If Survivor was a musical, then the opening scenes of the episode are a reprise of a situation that is well overdue a massive change. We see the Champions tribe thriving at their camp then the comparison to the drudgery of the Contenders. The Champs are meditating, working out and doing activities together. The Contenders are talking about why they distrusted Paige. The comparison is stark – community versus rivalry. But we all know what’s coming. It was advertised at the end of the last episode; it’s been splashed across Australian screens all week. It’s time to swap… finally!
I was excited to see how Australian Survivor would swap tribes with 15 people left. I thought there was a chance to see a third tribe formed. Another option would be to split the tribes into two groups of seven and have the remaining castaway go to Exile. Both of these options have been used in the past on Survivor US and to good effect. They allow either a new dimension of the game (with a third tribe starting at afresh on a new beach) or a potential advantage to ender proceedings (often found while on Exile like when Cochran coached Debbie and she gained an extra vote).
Instead, Aussie Survivor took the same route as 2017 – they formed two tribes of unequal numbers. Even when I shuffle through all my thoughts about Survivor I can’t come up with a good reason that Australian Survivor does this. It doesn’t present any immediate advantage as the extra person still has to sit out of the challenge. It doesn’t seem to impact camp life either with both camps functioning at a similar work level to before. Having already waited for half the game to pass by before the swap, surely they could’ve just waited for one more round so that we could get even numbered tribes? Or even better, do it one week earlier or immediately following Tegan’s return to the game?!
No matter when the tribe swap happens the most entertaining part is how the tribes shake out. Usually, the swap leaves at least one castaway, if not multiple, in a considerably worse position than they were before. In this case, the castaways are sorted into two groups, each with a clear majority from one of the previous tribes. The new Contenders tribe consists of mainly original Contenders: Benji, Robbie, Fenella and Heath are joined by ski queen Lydia, ace attorney Sharn and don’t-call-me Monica. The remaining original Contenders, Shonee and Tegan, are outmatched 6–2 as they join the other Champions on the red team.
Tegan’s face during the buff reveal says it all. Her initial instinct is to look at her closest ally Heath – his buff is, unfortunately, red, and she wrinkles her brow in despair. She starts looking around at the other members of the tribe and begins to frown. When she realizes her entire tribe except for herself and Shonee will remain red she looks positively distressed. Tegan doesn’t have the best poker face, but she also doesn’t seem to have a huge range in her facial expressions – maybe because she has only had cause to be upset and worried so far in the game. That being said, her face is firmly devastated at the outcome of the swap, and she hasn’t even walked over the other mat yet! Jonathan LaPaglia gives out his usual words of wisdom and both tribes depart back to their camps.
The Champions are outwardly welcoming to Tegan and Shonee. Shane offers to show them where the amenities are. Mat explains the importance of fostering social connections or ‘building a bridge’ with people in the game. Tegan is worried because she thinks the original Champs will all team up against her. Shonee is concerned because she has done ‘absolutely nothing’ for the first 25 days of the game. Jackie is excited for the swap because it’s time for the game to be shaken up. She concocts a lie to Tegan that the tribe will throw the challenge to protect “their girls” over at the Contenders camp. Tegan and Shonee are expendable. Tegan looks like she is physically ill and could vomit at any second. Jackie is ready to use the newbies as numbers then shed them when she has no need for them.
Lydia, who has had minimal confessional time up until this point but has been the undisputed physically strongest female in the game, decides to take on Bradley from Survivor: Ghost Island and whines, whines, whines about the Contenders camp. The shelter is built wrong. The fire is in a silly place. There are only weak people here that she will have to carry through the game. Lydia is determined to keep the strong people in so that they don’t become targets at the merge. She doesn’t want to carry dead weight through the game. Robbie agrees profusely. It’s like the ghost of Zach has inhabited Lydia because I feel like everything she says I have heard from him before. It doesn’t sound any better coming from a five-time Winter Olympian and gold medalist!
As a Survivor fan, I appreciate that what is outwardly a physical game requires smarts to win. Many, if not all, of the best Survivor players, got there by using their brain, and physical prowess does not outrank strategy. It makes it somewhat of a pet peeve for me to see players who believe they can get to the end of the game by being only physical. It hasn’t happened so far and I’ll be sad on the day it does. Lydia plans to gather the men in the tribe to vote together with the OG Champion women.
That’s if they ever get to tribal council because the new Contenders tribe wins the mini-endurance task set forth by JLP. The task is not only about physical endurance but teamwork, as we see multiple times one person letting the box fall too low or letting one side go off balance, leading to a box on the ground and the whole team out. The challenge comes to a showdown between Lydia & Robbie versus (surprisingly) Shonee and Shane. Lydia looks like she’s been sitting holding up that box all her life. Shane begins to wobble, but Shonee holds her own. The game ends in a Contenders victory though and Robbie heaps praise on Lydia for refocusing him midway through the challenge. I swear Lydia is the new Zach because Robbie is obsessed with her just like he was obsessed with the ex-Gladiator.
The game is back on at the Champions tribe, and initially, it seems the group will vote out Shonee or Tegan. A rainstorm thwarts any chance of a change in strategy as all eight castaways are gathered beneath the shelter giving one another knowing looks. At one point Jackie whispers to Shonee that her only hope of survival is to vote off Tegan.
As the rain begins to clear, so does any ambiguity about the vote. Initially, the plan is for the original Champs to put four votes on Tegan and four on Shonee. Short on time, Jackie decides to stick with the plan for now and hopes to scoop up Shonee in the aftermath. But down on the shore, Tegan tells Mat about Jackie’s lie about throwing the challenge to vote off one of the Contender girls and he seems outraged that anyone would think he could ever throw a challenge.
Mat charges down the beach to discuss Jackie and Brian’s trustworthiness with his right-hand man Steve. The general consensus is that they can’t be trusted. Mat suggests getting rid of Jackie or Brian now then going back to the original plan of eliminating the original Contender girls. The only fly in the ointment is that to carry out this plan they need Shane on their side. A former ally of Jackie and Brian, Shane will be the swing vote that decides someone on the tribe’s fate.
Tribal Council is the usual: JLP tries to get someone to say something interesting, the castaways give fairly standard responses. Steve, a man of very few words, only replies “yes” when asked if the tribe swap correlates with their appearance at tribal. Shonee is more tactful, stating the loss of Lydia is weighing heavily on the tribe. Sam outlines what he would do if he was on the wrong side of the numbers: be social, try to find inroads, make his way into the tribe. Brian can’t explain exactly how the target of the vote was chosen, stating the choice was essentially the flip of a coin. If I were Tegan or Shonee, hearing that I might be going home as the result of ‘a flip of a coin,’ I would be extremely aggravated. I think Brian is trying to make the girls feel as if the vote isn’t personal whereas the comment comes across as him being so impersonal he doesn’t mind who goes home.
The votes come in. Tegan and Shonee both get a vote each and then the real fun begins. Votes begin appearing for Jackie and Brian. The pair are completely blindsided. Not only was there a split vote plan between the original eight Champs but the newly formed alliance has also split the votes between Jackie and Brian. The votes come out 4-2-1-1 and the poker player’s game is over. I thought Jackie might deal a final blow by revealing her secret identity on the way out, but she just wishes a hearty good luck to the remaining castaways.
The vote for Jackie seemed to be coming for a long time. The self-professed puzzle queen was lackluster in all aspects of challenges and caused friction with her strategic mindset throughout the game. As someone with an evident passion for Survivor, Jackie will be a loss for the viewers, but I can’t help but think that she was saved by the Moana vote many, many tribals ago and that she may have reached the extent of her potential. While Jackie recognized opportunity as it came to her, she rarely seemed able to manipulate situations to her benefit, and I believe she lacked the type of social game which can extend across 50 days. Her Rubik’s cube champion story was fun but in reality was probably not necessary and served as a point of humor more than a grand strategy.
We might be halfway through the season, but the game is only just warming up. I can’t wait to see the repercussions when Lydia, Sharn and Monica see that one of their own was taken out. And to see how Brian copes with his new position on the tribe. Let’s be honest though – he will probably do what he has the whole season which is not very much at all.
OTHER #SURVIVORAU COVERAGE on INSIDE SURVIVOR
Australian Survivor will be back Tuesday 28 August at 7.30pm AEST, and Dylan Vidal will be on hand to recap everything that goes down, down under.
Also be sure to check out our Power Rankings with AU Season 2 legends Luke Toki, Sarah Tilleke and Tessa O’Halloran, and keep an eye out for exit interviews with the Champions and Contenders after their torches are snuffed!