The Sunday episodes are a bit of a slog. It’s a combination of challenges and camp life which are aspects the modern Survivor superfans tend to dislike. I’ve even criticized the slow moving nature of Survivor New Zealand, but if you look at it from the perspective that we get a two and a half hour episode of Survivor each week, then it isn’t so bad.
I have to stick up for my country a bit. A Survivor season can get derailed by having too many twists or by adding strange additions to the game. We saw in Survivor: Game Changers how messing with the formula too much can backfire, losing great players like Malcomb (Culpepper spelling) and Cirie due to avoidable circumstances.
Survivor New Zealand is a great throwback to old school seasons that would make Survivor purists happy. There are no idols (up to this point), there are no medallions of power or vampire votes, just contestants having to survive the elements and each other. Isn’t that what Survivor is truly about? The Kiwis’ attempt at Survivor is a zip lock bag full of melted chocolate, it may look pretty “stunk” but once you dig in its more delightful than you first thought.
We open with the new Hermosa returning from tribal. They’re all happy to have knocked out Georgia. Sala and Avi are relieved to still be alive in the game as they entered the tribe swap outnumbered by old Hermosa members. It would have been easy for them to have picked off the Mogoton members but Nate and Barb couldn’t resist the opportunity to weaken the alliance of five. “I don’t mind wiping the table clean and starting again, ” says Nate.
Georgia’s vote out has solidified this group of four. You can say you’re loyal all day long but the only way to earn trust is by going to tribal council. Voting out Georgia has shown Sala and Avi that the tribe isn’t split down old tribal lines and that they want to move forward together as a group. They are the heroes of Survivor New Zealand, and the show wants us to root for them to succeed.
“I do feel this game is going in the right direction for the right people,” says Avi. The tribe strategizes in the darkness on how to win out at the merge. When Georgia was scrambling to stay, she let slip that new Hermosa wouldn’t have the numbers. For Hermosa to take control, they need Shay remain in the game and Tom to stay loyal, and given how the tribe swap shook out both might be difficult prospects.
On Redemption, Shannon is devastated to see Georgia walking in. She feels she will be a sitting duck when she rejoins the new Hermosa tribe. “I feel like I’m gonna be back at Redemption Island in three days,” says Shannon. Her fear of being knocked out before the merge isn’t helped by Georgia who adds gasoline to Shannon’s ever increasing paranoia.
You can make all the right moves and work yourself into a great position, but the game can flip in an instant. Nate and Barb who spent eleven days on the bottom are relaxed now, having much more control. Shannon returns from Redemption to the jovial new look Hermosa tribe; she’s on edge, turning down a coffee from Avi. She’s terrified, and it shows. Having had Georgia fill her head with lies, half truths, and worst case scenarios all night, Shannon feels the need to prove her loyalty to the group by throwing Mike under the bus and telling all. “She right away spills the beans and then from there she just talks and talks and talks non-stop,” says Sala.
That was probably Shannon’s only move in that spot. It’s a group that would value honesty, and you might earn some trust by being open about everything. I’m unsure how successful her attempts at distancing herself from the alliance of five were as Nate is still weary of Shannon. “She’s a bit of a smiling assassin,” says Nate. Nate has a unique set of skills (which makes me crave a Kiwi Taken remake), but his Survivor knowledge could be lacking. Shannon might share the same fate as Wentworth 1.0 as Nate sees her as potential trouble having seen every season of Survivor. She has knowledge of the game and how to play it, the pattern of what’s coming up and that’s threatening to Nate.
Over on new Mogoton, Tom and Shay are outnumbered by old Hermosa members; despite this, Tom is optimistic with a new lease on life. He’s surrounded by like minded people and is no longer at the mercy of Shay. Tom knows he’s on the bottom, is making inroads with his new tribe and quietly praying the merge is around the corner. “The boys are three strong they are still close, and I’ve gotta remind myself that I’m coming into this as a fourth so I’ve gotta keep my wits about me,” says Tom.
Shay swapped badly and is doing nothing to help herself, digging her hole deeper and deeper. She was talkative and engaging on her old tribe and now sleeps all day refusing to interact with anyone. It must be tough for her going from calling all the shots on her previous tribe to having no power at all but suck it up! People have been in worse situations and worked their way out of it, Cirie Fields was close to being the first boot known only for a fear of leaves. It’s not over until your torch is smuffed (think that’s how Naonka pronounced it). Every moment matters, it’s a social game, and you can’t get anywhere if you’re antisocial.
The reward challenge is a hero challenge. Hero challenges are interesting in that all the pressure is put on a single person, but I prefer tribe challenges where there are more opportunities for people to mess up. It’s a concept that only really works in All Star seasons when you can see the best of the best compete against each other.
Avi goes against Lee, jumping on a seesaw and launching sandbags into a net to win a little cushion, a couple of mats, hammock and chocolate bars. These rewards get more lackluster as the show progresses. The challenge seems to be filmed in real time, or it was directed by Tommy Wiseau because every moment feels like an eternity. Eventually, Avi wins it for his tribe and Barb is handed a ziplock bag full of nondescript melting chocolate bars.
On the mat, Tom expresses how happy he is that Avi got a win but adds the word “today” on as a stinger. There have been worse stingers like the one that appears at the end of Ironman 2. That one word would be the topic of discussion back at Hermosa. Sala feels betrayed at the possibility Tom could align with the tight five (even though he’s aligning with Shannon one of the tight five). Avi must have seen an episode or two of Survivor because he sticks up for Tom knowing he’s in a tough spot but is also worried about the possibility of Tom flipping. “Tom was laughing with Mike and Lee, and he seemed like one of the boys which really concerned me,” says Avi.
Survivor pizza is notorious as the worst reward to get on Survivor. A new challenger has emerged to fight for that title though. The chocolate bars the Hermosa tribe won have melted into a chocolate soup. They all enjoy it but you gotta chalk that up to their starvation and camera assistants prodding them with bamboo to elicit the right response.
It’s a madhouse for Shay as she’s stuck on an island with testosterone filled apes. “I’m stoked I got married before I saw this new tribe otherwise I would have lost all hope in men,” says Shay. Maybe the Hermosa tribe are right to worry about Tom’s loyalty as he’s growing closer with his new tribe mates. He talks with Jak about the possibility of throwing a challenge to get rid of Shay. Getting rid of Shay would show that he’s flipped and put him at a 3-1 disadvantage. The one positive is that he would be able to take out the one person that’s been gunning for him since day one. The main principle of Survivor is “get before you get got” so take the shot while you have it. Shay has had three chances to vote out Tom but given him a stay of execution each time. Now her fate lies in his hands.
Shannon is in a similar predicament. She recognizes that strategy might not be the best approach with these people as they’re playing with their heart instead of their head. The last person she approaches is Nate. Nate is an imposing fellow, and she’s worried he can see right through her. Shannon explains she wanted to float through the game and was choosing the path of least resistance siding with Mike. With the merge mere days away, Nate recognizes the importance of numbers and tries putting her at ease. Shannon could act as a mole for new Hermosa and infiltrate the alliance of five. This is kind of fascinating. We could get to the merge where both Tom and Shannon are spies for the other side. I’m intrigued by the messy complications that could arise from this “Departed” like situation.
The Redemption Island duel is Broken China. Izzy and Georgia must stack dishware on a platform whilst holding it steady with the other hand. From the beginning, Georgia struggles, barely keeping her dishes steady but pulls out the victory in a nail-biting finish. Izzy’s stack falls seconds before Georgia’s did. I find it funny that I compared Izzy to Amanda Kimmel earlier this season and she’s eliminated in a challenge that Amanda won.
Izzy gives some parting words about growing as a person or something. They were pretty generic; you know the usual “I didn’t win the money, but I take home a lot more.” Who cares about personal growth, you humiliate yourself on these crooked game shows for cash. Avi says how proud he is of Izzy (dude you voted her out); it’s a bit patronizing, but we’re supposed to think Avi is a doll. I’m sure others like Tom or Sala said some kind words to Izzy as she was leaving but we are only shown what Avi said.
This season is a battle of two edits for me. Every episode we get someone singing Sala’s praises about what a great guy he is or overly sappy moments involving Sala’s family. Avi doesn’t have as much personal content, yet he is always present in the edit. I see him going far, possibly making the final two. Sala has a more emotional arc and a story the Kiwi audience could get behind so I see him as the Sole Survivor. It’s not an outcome the online community will lov,e and it’s not one I’m really looking forward to. We should probably get used to it though.