Previously on Australian Survivor… 24 castaways walked onto a Fijian beach for a showdown between a tribe of celebrities (plus a few other high achievers) and a tribe of everyday Aussies to see who is the most physically fit and strategically savvy.
The meager amount of pre-season promos emphasised this battle for the ages and the season premiere was one of the best episodes I’ve seen of Survivor in a long time. Australian reality TV loves an underdog and Australian Survivor has managed to turn that into half a cast. Meanwhile, the Champions tribe has someone for everyone. My parents were thrilled to see Shane Gould playing, and Russell Hantz is a draw for every Survivor fan there ever was, and there are enough sports stars to sink a ship.
In the previous episode, we saw the boot of superfan and speed-wand-wielding Matt. The tribe may have spoken, but it was Matt who talked himself out of the game. If this episode has anything to say about it, Matt’s trashing of every tribe member also served to unite the Contenders tribe and spur them on to win challenges. Steve, the previous night’s alternate target, acknowledges his misgivings and then seems to promptly return to his strategy of military tactics. Steve hopes to incorporate himself into the bro-pack (the chief tactic of which is group skinny dipping) as a strategic maneuver rather than as part of a comprehensive social game. It’s only Day 3 people! 47 days to go!
The Australian Survivor team is putting a lot of emphasis on the clash of two sides. Not only is there the overarching Champions versus Contenders theme, but many scenes at camp serve to suggest that sides are being formed. Many images of the Contenders tribe are of all the girls together on the beach or all the boys foraging together (even vocalised in this episode as the girls wished the boys would bring back the machete).
Two challenges so far have been a series of literal duels with many matchups being repeated. If Robbie doesn’t beat Mat soon, he might self-combust. Being a hero is difficult, eh Robbie? One has to wonder if Commando Steve is throwing his matchups – clearly one of the fittest there, it seems strange for him to be soundly stomped on by Zach twice. The Australian Survivor Instagram posted an image of the unaired face-off between Benji and Damien in which Damien’s legs lie askew on the platform while the boys battle it out. Steve K tries to take the spotlight with the match-point against Russell but is pushed off the platform before you can say “tactical maneuver.” The Champions win and take away the comfort items (eyes on the tarp) seemingly at Russell’s suggestion.
The Contenders tribe are determined to bounce back, and every member of the tribe is committed to winning Immunity with some kind of bonding activity involving chants and squats. Morale is also high at the Champions camp even as Jackie tells a lie about her reason for being a champion (fun fact: the official fastest Rubik’s cube solve does belong to an Australian with a time of 4.22 seconds). Jackie uses the right terminology (people who solve Rubik’s cube are ‘cubers’), and there’s no way to test her claim to fame, so, all in all, I’m satisfied with her lie. It also gives her value in being a puzzle legend.
Several more contestants receive screen time in this episode. Tegan had a heart warming moment discussing her kids at home. Steve is loveably goofy at all times. Sharn strategises and Jackie is sneaky. But beyond every other character, there is one man front and centre who demands airtime at any cost… that’s right; this episode is The Russell Show.
Before the Immunity Challenge is even lost, Russell is ready to start shifting sands at camp. The general mood is that Russell’s frequent 1-on-1 chats are causing division in the camp, and Russell recognises the tension. Determined to quell an uprising against him, Russell tries to blend in with the group and make himself key to winning challenges… NOT! Russell decides to remove himself as a possibility to go home by showing the entire tribe his idol. Some people look surprised. One person looks impressed (you have no poker face, Damien).
According to Russell, everyone now wants to work with him – cue a shot of Russell having a ‘this is where you will win the game’ chat with Jackie (similar to the ones he already had with Monika and Sam), then Mat, then Damien. He’s plotting by the beach, strategising on the sand, wheeling and dealing with a fake wedding ring and talking really loudly with Damien in the middle of the night right next to his sleeping tribemates. I mean COME ON at least make a token effort to get further away. Russell is pulling tricks out of his sleeve which is exciting to watch, but every one he pulls out requires even more tricks to cover it. Forget social game or making a majority alliance, Russell has an idol and a lot of game talk!
The Immunity Challenge rolls around and for the first time this season the Contenders win a challenge! The challenge comprised buoy collecting and a shoot-the-ball-into-the-thing from 5m above. The Contenders take the lead early on, and despite fantastic editing that makes it seem like a close race, they never lose steam. Heath is the man of the moment shooting the buoys at the end. It’s like Russell willed it to happen – the Champions are going to tribal council.
Back on the Champions beach and every tribe member is suddenly in the mood for wood collecting (read: scrambling). The consensus plan seems to be splitting the votes between Russell and someone else in the case that Russell doesn’t play an idol. The undecided second person will be a weak link on the tribe. Determined to keep his idol for three more days, Russell is running from group to group spouting name after name to try and cause mass confusion and stop any votes going towards him.
Shane, Olympic gold medallist and all around golden girl, doesn’t want to play dirty and reveals she will vote Russell just in case he doesn’t play the idol. Moana, Women’s AFL champ and one-liner gold mine, has her eyes firmly fixed on Russell and tells Lydia and the camera just that. Russell spruiks Jackie to Mat then runs to tell Jackie she is a target and that they should vote Shane. Meanwhile, Lydia thinks Damien won’t be able to contribute in challenges.
Everybody is dodging and weaving, and Russell-devil-lucifer-unwed-liar is smiling at the camera and proclaiming his status as a master manipulator and game player (this is where my Dad mumbled ‘and modest too’). If this was a house of government, Russell is filibustering. The infrequent contributions from the remainder of the tribe show they understand his plan to create friction between tribe members and even though many names have been thrown around, Russell’s has constantly been among them.
Before we get to tribal council, I just want to take a quick moment to acknowledge some of Moana’s amazing calls. Saying Zach needs a sports bra if he’s going to puff out his chest made me giggle and describing her poor upper body strength in relation to being able to trust Russell as far as she can throw him made me laugh. Shane also made a great speech in her voting confessional about a certain item of clothing being “not a good look” for Mr. Hantz.
Speaking of voting… all votes are cast, and Jonathan LaPaglia asks if anyone wants to play an idol. Russell, with the idol around his neck, doesn’t bat an eyelid, remains seated and smiles like the cat who got the cream. The votes come in with them spread across Shane, Damien, Jackie and Russell (2-2-4-4). Russell suddenly isn’t smiling so much. Revote with no televised discussion… 7 votes go to Russell and he is the second person booted from the game.
There has been a lot of hype around Russell as soon as rumors surfaced that he would be on the season. As a three-time Survivor player, he has made a mark on the game, and some would argue not in a necessarily good way. There’s no doubting that Russell marked an era of aggressive gameplay in Survivor but seeing him on his fourth outing suggests to me that he’s an old dog with no new tricks. The tactics that got him to final tribal council two seasons in a row were successful once upon a time, though I would argue that they were only successful in Heroes vs. Villains because he was unknown to the cast. But when it comes to winning chances, those tactics have proven to be a failing formula time and again.
Having a knack for finding an idol is great if you can use it to your advantage but Russell took what could’ve been a sure bet for another three days and tried to be fancy. Russell complained that others weren’t playing the game, but he didn’t consider that he was in an entirely new setting. Survivor Know-It-All Stephen Fishbach says that every player will see the game as if they are the hero of the story and he’s right – but it shouldn’t stop you from considering how other characters are thinking or feeling. Building bonds, sharing your survival skills and just generally not being a total jackass can go a long way.
If Russell had done his homework, he would’ve seen that the past two winners of Australian Survivor were social players who only won one competition their entire game – at the final three. Russell might be a good Survivor player but he is failing at the most basic of Survivor principles: being adaptable and being flexible. His social game was lamentable (not even knowing all his tribemates names on Day 5 is unbelievable), and even confessionals from heaven can’t save the player who is supposedly from hell. Aussies love to see others ‘give it a go’ but Russell, similarly to first boot Matt, just played way too hard, too fast and kicked himself right out of the game.
OTHER #SURVIVORAU COVERAGE on INSIDE SURVIVOR
Australian Survivor will be back Monday 6 August at 7.30pm AEST – and Dylan Vidal will be on hand to recap everything that goes down, down under. Also, Aussie Power Rankings will return this week with an incredible line-up of former Australian Survivor castaways. Meanwhile, check out Austin Smith’s recap of Episode 1 and our exit interview with first boot Matt Dyson.