Australian Survivor: Blood vs. Water

Episode 20 Recap – Fire in the Belly

Alice Barelli recaps the latest episode.

Photo: Network 10

I had to check the TV guide several times during this episode because I kept being confused by the constant references to Judas and Batman. While my partner bemoaned the idea of Harvey Dent and Batman banding together to get the Joker (apparently this isn’t canon, but I digress), I began mourning the loss of a dynamic and exciting player.

Australian Survivor has twists, it’s part and parcel of this franchise, but sometimes I start feeling frustrated when it seems that strong gameplay is punished by the emergence of unforeseen twists. Is it likely someone will be voted out and return? For Australian Survivor (and even some of the US seasons), that’s very likely and should be considered. Is it likely three people will spend time together stewing over being voted out then get to return to the game as a strong three? Less predictable. Even less predictable still was the inclusion of the Safety without Power advantage that saw the majority of the majority alliance without a vote or voice at Tribal Council.


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Sam and Mark truly held a lock on the direction of the game: they’ve had fiercely loyal allies and have been able to navigate strong foes. However, the twist return of Jordie, Shay, and KJ threw a spanner in the works with the ‘Purgathree’ group searching for any crack in the majority group. These cracks became easier to find when KJ nabbed the Safety without Power advantage and leveraged Dave’s status on the bottom of the majority to oust Jordan, a founding member of the strongest alliance in the game.

The remaining tribemates are now split into two groups. In the red corner is the long-time loyal brigade of Mark, Sam, Josh, and Chrissy. In the blue corner, we have the Purgathree plus Juicy Dave. Even though there are two sides, the numbers are becoming looser, with Josh, Chrissy, and Dave available as swing votes to anyone who might make the pitch or plea. Even though the two groups of four don’t seem set in concrete they are simultaneously battling to be the majority. With only one week and six votes to go, the opportunities to make big moves, take out threats and build resumes are dwindling rapidly.

For all of the building of alliances and trying to gain a clear majority, there hasn’t been much focus on the very end of the game. The Blood vs. Water theme has set up individuals to feel more strongly about getting revenge than actually getting to the end and winning. Surely there is focus on who wants to be at the end with who, but there has been hardly any screen time devoted to it.

Photo: Network 10

The only person who has been clear about their thoughts is Chrissy. She was very clear in her conversation with Josh: she’s not just trying to get to the end, but she’s thinking about who she can beat once she’s there. A lot of what we’ve seen from Chrissy has been the fluffy, sugary parts of the episode: she provides humour and cheerful commentary. But this is one of the first times we’ve seen her weigh her options strategically. It’s a good look on her, and I hope we see more.

Josh is the latest member of the ‘lost their pair, time to avenge them’ crew. Kate was the first person to lose their pair in the game, and her reaction was miles more eloquent than the stomping around we’ve seen in the later parts of the game. KJ, Shay, Dave, and Chrissy have all lost their partners and managed to put their emotions aside to focus on playing the game. On the flip side, Jordie threw his game away to try and take down Sam and was saved by the Purgatory twist. Even though he’s come back and got through the previous night on the strength of KJ’s advantage, he still has tunnel vision on getting Sam out.

While Jordie has made it clear he’s open to working with everyone else, he’s been equally clear that he will not stop until Sam has her torch extinguished. Similarly, we see that Josh takes the news of his cousin’s exit as an immediate call to arms. He is fuming and wants revenge. It’s this emotion that will eventually push Josh into turning on his allies.

The immunity challenge is entertaining. It’s no puzzle, but it’s got a fun mix of timing and managing different elements to make it the kind of challenge where you could be 99% of the way to winning then lose it all in a second. Regardless of the outcome, there are targets on both sides. Where the biggest threat is safe, there is a back-up plan. Both alliances have some focus on who they want to get out but have the bigger goal of wanting to come out of Tribal with the majority. Mark pulls off the win securing his place in the final seven.

Photo: Network 10

Back at camp, the scramble begins with the two groups separated. Mark, Sam, Chrissy, and Josh are going to go after Jordie. Apart from being an immunity challenge threat, he’s chaotic, building his resume and getting credit for moves, and his best ally is supporting him from the jury. Meanwhile, there’s no surprises that Jordie won’t take anything less than Sam as the target. He knows she’s got access to two idolsn and being part of the only pair left in the game gives her stability not everyone else has. Oh, and she stole his brother’s idol. Has he mentioned that before?

Both groups think they can court members of the opposite alliance to establish majority numbers. Chrissy thinks Juicy Dave might flip back over if he can smooth things over with Josh. Jordie thinks he can work on Josh to flip to him now that his cousin is gone. While the scrambling goes back and forth, Dave makes the most impressive play of the game by capitalising on Josh’s feelings and encouraging him to flip away from Sam and Mark.

Dave explains his side of the previous night’s Tribal, where Sam put on a performance worthy of an Academy Award to save herself. In doing so, she threw Jordan squarely under the bus. While I don’t love that Sam is being cut down for doing what she could to save herself in a game about doing what you can to continue surviving, I do think it’s a smart argument from Dave. This episode, we see Josh mad at KJ for her advantage, then at Dave for flipping against his cousin. Dave harnesses Josh’s anger and redirects it towards Sam.

Tribal is an open dialogue about the fight for the majority. Dave points out once again that Sam saved herself the previous night by either lying or bluffing about her idol. Jordie talks about wanting to further establish his alliance since it’s the first one he’s had in 10 days. There’s no mention that his actions blew up his previous alliance, but it’s a good show to reassure his allies. While Mark and Jordie talk back and forth, there’s whispering between Chrissy, Josh, and Dave. They’re pretty sure that Dave isn’t with them. Josh asks Dave if he wants to take Sam out or just flush the idol.

Photo: Network 10

The vote seems to hinge on what Josh decides to do as everybody takes their turn at the urn. Even my best detective skills watching shadows and shoulder movements couldn’t pinpoint exactly whose name Josh wrote down. I honestly believed Josh couldn’t work with Jordie again after he targeted him in the early merge. Jordie also had a hand in taking out his cousin. Even though Sam didn’t help Jordan stay, I thought the loyalty between the core four of Mark, Sam, Josh, and Chrissy would prevail… but boy was I wrong.

It seemed a bit like Josh wanted to have his cake and eat it too: he flips on Sam, knowing that without an idol she is going home, then, at the last second, he urges Mark to play his idol for Sam. Did he want to flush the idol or take out Sam? Either way, his actions don’t make him entirely loyal to either group. The confusion of Josh’s request takes Mark and Sam by surprise. He’s unable to convince them in the seconds he has, so any idol goes unplayed and he watches Sam’s demise at his hands.

Sam was not a castaway I was especially interested to see return going into the season. I felt she was distracted from the game back in 2016 when she first played. She seemed to emotionally spiral as soon as pressure was put on her, and she had an early exit from the season. However, Sam blew me out of the water in this season. She prepared meticulously and went into it wholeheartedly searching for a win. She constantly weighed her options and worked to cultivate allies. When she wasn’t making a path for herself to the end, she was looking for a way to get Mark there.

There was never a moment Sam wasn’t working on the game. Every conversation was making a bond. Every look was observing for hidden alliances. We’ve seen her make bonds with a variety of players and she has been able to push votes from within a group. Even though she’s a returnee, she was able to stay under the radar until the merge where most of her attention has come from Joker Jordie throwing her into the spotlight. Had Purgatory not happened, then Jordie would be long gone, and I think Sam would have been on track for a deep-run if not an outright win.

Photo: Network 10

Sam has been a narrator throughout the season and someone who articulates their thoughts (both positive and negative) about strategy, her fellow castaways, and the experience of playing Survivor. The paranoid emotional whirlwind who got booted off Asaga beach—who even is that? This Sam is a fierce competitor who played a strong, well-rounded game. She’s strong in every sense of the world. I am thrilled to have Sam representing mums, women, and Australian Survivor players.

Where to go from here? The game has shifted for a lot of the bigger presences. Mark has been protecting his and Sam’s position with more of an aim to achieve longevity over aggressive gameplay. With Sam out the door and two idols in his pocket (and only three more Tribals they are eligible to be played), Mark has a lot of back-up if he wants to start swinging wildly. He’s also shown he can win immunity challenges, and just one win would put him solidly at the final five.

Meanwhile, Jordie has admitted he has “nothing to lose” in his quest to vote Sam out. With Sam gone, what happens next? Does he automatically go for Sam’s parnter? Does he try and pick off the biggest targets? Will he operate within his new alliance or become the chief of chaos? And as for Josh, he’s gone from being known for his loyalty to betraying just about everyone in one Tribal. With the loyalty tag gone, will he feel more freedom in playing the game, or has he gotten himself into a sticky situation?

Then we have Juicy Dave, Chrissy, Shay, and KJ, all of whom have shown they have strategy in them, but are they ready to try and take out the largest and loudest threats? Sam leaving the game has made everybody their own chess piece, and while some are bigger threats than others, anybody could take the throne with the right moves and pitches.

Written by

Alice Barelli

Alice lives in rural Victoria, Australia. Working as a nurse and midwife catching babies by day, she spends her evenings catching Survivor and other reality TV shows. She’s been a fan of Survivor since its premiere in 2000. Alice writes Inside Survivor’s episode recaps for Australian Survivor.

2 responses to “Episode 20 Recap – Fire in the Belly”

  1. nice recap/review Alice! I appreciate that the endgame is less so predictable now, but can’t help but feel that there is and has been uneven editing/narrating (especially compared to the recent American season where everyone seems to have a confessional within a tight episode).

    Mark and Sam seemed to have great strategic gameplay but the latter stages have portrayed them more villainous or somewhat cocky…

  2. I have no idea how you can respect Sam’s game. As Michelle stated, her behavior went beyond ethical gameplaying. She was timid and bullied in the beginning, but once she stole the idol and paired with Mark, she became an arrogant, paranoid bully. Just look at what a small taste of “power” did to her integrity and character. I cannot think of a person less deserving of the prize. I watched her reception at Ponderosa — she has yet to admit to her treachery, calling it “gameplay”. Again, it points to her character that she cannot own up to her despicable treachery even after being voted out. And the rest of the jury will paint Mark with her tainted brush and may be very unlikely to vote for him to win. I really never want to see/hear from her again unless it is an apology for poor sportmanship and lack of judgment.

    I agree that there is far too much focus on too few players. I’d have liked to hear more from Shay and her decision to share everyone else’s letters. I’d have liked to see more KJ throughout the season after her sister left. Production has spent far too much time focusing on too few voices and I am tired of hearing from them.

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