Tonight, it all comes to an end. A season of great characters and a story of the underdog comes down to the three remaining Champions: Sharn, Shane and Brian. Each having played the game hard in their own ways, they only have one last obstacle standing in their way of potentially winning $500,000 – the final immunity challenge.
The Final Immunity Challenge
The episode begins with a shot of the contestants walking to their last remaining immunity challenge. As the final 3 walks past the snuffed torches of their fallen castaways, slow-motion b-roll showcases the beautiful island they’ve been inhabiting for the last 49 days. Each contestant discusses what winning the game would mean to them. All three of them fancy their chances, and with good reason as well. As it stands, at the start of the episode, each contestant has an equal shot of becoming Sole Survivor.
When they finally reach the destination of their final immunity challenge, Jonathan LaPaglia surprises them with some love from home. Sharn is greeted by her husband and three kids. Shane is visited by her husband. And Brian is met by his wife and two young kids. Having watched over 35 seasons of U.S Survivor, where the family visits appear to happen sooner and sooner every season, there is something so much more magical and special about having the family visit take place right before the most important moment in the game. Speaking of which, the challenge is very straightforward – hold onto the pole for as long as you can. This pole is suspended in the middle of the ocean and is prone to wobbling quite violently from side to side. The players are left with nothing but a small and uncomfortable pedestal to rest their feet on, making the challenge even more physically strenuous
After 1 hour and 18 minutes, the challenge proves too tough for Shane, and she eliminates herself from the competition. This leaves Brian and Sharn left to battle it out. As Brian struggles with his position on the pole (and his position in the game), desperation sinks in, which propels him to tell Sharn that taking Shane to the end would be the “easy option.” Sharn immediately comes to her friend’s defence, telling Brian that Shane has played a great game and has a great story to tell for her Final 2 speech. In a display of true playground reverse psychology, Brian then questions Sharn, “If [Shane] played that well, why would you take her then?” Sharn is left with a lot to think about.
However, as the conversation soon dies out, a lapse of judgement causes Brian to nonchalantly remove his hat and throw it into the water, completely disregarding one of the rules of the challenge – both hands must remain on the idol atop the pole at all times. And just like that, after 2 hours and 15 minutes, Sharn wins the final immunity challenge, giving her the power to choose who she will sit next to in the Final 2.
The Final Decision
After the immunity challenge, we don’t get any footage from camp afterwards, and we instead go straight to tribal council. The dilemma is quite simple. Does Sharn stay true to her word and alliance by taking Shane to the end, or does she take Brian, someone who has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way but played a much more aggressive game?
The pitches at tribal council seem to be following a different logic, which is, who deserves to be in the Final 2 more? Brian poses a challenge to Sharn and tries to appeal to her sense of competitiveness and her sense of justice. He tells her that since they are tied at four immunity challenge wins each, they should both battle it out at the final tribal council to see who played the better game. On the other hand, Shane decides to chime in and tells the group that she deserves to be in the end because not all Survivor winners win individual immunity challenges. Ultimately, Sharn chooses to vote out Brian and take Shane to the Final 2.
Final Tribal Council
It’s Shane versus Sharn. The Olympic swimming legend and Australian icon up against one of Australia’s best barristers. The jury is sitting down and staring at the Final 2 with steely expressions on their faces. When each woman gives their pitch, it becomes evident that the predominant theme for the night is going to be “loyalty.” And boy is this word thrown out a lot throughout the night.
Shane begins by reminding the jury of her Survivor journey, which consisted of her being a target early on in the game when Russell was trying to get her voted out for being a liability in the challenges. She recalls her early alliance with Brian and Jackie and takes full credit for Jackie’s blindside where she was a double agent gathering information for Mat and his alliance. She is also quick to remind the jury of how she masterminded the plan to blindside Lydia – something that she calls the biggest blindside of the season. Other than that, Shane lays down some cold hard facts by stating that her social game allowed her only to have her name written down six times in 15 tribal councils. She ends her pitch by, of course, stating that she played the game with honesty, loyalty, and integrity.
Conversely, Sharn begins her opening pitch fast out the gates by framing herself as someone who defied all the odds to be sitting in the Final 2. She tells the jury that her head was on the chopping block consistently throughout the merge and that she had to use the relationships that she created to survive. She emphasises the importance of her social game and the ability to make multiple alliances with people to gather information to further herself in the game. However, her crowning joy is the ability to say that she has been loyal to the people she said she would be loyal to from the start. By the end of her speech, the orchestral music accompanying her shifts from one that is deep and full of bass to one that is ascending in melody and triumphant.
With all that out of the way, the jury questioning begins. And when they start off, they seem to be heavily in Sharn’s favour.
Fenella and Robbie ask Sharn why she believes she needs to fight against Shane in the end and why she continues to insist that Shane is a threat to win the game. It appears that the jury wants Sharn to admit that she chose Shane because she thought she could beat her. Robbie asks Sharn to clarify the moves Shane made for her to be so worried – something she states isn’t her job to do. Instead, she went along each person on the jury and explained why she decided to vote them out.
The jury also tells Shane that they don’t believe she is an “active gameplayer,” and instead, think that she was nothing but a mere passive puppet that was used to gather information for her alliance members. Her response reiterates that her moves to get Jackie and Lydia out were HER moves. Additionally, she explains that her social game was an active form of gameplay as she strategically decided who she wanted to align with at certain times and that it wasn’t all about blindsides.
Eventually, an interrogation from Brian sends a boulder of momentum rolling against Sharn that gets the jury to question whether or not Sharn was actually a loyal player. Brian asks Sharn if she can really call herself a loyal player if she didn’t warn Mat about the plan to vote him out. Her response to this question is very telling, as Sharn instantly becomes rattled and loses all confidence in herself. She begins rambling and desperately trying to find an excuse to try and redeem herself, but instead insists that she was loyal despite the blunder. Mat shuts down the argument by saying that Sharn was “using the loyalty card conveniently.”
In the end, tribal appears to turn on a dime, and seems to be dominated by this idea of loyalty – something that Sharn is never able to recover from. Sam and Benji heavily insinuate multiple times throughout the night that they want Sharn to own her strategic game instead of relying on “the loyalty card.” They preface their questions by saying, “IF I was voting based on LOYALTY…” To conclude the final tribal council, Sharn does a plea to the jury by begging for them to not penalise her for making one big mistake that cost Mat his game. She asks that they look at the hard work and big moves she made consistently throughout her time on the island.
After the votes are cast, Jonathan takes the urn and arrives at the pre-taped finale in a Mad Max style transportation scene to reveal the votes. And by an insanely close vote of 5-4, Shane Gould becomes the winner of Australian Survivor: Champions vs. Contenders.
The votes ended up breaking down as follows:
Shane: Mat, Brian, Monika, Shonee and Fenella
Sharn: Robbie, Benji, Steve and Sam
On paper, it appears that a mixture of not telling Mat he was being voted out, and not taking Brian to the Final 2, cost Sharn her victory. It’s difficult to argue that this jury was bitter in any way. In the end, Sharn wanted to have her cake and eat it too by playing an aggressive strategic game whilst also preaching the idea of being a loyal player. Even though her speech was messy and slightly misguided, she did a good job of listing her in-game accomplishments. It’s just a shame it was framed by the idea of loyalty.
However, considering the fact that Shonee and Fenella were basing their vote on nothing more than likability, and who had the underdog status, I believe that Sharn would have lost no matter what, and the only thing she could’ve done differently was take Brian instead of Shane. With that said, Shane winning won’t be seen as an indictment on the season by any means. The Olympic champ, who becomes the oldest person ever to win Survivor, brought a flare and eagerness for the game that isn’t often seen from women of her archetype. With the first “older woman” winner crowned, and the show being renewed for a fourth season, it will be interesting to see how this season (and the fall of Sharn) impacts those to come.