Australian Survivor this season has been a series of blows as big personality after big personality falls on the mighty sword only Survivor can swing. Matt ‘par-annoyed’ himself out of the game. Russell pulled every trick out of his sleeve until he didn’t have a thread to cling on to. Damien was the deadly combination of being unbeatable at the end of the game while limited in challenges. Steve K was sneaky and in a battle of the sexes became the male target for struggling to hold his own in challenges.
We are ONLY up to Day 12. The past four episodes have been a barrage of personality, action and strategy that have made Australian Survivor a bright spot on the international reality TV radar. It’s also a reminder about how much further there is to go – we are only a little more than 20% of the way through the season. The Australian Survivor seasons in 2016 and 2017 merged on Day 33 and 37 after two swaps. Making the jury for each season meant surviving only a few days less than the average US Survivor season.
The pacing of an Australian Survivor season is totally different to its US counterpart and requires very careful navigation of all aspects of the game. There is a fine line in achieving the best intensity of gameplay: too aggressive, and you will burn out of the game as a target, too passive, and you will not be a worthy ally (or winner) as the game progresses. Three of the first four boots fall into the category of aggressive gameplay, with Damien the exception as tribes began to check their island calendars and realised that nobody could get far in this game if their tribe cannot win challenges. The Champions seemed to catch onto this first with their elimination of Damien. The Contenders may be beginning to follow the same route with the saddest pre-merge boot I’ve seen in Australian Survivor.
This episode really showed a disparity between the Champions and Contenders tribe. The Champions beach could almost be described as cosy. Bonding is going on aplenty. There are jokes about farting, calling people their big brother, joking about using a fridge after the game, handing over your idol to someone else… it’s practically family. Everything is as sunshine and roses as a Survivor game can get. In comparison, the Contenders tribe is fractured and has become a collection of alliances living together on one beach.
Paige, in particular, feels isolated after the previous tribal council’s combo of receiving votes and being told the wrong person to vote for by her so-called allies. Zach, who spearheaded the campaign to blindside Paige in the previous episode, is now in a position where he needs Paige as a necessary number. For her part, Paige feels she is obligated to stay with the awesome threesome because she doesn’t know what her other options are (despite me and undoubtedly countless others yelling at the TV that there are six other people on the tribe). Paige is certainly being shown as isolated from the group not only through castaway confessionals but through camera shots that show her standing aside from group campfire conversations.
There are two examples of how the game could be played following a tribal that ends in a result you don’t want. For example, Robbie states publically that he’s glad things ended with Steve’s boot so that they have more challenge strength, and he is all around warm and friendly. Zach is focused on being bitter about Paige remaining in the game. Which do you think would gain more goodwill? In a season of 50 days, the social game is more important than ever before because what was annoying as a mosquito bite on day 3 will be more like a crocodile gnawing on your arm on day 47.
It has been said that when you’re in a vulnerable position, it is instinct to move towards what you know. Tired, cold, hungry and in a massive competition is one of the more vulnerable situations one might find themselves in, and it has been seen in Survivor again and again that early alliances are often formed on a bond. We have seen alliances based on gender, age, careers, where they live and other countless qualities. Swapped tribes often feature the debate of whether you stay with what you know or move into something unknown. The Contenders tribe seems to be a group of these types of alliances – the girls alliance of Anita, Fenella and Shonee, the bros alliance of Zach, Robbie and Benji, and the Parents alliance of Tegan, Heath and Jenna. Paige is the notable outlier here, not quite fitting in with the bros but also not fitting in with the girls.
The reward challenge comes and goes with a narrow Champions win, but a win nonetheless. The reward itself is a chance for some Aussie tucker and a bevy of heart-warming moments as the tribe peruses photographs of great moments in their lives. Although not mentioned by anyone there is a sneaky picture of Jackie holding a Rubik’s Cube.
At the Contenders beach, Zach has switched from generic bro to bro-villain in his recent targeting of females as the weak links on the tribe. From his perspective, the bros are carrying everyone else through the challenges and he won’t stand for it. Despite this, Zach himself hardly seems to be taking on the lion’s share – he grapples in the reward challenge instead of helping shift barrels and then takes on the role of ring toss instead of the more physically challenging canoe paddling.
Speaking of the immunity challenge, it starts off with Jenna being whisked away for further examinations on her ankle. This is a disadvantage to the Contenders tribe in a challenge which favours upper body strength. However, the Contenders actually lead throughout the entire canoe section, only to be overtaken in the final moments of the ring toss. Champions win immunity! They take their feel-good vibe and immunity idol back to camp.
Zach, who will explode if he doesn’t win a challenge soon, states the consensus on the tribe is to vote out a girl. I’m beginning to wonder if Zach is really in touch with what happens on his tribe and I’m reading between the lines because when he says ‘girl’ what he means is ‘weak player.’ The most obvious choice is Jenna, who returns from her helicopter trip with a cast and crutches. While previously Jenna couldn’t complete any strenuous activities, she is now prohibited from going in the water and from putting weight on her ankle. A frustrating but manageable situation for Jenna has quickly escalated into almost untenable. Jenna’s only saving grace is Paige, who places her foot firmly in her mouth throughout this episode.
At the reward challenge, Paige openly admits to the Champions that the previous night was a split vote. During the immunity challenge, Paige whispers to Champion Mat that she is on the outs of her tribe. Anita, present for both comments, openly distrusts Paige and questions (or politely confronts) her around the campfire. Paige’s defence is that nobody could do anything with the information she has told the Champions. Regardless of whether this information could be used or not (and I tend to think that it can), my Danish friend and fellow Survivor lover, Marchus, pointed out that it doesn’t matter what Paige said now because Anita pointing out her comments will only sow seeds of mistrust throughout the tribe and damage group cohesion going forward.
The tribal council is shaping up to be a showdown between a person who is trusted and well-liked but is unable to compete to their full potential, and the person who cannot be trusted on a strategic level but can participate in challenges at 100% of her ability. Jenna’s close ally Tegan is in tears when considering whether to vote Jenna out and begs Heath to switch his vote to Paige with her in an attempt to her friend.
Tribal council brings this dynamic between trust and challenge capacity into light. Anita exposes her three-person alliance to Jonathan LaPaglia and anyone on the tribe who managed to miss it. She points out Paige as someone she cannot trust, explaining that even her so-called alliance didn’t trust her, so why should anyone else. Paige doesn’t know what she’s done to be deemed untrustworthy (loose lips sink ships). Meanwhile, Zach is still stuck on his one track ‘girls-suck-must-win’ mindset.
Strategy talk aside, the tribal council transitions soon become a eulogy for Jenna. Everybody speaks between warmly and fondly of her. Fenella talks about her leadership skills. Shonee says she is the heart and soul of the tribe. Jenna appeals to her tribemates by reminding them that the Champions were surprised to see her survive the first tribal council because they were not a tribe to play “like that.” In retrospect, I’m not 100% what the ‘like that’ insinuates (assumedly that they will not judge only on physical merit) but it pulled at the heartstrings, and if I had been there, I would be reconsidering my vote.
Benji, for one, seems to be having second thoughts and consults Robbie about who another possible target would be. The votes roll in. Atmospheric music is playing, tears are welling up, and Jenna’s name appears six times in a row. I can’t recall a more emotional pre-merge boot on Australian Survivor and I, for one, will miss Jenna’s fighting spirit and determination in the episodes to come. I would be glad to see her back as a returnee at any time. (Also I want to go back and see which Champion pulled on Jenna’s ankle in the Kicking and Screaming Challenge to see who I should be cursing for Jenna’s demise).
OTHER #SURVIVORAU COVERAGE on INSIDE SURVIVOR
Australian Survivor will be back Thursday 9 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!