It’s time to drop your buffs, for we have reached the halfway point of the game–the merge! This episode the contestants are tempted with food, but with there being six Champions and six Contenders remaining, the hunger for power is the real story.
As Janine says, the most exciting part of the merge is the fact that the game resets and the positioning of the players need to be reevaluated as a result. With even sides, we see contestants battle against their desire to eliminate threats within their own alliances versus retaining their numbers. Even though the vote was unanimous in this episode, there was a lot of social and strategic manoeuvring taking place, with many players getting ready to strike at the most opportune moment.
We kick off the episode with the first individual Reward Challenge of the season. The winner receives a large mystery crate. It’s a classic Survivor challenge of endurance where the contestants must hold a heavy sandbag over their heads. There are a variety of rewards on offer to tempt the contestants into dropping, starting with chocolate biscuits, a phone call home, beef tacos, a Mexican parmigiana, alcohol, a whole cake and, of course, an advantage for the next Immunity Challenge. The majority of players pounce at the opportunity to take these rewards until only three are left standing: Daisy, David, and Simon. All three refuse to step down for a pizza, an entire chocolate cake, and the Immunity Challenge advantage.
In the end, Daisy wins the first individual challenge, and along with it, the mysterious crate that Jonathan says will set her up for the rest of the game. The caveat is that Daisy must enjoy the contents of the crate away from the camp on her own. Inside the box are all the rewards that were on offer during the challenge–everything from the chocolate biscuits to the challenge advantage. Above all, nestled in the corner of the crate underneath a wooden box is a Hidden Immunity Idol. It wasn’t the most difficult place in the world to hide an idol, but if someone were to be so consumed in the excessive food and the emotions of talking to a loved one, it could be easily missed.
Upon arriving back from the reward, Daisy is met by all the contestants eagerly awaiting news of what was in the crate. Unsurprisingly, even though Daisy tells the truth, David doesn’t buy anything that she says and instead believes that she found an idol inside the box and nothing else. This spurs him to come up with a plan to make Daisy as paranoid as possible and flush her idol at the next Tribal Council.
With all the reward shenanigans out of the way, let’s talk about where everyone stands before heading into Tribal. There are six players that the narrative focuses on this episode: David, Janine, Pia, Daisy, Shaun, and Andy. With the Champions and Contenders tied with six numbers on each side, the main question that needs to be answered is, do you flip on your alliance and take out somebody you don’t trust or stick to your alliance and force a tie? Nobody wants to budge and give the other side the numerical advantage, but with David and Daisy both in possession of an Immunity Idol, both factions have opportunities to leverage their power and force a flip.
NEW TRIBE, SAME DAVID
David wastes no time in reclaiming his position as the leader of the Champions. As soon as the tribe arrives back to camp from the Reward Challenge, it becomes immediately evident that old tribal lines are still alive and kicking. David takes control of the Champions (minus Luke) by bringing them together and debriefing them on the events that took place during the tribe swap. They reaffirm their strategy to stay Champions strong and David positions Shaun as the primary target with Daisy as the backup. Shaun & Daisy are seen as the biggest power couple over on the Contenders side and are also strong challenge threats.
If there is a flaw in David’s game, it is his unapologetic desire to be in control at all times. He makes no concerted effort to make his alliance feel like they have any significant input in the strategic decisions that are being made, and it has made him a target for a while now. To be fair, he has been playing from the bottom for so long that he must find himself in a Survivor cruise control with no way to slow down and ease up his intensity. However, it’s important to note, for the majority of the episode, David is playing under the assumption that Daisy has an idol. With that in mind, as soon as Shaun wins the Immunity Challenge, David believes Daisy is as good as safe, thus prompting him to shift his target to Andy. This is mainly because David is resentful over the fact that Andy was the reason why Luke and himself used their idols. Even though this plan isn’t met with much disagreement, David’s egotistical desire to call the shots is rubbing people the wrong way.
David and Luke make their way around the Champions and Contenders, telling them that Andy is now the person who will be going home. Heading into Tribal Council, David is as confident as ever that Daisy will flush her idol in addition to Andy being voted out. Unlike with the Contenders, the Champions are confident in their ability to get the numbers on their side and get the Contenders to flip on Andy.
THE CONTENDER POWER COUPLE
When it comes to Daisy and Shaun, their desire to target David is definitely mutual. The pair are made aware by Harry that they’re the top two targets in the game as they are seen as the strongest power couple. Shaun and David have had an ongoing rivalry for a few weeks now, and since Shaun stands out as the perceived leader of the Contenders, the target is aimed towards David. This rivalry only intensifies this episode with Shaun being incensed by the audacity of David and Luke to assume that they will join them in voting Andy out of the game. With Daisy and Shaun winning the first two individual challenges of the post-merge, in addition to an Idol in their possession, they have definitely reaffirmed their status as threats in the game.
However, with Shaun winning the first Immunity Challenge, the biggest question they face is whether Daisy should play her Idol for herself or for Andy, who is the consensus target amongst both tribes. With the knowledge that Daisy might be a possible target, it becomes a battle against her own paranoia that will decide whether or not she will play the Idol for herself. Shaun throws out the idea of forcing a 6-6 vote tie, but the Contenders are so fractured and unbonded that it would be silly of them to risk a rock draw for such an unstable alliance. It might seem so simple to play the Idol for Andy and send David home, but with David in Daisy’s ear making her paranoid, then it is no surprise that she ultimately plays it for herself.
A LOVE STORY FOR THE AGES
The most compelling narrative of this episode involves the relationship between Pia and Janine. The show consistently reminds us that Pia is playing hard, and even though her game has been social and low-key, it has been very calculated. Pia wants David out; she’s been after him since way back before the tribe swap even took place. All the shenanigans with lying about playing an Idol for Pia and throwing out her name as a possible target to Abbey has given David a reputation of being a power-hungry and arrogant player amongst the Champion women. However, even though Pia wants David out, she wants to construct the vote but not be at the forefront of it in such a way that it paints a target on her back. She discusses several times this episode about having shields in the form of Janine, who she wants to be seen as the poster child of all the strategic decisions.
A self-described “love story for the ages,” the relationship between Pia and Janine is honestly a match made in Survivor heaven. They are the perfect combination of social and strategic gameplay and complement each other so well. I think what I like most about this pairing is that they aren’t threatened by how good the other one is playing. In fact, they embrace it. Janine says in her confessional that the other contestants need to watch their backs because Pia has a knife in her hand and is ready to backstab everyone. Janine is aware that behind the smiles and the laughter Pia is a serious threat. Knowing your closet ally is capable of lying and backstabbing everyone around you is typically a cause for concern, but Janine is able to put her ego aside and let Pia shine when she needs to.
Janine and Pia aren’t threatened by the other, and it has been the secret to how they have thrived in this game together.
And E. Coyote
The ultimate causality of this episode and the victim of a unanimous vote, let’s discuss Andy’s game and how it went wrong. With his used car salesman grin and over-enthusiastic way of speaking, nothing seemed to go Andy’s way this season. He has spoken about playing the most dominant strategic game the Survivor franchise has ever seen, but he instead got a front-row seat to watch players like David and Luke show him how the game is meant to be played. Andy tried to vote Daisy out, which didn’t work, he outed Shaun having an idol, which Daisy overheard, he outed Sarah’s plans to vote Daisy out, which Sarah overheard, and he trusted David and thought they had a good working relationship when in fact David had zero trust in him.
Nothing Andy did in the game worked out in his favour. He was like the Wile E. Coyote of Survivor. The best move Andy made was telling everyone that David had an Idol as he exited Tribal Council–and he didn’t even do that on purpose! The most successful game move Andy made was a random shot in the dark which might have some repercussions in the game moving forward.
Andy is helpless this episode; he really doesn’t stand much of a chance. By the time the votes are cast we learn that nobody, except for Shaun, really trusts him. To his credit, he’s quite self-aware of his actions and acknowledges that he might have lied too many times and lost because of it. Andy tries to talk to Janine, Pia, and Abbey by letting them know that David and Luke are big threats and need to be voted out, but it’s to no avail. Andy has lost all credibility in the game. During the Tribal, David and Luke shine the spotlight on Andy’s ability to be trustworthy–again not letting go of how he “misled” them during the vote that wasted Luke’s Idol. Andy is coy and dismissive in the moment, which is something that Luke and David come down hard on. They say that they can’t respect someone who can’t own their game and the moves they make.
This is where I believe Andy lost the game. He lied about his occupation and who he is as a person above of all the other game-related lies he made. When he realised (if he did at all) that the rest of the contestants weren’t buying what he was selling and were starting to distance themselves from him, he should have dropped all the lies, owned his game and played his heart out. This is something Harry was able to do incredibly well. When his back was up against a wall, he dropped the lie about his fake son Oscar and owned his status as a gameplaying strategic villain. In doing so, he earned the respect of the Champions on his tribe and might be someone they consider keeping around because of it.
The highlight of Andy’s game also came in this episode when he suggests that the merge tribe name should be Soli Bula, which he claims is a Fijian term for “welcoming together.” In confessional, he boasts that it actually means “sacrifice,” although Google Translate would disagree. I was personally waiting for Andy to pull an “Enil Edam” and name the tribe after a loved one, so calling it something as dark as the Fijian word for sacrifice was amusing.
Australian Survivor has a knack of making these seemingly mundane and straight forward votes so incredibly compelling. Even though the Champions seem so solid in their alliance right now, the fractures are alive through Pia and Janine and present themselves as a blind spot for David. The season continues to move from strength to strength, and I look forward to seeing how the season unfolds next week.