Tonight, we witnessed a beautiful send off to one of Survivor’s greatest characters and gameplayers. There were no blindsides, no surprises, no idols, no twists, and by the end of it, there were no dry eyes in sight. This episode made no secret of the result and instead prioritised giving one of its most beloved characters the respect they deserved and an exit fit for a king.
Australian Survivor has been excellent at giving the contestants (the ones they like at least) a narrative that they take along with them and build upon throughout their time on the season. Luke represents the everyday great Aussie battler from the suburbs that so many viewers can relate to. Everybody knows somebody like Luke. There is no filter with Luke; he can’t help but be anybody else than himself. During his first season, it was easy to judge him based off of the questionable tattoos and loud and cocky persona, but underneath it all is an intelligent man with a heart of gold.
Tonight’s episode can be best split into two parts. The first being the heartbreaking end of Luke Toki’s amazing story and the second being the setting up of the final three contestants heading into the finale.
Tugging at the Heartstrings
Luke was red-hot from last episode’s Tribal Council. The fans on social media praised Luke for his strategic brilliance, and Jonathan labelled the previous Tribal as the best of the season. With a charismatic social game, a strategic resume, four Immunity wins, and an emotional backstory, Luke was an impenetrable force if he were to make it to the Final 2. As such, he stood out as the biggest threat in the game, and Harry was the main driving force behind his exit, ultimately being the one to stop Luke from winning a record-breaking fifth individual Immunity. When Luke lost the intense Immunity challenge, the writing was on the wall, unless he managed to get himself into a fire-making tiebreak challenge—something that proved to be an improbable feat.
For as straightforward as the episode ended up being, it was enveloped in so much emotion that every moment felt significant. The challenge felt do-or-die and weighted. Luke’s emotional conversations with Baden and Pia and tear-provoking confessionals felt so profound. Every moment the King of the Jungle was on-screen felt like there was so much on the line. So many contestants come into the game feeling satisfied by even getting onto the show. Some will fall on their sword for what they think is right, and some will lay down and take the game for granted. Nothing about Luke’s experience has ever been taken for granted, and that was beautifully shown this episode. Even when he was at his lowest, he remained positive and promised that he wouldn’t stop trying to find a way to stay.
Tonight, the orchestral backing track went into overdrive to deliver as much atmosphere and emotion as possible. Every time Luke spoke, he was met with a beautiful piano arrangement, and the music during the Immunity challenge highlighted that the focus was on Luke losing more than Harry winning. Harry’s victory wasn’t met with a happy and cheerful song but instead one that denoted anxiety and tension. As the camera focused on Luke crouched on the sand gasping for air, the dissonant choir that played in the background only intensified. Harry was, of course, met with the devilish music that Network 10 uses for all their reality shows. Dirty Harry is the evil maniacal man who got in the way of the “people’s champion” and his shot at winning the game.
At Tribal, Luke laid his heart completely bare. He went out on a limb and told everyone that he was going to vote for Baden, leaving Pia as the swing vote to decide if he would go to fire or not. Luke wasn’t pushy in his pitch or aggressive, he simply laid it out on the line and knew that Pia was smart enough to make the decision that would be best for her. There was so much authenticity and passion in what he was saying, and the emotion was palpable. You could see and feel how much the game meant to him, which only made you want to support him to succeed. There is often this negative sentiment in Survivor toward anyone who preaches why they deserve to win and whose games are dictated, not by their strategic acumen, but rather by who they are on the outside world and what hardships they’ve gone through in life.
Luke’s edit has not been deprived of such a thing, with mentions of how much the money would change his family’s life and how difficult it has been for him to leave behind his newborn child who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. Yet, watching him doesn’t feel like you’re being emotionally guilt-tripped because Luke always aims to channel his emotional hardships into his strategic gameplay. Luke has been incredible at using his family to motivate him to play a stronger game. Whenever his back was up against the wall, he managed to remind himself why he was on the island and find a way to stay safe. It’s a wonderful trait to see in a player when so many times we are victim to watching contestants play complacently or be satisfied with just making the jury or family visit.
It might seem like I am being overly dramatic to be eulogising Luke and his game the way that I am, but that is only because the episode went out of its way to make his exit so damn heartbreaking! He cried just as much as he laughed and we, along with many of the contestants and jurors, cried and laughed along with him. Luke was more than a competitor and someone to beat. He was a beacon of light that made the Survivor experience so much more enjoyable for the contestants. As Pia said during their conversation, she couldn’t have made it this far without him. Pia had always said that she was going to play with her head and not her heart, but that didn’t make her decision to ultimately vote Luke out any easier.
With that out of the way, the rest of the episode was pretty much devoted to setting up each contestant’s stories heading into the final episode tomorrow night. So, let’s get into where each of them stands.
Hanging by a Thread
Currently studying his PhD on the physics of the ionosphere, Baden has the whole world ahead of him. After initially struggling with his confidence and being a target early on for being a perceived physical liability, Baden has grown into his own skin before our very eyes and shown everyone that he has a lot more to offer than his intelligence and quirky tendencies. His game heading into the finale is hanging on by a thread as he is the perceived goat. As Harry puts it, Baden is the ideal number two as he hasn’t done anything to excel socially or strategically. Interestingly, Harry doesn’t completely discredit Baden’s game but says that if he has been playing the game hard, he hasn’t done a good job at making anybody aware of it. As Aubry Bracco once put it, there is no point pulling the strings if you are behind the curtain where no-one can see you.
Baden had a more optimistic view of his game and told us that his ability to create relationships kept him in the loop and is what got him to the final four. Baden had a strong friendship with Luke, and now that he is in the jury, it will be interesting to see if he will vouch for him and give him some more credibility among the jurors. It is also important to remember how articulate, intelligent, and charismatic Baden is. He could do some major damage with his final tribal council speech.
Cutting the String
Pia is an actress who has had a successful career. Her story revolves around wanting to be a role model for her kids. Nicknamed the “smiling assassin,” Pia is described as a great actress, an astute reader of the game and the strategic mastermind behind the Champions alliance. Despite being meek and under the radar, she has not been invisible enough to the point that she won’t be given credit for the moves that she has made. It appears that everyone is completely aware of her influence over Janine and the Champions strategically. Pia was also not shy this episode to tell us that she believed she had the game to beat Harry in the end. A big call given how much of a flashy player and big character Harry has been throughout the season.
Tonight, Pia had the scissors in her hands and decided the cut the string to Luke’s game. If there were any doubts that she was playing with her head and not her heart, then this episode surely crushed them. Admittedly, Pia’s biggest weapon in the game is her relationship with Janine. Janine has been Pia’s biggest cheerleader and will no doubt continue to push for her victory in the jury if she were to make it to the Final 2. At the start of the season, Pia said that she always believed that she would either be voted out first or make it all the way to the end and win. Now that she is at the Final 3, we will see if that prophecy comes true.
Pulling the Strings
Harry is the Survivor superfan who played his best game before the merge. Having initially been on the winning tribe before the swap, Harry found himself falling victim to one of the many swings of momentum in the game. It was when his back was against the wall during the tribe swap did he manage to play his most cunning and ruthless game. Although, it’s important to note that Harry’s game was saved by Ross’ medical evacuation, as he was the sure-fire target heading into that Tribal Council had Ross not been evacuated.
Dirty Harry, the God-Killer, the King-Killer, whatever you want to call him (just call him Harry) you can’t deny that Harry has been one of the larger characters this season and a marketing executive’s wet dream. Even though he didn’t have to do much convincing to vote Luke out tonight, the episode and the plan to get rid of Luke was framed from his perspective. His ability to win Immunity in order to finally make Luke vulnerable at Tribal was something credit to him. He won Immunity when he needed it the most.
With clichés coming out of his mouth left, right and centre, Harry has been a player that has had one of the bigger roller-coaster rides in the game. He managed to find several immunity idols when he was on the bottom of his swap tribe and lied about having a kid and managed to walk away from it scot-free and with the nickname Dirty Harry! His journey has been insane, and the fact that he has made it to the Final 3 is a testament to his game. The only thing I believe is holding Harry back is the fact that he played his best game pre-merge. Since the merge, Harry has almost faded into the background. If he were to make it to the Final 2, it would be interesting to see how the jury reacts to him.
It all comes to a head tomorrow night. Who will win? Baden, Pia, or Harry? Let us know your thoughts below!