A combination of predictable decisions, sub-optimal gameplay and a lack of interaction between the tribes (in the form of tribe swaps that last more than two episodes) has seen a less than stellar pre-merge game. This episode we get straight into the moment we – and undoubtedly the crumbling and dwindling Contenders – have all been waiting for – it’s time to merge!
The merge is the time in the game where subtle players and alliances emerge from the shadows to make their presence heard on the big stage that is tribal council. With interesting strategic decisions culminating in a big blindside, tonight did not disappoint as we saw the reunion of ‘Shonella,’ the rise of an unexpected power player, as well as a new advantage introduced into the game.
Survivor Auction… at the MERGE?!
We waste no time as we immediately see our 12 remaining contestants drop their buffs and enter the individual portion of the game. To celebrate this momentous occasion, the contestants are treated to a good ol’ fashioned Survivor merge… auction. A bit underwhelming if you’re the contestants, but my sadistic disposition leaves me feeling chuffed that their expectations of a feast will be let down. Many may find the idea of having the auction at the merge to be ludicrous, but I’m more inclined to believe that the contestants shouldn’t be entitled to a feast just because they reached the merge – and the possibility of there being tension and conflict is worth having the auction at this time.
Additionally, having the auction at the merge gives us insight into what the contestants truly value. Who is willing to put a price on their safety in the game and who is willing to sell it for a chocolate milkshake or a whole pavlova? The most notable take away from this event is that Shonee buys a large jar of lollies which contains an advantage within it – which is later revealed to be a ‘steal a vote’. It’s a bit of an unfortunate and futile advantage to have considering that Shonee and Fenella are essentially outnumbered 10-2 but let’s hope the dreaded curse of the vote steal doesn’t take another victim.
Reunited and It Feels So Good
After the contestants come back from the auction, Shonee and Fenella try to make up for lost time and immediately begin to bond over their dislike of Robbie, whom they both find irritating, and the rest of their fellow tribemates.
Speaking of which, let’s talk about Robbie. Even though his Adonis-like exterior and friendly smile can lead you to believe that he is a confident man, the rationale behind his decisions in the game thus far have been a lot more subservient. Strategically he is like a lost kid at a supermarket looking for his mother and following the orders of the security guard who is promising him safety. Robbie will do whatever Lydia and Benji tell him to do, and that is the safety he craves so deeply. His constant need for attention and validation from the members of the Champions tribe has been driving his strategic decisions since the swap, leading him to grovel at the feet of people like Lydia and Mat. During a conversation with Mat, Robbie can’t help but tell him how much he was “busting his balls” throughout the game thus far and how much he respects the Champions for beating them fair and square and not throwing challenges to them.
Another pair reunited at the merge is Sam and Lydia, who we learn were in a close alliance back on the original Champions tribe. The secret Beauty and the Geek alliance have a conversation at night while the tribe is sleeping and reaffirm their loyalty to one another. Considering this was the first time we were exposed to their relationship, it was probably a strong sign that things weren’t going to go well for Lydia.
As they walk into the Immunity challenge, the Champions agree that Fenella is the main target going into tribal council tonight. What they don’t know is that the wicked witch of Fiji – Shane Gould – is conducting a plan that will derail the game for the Champions.
Swimming With Sharks
Earlier in the episode, Steve said that the merge is like swimming with sharks. You need to have eyes in the back of your head so you can see if a predator is getting ready to come after you. This episode shows us that sometimes the oldest and most frail looking shark can swim really fast. Fast enough to be a multiple Olympic gold medal winner. The name of that shark is Shane Gould.
The first individual immunity challenge of the season stirs up some unexpected drama as everyone expects ‘Lydia the Great’ to win it. After each contestant drops from the classic totem pole challenge, Shane talks to the Champions and lets them know that she is very interested in blindsiding Lydia due to her incredible god-like physical and mental prowess. Let me make it clear that Shane was doing this while the challenge was going on AND while Lydia still had a chance to win the challenge! Luckily for everyone involved Lydia proves that she is human after all and loses the challenge to a strong and stern Sharn. I still applaud Shane for trying to play the game the best way she knows how. It takes a lot of guts to actively plot the demise of someone in the game while they are still in the challenge and are the heavy favourite to win it. Things could’ve turned nasty quickly if Lydia had won. As the old saying goes, it’s best not to count your eggs before they’ve hatched.
Even though Shane instigated the plan, Mat is the person doing all the heavy lifting by having conversations with his tribemates to make sure they have the numbers to pull off the blindside. The Champions have put all their energy into winning challenges pre-merge so that they could enter the merge with a numbers advantage. Yet, the first tribal council after the merge sees the Champions implode and attempt to execute one of the biggest blindsides of the season – voting out Lydia.
This plan proves to be incredibly difficult to execute due to Lydia’s strong social game. She’s been a friend to everyone, inoffensive, incredibly helpful around camp and, most importantly, loyal to her tribe. What we see this episode is the subtle strategic players in Sharn and Sam begin to panic as Lydia, someone they can manipulate and is a secure number that they can rely on, is firmly on the chopping block. Sharn is more emotional in her connection with Lydia as they both had to weather the storm of being in a numerical minority at the tribe swap. Sam is vocal about wanting to vote with Robbie, Benji and the rest of the Champions to vote out Fenella.
In the end, it didn’t matter, as the Champions had already decided which way they wanted to vote and Lydia was eliminated in a spectacular blindside. Despite their efforts, Sharn and Sam both vote to get rid of the Olympic skier. Ironically, even though the Champions imploded by voting out someone who was a strong and loyal competitor, they (along with Fenella and Shonee) all voted together, leaving Robbie and Benji on the outs. It’s tough to say if Sharn or Sam could’ve done anything to save Lydia, as Sharn whispered in her ear as she was voted out that she only knew about the plan last second. We can only assume this to be true since Jonathan LaPaglia didn’t say she was a member of the jury, so there would be no reason for jury management.
The pre-merge has felt underwhelming in comparison to how epic and dynamic last season was, however, if tonight is an indicator to what we can expect post-merge than I am more than excited to see what’s to come!
OTHER #SURVIVORAU COVERAGE on INSIDE SURVIVOR
Australian Survivor will be back Monday September 10 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!