The Australian Survivor finale is here! Like every season of Survivor, it has flown by both too fast and too slow at the same time in a maddening feat of occupying more of my time, thoughts and social media submissions than I ever thought possible. Off the back of 2016’s Mateship-R-Us season, I was genuinely expecting a lackluster second season, particularly when the ‘Super Idol’ twist was announced before the premiere had even hit our screens. But not only were all my expectations for the season exceeded but I was blown away by the strategy, gameplay and downright passion that we saw in this season of Australian Survivor.
Recapping episodes of Australian Survivor really brings a new dimension to my love of the game. For the majority of my real life friends and family, I am the only person they know who has a crazy obsession with this game, and writing recaps for Inside Survivor unlocked a passion for me that has not only changed how I evaluate the game but brought me in contact with many other Survivor fans.
Everyone Has A Shot In This Game
Something I have always loved and valued about the game of Survivor is the way it brings people from all walks of life together and puts them on a playing field where absolutely anyone can win. Sure, there are natural advantages in physical ability or personality, but at the end of the day, anybody can take the title. This season of Australian Survivor has made this abundantly clear. The final four castaways (Michelle, Peter, Tara, and Jericho) were all people I never even considered as a Winner Pick when the season begun. Michelle seemed too superficial. Peter self-described as annoyingly cheerful. Tara didn’t seem self-aware. Jericho was underwhelming. How wrong I was!
Some fans argue that the extended length of the Australian Survivor season leaves aggressive gameplayers vulnerable to being picked off. But it also allows players to evolve across the season and move through multiple arcs of tribes, alliances, friendships, opposition and personal stories. Even though I didn’t zero in on the final four as threats I still felt like I knew them: this is something that Australian Survivor can give us about nearly every contestant that other editions cannot.
The Season of Strategy
Form the moment the barge emerged from the storm back in the premiere episode it was apparent this season’s strategy was going to be more of a hurricane compared to the light breeze we saw in 2016. The initial challenge saw competing approaches to winning: Asaga worked as a team to get their whole raft with supplies to the beach while Samatau continually offloaded supplies in order to make the trip quicker. Day 6 saw fake idols in the mix, and by Day 9 the first real idol had been played (albeit incorrectly). Castaways were always scrambling to flip others from opposing alliances, and the merge was a series of alliances that shifted quicker than Jericho’s hand in a cookie jar. Flipping from (previous) allies was no longer a dirty move but a necessity to stay ahead of the game.
Regardless of the outcome, this season will go down as one of constant strategizing and dynamic gameplay, making it one of the most exciting seasons seen in recent history for any edition of the show.
Bringing the Aussie to Survivor
In 2016 a new era of Australian Survivor was born – a new channel and a new format designed to bring life to the show. Even if the gameplay wasn’t quite up to scratch initially, there was an immediate legacy created to give Survivor a unique Aussie flavour (and it’s not just Jonathan LaPaglia’s forearms). The challenges in Australian Survivor have been nothing short of epic whether they’re a spin on a Survivor classic (Luke’s table for one at the Auction), something totally new (animal charades left me actually rolling on the floor) or establishing our own traditions in the return of last season’s final challenge. The final Hand on the Idol challenge was identical to last seasons except for the timing – while Kristie, Lee and El battled under the sun, this year saw Jericho, Tara, and Peter duke it out in the dark and cold of the night.
The dramatic setting of this challenge was only secondary to the intensity of the castaways as they pushed their mind and bodies to balance on two little poles for as long as they possibly can. Five hours might pass in a matter of minutes on screen, but you could see every second of pain in Tara and Pete’s faces as they struggled to hold on. How Jericho managed to look utterly stoic through it all, I do not know, but I would love to ask and start to practice for those moments in life when I really wish I could punch someone in the face. It was fitting for Jericho (who has gotten close to the end of so many individual challenges without ever taking the cake) to win his very first immunity when he needed it most. In his very typical Jericho way, he took a moment to gather Peter and Tara by the fire to reflect on their accomplishments… before a final wave came crashing against the cliff’s edge and doused out the flames.
The Path to $500,000
Coming into this episode, I really thought Tara had a clear path to the Final Tribal Council. As neither a physical nor strategic threat it seemed likely she would be taken to the end by whoever won the final immunity challenge. The final three tribal council involved Peter and Tara fighting for their safety using an eerily similar argument: that the jury wouldn’t respect Jericho for bringing the other to the final two. Jericho seemed a little unfazed by the bickering back-and-forth. There was no scrambling or strategizing shown after the challenge which makes me suspect that Peter being voted out was a done deal the second he stepped off the blocks.
Peter had very little screen time and was rarely shown clarifying his strategy or ideas in confessionals. His game was purposefully played under-the-radar, and he favoured efficiency over flashiness. Peter’s go-to line was making moves that were best for him even if they weren’t the biggest. Since quoting it on the show, I have uttered Pete’s phrase ‘mutually beneficial’ countless times, and from my perspective, Peter’s strategy would have worked a charm in the early merge days. However, in a cast where every second person has a personality bigger than the Sydney Harbour Bridge, playing a low-key game isn’t enough to capture the attention of the jury but is enough to be a threat to winning the Sole Survivor crown.
With Peter out of the picture, the march to the win seemed pretty clear for Jericho. In the final tribal council, the former Cookie Monster outlined his strategy of appearing like an angel while playing like a demon. He described his cookie army idea was ‘buy’ shields who would protect him late into the game. With some confusion, Jericho discussed his strategy to ‘play nice’ while also describing how he was simply a nice person. Jericho’s answers to the jury reflected game awareness from the earliest days on the beach – from aligning with his ‘brother’ Luke to helping create chaos to looking around at the merge and realising if he didn’t start lighting fires between other contestants he would find himself on the chopping block. Some of Jericho’s former allies seemed a bit stung by his betrayal and somewhat contradictory answers (including Sarah, who voted for runner-up Tara, and Henry, who pitched Tara’s strengths to the jury when she failed to portray them adequately in response to his question).
Tara came out swinging at tribal council describing her social game as her only option once she saw the physical threats playing the game on Day 1. She reflected on how swapping tribes gave her a chance to renew her gameplay and make new alliances. She also focused on her move to vote out Locky, stating that using him as a shield to that point had been great but that she needed to step out of his shadow if she was going to win. Most jurors seemed to pose questions with the purpose of giving either finalist a chance to pitch why they should win. Some jurors declined to ask both finalists a question, and one (Luke) didn’t pose a question at all. Some jurors seemed to have their mind made up. Jarrad threw in a mite of cheek when he reminded Jericho of their agreement to underline their vote and promised him he would be again underlining his vote for the winner.
In an ode to the early days of Survivor, JLP whisked himself and the voting urn away to Sydney via speedboat. Some castaways were nearly unrecognisable as they awaited JLP to read the votes. Coming down 6-3, Jericho is the (newest) Sole Survivor!
What does it say about Australian Survivor to have Jericho as the winner? Amongst the jokes and the pranks, Jericho was playing the game the second he stepped on the beach. Perhaps being overshadowed by eternal joker Luke, Jericho formed friendships and followed them as long as he needed them before cutting allies in favour of his own game’s progression. Jericho’s trademark was his smile: even when he was standing soaking wet on two small pedestals for more than five hours, he was still showing off his pearly whites. Jericho certainly didn’t jump off the page as a winner (he was the 15th pick in the Inside Survivor draft!), and he may not have been as flashy as some other castaways, but he took the game in his stride and exceeded all of my (and apparently his own) expectations to take out the title. Congrats Jeri!