Survivor New Zealand is heading towards its underwhelming conclusion. Much like last year, the game has been decided, and we’re left to watch it play out. The difference between this show and the U.S. version is that the characters (most of them) are fleshed out enough that the journey the story takes is still an enjoyable watch. It’s a great show for any fan of Survivor yet I feel like it’s an afterthought in the community. Maybe people are afraid of subtitles.
In my experience, the average person’s impression of New Zealand is a half-naked Maori doing the Haka. With so many versions of Survivor out there right now (Survivor South Africa, Australian Survivor, and Survivor Maryland), our Kiwi version gets lost in the shuffle. Survivor New Zealand isn’t flashy. There are no Iadanza twists, idol cancelers or cookie dilemmas. For a lot of people, that’s probably why they haven’t bothered watching. What keeps me coming back to Survivor NZ week after week (besides having to write this blog) is that it’s the purest Survivor can be in this day and age. There’s a sincerity to it. The reason for your downfall won’t be a twist or overpowered advantage. The players’ skills (physical, mental and social) determine whether they stay or go. Isn’t that what Survivor used to be about?
Last week we lost Renee. It goes to show you that Survivor know-it-alls don’t really know anything, as both winner picks are sitting on the jury. It was fascinating to finally find out where Renee’s resentment towards Dave came from. At the time I knew that single vote for Renee would cause trouble. I don’t think we’ve heard the last of it either. Renee is going to make sure we don’t forget that she got one vote. Towards the end she wasn’t even completely sure why she should be mad, she just knew Dave was evil and should be punished for his perceived actions.
The episode opens back at camp with Dave trying to make sense of Renee’s thinking. Give up, mate. I’ve listened to her exit interviews and had a week to think about it and even I have trouble understanding it. Adam, the Renee whisperer, puts the conflict down to a miscommunication. Dave seems to get into trouble when he opens his mouth. In trying to get to the bottom of the Renee issue and defend his character, it’s pushed him into the crosshairs of Adam.
“That really annoyed me. I think he feels personally attacked because that stuff is true. He’s a liar. I reckon Dave needs to go next,” says Adam. I don’t know whether Adam really believes that or if he’s an opportunist using it as an excuse to get rid of Dave. His M.O. for shifting the vote is talking bad about someone, so it’s a possibility he’s taking advantage of the situation to get what he wants. Adam was also very close with Renee, so was only exposed to her distorted side of the story. Maybe it’s a mix of both. It was highlighted at the time that Adam knew Renee was getting votes and that at least Arun was okay with it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Adam drop that bomb sitting in the final three to steal votes away from Dave. Renee’s single vote is going to be that annoying plot thread that dictates the season.
Matt is in a good position, and he’s getting increasingly confident. He was on the outskirts of the invisible five and everyone’s biggest target and has somehow managed to maneuver into a position of power. “So at day 30, I’m feeling good about my game. I’m happy with the people that have been going home. It’s been going the way that you know I feel like is the best way to move forward,” he says. He goes on to say that he plans to continue moving forward with Lisa and Dave.
I’m not sure if Lisa shares Matt’s plans. She knows the easiest path to the end is beside Matt but that she has no hope of winning sitting next to him. Fan favorite Lisa is going to get four votes together to blindside Matt and then hopefully go to the end with the likes of Tara and Eve for an easy win. Besides Matt and Dave, there isn’t much competition, so it’s a very solid plan.
At the reward challenge the castaways balance a bowl of corn on top of a pole and when it falls they lose. I’m sure they’ve burnt through most of their food supply, so I wonder if any of them thought about scooping up the spilled corn to help with the starvation. They’re playing for chocolate and Matt Chisholm even gives them a wee taster. Nobody turns their nose up at it Colby Donaldson style because they’re not very heroic I guess.
It comes down to Eve and Dave which isn’t all too exciting. You know both of them will end up on the reward and winning only gives the victor bragging rights. Dave comes up just short once again. It’s a running theme that Dave comes second – the Jinho of Survivor NZ. It’s reminiscent of Avi’s storyline last year. He never won immunity until the very last challenge. It would make for an interesting narrative if Dave, after a season of second place finishes, comes first the only time it matters.
Eve gets to pick two people to join her on the chocolate reward, and it’s no surprise that she picks Dave. Not only do they have a tight alliance but he also came second in the challenge which is a good justification that nobody would have a problem with. It also isn’t a Survivor NZ episode if Dave isn’t stuffing himself silly, so he’s got to come along. Adam is her second choice and the trio head off to have a chocolate picnic under the shade.
The difference between Season 1 and 2 is quite noticeable. I’m not sure if those reading this recap made it through all of season one, but there was a chocolate reward that amounted to a ziplock bag of chocolate bars that had all melted together into a sticky mess. It will forever be the worst Survivor reward in the history of the show. Subpar Survivor pizza is a very distant second to that bag of goo. The ziplock bag of undetermined chocolate bars must have spent the last year on Ghost Island and matured into a chocolate feast. Chocolate cake, brownies, chocolate bars, M&Ms and some chocolate milk to wash it all down. The way Dave eats I expect him to be Joe Del Campo’d out of the game. What a fitting end that would be. A literal number two finish.
Back at camp, Tara gives a confessional about how much she likes Eve. Don’t they understand that any Chani that gets to the end has a compelling underdog story? Get them out as soon as possible! It says a lot about Eve’s game that Tara would be happy to sit next to her. Either Eve’s worked her social game to get close with her, or even Tara feels she’s played a stronger game than Eve. If Tara thinks you don’t have much of a shot how strong are your chances really? Meanwhile, Matt is getting concerned with Eve because she’s shown herself to be strong in endurance challenges and his path to the end is going to be made more difficult having to maneuver around her. He has to take her out.
We head back to the chocolate reward where we get a humanizing moment from Adam. He opens up about his adopted brother and it’s really touching. For a moment I saw Adam as a person and not a vile reality show contestant. It’s these moments that make the international versions of Survivor. I don’t think the American version would spend the time on something like that and instead use vital screen time on superfluous gameplay nonsense. Survivor for me isn’t about the big moves it’s about the little moments. That’s something I think the American version has strayed away from in recent years.
Lisa starts laying the groundwork to get rid of Matt. She first goes to Tara who is fine with ousting him. They intend to rope in Eve but are unsure if they can wrangle Tess. It shouldn’t be this hard to get rid of Matt. He’s a triple threat and everyone (other than Dave) should jump at the chance to knock him off. I think what gets lost on the show is a contestant’s social game. Matt is such a threat but has managed to stick around. The bonds he created must be strong enough to overcome his threat level.
While filling water bottles at the well, Lisa spots an arrow on the ground. Matt also sees the arrow and does what Lisa should have by scuffing it up preventing others from stumbling across a possible game-winning advantage. That’s why I’m not all onboard the Lisa train like most of the fandom. It’s great that she’s a fan. I would be more impressed if she used her knowledge of the game to find loopholes or minimize another players movements. In winning the extra vote there was enough time to shuffle the letters around and keep Dave/Chani in the dark about what she’d won. In seeing the arrow on the ground this episode she does nothing to hide it from Dave or Matt and hopes they just don’t notice.
Both Matt and Lisa try to subtly suss out what the arrow is about before looking together. It leads them to an idol in a tree. Lisa stares at it thinking that’s enough to claim it as her own. Matt again does what any capable Survivor should do and climbs up the tree to make sure it becomes his and more importantly doesn’t let it fall into the hands of a competitor. A superfan should know the rules of the idol, and rule number one is getting your hands on it first. More points deducted from Lisa.
Lisa is a bit upset about missing out on the idol. It makes Matt even harder to get out, and she envisions becoming a 0 vote finalist sitting next to him at the end. I never understood this mentality surrounding the idol. It’s not a blanket immunity. There are ways to nullify its power. People have gone home plenty of times with an idol in their pocket (one even this season), all you have to do is blindside them when they’re most confident (like right now, Lisa).
Lisa comes up with a cunning plan to get rid of Matt. She wants Matt to hand over the idol to her for safety, leave it back at camp and then blindside him. She gets rid of him and possibly has an idol no one knows about to use for herself. A good plan but I think Survivor NZ has stricter idol rules than Survivor South Africa (see last season with the great idol heist). She pitches it to Matt and he’s rightfully skeptical. It’s terrible gameplay as you’re letting your target know he should be worried. Lisa doesn’t push too hard and hopes after thinking it over Matt will hand over his safety. If Matt spends an extra 30 seconds thinking about the proposal he will clutch onto that thing for dear life.
It’s time for the immunity challenge. The seeds have been planted for a Matt blindside and it’s become an even more enticing prospect for Lisa with him being in possession of an idol. The only thing that can screw up the plan is if he wins immunity. Whenever a contestant says “as long as they don’t win immunity” that’s what happens. It’s like tempting the Survivor gods. Matt wins immunity not even knowing how close he came to being voted out. Lisa can’t hide her disappointment vocalizing her displeasure at the result. Loose lips sink ships as Boston Rob once said so always watch your words. You never know what slips of the tongue can come back to bite you.
Lisa doesn’t want to get rid of Eve as she’s the only one who can beat Matt in immunity challenges. She’s unsure how she can save Eve to help take down Matt later. Well, the easiest option is getting rid of Dave. That’s a plan I think everyone could get behind. He is also an immunity threat and pretty close with Matt. Getting rid of him would be a good alternative if you really believed Eve was the strongest immunity challenger. You could get Tara and scoop up Dave and Eve to take out Adam or Tess. You could bring together Adam, Tess, Eve and Dave to take out Tara getting rid of the weakest person (a throwaway vote to buy time). There are pros and cons for all of them, but they achieve what Lisa wanted. Keep Eve in the game. From what we see those options aren’t even considered.
My appreciation for Tara is growing as she suggests a logical alternative. Hey, why not Dave? Lisa dismisses it as it’s not the right time. When exactly is the right time?!! Lisa talks a lot about making moves and increasing her odds of winning, but she doesn’t really do anything about it. She travels the path of least resistance which is a fine way to get to the end, but it’s hard to win that way. In my opinion, there are only two people Lisa has a strong chance against in the end. Tara is in the same mold as Lisa but isn’t as well liked and respected as Lisa is. The other is Eve. She would most likely get the three Chani votes but given who is left it’s the best combination that could result in a win. So, it doesn’t make sense to me why Lisa isn’t doing all she can to protect Eve. Man, I’ve been really hard on Tara. She deserves more credit.
At tribal, Chisholm uses the word bling. He’s still hip. Matt knows immunity is a temporary shield but trusts in his alliances that next vote he’ll be safe. Eve breaks down at tribal worried about going home. At camp, people were ignoring her and not looking her in the eye. Adam whispers to Tess during tribal that Tara probably told her the votes were going her way and to vote Dave. Tara is a loose cannon, but that girl is trying to make things happen (how am I a Tara stan now? I’m not entirely sure it’s ironic or not).
Chisholm gives Eve the opportunity to plead her case. Everything she says just makes it clearer why she needs to go. She says that she’s a strong competitor and lays out her very compelling narrative. In that situation, it’s a better approach to say why you won’t win. A crazy notion I know. Eve throws Dave under the bus without directly naming him for backing out of the alliance. She won’t name and shame people. Chisholm thinks you can still call people out without naming and shaming them… I’d like him to explain how that’s possible to me.
Dave explains the difficult position he’s in. He has no power to make moves and is at the mercy of the Khangkhaw majority. It’s all logical and well reasoned. It makes sense to me. I fear that the optics weren’t good for him though. For the second tribal in a row, he’s been called out for being a snake and even brought a woman to tears. That’s an image that will stay with people. Sometimes logic doesn’t work in Survivor.
Eve knows it’s between her and Dave and begs Adam to stand up for her. She believes he has a lot of sway in the tribe and if he speaks up people will follow. Adam surprisingly is lost for words. The votes are read, and the two remaining Chani turn on each other. Dave had voted for Eve and her for Dave. Dave, however, voted with the majority and was able to live another day.
I loved that Eve, JT, Arun, Dave group. I was optimistic they could go into the merge tight and dismantle the Khangkhaw tribe one by one. Renee soon flipped and made their numbers even smaller. I still thought Dave and Eve could stay loyal until the end. It’s tough seeing them forced to turn on each other. I had high hopes for Eve. After a certain point she stopped delivering for me and I wrote her off as a viable winner. The whole “tribe idol” thing was weird and right around the swap she faded into the background. She was Chani strong and that ended up being her undoing. If Eve wasn’t so focused on keeping her tribe safe and instead kept herself safe maybe Dave would be on that jury bench.
This was a bad episode for almost everyone. Half the cast was against getting rid of Eve and did nothing to stop it. Tess had very little screen time, speaking no more than a sentence. Lisa wanted to get rid of Matt yet handed him an idol and did what he wanted by voting Eve out. Dave had a horrible night. It’s shaping up to be a bitter jury for him. Brad looks the type to be all about honor. The Josh blindside and even his own blindside were great moves but I’m not sure Brad will see it that way. Renee is Renee and won’t let go of her vindictive grudge even if it doesn’t make sense. Now Eve heads to the jury in tears having been “betrayed” by Dave.
It’s an odd predicament that Dave has found himself in. He is a loyal guy and played the game as honestly as you can. He protected his tribe by throwing a challenge and never voted against a Chani until he had to. Somehow he has been labeled a schemer and for a couple of weeks now been torn into at tribal. It’s not looking good for him. Those left in the game see him as a threat and want him gone, and those on the jury have less and less reason to vote for him. It makes for a tragic downfall or a compelling winning arc.