If the first and second weeks of Brains v Brawn left me cautiously optimistic, the third week washed away most of my fears of this season turning sour and not delivering. It’s on fire right now in terms of sheer entertainment. We got the rise of new big players hungry for the win, the massive downfalls of those who seemed destined for long-term success, and enough shake-ups to send the game spiraling into new, bizarre directions that turned what appeared to be a standard season of Survivor into a larger than life Gabon-esque train wreck. And I’m loving it.
Before jumping into the various strategies at play, the episode kicks off early with an immunity challenge. Not of the Tribal variety though, but individual, as both tribes will vote someone out. Of course, the minute you hear “Double Tribal” in Australian Survivor, you know there’s going to be a twist, whether it’s another swap, a showdown between the two eliminated players for a spot back in the game, or a mutiny. But even so, this was no time to slack off as two people from each tribe would win immunity, enjoy a reward meal away from camp together, and ultimately get the final say.
In a relatively intense sandbag toss, Andrew, Wai, Rachel, and Emmett win immunity, but there’s another form of immunity to be dished out. Having recently emerged from her purple purgatory, Georgia is suddenly ill and pulled from the game for 24 hours, making her exempt from Tribal Council via a Sick Day. If this were US Survivor, this would never happen. Georgia would have been left in the game to be treated by on-site medical staff, and if her condition was severe enough, which it fortunately wasn’t, she would have been eliminated by evacuation.
But this is Australian Survivor. Things are done differently across the board, and spending a day out of the game for medical reasons isn’t out of the question. It’s certainly an asterisk next to her name as she was a prime target to be voted out, but given the ultimate results of the night, the asterisk might as well be erased as she wasn’t going home anyways.
With both tribes in the firing line, it’s time to scramble.
On the new Brains tribe, Cara is under fire for botching the easiest split vote ever. Despite George’s best attempts to politically spin her goof as manslaughter rather than murder and an iconic moment people will talk about for ages, the old Brawns who just lost a valuable member in Big D aren’t going to forgive her. Even if it was a humorous accident, not being able to keep up with basic split vote instructions makes Cara a liability in tight situations. And in the true messy spirit of this season, Cara decides to spill the beans to the other tribe on the mat, revealing who she voted for and exactly how Big D was sent home. Why? Because she felt bad and didn’t want anyone to think she purposefully threw a vote to take out Big D.
I can appreciate the honesty, but… Why tell the other tribe about it? They weren’t there to see the disaster as it happened. They have no reason to assume anything beyond a simple 5-4 Brains majority vote happened. And even if that information came out during the Double Tribal, Cara stepping forward and owning her mistake so openly multiple times throughout the episode paints her as untrustworthy to her own tribe. She’s so resigned to her apparent doom she even walks over to the new Brawns after the challenge and starts giving goodbye hugs.
The best move Cara could have made was to laugh off the mistake, apologize and move on as a group of five with her allies. But it’s hard to move on when Cara spends the entire day sweating bullets over her rogue vote and over-owning it to anyone in sight. But that’s what makes Cara a fun player. She’s so unlike anyone else in the cast, and her bizarre choices create obstacles for other players to deal with. Not to mention she’s just a straight-up nice person. She might make mistakes, but you can’t bring yourself to hate her. If anything, it’s endearing.
However, I doubt Cara was ever in any real danger barring another idol play because even if she’s unreliable, she’s still a crucial vote when the numbers are 5-3. Rachel and Laura want her gone, and on the reward trip, Rachel gets in Emmett’s ear; while back at camp Laura approaches Kez and Gerald. The pitch is simple: George and Cara are weak links, so cut them loose and move forward with a stronger tribe. Emmett is open to it as his plan is to knock out as many Brains as possible before the merge, but he takes a step back and considers that Georgia replacing an eliminated Cara could cost Brawn their long-term numbers. It was a good pitch by Rachel and Laura, perhaps the best shot they had, and they put their games in Emmett’s hands heading into Tribal.
The new Brawn Tribe, on the other hand, is far messier with ballsy plans flying left and right.
Hayley, seeing that Wai and Andrew are immune, weaponizes her public immunity idol. She declares it’s getting played on either herself or Baden as the Brains will stick together, and they won’t know who’s safe until the votes are cast, so trying to play mind games to pick the right target won’t work. It’s such a simple move, but it works beautifully, sending the old Brawns into a frenzy to save themselves and turn on each other, effectively turning a 50/50 shot of one of them going home into a guarantee. And because of their fractures, none of them seem to realize the deadly trap they’re walking into as the Brains seize control without even lifting a finger.
Simon, the holder of two idols, is terrified and fears he’ll need to play one. His plan? Vote for Baden. On paper, it’s still their best bet. Hayley’s words are just that: words. She could always be bluffing and ultimately make the self-interested choice of saving herself. But the Brawn five are anything but in agreement.
Shannon, who’s had her sights set on Simon since the game started and has officially devoted herself to outlasting him at all costs, decides it’s time to strike. Not at Simon directly though, but at his ally Chelsea. The common-sense move is to flip to the Brains and grab an easy majority with herself and Flick as swing votes, split the votes 3-3, and nearly guarantee survival with Simon, Dani, and Chelsea on the outs. And when I saw the tribe breakdown at the swap, I figured this was the obvious route.
But in true Brains v Brawn fashion, the common-sense move is thrown out entirely in favor of a massive gamble. Instead, Shannon goes to her arch-nemesis Simon and makes a pitch: recruit Hayley and cut Chelsea, with Simon playing his idol. It guarantees the old Brawns control the votes and don’t let the Brains taste any power, but for Shannon’s personal ambitions, it weakens Simon by culling his ally and his idol in one night, setting him up for an easy vote off.
I have no idea what Shannon was thinking here. Of all the moves that could be made at this vote, this one is by far the most baffling option. It reeks of Big Move-itis, perhaps made worse by the potential expectation of a non-elimination to serve as a safety net should things go horribly wrong. Simon and Chelsea were openly allies in a tight trio. What’s the point in asking one to blindside the other when there are five other people on the tribe to work with outside of that tiny alliance?
Once Simon hears the plan, he unsurprisingly runs straight to his alliance and leaks everything Shannon’s plotting, encouraging Dani to turn the votes against Shannon. This gives the Brains total control over who goes home between Shannon and Chelsea heading into the Double Tribal.
And at said Double Tribal, no idols are played, and the votes alone aren’t shocking. Laura is picked off as an easy vote. And Shannon, blinded by her determination to defeat Simon, is blindsided when the Brains align with Simon’s trio, even having Baden throw a vote on Flick just in case a No Votes situation was in the cards with multiple idols in play.
But the fallout from the votes is where the random insanity is once again kicked up a notch. The twist of the Double Tribal is simple. The four players who won immunity must unanimously agree to send either Laura or Shannon home, or the result will be decided by a fire-making challenge a la last season’s Double Tribal Council where Lydia was eliminated.
Andrew, Wai, Emmett, and Rachel hold all the power. Andrew backs Laura because they’re both nature-lovers (and because Andrew knew Laura prior to filming as social media sleuthing has recently uncovered). Rachel backs Laura as well, seeing as they’re close allies who can’t afford to lose each other with the few numbers they have. Wai stays New Brawn strong and backs Shannon, while Emmett wants to keep his old tribe intact and backs Shannon too, forcing a deadlock.
That is until Simon makes his decisive move to reveal Shannon’s schemes to the entire cast live at Tribal as Shannon’s unable to defend herself. Wai decides to cut Shannon loose, fearing she’ll be a loose cannon, and Emmett, showboating as always, proudly and loudly announces Shannon is going home without any support as karma for her “not cool” actions.
Shannon entered this season as a player willing to play hard and make risky moves to advance her game. Even if she was cut shockingly early, she still left an impression on the season, and I’ll always appreciate someone who plays with the guts she had. Like with many big players who came before her, she burned out too fast in a game that rewards slower-paced social strategy, but it’s hard to excuse just how self-inflicted her downfall was.
She got a bit too greedy, wanting to take out Simon’s ally, flush his idol, and remain Brawn strong in a single move. Had she and Flick immediately buddied up with the Brains or bit the bullet and voted with Simon’s alliance for Baden or Hayley, gambling it all on the luck of the idol, she could have survived unless the Brains targeted her on their own accord. But had she positioned herself as a swing vote, that wouldn’t have been a possibility. Instead, her tunnel vision towards weakening Simon led to a swift, early downfall for the ages.
But by far, the biggest winner of this episode, if not the entire week, is Hayley, who’s playing the role of the cool, calm, and collected mastermind among a cast of chaotic cartoon characters, not unlike a Kim Spradlin with more inclination to gamble. She blindsided a big threat in Joey to take control of the old Brains. She found an idol in front of the entire cast and weaponized it without even playing it. She turned the old Brawn tribe against each other with one simple move and let them implode. And she set herself up as a key power player with an idol to fall back on should her strategy of hiding her threat level wear thin too soon. But nobody seems to notice just how well she’s playing, so it seems her strategy is paving the way for long-term success. But some said the same for Shannon a couple weeks ago, and look how that turned out.
As with all Australian Survivor seasons, only time will tell who’s truly in this for the long haul and who’s burning out too soon in a blaze of glory. But no matter who endures and who falls, this season is far from over, and if the recent chaos is anything to go by, we could be in for some iconic Survivor episodes in the coming weeks.