Australian Survivor: Brains vs. Brawn

Episode 22 Recap – Crowning Glory

What went down in Episode 22?

Photo: Network 10

For all of his bluster, George is a phenomenal strategist. While his more condescending mannerisms, such as his warning to Flick in this episode, rub me the wrong way, and the editors over-using him to the point where I sigh in frustration when he gets yet more airtime, it’s impossible to deny that he’s playing one hell of a game. I levelled these same criticisms at the larger-than-life and over-edited David Genat on All-Stars, and he went on to emerge victorious. So as we stare down the final two episodes, is George on that same trajectory?

Maybe. His flawless contingency plan at this Final Five vote was a move of genius. It speaks to George’s intuition and his calculated risk-taking, which nearly sunk his game in the pre-merge but has allowed him to sail through the post-merge deflecting blow after blow. But maybe not. Unlike David, he’s staring down an endgame against Hayley, who has shown herself to be equally cunning and cutthroat.

This entire season has been a dance between George and Hayley, sometimes working together, sometimes in opposition. One getting the upper hand here, the other landing a counter-attack there. It blows my mind that we are legitimately in a place of considering a George vs. Hayley showdown at Final Two. In a season so marred by egregious twists and lopsided, dumbed-down editing, seeing these incredible players make such a deep run with such a complex relationship has been a saving grace.

I just wish it hadn’t come at the expense of the stories of so many other intriguing players. Like Cara, whose allegiance to George has narratively overshadowed her own intuitions and relational gameplay. Or Wai & Flick, who were relegated to the supporting cast despite compelling journeys and struggles and complex relationships that propelled them to a stone’s throw from the Final Two.

But even though Hayley remains a narrative contender, and Cara, Flick, and Wai all had their moments, this episode belonged to George and that impeccable contingency plan that save himself. He pre-emptively weakened his opposition and continued to position himself at the centre of the action heading into the home stretch.

IDOL CHATTER

To set up George’s phenomenal move, however, we need to start with Flick and her complete bungling of the opportunity in front of her. Flick has shown herself to be an empathetic and charming social player, but when she’s moved to act strategically of her own accord in these last few weeks, she’s continued to misfire. She mishandled an attempted blindside of Dani, wasting an Idol and opening the door for the Brains to blindside Gerald, which led to them seizing power. And once again, an Idol in her pocket ends up severely misused, even though she managed to play it correctly to save herself.

It was no surprise that Flick would be in danger at this vote, outnumbered 4-to-1. I’d thought that there might be a legitimate pre-meditated plan for Hayley & Wai to pick up Flick and break up George & Cara here. However, it quickly became apparent that the dynamics of the Fire Tribe were both more straightforward as well as far more nuanced than previous episodes led us to believe. Largely, this hinged on Hayley and her apparent interest in going to the Final 2 with George.

That feels like a questionable decision to me. And one I’d be shocked to see the cunning realist in Hayley follow through with. But this episode very quickly positioned Hayley as interested in keeping George around, believing they would have mutual interest in keeping each other around. And that meant Flick wasn’t needed as a free agent… and she was an easy vote. The Brains could pick her off here and then fight it out at Four, ostensibly with Hayley & George positioning themselves in the centre to cut off the more likable Wai & Cara and face the Jury together.

Flick
Photo: Network 10

So that meant that Flick was the clear vote, a clean 4-1, especially once she lost out on the Immunity Challenge. She was too big a Jury threat to risk keeping around. Although she’s yet to win an Immunity, she’s competitive enough to be a threat, especially to Hayley. She had to go. But, of course, we knew she wasn’t going anywhere thanks to the Idol she found in the last episode. Even without winning Immunity, Flick was guaranteed the Final Four, and she was perfectly positioned to lead the charge on this move… only to absolutely blow it.

This was the last round where an Idol could be played, and there was no question Flick would play it. So her decision to keep it secret rather than use it as leverage for her game moving forward was absolutely mind-blowing. Obviously, Flick was banking on a unanimous vote against her, allowing her Idol to galvanise her single vote against George as the silver bullet to finally take him down. On paper, it’s an epic play and would only bolster her reputation for a Jury hungry to see someone dethrone George. A surprise Idol play can be dramatic and enticing, but there is so much more power in an Idol, and Flick, unfortunately, squandered its true power.

Flick needed to not only ensure George went home, but also lock Hayley and Wai in as allies moving forward. While she pitched her case to them, her argument to draw them to vote with her would have been infinitely more powerful if she had revealed her Idol to them. This would have warned them that they’d be wasting their votes if they voted for her. And with this being the last possible time the Idol could be played, there’d be no hesitancy that she was bluffing. It would have forced Hayley & Wai to legitimately consider joining Flick to vote out George.

In essence, Flick’s Immunity would have just fast-tracked the Brains’ plan for the Final Four. Whether Wai & Hayley planned to go after George or Cara next, the Idol would have meant that they might as well get the jump on the plan now. And maybe, just maybe, that collaboration with Flick would allow her to be staring down a Final Four with the pair of decision-makers tentatively in her corner.

Hayley
Photo: Network 10

Is there a possibility Hayley would have taken the information back to George and then just hopped onto the Wai vote (if that was her intended move at a Brains Final Four)? Sure. But there’s also the possibility that Hayley sees the benefit in sniping George. Or, at the very least, severing Cara now to make George dependent on her alone, and either case works out better for Flick than what actually happened.

By keeping the Idol secret, Flick offered no new incentive for Wai & Hayley to work with her. And just like they’d left her out in the cold in the last several votes, including the one that actually voted Flick out, they carried on as they had before. It’s one of those blatantly obvious plays to a fan of Survivor strategy and, unfortunately, speaks to Flick’s unfamiliarity with the game. This really should have been a slam-dunk for her to ensure that George and Cara are split up. Instead, keeping her Idol secret only served to save herself for one more day and allow a Brain to outmanoeuvre her yet again.

But of course, Flick still does have another chance, even if the deck is stacked against her. This episode, the casualty was Wai. I waxed lyrical about Wai in last week’s article. She’s a player I really loved watching and who really should have been highlighted in the edit given her role in the endgame, her unique perspective on the game, and her incredibly complex relationships with players like George and Hayley. So naturally, I was disappointed to see her fall to the vote when she could have been safe.

If Flick had revealed her Idol, Wai certainly votes with her—she’s always prioritised self-preservation. But given she ultimately decided to stick with the Brains, should she have thrown a vote on George or Cara to ward against a possible Idol? In hindsight, of course! But that’s not how Wai approaches the game, and without knowing about Flick’s Immunity (and the reasonable assumption that Flick would use something like that as leverage if she did have it), the stars couldn’t align. Alas, this is not the Wai.

FLANKING MANOEUVRE

Without wanting to hammer too much more on Flick, another flaw in her play was resting on the confidence of having the Idol. George intuited that she had it when he spotted her relaxing by the billabong rather than engaging in the desperate search you’d expect of someone out of options save a miracle. It’s possible, given George’s proclivities this far, that he was already considering contingency plans. But when his observations led to a gut instinct that she did indeed have an Idol, he moved into action to pull off one of the best plays of the season.

Recognising that precedent suggested Flick would throw her vote against him, he needed to make sure that at least one other name was in the urn. And the prime target was Wai. By recruiting Cara to his scheme and splitting the intended 4 votes against Flick into a 2-2 split on Flick and Wai, he could cover all his bases. If no Idol was played, he, Cara, and Hayley would revote, allowing them to still seal the deal to eliminate the last Brawn. But if Flick did have an Idol up her sleeve, the 2 votes on Wai would shield against wherever Flick threw her vote—most likely against him.

It was a genius and ruthless play. Mere hours earlier, George had made the big show of helping Wai complete the first leg of the Immunity Challenge. I was split between the kindness of the gesture and the cynical questioning of whether physically helping another contestant in an individual challenge should be allowed (or if it’s just on par with the other occasional verbal interferences for help or hindrance that we’ve seen in individual challenges). But it just goes to show that George’s approach to the game is more decisive than ever.

AU6
Photo: Network 10

It’s certainly risky, and if he makes it all the way to Final Tribal, I expect he’ll be grilled pretty hard for his often callous and patronising tone. After all, Wai made a point of telling him, to his face, that he was sometimes veering into being “mean.” So blindsiding Wai after helping her in the challenge is an interesting dichotomy. On the one hand, it adds salt to the wound of the betrayal. On the other, it’s proof of his savvy gameplay, especially as his only viable contingency votes were Wai or his long-term second-in-command, Cara.

Speaking of Cara, she definitely got the short shrift in this episode. In the gratuitously dramatic opening act, she was the only one of the Final Five to not be highlighted with a segment devoted to her journey through the game and her outlook heading into the last five days. While it feels pretty disrespectful of the editors to discount her in this way when Australian Survivor overflows with available airtime, I was relieved that we did get a glimpse into her perspective in the final act of the episode as she balked at George’s plan.

Cara’s strength has always been her relationships. Upon George relaying his plan and his intention to keep it just between the two of them, she became anxious that the move would alienate Hayley and Wai, especially if Flick didn’t have an Idol. Her working through this side of the equation was undeniably the demonstration of what has made her such an essential part of George’s game. Whereas his calculating recklessness can sometimes be a bit callous, she’s able to balance the needs of the social game, softening the edges where need be.

But where Cara has faltered has been her occasional reluctance to get on board with the more complex strategy. It’s understandable after she cooked it on the split vote that sent Big D home, so she’s hesitant to make moves more convoluted than they need to be. To her credit, she does seem to get on board with George’s hare-brained schemes most of the time and sees the benefit in the play. But it was wild to me that she was so against the contingency play. And it wasn’t just at the well when George first pitched the idea. Even at Tribal, she suggested they “keep it simple,” and George had to channel Gandalf to urge her to “keep it safe.”

Wai
Photo: Network 10

While there was definite room for social fallout, the pointy end of the game requires a sharper edge. If Cara’s instinct to play it safe had prevailed, then she loses her closest ally in the game against her will. And while being free of George might have actually helped her chances in the end, it would have stymied her momentum. In addition, voting out Wai seems like the likely plan for her and George at the intended all-Brains Final Four, so is there harm in telegraphing it with a split vote or pre-emptively striking if an Idol is successfully played?

I’m relieved that Cara ultimately trusted the numbers. If she’d stuck to voting Flick, it would have become a 1-1-0 vote, and it would have all come down to Hayley choosing between George and Wai—an uncertain outcome. That said, Cara is in a tough spot at the Final Four and would have a hard time going up against the dominant strategies of George or Hayley or the Brawn-led adoration of Flick. Despite apparent concerns that Cara may be too likable compared to George & Hayley, it feels like her seemingly reluctant gameplay and her public errors at Tribal may mean she’s drawing dead. And not just because the editors have said so.

But to come back around to the move itself, George’s expertly crafted plan played out perfectly. Flick’s Idol saved her, but his counter-plan foiled her attempt to blindside him in return. And he removed a huge Jury threat. While the edit did a disservice to her, Wai was overwhelmingly loved by the players, and her growth narrative backed up by some savvy opportunistic gameplay would have made her a tough opponent in the Final Two (especially with her authorial articulation in weaving a narrative to support her journey).

In eliminating Wai, George also cuts off Hayley’s options. She can’t risk sitting next to Flick, and so she has to resort to working with him into the endgame. It’s an impressive and multifaceted play, effective in the moment, in its execution, and in its impact on the final days in the game. It truly is a crowning achievement for the self-proclaimed King George.

FOUR DAYS TO GO, FOUR PEOPLE, ONE SURVIVOR

Can he take it all the way? It feels like it’s a battle between him and Hayley, but it was not until this episode that I even speculated that that the blunt-force editing focus on that pair could be because they become our Final Two. In a season that has often felt predictable with its storytelling even when the gameplay has constantly been shifting due to rambunctious strategy (and not the constraining twists!), a George vs. Hayley showdown would be thrilling as it would truly be an even-footed competition.

Both have played phenomenal strategic games, but both have socially riled their fellow competitors and could be held accountable for their often cold and calculating approach. It would be a fight for the ages and a fitting end to a season of high highs, low lows, and 90% George and Hayley confessionals.

JLP
Photo: Network 10

But maybe there’s an outside chance Flick or Cara sneak through. Both have played strong social games and have good relationships with the Jury that could rival the cerebral appeal of George or Hayley. Flick is in a position of needing an Immunity run to win out, and Hayley’s had the upper hand there so far. But Immunities are a fickle beast and unlikely champions have emerged, going all the way back to Kristie Bennet in 2016.

Meanwhile, Cara is in a great position if George and Hayley recognise that going against each other is risky in and of itself. However, it may be an uphill battle for her to emerge victorious over the decorated resumes carried by her other two Brains.

All in all, I’m excited to see this season draw to its close. I’ve been hard on the production side of things—and I really hope they can get back to what makes for excellent Survivor in Season 7. But the cast and the game they’ve played has been a joy. Running the gamut from all-time disastrous moves to a plethora of intricate, plurality-fuelled Tribals, this season has been iconic when the players have actually been able to play Survivor. And the best part is, it’s not over yet, especially with this Final Four.


Written by

Austin Smith

Austin hails from Canberra, Australia. By day, he works by the light of office fluorescence. By night, he can be found swing dancing to Top ‘40s tracks (1940s, that is), playing board games, and enjoying life with his wonderful wife. His pedigree as a long-time Survivor superfan is evidenced by his Survivor-themed 11th birthday party featuring a gross food challenge comprising Brussel sprouts. Austin writes Inside Survivor’s episode recaps for both Survivor US and Australian Survivor.


2 responses to “Episode 22 Recap – Crowning Glory”

  1. The one big advantage George has over Haley, IMHO, is that he was never successfully voted out, unlike Hayley. Who is only still in the game by the grace of one of the numerous twists, that brings people back from the dead.

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