While this episode of Survivor saw the rise of a new advantage, the true champion was the human moment surrounding Flick and the death of her mother, Pauline. Survivor has the opportunity to show moments that are rich with emotion and give perspective to difficulties that some people face. It can highlight the best and worst of people, even if sometimes the human moments seem few and far between the many twists, challenges, confessionals from George, and strategic conversations.
Flick has been a well-liked person and ally throughout the season. She was only at risk of going home once (when Hayley and Dani hijacked the vote to target Simon) and was gifted Kez’s idol as she left. Despite her good position in the game, Flick has remained mostly in the background while louder personalities have taken up time in front of the camera. Her story of big wave surfing speaks to being strong and brave, but the way Flick shares her experience of playing for her family and, in particular, her mother is nothing if not extraordinary.
We find out that Flick’s mother has been suffering from early-onset dementia over the past six years, and when Flick left to play Survivor, she did so knowing there was a chance her mum may pass away while she was gone. Dementia is a cruel disease that takes away an individual’s ability to look after themselves, to communicate, to enjoy the things around them and even the personality and memories that make them ‘them’.
For Flick to support her mum through the journey of being diagnosed, deterioration of her condition, and now her death, makes her stronge than any other castaway in the outback. I’m glad production took the time to share Flick’s story and the castaway’s response to it, even if it left me dabbing my eyes with tissues once it had finished.
If learning Flick’s story is the most emotional part of the season, it is followed by one of the most infuriating parts when more twists are introduced. For the first time since the swap, the original Brains Tribe holds the majority. Andrew, Laura, Hayley, Wai, and George all voted together to take out Gerald the previous night. And despite George being the obvious flipped vote, he doesn’t seem to be feeling the heat of backlash just yet. That’s possibly because the new minority of Emmett, Dani, Flick, and Cara are already divided (Dani going as far as to name herself “the minority within a minority”) and don’t have a clear way to make a move at this time.
While Flick and Dani make up after Flick targeted her the previous night and betrayed her confidence by filling in Emmett on the plan to take him out, George finds a mysterious scroll in a rock which gives him the power of a secret immunity idol. Instead of having to play it in front of everyone at Tribal, George can play this idol straight into the urn so nobody knows who is responsible for it being played. When wanting to make a big move, the ability to remain anonymous keeps your hands free from blood—a good thing if you are trying to avoid taking blame but a bad thing if you are trying to build a resume for Final Tribal.
The immunity challenge is the Survivor marathon. Each castaway must run to the top of a mountain to collect a bundle of puzzle pieces, then run them back down to the starting line where a puzzle will be completed. Each castaway has four bundles, so must run up and down four times, a distance of about 3km according to JLP, with steep elevation. To make the challenge more painful, JLP explains that the vote that evening will be between only the four castaways who come last in the challenge.
Using this twist doesn’t make sense to me because it’s taking one aspect of the game (challenges) and doubly rewarding the people who usually win them. It’s unlikely this particular challenge will be a fair fight based on previous challenge performance or change who will likely win immunity. I’m unsure what production hoped would happen when they devised this twist. It’s simply putting pressure on a smaller group of people at Tribal Council. It’s not setting up a big move since all the challenge beasts are safe or facilitating creative strategy since the majority can just pick their most desirable target from those available.
There are clear leaders in the challenge. Andrew, Emmett, and even Hayley complete the challenge with less pain and desperation in their expressions than most. After losing his immunity streak, Emmett seemed to take this challenge a bit easier—perhaps to dampen his threat level? He finishes second in the run and third after Hayley overtakes him on the puzzle. Cara is already pleading to be saved as castaways pass her on the trail, and Wai is focused on finishing the challenge more than winning it. The unlucky four who end up at risk of being sent home are Cara, Dani, Laura, and Wai.
The lines are clearly drawn one back at camp. Andrew sets out Cara as someone who is manipulative and willing to flip her vote. The irony, of course, is that Cara only flipped to the Brawns because the original Brains tribe literally voted her out in the pre-merge, but that’s not an important point when decisions are being made. Andrew seems to be dictating the vote, and I’m unsure why he’s suddenly become the leader of the Brains alliance. But he’s seen spreading the word to Laura, Hayley, Wai, and George.
George, whose closest ally and the only person he hasn’t deceived is on the chopping block, is naturally unhappy with the idea of Cara going home. Now that George can’t take advantage of playing double agent, he will take advantage of his brand new secret idol. The only problem is that once every person votes for Cara, her vote alone will decide who goes home, and George is very certain about who that should be. It’s not enough to save his ally; he wants to dictate the target also.
He also wants to remain anonymous, so he needs to sway Cara’s vote without disclosing that he will be saving her. Cara’s sights are set on Wai—a genuine contender at Final Tribal Council with a great underdog story. George’ needs’ Wai as an ally for a reason that isn’t exactly clear since Wai has tried to vote him out in the past. He plans to whisper in Cara’s ear at Tribal to push her vote onto Laura instead, given that George and Laura have never had a particularly close relationship.
Tribal is a chance to discuss why you will be voting out whomever you plan to vote. Andrew discusses being confident in the people around you, a common theme when anyone in the majority is questioned about their decision-making. George plays to the cameras by saying the word key (as in the new key to secret idol) about 50 times.
A rising theme in this season is about the battle of morality when playing the game of Survivor—in particular, how important it is to some people to play an honest game versus a ruthless game. Earlier in the episode, Flick talks about wanting to play an honest game where she is true to herself and her allies. It’s very much in line with the game Gerald talked about wanting to have played in his Jury Villa video. Flick briefly talks about the differences between real life and the game being complicated by making real bonds with the people you play with.
While most individuals will respect other’s choices about how they play the game, there are times when jury members will refuse to vote a finalist based on them choosing to play less honestly. There are castaways in this season who are trying to play a loyal game (such as Flick and Andrew), while others are pursuing the win at no matter the cost (including George, Dani, and Hayley).
Dani, in particular, has taken flack from others for her willingness to take out her allies once they are too much of a threat. And the previews for tomorrow’s episode suggest George’s willingness to flip his vote back and forth is making him a target. So it will be interesting to see if the ongoing dynamic between those playing “honest” and those who will do anything to win ends up playing a part in who triumphs in this game.
Cara clearly knows her goose is cooked (her own choice of words) both at camp and at Tribal. George continues playing the part of someone who can’t help her until he reaches the urn and unlocks his secret idol. It is a sweet moment when George decides to save her as a direct payback from earlier in the game when she played her idol for him (but both still ended up staying in another twist).
The real suspense comes with waiting for Cara’s single vote, which ends up being for George’s choice in Laura. Everyone is blindsided, including Cara, which makes it a three-castaway streak for jury members. Laura is laughing as she leaves, but after comparing notes with Gerald and Baden, she may be less amused. After such an exciting and twist-free episode yesterday, and I was hoping to see more organic gameplay and storylines here. But Australian Survivor just can’t resist throwing another cactus into the balloon factory in an attempt to make more excitement.
However, the reality is that all these twists takes the strategic integrity out of the game and makes luck a clear factor in how (or even whether) a castaway may triumph. With eight castaways remaining, there’s still a lot of game to be played. Has Hayley reintegrated herself after being voted out? Will Emmett re-establish his winning streak? What will Wai and Flick bring to the table after being under the radar for so long? There is a lot of intrigue here without the need for the continued twists and advantages.