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Survivor New Zealand Episode 19 Recap – Then There Were Three


Chuck Cunningham recaps the penultimate episode of Survivor New Zealand.

It’s the penultimate episode of Survivor New Zealand. At times I’ve felt a bit like the castaways, forced to experience tedium, with incredible highs and depressing lows. It’s been a slog at times but I feel some sense of accomplishment getting to the end of the season. A lot have dropped off watching, yet here I stand. The Survivor New Zealand production team have done a great job creating an immersing experience. I’m exhausted after the marathon of a season.

Everyone returns from Redemption Island in the pouring rain. Mike remarks that the camp doesn’t like “him,” probably echoing the thoughts of the rest of the Casar tribe who aren’t thrilled for his return. Mike has the largest target on his back yet I don’t think he’s completely dead in the water. There is still some room to maneuver. Having two come back from Redemption lessens the pressure a bit.

Nate buried the hatchet with Mike during their stay in exile and is under no illusion on where he sits in the tribe. He was voted out not too long ago and has no intention of repeating the experience. All the Redemption Island voting bloc have to do is bring one person over to form a three-person majority. Nate and Mike are the two craftiest players left so if they combine their powers they could become very deadly.

Losing Jak is bitter sweet for Tom. Jak was the Gallo to Tom’s Pinto. It was tough to see him go but at the same time if Jak had reentered the game it could have been very messy for Tom.

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Photo: Scott McAulay

Avi confessionals continue to fill me with rage. Avi recognizes that Tom now has a guaranteed jury vote from Jak. Everyone’s a hero of their own story and that’s even more accurate with reality tv show contestants. Avi seems unable to see Survivor through any lens other than his own. This game is his to win and all the other castaways are there in service to him winning. Having seen the season play out how can he not think that way? He’s had the bulk of the cast almost sabotage their own games to get him further.

“Avi’s plan” is to take Mike to the end to split the votes that Tom would have gotten. I said in my last recap it was an ingenious plan and Avi totally came up with it himself with no help from anyone. I would let my sarcasm speak for itself, but I do think Barbs deserves a lot more credit. It says so much about Barbs’ skill as a player that she convinced Avi a plan she came up with was his. The best Survivor players make bullets for others to fire, and that’s been Barbs M.O. She can do far more than manipulating her kids into brushing their teeth that’s for sure.

There’s a nice scene of Tom and Avi playing cards. I liked it because it was a great representation of their relationship. Avi hasn’t covered his cards properly making them visible to Tom. Tom uses his hand to reposition Avi’s cards making it a fairer game. That’s the pair in a nutshell. Avi is naive, leaving himself open to be taken advantage of, and on the flip side Tom is an honorable competitor wanting to win by his own merits.

I feel bad for Mike. After spending over two weeks on Redemption Island doing nothing but starving and competing in challenges he’s forced to compete in an immunity challenge on his first day back. Give the guy some room to breathe. It’s a pivotal challenge for him as coming up short ensures him a seat on the jury.

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Photo: Nigel Wright.

Plan A for Tom has always been “win immunity.” In a weird way his immunity run has strengthened his position within the game. Being immune for so long has given him time to rebuild trust with Avi after he defected to the four horsemen. His strength in challenges was most likely a factor in Barbs siding with him over ride or die ally Nate. She wanted “deserving people” at the end and Tom’s challenge dominance made him a worthy person to keep around.

The four immunities Tom had won were a bit hollow. He only started winning when Mike was voted out, so the next immunity challenge is important. It’s Tom’s chance to show that he can beat stronger competition than the retirement village people. Mike has been a giant no one could defeat (except Jak who beat him in that lame Survivor quiz). Not only will winning immunity make Tom a Survivor legend, it will also strengthen his case at the end for being the one to slay the giant so many before him failed to do.

The immunity challenge is a variation of one that’s appeared in the U.S. seasons. There’s no spelling or stacking involved; the castaways just have to line up blocks balanced on a table. Tom ends up taking the win joining the five challenge wins club. There’s no real fanfare for this moment. I think these offshoots don’t like to mention the mother show and try to exist in their own continuity. So in a way Survivor New Zealand is the Amazing Spiderman 2 of Survivor seasons. Either that or host Matt Chisholm was a hired gun unaware of the significance of the achievement.

Mike, knowing he’s gone unless he does something, goes to talk with Barbs. Avi and Tom won’t turn on each other due to their gentleman’s agreement, so Mike has no choice but to swallow his pride and kiss the ring of the Barbfather. Mike pleads his case saying Barbs would have a better chance with the jury if she goes with him and Nate to the final three. It’s not that successful a proposal as Barb still holds some resentment about her time on Hermosa. She’s in a kingmaker position of sorts, possibly deciding the eventual winner, and is happier to lose to Tom/Avi than lose to Mike.

Tribal Council No.1 (photocredit Scott McAulay) (86)

Photo: Scott McAulay

Mike is willing to work with anyone at this point and the second stop on his scramble tour is with Avi. Avi is actually receptive to working with Mike. That was “his plan” remember? Avi then floats the idea of Mike coming with them to the final three again, and I almost expect a Jim Halpert look to the camera of “Can you believe this f***king guy?”

I’m going to play armchair quarterback for a second. There is a way to flip this game in theory. The problem is one that Kenny Hoang found in Survivor: Gabon, people aren’t chess pieces. I’ll lay it all out just to prove how smart I am anyway. Avi joins the Redemption Island voting bloc to vote out Barbs. It keeps Mike alive, getting him closer to the end, and it gives Avi an extra vote when he makes it to the end. The game isn’t just decided by who you’re sitting next to but also who sits across from you on the jury. I doubt Avi would have thought of this plan and if he had he probably wouldn’t be able to bring himself to vote for Barbs.

We don’t celebrate the Fourth of July here in New Zealand, but tribal was full of fireworks. Mike lays out the dynamics of the tribe and throws some shade on Barbs for not wanting to take Nate to the end. Avi is his usual self, pretending they’re all friendly despite voting Nate out not too long ago. There’s a humorous moment when Tom is asked if he wants to give up immunity. Mike looks at him with puppy dog eyes, and Tom chuckles saying “Don’t look at me” – probably the highlight of his game for me. Mike clawing for safety did little to change his fate as he was sent home in a unanimous vote. Goliath was finally slain.

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Photo: TV2 Screengrab

We return from the ad break with another immunity challenge. A bit of a shock as I thought they’d save that for the finale. The season has been dragged out at times and now they’re heading full speed towards the finish. The contestants must balance a pot on the end of a seesaw. It’s a nice endurance challenge to decide the final three but there’s other challenges that would have been more epic to end on.

It comes down to a battle between Tom and Avi, and I can’t think of a more poetic way for the final challenge to shake out. I bet you can’t guess who I was rooting for. It’s taken all season but host Matt Chisholm finally gets a bit of personality when he asks Tom if he wants an ice cold drink, then saying he’d like one too. The American version only found itself when we got more Jeff Probst dick moments, so it’s nice to see some of that creep into our Kiwi incarnation. After three hours Tom collapses in exhaustion, meaning Avi finally won immunity. Chisholm is in full host mode declaring Avi the winner, not paying attention to the dire medical emergency happening infront of him.

During the ad break the audience is left to wonder about Tom’s fate. Could he be medevaced? My worst fears were that he’d be pulled from the game Erik Reichenbach style making the Avi win a fait accompli. Thankfully he just pushed himself too hard and needed a few gulps of water and some shade to perk himself up again.

When Tom regains consciousness, he’s asked if he remembers what happened and Avi smugly interjects saying “I won.” It’s far from a touching moment in my opinion. I am biased, I can admit that. If Jak had said that in the same situation I’d be all up on it. The thing that melted my heart a little was the look of pride on Tom’s face, happy that his pal got the win.

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Photo: TV2 Screengrab

Barbs is a mystery to me. There are moments she’s in command and grabbing the game by the balls and other times when she’s ready to throw in the towel. I guess that’s the nature of the game. It breaks you down and exposes your weaknesses. The biggest thing standing in your way is sometimes yourself. The end is in sight but Barbs’ lingering doubts are holding her back. She’s torn in wanting to complete her Survivor journey or going to the jury to give Avi a better shot at winning. Avi really lucked out with this cast. Can you see this type of situation ever arising on an American season?

Nate brings up the idea of a fire making challenge between Tom and himself. Barbs isn’t against it as she’s still looking for ways to get Avi the title of Sole Survivor. Avi isn’t that fussed on the loophole as he’s nothing without his word. Come on dude, what are you doing?

The fire making challenge has been floated around and there is a chance Tom could end up going home. Here is where I feel Avi is all talk. If Avi was really the saint he wants us to believe, he would give up his immunity necklace to Tom. That would put his money where his mouth is and show he really does value relationships over the prize money. Avi instead hangs onto the necklace and has a s**t-eating grin plastered on his face the entire tribal. I don’t know if you know this but one Avi immunity win is equal to five wins from Tom. Damn you metric system!

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Photo: TV2 Screengrab

Nate’s Hail Mary fire making challenge doesn’t come to fruition, and he becomes Survivor New Zealand’s first fallen angel.

I enjoyed watching the episode. It had me engaged from beginning to end. But when I took a step back and thought about how it turned out it, I realised it was a bit of a waste of time. The final three from the night before was still the final three even after two coming back from Redemption Island, and a whole lot of scrambling did nothing to shift the game.

It seems fairly easy to predict where the jury’s votes will go.

Tom gets the four horseman votes (Lee, Mike, Jak) giving him three votes. Avi gets Shay and Sala’s votes.

Nate is up in the air for me. He could vote for Barbs, having seen the depth of her game and being the closest to her. He might respect Tom’s challenge performance or he could be swayed by Avi’s…. I still don’t know why people are so infatuated by Avi. He’s a nice bloke I guess.

I’m uncertain where Shannon will fall. As a fan of the game she’d respect Tom’s entrance into the five challenge club but I see her valuing strategy over everything else. Barbs inches ahead in that department having orchestrated the biggest blindsides of the game.

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People have won or lost the game in front of the jury, so it’s still technically anyone’s game. Each of them could make strong arguments or torch their games choosing the wrong words. There is a timeline where Barbs can win. She can say she used the boys as meat shields and led from the shadows. She used them as a distraction to play the game the way she wanted. Everyone was focused on the physical threat and the social threat, but nobody paid attention to Barbs, giving her the power to knock out those that stood in her way. It’s a compelling narrative that would be well received on a typical Survivor season.

I’m 99% betting on a Tom win. There is a shred of doubt that Avi can somehow win over the jury. I’m praying to every god that that doesn’t happen. I have to stress this is Survivor New Zealand where normal rules don’t apply (our toilets flow backwards too) – it’s an old school season. Challenge wins have more importance, “scheming” is frowned upon, and simply being a nice guy can be enough to become champion.


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"