Did someone say twist? After a reasonably straightforward pre-merge by Australian Survivor standards (outside of Cara’s non-elimination and the Double Tribal shenanigans), production must have been getting very itchy fingers and have unleashed a barrel of twists on the final eleven castaways. I’ll do my best to hold my tongue when it comes to discussing the merits of various twists, but apologies if any bitterness leaks into the recap.
The previous episode was a masterclass in executing the vote you want while hiding your own threat level. Despite a rocky start to the season, George has risen the ranks of nobility and crowned himself king of the Fire tribe. George is well-positioned but has underestimated the power desperation can have on a castaway, even more so when the castaway is one as stellar as Hayley.
Without her idol, the writing is on the wall for Hayley and the OG Brains. George and Cara are still intent on playing the middle (even floating Andrew as the next target to avoid raising suspicion from the OG Brawns). If the minority of Andrew, Baden, Hayley, Laura, and Wai find an idol, it’s still only getting them one round further, and they need something with a bit more longevity. This round manages to provide a Hail Mary for the Brains in the most topsy-turvy Survivor twist yet.
The immunity challenge is an obstacle course of sorts where castaways are periodically eliminated if they don’t reach the next stage in time. The challenge is mostly physical up until the very final task (a puzzle maze), which is more of a game with a learning curve rather than a conundrum to solve. Emmett sweeps the challenge with Hayley hot on his heels until she can’t toss the monkey’s claw far enough to make it over the climbing wall. Eventually Emmett, Dani, and Andrew end up winning the three immunity necklaces on offer.
But it’s not just immunity that is won but the ability to vote at Tribal Council. The third and final immunity necklace is contested by Dani and Baden, and it is very apparent to everyone that power is up for grabs. Whichever alliance held two out of three votes also held control and would decide who was going home. The Brawns end up holding the majority vote (and not just in the tribe as a whole) and begin debating which unlucky Brain would be going home.
Dani wants to vote off Hayley for being a threat. As much I love Hayley, for Dani (and the other Brawns), this is the right move. Given a chance, Hayley seems to steer the game in any direction she chooses. She’s likeable, friendly, and clearly a fan of Survivor. Her only threat strategy-wise so far is George, and Dani already has him onside.
Emmett, who has mainly seen Hayley from afar, is more focused on solidifying the alliance. He’s seen the trio of George, Cara, and Baden having little fireside chats and wants to take away any link George and Cara have to their old tribemates. Baden has performed pretty well in challenges, and Emmett believes George and Cara are snitching on them to Baden. I’m not really sure why Emmett doesn’t think that George is snitching to serve his own purposes, but that hasn’t occurred to him yet.
While Emmett and Dani stew over their decision, Hayley decides to take her fate into her own hands. Hayley approaches George for guidance, but he has nothing to offer her (which, to be fair, is honest—there is nothing that George can offer her when he has no vote). So her only remaining option is to try and push someone ahead of her in the firing line. We see some of Hayley’s methods as she weighs the pros and cons of exposing George and Cara as snitches—while it might save her for one round, it could leave her with all allies mad at her, no options moving forward, and certainly no insider info from George.
You can see the turmoil as Hayley begins to talk with Dani as she stop-starts what she’s saying and looks awkward. She eventually dobs George and Cara while also pitching that she can act as a shield for Dani and even spy for her. Emmett joins the conversation and secures a deal where Emmett and Dani save her for this round, but Hayley has to help them in the future if their names come up. Hayley readily agrees (as anyone in that position would have to), and it will be interesting to see how this might play out if Hayley sticks around.
The tribe heads off to Tribal, and the twists continue! After it’s pointed out that one of the four Brain members will be going home, JLP says that only one vote will be cast and who casts that vote will be determined in a trial by fire-making. The original Brains all rally because Andrew (their only representative in the fire-making competition) is a survivalist expert, Baden even going as far to say that their odds have considerably improved.
Emmett plans to copy Andrew and then try to overtake him at the end, and everyone seems to discount Dani altogether. If this season has taught us anything, it’s to watch out for the underdog, and Dani goes from not even a spark to a miniature bonfire in what seems like three seconds flat. Nobody looks more surprised than she does.
The Brains are back to feeling gloomy, and in this moment, I really believed Hayley would be going home. Dani talks about going with her instinct, and all through the episode she has spoken about the threat Hayley poses to her specifically. The correct move for her is to take Hayley out, even if it’s not what her allies want. Emmett was at the forefront of the move against Baden, and Dani seemed unconvinced about Hayley’s pitch to work with them going forward.
A single vote is cast, and then JLP reveals the verdict… Baden is the next castaway voted off the island: “Dani has spoken.” Dani must have agreed with Emmett before Tribal to vote Baden out and doesn’t want to break her word without talking it over with her allies.
After the customary hugs and goodbyes, Baden walks off, and Hayley can’t believe her good luck. But the twists aren’t over yet. Australian Survivor is returning to one of its favourite twists, where two (or more, possibly) castaways are sent away from camp after being voted off and will battle to come back into the game. It’s happened in nearly every Australian season so far, so it shouldn’t be surprising that it’s back.
However, what is surprising is that the castaways went through two challenges to have one castaway cast a single vote… which doesn’t even guarantee elimination from the game. What a load of nonsense for nobody to go home. Just let the castaways play—they provide plenty of entertainment without any input from production.