Alright, Australian Survivor, we need to have a little chat. You know I love you, but I’m disappointed. The worst part is that I don’t want to be disappointed. This week’s swap delivered a fantastic shake-up to the status quo. Harry told one of the most fantastically ridiculous lies in Survivor history–and it seems to be working. David and Luke end up hopelessly outnumbered, and even with the Hail Mary of an Idol each, they managed to dig their way out of danger solely through stoking the paranoia and capitalising on a stroke of luck. The Contenders tribe fractured, complicating the game beyond the Us v Them of tribal lines. Even the challenge was great, a fun spin on last year’s paired endurance challenge where Samuel taunted Benji with premonitions from his dreams.
But for all the good, and for what was an overall entertaining episode, we have to talk about another Sam. Sam Schoers. AKA “Sammy” or “Sammie” or even “Sam E” if you’re feeling creative. Allegedly, a VIP gaming manager. A Contender turned Champion. You know, the person who got voted out in this episode, becoming the first player in Survivor’s nearly 20-year history to be voted out without having a single confessional. None. Zero. Zip.
I don’t want to turn this whole article into a rant—particularly because there was some really fun stuff happening in this episode—but I am really gutted by the post-production decision to evaporate Sam from the show’s edit. Even with its enormous 24-strong cast, Australian Survivor is blessed with regular 90-minute episodes. There was ample time available to show Sam (or Casey or Hannah, for that matter, who similarly are yet to give a confessional 7 episodes in), so time isn’t an excuse. Sure she was on a tribe that went on an Immunity streak, but we still found time for other Contenders to have their moments, even if they weren’t critical to the overarching story. But maybe Sam wasn’t doing much at camp, or she wasn’t a dynamic personality at Tribal or in her confessionals? It wouldn’t be the first time a castaway is a bit of a dud, but since 2000, the show has still made a point of telling their story. After all, they’re still out there on the island and that makes them a part of the game, and thus, the season’s narrative.
Sam played Survivor for 16 days and was taken out in a massive blindside. She might not be the most important player on the season, but she must have been doing something on that beach for over two weeks. And you can’t argue that she wasn’t critical to the narrative of this episode. She was voted out! And not because she was collateral damage from an Idol play or because she was screwed by an out-of-the-blue twist. Three Contenders actively targeted her, and flipped against their tribe, thus saving two dangerous Champions, in order to eliminate her. Surely we could have seen some of Sam in all of that! What was it about Sam that could motivate Daisy, John, and Baden to flip? From what we saw in the show, we have very little to go on, and with absolutely no point of view from Sam’s perspective, it’s impossible to ascertain what really happened.
We all know that Survivor the show is an edited product. But as fans, we want to believe the show reflects the reality of the game that’s being played. Sure, there isn’t time for every detail of every plan, but we want to be confident that we’re getting as full a picture as possible. However, whenever Survivor egregiously under edits particular contestants, it actively works to omit information essential to understanding the social and strategic dynamics of the game.
Because we have no idea who Sam was, what she was thinking, or how she fit into the social dynamics due to the show wholly neglecting her, we know we aren’t getting the full story. Certainly, for Sam, her Survivor story is only one of a regrettable Survivor fun fact first, but for the flippers, it leaves gaping holes in their story because we don’t really have a sense of why they turned on Sam specifically. Without being able to compare their actions to Sam’s point of view, we have no basis on which to ascertain whether flipping against her was a good or a bad move.
Australian Survivor, I really hope this was a one-off editing gaffe that will not be repeated. I can’t speak to how much of a Survivor fan Sam was, but as a fan myself who has dreamed of playing Survivor since I was 9 years old, there is little more deflating than the idea of getting to play Survivor only to be erased from the record when the show goes to air. But it’s not just disappointing for Sam (and honestly, pretty callous on the editors’ part), it’s also a strike against the integrity of the show’s narrative. So, Australian Survivor, while I’m mad, I’m really just disappointed. So I ask of you, please don’t do this again.
THE WINDS CHANGE
The worst part of the Sam’s Edit debacle is that it comes parcelled with an episode of conversation-worthy gameplay across the whole spectrum. So let’s begin with the New Champions and do our best to parse through the moves that led—presumably—to the elimination of the mythical Sam.
The tribe swap bore out exceptionally poorly for David and Luke. It’s not uncommon for swaps to upend a majority alliance and jeopardise good players who worked hard to gain control in their tribe by throwing them into a decisive minority–many a promising player has suffered the dreaded fate of being “swap-screwed.” Luke and David seemed poised to experience that destiny, down 2 to 7 against the faceless horde of ex-Contenders swarming onto the New Champions tribe. It looked particularly dire as the squad seemed stalwart. Andy, Baden, Daisy, Hannah, John, Sam, and Sarah were, allegedly, unbreakable. Honestly, who can blame them? The Contenders, particularly, seem to be holding a bit of a chip on their shoulders after the Champions crushed the Contenders last year, and after fighting hard for their Immunity streak to start the season, why would they want to give that up now?
Luke and David tried to pry at the seams, taking the clever tactic of pulling ex-Contenders away individually to try to fuel paranoia, but all they got was the party line. It’s certainly what they heard from the likes of Baden and Sam, who quickly shut down any possibility of the Contenders fracturing. So grim was the situation that Luke openly asked Janine and Abbey to throw the Immunity challenge to protect them (which, honestly, wouldn’t have been a terrible idea as the ex-Champions held a clear 5-4 majority on the New Contenders tribe). Yet up against it all, there was at least one contingency plan.
As luck and the Survivor gods would have it, Luke and David were each in possession of a Hidden Immunity Idol. If the Contenders weren’t going to work with them, then they’d just have to force their hand. With shades of the iconic Three Amigos tribal from Caramoan, David and Luke discussed openly flaunting their Idols at Tribal in an effort to spook the Contenders into turning on each other, and if they stayed resilient, they could be confident that by playing them, they could see another day. Of course, burning an Idol in the pre-merge is a risk, particularly in Australian Survivor where the game lasts longer and Idols are not as readily rehidden, but better to stay in the game than go home with it in your pocket. As the winds changed later, David began to sing a different tune and his mantra of fortune favouring the bold can be a good strategy, but I would bet that both Champs would have played there Idols were it not for a crucial overheard conversation that stoked a fire under Daisy.
The show put the narrative firmly in the hands of Luke and David, suggesting that the topsy-turvy vote was a direct result of their manipulation of the greener players on the Contenders. While I don’t buy this story entirely—to me, Daisy seemed like the real instigator here—it’s inarguable that Luke and David worked tirelessly to turn the odds in their favour, even considering if there were ways they could bluff themselves out of harm’s way with their Idols (which in themselves are a testament to how actively they’ve been playing Survivor). They caught a lucky break, but that doesn’t undermine the fantastic gameplay they’ve been delivering.
And to top it off, they’re an absolute joy to watch. Luke remains the casting gold he was in Season 2, and David has rapidly emerged as a top-tier Survivor villain. He’s hamming it up for the cameras, but there’s a gleeful recklessness to his demeanour that lends an air of authenticity. While I’m still frustrated at the editing of Sam’s departure, I am glad we’ll have more David and Luke to come—but I do hope that it’s not entirely at the expense of the remainder of the cast!
MAKING HEADS NOR TAILS
On the other side of the coin sat Andy. I really don’t know what to think of the visor-sporting “ultra-fan.” On the one hand, his unbridled passion for Survivor is effortlessly relatable and feels like a scarce resource on Australian Survivor, and he’s translated that into a pretty impressive showing for much of the first two weeks of the game. But on the other hand, this episode he began racing towards the precipice I feared he’d leap from—a lover’s leap for lovers of the game.
After 13 days of playing nice and avoiding Tribal, Andy was getting antsy. And with a tribe swap shaking things up, and also shaking them in his numerical favour, he was confident and eager to start “playing the game.” I can imagine that restraining the urge to overplay would be hard for any superfan, but Andy fell into the trap nonetheless. He’d worked hard to stay out of the spotlight on the Contenders beach, but now that he could flex his game muscles, he couldn’t help but take charge.
It started as an easy and obvious plan. The seven Contenders could split the vote between David and Luke, easily ensuring that one of them went home. Obviously, both of their targets having Idols could have, and very likely would have, foiled that plan, but a single tribe rarely has more than one Idol pre-merge based on Survivor’s historical record, so I can forgive this oversight. The trouble was that simple was not enough for Andy.
It began with a coin flip. Andy’s proposal was for three Contenders to vote Luke and the other three to vote David, leaving himself as a swing vote who would decide the result by literally flipping a coin in the voting booth. I can squint and see where he might have been coming from—by keeping the vote random, it prevented any of the Contenders unintentionally revealing the prime target. But… why? Even if Luke or David were to learn who the primary target was, the split vote would still take care of the other one. There simply doesn’t appear to be any benefit to randomising the vote split, aside from making for a moment in the voting booth (and I’ll be honest, Andy delivered his cold “heads you win, tails you lose” voting confessional flawlessly). Furthermore, it draws direct attention to the coin-flipping lynchpin as the conniver, which seemed like a curious choice for a player who wanted to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
So the coin flip had me worried that the other Contenders would be put off by Andy’s over-complication of a split vote, but they seemed to accept the plan and were happy to go along with it until Andy again put his foot in his mouth. On the morning of the swap, Andy had come into precious information. Seeking to consolidate his own numbers, Shaun had confided in Andy about his (fake) Idol obtained from David. For Shaun, it had also been a way of keeping a sketchy player close, and Shaun urged Andy to keep the secret to himself, not even sharing it with a close ally like Harry. On face value, this was great for Andy—he gained an ally in Shaun, and he obtained information about Idols in the game.
But as Tribal loomed on his new Champions beach, Andy seemed to grow concerned that the Contenders might be straying from the path. To consolidate their split vote and highlight the necessity to stick to the plan, he told the majority of the Contenders (noticeably sans Daisy & John, Shaun’s closest allies) about the Idol situation in order to emphasise that David and Luke definitely had an Idol between them. However, this necessitated him elaborating on how he knew that information, and he spilled the beans on Shaun’s Idol.
This proved to be the fateful mistake, as Daisy overheard Andy betraying her ally’s secret and she launched into action, but even if Daisy hadn’t heard, I don’t know why Andy needed to reveal this information. The whole reason to split the vote was to protect against an Idol—what did it truly matter if it was a hypothetical Idol or a known quantity? Information is power, and Andy relinquishing the information about the idols seemed unnecessary and unfortunately was a major facilitator of the counter-plan.
The last moment worth noting in Andy’s suite of over-playing was his seemingly unnecessary whisper to John at Tribal. Dramatically interrupting Jonathan LaPaglia’s preamble to voting, Andy rose from his seat and walked over to John, quietly instructing him to vote for Luke. Immediately, Andy’s allies began reacting with concern, with Hannah, Sarah, and Sam all looking to him in confusion and asking if the plan had changed. Whispers can fuel mayhem and paranoia at Tribal as we’ve seen in recent US seasons, but why use that strategy on what should be a straightforward vote? Didn’t John ostensibly know who to vote for already? And was it worth putting a panic in your own allies? I gather that there was more to the story, but it was yet another move that drew direct attention to Andy to paint him as an active and shady player.
With the numbers now out of his control, and Daisy with a particular bone to pick against him, I worry that Andy will be in a tough spot should the New Champions return to Tribal, and it seems like that is solely due to his overplaying this round. Andy has surprised me before this season, so maybe he can turn it around, but it’s not looking great at the moment.
Meanwhile, for others, it’s coming up roses. Armed with the information gleaned from eavesdropping on Andy’s reveal of Shaun’s “idol,” Daisy was motivated for revenge. She sought out John, and the two devised a plan to turn the tables. If they could pull in Luke and David, an easy bet given their desperation for an out, and one other Contender, they could seize control of the tribe. There were two significant elements to this plan: who to flip, and who to target. The difficulty is that with so little knowledge of the Contenders tribe dynamics due to their lower edit through the pre-swap period, it’s really hard to determine why Daisy and John made the decisions they made, much less whether they were good choices. Nevertheless, it’s time to speculate wildly.
In the case of who to flip, going after Baden seemed like a pretty savvy play. From what we’ve seen, Baden was an outsider early on, but after finding his niche in certain challenges, he’d found a bit of a social standing in the tribe, including with Shaun. But if the Contenders were to beat the odds and make it to the Final 11 intact, would Baden be in the inner circle? Survivor is often a game of timing and opportunity, and for Baden, making a big play now to secure a better position for himself was a tantalising opportunity. It could leapfrog him into a tighter alliance, and Daisy and John’s pitch offered him that chance. I’d wager they sensed that possibility for Baden, and that’s why they took their plan to him over Sarah or Hannah, who seemed more in lock-step with the Contenders strong mentality, and ultimately it worked in their favour, so kudos to them.
But was it the right call for Baden? Again, it’s hard to know for sure, given we don’t know enough about the Contenders to gauge if sticking with the devil you know would have been a viable tactic for his individual long game. But in the moment, and based upon the show’s narrative, making a move now gives him a power he lacked before, and his cogent understanding of Luke and David as dangerous threats could make him an influential kingmaker and swing vote in coming episodes. Alternatively, cosying up to Daisy & John and Luke & David gives him an alliance full of targets bigger than himself come the merge, which could be an advantageous position.
What about who to vote for? Daisy’s beef was with Andy, and a blindside on an easy vote is a great opportunity to take out a savvy and dangerous player, so why shoot for the lieutenant? Daisy rationalised it as an unexpected move, but it still seems like we’re missing crucial information. We saw nothing to suggest that Andy and Sam were close—if anything, Sarah seemed closer to Andy based on his confessional broadly outlining the Contender dynamics back in Episode 3—so is removing her going to cripple him beyond just taking away a number? We also saw Sam bluntly shut down David’s strategizing, and a few moments of her seeming comfortable and confident while others labelled her “smug.” Was there a clash of personalities between Daisy and/or John (or even David & Luke) that became the driving factor?
As I’ve lamented already, we simply don’t know enough to know why or whether Sam was the right call over taking the shot at Andy. However, I would generally err on the side of taking the bigger shot when you’re already making a big move. Unless Sam was a secret power player, betraying your entire tribe to flip and save the Champions only to take the half-measure seems short-sighted. The move also leaves a wronged Andy in the game, and with his game sense, that seems more dangerous to me.
Nevertheless, I expect this move to have seismic repercussions. Obviously, it turns the New Champions on its head, forcing Andy, Sarah, and Hannah to scramble for numbers against a new cross-Tribal majority. Yet I also wouldn’t be surprised to see David & Luke stir up more trouble if it suits them, and I wouldn’t say that Daisy, John & Baden are in any way safe simply because they were on the right side of the vote. I also expect this vote to impact the New Contenders too, given the vote clearly drew Contender-on-Contender blood. Whether this vilifies Daisy and John as traitors (which could impact their ally Shaun, already a target for his physical dominance as the game shifts more towards the individual stage) or whether it signals a self-imploding bloodbath remains to be seen, but I’m excited to see the fallout.
BOY, OH BOY
Speaking of the New Contenders, the pink buffs continue to signal a quiet edit as the Immunity results prove that the quality of camp and shelter isn’t the be-all and end-all. That said, the new tribe, composed of an ex-Champion majority of Abbey, Janine, Pia, Ross, and Simon against Casey, Harry, Matt, and Shaun, was the setting for something truly magical. It was a lie for the ages. And the best part of it is that it seems to have worked.
Reading between the lines, it seems that Harry gained a bit of a shifty reputation after he threw his weight around at the Laura vote–the original Contenders’ sole Tribal Council. Now outnumbered on the New Contenders tribe, he was worried that he could be the first to go, even over Casey, who seems to be sitting out every other challenge. But Harry concocted a devious plan to buddy up to the Champions. As introductions made their way around the campfire, a prime opportunity arose as Janine and Pia spoke of their families back home. This set the scene for Harry to tell them about his own family–his girlfriend and their three-year-old son Oscar. Harry, the family man, wormed his way into the hearts of the Champions and the seed was sown.
Only… Oscar doesn’t exist. Survivor has seen many a tall tale. Countless players have lied about their professions. Russell Hantz infamously lied about being a survivor of Hurricane Katrina to eke sympathy in Samoa. And nothing can top Jonny Fairplay’s infamous “dead grandma” lie in Pearl Islands. But a fake son is a new one, and I have to give Harry credit for the audacity to manufacture a false family.
Normally, I’m sceptical of the need to lie about who you are back home. Survivor’s complexities often demand so much lying and intrigue already, so why try to be inauthentic from the beginning? And while the jury is still out on whether Harry can keep up his charade, he’s managed to use it for strategic gain, which is a promising start. By creating his gentle family man persona, and building sympathy for an imaginary boy, he’s manipulated his way into the thoughts of the ex-Champions that now hold power in his tribe. Perhaps that might be enough to save him.
Regardless, Oscar Watch is in full season, and if Harry can keep the lie going and continue to exploit it for his strategic game, not only will his notoriety grow, but he’ll be in the contention for those Academy Awards. And let’s be honest–this is ridiculous in the best way. It’s fun, it’s new, and it’s entertaining, and wherever the Harry and Oscar story goes, I’ll be buying my ticket for the show.
NEXT TIME ON SURVIVOR…
In the next episode, the fallout begins! Can Andy, Sarah, and the still-elusive Hannah recover from the blindside and can Luke and David continue to stave off an improbable situation? How will the New Contenders react to the events of Tribal? Will Sam even be mentioned? All this, and more to come…