The opening episodes of a new season of Australian Survivor are like taking the first sips from a new bottle of wine. You know what the packaging says, you might’ve read some opinions about it, and you’ve tasted a lot of wine before—but you can never be sure exactly how good the bottle will be without the first taste. Sure, the first taste might not reflect the entire bottle perfectly, but it can usually give you a good idea of what to expect. If this episode is anything to go by, then we are in for a season of strong personalities and a frenzy of chaos for votes that could’ve gone very simply and smoothly.
Season six of Australian Survivor borrows its theme from its American counterpart—the dynamic of two strengths required for a successful Survivor game being pitted against one another to find who will reign supreme. While the theme has resulted in some great seasons of Survivor over in the USA, I’m as yet convinced of how it will play out here. The key to success for any Survivor castaway—as stated by JLP himself on a talk show that aired prior to the premiere—is the combination of both brains and brawn. Very few winners make their way to the podium with solely physical strength or strategic thinking in their toolkit.
The season premiere was about battles—Brains vs. Brawn foremost but also politician George vs. the “Dictator Doctor” Mitch. I’m not sure Mitch realises he’s in such a heated battle, but if the morning after scenes are anything to go by, then George’s actions at Tribal Council have placed him solely on the outside of the Brain tribe social dynamics.
George perceives his rescuing of five fellow tribemates (Rach, Georgia, Baden, Cara and Wai) as equal to forming a new alliance. ‘Left behind’ castaways Mitch, Hayley, Andrew, Joey and Laura are miffed to be left out and bond over how George handled the tribal advantage. While the real loser in the situation was Phil, and the twist did save Wai from being first boot more than anything else, it has placed George squarely in the line of fire to be the next to go.
The Brain tribe was taking a simple approach to the vote: take out someone who contributes less to challenges to give them a better chance to win future challenges. It’s a common early tactic for Survivor seasons, probably because it’s the most logical approach. Keep the tribe strong and united moving forward in the game. George is not the strongest challenge performer, but challenge performance can be all but forgotten since George’s actions tore apart the tribe’s social dynamic, and he doesn’t have the social game to mend it back together. For all his bravado and enthusiasm, George just doesn’t have the knack for playing Survivor.
Meanwhile, the Brawn tribe has avoided elimination, but their confidence-verging-on-cockiness is diminishing fast. They have the momentum of winning challenges, but the lack of fire is quickly dampening morale. Out of the dust comes Emmett, the plant based health coach, and he whips up fire in a moment. Whether he hasn’t bothered to try until now or he just hasn’t been successful until now, Emmett sparks up fire, and with it, his presence on screen. The fire does improve spirits around camp, but it’s only a glimpse of the bravado Emmett is going to bring this episode.
This episode’s reward challenge seems to be geared towards a win for the Brawn tribe. Two castaways face off head to head, scurrying through a tunnel to reach a sandbag and get it to their tribe square. The first to three wins gets JLP’s Food Improvement Kit with fishing supplies, salt, pepper, oil, bread and honey. I love these head to head challenges early on. I hate that they reward physical strength only, but I love that I get a chance to learn different castaway’s names.
The brawnier Brains take on the brawniest Brawns in several close battles. The final round is winner takes all, and show pony Emmett lines up against Joey. Rather than take a clean win when he beats Joey to the sandbag, Emmett taunts his competitor by standing aside the square holding the sandbag. Joey manages to delay the win and wrestle the bag towards the Brain square but is eventually overcome by Emmett. Brawn tribe wins reward!
Emmett claims there was never any doubt of his win but to those watching, it seemed like Joey had a real chance to sneak a come from behind win for Brains. Back at camp, Emmett recounts his victory to fellow buff guys Simon and Gavin while Janelle quietly stews about Emmett putting his ego before the tribe. A clear three has formed of the strongest guys on the tribe: Simon, Emmett and Gavin are a threatening trio.
The Brains tribe commiserate their loss. Many of the castaways are trying to figure out what to do with George: he offered to face AFL legend Gavin at the challenge and is now playing the victim by saying he was excluded from taking part. Whether George honestly believes he could’ve taken down Gavin or is simply trying to play up an argument, it leads to the first (of what will probably be many) conflicts. George tries to call out Baden in a subtle way in front of the group and in return receives a proper spray. Baden calls him out for being delusional about his challenge ability but makes an even more important point, that George’s victim playing is putting one person’s wants in front of what is best for the tribe as a whole.
After what seemed like 30 seconds of camp life, we are back to another challenge. This time it’s a swimming-diving-retrieve the balls-do a puzzle affair. Things are neck and neck until the Brains tribe, led by Wai on the puzzle, storm ahead at the end to win their very first challenge. Brawn seems genuinely confused that they didn’t win and they hardly set a foot back at camp before strategy talk begins to flow.
Things start simple and in a similar fashion to the Brains tribe—take out the person with the least challenge prowess so that going forward they’re in a good position to win more challenges. For this Tribal, the weakest link is Janelle, the tribe mum who faltered on the puzzle at the challenge. Janelle knows what’s coming for her and tries to pin a target on Emmett instead, claiming he’s more about his ego than he is about the tribe. Part of her manoeuvring involves speaking with the girls, and Shannon is caught whispering.
While everyone seems to be whispering at one point or another, this whispering from Shannon is apparently a particularly malicious move. Simon sees it across the camp and immediately rallies the troops to get her out. It’s a common thread in a reality competition game for the strongest guy or guys to assume they’re being targeted and drop any logical moves to protect their own hide. Simon recruits fellow buff boys Gavin and Emmett and they make a plan to form a majority six alliance with the three strongest girls Dani, Chelsea and Flick. Emmett seems overwhelmed with glee that he’ll be making a big move and blindsiding Shannon.
The entire scheme is based on Simon seeing Shannon whisper with the girls, and it’s a pretty flimsy argument to take her out over someone struggling to contribute in challenges. While Dani and Chelsea join the Shannon plan without any arguments, it’s Flick who realises she holds the power as the deciding vote. She’s very aware that her choice will set up her alliances ongoing for the game. Flick is a strong competitor and I love that we saw this game awareness from her. I’d like to have seen a little more—like if she went and discussed this with anyone else or if she just mulled it over herself.
All in all, it was nice to see some chaotic gameplay emerging from Brawns. They’ve been cohesive up until this point; even the physically strong break apart when the right pressure is put on them.
Tribal Council devolves into bickering between Janelle and Emmett. Janelle is trying to argue why she should stay, and Emmett is essentially mocking what she says. I understand the show is produced in a certain way for entertainment, but Emmett’s attitude throughout this episode really irked me. It’s fair for Emmett to argue back against what Janelle is saying to target him, but it crosses a line when he openly mocks the things that Janelle says.
The votes come in—Big D votes for Janelle to preserve challenge strength, Janelle votes for Emmett because his ego off the planet, and Emmett votes for Shan in line with this majority alliance. The votes are read: six votes Janelle, four votes Shannon and one vote Emmett. Janelle heads home—but more importantly, there were only four votes on Shannon! I immediately assumed Chelsea or Dani had detracted with Flick to vote for Janelle, but it was Gavin who voted differently from the boys. I’m not sure why and I’m keen to find out, but even more than that, I want to hear from the castaways who’ve hardly said a word on screen.
Georgia faced off in the reward challenge and seemed to be showing social strength by placating George, but I only just know her name. There’s a survival expert on the Brains tribe (Andrew), but he’s yet to give a single piece of wilderness living advice. The girl on Brawn tribe who didn’t bring a jacket, I’m yet to learn her name! (Just kidding, her name is Kez, I learnt it when I read her cast bio). All I know about Laura is that she’s got a history in marine biology and got left behind at the Brains Tribal. This season has barely scratched the surface, and I can only hope the chaos we saw from the Brawn tribe here is a sampling of what is to come.