I have to admit, I was dubious about Australian Survivor’s choice to use the Blood vs. Water twist when it was first announced. I thought it would be a vehicle to bring back some of the crazier cast members with a poor loved one dragged along for the ride. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Yes, there are some returning players (including Queen of all Survivor and my eternal fandom Sandra Diaz-Twine), but it’s the rookie castaways that are showing they can get loud too. This episode picked up right where the premiere left off: intertwining personalities and perspectives with the intricacies of the game. Too bad if you don’t have a handle on how this game is played because it’s come out of the blocks at a fast pace.
While the Red/Blood tribe is uniting by successfully creating fire, the Blue/Water tribe is barely making it through their beach yoga session without paranoia creeping into their every thought and their shelter beginning to break down. Chrissy self-describes as a “hot mess” (a term she will use to describe herself at least twice more this episode) after feeling the heat from Brianna the night before. Brianna recognises she might’ve gone too hard for Chrissy, but her attempts to smooth things over are not well met.
The beauty of Blood vs. Water is that the fall-out of Tribal Council doesn’t only affect the tribe who voted someone out, but it has the opposition on tenterhooks waiting to find out what happened. Whose loved ones are making solid allies and who’s hanging on by the skin of their teeth?
Different relationship dynamics are also coming to the fore: Sandra is in mother bear mode—a totally new dimension for us long-term fans of the Survivor franchise. Even though she’s concerned about Nina’s wellbeing, she needn’t be. Nina is proving she is pure Survivor royalty in her social, strategic, and physical game. She directed the initial Tribal Council vote with calm precision and has backed it up by proving value to the tribe with her (mother taught) survival skills.
The quiet tension is palpable on the Blood tribe. Kate is the unlucky player (not a total surprise by her own admission) to lose her loved one but she handles the situation admirably. She acknowledges the difficulty of seeing Andy gone but immediately uses the situation to point out the advantage it has given the Blood/Red tribe. Even though her tribe has a decisive loss in the following challenge, she recoups back at camp. This is the first we’ve seen much of Kate, but I appreciate her quiet observation of the tribe.
After winning the Reward Challenge, the Water tribe opts to share their reward with the Blood tribe. This choice hasn’t been offered in previous seasons of Australian Survivor, but it illustrates a whole aspect of the game that isn’t obvious on screen. Even though it makes sense to keep the tribe strong and to take both parts of the reward, the Blue tribe decides to pass the comfort reward items over to their loved ones. There’s an unspoken understanding here: everyone is looking out for themselves, but wherever possible, they’re looking out for their loved ones too.
The real value in winning a reward is the potential for it to contain an immunity idol clue. Still feeling the heat for playing hard so fast, Brianna clumsily monopolises the fishing kit to search for any kind of advantage it may contain. In full view of her fellow tribe members, she looks through every nook and cranny of the kit. Not only is she unsuccessful in finding an idol, but she’s failing desperately in trying to appear less of a game player.
After giving away their comfort items, Water loses to the Blood tribe in a come from behind victory at the Immunity Challenge. Water seemed to pull forward in the challenge through brute strength but couldn’t clinch the victory. I wonder if any Water tribe members wish they kept their blankets now?
If the Blood tribe is externally united, the Water tribe is tenuously balancing the dynamics of multiple personalities and targets after yet another challenge loss. The challenges have been almost purely physical, yet challenge strength has not been a factor in whose life in the game is at risk. While they are yet to devolve into full-on chaos, the Water tribe is still on the edge of meltdown if they continue to lose.
The Water tribe’s immunity loss brings a showdown into play: Chaos Chrissy versus Relentless Brianna. Chrissy’s wish for the vote is for it not to be her. It’s a very Sandra-esque approach, and it’s helped along by Brianna’s behaviour around camp. Multiple castaways describe Briana as “intense,” and even she acknowledges that she needs to “dial down” her gameplay to reduce the target on her back. However, she only seems to ratchet up her energy as the episode progresses.
Brianna proposes nemesis Chrissy as the target, a suggestion that is weakly agreed to by various castaways, but it seems the writing is on the wall. What Brianna considers her strength—that she’s willing to play big and make moves—has become her weakness. Even a hail mary idol find by closest ally Shay isn’t enough to keep Brianna safe. While Khanh steps in to dissuade Shay from playing her idol for Brianna, I think Shay has better game awareness than using her idol on someone who has gained negative attention from the tribe. It’s still very early days and keeping Brianna safe just increases any target that Shay may have.
This seems to be the season for taking risks—at least when it comes to advantages. While previous seasons have seen idols slipped into pockets or down the back of shorts, this season has had multiple clues leading to a public sprint for JLP’s podium and three people manoeuvring a giant pole to pull an idol off of a tree. Having a secret (and thus more dangerous) idol may be a thing of the past.
In the real world, I think someone like Brianna would be a shining light of a human, the kind of person you want around to keep spirits high and laughter flowing. However, in the game of Survivor, I think Brianna’s enthusiasm and energy were just a little too much for her fellow tribe members. She was overtly strategic, and this made her a threat.
If the tribe is really striving for cohesion as they claimed they were at Tribal, this elimination was to try and relieve some of the tension that having such an outwardly strategic tribe member can create. We have yet to hear from Brianna’s loved one (father Dave), but it will be interesting to see what bricks this elimination will topple in the domino game which is Survivor.
Khanh had a starring role this episode, not only for his bond with Mark and stellar challenge performance, but as a central director of strategy back at camp. He made sure Shay (and not Bri) had possession of the idol to try and avoid a worst-case scenario for him, and he’s put himself at the centre of social connections. While these are strong moves in themselves, they have not gone unnoticed by Survivor Princess Nina who is keeping a careful eye on King Khanh as the game continues.
This episode put further focus on the emotional toll of playing the Blood vs. Water theme. Even though the Water tribe had the stress of attending Tribal and the momentary relief of having avoided the vote-off, there is still space to stress about the wellbeing of their loved ones. The connection between these pairs is an extra element in the game.
When you take out an individual on your tribe, are you prepared to face the fall-out if you encounter their loved one later in the game? How much more threatening is it if the loved one you’ve angered is a returning player versus a total stranger versus a previous ally? The longer the game goes, the more involved the Blood vs. Water twist will become, and I’m interested to see the emotional toll it could wield in the episodes to come.