Usually, in Survivor, the mark of a great episode is determined by how epic a blindside is. In the fifth episode of Australian Survivor season 4, we had a bit of a rarity in reality-TV where a twist in the game was the catalyst of some incredibly epic and captivating television. The relatively tame Tribal Council and subsequent vote out was a good opportunity for my body to slowly recuperate after the tense and exhilarating idol shenanigans that preceded it.
So let’s get this out of the way. Steven was voted out unanimously by his tribe, with Pia being the only other person to receive a vote. There was some discussion and whispering during Tribal between the Non-Sporty Alliance, as they confirmed the plan. This was spurred by Steven’s scrambling back at camp and his declaration of possessing an idol during Tribal. Ultimately, it was Steven’s lack of a social game which lost him the game. He said this episode that he was unaware that the social aspect of Survivor was as important as it was – a comment which provoked a collective facepalm amongst Survivor fans worldwide.
However, even after Steven realised that he needed to step up his social game, he didn’t seem to do a great job of ingratiating himself with his tribe and thus wasn’t able to get a footing back in the game. Steven’s strategy was to get the vote put onto Pia, a member of the majority alliance. But there was no way he would be able to pull off something like that without the help of an idol. He never contemplated using ET or Simon as scapegoats so that they could get targeted ahead of him, and that was his main problem. Nevertheless, Steven was a fun character who showed some real promise early on and ultimately was dragged down by his lack of knowledge of the game. A short and sweet narrative but fun while it lasted.
The task of having to live up to their winning reputation has caused the Champions to crack under pressure in the Immunity challenges so far this season. For professional athletes, confidence is the key to consistency when it comes to performing on game day, and the Champions have seemingly lost a lot of confidence. Let’s hope the producers learned their lesson from last year and will force a tribe swap in the next few episodes.
THE BIGGEST MOVE EVER?
Let’s get into the real meat and bones of this episode. It all began at the Contenders beach where Shaun found the hidden immunity idol on a casual trip to the water well with Daisy. This idol has the same power as Janine’s, meaning that Shaun must give it to a member of the Champions tribe and hope that he will get an idol in return—one that he can use. It was here that we learned Shaun and Daisy are incredibly close and have a strong working relationship, which made it the least bit surprising when Shaun immediately showed Daisy the idol. It should be noted that Shaun found this idol completely out of nowhere and without the need for a clue which is always impressive in my books.
Up until this point, we haven’t learned much about Shaun, other than his wife is Megan Gale and he was an underachieving football player. We got multiple confessionals from Shaun where he was agonising over the fact that he was constantly thinking about the game… so I guess we’ll have to trust his word on that one. We also discovered from Daisy’s confessional that Shaun is an incredibly nice and authentic person who seems down to earth and easy to get along with. It’s difficult to judge Shaun as a player since we have so little to go off. None of the decisions he made this episode were egregious by any means. Perhaps it would’ve been smart for him to employ Janine’s strategy of holding onto the idol until he could gather enough information to give it someone who would benefit his game.
I think the beauty of this twist is that it can reward patient and observant players who are able to develop strong relationships with people—those like a Janine and Luke—while conversely punishing players who choose to be trigger happy with the idol and using it the first chance they get—something we see with David and Shaun. For Shaun, the true test of his game will now be how he reacts to finding out his idol is fake and what he will do with that information. I get the feeling that this narrative is going to be one that lasts long throughout the season.
THE GREEDY GOLDEN GOD
At the Champions beach, we began our slow descent into David, the self-proclaimed Golden God’s egotistical power trip. It all started when Janine finally revealed to David that she had an immunity idol with limited powers. She decided that at the next two challenges, she was going to make eye contact with each Contender to see if any of them were able to catch on to her social cues. At this point, David let us know that he felt a little left out because his allies (Luke and Janine) have idols and he doesn’t. Truthfully, this is still a great position to be in, as having knowledge of where the idols are can be just as powerful as having them. The fact that they were both located in his alliance couldn’t get any better! With that said, David had plans of his own.
Using the knowledge of Janine’s idol, David was able to exchange some brief words with Shaun during the Reward challenge that let him know that he “had something” for him – a sentiment that Shaun reciprocated. Having agreed that they were going to swap idols at the next challenge, David had the perfect excuse to take the idol from Janine’s possession and keep it all for himself. This challenge was the ideal spot for this sort of exchange to take place. It was a rough and tumble challenge in the water that occurred over multiple rounds. It allowed the contestants plenty of opportunities to walk around and have brief conversations with the opposing tribes without it seeming suspicious. The interesting thing here is that since David was involved in the conversation with Shaun and not Janine, Shaun walked away with the impression that David was the one in possession of the idol. This is information that, in a more chaotic and devious player’s hands, could easily have come back to bite David.
That was the beauty of this twist! Shaun could have easily played stupid and changed his mind about giving David the idol and then told his tribe that David had an advantage. Thus, he would’ve created more fractures in the Champions tribe while still having the idol as leverage to give to a Champion that he feels like he could trust later on. So many players in Survivor history played by the philosophy of keeping the idol to themselves and never telling anyone; this twist forced these players to put themselves out there by having to put their trust in people they haven’t had the chance to talk to yet.
Later that night, after the Reward challenge, we randomly found out with little warning that Janine didn’t want to swap her idol with a Contender until a tribe swap. It was at this point that David convinced Janine that it would be a good idea for him to make a fake idol and swap it for Shaun’s real idol. By using a few pieces of rope and a skull he found at the well, David managed to make a half-convincing idol for himself that he traded with Shaun at the Immunity challenge. The idol swap was just as dramatic and filled with Network Ten’s famous theatrically tense music you could expect it to be. Shaun and David both held their tribal flags which left them conveniently in the back where nobody would see them. The main question now is when/will Shaun realise his idol is fake and will he do so before it’s too late?
MORE THAN JUST AN IMMUNITY IDOL
Idols in Survivor serve a multitude of purposes. They can create alliances through trust, they can be used on players to break up a majority alliance, and the mere fear of them can be used as leverage to sway the majority into voting a certain way. The plan to create a fake idol and swap It for a real one seemed to go against the initial intention of the twist–that being to force cross-tribal alliances.
It’s the age-old debate between the sexy move and the smart move. There is no doubt that David is playing the game out of his skin and is clearly here to win at all costs. He has shown an amount of intelligence and strategic guile that we weren’t expecting from him at all. Even though it was a brilliant and creative plan, making a fake idol and swapping it for a real one with Shaun was definitely the sexy move in this instance. It seems that David’s greed and desire for power may have been gotten in the way of rational thinking. David made this move because he felt left out from his allies Luke and Janine – each who have idols. David sought out this power at any cost, and that cost might be his longevity in this game. I find it difficult to not imagine a scenario where David isn’t eventually caught out for his lies and voted out because of it. As kind-hearted and sweet Shaun is depicted to be, I believe his ego would be massively hurt if he found out he was made to look like an idiot.
To make matters worse, the Greedy Golden God let the confidence of his newly attained power go to his head, causing him to appear arrogant and brazen to his tribemates. Pia and Abbey commented on how cocky David was to forcefully tell his alliance how they were going to vote without hearing what the rest of the alliance thought. This is beautifully ironic considering that David chastised Steven at the start of the episode for not recognising the social game. As Janine astutely pointed out, perhaps David has shown glimpses of his true self now that he has a taste of power. Maybe there is more than meets the eye. I believe we have only just scratched the surface of David.
Next week promises more shocks and twists with the possibility of a tribe swap that causes David and Shaun to finally meet. We might not have to wait long for this story to continue after all.
OTHER #SURVIVORAU COVERAGE on INSIDE SURVIVOR
Australian Survivor will be back to Sunday August 4 at 7.30pm AEST, and Alice Barelli will be on hand to recap everything that goes down, down under.
Also, be sure to tune in for this season’s Power Rankings as Season 2’s Tessa O’Halloran, Season 3’s Fenella McGowan, and Redmond himself, Martin Holmes, go head-to-head.