I’ve been lucky enough to have numerous varied conversations with international members of the Survivor community as this season has been airing and many of them – who have only seen this season or who are watching following the rave reviews of the 2017 season – are outraged by the exile island twist.
The idea of having a twist that can monumentally make and break an individual’s game so early in the season (day 21 that is) has incited rage in many. But for those Australian Survivor regulars it is only natural to expect a twist that shakes up the game at some point even if it doesn’t really seem fair or even a good device to facilitate the game moving forward (please take a moment to recall the surprise second elimination at tribal council last year that resulted in Ziggy screaming her target’s name at the voting booth).
The episode opens up as Anita joins Tegan on Exile Beach. There might not be a physical kettle on the island, but you could be fooled by the amount of tea being poured at their tiny shelter. Anita reveals that Benji flipped the vote onto Tegan by telling the termite alliance that she was out for them. Tegan adamantly denies this and Anita despairs that she didn’t ‘trust her gut’ but trusted Benji instead.
This is really an episode that is giving play to the feelings we usually see in exit interviews. The shoulda-woulda-coulda regrets that are expressed at Ponderosa are given a second life with the sharp wake-up call that playing as a nice girl (or guy) will not win you the game. Tegan and Anita both have a rare opportunity to recognise their downfall and re-enter the game to hopefully correct it. Both recognise a certain passivity in their own game that has allowed others to outplay them, a recognition of having been coasting when they need to pick up the pace and be more assertive.
The show does a decent job of pretending there’s a reasonable chance either woman could return to the game but Tegan is the convincing favourite from the beginning. The challenge is a good one which requires managing multiple tasks (catching the ball, rolling the ball, fetching tower blocks, building the tower) and allows suspense to build. I was personally surprised there was no mention or idea of Tegan returning to the game on the Champions tribe since they are present to watch the Anita-Tegan showdown take place. The Champs seem to cheer for Tegan and Anita equally, but all in all, don’t play a major role in this challenge (or this episode come to think of it).
A narrative begins to build in this episode of Tegan taking the second chance she has been given and using it to evolve as a player, she says multiple times ‘no more nice Tegan/guys’, and has multiple confessionals about getting revenge and playing the game more assertively. Despite the recurrent theme of Tegan taking control of the game throughout the episode, she appears to do so cleverly. She’s aware that her best path forward is revealing what she learnt from Anita about the lies Benji told. There’s an open forum on her return where everybody gathers to welcome her back – nobody comes clean about the reasons behind her vote, and Tegan quickly takes off to refill her water with Heath. At this point, Paige suggests they own up to what happened, although Benji deflects Shonee’s suggestion that he made the plan to vote off Tegan by saying he doesn’t remember what happened.
The Immunity challenge comes and goes. It involves running (or crawling) up a slippery slide to collect water in a leaky bucket and returning to pour the water into a vertical tube and the completing a vertical maze. Apart from a brief moment at the start, the Champions tribe take the lead and never relinquish it despite a tight race at the end of Macho-Bros (Zach and Robbie) vs. people who can actually do puzzles (Sam and Jackie).
When the Contenders return to camp, the mood is somber. Tegan seizes the moment and confronts Benji about his lie. Benji’s response is to say that Tegan did tell him she was going for Anita, Shonee and Fenella. Both Tegan and Heath reject this categorically, and the tribe breaks apart to scramble. Part of the outrage I’ve been reading about the vote-to-exile-not-out-of-the-game is that Benji is being punished for what was a strategically strong move. If Tegan never met up with Anita, then the lie which has Benji in hot water would never be revealed and we could be looking at a very different tribal council.
These moments in the game are where we often see the rise of phenomenal players. Being put into a compromising situation leaves options as to how you proceed both strategically and socially, and the best players of the game will take the broken pieces and turn them into something beautiful. Benji, who crafted a lie so delicately that resulted in an all-around threat being voted off by her allies, has the means to battle his way out of this position.
However, Benji doesn’t seem to have a firm plan for how he is going to manage the situation. He tells the people who voted with him that he never lied to them, which directly contradicts what Tegan has already said. Paige questions this when he approaches her one on one – she wants him to clarify what lies he told because everything she has heard has made sense in her storyline of the game. Meanwhile, Benji tells Shonee and Fenella that he has only lied to Paige and Tegan, even though Heath was clearly lied to also. Instead of twisting his lies to throw someone under the bus or to paint a different side of the story, Benji seems to be telling lies about his lies and digging a deeper hole.
As Benji and Tegan battle for the other to be voted out, a plan is being formed among the previously named termite alliance with Shonee and Fenella telling Tegan they want to vote off Zach. Zach, the misogynist of the year and all-round hypocrite, continues to expound that the girls are losing challenges for the tribe even though he has hardly made any heroic efforts physically so far. Tegan doesn’t understand the strategic benefits of Zach going but seems willing to join with the other girls to vote for him even if she prefers another target.
What I expected from tribal council was a war of words between Tegan and Benji. What I got was Zach taking his only desirable quality (physical strength), calling out the girls as weak links, and being called out by Fenella for his own hardly-impressive performances evidenced by so many repeat trips to tribal council. The final nail in the coffin was Zach’s audacity to call out the female members of his tribe as being responsible for challenge losses, which is not only unfounded (sorry who lost the vertical maze at immunity?), but socially deplorable.
Zach is voted out 7-1, and we see that even former allies Benji and Robbie cast a vote against him. This suggests that the swing votes of Shonee, Fenella and Paige capitalised on the situation they found themselves in by not buying into the Tegan/Benji feud but going after their own target. Desperate to survive, Tegan needed to join them in hopes of saving herself. Once Tegan and Heath have joined the girls in creating a majority vote for Zach, and it seems the boys have quickly folded to join them.
Moving on from here, the feud between Tegan and Benji is likely to continue. This leaves Shonee, Fenella and Paige out of the line of fire. Seems like a solid choice all-round – someone who is opposed to them has gone home and they have not increased their own target at the same time. And can we please take a moment to acknowledge that Paige, who was at one point Zach’s main target to get out, has outlasted him handily? She might not be the easiest to get along with around camp, but she is moving on up the strategic ladder one step at a time.
Australian Survivor will be back Tuesday 21 August 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!