Austin Smith is back to recap the shocking shifts and delicious downfalls in episode eleven of Australian Survivor.
“There’s only a few of us that sit at the end,” articulates Craig at the end of Vavau’s third consecutive Tribal Council, as he agrees that the game must change gears at some point in time. “But whether that shift is now, or whether that shift is later in the game, that is what you need to work out.”
From the result of the vote, in which Andrew’s Ferrari pulls into the pits for good, it would appear that the time to shift gears is now.
This week’s Australian Survivor has formed a concise trilogy chronicling the trials and tribulations of the New Vavau. What started as a clean 5-4 numbers split between the original Vavau and the original Aganoa tribes has fragmented into a mere cluster of individual players, scrambling to find their foothold in the tribe and define their own game moving forward.
For viewers at home, it may have been easy to predict Andrew’s torch would be snuffed tonight (particularly after the continued emphasis on his arrogance over the past few episodes). I found myself watching the scenes play out with a sense of inevitability – that it was all just a march towards a scintillating blindside; the expected conclusion to the Rise and Fall of Andrew Torrens.
But on the beaches of Samoa, Andrew’s elimination marks a significant turning point in the attitudes of the Vavau players, and may be the prelude to a major power shift in the future. It looks as though everybody on the yellow tribe is sharing Craig’s observation: “There’s times in Survivor where you need to step back and re-think about you: my game and what I want to do for my game.”
“SOMETHING’S GOT TO CHANGE”
The majority four votes to take out Andrew – from Kristie, Phoebe, Kate, and Craig – are prime examples of this new shift in the game towards each player’s individual games.
For Phoebe and Kristie, it’s just about scraping through one vote at a time while trying to build new bridges to gain long-term stability. These two girls have been scrambling for security since they landed on Vavau beach in a decisive minority, and they’re playing their position with a perfect blend of opportunistic offense and defensive preservation.
Phoebe’s added armour in her new Hidden Immunity Idol which has bolstered her confidence to lead the charge in negotiations with the Vavau swing votes. Her lawyer skills are serving her well, keeping her cool under pressure as she negotiates with both Kate and Craig to sway the vote against Andrew without having to sacrifice her Idol. She’s taking an active role in her own fate, and it’s proving effective. With the success of Tribal, it also looks as though the new Vavau is a much more open playing field for her.
Kristie is in a much more vulnerable position, without the protection of an Idol and with Andrew’s vengeful sights set on her after her previous vote against him. However, she, too, is focusing on building relationships on Vavau. She is in the same conversations as Phoebe, working the same angles.
But she’s also keeping her options open even with those she distrusts, as evidenced by her conversation with Andrew where he suggests they team up to blindside Kate. When Andrew later cast his vote for her, he apologises to Kristie for not keeping up his end of their deal, suggesting that she must have managed to convince him that she believed they were working together. As she observes, “To ensure my own survival, I need to keep making sure everyone thinks I’m a really good option to take forward.”
Craig also finds himself in the predicament of choosing whether to lean into the easy vote in Kristie or begin to reassess his own game going forward. In his conversation with Kate before Tribal, Craig makes it abundantly clear that Andrew does not have a relevant role in his game beyond being a lucky number in the Vavau alliance. It might not be The Merge just yet, but Craig’s shift to a more individualistic and self-interested approach to the vote indicates that the intensity of the game just levelled up.
Kate, meanwhile, has spent the last several episodes grappling with the growing pains of learning how to play Survivor for herself. When she realised she was on the outside of the Vavau alliance, she began to make tentative steps towards building working relationships with the other outsiders: Conner, Sam, Kat, Kristie, Phoebe… Yet, I’m not convinced Kate will ever have the killer instinct required to make completely selfish moves in the game.
Always presented to us as a positive energy – at the start of the episode, she seeks to improve tribe morale and spark a competitive fire in their bellies with an early morning yoga session – her goals are dominated by loyalty to her team; her tribe. She wants to win, and she wants her people to win. Although it seems a personality clash may exist between her sunny personality and the calculating Andrew (if his ridicule of her morning yoga isn’t proof enough, he later says he outright doesn’t like her), Kate’s beef with Andrew appears to be focused on his physicality primarily. The arguments she presents both to the Aganoa girls and to Craig all revolve around Andy’s dead weight (and explicit disinterest) in challenges, and although he purports to be loyal, Kate’s vision of loyalty is very different.
To her, loyalty to the tribe is doing what’s best for Vavau – and not the people in it. Kate may not be the strategic mastermind of the season, but she is shifting gears alongside the rest of the tribe to ensure her interests in the game are met. It just so happens that her interests require an Immunity win now and then.
SWIMMING WITH THE FISHES
Of course, Andrew couldn’t care less about Immunity. In his mind, going to Tribal for the opportunity to flex his strategic muscles is more important than flexing his actual muscles in the challenges. Even during the Reward Challenge (“Hot Pursuit”), Andrew tags out of the race and then proceeds to shout strategic advice to his tribe from the sidelines. It’s a narrow-minded approach to a very multi-faceted game, and it was begging for comeuppance.
Over the past few episodes, it seemed as though we never got through a scene at Vavau without some variation of Andrew claiming he had control of the game, usually through some combination of mixed metaphors and #BigMovez buzzwords. He talked a big game, but it always came across as arrogant delusion: all bark, no bite. He trumpets loyalty as his greatest asset all the while skulking around camp, claiming to pull the puppet strings and targeting his own allies.
Tonight, he equated himself to a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The trouble for Andrew was that nobody ever thought he was wearing wool.
Kristie and Phoebe peg Andrew as a rat from the start, and even Kate and Craig show reluctance to trust the man in the hat. They spot the self-interested wolf in Andrew and this, coupled with his abysmal challenge performance, puts him on the chopping block. But the Ferrari didn’t check its mirrors carefully enough.
Last week, I discussed the nature of awareness and control as the castaways navigated the tribe merge (ahem, “swap”). I could easily spend this entire article discussing the same themes, bundled up so neatly in Andrew’s downfall. It’s a difficult balance to attain in Survivor: good players can sometimes find it with a bit of luck, but pretenders to the throne so often walk straight into the trap of assuming that control and awareness come hand in hand, and it’s then that they find themselves “swimming with the fishes.”
The fascinating thing about Andrew’s downfall is that for all of his assertions of influence of the tribe, he was never shown to be in the driver seat. Craig and Jennah-Louise were the power couple on the original Vavau, and in the new iteration, Craig is still presented as the de facto leader. So at worst, Andrew’s claims of control were delusional.
At best, however, it could be argued that he did sit in a prime position to shift his gears into the individual game he wanted to play. He flirts with the idea of joining up with Kristie and Phoebe to mount an attack on Kate, and earlier in the season he’d approached Sue to suggest cutting Craig out of the picture. At Tribal, however, he backs away from these instincts, claiming that it is not yet time for the game to shift away from the current alliances and warns the majority that it would be “silly at this point to mess it up.” Andrew grew complacent in his majority and failed to see the pieces moving against him.
For the shark who had to keep attacking, it’s ultimately surprising that he lost the “race to the trigger.”
THE WRONG VOTES
Sue and Conner flitted through this episode, but for the two people caught on the wrong side of the vote, they got very little focus on the gameplay side. Conner’s allegiance to Andrew was subtly reinforced a couple of times throughout the episode. At the beginning of the episode, it is revealed that Conner had tipped Andy off that votes were going his way at the previous Tribal, and later on, Andrew and Conner discuss Kate’s wishy-washy attitude. He seems to be in a decent spot – a number, but a number on the right side.
Sue, meanwhile, gets a glowing spotlight as she more than holds her own at the Immunity Challenge. Straining against the weight of a basket of coconuts, she holds her own against Saanapu’s golden boy Sam. The tribe celebrates her efforts, but Sue keeps it cool, casually taking the compliments as if they’re nothing. It’s incredibly refreshing to see an older woman on Survivor applauded for her challenge performance, and also at the core of her alliance – or so we thought.
Sue’s caution that the game “twists on a dime” takes a turn for the prophetic as she and Conner are the only majority alliance members to vote with Andrew against Kristie. It’s unclear whether they were aware of the plan and just didn’t want to write Andrew’s name down, or if the vote blindsided them. Either way, they’ve got some work to do at camp to solidify themselves in an alliance once again but given both Sue and Conner are sociable, capable and have in-roads with most of the other castaways, I’m optimistic about their chances.
Let’s hope they can shift into a new gear too as Vavau reconstructs itself from the fragments of the vote.
THE CHICKEN DEBATE
Over on Saanapu, there is no time for the game to change gears because everybody is too busy talking about food. The blue tribe has had an incredibly lucky challenge streak (despite Sam nearly strangling Lee in the Reward Challenge), providing them with sustenance and comfort and what must have been a horrific sugar crash after all that chocolate. But not everybody is in a food coma.
Matt’s soft spot for Chester and his chicken friends was planted as a narrative seed several weeks ago, and tonight it blossoms into a rather strange B-story. Although the majority of the tribe is craving some fresh meat, Matt manages to convince them all to back down from cooking the chook – and instead, to let them free. It’s an odd decision to reach, but not nearly as awkward as the tribe’s attempts to trade the chickens for another food source (thankfully, Jonathan shuts that bartering deal down quick smart, reminding the players that they are out there to survive: “The menu says NO SUBSTITUTIONS!”).
The most intriguing aspect of this narrative, however, is Nick’s perspective. After laying low for a few episodes, Nick rises back into the spotlight to comment on Matt’s incredible (and potentially dangerous) sway over the rest of the tribe as he convinces eight people to give up a potential food source simply because he personally doesn’t want to kill or eat the chickens. It’s a very astute observation by Nick, and he is sure to share his concerns with Flick. We’ve already seen that the relationships in the original Saanapu tribe are tense at best, and going forward, I wonder if this conflict will amount to anything grander than a fun diversion.
THE WEEK IN REVIEW
In all, this has been yet another fascinating week of Australian Survivor, filled with surprising votes, Idol plays, social manoeuvring and culminating in a satisfying downfall of our newest villain Andrew.
We’re down to fifteen castaways remaining, and the game can only get more intriguing from here. With Vavau’s tribal dynamics shaken up by the fracturing of the majority alliance, and the new Saanapu’s allegiances yet to be tested at Tribal, there is a lot to look forward to in the upcoming fifth week of the show.
If Australian Survivor can keep this up, it’s going straight to the pool room.