At the time of writing, mere minutes following the conclusion of tonight’s episode of Australian Survivor, my excitement is at an all-time high. I’ve never had higher hype levels for this show. I am bubbling over with delight about the turn that this episode has taken. I hate to sound like Benji, but THE GODFATHER IS GONE.
I don’t think calling Mat the Godfather was entirely fair because he honestly put a lot of work into his social game and has been trustworthy to (most) of his allies thus far. It’s not Mat’s fault that his tribe decimated the Contenders, putting his original allies in the majority and ergo, the dominant alliance. It cannot be denied though that Mat has been running this game just as well as he runs a rugby team and play after play has come off without a hitch. But times they are a changing, and this is the episode that sees Benji (always-the-bridesmaid finally) get himself down the aisle.
The episode opens up on Brian trying to worm his way in with Shonella and not just by lying aside them in the shelter. Brian, who has been mainly off the radar except for being Jackie’s ally, gets some character development this episode. Instead of being an essentially clueless number for the Champions, Brian self-describes as having been playing under the radar to keep himself off the hot seat. He tries to make other people laugh with stupid jokes or inappropriate use of snorkel masks. Matt sees this as a reason to target Brian and get him out of the game. Brian has been playing the vague role of a larrikin (when Benji isn’t being one) or a loveable oaf, but it seems like he is ready to start playing the game. Only two weeks left to go!
Even with his spectacular move this evening I still have mixed feelings about Benji. Hands down he is entertaining, and his determination is that of a slightly deluded puppy dog. For every idea Benji has and every move Benji makes there are twice as many times he cannot talk other people around to his side. Sometimes he is very right with his instincts and ideas (see: needing to weasel into Mat’s good graces to make a move against him) and sometimes he is very wrong (saying that being on the bottom of a tribe is a powerful position). The power of being at the bottom of a tribe could be a whole article of itself, but in this case, Benji being on the bottom of the tribe means he has to play wildly rather than with reasoning and carefully planned steps.
Benji’s “planning” is longwinded and rarely fruitful. Despite his doggedness and consistent inability to have things go his way, Benji continues to be cocky! He always perceives himself as one step away from ruling the game with an iron fist! Whilst clearly Survivor savvy, Benji struggles to appear genuine or be persuasive, and his desperation is plain to see. Mat notes this but is willing to use it to vote off Brian. Benji is planning to use the same strategy that I use in first-person shooter games – get really close to someone before you shoot them. Given Benji’s plans so far have been voting out his closest ally and then selling Sam under the bus, I’m not too convinced when Benji says he has been masterminding all the moves. More on that later.
The core four of Mat, Steve, Sharn and Shane are beginning to settle into their power. These four plus other original Champions Brian and Monika have been coasting through the merge. The so-called ‘unbreakable’ power alliance (Lydia and Sam might beg to differ) is experiencing the curse of Survivor Confidence. Mat feels like he can move votes in the way that he desires. Sharn thinks her core alliance have the most ability both strength wise and mentally. Sharn has the bonus of Benji “in [her] back pocket,” and things could not be better until she finds a hidden immunity idol clue at the water well. She has the game in her hand and the world is her oyster. Oh, how the tables will turn.
Sharn’s idol clue requires her to snaffle the idol during the next challenge just like Kelley Wentworth in Second Chances or Troyzan in Game Changers. After Benji’s triumph (and Brian’s very near miss!), Sharn sets up to get her idol. Even though the clue said she has to get to the final round to get the idol, rules are made to be broken, and she wanders over to the orange Survivor snooker table to retrieve it from the bamboo. Idol successfully obtained, she dances back to the group only for it to escape every castaway’s hiding spot of choice (the back of the pants) and the entire tribe sees it. Just like her idol, Sharn’s game is about to fall on the ground and almost trip her over. Sharn does the only realistic thing she can do: she tries to laugh about it. She shows it off for everyone. She jokes about the hidden immunity idol not being hidden anymore.
It’s almost like Benji and Brian could hear Mat being called the ‘Godfather’ (I mean, apart from them calling him that themselves) and needed to start a gang with movie references of their own. Before the challenge, Benji gets the name of Mat’s next target from Sharn. Armed with the information that Mat & co are flipping on one of their own, Benji approaches Brian and Monika to spill the tea and make an offer. The most amazing thing is that before Benji reveals the whole story, Brian wants nothing to do with it. It’s only when Benji tells Brian that he is the next target that Brian’s ears begin to perk up. Mon looks taken aback. It’s time for Brian to go from background character to move maker… and duck? Somehow in the forming of a new majority alliance, the a duck theme emerges. Sitting ducks. The ducks are in formation. The ducks are flying in a V. It’s time to take flight. The Mighty Ducks are taking on the big guys.
Benji is like a cat who got the cream: he revels in anticipation of a big move during his confessionals. To be fair, Benji has been making a big move ever since he started getting confessionals and it has very rarely panned out. Some of his biggest moves include getting out Tegan (only took two tries and he wasn’t responsible for one of them) and…. that’s about it. Benji is a lot of talk and not so much action, but the addition of Brian as his new henchman sways Shonella and Monika to his side. Benji’s plan relies on no idols being played on Mat and the most obvious obstacle to this is Sharn’s idol.
Instead of approaching Sharn as an ally as he has been doing thus far, he wants to fool her into playing her idol on herself. It’s like Benji got a taste of power and now he wants to have the whole feast. He says himself that worst case scenario is that Brian still goes and he’s just betrayed four people. Of these four, Sharn is currently the one who is looking out for him the most and who would be the biggest loss to getting further in the game. Getting Sharn offside ruins any chance of getting in with the Sharn/Shane/Steve trio and makes his climb to the final tribal council even more difficult. In fact, even though Benji is about to make a gutsy, crazy and entertaining move, he is also attaching a massive anchor to his leg and could drown quicker than that underwater challenge from last week.
Risks versus reward is very important in the game of Survivor, and for Brian, Monika, Shonee and Fenella this is a very calculated move. They have the numbers and the likelihood of the move going wrong is low (being unaware of Mat’s idol as they are). Shonee talks about pulling off the ‘trifecta’: Mat goes home, Brian is safe, and Sharn wastes her idol. That’s a lot to pull off in one vote with a new alliance, but Benji just can’t reign himself in. Sharn having the idol is a real threat, but Benji is saying anything to create paranoia and throws out not only Sharn’s name but Mat’s as well. Sharn reflects that she cannot save both herself and Mat with the idol. Logic says you should protect yourself, but reason says that everybody expects Sharn to play the idol on herself and will vote for someone else… someone like Mat, who Benji has just revealed is another target for the original Contenders.
Tribal Council has everybody saying the right things but has most people saying it through clenched smiles. Monika answers questions with aplomb, but her answers are vague and general. Fenella can’t even convince Sam who, from the jury, can see that she is lying through her teeth. There’s chatter about the idols, including that three have been played and a fourth is known to be in the game. Little do they know that there are a further two lining the pockets of Mat and Benji! As more and more of JLP’s questions are answered, the camera returns increasingly frequently to Mat, whose eyebrows begin to furrow as he looks side to side at the faces of his tribemates.
Time to vote! The tension is rising! Shane votes for Brian as expected. Benji votes for Mat. Ready yourselves, the most intense moment of the season so far. Knowing as a viewer that Mat has a hidden immunity idol means that this situation could very quickly flip just as much as knowing that Sharn could (and probably will) play her idol. JLP asks for any idols, and, surprise surprise! Sharn gets up to play hers. Instead of playing it for herself as the ducks had hoped, she tells JLP that she wants to play it for Mat. Benji’s eyes widen and he mutters a single word (“s**t”).
There were so many ideas during the commercial break about what Benji would do to make sure his plan was successful. The most popular of these was that Benji would get up and play his idol on Brian thereby forcing a revote. I found that unlikely – for all his gumption, Benji is essentially a selfish player and would not play his idol for anyone except himself. There was talk that someone could’ve played a stray vote and somehow that person ends up going home. I suspected that Brian would end up leaving and Benji and his merry men would be left in a worse position than before. What actually happens is something I have only seen happen once in Survivor before, but never in such entertaining style.
Thinking entirely on his feet, Benji manages to put his talking to good use for one of the first times in this game and convinces Sharn that she absolutely must 100% play her idol on herself. To begin with, he stutters, then says that Sharn needs to protect herself and will go home if she doesn’t. Sharn looks confused by Benji’s outburst, as does Mat, and starts questioning who she will play the idol on. Benji continues saying that “they” split the votes on her and she will be out the door if she doesn’t use it on herself. Sharn wonders aloud what to do but eventually decides to play her idol on herself. Mat looks astounded but never gets up to play his own idol. Meanwhile, Benji’s relief is palpable.
The only other time I’ve seen a player convince somebody else to change how they play an idol mid-tribal was in Survivor: Caramoan (though that was a situation where someone ended up being saved by the idol rather than manipulated to preserve the target of the votes). Even as JLP starts reading the votes, Sharn looks unsure. The votes begin coming out for Brian. Then Mat. Then Mat again. The votes come to a draw before the final vote is read… and Mat the Godfather’s torch is snuffed, idol in his pocket and all. Steve, Sharn and Shane look flabbergasted. Mixed in with Sharn’s confusion is some anger as she begins to realise her ally has fooled her. Benji cannot contain his joy and even tells Brian “you’re welcome” as they leave the tribal council set. This is, to date, the most impressive thing Benji has managed to do with his words and damn it put on a show. Writing about it hardly does justice.
Benji might be the King Duck walking around camp but I don’t think he will be afloat for long. He was a target before this tribal council and his actions have only blown it up larger. The previews show Benji claiming the role of ‘Godfather’ for himself. Reality check, Benji! There are still eight people in the game – you don’t want to be the Godfather at this point! Mat was a target because he was the head honcho and usurping his position is not putting you in good stead to continue in the game! Also, Benji has alienated one of his best allies in Sharn and with it lost any connection to Shane or Steve. While his group of five have just voted together, I would imagine it is not long before they see Benji as a threat that needs to be taken out. Benji isn’t really positioned well within his five: Shonee and Fenella are a clear duo while Monika and Brian are both original Champions who could very well reconnect with Shane, Steve and Sharn.
Instead of taking out a major threat and advancing his position in the game, it is probably more accurate to say that Benji has made it worse. Even though he was a target for his antics and aggressive gameplay he has essentially taken out the only person acting as a meat shield for him. With Mat gone, Benji is now the most obvious power player left, even though he hasn’t been able to wield much power yet. Benji might be showy, and he might’ve just pulled off a game-changing move, but I think he will find he has put himself in a worse position than he was in before. Only time will tell exactly how it all plays out but if this tribal council is anything to go by then we are in for a bumpy and highly entertaining ride.
OTHER #SURVIVORAU COVERAGE on INSIDE SURVIVOR
Australian Survivor will be back Tuesday September 18 at 7.30pm AEST, and Dylan Vidal 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!