What a week for Australian Survivor! This week we saw the rise and fall of two power players in the game who ultimately faced similar fates but for completely different reasons. Ernest Hemingway once said that the best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them. This episode we learn how important the art of being comfortable around somebody is and how lies and deception can come back to haunt somebody’s game.
Last episode Benji made a move that, in his mind, completely reset the game and opened up the playing field for everyone. In actuality, he managed to remove the only threat that eclipsed him and unified the Champions against him in the process. Even though Benji took up lying like a duck to water, his social game and ability to get people to want to work with him is more reminiscent of a dog trying to walk on ice. Tonight, we see Benji’s social game crumble before our eyes as his lies finally catch up to him.
To set the scene, the Mighty Ducks alliance consisting of Benji, Fenella, Shonee, Monika and Brian hold all the power. In addition to being numerically superior, they also have Benji’s idol and Shonee’s vote steal advantage – something that Shonee tells Benji about after the reward challenge. Benji is quick to bask in the glory of finally voting out Mat and proclaims that he has now taken over the position of the Godfather, someone who holds all the cards and has everyone coming to them begging for direction. A strategy which doesn’t seem to make much sense on the surface considering that being the Godfather is basically asking to be the number one target in the game.
Nevertheless, Benji realises that he has burned bridges with Sharn and decides that he needs to vote her out as their relationship is irreparable. On paper, he appears to have it all set. An alliance which holds all the power with two advantages and the crucial two Champion swing votes in Brian, who has built enough animosity towards the other Champions after being targeted by them twice, and Monika, someone who is easily manipulated and who will go where Brian goes. However, as we quickly learn, having multiple advantages in the game is futile if you don’t ultimately have the numbers and know where the votes are going.
On the other side, the opposing faction consists of the remaining Champions, Sharn, Shane and Steve, who are all equally incensed and scared for their position in the game. For the past few episodes, Shane Gould has been banished to the purple depths of the production cutting room floor ever since she pulled off the first blindside of the merge that took Lydia out. After Mat’s blindside, Shane reveals to us that she sabotaged the campfire out of anger. This episode she focuses her efforts on lighting a fire deep inside her to try and figure out a way to get revenge on Benji.
For Sharn, the emotion of last night’s tribal is all too much for her as she feels personally victimised and used by Benji – and rightly so. She has been nothing but a number and a source of information for Benji, something that he ultimately used to his advantage to gain Brian, Monika, Shonee and Fenella on his side. Sharn immediately acknowledges that she is on the bottom and tries to do damage control with Brian by apologising and saying she wants to be loyal to him and Monika. It’s a difficult pitch to sell considering that Sharn would have sent Brian home had she played her idol for Mat. Brian seems to think so as well and tells us that he is insulted that Sharn would think he would forgive her so quickly.
At the reward challenge, we get the first error in judgement by Benji of the episode. Benji and Shane are randomly chosen to be team captains in a schoolyard pick, and the first person Benji chooses for his team is Steve, which evokes a negative reaction from Brian. It’s difficult to decipher if it is clever editing or simply Brian being his typical jokester self. Benji completes his team by choosing his fellow Contenders Shonee and Fenella, leaving the two swing votes, Monika and Brian, alone with Sharn and Shane regardless if they win or lose. This is a seriously questionable series of decisions where he chooses to prioritise winning the challenge over fortifying his relationship with Brian and Monika. In the end, the team of Shane, Sharn, Monika and Brian win and earn themselves a fried chicken feast.
Going into the reward, Shane makes it known that she wants to use the time alone with Monika and Brian wisely. She wants to try and talk some sense into them and convince them to vote Benji out at tribal council. The scene at the reward challenge was ripped right out of a movie. Shane & Sharn and Brian & Monika were seated on opposite ends of the table. The atmosphere was… awkward, to say the least. Monika and Brian stared blank-faced into their plates as they tore into their fried chicken all the while Shane and Sharn tore into Benji’s game, reinforcing the idea that he doesn’t have their best interests at heart and wants to take Shonee and Fenella to the end.
The conversation didn’t appear to go very far and ended when Brian announced that he wanted to find the hidden immunity idol. It’s a tactic that we’ve seen a few times this season from Shane and now Brian where you blatantly announce in a joking and humorous way so that you can search the area without looking sketchy. It seemed to work perfectly for Brian as he found both the clue and the idol itself with the rest of the tribemates being none the wiser. This, combined with the fact that Brian also wins the Immunity Challenge, puts Brian in a very dangerous position where he suddenly has a lot of power in the game along with Monika. Do they choose to remain faithful to the Contenders and their new Mighty Ducks alliance, or do they go back to the Champions whose relationship is more tenuous but backed up with a history that spans 38 days?
When the contestants come back from the Immunity Challenge, Sharn is still the main target, and she knows that the writing is on the wall. Even though Benji isn’t confident in his social game and is getting mixed vibes from Brian (who is being vague to both factions), we are still confronted with a very strategically confident Benji who believes he can lie and manipulate his way into getting Brian and Monika to stick with the Mighty Ducks alliance. This inevitably unfolds in the form of two lies which backfire in spectacular and incredibly awkward fashion.
The first lie that Benji tells is surrounding Shonee’s vote steal advantage. His strategy is to approach Monika and instill enough fear in her that she feels like she has no choice but to stick with the Mighty Ducks. To do this, he tries to convince her that Shonee’s advantage allows her to steal “two to three votes” meaning that they will have the numbers no matter which way the others go. It’s not quite as bad as Val’s three immunity idols in Survivor San Juan Del Sur, and to his credit it does work… kind of. Monika soon approaches Steve and tells him everything that Benji said and they quickly decide that they want to call his bluff and put their votes on Benji and hope for the best.
But that wasn’t it for Benji. In an event that rivals Sharn’s “poop idol” as the most awkward and cringe-worthy moment of the season, Benji decides to throw Sharn under the bus to Brian by conjuring up another lie. He tells Brian that Sharn came up to him with a plan to vote Brian out… even though that isn’t possible due to Brian winning immunity. To top it all off, Brian was even wearing his immunity necklace during this conversation. Once again, Benji seems to play it off well, and he’s lucky that Shonee is there to help him cover his tracks, but it was a SERIOUS lapse in judgement that could’ve ended far worse. Going into tribal council, we don’t get much from caveman Brian. He acknowledges that he is in a swing vote position and knows that Benji is a threat that needs to be taken out.
Tribal council sees the contestants rehash the events that happened at the last vote. Sharn talks about feeling betrayed by Benji, and Shane and Steve reveal they were furious and had to find solace within to prevent themselves from burning the camp down. But the main message that appears to dictate this vote is the idea of being able to discern who you should trust and when you should trust them. Monika calls it her gut feeling whereas Steve equates it to having faith in the people around you.
As was planned, Shonee uses her vote steal advantage to remove and absorb Sharn’s vote. When Jonathan reads what the advantage is to the tribe, the camera quickly cuts to Monika who appears to be realizing that Benji lied about the advantage’s power. The curse of the vote steal advantage lives on as Shonee’s extra vote proves meaningless since Monika and Brian decide to vote for Benji and force a tie vote. At the point of the revote, the writing is on the wall for Benji, and he is ultimately voted out of the game with an idol in his pocket. As the contestants pick up their torches and leave tribal council, Mat on the jury can’t help but smile and say what we were all thinking – “oh the irony!”
Heading into next week, we are entering a very interesting situation where we don’t have any blatant power players in the game anymore. As the game stands, the closest we might have is Brian who has a hidden immunity idol and seemingly the most working relationships he can draw upon. Sharn appears to have been let off the hook and now left free to roam the game a bit more freely. Also, there are only two men in the game compared to five women, so an all woman’s alliance isn’t out of the question. Even though a lot of the big characters have been eliminated, I am still looking forward to seeing more of the contestants that have previously been left in the shadows.
OTHER #SURVIVORAU COVERAGE on INSIDE SURVIVOR
Australian Survivor will be back Monday September 24 at 7.30pm AEST, and Austin Smith 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!