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Survivor New Zealand Episode 15 Recap – Writing The Playbook


Chuck Cunningham recaps the fifteenth episode of Survivor New Zealand.

The Sunday episode opens at Redemption Island, and Jak and Mike are staring into the fire mesmerized by its beauty. It reminds me of a story my mother brings up occasionally where as a youngster my brother and I would watch our new microwave as if it were a TV. Shannon walks in, and the two burst out in laughter. At first, I thought they were elated that their villain of Survivor New Zealand had been voted out but thinking about it, they were probably just surprised to see anyone turn up. Three’s a bit of a crowd for Redemption Island. “It’s all smiles at the moment, but it is a little bit awkward. I can feel an underlying tension behind his (Mike’s) smile I think,” says Shannon. She’s afraid of what Mike will do to her and wants to hide the machete, funny as she’s already stabbed half the cast in the back herself.

The Casar tribe return to camp after the vote out. Avi is worried about Mike coming back and hopes Shannon can be the one to finally knock him out of the game. The only downside to Mike reentering the game is his challenge prowess. I actually think it’s more beneficial to Tom and Avi’s game for Mike to be victorious at Redemption. Mike would be opposed to working with “The retirement village people” whereas Shannon could come back and work with anyone to turn it around on the boys. Shannon has been shown to make “Big Moves” and getting rid of immunity beast Tom or jury threat Avi would be moves the Kiwi Wentworth could make to pad out her Survivor resume. If Mike comes back, his only lifeline is winning immunity as the rest of the tribe see him as the biggest threat and an obstacle in their path to the end.

The rejects on Redemption are in brighter spirits. Mike is no longer staring daggers at Shannon, and they’re able to be around each other without host Matt Chisholm calming Mike down with a shoulder massage. Shannon fills Mike in about the goings on at Casar with Barb taking control; it’s stuff Jak should have told him, but they were probably off getting naked and howling at the moon or arm wrestling over the top style (this is what men do right?). It seems like there was little game talk before Shannon arrived as the only moves Mike can imagine Barb making are the ones she makes when she rolls over in her sleep

REDEMPTION ISLAND Casar (Photocredit Scott McAulay) (11)

Photo: Scott McAulay.

Barb has retreated into herself preferring to be alone rather than hang around camp with the rest of the tribe. Barb has assessed her game and feels she has no chance at the end as no one will vote for her. “I’d be mortified if I got to the three,” says Barb. She has singlehandedly reshuffled the entire game taking out fan favorite Sala and is in full control right now… I do however see her point. Sala would vote for every other person over Barb, the Hermosa boys think she slept the whole game and the only person who has the slightest bit of respect for her is Shannon who wouldn’t have much sway on a jury anyway.

The game has picked up a bit after the merge, but they still throw in a couple of nice camp life scenes. Nate apparently has a Spacies machine which is radical, and Shay loves peanut butter toast with tomato – something I doubt Jenna and Heidi would get naked for.

Nate is concerned about his position in the game so has a chat with Avi. There are five people left, and Avi has a strong final three with Tom and Shay, Nate is right to be worried. Avi needing Nate on side throws Tom’s name out as the person to cut at final four. If you’re Nate, there’s absolutely no reason to believe that Saint Avi – who’s preached honesty and loyalty ad nauseam – would cut his closest friend (the person he’s been protecting all game!!). I’m sure it’s not lost on Detective Nate that he’s been fed a line. Avi then goes on to say he has a lot of sway with both Tom and Shay if either of them wins immunity at final four and all I’m thinking is if Avi has that much power to shift the pivotal vote deciding the final three, then why not get rid of him now?

REDEMPTION ISLAND Jak (Photocredit Scott McAulay) (55)

Photo: Scott McAulay.

Meanwhile, on Redemption, Jak is getting in Mike’s head, playing up that he wants to go home and piling on the flattery saying he has no shot against Mike in a challenge. “I think the only way to beat Mike is to sort of win the battle before it started and I’m really hitting him home with the mind games,” says Jak. Some people don’t like to tune into Jak FM; he’s a walking contradiction in that he’s often OTT in his behavior yet his gameplay is awfully subtle. While the fan base has been drooling over Shannon’s “big moves” they have overlooked Jak influencing the game with his charm and humor. His self-deprecation at facing Mike in a duel has not only made Mike overconfident it’s also fueled doubt in Shannon’s mind.

Back at Casar, Tom and Nate confirm the final four that Avi discussed earlier. Shay overhears and either misunderstands what she heard or wanting to stir up trouble runs to Avi and says Tom wants to vote him out. Given that Shay’s only mission has been to get rid of Tom (since minute one), I tend to think the latter is more likely. Avi is upset that anyone would dare vote him out (that 100 grand is for underprivileged kids!) and storms off to confront Tom on the beach. Avi should realize by now how Shay will stop at nothing to end Toms game… it’s also kind of hypocritical that Avi is upset about his name possibly being thrown around when hours earlier he happily threw Tom under the bus. He believes Shay whole heartedly until Tom swears on his mother’s life. Tom was being truthful but anyone going on a reality tv show should take these sorts of gestures with a grain of salt. If I somehow make it on to an island with 15 other attention seeking narcissists I’m going to be swearing on people long since dead (I am superstitious) and make up nonexistent children with incurable diseases.

DURING CHALLENGE (Photocredit Scott McAulay) (12)

Photo: Scott McAulay.

For the reward challenge the contestants have to dive into a pit, covering themselves in mud and then scrape it off into buckets. The castaway with the heaviest bucket wins an overnight stay at the fanciest lodge the production company could afford. It seemed like a neck and neck race between Tom and Barbs. Tom had more clothing than anyone else and Barbs used the mud as shampoo, lathering her hair with it. In the end, Avi somehow won it and chooses Tom and Barb to join him on the reward. He chose Tom as he hadn’t been on a reward and Barbs because she came second. Typical non-offensive gameplay from Avi. There was a hint of actual gameplay from him though (I know! I was shocked), he leaves Nate back at camp to bond with Shay and strengthen their connection. Even though there was some strategy behind his decisions it’s still obnoxiously Avi “can’t we all get along.”

The triumphant trio ride horses up to Rancho El Chilamate and are greeted by an energetic host whose accent I can’t quite place. She’s making full use of her 15 minutes of fame, offering them beer they obviously couldn’t get the rights to and showing them an underwhelming pool. I’m reminded of the Survivor bar back in Season One of the U.S. series where production threw together a makeshift bar. This “ranch” looks more like a Nicaraguan family home they decorated with a few signs. “Your prize is you get to be on the top bunk.”

LUXURY REWARD Barb, Tom, Avi (Photocredit Scott McAulay) (32)

Photo: Scott McAulay.

They all bond over the reward, eating what looks like subpar pub grub. Barb vows to help the boys get to the final three (F you Nate!) and reiterates that she’d be happier voting for a winner than being voted for. What happened to the Barbfather?! I’m hoping this is a masterful Keyser Söze style ploy to throw people off. You had the game in your hands Barb, it was yours to lose! Don’t give up now. They return from the reward and Barb tries to downplay the experience by saying “best reward ever” and then talking their ears off about every detail they missed out on. “Barb went on and on a bit didn’t she, about how great it was. Yeah. Great. Cool. Move on… please,” says Nate

The Redemption Island duel is the T-bird sun will come out tomorrow challenge (come on Lynne give T-bird another shot), Chisholm informs them that only one will be sent to the jury and the other two return to Redemption Island to await another competitor. Shannon is first out making her the third member of the jury. This game seems to have been going on forever (most likely due to the slow pre-merge) so I’m shocked there are only three members of the jury so far.

REDEMPTION ISLAND Shannon (Photocredit Scott McAulay (42)

Photo: Scott McAulay.

Shannon was a favorite for a lot of the fans, and it’s easy to see why. Shannon made moves, taking out the biggest threats when the opportunity arose. She played logically and methodically. It’s gameplay that should have excited me, but I could never fully get behind her as I didn’t see a way she could win. Crotchety Tony said it best when he said “There is one thing New Zealanders do not tolerate and that’s backstabbing.” A combination of this being the first season and our disposition as a culture were factors going against that style of play being successful. Shannon suffered the same fate as many fans of reality TV outside of the U.S.

Though I’ve critiqued and criticized Shannon’s game a lot over the past few weeks, I’d most likely overplay the same way. We’ve watched these shows for years chomping at the bit to be given the opportunity to play. We’ve thought of every strategy, come up with our own loopholes and probably rehearsed our final tribal speech in front of the mirror far too many times. Shannon went into Survivor New Zealand expecting it to be Season 35 and that every other person there would play as hard as she was playing. There has been an evolution of strategy over the years, but the strategy of the New Zealand game is still in the beginning stages. Maybe a superfan like Shannon can take solace in the fact that she has been part of writing the playbook for us Kiwis.


Chuck Cunningham hails from the lackluster country known as New Zealand. He was an aspiring writer until the harshness of reality crushed his soul. When he's not picking up the pieces of his shattered dreams, he spends his time far too concerned with the trivial goings on of reality TV. A super duper fan of Survivor that would most likely be the first one voted out for his awkwardness, lack of fitness and being too "real"