And that is why I’ll stick with Australian Survivor through its lows because when it hits its highs, it can be a truly thrilling iteration of the game we all know and love. This episode was a perfect demonstration of how a numbers-based blindside built on the back of a quiet social game can still be compelling and why the show itself is at its best when it is transparent in telling the story of a vote from multiple perspectives.
Hayley’s incredible play at Tribal Council is definitely the headliner of the episode. Still, even in the quieter moments of Cara bonding with her new tribe or the emotionally charged tension between George and Wai after the last vote, this episode thrived in showing the minuscule moments of the social game. Generic, cocky confessionals like Joey’s can be perfect fodder to set him up for a fall, but it’s the social game in the shadows where the true game is played, so bringing that to the fore is what makes for a compelling show and intriguing game.
We haven’t seen a whole lot from Hayley until this episode, but what we had seen showed her to be a potential all-rounder. She seemed to be a savvy mind as she weighed up strategies early on. She proved to be a physical competitor as she beat out MMA fighter Chelsea in a wrestling challenge and surfer Flick in a balance one. And she also showed she had a promising social game as she found herself in the middle of the tribe with options on both sides. So seeing that all coalesce in this breakout episode was satisfying and enthralling at once.
Hayley has been toeing the party line for a little while, following along with Joey’s alliance but clearly recognised that she was low on the pecking order. And rather than rest in that majority, she sought to reinvent it in her favour. She had the chance to make this move before, but previously, those plans had kept her as a number and the shot was called by another. Now, she had the control, and rather than aiming at one of the numbers like Laura or Georgia, she could go straight for the figurehead of the opposition in Joey.
Perhaps Hayley had simply been biding her time. Or perhaps the confidence to pull the trigger now was based on knowing she had insurance with a hidden immunity idol in her pocket, publically retrieved in the mid-challenge scramble. Regardless, it was a risky play to make, but somehow, she executed it flawlessly.
Joey had amassed solid numbers, including looping in floating number Baden, but it was no secret that he prioritised his core alliance with Georgia, Laura, and Andrew. His boisterous personality projected a levity for the tribe, but in his game rhetoric, it was readily apparent that he was confident in his position at the head of the tribe. And was also dismissive and condescending towards extraneous numbers like Wai or adversaries like George.
When Hayley made her pitch, she knew she was pitching a big move by removing the leader of another alliance, which was already an enticing prospect. But because Joey had made himself such a clear director, handing down the orders, it made him an even more appealing target for the disenfranchised, the disruptive, and the desperate.
So Hayley had the perfect opportunity to flip the script. But to do so, she would need to gather every other member of the tribe, including fellow swing vote Rachel, wild card Baden, new recruit of the alliance Wai and volatile George. This is not a block of like-minded voters, but disparate individuals who have all had rough relationships and arguments with George—the person who would otherwise go home and who was also needed for this plan to work. But even the other three were independent factions. But Hayley recognised this hurdle and managed it by relying on tailored strategy and direct social connections.
With Baden, she appealed to his interest in chaos and shaking things up. Baden had been offered a partnership with Joey, but he was a free agent and had been willing to work with George despite their disagreements before. For Baden, the vote could be about breaking down a power structure that had left him on the outs, and he was locked into Hayley’s plan right away.
We saw less of the pitch to Rachel (or Rachel’s own thinking on the matter), but she and Hayley occupied the same space in Joey’s alliance, having flipped to them with the Mitch vote and hovered along since then. Rachel appears to be a pragmatic player, and Hayley drew on their ongoing friendship and loose relationship as swing votes to advocate a move that would give them more autonomy in the game.
The pitch to Rachel was all about numbers—they could get rid of George now, but what then? At best, they could force a tie. They only had a majority if they acted now. While Baden responded to chaos, Rachel responded to logic, seemingly incompatible concepts. But by adjusting her messaging, Hayley was able to deliver both rationales to the people that needed to hear them.
Wai, however, was a tricky one. She had just made the bold move to abandon the sinking SS George to join with Joey. Even though Hayley could tell Wai that Joey and company were splitting the vote on her (clearly demonstrating that they saw her as expendable), she still had to overcome Wai’s concerns about working with someone as volatile and unpredictable as George. To my eye, Wai’s decision last episode was well-founded as distancing herself from the neon target could have allowed her to hide in the dark. Still, even I was surprised by how quickly it came back around to bite her as one vote proved to be far from sufficient to keep her out of the range of George’s collateral.
But for Hayley, it was about assuring Wai would have security and stability going forward. Even with a chaotic player like George, and even with the stress on their relationship after she’d jumped ship, Wai had the chance to blaze her own trail. This wasn’t so much working with George, but rather a step made with him but that furthered her independent game by fracturing a solid alliance that was happy to use her and then dump her when she was no longer valuable to them.
Baden, Rachel, and Wai all had compelling reasons to stick with the majority and just nail in George’s coffin. But Hayley independently dissected that and proposed a more advantageous alternative, perfectly securing the votes she needed to blindside Joey. Now, it’s worth noting that she should have been able to just utilise this group to take advantage of the split vote and eliminate Joey in a plurality 4-3-2, but rather than risk fine numbers, she elected to draw George into the plan as well.
The only complication was that she couldn’t spread the word to him until Tribal. Whether this was simply because of timing and logistics at camp or whether it was a calculated ploy to limit the possibility George could do something erratic and disrupt the plan, it ultimately didn’t matter because it worked like a charm. George was convinced he was going home. His last possible chance was scoring the idol in the challenge, but Hayley kept that out of his hand. He was primed to be amenable to any alternative, and so Hayley’s tactic of simply nudging him during Tribal, whispering a name and trusting that his self-preservation instincts were all the direction needed. George didn’t need an elaborate pitch like the others; he just needed a hint.
And so it was that an unlikely coalition of five contentious individuals came together to blindside an overconfident Joey, leaving him and his alliance in utter disbelief. And it was all Hayley’s doing She owned the move every step of the way. She locked in the strategy, taking advantage of the timing of an “easy” vote made easier by her finding the idol which Joey erroneously believed was as good as his for the benefit of their alliance. She leveraged her social game of playing in the middle and intuiting what other players needed to push them to make the big move. And then she executed, all while keeping possession of her idol.
The one criticism of the move would be whether the blindside could bite her at a swap if she’s burned bridges with the remaining Laura, Andrew, and Georgina. And with a swap indeed coming right away, it is unfortunate timing. However, Hayley has demonstrated social and strategic savvy that could grant her the capability to smooth over those relationships (“the trouble was Joey, not you!”). But even if everything breaks against her, she does have an idol as a safety net. It feels like Hayley is resourceful, even-keeled and clever enough to manage the fallout here, and I hope she can.
Similarly, I feel like this is the kind of move that benefits everybody in the “Misfits” (as Joey termed them). Independently, it gives them more mobility even in a swap, but it also may help soften some of the animosity between them all, which could be critical when facing down the Brawn tribe post-swap.
Survivor’s twists and turns can be a shot of adrenaline, but they aren’t the main attraction of the game. This—the social manoeuvring and classic calculated strategy of simple math—is at the pure heart of the game, and Hayley’s masterclass was phenomenal. And kudos to the editors for showing each step of Hayley’s plan falling in place. It made for one of the most satisfying episodes of the season yet, and I hope it continues to be indicative of the season’s storytelling moving forward.
Joey’s blindside was satisfying on so many levels. Not only was it a strategic powerhouse performance from Hayley, but it was also a narratively satisfying end to Joey’s arc. Once the Brains tribe started getting substantial focus, he dominated the show as the leader of the pack. At first, his enthusiasm was energising, and while he continued to be the pep-talker on the mat at challenges, he fell into the age-old trap of getting comfortable.
His social bonds were strong, but he was blinded to the fact that his core four were far from a secret. On top of that, he actively othered the minority alliance by openly referring to them as “The Misfits.” And while they may have been okay to follow along with his majority out of desperation, that othering would have no doubt galvanised their decision to flip against him now.
It’s worth noting that the most ostracised of the minority, George, wasn’t the one to come after him. Instead, it was someone who was ostensibly in his alliance but still felt distanced enough by his control to take the shot at him. Hayley explained that removing him as a social threat and as the de facto leader was her rationale. Still, Joey wasn’t just targeted because he was a dangerous opponent; he was targeted because he’d made it clear enough that he had a pecking order that didn’t favour everyone in his alliance.
Joey made for a fun, energetic character, often painted as an antagonist to the show’s underdog George, but nonetheless an enjoyable archetype for his relatively short stint. While his confessionals often broached on generic metaphors, he burst with energy, and I’m curious to see what fills that void. At the very least, I hope we now get to see more of those he left behind. Laura, Andrew, and Georgia have been incredibly under-edited to this point, and we never even glimpsed what drew them to Joey, but now that they’re on their own, maybe they’ll get their chance to shine.
Speaking of a chance to shine, I’m so glad we get to see more of Cara. I’m still not a fan of how the non-elimination twist was executed, but Cara is such a delight as a quirky, emotionally intelligent older woman. Her readjustment to a new tribe was a fun experiment, and credit to her for immediately winning over the hearts and minds of a tribe that could easily unite to get rid of her as an easy vote.
In part, spilling the beans about the Brains drama gave her an in as a player looking for a fresh start. Still, she was also willing to dive into conversation, both strategic and social, and a little bit of a superpower, too, with her empathic reading session forging a personal connection to the individuals in her new tribe. All in all, with her work to forge quick bonds with her tribemates, and even though she won’t have to face Tribal with Brawn, she is perfectly poised to have allies post-swap.
But the big impetus for Cara’s acceptance into the tribe was the duelling for affection between Shannon and Simon, each looking to secure Cara for their alliance to lock in a potential majority. While Shannon definitely seemed to have the upper hand, bonding through the empathic session, chatting casually and even stealing a quick moment to strat-chat on the sit-out bench during the Reward challenge, nothing is written in stone.
Even though he seemed to bungle a chance to build an alliance with Cara after his awkward icebreaker question about menopause, Simon has the awareness that he needs to bond with her emotionally over seeking to sway her with game strategy. Maybe he can pull it off next time, but with the tribe shake-up, the Brawn Civil War may not come to pass. That said, the relationships Cara has with her tribe—and particularly warring leaders Shannon and Simon—could still prove essential to dictate the future of their games.
DROP YOUR BUFFS!
With the swap rolling around the corner next episode, we’re in a fascinating place. Neither Brawn nor Brains are united, and even if either tribe gains a majority, it feels like votes will not be split down tribe lines. Rather, it looks like we may be staring down a battle between four factions: Shannon’s alliance (with Kez, Flick & Gerald), Simon’s alliance (with Emmett, Dani & Chelsea), the remnants of Joey’s alliance (Laura, Georgia & Andrew) and the loose affiliation gathered by Hayley (Rachel, Baden, Wai & George), plus Cara & Daini who feel actively unaffiliated at present.
If there’s anything we’ve learned about this season, it’s that this cast has opened their hearts to chaos. The gameplay has often been questionable, but it’s been dynamic, shifting, and unpredictable. So I cannot imagine anything else as the swap gives us a good ol’ fashioned shake-up.
Brains V Brawn is feeling like it’s starting to hit its stride. And if the show can continue to tell the story as comprehensively as this episode, and the gameplay steps up to the quality of a player like Hayley (or just remains an entertaining mess!), it’s going to be a fun ride.