Well, it took six episodes and a bit of patient frustration, but the Brains Tribe has finally caught up to the Brawn Tribe. Not in terms of winning challenges, of course, because they’ve been on a tragic downward spiral and still can’t win a single reward. But in terms of having a complex, well-crafted tribe narrative that explains their dynamics and gives everyone a notable role in the story, however small it may be in some cases.
Coming off the heels of Episode 5 and its baffling editing choices, Episode 6 is a solid, emotional, and game-changing reminder that Australian Survivor can still produce iconic moments based entirely on the players’ choices rather than with forced twists and production set-ups. But in typical Survivor AU fashion… there’s still a twist.
Having won four challenges in a row, Brawn has bounced back. While Flick and her allies enjoy the spoils of war and a night off from Tribal Council, Simon’s two idols are giving him more hope than ever. But unfortunately for Simon, self-proclaimed lover of animal products Gerald knows about one of his idols and runs to tell his allies. It’s bad news for Flick and Kez, but they’re ready to blindside Simon if need be before he becomes too powerful. The battle has been delayed, but it’s sure to be bloody when Brawn unsheathes its swords once again.
While not all of Brawn’s wins are blow-outs, if a challenge involves throwing something (which almost every challenge without a puzzle seems to feature at this point), it’s wise to bet on Brawn. Even with Joey’s precise sandbag throws, the Brains are simply too far behind to catch up from their rope obstacle course woes and lose by a hair, or in this case, a lid.
To the Brawn Tribe goes lamington cakes and chocolate milk, as well as a lucky tag-along from the Brains: Joey. While taking the physical MVP of a rival tribe on a reward appears to be a strange choice, the Brawn Tribe has a plan: let Joey flap his gums and spill some secrets since he loves talking smack on the mat. And spill he does, revealing that George played an idol and Mitch was collateral damage. It’s not exactly the full truth as Joey conveniently leaves out the part where he called the shot on Mitch and George had no real power at all, but it’s still info that could help Brawn down the road.
But Brawn isn’t done winning. Even when faced with a puzzling immunity challenge this episode, the puzzle itself requires muscle to move its giant, heavy pieces around after an already grueling physical portion. The Brains don’t help themselves by sitting out Wai, who spends the challenge shouting tips from the sit out bench. But given the lead Brawn had, it was tough to see a path to victory for the Brains here even with Wai on the puzzle. It just wasn’t their day, production oversight or not.
Then we have the standout stars of the episode: the Brains. The first five episodes of the show did them no justice, opting to let the same handful of players explain the entire tribe’s dynamic. But now they’re in the spotlight, everyone’s important, and it’s glorious television. They brought the drama, the strategy, the heartbreak, and basically everything you could ask for in a tribe. Where was this great content before? I have no clue. But better late than never.
After the last Tribal, Rachel has cemented herself as a member of the six-person majority alliance with Joey, Georgia, Andrew, Laura, and fellow swing vote Hayley. Joey’s loving his power position and has his sights set on now idol-less George yet again, but George… Well, he’s complicated. I could write a whole book about George after just six episodes, because no player in Survivor history has had such a complex, bizarre, and outright chaotic first six episodes as him and lived to tell the tale. When I start an episode, I have no idea how he’ll be portrayed or what he’ll do.
For starters, George has another new nemesis in Rachel. Why? Because she committed the cardinal sin and lied on Survivor. I don’t know if George is playing this up for good TV, which I believe it is, or if he legitimately believes Rachel is in the wrong here, which I believe she isn’t, but this attitude was baffling. George would be the last person I’d expect to have a grudge against someone lying to advance their game. He’s watched Survivor since he was 11 years old and got into politics because of his intrigue with the game, so clearly he’s no stranger to what the game entails.
And I feel sympathy for Rachel in this situation as well. She made a good game move that put her in a solid majority that won’t rock the boat for the sake of it, giving her an easy path to a swap. Her valid suggestion to not insult their own tribe on the mat before a challenge and bring down morale was delivered politely. But somehow, she’s been labeled a villain, not by the entire tribe but by George and George alone. And because this season is the George show, whenever it cuts to the Brains, his word tends to weigh heavy on the story regardless of how strange his reads are.
But George does have some back-up in the form of Cara, the cool water to his fire, as she says. This type of symbiotic Survivor relationship always intrigues me. We’ve seen it before with players like Tony Vlachos who need a partner in crime like a Trish or a Sarah to ground them in reality and put out any fires their chaotic antics might light.
That’s not to say George is on Tony’s level because outside of misplaying idols and giving wacky one-liners, they have nothing in common. But these partnerships can be massively successful and turn a couple of potential early boots into a powerhouse duo that shouldn’t be underestimated. And their friendship is just plain delightful. It’s the age-old tale of two oddballs finding each other and loving each other’s eccentricities.
But just as soon as George finds a new nemesis, another challenger appears to become the focus of his ire: Georgia, the psychologist who finally got more airtime than the advantage-hiding rock from the premiere and avoids the Sam Schoers treatment. Georgia’s approach with George comes from a place of empathy and care because she understands how people work and wants to get through to him at the recommendation of the tribe. But George, for some reason, reads her approach as negatively as possible, heading straight for the confessional to declare himself to be smarter than her and marks her for elimination.
George seems to find a new enemy every episode. First it was Dictator Doctor Mitch, who, according to George, didn’t deserve to go home last night after all the premiere drama. Then he feuded with Baden in front of the entire tribe, only to recruit Baden as one of his allies after stealing an idol from right under his nose. Next up was Joey, who George doesn’t really seem to have anything against personally but is in direct opposition to strategically. Then Rachel stepped into the firing line after lying about her vote and lecturing George on sportsmanship, only to avoid being targeted because Georgia, his latest rival, happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time saying the wrong things.
And to continue with his string of weird reads, George elaborates on his plan, claiming Georgia’s merely attaching herself to the best solution for her and not actually playing strategically. But… isn’t that a good strategy, though? She’s in the majority alliance and comfortably so. What else is she supposed to do? Jump ship and vote with people she probably won’t get along with? Throw herself into a fragile minority alliance with no power? Make a move for the sake of making one when it’s only Episode 6 and big players tend to lose early and lose often?
Again, I wouldn’t be surprised if George has a more tame read on the matter and gives these weirdly biting confessionals to get more airtime. It’s a better meta-strategy than any of his actual strategic plays (seriously, he’s been to three Tribals, had an idol or advantage at all of them, and came away with egg on his face each time) because he’s surely set himself up to return for the next All Star season regardless of his placement.
But as Tribal grows closer, things get messier. Cara finds the newly re-hidden idol, and the misfits aim to take Georgia out of the equation. But Laura gets paranoid and realizes the majority alliance might be in trouble based on the vibes around camp, heading to Joey to form a new plan: recruit Wai to their side so they can have a 4-3 split. Why Wai? She’s smart, logical, and going nowhere fast by working with George.
Joey went to work assuring Wai that joining the majority wouldn’t be her claiming a spot on the bottom but forming a dynamic, unexpected duo with Joey himself. While Joey’s hype about working with Wai isn’t as genuine as George’s commitment to Wai, just being genuine in Survivor isn’t enough. You have to be convincing and lay down a good offer, and Joey’s charming, Luke Toki-style personality makes him incredibly dangerous when it comes to swaying people to his side. George drains the energy around camp. Joey brings the hype to boost morale. George makes a scene to bring chaos. Joey makes a scene to lighten the mood. They’re diametrically opposed forces in the game for a reason.
Wai herself even admits it’s hard to resist jumping ship because of how terrible George’s game is. He might have saved her days ago, but he’s dragging the tribe down with him. If Wai stays loyal and Georgia is voted out, they might have momentary success, only to be faced with serious obstacles down the road, like remaining in the minority alliance at another Tribal and a lack of unification after a swap or merge. So I understand the struggle. Going with George is the loyal, honorable move that proves she’s trustworthy. Going with Joey is the cutthroat, self-interested move that could buy her time.
So Wai makes a choice to tell George she might flip, and he’s distraught. He wants the four pillars of their alliance to stand strong against Joey’s majority and not buckle under the pressure. With their alliance about to implode, the three misfits come up with a last-ditch scheme to cause panic and sway Wai back to their side: a game of idol hot potato, suggested by Baden. The plan: at Tribal, Cara hands her idol to Baden, who hands it to George, who hands it back to Cara.
Aside from being humorous, the plan is ultimately just theater. Giving Wai the idol could have saved the day, but handing an idol to someone who’s potentially flipping is too risky. But on the other hand, the route they took was totally ineffective and might have alienated Wai further as they didn’t include her in the idol sharing at all and only sowed more of the chaos she’s eager to distance herself from. And the majority wasn’t shaken from their plan. With Wai on their side, nothing could stop them.
Tribal is surprisingly a tearjerker. George openly says he’d rather be his messy, chaotic, complex self and lose the game than go far at all costs doing things he’s not proud of, and it seems to be his swan song as the music soars and the episode reaches its climax. Wai, stepping up to cast the deciding vote, writes down George’s name and drops one of the coldest voting confessionals of all time: “I didn’t ask to be saved.”
Now, Wai’s getting a ton of heat for making this brutally cold move, which is to be expected. It’s iconic but controversial. However, it’s just a game move. Do not hold this against her as a person or send her hate. Even George, the victim of the betrayal who has every right to be upset with her player to player, took to social media to call off the rage towards his fellow tribemate. You can disagree with the strategy all you want and criticize her game, which I’m sure us super fans will be doing as long as she’s around, but don’t make it personal. Nobody gains anything from that.
With the votes cast, Cara stands up and plays her idol on George in the ultimate hero move, nullifying the four votes that would have sent him packing, dooming herself to save a friend who desperately wanted to live his dream. If the season’s moral lines are dictated purely by George, Cara is the hero who rose up when villains like Rachel, Georgia, and Wai were up to no good. From an objective, strategic point of view, Cara should have saved herself if she believed Wai was a lost cause, and she’ll surely get roasted as a “quitter” or a wasted spot in the cast.
But Survivor is more than just a game. It’s a story about the players and their difficult choices as they navigate a social experiment. Ultimately, Cara’s sacrifice, whether she knew she was going home or not when she saved George, is the choice she made. Until this episode, we had no idea who Cara was beyond “the weird empath superpower lady” from the premiere who went radio silent. But in one episode, she cemented herself as a memorable star who burned out too soon.
But… there’s always a twist. Cara is presented with a sign, a buff, and a torch, and immediately I tensed up with dread. But there’s, fortunately, no Edge of Extinction this season despite the familiar setup. Cara wasn’t voted out of the game, just out of her tribe. While I’m sure fellow Survivor purists will groan in agony at the continued presence of these non-elimination episodes, I welcome this twist with open arms when far worse alternatives exist.
A vote-out swap is a simple twist that opens up new stories and changes existing ones without drastically changing the entire fabric of the game for shock value or robbing someone through collateral damage as we saw in the premiere. And let’s be honest, it’s either having a couple relatively harmless non-eliminations that only affect a couple episodes at a time and create minor ripples… or casting even more players in a show that already struggles to edit 24 of them coherently.
And from a purely personal standpoint, I can’t think of someone more deserving of this miraculous second chance than someone who idoled herself out to save a friend. While her first elimination has given Cara an uphill battle to a victory, she’s certainly emerged as a solid emotional core of the season with a compelling journey to follow should she find her footing on her new tribe. As it turns out, she was the oft-referenced Macedonian Jesus all along. She was executed for George’s sins, rose from the dead, and she’s back to create change in the Outback.
Week Two comes to a close with results that won’t satisfy everyone, but the season is still heading in a promising direction. We know all the players and where they stand. The two tribes are even in immunity wins, so there’s not a steamroll going on. The cast came to play hard, so the gameplay is super messy, and the season is just beginning. If the Brains lose, there’s another idol hidden out there, and emotional tensions are high among friends and foes. If Brawn loses, it’s an all-out war with two idols and a crucial swing vote in play. No matter what, we’re in for some fireworks in Week Three.