I’ll be honest, this is the most I’ve enjoyed Australian Survivor since the superb, if still imperfect, Season 4. After the disappointment of All Stars, and the twisty nonsense of Brains v Brawn, the return to simplicity this season has had me engrossed. The gameplay has been competitive and the relationships complex.
Even though this episode was a quieter one compared to the previous episode’s chilling blindside, and it feels like a number of players aren’t really proactively taking the game into their own hands, there’s something so uniquely Survivor about the push and pull that is endlessly fascinating. I’ll take a few straightforward votes over a roulette wheel of chaotic, random twists.
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Of course, SurvivorAU still could be a lot better, and its decision to over-emphasise certain players and obfuscate others entirely is still a detriment to the overall quality. With 10 players left in the game, only four spoke in confessional here—and one of them was Dave, speaking briefly in his first confessional since Episode 4. I harp on it more and more each season, and it’s continuously disappointing to see SurvivorAU continue to commit to an editing style that does a disservice to the show’s potential. So in many respects, this season is succeeding despite the lopsided edit. Nevertheless, what we have seen has been incredibly compelling, emotionally complex, and strategically intriguing.
This episode was no different. It may have been the Jordie, Sam, and Mark show, but after such an intense betrayal, these three are the biggest parties with stakes in the fallout. So, I understand the decision to hone in exclusively on their perspectives (I just hope we broaden back out again next week).
I was very concerned for Sam in the aftermath of the Jesse blindside—and perhaps I still am. While the move itself was gloriously cold-blooded and calculated in a way that could be spun in a very impressive way come Final Tribal (especially with Jesse having time to stabilise and look at it strategically), the giant neon target it painted on her seemed like it could be too difficult to overcome. Although her appropriated Idol wasn’t yet public knowledge, it was known to the worst-case scenario in Jordie, who had every reason to want to work against her.
As Jordie said, Sam was solely responsible for Jesse going home. She not only betrayed him by blindsiding him, but she also ensured he didn’t have the means to protect himself if he got a funny feeling at Tribal and now inherited the safety net that should have been for the Hansen brothers. There’s every reason that Jordie should immediately throw her under the bus, especially since he’d already planted seeds against Mark.
And yet somehow, Jordie stewed in the aftermath for a time. Perhaps it was processing and the sudden emotional wallop of loss catching the jokester off guard. Maybe in some small way, it was Sam & Mark attempting a peace offering to protect Jordie so long as he kept Sam’s Idol secret—an obviously hollow pacification, but a glimmer of assurance in the immediate. But I really thought Sam & Mark would immediately pay the price here, and yet they remained insulated.
Their six-strong subcommittee with Josh & Jordan, David, and Chrissy not only won the quickdraw against Jesse, but they had stability and a row of easy targets to pick off. Perhaps I’d given too little credit to the assembly of the alliance in the first place. OR perhaps I’ll blame the edit for not really establishing how these disparate bonds ultimately aligned. But to see the alliance of six serve as both an imposing majority and armour around Sam & Mark, even after the second Idol became public knowledge, is hugely impressive insofar as passive damage control.
While they actively tried to placate Jordie, both Sam & Mark also realised that they couldn’t trust him to buy it for long, if at all. His mouth got him into trouble in the first place, leading to Jesse taking the bullet for him. And now that he was freed from the yoke of a partner, how much more chaotic would he become? Naturally, the damage control for Sam & Mark was less about repairing the relationship with Jordie, and more about mitigating the damage he could do. Maybe they could keep him quiet long enough for them to sentence him to the Jury where he’d be forced to hold his peace about the Idol.
Or, more likely, strike quickly enough to capitalise on the narrative of Jordie as a chaotic rumour-monger and perhaps cast doubt on the legitimacy of any claims he made about Sam’s Idol by painting it as desperation. It’s telling that Dave later questioned Jordie’s honest revelation as being merely a ruse or a classic “Jordie fib.” For that was the most impressive aspect of Sam’s damage control—after feeling robbed of her agency post-merge, she and Mark now had control of the narrative around her biggest threat, and the groundwork for it had already been laid. Their alliance, and the tribe as a whole, already distrusted Jordie’s pot-stirring. All they had to do was make sure that perception remained and that whatever shenanigans he tried to pull, he wouldn’t find purchase.
That’s not to say they played it completely cool. While we’ve seen Sam playing with a lot of intent and confidence via her confessionals, there’s at least some tribal perception of her being antsy and paranoid. At the same time, Mark’s stony confidence also stands as an imposing statue ripe for toppling in a blindside. But what the two of them have managed to work their way into is impressive. Even with a stack of threatening qualities (power couple, physically strong, returning players, an Idol each!), their alliance wouldn’t turn on them reflexively. Even the swing votes incentivised to make a move wouldn’t shift. Even the outsiders weren’t willing to take the shot at them.
For all my legitimate disappointment at seeing Sam’s pre-merge game overruled by Mark strongarming his game into their game, I’m impressed that both have managed to find an option that works for them. An option that positions them both in a steady, central hub of the tribe with an ample armoury and a strategic and social eye towards the shots coming their way. Although it feels like the hill is steepening for them, I think there’s a very real chance they make the endgame—perhaps even together.
CAUSE A LITTLE CHAOS
But of course, the biggest threat to them right now was Jordie. He’s been a dynamic character and player all season, and though his rhetoric hasn’t always come across the best, there’s something immensely enjoyable about watching his approach to the game. Up until now, he’s always had control, safely embedded at the core of his alliances, so his manipulations have often felt like confident flexes or making plays for the sake of keeping things interesting. There’s been an energy of mischief to his game—intentional but impulsive at the same time.
Jordie’s tactics of mixing things up now had to be put to the test, and his insight and clarity of thinking were impressive. Although he (reasonably) held a grudge against Sam for her co-opting his brother’s Idol, he didn’t lash out at her directly. He entertained her pitch, playing along while quietly figuring out his best course of retaliation.
Now one of the singles, it seemed natural to want to unite them, especially as they held a 6-4 majority over the two remaining, allied pairs. KJ, Michelle, and Shay all had little to lose by rallying to the cause. They’d been willing to discuss taking shots at the majority previously, but when the numbers fell through, they’d slunk back to the majority. But Jordie’s drive seemed like it might finally turn the ship around for them were it not for the immovable objects of Dave & Chrissy.
It’s difficult to really gauge why they were unwilling to flip. Dave spoke of a plan he intended to execute at Final 9 but seemed unwilling to let Jordie in on the secret scheme, while Chrissy, ever guided by her heart and instincts, seems to have a strong rapport with both Sam & Mark in particular. I would bet they feel like they’ve got a path to the end where they can play the swing vote between the two pairs in their alliance or some manoeuvre to that effect. Yet that’s all speculation because we don’t really know anything about how they joined the Committee in the first place, much less became integral cogs in the inner wheel. So on face value, it’s easy to dismiss their unwillingness to work with Jordie and the singles as being blind followers. I think there’s more nuance there for sure, and yet…
While not flipping here was the safe option, it also felt like the potentially incorrect play. Dave & Chrissy are very much numbers for their alliance, and their games certainly don’t hold much weight against Josh (articulated leader of the alliance) or Mark & Sam (who have their own growing reputation). Flipping to work with the singles would be a huge play for their reputation (especially as it would potentially flush Mark’s Idol; or at worst, send out Shay as collateral). Yet it would also open up the playing field, creating a new single in Sam and leaving a nebulous pool of players to manoeuvre.
On the one hand, that flexibility should be enticing for Dave & Chrissy. Yet, perhaps that unstructured chaos would be too alien to them and might leave them vulnerable. However, risks are important for players like Chrissy and Dave. If they ride the numbers too long or continue to dismiss or string along the minority players, that could easily transform into resentment even if they do make decisive moves in the home stretch. That was Sharn’s biggest issue in her seasons. She might have made decisive calls along the way, but teasing the minority and backing out over and over led to frustration. As the singles riding the pair-driven majority, Chrissy & Dave could easily become marred by that, on top of being branded as followers, which may be difficult to overcome in terms of the narrative.
So in that respect, Jordie’s narrative of trying to dog the player who dogged him (and Jesse) feels like it ended on a letdown. Despite all his efforts, including the Hail Mary of revealing the information about Sam’s Idol to stoke paranoia about the power couple and encourage a preemptive blindside, he couldn’t sway the people who don’t see their own iffy spot in the game. But at the end of the day, Jordie’s narrative of the singles uniting couldn’t overcome the story of his untrustworthiness. Without his second consecutive Immunity win, there is no chance he survives this vote—as even clear outsiders like Michelle & KJ ultimately piled on the Shay vote rather than taking the gamble on Jordie’s plan.
And that’s a shame too, as Jordie urged, what do they have to lose? It’s unfortunate to see the outsiders unable to really get on the same page at the right time. Even Shay, who openly lamented being on the bottom, had voted with the Committee against Khanh, Mel, and Jesse. But perhaps they’re simply hoping for another fracture like the Jesse vs. Josh vote. Even the new majority will have to split at some point. If they can just skate through without drawing ire like an outspoken Jordie, then maybe they, like Dave or Chrissy, will be able to exploit a crack when the time is right. But again, all speculation thanks to the edit obscuring their strategic instincts.
Jordie’s strategic instincts were much more clearly defined, however, and while his plan ultimately became a non-starter, he argued his points saliently. Now was a perfect time to strike for the singles in order to open up the game. Targeting the stable Mark over the more reactive Sam was also a smart play. And while I do think Jordie is underestimating Sam, she’s a much more flexible player, and that’s better to have floating around if an alliance gets blown apart. A free agent Mark is probably going to just stick with his alliance, but a free agent Sam is much more likely to mix things up and keep the game chaotic and fluid like Jordie prefers.
That said, Jordie couldn’t get the vote off the ground this time, and I’m not sure if he’ll have luck next time either. Dave has his own plan that seemingly doesn’t involve or require Jordie’s foreknowledge. Meanwhile, Sam & Mark have them in their sights and have a solid narrative around him being a danger, and if he doesn’t win a third Immunity, he’s a proven scrambler that’s worth removing from play. The best thing going for him is time for the news about the power couple having two Idols to percolate. Maybe another day or two and the paranoia about that might sway Dave or Chrissy to strike out or even prompt Josh & Jordan to consider taking another shot at their own alliance. It’s a hard road, but it’s not over yet.
Speaking of not over yet… Shay might have been voted out near-unanimously, but it’s the return of Exile Beach or Redemption Rock or that random non-elimination twist that now seems contractually obligated to show up once a season. Obviously, I’m assuming this is the same scenario we’ve seen before, with the next person voted out joining Shay and then a battle back to re-enter the game (and most likely just go home again). Maybe Purgatory will be different, but regardless, I’m not the hugest fan of this non-elimination mechanic.
As I, and others, have stated before, transparency is the key to good twists because they allow the players to play with the twists rather than just have to react to them. Surprise battle-backs have no bearing on the strategy going on at Tribal. They’re a literal afterthought. Even this season’s pre-merge non-elimination votes had the now-established precedent of having both tribes at Tribal hinting that “tonight, things are a little different.”
That said, the battle-back isn’t the worst non-elimination twist—it’s just kind of bland. If we’re going to make it a recurring aspect of the franchise, I’d be much happier if it was codified into the structure so that players could play with or around it. Perhaps the first two votes at the merge, whoever loses the challenge head home, but the winner earns a spot in the game and, at minimum, a seat on the Jury. Then there’s strategy that can be exploited. Do you weed out challenge threats? Do you try to make sure you send home someone you don’t want on the Jury? Does someone pull an Ozzy or a Zach and voluntarily enter the battle?
Regardless, what Purgatory turns out to be is still up in the air, but at the very least, I’m glad we’re clearing out the non-elimination episodes now to hopefully set us up for a clean endgame. This season’s biggest strength has been its structural simplicity leaving space for the players to dictate the game, and it has paid off in spades. In the home stretch now, the players can taste victory, and that sets the scene for a bloodbath dictated by the last six weeks of gameplay and a culmination of the bonds forged and broken along the way.
And when the claws come out, and the players pack a bite, it can become one heck of a dogfight.