When I first noticed that this episode was only an hour-long (70 minutes to be exact), I was initially concerned that the show wasn’t going to be able to fit in all the important content needed to tell a coherent and engaging narrative. We had a Redemption Island-style challenge and elimination to complete, an Immunity Challenge and a second elimination at Tribal Council—as well as all the strategy that surrounded it! You wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that the episode wouldn’t be able to sufficiently tell much of a story.
Irrespective of the unfortunate result, which ended in the revolving door treatment of Simon Black (someone arguably more inanimate than a revolving door itself), the episode slowly convinced me that there could be another flip in the works to vote out Abbey. Turns out, it was driven more by hope than there being any actual possibility of the vote going a different way.
The episode begins with Daisy and Simon meeting at Exile Beach the night before the return duel. They both have a fire in their belly that is fuelled by revenge. Both have an axe to grind and hope to make waves in the competition if they’re the one to re-enter the game. Going into the challenge, Daisy has the gift of an underdog story. She tells us that as a country girl, she has had to endure and live through several droughts which will give her the strength to pull through and win. Simon, on the other hand, got blindsided… and that’s the extent of his story.
Standing between these contestants and their second chance is a challenge of dexterity requiring them to manoeuvre a long pole holding a disc through a puzzle before placing the disc on a platform that sits on top of the structure. It’s basically a more stressful and complicated puzzle version of the game Operation. Simon takes a more aggressive and less cautious approach out of the gate, whereas Daisy takes it slow and steady. Even though Simon gets out to a quick lead, Daisy catches up soon after. The challenge ebbs and flows as both competitor’s stacks topple over, forcing them to start over. In the end, it’s Simon who draws on his experience as a professional athlete and keeps his composure, taking home the win.
With Simon back in the game, Abbey and Luke now have to deal with interacting with the person they just blindsided the night before. Suddenly, the ghost of their past is presented in front of them. They now have to face up to the decisions they must make going forward. However, it’s Simon we’re talking about, and so, the show doesn’t depict any strategic conversations he might’ve had with any of the players.
You can feel the pain suffered by the editing team over at Survivor AU who had to go out of their way to dedicate part of the episode to Simon. There are very little strategic conversations from the AFL star, but we do get multiple confessionals relating to revenge and a brief montage detailing his search for a Hidden Immunity Idol. According to the episode, Simon’s strategy is to find an idol or win Immunity or hope that the target magically disappears from his back.
Speaking of which, going into the Immunity Challenge there is quite a lot on the line. With Simon being the easy vote if he doesn’t win, this challenge feels as if it carries more weight than usual. The winner of the challenge can very well alter and dictate who goes home depending on which alliance possesses the safety.
The challenge is the classic “place a series of blocks that spell Immunity while balancing it on a board” thingy. Abbey and Pia are in the lead for a large portion of it until they drop their blocks and have to start over. From that point onwards, it’s a showdown between Luke and Simon. In an incredibly close battle, Luke ends up victorious and makes sure the Immunity necklace belongs to the majority alliance of Harry, Baden, Abbey, and himself. The newly formed foursome can now keep the power away from the other three Champions. Had Janine, Pia or Simon won, it could’ve been enough of a foil to make the majority flip on each other. Luke, being as paranoid and unpredictable as he is, not being safe at this Tribal might have caused the alliance of four to implode.
With Luke having Immunity, let’s take a moment to evaluate where the game stands right now. There are three duos (Janine & Pia, Abbey & Luke, and Harry & Baden) with Simon on his lonesome. The dynamic after the challenge is tentative and cautiously optimistic from all players. If the voting blocs remain as they were from the previous episode, Pia and Janine are still outnumbered, even with Simon back in the game. Simon quickly recognises that he is firmly on the bottom of the tribe and continues searching for an idol (all the digging was because he found Luke’s old idol clue, which Luke had replanted, according to the King of the Jungle himself on Twitter).
Simon is angry and hurt because he was blindsided and wants to seek out his revenge on those who betrayed him. If Simon was savvy enough, he would be able to exploit his position as the only solo player in a game full of duos. But Simon is a stand-up guy with a reputation of being honest and loyal to a fault… cut-throat gameplay isn’t really his style. Theoretically, he is in a great position to bounce between alliances and be that significant “third wheel” that can be so crucial for a player. This is obviously a lot to ask from someone like Simon, but I still find it appropriate to point out the fact that the alternate path is there for him to take.
I digress, there is a secondary plan in the works that aims to scratch an itch that would be so satisfying to scratch. Revenge is a theme present through the episode and is particularly palpable after the Immunity Challenge. Janine throws out Abbey’s name as the target. We learn that Abbey is the person that Pia and Janine feel scorned by the most. They expected a flip from someone like Luke, who already has the reputation of being wily and devious. Abbey, on the other hand, is someone who once got tearful at the mere thought of writing down Simon’s name. In many ways, Pia and Janine have had to babysit and invest time in quelling Abbey’s emotional moments, which is why it hurts them so much more that she’s turned her back on them.
Flipping against her two closest allies (or at least not keeping them in the loop about voting Simon out) makes Abbey seem ungrateful to those who had her back for 40-odd days of the game and makes her decision feel more personal. Even though this is never explicitly said by Janine or Pia, we can come to this conclusion because we have seen this occur countless times throughout Survivor history with the most notable example being Dawn Meehan.
With that said, Pia and Janine proceed to try get the votes to eliminate Abbey. This involves making Abbey feel safe by being nice to her while trying to convince someone from the majority alliance to vote with them. We get the typical Pia edit which has occurred several times this season where we see her use her skills as an actress to be friendly and joke around with the person that is going home. This is epitomised through her “fake laughing.” Pia and Janine pitch their plan to Harry, which consists of appealing to his desire to make big moves. Janine works the conversation really well by telling Harry that he should believe her because she is a logical player and isn’t very emotional. Harry says in confessional that he really appreciates having different opportunities and believes it’s his best path to the end.
However, in the end, Simon gets eliminated by a unanimous vote, so there was no confusion or conflict in who to vote out. Pia and Janine obviously couldn’t persaude enough people to join their Abbey plan, so for now, it’s on the backburner. It appears that voting out Simon immediately after coming back in was an option that was just too easy and tempting to pass by. There was no real fight or attempt to scramble from Simon based on what we saw in the episode. He was an inoffensive and kind guy who seemed to really enjoy his experience out on the island.
With only six people remaining, we are really heading into the pointy end of the competition. It’s difficult to complain about anyone left in the game now, even Baden, someone who hasn’t done much strategically, is so charming and relatable without seeming inauthentic. With three pairs in the game, it is definitely going to be interesting to see if the dynamics change or if the alliance of four will stay strong!