I know I’m prone to hyperbolic optimism, but if anyone was worried that this season of Australian Survivor was going to turn into a boring tour of Mateship Island, I feel like this episode should allay those fears for the time being. As two contestants noted tonight, this isn’t The Bachelor, but it’s certainly not a boy scouts camping trip. These castaways are here to play, and they’re warming up to make their moves.
While two brutal challenges continued to show why SurvivorAU is the reigning Champion of Survivor challenges, it was a perfect blend of strategic moves and questionable choices on the beach. So let’s get into it, and don’t worry, I’ll go easy on you today.
BOYS AND GIRLS
After a couple of episodes devoted to the goings-on at the Champions beach, we finally got some quality time with the Contenders. In the aftermath of the Matt vote, I expected the apparent switcheroo at Tribal to lead to some cracks forming, but we were mostly left guessing what they were until tonight. The clearest alliance over these first few episodes was the “bro-lliance” between Zach, Robbie, Benji, and Heath, and context in the premiere suggested that the trio of termite connoisseurs in Anita, Fenella and Shonee were aligning, but the rest seemed fuzzy.
As it happened, these alliances became the two pillars of the tribe. Zach, Robbie and Benji seemed to believe they were calling the shots, but interestingly, it seems like their satellite ally Steve was the most pivotal decision-maker amongst them. After being ostracised in the first couple days, Stevie recovered his ground by ducking into the good graces of the apparent powers that be. It’s no small feat for someone as distinctly unique as Steve to bond with the muscle-bound jocks, but it was even more impressive that he was able to put his chess skills to good use and push a strategic agenda of his own.
With the gender divide putting the men down 6-5, Steve pulled Zach aside and suggested they target one of the women, mainly looking towards those who seemed physically weaker. As one of the ostensible “weaker” players himself, I don’t know if drawing attention to challenge liabilities is the smartest play for someone like Steve, but it did get the cogs turning in Zach’s mind, fuelling a plan to systematically eliminate the women. While I don’t think there is anything inherently sexist about an alliance founded along gender lines, Zach did himself no favours as he zeroed in on this factor. By the time we reached Tribal and Jonathan LaPaglia was talking about barbeque segregation over gender and choice of beverage, and Stevie and the boys were digging their own graves with the talk of “male intuition”, it seemed destined for a battle of the boys and the girls.
Meanwhile, for Anita, Fenella and Shonee, the boys were growing too big for their britches. In particular, Zach’s obnoxious machismo and crass attitude towards the women was drawing their ire, and they hatched a plan to dismantle the boys’ alliance before it could truly gain power. It was an insightful and subtle plan, but as much as they wanted to get rid of the biggest agitator, they recognised the value of Zach’s strength for the challenges and instead set their sights on Stevie. With him buddying up to the guys and still bearing the reputation as a loose cannon, his elimination would weaken the sway of the bro-alliance within the tribe’s social dynamics without weakening the tribe as a whole.
STUCK IN THE MIDDLE
The tricky part came down to the players in the middle, and the newest faction on the board: the parents’ alliance of Heath, Jenna and Tegan. In the premiere, it seemed as though these three players were in cahoots with Zach’s trio, but tonight, they paved their own path. They were initially brought into the men’s plan to target Paige as one of the weaker women and as a smart and untrustworthy player (despite us having seen very little to support this accusation!). Nevertheless, they found themselves in the drivers’ seat as Shonee, Fenella and Anita pushed their plan to vote out Steve.
It’s an odd – and unexpected – alliance, this trio. There’s Tegan, seemingly the savviest of the three having been the one tracking an Idol-hunting Matt in the premiere and acting as a key conduit of information from the boys. Then there’s Heath, once lumped in with the bros but now out of the inner circle, perhaps by his bungling of the idol clue last episode or his natural ties to Tegan and Jenna based on his stage of life. Finally, Jenna is the muscle of the group – the tough mother willing to fight through a dangerously injured ankle to win this game. Despite our thinly sketched understanding of these contestants, they’re an intriguing combination, and I’m hoping that their alliance’s first move tonight will be the beginning of a bigger story for them.
So what of their decision? Ultimately, I think they made the right choice to side with the women to take out Steve. With Steve cosying up to the boys, it gave players like Zach a lot of influence in the tribe, but their move now leaves three factions of three – the women, the men, and the parents perfectly placed in the middle.
The parents’ choice also had the added benefit of saving the lone ranger. Paige was completely blindsided by the vote – not only being the unsuspecting target of four votes but also being left on her own by choosing the men’s decoy plan to target Shonee over the women’s plan to go after Steve. We still don’t know much about her or her strategy beyond trying to go with the flow at this stage, but blindsides like this can light a fire under a castaway, and I have a feeling that Paige is going to become a significant army of one in the coming votes – and the parents, at the very least, should be able to stay on her good side.
Paige might have the chance to bounce back from her blindside, but unfortunately, the same cannot be said for poor Stevie. Coming into the season, he stood out as an unconventional and quirky character and from the outset, he delivered. He came into the game way too hard, shamelessly hunting for Idols during the opening challenge and despite dodging the first Tribal by a hair, he never seemed to fully recover from his rocky start.
It’s a real shame to lose such a character so early on, particularly as Steve demonstrated a hunger and excitement to play the game in all its sneaky and devious glory. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case, and we’ll all be poorer for having lost this colourful character.
RATHER BE SHINY
Over on the Champions beach, the game is also kicking up a notch. Not as much, but it’s something. In the wake of Damien’s elimination, Mat had the necessary epiphany that the game is here to be played and played hard. If the hero war vet can go out third, then anything can happen, and he’s got to do what he can to come out on top. Thankfully for him, the game came right to his doorstep.
Last episode, Moana had the fans proclaiming her as our champion on the Champions when she followed up her roasting of Russell by snagging her very own Idol, placed in the voting urn at Tribal in one of the best Survivor twists in recent memory. At the time, she said she hoped to keep it a secret, but tonight, the plan changed. Not only did she share knowledge of her Idol with Mat in an effort to build her alliance, but she handed the Idol over to him for safe-keeping!
I was aghast that somebody would give someone else an Idol when not strictly necessary to attempt a big strategic play. But before we condemn the move entirely, it’s worth noting that Moana seemed to be asking Mat to hide the Idol in his possessions on her behalf, so maybe the laws of possession and ownership are a little fuzzy. Nevertheless, whether or not the Idol is technically Moana’s or Mat’s at this point in time, it still seemed like an unnecessary move and one that has the potential to backfire. Right now, Moana, Sharn and Mat have a “pact” in what looks like the first real alliance to solidify on the Champions beach, but time will tell if they can pull this off.
Otherwise, the Champions tribe played second fiddle tonight, though they beasted their way through two epic challenges. To claim reward (an afternoon with bathroom luxuries and an opportunity to clean up that pesky monobrow for Brian), they dominated the classic Kicking and Screaming challenge. It’s one of those challenges I love to see on the show for its sheer physicality, but one I always wince through in fear of shoulders popping or joints snapping – or as we saw tonight with Jenna, a brutal ankle injury. The immunity challenge, meanwhile, was an ingenious design (I loved the mechanics of the final wrecking ball stage) and the Champions managed to pull off an incredible comeback to secure the victory.
WHAT LIES AHEAD
With the game heating up on both sides of the Island, I’m really excited to see where the game plays out from here. The shifting factions in the Contenders is sure to keep things interesting, and I’m finding myself more and more invested in the Champions than I ever imagined – whether it be the gameplay of Moana, Sharn and Mat, the scrambling of Jackie, the Terminator-like challenge beast in Lydia or the wit of Samuel who never fails to make me laugh out loud.
Although it looks like strategy might take a back seat to tomorrow night’s “Chopper Emergency,” this season is finding its legs and giving us night after night of compelling TV, and I think we’re all on the same pa(i)ge about that!
OTHER #SURVIVORAU COVERAGE on INSIDE SURVIVOR
Australian Survivor will be back Wednesday 8 August at 7.30pm AEST, and Alice Barelli 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!
Header Photo: Nigel Wright, Network Ten.