Despite it’s incredibly off-kilter premiere, Australian Survivor has thankfully settled back into an entertaining rhythm. It may not necessarily be Top Tier Survivor, but now that the show is trusting its cast to generate stories and dynamics rather than throwing in manufactured twists, lo and behold, it’s been a much more interesting and satisfying show.
Compared to the masterclass of modern Survivor strategy happening over at Survivor South Africa, SurvivorAU is proving itself to be more popcorn fun than hard-hitting gameplay, but is that inherently a bad thing? Not at all. While I would personally prefer to see more cerebral gameplay from the cast across the board, the complete mess on the Brawn tribe has been a remarkably intriguing crash in slow motion.
Simon managed to pull off the unthinkable this episode by exploiting some suboptimal (and actively horrendous) gameplay by his opponents. While I could do without the ego that he flaunts with the same confidence it takes to rock those donut budgie-smugglers, Simon nonetheless proved himself, living up to his own hype as a player to look out for. After two failed coups to depose his adversary Shannon, he really should have been dead in the water. All eyes were on him, and he, Emmett, Dani & Chelsea were easy pickings up against a majority of six. But somehow, he managed to turn it all around by making all the right plays. It shouldn’t have worked, but it did.
The first play, naturally, was selecting an alternative target. Knowing he’d need to swing 2 votes out of 6 is no small feat, but he was granted a gift in the oblivious Benny. Now, we haven’t seen much of Benny to this point. Shannon referred to him as an “extra number,” and that’s exactly what he’s been. We still have no real sense of his personal relationships within his alliance. Still, if the edit of this episode was representative of his overall approach to the game, it’s certainly easy to see why he was a perfect mark for Simon.
Simon’s argument revolved around the whole challenge debacle—that Benny was “half a step behind” and hindered the Brawn tribe in the Immunity puzzle by moving around pieces independently and not being reactive enough. While there was definite irony to this—the word Benny disrupted “SURVIVOR” wasn’t even spelled correctly by the puzzle-solvers, nor was it even part of the correct answer—but it provided Simon with a perfect example to dig in on. His performance in the challenge made Benny an easy scapegoat.
But one bad challenge performance is rarely going to be the deciding factor in a vote. It’s usually just representative of the general temperature at camp. And with Benny’s confessionals reeking of smug self-satisfaction and his interactions with his tribemates similarly carrying a degree of misplaced confidence, it feels like Benny was already a bit of an odd duck. Even he identified that he was not the typical “Brawn,” but more than that, he made a number of rookie errors of over-confidence that fed right into Simon’s narrative.
For it wasn’t just challenge strength where Benny proved himself a liability. When Dani questioned him about how the vote was going to play out, he spilled the beans entirely—that Shannon had locked in Simon as the target. The loose lips left poor Gerald flabbergasted but also gave Dani the ammunition of information she needed to help Simon. On top of that, Benny’s incredulous attitude at Tribal further planted him as a player with a misplaced ego, dismissing Simon as desperate and refusing to stump for himself even once he knew that Shannon was reconsidering her vote. The arrogance all gathered to underscore that Benny could be a social liability for the majority alliance.
Simon could have continued to fight to dethrone one of Shannon, Kez or Flick—the core three of the majority alliance. But his targeting of one of their numbers made it a much easier sell to the chaos inherent in his fellow Brawns.
Once again, Daini proved to be unpredictable and self-interested, and Simon played to his frustration with Benny’s challenge performance. Daini teased that he’d think about it, but it’s become readily apparent that Big D drifts wherever he wants to, rather than tracking in lock-step with any particular alliance. The chaos of swinging back to the minority after he’d abandoned them last time was audacious, but Daini revels in the “spicy” unpredictability of the game. Coupled with his under-the-radar friendship with Chelsea—which has been hinted at obliquely and mentioned in passing—it’s understandable how Daini would be willing to vote with Simon.
But swinging Daini would only tie up the vote for Simon, and he needed one more. Gerald might have been an option, especially given his bafflement at Benny revealing the plan, but Simon’s decision to call a truce with Shannon was fascinating. It’s so rare for opposing alliance leaders to come together for a plan that benefits them both, and it was a gutsy and transparently desperate ploy by Simon. Nonetheless, he played it perfectly.
He pitched the Benny vote from Shannon’s perspective. She could cut out a problem in her alliance and still hold the majority over him. But what’s remarkable is that it wasn’t a great deal for Shannon. Narrowing the numbers between an alliance is risky at the best of times, especially with a loose cannon like Daini ostensibly in your alliance. To her credit, Shannon recognised that it wasn’t an ideal outcome for her, but by Simon coming to her directly to pitch the plan on even footing, she had time to contemplate a course of action. Although she resisted the idea of blindly following Simon’s self-serving plan, she weighed up the benefits.
When it came to Tribal, that time for stewing on the idea was immediately apparent as Shannon quickly gathered her girls for a whisper, seemingly discussing how they’d handle a potential tie. While much of the context was lost to us, the ultimate tie and revote suggests that Shannon at least suspected that Daini might have switched sides which would force the tie, and rather than leave her fate up to chance, she wanted to lock down a backup plan. Stick with voting out Simon and risk rocks or concede to losing Benny?
She definitely resisted the idea of cutting Benny—openly calling him dead weight and heavily hinting that he needed to make a pitch to defend himself. But when he refused to rise to that task, she was ultimately forced to flip and cut him free. It’s not great for Shannon; not only has her majority been slashed to a fine line 5-4, but her alliance was split on the Benny plan. And with Daini blowing in the wind, it’s entirely possible that this could swing the game back out of her favour. But she was backed into a corner and HAD to vote for Benny to break the tie, and that’s exactly where Simon needed her to be.
With Benny removed from the picture, Simon has an entirely new lease on the game. He clearly has an ongoing relationship with Big D, even after he’d flipped on him previously, and if he can keep him on his side, then all of a sudden, HE’S the one with the 5-4 majority. While I expect he’ll still have an uphill climb to lock that in place, he’s given himself a fighting chance through his remarkably effective strategy to weaken the alliance formed against him by removing a foot-soldier like Benny. The only downside is how transparent his plan was. And this could galvanise Shannon to target him even more aggressively to ensure she neutralises his threat.
I don’t expect Simon’s confidence to waiver, but if he can take some humility out of the first week of the game and refocus his energy into building a collaborative and flexible approach to the game, there is every chance that Shannon & Daini pulling the punch could be something they live to regret. Giving a resourceful, aggressive and ambitious player like Simon one more day in the game is incredibly dangerous. This is Survivor and sometimes one day is all that’s needed for everything to change.
RETURN OF THE MACEDONIAN JESUS
It’s a little more than three days since this particular Christ reared his head, but speaking of one day being all that’s need for fortunes to shift, perennial outcast George managed to upturn his chances over on the Brains tribe. With a target painted on his back, he transparently went Idol hunting, and though Baden tailed him and managed to find an Idol clue first, turnabout was fair play. George, in turn, managed to keep an eye on Baden’s subsequent Idol hunt but sniped the Idol before his adversary could.
Unlike the fractured Brawn tribe, the Brains’ recent Immuntiy run has left them a more united tribe. At least, with the glaring exception of George, and to a lesser extent, Wai. These two outsiders have proven critical to the tribes’ Immunity success, being responsible for solving the puzzles that secured victory, but they nevertheless remain the outsiders and the easy targets. George’s abrasive social game is particularly at fault for his ongoing isolation, but the finding of the Idol gives him the chance he needs to upturn everything.
It could allow him to shoot down a power player like Mitch or Baden, leaving a power vacuum in the majority, which could cause ripple effects to fracture and allow him to pick up some momentum (and most importantly, some allies). But the biggest challenge for him will be to see if he’s learned from his disastrous handling of his Episode 1 advantage and whether he can parlay any of his chaotic shenanigans into actual numbers to back him up.
Even Wai seemed cautious about George’s Idol find, noting she’d have to consider how it would affect her gameplan, which may very well excise George to curry favour with the majority. But it could be a bartering chip for forging alliances if played correctly.
I worry that even an Idol won’t completely change his fate due to this rough social game, but it may prolong it. And just as the day of his Idol find could be a boost, so too could making it through a Tribal at the right time.
SURVIVER UNTIL DAWN
I’m excited to see that Australian Survivor is finding a good balance in these last few episodes. Transparent, reasoned, and intriguing social dynamics and strategies for the vote, and complex portrayals of characters who burgeon with ego like Simon and George but manage to occasionally peak as rootable underdogs in certain circumstances.
The show still has its flaws—its lopsided editing still favours a few, mostly male characters and leaves most of the cast in the background. And I hope that the show looks to cast fewer brash male egos and more players who understand the game and can maximise intelligent gameplay in future seasons. But if it can continue to deliver episodes like this one as our baseline, we should be in for a solid season.