This season of Australian Survivor continues to dwell in the space between. There’s a lot about the season that I love—the ever-shifting alliances and bold strategic moves (which vary in logic and efficacy) by a cast of castaways willing to play. But there’s a lot about the season that I loathe—the endless unnecessary twists and the ridiculously uneven editing.
The latest episode went a little way towards soothing one of my gripes by FINALLY highlighting Wai’s perspective for the first time since the pre-merge, but then we had to go and throw in another energy-sucking twist. Even JLP can’t feign interest in the twists anymore, practically sighing as he announced yet another bastardisation of what we love about Survivor in favour of a “TV MOMENT” that actively suppresses risky gameplay.
So at the end of the day, the Final Seven episode, which really should be a pivotal and exciting vote as it marks one of the last big opportunities to seize a majority heading into the endgame, fell a little flat due to the Urns twist. And the looming dread that they’ll be a fixture of the next episode or two until that Save Scroll gets smashed is worrying.
But up until that point, this was a relatively interesting episode because, surprise, surprise, the best things in Survivor aren’t the twists and advantages— it’s the people.
THIS IS THE WAI
Wai was one of the biggest characters of the premiere, and to an extent, the early Brains narrative. From being rescued by George’s ridiculous Episode 1 advantage through her emergence as the puzzle queen to her abandoning his sinking ship to preserve her place, she was a fixture of the early story. But then she completely faded into the background, and especially in the post-merge, she’s been relegated to a faceless player in the amorphous Brain contingent. Even last episode, where she flipped her vote, we never got to see what she was thinking.
FINALLY, we got to get some insight into Wai, and it was fascinating. Where this season’s edit has been dominated by the confident manoeuvring of George, Hayley, and Dani (and up until last week, Emmett), Wai’s approach has been more subtle and nuanced. Though she’s stuck with the Brains until the last episode, the perspective we gleaned here is not one of passive gameplay. Rather, it’s been a game of opportunistic evaluation—a game of lying in wait, weighing up options, and then jumping on the plan that makes the most sense for her.
Up until this point, Wai’s best bet had been to hope in a Brains contingent surviving. And the ever-changing dynamics of the tribe with its constantly shifting majorities and minorities have made it an ideal climate for her to slip through in the background while the chaos ensues. But now that the dust is settling—now that her vote can be the decision maker— she’s emerging to strike at the opportunities that will benefit her. It’s certainly in keeping with her opportunistic abandonment of George’s alliance in the pre-merge, and it’s a solid prospect for her now.
On paper, this vote positioned Wai as the clean swing vote. Does she stick with Hayley, George, andCara and the new majority she established last round? Or does she flip to the Brawn-led coalition of Dani, Flick, and Andrew to target George? It’s an interesting choice, but one that is blunted for the audience due to Wai’s invisible edit the last few weeks. Without knowing what Wai’s been thinking or what her fellow castaways think of her, it’s difficult to gauge her best option. But getting a glimpse into her evaluation of the situation here was essential.
Wai carries a determination that seems easily underestimated. She’s been willing to act in self-preservation before, and her confessionals here hinted towards that same mindset in evaluating whether cutting Andrew, someone she wanted to protect at first instance, was the right call. And she clearly had the stomach for that betrayal, given she ultimately went through with it and with enough outward confidence that Andrew didn’t even bother sticking to the plan Dani & Flick were trying to push. There’s a practical edge to Wai’s gameplay that is incisive, and I really wish we’d gotten to see more of these social and strategic calculations from her.
Especially as she also presents as an earnest and impressionable player to the other castaways. Almost every other castaway commented on Wai’s “blowing in the wind” approach. That she could be easily swayed by the last thing presented to her or that she might be willing to act with her gut and make an opportunistic play at the last minute. Wai herself preaches that. At the Ladies’ Luncheon pasta reward, she openly declared that she’d changed her mind about the Emmett vote on the way to Tribal and was candid about her perspective to Cara and to Dani & Flick, two opposing sides of the vote.
In some ways, this seems wishy-washy and could bode ill for Wai’s chances in a Final Tribal Council. But at the end of the lunch, both Cara and Dani & Flick believed they could potentially work with Wai moving forward. Wai’s candour and flexibility make her an appealing ally. She seems transparent, and that sets her up well to make a sneak attack when she needs to.
That said, her current majority demonstrated concern around needing to “handle” her. Cara’s emotional intelligence read that Wai was someone who needed to be heard to feel valued, actively ensuring George didn’t steamroll Wai’s contributions to alliance strategy. But she also seemed bothered by having to listen to Wai talk everything through (allegedly at length). Hayley noted that Wai might need coaxing into making the move that the alliance needed her to make, and George went to the length of lying to her about Andrew trying to target her to try to spook her.
From this perspective, it certainly feels like Wai’s Brain alliance sees her as a number than an equal. They need to manipulate her perspective rather than trust she’ll stick by them. However, it’s worth noting that George and Hayley have also worked to manipulate each other time and time again. So, I wouldn’t fully consider that Wai is dead meat to that alliance. But if that perception is the reality of the growing Jury, who do see her as a pawn compared to King George or Queen Hayley, then that could be a problem for her in the long run.
But the good news for Wai is that she’s still got options. We haven’t seen much of her relationship with Dani or Flick, though them cheering her on in the post-swap reward challenge seems like there’s an amicability here. And Dani & Flick now need her if they’re going to have a chance moving forward, positioning her as a key swing vote once again at the next vote, which looks like it could be a loose showdown between three pairs: George & Cara VS Hayley & Wai VS Dani & Flick.
Wai is the conduit between all of these factions, and it’s why I’d argue that voting out Andrew was ultimately the right play for her. While she and Andrew had a history, he’d clearly locked in with the Brawns in his sourness after the Laura and Emmett votes. By removing him, she can supplant his place as a third to Dani & Flick while also maintaining her place in George & Cara’s alliance. And also being Hayley’s most reliable vote. Unless she draws a target on herself as the swing vote a la Christy Smith in The Amazon, Wai is in a great position for the next few votes.
It is disappointing that we’ve seen so little of her game in the last few weeks, as it does feel like the edit is tipping that her solid position now may not yield great results at the end. Wai is clearly an interesting perspective, caught between good decisive gameplay and a more impulsive, malleable approach to reasoning out her decision-making. I would have loved to have seen more of her perspective through the chaos of the merge. How much was she actively staying out of the fight? Or were there times when she considered tipping the scales? Did she trust George or Hayley through their whole debacle?
Knowing those insights along the way would have informed how we see her now, allowing us to see her as a bigger contender. As well as a well-rounded character.
As I said about Gerald, and I could also say about the unexpectedly bitter and negative edit given to Andrew when he suddenly showed up in the last few episodes, Australian Survivor would be so much better with a more rounded edit that draws on more perspectives. And this episode is proof of that. It highlighted Wai but still had plenty of room for George, Hayley, and Cara to discuss their views as well as focus on Dani’s ineffective but solid recruitment at the Reward and Andrew’s spiral of frustration.
THE RIGHT PLAY
So while I think this was a good move for Wai ultimately, giving her a lot of flexibility at the centre of the tribe going forward, was it the right move for everyone else? For George, Cara, and Hayley, removing Andrew over one of the last Brawn women does feel a little risky, but it seemed clear that Andrew had cut ties with them all pretty decisively. I didn’t post my usual D&D characterisations of the Top 13 for this season (maybe I’ll do one retroactively at the end of the season). But I did lay out the cast, and I’d definitely categorised Andrew as the Ranger.
While Andrew’s background as a survival expert may make it feel like a no-brainer, the categorisation was more so based on the idea that Rangers excel in certain climates but feel limited in others. And that could not be more true of Andrew. When he had numbers around him, he felt confident and relaxed but as soon as he was displaced from his favoured terrain, he seemed to become rigid and difficult to work with.
His cold attitude towards George & Cara after the Laura vote and then to Hayley & Wai after the Emmett vote boxed him in. Even though he threw his vote at Flick in a desperate hope the Brains were going to keep him around, he’d clearly alienated them. On top of that, he was the clear Immunity danger, which threatened Hayley’s current safety net but also threatened to limit the options for George & Cara, who needed to be sure allies were winning out in challenges. So while voting out a Brawn might have seemed like the right call in isolation, removing Andrew, a challenge beast who openly carried the baggage of his betrayals, was the right call.
Meanwhile, Dani & Flick going after George was also a fair fight. It seemed like they knew it was a long shot, but working to flip Wai (and, by extension, Hayley) was the best option. And it does give them options moving forward. I’ve loved Dani’s drive in the post-merge, and her continuing streak of leaning on Reward Challenges to construct new alliance configurations has been a wonderful runner. While it’s yet to yield fruit, her pitch at the reward, focused around celebrating the strong women who dominate the endgame, feels like it could potentially take.
But I also like that Dani & Flick weren’t solely leaning on that narrative but also focusing on how George is positioned as a dangerous threat that could easily win out at the end. There is truth in that—Wai (and Hayley) certainly know it. So there is a very real possibility that the lasagne just needed a little more time in the oven, and next episode, that plan might have fully baked.
That said, Cara also played that encounter brilliantly, directly broaching the narrative that she’s been under George’s wing and clarifying that she’s played independently. While he’s protected her at times, she’s also shielded him. It’s been a collaboration. And Cara’s biggest hurdle to victory (especially if she ends up against George at the end) will be making that narrative stick. So ensuring it’s already in discussion, especially with other women honing in on the female-governed gameplay, was a smart move.
While I do think it would be in Cara’s best interest to vote out George at some point, she’s in a tight spot, recognising that no one else is a viable partner for her in this home stretch. And while it may not win her the title of Sole Survivor, sticking with George for the time being definitely has its merit.
DO I HAVE TO TALK ABOUT THE TWIST?
So with all of that interesting gameplay and complex, interwoven social dynamics leading into what was likely to be a straightforward but consequential vote, it was infuriating to come into Tribal and see that a twist was in play. It’s devastating to have to celebrate that at least it was transparently revealed before the vote, and it didn’t futz with the actual voting mechanism, but still… why?
Four urns were placed on a stump, one containing a Save Scroll. The player voted out would be able to choose an urn and smash it, having a 25% chance of selecting the urn with the Scroll, essentially voiding the entire Tribal and heading back to camp. I can’t decry this season’s twists enough, and this is far from the worst, but still, what an anticlimax.
Not only does a voided Tribal make the entire back half of the episode essentially meaningless (odds are, we rinse and repeat next time around, especially with the numbers so small at the Final Seven), but it’s yet another twist that constrains gameplay. Having a vote have the potential to not stick actively discourages players from taking a big swing. It actively encourages safe, small gameplay, which is exactly the opposite of what production is hoping for.
Let’s say Wai was legitimately considering flipping to work with a unified Dani, Flick, and Andrew to make a 4-3 vote to blindside George. That is a huge risk of a move, and there’s already going to be the fallout of explaining the move to Cara & Hayley. But maybe it’s still worth it to remove a threat and establish a new majority. Now, Wai arrives at Tribal and sees that her big blindside has a 1-in-4 chance of not working.
Based on random chance, she could blindside George, and he could choose the right urn and go back to camp like nothing happened. Now he’s on the warpath against her, the person who flipped against him. If Wai was on the fence, this twist discourages her from making the risky play. Instead, it encourages her to stick with an established majority.
What concerns me most is that I anticipate that this Urn twist could stick around through the next few votes, looming to void a Tribal Council until someone invariably finds the Save Scroll. Based on the scheduling, we know we’ve got one more non-elimination episode incoming, and it feels like this is the show’s way of getting that last one in. I wouldn’t be shocked to walk into Tribal next episode with three scrolls left on the stump, and I hate that.
I hope that the cast continues to play big in spite of this twist, but when you’re down to the end like this, any randomness is terrifying. You’re so close! Why would you risk blowing up your own game if you don’t need to?
So once again, I implore Australian Survivor to be more judicious and less trigger-happy with their twists. Trust your cast and trust the game. There’s a reason the core of the game has been creating great television for over two decades. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Just give us good characters and a compelling story. That is the Way. That is Survivor.
I completely agree. When the urns showed up I rolled my eyes so! hard! It’s like they HAVE to implement a new twist in every single episode. Jesus, calm down, you don’t need it. It just gets in the way of the gameplay.
What would happen if they send Cara home blindsided with her idol in her pocket, and automatically she comes back with it intact. Big waist…
Excellent recap as usual and I couldn’t agree more about the twists this season. This has been a very enjoyable season, because of the cast. Even the constant barrage of maddening twists hasn’t been able to take that away from them. God I hope you are wrong about the urns staying until someone gets that wretched scroll.
Those urns aren’t to give a player a second chance, they’re to give the producers control over who stays in the game. I’ll bet they’re either all full or all empty. The US Survivor understands how the show can be shaped with subtlety by choosing the right immunity challenge to suit certain players, but the Australian producers give too much credit to their imagined gap between their intelligence and the intelligence of their audience.