In any season the merge marks a significant shift in the game. Apart from the obvious change in challenge and tribe structure, the merge also sees a fundamental shift within the group dynamic and individuals. With the finish line in sight (albeit a distant sight), people develop a sense of urgency to oust their competitors so that they can earn their seat at the final tribal council. With a clear majority of original Champions on the newly named Koro Savu tribe, Lydia was just too much of a challenge threat to overlook and was ousted by her former allies.
The opening scenes contrast different groups of people, where they are sitting strategically in the game and their plans going forward. Shonee and Fenella (aka the greatest girl duo to appear on any Survivor ever), who were both at the bottom of their respective tribes coming into merge, have regrouped and are bonding over their enjoyment of repeating what the other says and worming their way through the game by finding a cracks in the tribe and exploiting them. Benji and Robbie are dejected sitting on the beach looking at the ocean, while nearby Steve and Mat stand eating their breakfast off palm leaves. Both are discussing the fall out of the previous night’s vote – one pair is shocked and feeling vulnerable, the other is considering their next move. Both are calm and collected.
Mat comes to Benji and Robbie to explain the reasoning behind Lydia’s boot and says that multiple people were targeting her. We (the viewers) saw Shane proposing the Lydia vote, and it appeared to be a group consensus to get her out while she was not immune. Sam and Sharn both were unhappy with the target but still went along with the vote. The outcome blindsided only Robbie and Benji. Benji perceives Mat as the key that unlocks the rest of the game: to have him on your side is to have safety from being voted out by the current majority alliance but also leaves you free to scheme behind Mat’s back without catching his attention.
Benji continues to be spotlighted as a major character and I just don’t know what to make of him. On the one hand, all of his game observations and perceptions of the tribe are spot on. He can see where cracks are, and he knows what he needs to do to try and break up the majority alliance. He knows what to say and has the balls to go out and campaign for his own safety and that of his allies. There just seems to be some kind of disconnect between knowing what to do and doing it effectively.
Back in my high school debating days, we were marked on method, matter and manner. Method was the organisation of your ideas and topics into a coherent discussion that fit in with your teammates. Matter was the content of your speech and the ideas and arguments you put forth. Manner was your delivery and how you were able to persuade others of your ideas. Benji gets top marks in the first two – he knows that he needs to make one-on-one relationships that will come back to reward him later in the game once (or if) the majority alliance crumbles. He knows he should worry about his social bonds rather than pushing someone as a target before the immunity challenge has happened. His matter is wonderful: he points out the benefits of taking out the leader of an alliance to break apart the followers and he points out the usefulness of having ‘secret’ bonds.
It’s the manner where I see Benji’s weakness. Even with the perfect words and the right timing with the ideal person Benji just seems to come across as sleazy. Everything he says sounds somewhat insincere – like he is reading lines from a script. Instead of being a slippery character that stays ahead of the pack and nobody can quite pin down the votes for (Todd from Survivor: China comes to mind), Benji seems slimy and leaves a trail of grease wherever he goes. He has a useful ally in Sharn (who perceives their relationship as being just as valuable as he does) and Robbie (his loyal puppy dog) but otherwise, he is on shaky ground with the remainder of the tribe.
Sharn and Sam are both disappointed with the previous night’s vote. Sharn was told at the last minute before she could flip the vote and Sam was told to vote Lydia after suggesting she was voted out later on. While the two aren’t comparing notes, both are feeling uneasy in their alliances. Sam voices a universal Survivor truth that if you are being told what to do rather than involved in a discussion, then you are probably at the bottom of that group.
Everybody’s Survivor favourite is back! The moral dilemma! Australian Survivor might be Twistvivor, but there are only so many ways a moral dilemma can be played and have it create an interesting outcome. 2016 saw Nick’s lie about an idol clue shatter any remaining confidence his allies had in him. 2017 saw Jericho wield a jar of cookies to make social bonds that carried him to the final tribal council. 2018 has Sharn looking over… bags of vegetables? I don’t know what the producers were thinking, but I’m not 100% sure how alluring a big bag of veggies is for the tribe. A big jar of cookies? Yes. A big jar of lollies? Yes. Anything chocolate? Yes! But a pumpkin and other assorted root vegetables? How that a temptation compared to an advantage in the game?
The chance to receive an advantage in the game is like offering Pandora’s box: very rarely does a castaway turn it away. It is so tempting to have even the slightest leg up on the rest of the contestants. It would take a substantial reward to turn it away – and I think that’s precisely what the producers want. Sharn was selected to go on the reward which is telling about her position on the tribe – the majority of people think that she will either choose what is right for the tribe or will share any advantage she receives from the dilemma with them. Sharn explains that she never wanted to be chosen, but there is no tactful way to turn it down when the whole tribe seems to have nominated you.
The advantage on offer is for the next immunity challenge. Having just won an immunity challenge it seems unnecessary for Sharn to win again so soon if she wants to avoid being a threat but she takes the advantage nonetheless. Knowing ahead of time that the advantage is for the next immunity challenge could’ve made a massive difference to Sharn’s decision – information about an advantage (and who does or doesn’t have it) can be just as powerful as the advantage itself. Taking the bigger bag of vegetables could have won her goodwill on the tribe, but even if you choose the tribe-oriented option, there will always be others assuming she received something else. There is no real win-win situation in these moral dilemmas and not being picked seems the safest (and most sensible) option.
Back at camp every castaway who has ever seen a moral dilemma before knows that that tiny bag of vegetables was the less tribe oriented prize and that something else is in play. Sharn spins a yarn about sharing chocolate biscuits with one person or vegetables with the whole tribe, but Sam is not buying it. In a one on one conversation, he goes fishing for a more plausible answer which Sharn does not give him. On the back of having to vote off one of his closest allies in Lydia, Sam is feeling disenchanted with his Champions alliance.
The immunity challenge involves holding a weighted disc flat in front of themselves. Each disk is weighted in proportion to the castaway, except for Sharn whose disc is 50% lighter than those of her fellow competitors. Sharn hopes she can use her advantage to outlast Robbie and throw the win to Benji. Just comparing the size of Benji and Robbie’s arms could’ve given Sharn a clue that this is unlikely to work, but at least she had an idea of how she could use her advantage strategically since she doesn’t desperately need immunity herself. This challenge is harder than it initially looks and after just five minutes only Sharn and the boys remain. A showdown ensues between Mat and Sharn versus Robbie. After Robbie drops his disc, almost immediately Mat throws the win to Sharn.
For every strategically sound move that Mat makes I wonder how much premeditation went into it. There are few confessionals with Mat outlining his thoughts which leads me to believe that he is either the worst storyteller that Australian Survivor has ever seen or the most reluctant Godfather in existence. Throwing immunity diminishes Mat’s own target but he never really explains why he did it. He tells Steve earlier on in the episode that he thinks they have control of the group but he never really reinforces that to the viewers.
At camp, Mat proposes a split vote between Benji and Robbie. Mat goes to Robbie to tell him that he is a target and then later tells Benji he can save himself by voting for Robbie. Again, what we never see is Matt elucidating his ideas about why voting Robbie will strengthen the tribe or how he plans to keep the majority group together. However, even though we’re not seeing narration from Mat, I still recognise little moments of genius in his game. When he approaches Benji about voting off Robbie, he leads by asking if Sharn has spoken with him. Even though Benji is not in the core Champions group, Mat recognises that the strongest bridge between them is their mutual relationship with Sharn. Asking if they’ve spoken shows Benji that Mat knows the bond he has with Sharn but also suggests that Mat values his vote.
Upon hearing his name as a target, Robbie vows to fight for his survival. In reality, this means Benji will campaign for Robbie because Robbie’s social game so far has consisted of going googly eyes for first Zach, the man mountain, then Lydia, the Olympian. Everybody Benji approaches sees the merit of his idea: take out Mat, the biggest remaining threat in the game which will break up the majority alliance and open up chances for the outsiders to have more strategic equity. Sam agrees but says he’s not sure about the timing. Shonee says she will consider it and she and Fenella wonder if having Robbie as a meat shield of sorts is best for their game. Sharn talks it out but seems non-committal to his idea.
As we see Benji go from person to person I desperately want him to find leverage and begin to draw in the votes, but I just don’t buy anything that is coming out of his mouth – and I’m a viewer! In his confessionals, Benji is cocky, and instead of being a rootable underdog I feel like the edit is setting him up for a downfall. As soon as Mat tells Benji he could vote Robbie and underline the vote as a signal, to which Benji says he’ll use a “nickname,” I guessed instantly that this is what Benji would do. Benji values his allies, but not as much as he values his own game.
Tribal Council and the Jonathan LaPaglia show comes around. There is much talk about loyalty with undercurrents of when is the correct time to break loyalty – aka flip from your alliance. Sam offers the best explanation by saying you have to wait for the reward to be worth the risk. A high-risk move can go bad quickly, so you want the reward to be worthwhile. I think many castaways are asking themselves if getting rid of Mat is worth the risk of flipping away from their allies. Mat says that the vote is about solidifying alliances. Benji starts by saying the vote is for him to help others with their game but ends with saying it’s about getting himself off the bottom of the tribe.
The votes come in: Robbie is voted out 9-1-1 with a stray vote each on Mat and Benji. The consensus seems to be that Robbie is a threat, but there doesn’t seem to be much supporting evidence. He has always been the follower of another player, has won zero immunity challenges and can’t seem to string strategy together. The vote, in reality, was probably quite straightforward and, despite his wheeling and dealing, Benji’s only possible move was to ‘show trust’ by making his vote for Robbie easily traced back to him.
Next time on Survivor… the plan to oust Mat is picking up steam as various castaways scramble for numbers against him. Did anyone forget Mat has an idol? I did! Moana gave it to him weeks ago. Maybe Survivor will tie up some loose threads from stories that began but never entirely ended? At the merge, Brian was seen as a sneaky flipper but now he is so far under the radar his only time on screen is to make a joke about his weight. Shane, queen of the Lydia blindside, was invisible this week and cast the sole vote for Benji with no explanation. Whether we get the answers to these questions or not, I am loving how this post-merge game is picking up the pace and can’t wait to see who claws themselves to the end.
OTHER #SURVIVORAU COVERAGE on INSIDE SURVIVOR
Australian Survivor will be back Tuesday September 11 at 7.30pm AEST, and Austin Smith 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!