It’s day 31 in sunny Fiji, and Soli Bula has returned their first Tribal Council together as a merged group. The lines were clearly drawn with six original Contenders and six original Champions remaining. Andy thought he was super smart suggesting a merge tribe name with a secret meaning, but he seems to have fallen victim to it immediately (Soli Bula means “sacrifice” in the native Fijian language). Daisy joined in by sacrificing her idol needlessly after David made enough vague comments to make her feel like her time in the game was limited. The show also seemed to sacrifice its rules as Andy threw a parting shot at David despite Jonathan stating that “the person voted out must leave Tribal Council immediately.”
The merge vote is known to be tense—some castaways are meeting for the first time, others have been together the entire game, and many have new and old alliances to consider as they move forward. Without any way to confirm allegiances, the vote is similar to the very first Tribal of the season where everybody feels vulnerable and waits to see if their allies come through to support them. Andy had made himself suspicious to most, if not all, of the remaining castaways and was a perfect candidate to draw votes from his allies and enemies alike.
This episode everyone has completed the merge vote hurdle and is ready to start securing their own interests. This second merge tribe vote can often signal the direction for the remainder of the season. Key power players will often rise to the fore, and votes become less “best for the tribe” and more “best for me.” Everything is personal now.
Another poignant point is that the jury is now in play. JLP officially reveals to the castaways that the person voted out will become the first member of the jury. How the person you vote out feels about you and your gameplay can now affect your ability to win a million dollars. Last year, the jury was known as a bit of a boys club, with the first five jurors being male, and made the female castaways worry that they might favour a male finalist over a female one. The most recent US season of Survivor had a massive thirteen person jury that rewarded a player who had spent the majority of his game with them before winning his way back into the game on day 35 (of 39). Make no mistake, the jury wants to see you play hard, but they want you to play nice too.
Luke and Janine discuss their pre-game perceptions of one another prior, and in confessional, the King of the Jungle talks to the importance and influence of relationships. This point is immediately proven when Baden explains how his relationship with Luke is like a window into the original Champions alliance. As for Luke, his priority is maintaining strong relationships with everyone. These relationships—whether they are based on strategy, common interests, or a good personality match—can make a massive difference to how you might be perceived by those who have left the game. In this situation, Baden seems to feel he might be taking advantage of his relationship with Luke to gather information, but on the flip side, Baden might feel warmly towards Luke as someone willing to work with him if he was watching from the jury.
What I really wanted to know from the previous night’s vote was why exactly the original Contenders (who had initially been targeting David) all ended up voting the way they did, securing a unanimous vote against Andy. Instead of answering this question, the episode opens with commentary on David’s island fashion. David’s fellow castaways may be debating if he is “sarong or so wrong” but he has the last laugh because the self-described Golden God has remained the foremost power player this season, crowing to the camera about his successes in the game and his intent to “strut all the way to Sole Survivor.”
The Reward Challenge brings a prize not often seen so early in the season—a brand new car! Australian Survivor takes part in the old Survivor franchise tradition of the Car Curse. For many seasons the Reward Challenge has given one castaway a brand new car, and the winner of this car has never gone on to win the season. This has held true for the 2017 and 2018 seasons of Australian Survivor. It even inspired a challenge twist in Survivor: Guatemala (2005) which offered it’s challenge winner the chance to overcome “the car curse” by giving up the car in exchange for the other remaining castaways to each get their own car (incidentally the castaway kept the car for herself and was voted out later than episode).
Even though there is no conclusive proof that winning the car means you can’t be the Sole Survivor, as a fan, I wouldn’t be taking any chances. I would not waste my time competing in a challenge to win a curse, I mean car… when I could be conserving energy on the sidelines. Nobody on the island is as deeply a Survivor nerd as me, so naturally, they all compete to their full potential. More than 100 minutes and some very sore feet later Abbey emerges victorious. Along with her new car, she wins a picnic to share and takes David (to commend his efforts in coming second place) and John (to get to know him better).
The three tuck into a feast beside a beautiful waterfall. Abbey and John share their common interest in the northern territory, but David never lets a chance to strategise slide by. While the supermodel espouses the benefits of a final three alliance and keeping the picnic alliance strong, John and Abbey both explain via confessional that they are simply nodding and smiling since it’s widely known that David will promise an alliance to anything that walks and talks. What was useful before (someone to hold the group together and to lead them) is now a threat (a charismatic dictator of sorts).
The Immunity Challenge is the most terrifying I have ever seen. That’s not the first time I’ve said that phrase this season, but the challenge department is really bringing it. For every time I feel like there are duds on the cast, I am overwhelmed by the challenge team and their creativity. This is a re-make of challenge used in 2018 where castaways must remain in the shallow water under bar-like cages. As the tide comes in the water becomes deeper until the castaways have no more breathing space. Last year, the castaways did this in the sunshine and had their feet nibbled by hungry fish. To up the ante, this year the challenge takes place at sunset.
The challenge in itself is terrifying as water creeps up above your mouth and nose. The freezing cold water, unpredictable waves, and very real chance of drowning make panic only a moment away. Yet again, it comes down to battle between David and Shaun. You can physically see David spitting out the seawater, which continually runs into his mouth as he tries to breathe. That being said, it seems like David would rather die than lose Immunity to Shaun again and manages to pull out the win after The Horse appears to lose his composure for a millisecond and outs himself from the challenge.
JLP then reveals a new twist to the castaways: there’s no time to go back to the beach, and the tribemates will need to find their target on the way to Tribal. I’m never 100% sure about the twists on Australian Survivor but this one was a sure way to ignite confusion and chaos. The castaways gather around various bonfires discussing their preferred target. Chief threat for most of the tribe is Shaun: a physical player who has won many challenges for his tribe and another for himself just last episode. Shaun’s nemesis is out of reach since he’s wearing the Immunity necklace, so he turns to a new threat—the most likeable, well-placed guy in the game with an epic life story to boot.
That’s right, Shaun wants to get out the people’s champ himself, Mr. Luke Toki. His points are strong: nobody has as good relationships with everybody in the tribe as Luke. Nobody else has a compelling life story like three children, including an unwell newborn at home. All the reasons viewers are screaming at their TVs right now are the ones why Luke is in the best position in the game. I know it, Shaun knows it, everybody on that island knows it. The question is if now is the right time to strike. Harry and Shaun certainly think it is. John says he’s willing to vote out Luke but only if they can confirm the numbers to do it. He doesn’t want to take a shot that misses. There’s the debate between what is more of a worry, a strategic threat or a physical threat, and even former Champs Janine and Pia seem to seriously be considering voting out their close ally.
As the hurried conversations run into a hectic Tribal Council, many points are made for each side. Shaun states that he would need to win ten Immunities in a row to make to the Final Tribal. It’s a decent point, even the beastliest of challenge beasts rarely make it from merge to the final without one slip up. David, who is ironically another physical specimen, says challenge threats have to go. He claims to have won Immunity for his team and to keep it out of Shaun’s hands.
Before Tribal, Janine agreed that Luke was the best game player remaining, but around JLP’s fire-pit she seems to support Shaun going home instead. She falls back to her business experience—KISS (or Keep It Simple, Stupid) is the best way to handle matters. Rushed decisions often have unforeseen consequences. Simple is having a shot at a dominant physical threat, and they should take it. The line most repeated by all is that “this” is an opportunity that can’t be missed. What exactly “this” is remains a mystery.
The votes roll in, and my heart was beating out of my chest with the anxiety that Luke might become the mayor of Jury Villa (an affectionate nickname for the first member of the jury). JLP asks for idols, and all eyes are on David, who has a chance to save his closest ally for sure rather than risk it on the tribe’s decision. He stays still. The tribe’s votes will stand. First votes are for Shaun…then Luke…then Daisy… Apart from the four dissenting votes (two of which were merely to mitigate the chance of an idol), all votes went to Shaun.
In a shocking twist, even Shaun’s closest ally Daisy voted him off along with fellow original Contender, John. Luke was right way back at the beginning of the episode: relationships are the key to anything and everything in this game. Those relationships certainly seem to have saved him now. The people’s champ will continue to reign… for now.