Australian Survivor: Blood vs. Water

Episode 18 Recap – Smoke and Mirrors

Cory Gage recaps the latest episode.

Photo: Network 10

It’s a shame how predictable this season has become in the wake of Jesse’s blindside. What seemed to be a sign of the game moving towards a state of fluidity instead created a dominant majority alliance no different than the first in its frustrating stability. Couple that with a drawn-out twist that encourages conservative strategy, and it’s a perfect storm for a snoozer week of Australian Survivor. But as this week wraps up the Purgatory Era, perhaps there’s a slim chance for change.

But first, we still need to send one more person to Purgatory, and the players are restless, itching to make things happen and flip the script. Michelle, suspicious of the lack of Shay on the jury, knows something is up. Sam, facing the heat after Jordie’s attempts to spoil her idol surprise, desperately tries to keep it under wraps for just a few days longer, lying by technicality as Jordie’s claim that the idol was put in her bag isn’t exactly what happened. Sarong, bag, same difference. Nonetheless, Sam transfers the idol to Mark’s bag in case hers is searched. And Josh, finally free of Jordie’s stressful presence around camp, is cooking up some schemes against her.


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While Mark and Sam see the cousins as their best options for allies moving forward, Josh isn’t exactly happy about the 2017 alums having a confirmed idol, let alone two, as unbelievable as Josh takes Jordie’s accusations to be. On top of that, Mark’s played a great, loyal game, and letting that idol stay in his pocket for too long could prove to be risky. But Josh isn’t willing to let his couples alliance fall apart so soon. Instead, he wants to remove the idol from the equation without raising any suspicions he’s behind the plan.

After Mark wins immunity over Josh and Jordan, and with the Purgatory twist fully revealed to the players, all eyes fall on Sam as a potential target, and Josh springs into action to mastermind a devious, behind-the-scenes betrayal. It’s a simple plan: Chrissy, Juicy Dave, and Michelle will throw three votes on Sam while the couples stick together. All the while, everyone will team up to boost Sam’s paranoia to the breaking point, therefore causing Mark to play his idol to save her.

And who else is better for causing needless paranoia and chaos than Juicy Dave himself? Promising to let the juice flow, he dubs himself Decoy Dave the Spooker and gets to work, avoiding Sam all day and openly looking for idols just to rub her the wrong way. And Sam, who firmly believes Dave put her name down at the previous Tribal, is out for blood.

Photo: Network 10

It’s a fun scheme and definitely more interesting than the alliance mercilessly steamrolling outsiders, but the hold up for me is, well… it doesn’t actually change the status quo if it succeeds. Granted, I’m speaking purely from a viewer’s standpoint here. For Josh and Jordan, this is the right move to make. They can flush an idol, keep their final four alliance in one piece, and use the bottom feeders to do their bidding, with the only risk being one of Chrissy, David, or Michelle spilling the beans down the line.

However, as a viewer who’s tired of watching the safe, predictable gameplay, I don’t want to see someone gunning for just an idol. I want to see someone gunning for the big threats themselves, to topple the top dogs who’ve run the game for weeks on end and seem poised to win it all. I know this cast has the potential to be messy, but for a variety of reasons, we’re just not seeing it, and it’s a detriment to the entertainment value as a whole; smart, safe, respectable moves be damned.

Anyways, if you expected even this slightly less boring outcome to spark some minor intrigue, you’ll still be waiting. Lo and behold, the plan inexplicably falls off the face of the Earth as Michelle is voted out unanimously as the last person outside the core six. Nobody votes for Sam, no idols are flushed, and almost the entire first half of the episode is rendered pointless. I understand it’s a TV show, and throwing out red herrings is the go-to way to keep people watching when things are stale, but the smoke and mirrors style editing of this boot is so jarring, I can’t even tell why the plan ultimately landed where it did.

Photo: Network 10

What happened to Sam gunning for Dave? Did Mark sway her back towards Michelle off-screen? Why did Josh and Jordan abandon the idol-flushing plan? Did they get spooked into playing conservatively by the threat of Purgatory and Jordie’s likely return? What happened to Dave’s juice? Answer those questions, and I’d have an understanding of these dynamics even if I’m rolling my eyes at the results. Though to be fair, the minute Juicy Dave started waxing poetic about the strong six at Tribal instead of blowing up Sam’s game again like the plan called for, I should have known something wasn’t quite right.

Michelle speaks for most of us upon reaching Purgatory, voicing her anger not towards being voted out but towards how boring and predictable the vote was. But with four outsiders scorned, there’s room to learn from past mistakes and mount a final effort to overthrow the top dogs. Jordie, Shay, KJ, and Michelle form a new alliance: the Resistance. Three of them will return, rope in Dave as a fourth number, and put their second chances to good use… in an ideal world, that is. With the season’s current trajectory, the alliance might as well burn their buffs in solidarity and head to Ponderosa en masse. There’s a pretty high chance they’ll all be shown the revolving door without a hint of mercy and give us a shot-for-shot remake of the last three episodes.

And in the event they do stage a takeover, is it truly satisfying if the people who played great games like Sam and Mark lose because a record THREE Redemption returnees colluded against them in a totally different camp for a couple days? Either way, Purgatory feels like a lose-lose twist, albeit a better version of the convoluted insanity that was the mass exile rounds in All-Stars.

Photo: Network 10

But with Jordie, Shay, and KJ winning their way back into the Lava Tribe, Michelle is sent to the jury to reunite with her sister. When she was actually given a chance to speak, I really liked Michelle. Unfortunately, she wasn’t given many opportunities to speak and got a raw deal across the board. I wanted to see her relationships with close ally Sandra and her sister explained more, to see her strategic thoughts on the several votes she cast, to get any semblance of a storyline from her. Even if she wasn’t a bombastic player making insane moves, she still deserved better than a handful of scarce narration confessionals after the merge.

Anyways, the three returnees have a long road ahead of them. Even if they manage to flip Dave to their side, they still have to contend with Chrissy’s loyalty, which seems firmly placed between the remaining couples. And as much as I hate to say it, it’s probably her best move to stick to them like glue until the final five and become the crucial swing vote, which puts her in a great spot to make finale night with the pair of her choosing. With the pacing of this season suggesting a final three over a final two (a change I’m not too happy about), and plenty of upset outsiders due for jury duty on Night 47, Chrissy pulling off a likable underdog win against a duo who can’t separate their games isn’t totally out of the question.

But my hopes will remain low for anything relatively surprising. With two idols, several allies in their pockets, and strong stories to tell the jury at the end, this is Mark and Sam’s season to lose—and it’s not close. Jordie and Shay are worthy underdog contenders for the title despite having been spared by twists, but the grasp the married couple has on this endgame is tight. And with every chance to make a move against them being squandered thus far, I doubt the remaining cast will suddenly turn up the heat and make some magic happen.

Perhaps the drawn-out Purgatory twist will bear some fruit. Or, god forbid, production loses their patience and throws in an even more baffling twist in a last-ditch attempt to force a power shift. Only time will tell.

Written by

Cory Gage

Cory is a writer and student from Texas. He's a die-hard Survivor fanatic who's seen over 50 seasons worldwide, hosted his own season in high school from scratch, and hopes to one day compete on the show himself.

One response to “Episode 18 Recap – Smoke and Mirrors”

  1. Hi Cory, I cannot believe that you did not mention Chrissy trying to guess the word for “purgatory”, I laughed hard. Then I watched it again and laughed even harder.
    Well, that was just a highlight from my point of view, but it actually does not take anything from your great review. It was very well written, as usual from you guys, and the observations about best gameplays were on point. Congrats.

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