Luck is an incredibly significant factor in Survivor. Which tribe you start on. Which buff you draw at a swap. Whether your reward comes with a clue to an Idol (or sometimes even an Idol itself!). Which way the wind blows in a critical balance-based Immunity Challenge. Relying on luck should never be one’s sole strategy, but adaptation and mitigation of the inherent unpredictability of the uncertainties of the game is a mark of an excellent player.
But sometimes—rarely—luck is the predominant factor in a vote. This episode marked one of the more overt lucky dips of a Tribal Council in recent memory. The Contenders attempted to outwit the Champions, who in turn sought to outwit the Contenders, and so on and so on. It was a game of reverse reverse reverse psychology. A blind gamble. Russian roulette. A roll of the dice. And honestly, it’s hard to find fault with either side’s tactics.
For all the talk of the majorities and minorities, this vote wasn’t about who had more people on their side. It wasn’t a numbers game; the numbers were set in stone. Rather, it was a game of names. It came down to anticipating the unpredictable and, with luck, choosing the right name. Much like a game of Battleship, you just have to put down your pieces and hope you guess right when the shots are fired.
For the Contenders, now outnumbered 4 to 5 against the original Champions, it was a do or die situation. With the Champions still adamant on whittling down Contender numbers, Daisy, John, Baden, and Harry had to finally get it together and team up to stop the haemorrhaging before it was too late—and thankfully, they had a lifeline in Daisy’s second Idol. If they stuck together and could play it on the right player, they would have a one in four chance of Idolling out a Champion and evening the playing field. They weren’t the best odds, but it was worth taking a chance.
The irony for the Contenders, bemoaning their minority predicament after blowing an 11 to 7 lead at the tribe swap, is that they had this exact opportunity at the merge. Shaun had presented this exact plan to Daisy—keep the Contenders together to pile votes on a Champion and use Daisy’s Idol to negate the Champions’ votes on Andy—but Daisy’s reluctance led to the Contenders resigning themselves to the minority. Then, they at least had intel on where the vote might land, but this time it was a total shot in the dark, but at least the four remaining Contenders wised up to the Hail Mary tactic.
However, it’s hard to critique the ultimate gamble at Tribal Council. With nothing to lose, and knowing that the secret of her Idol find had likely leaked to the Champions after Luke and Pia caught her red-handed (and let’s just say that Daisy’s poker face didn’t help her out), Daisy went all out and placed the Idol around her neck before Jonathan even asked his first question. And why not? What point was there in beating around the bush? While unlikely, speaking plainly of the actual scenario of the Tribal lines and her inevitable crapshoot of an Idol might eke out a hint of where the vote might go. But even if the conversation at Tribal might obfuscate her ultimate choice into randomness, there was nothing to lose by being honest about the situation. It also allowed the Contenders to speak openly themselves to question the pecking order of the Champions and establish just how unpredictable the vote might be.
Pointedly, they also managed to avoid naming their own target. It was the mistake that doomed the iconic Three Amigos Tribal in Caramoan, where Malcolm Freberg, Reynold Toepfer, and Eddie Fox announced their intended target, thus removing the fear factor that might have caused the majority to scramble in self-preservation. This error has resurfaced again and again, most recently in Survivor South Africa: Island of Secrets, but to Daisy, John, and Harry’s credit, this mistake was not made here. At least, the error wasn’t made at Tribal; Baden’s sharing of the plan with Luke, including naming the Contenders’ target as Abbey, cut the legs off any chance of any of the other Champions getting spooked into flipping—however unlikely that would have been. In a game of probabilities, a 1% chance of a flip is still better than 0%.
And while Daisy ultimately guessed incorrectly when it came to playing her Idol, leading to the demise of Mexican Parma enthusiast and perennial nudist John, I can’t really fault her choice. It’s easy to think that it should have been obvious that the Champions wouldn’t call her bluff and would pile the votes onto one of the Contenders not flaunting an Idol around their neck, but this move has been attempted enough that it’s no guarantee. Ultimately, Survivor is a game of self-interest, and with no strong indication that one of John, Harry, or Baden was the particular target, Daisy made the right call to ensure her own advancement. It’s a common philosophy—better ‘waste’ your Idol to protect yourself than to sit on it or burn it on someone else and go home. By playing the Idol conservatively and in self-preservation, Daisy earned herself another day, and sometimes one day is all it takes for the game to turn upside down.
CALLING THE BLUFF
Meanwhile, the Champions were faced with an equally impossible predicament. With the knowledge that Daisy had an Idol, thanks to Luke and Pia’s timely visit to the well, and later with Luke’s knowledge from Baden of the Contenders’ intention to spin the wheel and hope they got lucky, the Champions were faced with a similar crapshoot. If the Contenders were truly united in their gamble, who would be the safest target to avoid one of their own getting Idolled out? They could call Daisy’s bluff, but what if she got paranoid and protected herself, as she did at the merge? So maybe they could target Harry, but what if the Contenders anticipated him as the obvious second choice? So perhaps John was the better bet, but even that logic problem might be anticipated by the Contenders—and notably, we saw Harry predict this exact scenario during the Contenders’ strat-chat. The attack and counter-attack planning was almost pointless; any choice the Champions made could be anticipated by the Contenders, so it was truly a situation of just taking a stab in the dark.
Ultimately, they got lucky in choosing to go after John—inoffensive, third in the pecking order John—but even that was a precarious call. Even though they worked to stoke Daisy’s paranoia, which may have contributed to her decision to keep the Idol for herself, there was no way of being sure. And given the vote on John seemed to be a last-minute change-of-plan from Harry, the Champions were dangerously close to blowing it with an unintentional split vote, as one of them didn’t get the memo to vote for John. Presumably, this was Simon, given Luke’s conversation with Pia & Janine and Abbey’s John vote shown over the closing credits, and his wayward vote for Harry lead to a 4-4-1 tie between John and Abbey. If Abbey had also missed the memo, or the Champs had dropped the ball, everything might have changed completely. But nevertheless, they stayed strong, made their bet, and won big.
The question does arise, however, as to whether any of the Champions should have flipped. John, particularly, pushed the issue of the Champions pecking order… and it’s not untrue. If the Champions stick together, one of them will inevitably go home in fifth. It’s the way of any alliance—there’s always someone who’ll be on the bottom when the time comes. Even if Janine’s narrative of a democratic alliance is true for the time being (and given the 3-2 advantage she, Pia and Abbey hold over the guys, I’m inclined to doubt it), there will inevitably be a pecking order when it gets down to five. The trouble is that this situation wouldn’t change for a Champion looking to flip.
If Luke or Simon were to jump ship, they’d be trading fifth place with the Champions for fifth place behind the united Contenders—hardly a move in their best interest. For Simon, he has good connections with the women, and Abbey in particular, due to their time on the post-swap tribe, and physically, he’d be in good stead for an Immunity run. And though Luke was left out of the David blindside, he was potentially saved by Janine stumping for him at the previous Tribal Council—and let’s not forget that the Contenders were just as culpable in excluding him from the David vote. The Champions had every reason to stay strong here, and it worked out perfectly for them at this particular vote.
THE GAME RESETS?
But where does that leave the game moving forward? With the Champions now up 5 to 3, it would behove them to keep moving down the line to finish off the Contenders, but is it that simple? While it might not have been the time for Luke to make his move at this Tribal, his options improve as the numbers whittle down. His relationship with Baden has been a secret alliance on our radar for the last couple weeks, and we saw in this episode how beneficial it was for him. While Baden is playing a decent game of strategically staying in the middle as the messenger, there’s an argument to be had that by informing Luke of the Contenders’ complete plan, he relinquished more information than he gained in return, thus giving the advantage to the Champions. Luke, meanwhile, reaped the benefits of this partnership, and it looks like it could be a perfect out for him to make a power play against the Champs.
This seems particularly possible with the loose formation of The Lost Boys, an alliance forged over a secret supper of rice that brings Dirty Harry into the fold alongside Luke and Baden. With Daisy clearly on the outs, that could give Luke the numbers to at least tie things up against the Champions and would insulate him in a new alliance where he isn’t necessarily the person on the bottom.
Similarly, Janine and Pia continue to dominate, but they must ensure they don’t become too comfortable in their position. Luke is a loose cannon, and though Pia worked hard to ensure he didn’t feel ostracised after the David vote, he has to be a priority target sooner rather than later. It would not surprise me to see them take a pendulum strategy approach and look to cut him out at the next vote while still maintaining a majority over the Contenders, but it’s a move that will have to be carefully finessed. Given Janine’s continued confidence that she could use Harry as a number, as evidenced by her discussion at the Chinese takeaway reward, this could be the loose thread that could unravel it. In confessional, Harry stated that he had no interest in being her puppet, so if Janine makes the mistake of overvaluing her working relationship with her pre-merge nemesis, it could be devastating for her game.
That said, there’s a lot of savvy gameplay happening in this season, and we aren’t always privy to it (remember the show obscuring the Champions’ split vote against Matt to build tension?), so I’m confident that we’ll continue to see the best of the best fight it out. These players are far from perfect. Daisy instigated the Contenders cannibalism post-swap, and her paranoia continues to govern her choices. Harry has flashes of brilliance but is erratic and overt in his scheming. And Baden’s strategy to play both sides is not only becoming more obvious but could leave him ready to be run over in the middle of the road. Abbey has demonstrated a tendency to prioritise emotion over cold strategy that could prevent her from making the move she needs to win out. Simon (though difficult to judge given his small edit) is seemingly indifferent when it comes to making a strategic play to better his individual standing in the game. And Janine’s brutally direct approach has earned her the notoriety of The Godmother that will inevitably make her a target.
Luke and Pia, however, are the standout players thus far and it’s much harder to poke holes in their games. Pia’s approach as the smiling assassin appears to be working out perfectly, driving strategy and keeping a meat shield in Janine in front of her. Luke, meanwhile, continues to play one of the most effortless and successful social games in Survivor history, effortlessly connecting to players across the board and using those social bonds to leverage information in his favour. While they may be the front-runners, their games still teeter on danger. Luke stands without clear numbers that could guide him to Day 50, and Pia’s close ties to Janine could make her a secondary target or even prevent her from getting the full credit for the game she’s played.
Nevertheless, the exciting thing about this phenomenal season is that the Final 8 is a pretty compelling bunch, filled with varied game strategies and philosophies that will inevitably clash as we head into the final weeks of Australian Survivor 2019. I am on the edge of my seat to see what lies in store. This episode’s vote might have come down to a lucky gamble, but I’ll take the bet that there’s a lot more stellar and ambitious gameplay still to come.