Happenstance is a hard pill to swallow. There’s little to be done when circumstances twist out of control and the game is shaped by a fleeting incident removed from the game mechanics or the players’ strategy. Losing a player to a medical evacuation is always devastating, and this episode’s exit hit extra hard as it ended the game of one of the season’s most exciting castaways.
Nina was playing an impressive game, adapting the skills of her family legacy to suit her own capabilities and effortlessly assimilating into the Australian cast. It’s no easy feat to overcome, but Nina was not just slipping by under the radar: she was an active and pivotal player, controlling the direction of votes and positioning herself for the long game. Had it not been for an uneasy landing off the water slide—thankfully not a challenge malfunction a la Ross Clarke-Jones in Champions vs. Contenders II—our resident princess felt like she was poised to make a legitimate play for the crown. So to see her chances cut short because of a twist to her ankle?
Quite simply, it sucks.
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But unfortunately, that’s the reality of the game. There’s no stopping an evacuation. Accidents happen. But they can surely affect the game’s trajectory in impactful ways. Nina had positioned herself in an alliance surrounded by the big boys, akin to Sandra’s original strategy. She had aligned with Josh, Mark, and Jordie but was looking ahead. She knew she had to play her influence carefully to keep the boys placated until they became her meat shields at the merge. So while Jordan might be a competitor to her partnership with Josh, she couldn’t strike now. But she could cultivate allies for her own game.
When Jordan, Josh, and David began tossing Shay’s name into the mix for her athletic threat and the danger of her partner Ben, it could have been easy for Nina to follow the ‘anybody but me’ logline. But Shay was a friend and ally and someone she could see herself working with, so she pushed back gently, working to guide her allies’ focus back to Mel: the inscrutably “easy vote” on the Blood tribe. Would her play have worked? It’s hard to know for sure, especially with players like Jordie and Josh getting bolder in their confidence. But it nevertheless evidences the impact Nina was having on the game.
She was a significant voice on her tribe and in her alliance, so her medical evacuation as a result of an avulsion fracture in her ankle is not only devastating for Nina herself but leaves a huge void in the dynamics of her tribe. She was positioning the big boys as a strategic shield. But without Nina’s subtler gameplay, will the alpha mentality overwhelm her allies, leading them to either dominate the game with bravado or eat each other alive? Will Shay find another advocate, or will she now be easy pickings without Nina to deflect the vote from her? And will this danger be exacerbated in the aftermath of the non-elimination Tribal where her tribemates unilaterally decided to keep her and Ben separated?
These repercussions are fascinating to contemplate, and I’ll be curious to revisit these sliding doors once we see how the rest of the season plays out and consider how Nina’s approach to the game may have shifted its dynamic had she been able to stay. But for now, such thoughts are just an attempt at consolation in losing a player from the game in the worst possible way: the cruel twist of fate. Nina queried if being medevaced was worse than being blindsided, and while I can’t speak to the actual lived experience, I imagine it must be.
When you’re voted out, there’s justification, even if it’s unclear in the moment. You can think about where you went wrong and analyse your game, or you can look to those who spearheaded the vote against you and examine why—perhaps even recognise their skill in whatever manoeuvres they needed to execute the blindside. But in a medevac? There’s no rhyme or reason to it. It’s just bad luck. Luck can sometimes break the game in your favour; it’s devastating when the pendulum swings the other way.
Nina played a fantastic game, so Jonathan acknowledging that she may get a second chance down the line is a bitter balm to a fresh wound. I hope it comes to fruition, though I expect her own reputation would proceed her even more dangerously than the target of association to Sandra. Nevertheless, Nina showed herself to be a powerhouse, and if she has a second go in her, I would love to see what she could make of it.
A LITTLE BIT DIFFERENT
It’s a challenge for Australian Survivor when a player is removed from the game unconventionally. With the strictures of the production schedule and the episode order, there’s simply no space for a double elimination. So I was surprised when Nina’s evacuation didn’t void the Immunity Challenge and Tribal—it seemed like a simple solution. But as soon as Jonathan revealed that the Immunity Challenge would grant the winners a secret advantage, the writing was on the wall: a non-elimination event would surely be on the cards.
Whether or not this twist had always been in the hopper, or whether it was deployed as an emergency measure in response to Nina’s elimination, I find myself uncharacteristically impressed with the execution. It may not have been as simple and elegant as the Sophie swap. However, it still teased the possibility of a twist—again, players should always be wary at any hint of an “unusual” Tribal or secret tribe advantage bundled with Immunity. But that didn’t stop this cast from throwing aside an easy vote to instead take a gamble on a more risky play.
After seeing Jordie and Josh step into the limelight and boldly direct a vote last week, now it was Jesse’s turn. Fighting against the stigma of his youth in a season that trends older, he’s been conscious of making a name for himself, and here, he saw a juicy target. No, not David who has been inexplicably retitled as “Juicy” by JLP himself but Ben. Ben’s name had already been floating to the surface, with Khanh and Sam discussing targeting him for his emotionality and despondence after challenge losses. But Jesse wanted to capitalise on the growing dissent, especially as Ben committed the cardinal sin of annoying everyone with the food situation.
It would be a brutal blindside: Ben believed he had an unspoken agreement of loyalty with Sam and Jesse. Thus, Jesse’s desire for the big move would surely hit hard. I could certainly see where Jesse was coming from. Ben is a physical threat. But so is half the cast, and a physical threat who’s also loyal to you is a huge asset (as we heard from Nina on the other tribe). Plus, Jesse and Sam also have physically threatening partners while being no slouches themselves. So the line of reasoning to vote Ben out to sever his partnership with Shay is a risky idea to put out there lest it is turned back on them. So while there was an advantage in the blindside, it felt a little premature, especially as the rest of the tribe also seemed tentative with the logic behind the move.
In large part, there seemed to be growing confusion around the proposed split vote. While Ben believed the vote would be split against Michelle and Khanh, Jesse’s plan was to put a majority of votes on Ben with a split on Khanh to try to flush the Idol. Only… how is putting a minority of votes on a player going to flush an Idol? Much less when you tell Khanh to his face that the votes going his way are the minority? It certainly doesn’t incentivise him to play his Idol, and if he doesn’t, then he just stays in the game to play it another day. It’s a bizarre strategy that started cropping up in the most recent US season 41, and it really makes no logical strategic sense on paper.
But in the particulars here, the context is key. Sam and Jesse appear to have a working relationship with Khanh, and while clearing his Idol from play would be nice, they aren’t willing to risk losing him as an ally by potentially voting him out if he doesn’t play his Idol. By contrast, it was the players who weren’t close to Khanh who were baffled by the planned split giving Khanh a free pass.
Croc retaliated in a small way, refusing to put his vote on his friend and ally Ben, while Chrissy made her own faux pas by telling Ben directly that his name was being shopped around, baffling Jesse in the process. I’d like to think it was a strategic ploy to spook Jesse out of taking a risk with the Ben vote, but in reality, I think it was just Chrissy being the authentic spur-of-the-moment Chrissy and letting the plan slip with casual abandon. Nevertheless, if Sam and Jesse are actively working to deflect a true flush of Khanh’s Idol, their tribemates are catching on.
However, they weren’t willing to conduct a counter-counter plan here and ended up falling in line to join the Ben blindside… which certainly didn’t have the desired effect as the Tribal became a non-elimination event. The red flags were everywhere: the other tribe coming in to watch, voting before any Tribal talk, JLP even saying the magic non-elimination words “tonight, things are a bit different.” But the blindside went largely to plan: Ben received the majority of votes, with a couple thrown at Khanh, who comfortably held onto his Idol… and a random seemingly throwaway vote for KJ that went completely unexplained.
As of writing this, I still have no idea who voted for KJ or why, and in a season that has largely improved on the last couple, my editing gripes are starting to rear their head again. It’s the requisite point in the recap to admonish the editors for entirely omitting Mel & Michelle from the season, as Mel breaks the record for most episodes without having received a single confessional (at 10), while her sister has only received one plot-focused confessional. It’s really quite appalling, and Australian Survivo, you can do better here.
But generally, I’ve been pretty high on the transparency with which this season has unveiled the logic and twists and turns that have led to the Tribal vote, so it feels strange that this episode so significantly dropped the ball. A throwaway vote may be hard to explain (especially if it was a decision made in the voting booth), but this one had enormous repercussions for the non-elimination twist. And so, omitting any context for it whatsoever is a baffling decision.
Nevertheless, the power shifted to the Blood tribe after Jonathan read the votes: they would vote to kidnap one member of the other tribe but could only choose from those who had received votes. It was a surprisingly layered and complex twist with a wonderfully simple conceit.
At face value, taking the player who was just voted out of their tribe seems great. Ben would likely abandon the people who voted him out and pledge loyalty to Blood. But it wasn’t that simple: it would also reunite him with Shay, and according to the big boys, she was high on their hit list. Giving her an ally could thwart their plans. And if their goal was to ultimately take Ben & Shay out of the picture, leaving him on the other tribe as a spurned player could either create chaos or give the tribe an easy vote next go around. This might be a reprieve for players like Mark, Jordie, and Mel, who still have their loved ones over on Water.
But the other two options present their own challenges too. Khanh is likable, competitive, and had early bonds with some of the players on Blood, but his public Idol would complicate things. Perhaps it’s better to keep that variable out of the picture. KJ, meanwhile, is unattached and also had a good rapport with some of the Blood castaways. But would her individuality make for a threat too?
In the end, Blood unanimously overruled Shay’s desire to team up with Ben to instead recruit KJ. It was a smart play. Khanh’s Idol is too dangerous, Ben remains a perfect unpinned grenade, and KJ is a loose number that could be crucial to head into merge alongside. But, of course, I’m curious to see how Shay takes this—perhaps it clues her into her position on the outs of the tribe?
Once again, the Blood vs. Water twist is earning its keep. While I think this could be a solid twist to have in the rotation for an ordinary SurvivorAU season, the partnerships make it so much more fascinating. Every decision and interaction creates so many more ripples when partnerships are involved. Even though something like the Reward Challenge twist didn’t come to fruition, splitting each tribe into two teams, with two of the four teams winning Reward and potentially leading to cross-Tribal conversations, I love the on-site production decisions that are facilitating gameplay.
The twists shake it up, but they’re foreshadowed or small impact in the immediate. They give opportunities for the players to make choices, to interact with each other, and influence their own games. And in doing so, cause ripples that affect others.
I hope that this remains Australian Survivor’s approach to twists moving forward because it’s really working for me. And the Blood vs. Water of it all is just icing on the cake. The season is still far from perfect—the post-production editing and the spoiler-y marketing being my biggest peeves. But this is a step up and a step back to what put Australian Survivor on the radar in the first place. It’s big and bold, but there’s a core of strong characters and compelling gameplay when you peel back the packaging.