as the leader (or as the eye candy if you ask Tara). He reports to the camera that he had planned to “sit back,” knowing that being the leader is not a safe place to be. AK, meanwhile, has jumped into playing the game with all the enthusiasm of a kid in a sweet shop. Like the proverbial kid, I suspect AK is probably going to end up with a stomach ache because he cannot turn the gaming off. AK makes a series of Russell Hantz-esque moves when he tries to make alliances with every person and hopes that his fellow tribemates “suffer” which will supposedly stop them from playing well while he uses his mental fortitude to remain focused on the game. He even uses a midnight spew session to check in with Tara – not for her well-being mind you, but that they were still good working together.
Over on Asaga, the initial challenge loss hasn’t made a dent in the team morale. There are lots of hugs on the mat before the search for a camp location begins. Sam, who took a leading role in this episode, describes herself as a control freak. There are good and bad things to be said for control freaks – they’re good because they have the tenacity to keep everything that needs to be pinned down in the right place. They’re bad because they can’t roll with the punches and can annoy others who aren’t willing to fit into their perfectly designed, typed and printed blueprint plan. We’ll have to see about Sam. Luke is more of a larrikin, like yammering away during the mat-chat when JLP hadn’t even asked him a question, but he’s enthusiastic leading the camp in making a shelter. Mark earns some points (from me at least) when he talks about holding back from showing off his survival skills even though he could probably improve the camp if he did. The other castaways notice that Mark has some skills but nobody has asked him about the details just yet.
After a broken night of sleep, the tribes receive a note asking for two castaways “with skills you deem right” to participate in a fire making challenge. Samatau nominates MarkZan and Adam. Over on Asaga, Michelle and Mark W both emphasise the importance of fire: Michelle wants it for its heat and Mark wants it to build team morale. Mark W and Jacqui are sent for the task. At the challenge, Adam tries to talk up/tell some lies about how well the Samatau camp is going but is cut off by MarkZan who says JLP ripped them off when he gave them the rice without a way to cook it. The challenge plays out in almost a reverse of the opening – Samatau comes out in front only for Asaga to snatch the victory with a late stage comeback. While grateful for the victory (Joan even cries at the first sign of fire), Mark is feeling the heat when Jacqui tells the entire tribe about his Superman fire making skills.
Day 3 dawns with an immunity challenge. There are so many parts of the obstacle course that I ran out of paper when listing them all. Both tribes are just about neck and neck throughout most of the challenge. Samatau throws in some interesting techniques that help their performance: Locky anchors the cargo net to make it easier for others to climb, then the tribe uses Locky as a climbing frame rather than moving the final block into place on the stair case. Asaga (who built their staircase) is able to scramble up quickly while Samatau pulls Locky up using brute force. As usual, the challenge comes down to the puzzle. Joan and Kent make good progress initially before Anneliese and AK sweep through to win immunity (and flint!) for Samatau. Before we can even cut to an ad break, Kent confesses that he knows that it’s between him and Joan since with doing the puzzle “you get the glory or you get kicked off.” Nobody mentions the biggest loss for Asaga which is their momentum.
As soon as Asaga gets back to camp the scrambling begins. Joan is playing the “strong” angle saying that keeping her will maintain the tribe’s strength. Kent has been preparing since the beginning of the game by forming relationships with other people. Kent had an early confessional about being aware that he’s a likely first boot target. Control freak Sam says she’s planning a 6-4 vote in favour of eliminating Joan. Luke decides that nobody should be controlling the game this early on and talks with Ben and Jericho about flipping the vote. I’m impressed with how Luke puts this to the boys here – instead of telling them he doesn’t want to be told what to do he talks about it being fair for everybody to have some input into who goes home. Jericho and Ben seem to be agreeing with him so we could be seeing our first blindside at the very first tribal council of the season.
Asaga files into tribal council and, after a quick quip about Luke building the Taj Mahal of shelters, Joan is down to business saying her head is on the chopping block. Sam explains that the puzzle makers are at risk because neither of them would’ve been able to do the physical portion of the challenge. Joan tries to throw Kent under the bus saying that he wasn’t doing as much of the puzzle as she was. Kent seems a little surprised to find himself at the wrong end of Joan’s attack and says that he never “thought a doubles partner cost the whole match.”
The tribe votes and to everyone (and especially Sam’s) surprise, the votes come back as a 6-6 tie. Luke flips his vote to Kent, and we have a hung tribal council. Luke looks delighted, Sam looks furious, and Ben doesn’t look totally sure that he’s actually on the island. Twitter and Facebook were rampant during this ad break wondering if Australian Survivor was following its US counterpart in forgoing a revote and proceeding straight to rocks. JLP crushes viewer dreams when he explains how the revote will work. This time everybody (or at least Luke) stays in line, the votes come back 6-4, and Joan is the first person booted off the island.
Joan was certainly a popular castaway in discussion before the season began – owning an escape room sounded like a drawcard particularly when it came to solving puzzles, and her attitude seemed perfect for a solid game of Survivor. It’s a shame to see her go so early. That being said, I don’t know who I would prefer to go in her place. I am excited about almost every castaway on the island, and this episode was full of cute little moments showcasing lots of characters. I don’t think I will get sick of MarkZan’s funny confessionals, Luke’s propensity to go rogue, Sarah’s sneaky strategic moments or (let’s be honest) Locky and Mark W’s abs. I can’t wait to see what’s in store this season!