The episode picks up where the last one left off, the boys return to Redemption and much like the audience are frustrated that Redemption Island is still a thing. “I don’t actually know what’s going on, like I thought it was two of us going and one person going back into the old Casar retirement village, so I’m sort of pretty surprised to be here,” says Jak.
Mike’s relieved Shannon is out of the game. They had their differences, yet Mike still recognized what an all around threat she was. He respects her game (her strategic nature anyway) and is glad she is no longer his competition.
Everyone left in the game including those stuck at Redemption feels bad Shannon lost the duel. They know how much the game meant to her (she probably bored them all with meaningless facts about former Survivor’s horoscopes) and also that she didn’t get the chance to shed the villain of Survivor New Zealand label. “She’s being portrayed as a villain… through her own actions of course, but she’ll be really gutted that she has to leave the game looking like that, ” says Tom.
Shannon as a “villain” has been unsatisfying for me. She never fully committed and was too worried about how she was being perceived by her fellow castaways and by the audience at home. A true villain embraces their dark side. Russell Hantz taking pleasure at sabotaging his own tribe, Jonny Fairplay lying about the death of his grandma, and Boston Rob leveraging his friendships outside of the game to get ahead are the types of moves I think any real villain should have no problem making. What were the treacherous moves players like Shannon or Nick Iadanza of Australian Survivor made during their time on Survivor? Played the game that they signed up for. If there is a villain of the season, it’s a tie between Barbs and Shay. They have no problem getting their hands dirty. Barbs was a kingslayer taking out the only person that offered her a lifeline in the game. Shay has been controlling the game from the shadows, governing the moves of Sala and Avi the entire time. Am I sexist for basically calling every woman who made the merge a villain?
The tribe has noticed a shift in Mike’s attitude, with the final duel approaching, Mike has become more humble, downplaying his physical strength. People in the Survivor fandom tend not to give much credit to challenge beasts, they only see their physical side missing out on other aspects of their game. Mike is an awesome challenge competitor for sure, but there’s a lot more to him. I’m unsure how successful his new approach will be as everyone sees him as the biggest threat. Mike has a very compelling narrative if he sits in front of the jury. Loyal challenge beast that fought his way back from Redemption Island, knocking every single jury member out. I’d be tempted to vote for him.
With Shannon now on the jury the feud between Shay and Tom is no longer one sided. Tom has heard through the grapevine that the girls have made a pact to give each other their jury votes. Shay already has Sala’s vote locked down so getting Shannon’s vote as well could cost Tom the win. I love Tom in this moment, he’s thinking many steps ahead by taking the jury into consideration. Tom knows Shay won’t win but taking her to the end is a dangerous proposition for his winning game.
Nate’s still watching his game slowly come crumbling down around him. Tom has a very tight relationship with Avi, and whichever of the four horsemen that reenter the game will join Tom’s trust cluster leaving Nate and Barbs on the outs.
Shay’s situation is mirroring Aubry Bracco’s Game Changers journey, every person that aligns with her gets sent home (someone Photoshop a representation of that). Shay pretty much has a final four deal sewn up but losing Shannon at the last vote has made her want to strengthen her position. She cozies up to Barbs for the first time in thirty days to shoot the breeze. Barbs wasn’t born yesterday (right Jak?) and can see through Shay’s attempts at bonding. “She’s very clever with how she sidles up to people and chats away and plants little seeds of doubt,” says Barbs
Tom brings up the possibility of getting rid of Shay at the next vote. You can tell right away its a nonstarter with Avi. Tom breaks down his reasoning point by point explaining the concept of a jury to (possible filthy casuals) Nate and Avi. It would make perfect sense to even an Eddie Fox level player yet it falls on deaf ears with Avi.
Nate’s spidey sense is tingling sensing something off about Shay. He can’t trust her and every day she gives even more reasons for him to doubt her. With his suspicions raised, Nate goes to Barbs (still in her hammock) and asks if Shay was saying he was homesick. I get the sense “the grapevine” is code for “a field producer told me your schemes.” I haven’t seen any spy shacks from officer Nate so I’m skeptical how he had knowledge of a conversation he wasn’t privy to. “I think Shay has told people that I feel homesick to plant the seed of doubt and hopefully germinate “the poor old fella’s missing home let’s send him home at the next tribal council “,” says Nate.
Avi’s gotta Avi. Avi’s whole game has been based on loyalty and integrity so he can’t bring himself to vote for Shay. He tells Tom he’ll send his vote Barb’s way. Avi then has another pouty confessional where he’s upset things aren’t falling into place for him and Tom’s not doing exactly what he wants. Every single person who hits the beach should realize everyone has their own game, people aren’t going to sit back and watch someone else win (Tocantins and One World are irregularities).
For the immunity challenge, the contestants must stand on a narrow beam while balancing a ball on a platform, as time passes they must move down the beam which becomes narrower and slide their hand further down the pole. Tom manages to come out on top winning his fourth consecutive immunity challenge and closing in on the legendary record. Chisholm lays it on thick how much of a threat Tom is which is kind of a dick move. The players aren’t dum, but these types of interactions from the host (Chisholm/JLP/Probst) slide into the grey area of production interference for me.
I’m always impressed when people manage to get five wins. Like Probst always gushingly says, “it’s a very exclusive club.” When you take a second to look at Tom’s competition, it’s a less impressive feat. After the merge vote, where both Lee and Mike were sent packing, his competition were the retirement village people and a handful of misfits that were unlikely ever to win a challenge. Although I’m still holding out hope that Barbs can knock the bake lamingtons challenge out of the park. Also, one of the challenges Tom won, two castaways didn’t even bother competing!
When the group return to camp after the challenge, Avi runs off down the beach like a mad man. The castaways should be making sure they know where all the machetes are and have psychiatrists on standby to prevent Avi pissing in the rice. He sees where things are going and it’s tearing him up inside. Not only will he lose Shay, he might also lose a part of himself (man that’s deep).
It’s Day 32 and Nate has finally come to play (it only took Neleh 24 days to start playing the game). I think I somehow quantum leaped into Nate’s body for this episode because he’s questioning why Avi is still there. It’s getting down to the nitty-gritty and Nate has no interest letting Avi get any further. Shay is a more attractive person for him to sit next to at the end and it gives him a better chance of actually getting a few votes.
The illusion of Barbs being the puppet master of the season are shattered when she tells Avi that Nate was considering betraying him. At the moment Barbs and Tom are playing harder on Avi’s behalf than he is for himself. Avi might be able to get to the end having done literally nothing and be crowned the Sole Survivor.
Nate is a bit slicker than I thought, preemptively bringing up to Avi that he threw out his name to test Barbs’ loyalty. He stresses that he’d let Avi know if he was going to write his name down; I’m certain he would do that. The Avi blindside failed to gain traction, so Nate went back to Plan A of voting out Shay. There’s no need to do the Lex van den Berghe, telling every person you’re going to write their name down before the vote because that plan has changed.
Shay tries to keep Avi in line throughout tribal by pushing all of his weak spots. There’s only really one outcome for the tribal council, it’s 55000% going to be Shay, the only question is if Avi will go against his word and, gasp, play the game. The votes are read, and Shay is sent home in a unanimous vote!
The only case Avi can make in front of the jury is that he was loyal, trustworthy and built meaningful friendships with his tribemates. Writing Shay’s name down contradicts that narrative and destroys all the work he’s done up to this point. They didn’t need Avi’s vote to send her home, so this is actually one of the only times a throwaway vote has strategic value. If Avi votes for Barbs instead, he keeps his word to Shay and sends her to the jury with a very different view than she has now. Avi might have just lost himself the game. I’m dreading an Avi win but I can’t stand bad gameplay. Ah! I need to take out this frustration on my journal. Side note: am I the only one bloody tired of Avi and his journal? It’s practically a meme at this point.
The finale is next week and I have no idea what’s going to happen (I excel at this position). Survivor New Zealand has had a lot of weaknesses, but they’ve told some really compelling stories, making every character worth watching. There’s a good handful of people this season that I could see winning. Even the castaways that have no shot are still enjoyable to watch on some level, and I’m intrigued to see how their stories play out. There’s fierce challenge competitors, a family man, a schemer, a joker, a reformed kingpin and a conflicted hero. I’d be happy to see any of them… well all but one of them, be crowned New Zealand’s first Survivor champion.