After the first two merge votes, I was getting nervous. The majority alliance of men (plus Sam) seemed set to steamroll, righteous pleas to shake things up fell on deaf ears, and I refused to believe the promotional promise of “the most devious move in Survivor history” wasn’t another Sue’s Big Move in the making. But I should’ve known better than to think a season with this many big players itching to sink their teeth into the competition would be that boring, because this episode was the rejuvenation this season needed.
The mood around camp is tense after Mel’s last stand. Sam and Chrissy have a so-called “Brows and Chat” session, discussing strategy under the guise of makeup application and having a laugh dragging the newly named Committee alliance through the mud. Michelle, once again separated from her sister, has her vengeful sights set on Josh and hopes some eyes have been opened to the obvious power structure.
And speaking of Josh, he has nowhere to hide now that Mel blew up his game. While KJ, Michelle, and Shay are tempting targets, the pilot opts to target Jordie instead, fearing his loose lips will become a liability to the alliance at some point. Effectively, he’s out of the alliance and guilty by association with his brother; Jesse is kicked out as well, leaving room for Chrissy and Juicy Dave to climb a couple rungs up the ladder.
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But in a season of big players, not everyone is going to let Josh tell them what to do. Case in point: Sam, who’s still feeling like a tag-along with no agency of her own. And for Josh to target Jesse either directly or indirectly? It’s a red flag. Unfortunately for Sam, Mark’s not willing to commit to breaking the Committee just yet, even with Jesse promising them a final four deal.
With the Committee set to implode, a KFC feast adds more heat to the mix. Chrissy and Jordie win handily, taking Jesse, Mark, and Josh with them. Jesse and Josh are picks I can get behind, but taking Mark over Sam? That’s a bit risky. It’s been made clear that Sam’s the sixth member of the Committee, so the boys should be doing whatever they can to keep her loyalty from wavering towards the outsiders. Granted, it’s harder for her to waver if Mark’s solidly part of the alliance than if she was playing alone, but is it really worth risking the chance of Sam managing to sway Mark with a well-reasoned pitch if she gets a few hours to cook up a new plan with the outsiders?
Too bad the episode doesn’t address that conflict at all, because instead, we have an idol clue to find. And with some stealthy moves, Jordie and Jesse pocket it without being spotted… only to immediately raise alarms at camp when Jordie ditches the tribe to go look for it. Expecting her close ally’s brother to tell her what’s really going on, Sam tails him into the bush, eventually gathering Mark for a brief meeting where Josh’s name is officially put on the table, but nothing is said about clues. And Mark, ever the perceptive interrogator, reads Jordie like a book. It’s the last straw. Jordie’s in the crosshairs, and only immunity can ward off Mark’s aim for another two days.
And fittingly, it’s a battle between Mark and Jordie for the necklace, with Jordie emerging victorious on cloud nine. He’s got immunity, he’s got a majority, he’s got a full stomach, and he’s got an idol clue. It’s all so perfect. Too perfect. And in typical Australian Survivor fashion, the wheel of fortune is about to teach him a powerful lesson about getting too comfortable.
With Josh and Jordan out of the loop, they’re fed a plan to split the votes between Shay and KJ. Jesse compares this vote to “a Mexican standoff,” where the pair that strikes first between the brothers and cousins will call the shots the rest of the way. Bringing in Sam, Mark, Michelle, and KJ gives them a solid six, but once again, Mark has trouble committing and goes AWOL, beelining it for Josh to tell him about the entire plan. Jordie, and by extension Jesse, can’t be trusted anymore, so Mark’s making his bed with the cousins and laying in it with or without Sam. And with Jordie immune, the target finally shifts to the Kid himself.
But the KFC feast’s ripples are still in motion, and with the strange mood around camp setting off alarms in Jesse’s head, he decides it’s time to find that idol in case things go awry. But awry can only begin to describe the trajectory his game takes in this crucial moment, because out of nowhere, Sam stumbles upon him reading the idol rules to the camera. Perhaps naively, Jesse feels so safe with Sam that he lets her hide the idol in her sarong to avoid getting busted with a massive bulge in his pockets. After all, they’ve been allies since Day 2, and it’s still his idol, so if he’s ever in trouble, she’ll just give it back. Right?
Wrong. So horribly, terribly, tragically wrong.
— #SurvivorAU (@Survivor_AU) March 6, 2022
In arguably the coldest move Australian Survivor has seen yet, Sam makes the ultimate heel turn. She blindsides Jesse with his idol in her pocket and even delivers a comically sinister voting confessional thanking him for it as she crushes his dreams. And to make things even colder, Jesse threatens to blow up her entire game at Tribal before he gets his torch, with only Sam’s promise to tell Jordie the whole story keeping his lips shut. But meeting her halfway, he tells Jordie about the idol anyways and heads off to join the jury and ice that burn.
This was certainly a bold move. I don’t know if it was a good one, but it was undoubtedly jaw-dropping television as promised, and Sam’s quickly becoming a favorite AU player of mine. But let’s talk this through.
Sam has been feeling like a sixth wheel in the alliance since the merge. She’s worried that going to the end with Mark will end in disaster unless she sets her game apart in some major way. She also had a tight alliance with Jesse, who willingly gave her an idol to hold onto without suspecting a betrayal and didn’t even tell his own brother to prove his loyalty to her. So there are pros and cons, on paper at least. Objectively, it was a well-executed move up to the reading of the votes. After weeks of social work, she lured Jesse in, got a free idol from the Kid, and sent him packing a few hours later. Resume-wise, it’s a move written in bold, underlined, italicized, all caps, you name it. It’s undeniably flashy, and given we just watched Shan Smith rise to stardom with a similar move in Survivor 41, it stands to reason Sam’s boosted her chances of winning tenfold.
However, the (non-Dave) juice of this move isn’t worth the squeeze if it burns multiple jury votes. And given Jesse’s negative reaction, Jordie’s impending quest for revenge, and the uncertain reactions from both current and future jurors, Sam might’ve just made a $500,000 mistake. Not to mention, she sacrificed a loyal ally just to get an idol when those things seem to grow on trees in this show, leaving her with less room to make truly great moves in the endgame.
Jesse never showed signs of turning against her, but once again, Sam’s burned an ally to save people she’s not closely aligned with and stay in Mark’s good graces. And from a juror’s perspective, this move sure looks like Sam sticking to Mark like glue and dropping the ball when she had a chance to change the narrative. Had she played it on him and taken out Josh, she goes back to camp with a new alliance of herself, Jesse, Jordie, Michelle, and KJ. Even with Mark left out, he’s probably smart enough to abandon the old alliance and join his wife out of self-preservation, leaving Jordan, Dave, and Chrissy as easy pickings until the next big power shift occurs. By then, Mark and Sam/Jesse would probably still have idols, so they’d be well protected on their way to the final four.
Only time will tell how well Sam can recover from any chaos this move causes. She’s been a capable social player so far and covered bases she wasn’t able to in her first season, so she’s got the tools required to get herself back on track should her game go into a tailspin. But ominously, her biggest hurdle might be the jury waiting for her at the end rather than actually getting there in the first place.
— #SurvivorAU (@Survivor_AU) March 6, 2022
I’d like to think a move this massive would earn her some credit with the jury, even if they find it a bit cruel in nature—similar to the Game Changers jury giving Sarah Lacina the win despite how brutal her moves were on an emotional level. But in a season where emotions run high and jury votes might come in pairs, Sam might have a near-impossible final boss to contend with should she reach Day 47 with or without Mark at her side.
But whether this move was game-making or game-breaking for its maker, it thankfully opened the doors for a more fluid season. The Committee is shattered down the middle, and the outsiders have room to work their magic, so here’s to an exhilarating endgame with more craziness to come!