I might not be on board with every decision he’s made to this point, but there’s wisdom in Benji’s statements at tonight’s Tribal Council. In a game as unpredictable and challenging as Survivor, you have to have confidence. In your game plans. In your trust with other players. In your own capabilities. If you lack that conviction, it’ll be a long, uphill battle.
Tonight’s episode was an unexpected one – swinging from emotional highs as the Contenders received a chest filled with gifts from home to madcap Idol and nacho-related shenanigans, from intense (and painful) challenges to a shocking blindside. But as we power ahead into a tribe swap next week, all of this action is a sign that this season is far from over and these players have got a lot of game left to play – if they’ve got the confidence to pull it off.
The Contenders tribe has been through the ringer over these past two weeks, blindsiding Tegan only to have her return to the game, being caught off-guard by an epic Idol play from Heath and unanimously turning on a polarising tribemate in Zach. Tonight was no different, as the three power couples of the tribe squared off for control of the tribe. The fascinating thing about the power dynamics of this tribe is that Shonee & Fenella, Benji & Robbie and Tegan & Heath all have just enough power to make a difference on their own, but not enough influence to be able to easily dictate the vote. For them to have a majority, they needed at least one other pair on side. But in a fascinating turn of events, it wasn’t a case of two pairs ganging up on the other – instead, they all came together to eliminate the one isolated party in Paige. How on earth did that happen?
Simply enough, while the obvious choice came down to another Benji and Tegan showdown, Benji was able to wriggle his way out of danger by working to bury the hatchet with Heath and Tegan while trying to reinforce his relationship with Shonee and proposing an “easy” vote against Paige that would postpone the conflict between the pairs. Somehow, surprisingly, it worked – though the road to the plan’s success was rocky at best.
After exerting their will to get Zach out at the last vote, Fenella and Shonee were poised to reap the rewards of positioning themselves in the middle between the opposed Benji & Robbie and Tegan & Heath. With free agent Paige as an easy number to loop in, they were able to have their pick of the litter – on the one hand they could side with Heath & Tegan to take out a sneaky and dangerous player like Benji, while on the other they could continue to foster the four-strong alliance with the boys that began brewing at the Tegan vote.
Intriguingly, it seems like they were given reason after reason to throw Benji under the bus. After his lies were exposed, Benji has been treading water. Unconvincingly deflecting the accusations, he’s had to work doubly hard to regain the trust of his tribe, and it’s unclear whether or not it’s really working, despite the results of tonight’s Tribal. His conversation with Shonee where, in an effort to appear transparent, he admitted to being a self-made millionaire content with just making it to the Final Six seems like a dicey move. Not only did it put the “he doesn’t need the money” excuse on the table, but it’s also such a non-sequitur secret to admit at this point in the game. As we saw tonight, Shonee (and Fenella, in turn) were not convinced that Benji was more trustworthy by his truthfulness, but instead doubted his motivations more. Although they ultimately sided with his plan tonight, it seems as though Benji’s erratic behaviour – his obvious scheming, his red-handed lies and his questionable loyalty – is driving a wedge between them.
On the other side of things, though, Benji’s decision to put aside the bad blood with Tegan and Heath was a smart one. After seeing them team up with the girls against his meat shield in Zach, Benji and Robbie had to find a way to neutralise the target that naturally shifted onto them. By openly laying down their arms for a temporary truce, Benji was able to deflect the attention away from himself. It was a good move – in the short term. The animosity remains between these pairs, and although Tegan and Heath were willing to go with the flow in the vein of “as long as it ain’t me” this time, it seems unlikely that they’d side with the guys over the girls at the next vote (so it’s a stroke of luck that a swap is poised to shake up those numbers!).
For Tegan and Heath, I was surprised by how willing they were to trust Benji again. On the one hand, falling into line with an easy vote helps deflect the attention from themselves, but it also seems incredibly risky to not follow through and eliminate someone like Benji who has already proven to be disloyal to them. There are times to bury the hatchet, and with Contender numbers dwindling, reforging that trust is paramount, but I can’t help but worry that not taking the shot at Benji now could come back around to bite them. But of course, to target Benji, they would have needed the pair of Shonee & Fenella, who seemed to have landed on the easy vote of Paige. She might not have been their first choice, but by siding with the majority, the duo made it through the vote unscathed, and that’s something! It can’t be understated that Tegan managed to survive two votes after returning to the same tribe that almost unanimously voted her out. That’s an incredible feat and speaks to just how reflexive the Contenders dynamics have been.
A LITTLE BIT SWITZERLAND
So was targeting Paige, the neutral party and the unattached vote, the right play? Honestly, I’m not convinced. At this stage in the game, the merge is on the horizon, and it’s reaching a point where trust and unity are going to be a necessary commodity. As such, moving forward with people that can be relied upon is essential. For Tegan & Heath and Benji, they know they can’t trust each other in the long run, and Shonee & Fenella clearly have their doubts about Benji too. It seems like tonight’s vote would have been the smart time to eliminate a clear and present danger.
But the factor swept under the rug a little in this episode was just how uncertain the tribe was about Paige’s loyalties. She had no decisive alliances in the Contenders tribe, certainly none as strong as the “special someones” as identified at tonight’s Tribal. She had the opportunity to connect with the Champions via Mat and had been wronged by her tribe in the past. So wasn’t she just as unreliable as someone like Benji or Tegan? It really is hard to tell in a tribe as fractured as the Contenders, where everyone had betrayed everyone else, and anyone has reason to flip to a new alliance down the line. At the end of the day, though, it doesn’t matter whether Paige would have followed through and proved her trustworthiness. It just came down to confidence – even though they were at odds, Tegan & Heath, Benji & Robbie and Fenella & Shonee were confident in their reads of the motivations and relative trustworthiness of the other clearly defined pairs, while they were less confident on how to fit Paige into the narrative. Thus, the uncertainty is removed.
That said, I’m disappointed to see Paige go out at this point. It seems like she drew a bad hand with the Contenders tribe and was never able to really find her niche in the group. Nevertheless, she continued to fight her way forward and even managed to slip out of the limelight for a good stretch – not an easy feat! But she couldn’t outrun her fate forever. It’s just a shame that she fell one vote short of a swap, where she would have had an opportunity to build new bonds. What might have been!
REWARDED AT LAST
The Contenders might have faced a fourth consecutive Tribal, but it wasn’t all gloom as they finally got the opportunity to catch a break with some rewards. The first, a chest filled with a gift from home for each of them, was a pleasant surprise. It might appear odd for the tribe to receive a reward that they previously failed to win, but I don’t mind it – and it’s worth noting that they only received one gift each compared to the Champions’ two. Besides, it gave us a moment to reflect on the Contenders’ personal side – whether its photos of family, oddities like Benji’s doll from his grandmother or heart-melting gifts like Heath’s “Yoda Best Dad” message. Sometimes it’s nice to get a glimpse of the humanity behind these gameplayers.
The love from home also seemed to light a fire in the Contenders’ bellies as they finally took out their first Reward win of the season in one of the most daunting challenges yet. And better yet, it was a Mexican fiesta of nachos and margaritas (or, margis, as Shonee would have us believe). Best of all though, was the revitalisation of the Idol clue twist first seen in last year’s US season Heroes v Healers v Hustlers. The orchestration of sending each player to eat their fill in private, with a clue to the Idol blatantly plastered on the meal plate to be slowly revealed over the course of the reward is such a fun concept. In the US, it led to a great escalation of Idol drama as multiple players found the clue and attempted to conceal it before a scramble for the Idol back at camp.
We didn’t get nearly the same amount of excitement out of the twist tonight, but it wasn’t a waste. Seeing players like Tegan and Paige head to the table early and search for clues only to come a few nachos short of finding it was a great start. Then we got Benji, midway through his grotesque food binge, thinking to check the plate and obtain the clue, only to play with fire by only concealing it with a napkin. And finally the irony of Robbie enjoying the view across the water while a view of the Idol clue had been cleared on his plate right in front of him. It was a fun experiment that didn’t fully deliver, but I’m still glad we got a reappearance of the concept.
ON THE OTHER BEACH
Once again, the Champions got a pretty minimal story as the Contenders’ continued losing streak dominated the narrative. Nevertheless, we began to see some clearer lines forming as a decisive alliance was declared. It has been inferred, but it’s now clear that the dominant alliance on the tribe is formed of Mat, Sharn, Lydia, Steve and Samuel, with Jackie, Brian, Monika and Shane as an outside conglomerate. The split seems partially driven by social divide, as we saw Brian reflect on his complete bafflement towards Steve’s introspective philosophies and meditation, but also has some roots in the strategy of numbers, simple as they may be.
But the Champion of the Night was undoubtedly Monika, who has been one of the more underedited characters of the season to this point. Tonight, though, we saw her toe the line between two alliances, weighing up sticking with Jackie and the outsiders and being brought into the fold by Mat who seemed determined to recruit her to his side as a number. It remains unclear which side Monika will work with in the days ahead, but she emphasised her intention to win the game. Conquering her fears in the intense Reward challenge, she found a newfound fire within – and hopefully that edge propels her into ramping up her gameplay.
DROP! YOUR! BUFFS!
It feels long overdue, but finally, a tribe swap is upon us! The Champions have dominated the Contenders through challenge proficiency, but with the numbers getting mixed around, anything could happen. The Contenders are divided, but they’ve got the experience of unpredictable Tribals under their belt which could give them an edge over the greener Champions. Meanwhile, the Champions will have to contend with an intensified strategic game, and with cracks forming on their side too, it could be big reality check incoming.
This season might not be reaching the heights of last year’s unicorn of a Survivor game, but I have confidence that we’ve got some exciting stuff ahead.
OTHER #SURVIVORAU COVERAGE on INSIDE SURVIVOR
Australian Survivor will be back Monday 27 August at 7.30pm AEST, and Alice Barelli will be on hand to recap everything that goes down, down under.
Also be sure to check out our Power Rankings with AU Season 2 legends Luke Toki, Sarah Tilleke and Tessa O’Halloran, and keep an eye out for exit interviews with the Champions and Contenders after their torches are snuffed!