Let’s keep this short because god knows modern Australian Survivor would be a lot better if it could take the same advice. There’s been a lot I’ve enjoyed about this season, especially in the pre-merge. The way SurvivorAU embraced and facilitated the Blood vs. Water twist elevated the format and took it to some truly enthralling heights. However, yet again production got in its own way. It’s been talked to death over the years, but unfortunately, there’s not much production can do about the bloated episode order. 24 episodes a season is what we’re stuck with, and that’s a lot of content.
But that’s where Australian Survivor has also dropped the ball these last few seasons. To make things interesting enough to drag out over so many episodes, they’ve instituted disruptive twists for cheap shock value. But most egregious of all is that the airtime—the abundant airtime—is so thoroughly squandered. By pandering to channel-flickers instead of cultivating a loyal following, the last several seasons have become nigh-unwatchable by the endgame because every episode feels so egregiously repetitive.
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In truth, this is actually a pretty exciting endgame: we have fluid social dynamics, a number of relatively unconnected players playing in their individual interests while still making sloppy mistakes. As a result, the field should also feel pretty wide open. But instead of a nuanced depiction of these complex and intriguing dynamics, we’re regurgitating the same theme we’ve been watching for weeks. And frankly? It’s boring and unsustainable.
It was the same problem with last season, where a legitimately compelling showdown between Hayley and George felt sapped of its intensity. We’d been hearing them both non-stop for the whole back half of the season without a lot of shifting nuance (or much from their biggest competitors to make us question whether they’d manage to survive). It was the same in All-Stars, where David took up so much space that his win felt like a plodding inevitability rather than a thrilling first for an alpha male strategist in the long Australian format. And worst of all, David’s overblown confessional-heavy edit shrouded the subtler public social game he was playing, giving a false perception of how he managed to so thoroughly dominate.
I know it must sound pretentious to keep harping on the edit, but good lord, it just keeps getting worse with every season, especially in the back half. The post-merge should be the most exciting part of the season. It’s where players begin prioritising their individual games and where personal narratives and stories can be brought to the fore. And yet the post-merge is where Australian Survivor seems to struggle the most, hoisted by their own petard of simplistic storytelling.
We could have had six main characters in this episode. Even excusing the lopsided edit up until this point, everyone’s decisions mattered here and we saw some legitimately intriguing choices. KJ & Shay, who were on the verge of falling out last episode after the spa reward debacle, had not only gotten back on the same page but made the decision to flip on their PurgaTrio ringleader to send Jordie home unanimously. And yet, we heard next to nothing about their reasoning, reconciliation, and plans for the Final Five. It was like they simply didn’t matter to the story—and yet their votes were the nail in Jordie’s coffin.
Similarly, Josh and Chrissy were crucial swing votes, apparently thick as thieves, but this is recent news to us. It was refreshing to see a real camp life glimpse of their relationship jesting about the buried toe-stubbing log in the sand. But this relationship is critical to the endgame, yet we’re only being told about it in the final days. Their position in between Jordie and Mark was certainly highlighted more than KJ & Shay, but their reasoning, and especially Chrissy’s reasoning, for ultimately siding with Mark wasn’t laid out especially clearly.
Instead, the episode spent its comparatively slim run time (still a chunky 54 minutes minus ads, mind you) focusing on a lot that didn’t really matter. More and more of Jordie’s Joker analogies and him hyping up his machinations—which ultimately led nowhere given he was unanimously voted out. Even Jordie ultimately realised the ship had sailed with his last-ditch plan to try to throw votes on Shay. Still, even his ultimate realisation that things weren’t going his way was veiled by a false narrative of this big showdown with Mark, who notably didn’t even receive a vote.
Now, the pressure on Mark was certainly part of the story, given he chose to ultimately play his second Idol (and still manage to blunder the execution with bravado), but this wasn’t his move either. And yet the narrative kept pushing Mark’s perspective to the fore. At the end of the day, this episode became all about Jordie and Mark, and yet when pen hit the parchment, neither of them were the decision-makers. Jordie lacked the numbers, and Mark lacked the read of the room. So why are they the lens through which the whole story is told?
In all honesty, it makes it hard to dissect much of this episode because it just becomes a blur of the generic, repetitive story of the last several weeks of the season. But I’ll do my best to pluck out some of the noteworthy moments, at the very least.
GHOSTS OF THE PAST
There’s something poetic in the journey of Jesse’s Idol. So much drama, intrigue, and promise to start, only to fizzle out in an underwhelming outcome even amidst its own hype. Kinda feels like a metaphor for the season as a whole, eh? But Mark’s decision to play the Idol here, ultimately wasting it when he had no votes coming his way, is not the terrible move it might seem at first blush. In this home stretch, it’s better not to take chances, and Mark’s been on the short end of the stick for several votes now, with players making unexpected plays and flips in their own self-interest. It would be foolish to hold it when he knows his name is in the conversation, and it’s better to waste an Idol than to go home with it in your pocket on account of a gamble or hubris.
While playing the Idol now leaves Mark very vulnerable at five, misplaying it perhaps provides some incidental softening of his threat level. If he’d been right that the votes were coming his way, that would make it two successful Idol plays in a row. hat’sT a huge target if he can’t win Immunity at five. A misplay, though? Well, perhaps it makes him seem more human, maybe beatable, with such a clear misread on his resume.
And perhaps that’s the saving grace of his miscalled shot too. But that’s really where I think Mark misstepped with the Idol play here. It was always going to be tough to play this Idol correctly. There was so much legend around it already, and revealing it would not only out him (& Sam) as having lied to their own allies but also vindicate Jordie, who was still being doubted as a boy who cried wolf. It needed to be played well to overcome that reputation. And if Mark’s expectation was true, then maybe it would have. If the votes were coming onto him, and then he sent Jordie home with Jesse’s Idol, that is impressive. But by calling his shot on that outcome only to be proved so thoroughly wrong undermines all of that, leaving the focus on Mark’s lie.
In calling his shot, Mark also made it explicitly clear that everything Jordie had been saying was true, which could significantly risk his reputation back at camp. Of course, there’s a world in which Mark finds a way to play the second Idol off as a fresh find, but that’s probably getting too cute. And arguably, not owning the Idol’s torrid history would just leave room for speculation that could do just as much damage to trust. But I still don’t think his boastful manner, undercut by being wrong, will work out well for him. He’s inherited all of the negatives of the Idol—the lie, the “theft”, the target of a dual-Idol wielder—without the positives, decisively successful plays, correctly called shots. Now he’s vulnerable with vague allies at best.
The Josh and Chrissy dynamic is the stealthy duo that’s controlling this endgame. Even though they act independently, Josh, particularly, their steadfast loyalty to each other (for some unseen reason) makes them dangerous in this game of singles. They were positioned perfectly this episode between two potential Final Threes—one with Mark, one with Jordie—and in the end, they absolutely made the right call.
Mark is desperate for allies, and despite Josh’s flip, he’s still willing to work closely with them, but mostly because he’s got no-one else. KJ might be willing to make a move, but she’s not in the market to become his new Number One as she prefers the free-agent role. On top of that, Mark is a significant threat and one that their opponents are more likely to go after should a twist or an Idol turn against them.
By contrast, Jordie is a self-confessed man of chaos. He might have been legitimate in his intent to work with Josh & Chrissy through to the endgame, and there’s value in him making the end without the PurgaTrio to be able to differentiate his path more distinctly. But he’s still too self-interested to be the loyal, predictable asset they need. If Chrissy & Josh voted out Mark (and managed to somehow convince him not to play his Idol), then their whole endgame is out of their hands and in Jordie’s. And at that point, Jordie is the swing vote between them and the PurgaTrio. That’s just too big a risk when Jordie’s known for his scrambling while also being a physical and strategic threat in his own right.
We saw a decent amount of Josh & Chrissy weighing up their options, but it somehow feels like we didn’t quite see enough to really understand how they arrived at the admittedly logical decision. Were they concerned about whether Jordie would actually stick with them? Were they unwilling to take the shot at Mark in case he did have an Idol, thus exposing them as traitors—and probably burning the last threads of the bridge between him and Josh? Or were there other factors at play? Did they come to any agreement with Shay or KJ too?
It’s a little up in the air, but heading into the last couple episodes, Josh & Chrissy are absolutely in the best position. They don’t have the reputation and danger level of Mark, but they’ve got him on side, while Shay & KJ aren’t a unified duo and could be turned against each other if push came to shove. It’s a shame we haven’t seen more of them, individually and as an alliance, because on paper, it feels like they should be the top contenders to take this out. Regardless, I’m excited to see where they go from here.
Chrissy has been a bright spark when we’ve seen her—effortlessly individual, goofy, and endearing. I’ve loved getting to see her socially-focused game savvy come to the fore. While Josh has been consumed in his own interests or crunching numbers, she’s been speaking reason, following her gut and the vibe of the tribe. Meanwhile, Josh has emerged as a really compelling player too, savvy but imperfect, and I wish the edit had invested more in his personal story and character throughout.
I don’t have much to add on KJ & Shay beyond ditto. They’re both intriguing players with great underdog stories, and I wish we knew more about why they chose to turn on Jordie here. Was it simply reading that Josh & Chrissy weren’t going to flip and were unwilling to force a tie to save Jordie? Did Jordie’s last-ditch pitch to Mark to vote Shay end up getting back to her, leading her & KJ to decide to abandon ship?
It’s a precarious position for them now, as they’ve given up the numbers back to the ostensible Chrissy/Josh/Mark trio, but I think this was the right play. Going to the end with Jordie was not an option. He’s too visible and sucks up all the credit for the PurgaTrio, and while KJ & Shay both have good narratives, Jordie would easily (and proactively) overshadow them at a Final Tribal. Clearing him off the board is good for their individual games and leaves them as true free agents to exploit the cracks in the ostensible core trio.
Again, both women are fascinating in their own right, and when the show has focused on their stories, both strategically and personally, they’ve made for compelling heroines. Though they’re only in the game on account of a twist, they’re still very real underdogs who could pull an upset victory here. And I would love to see their rationale and reasoning for their moves brought to the fore more.
Because ultimately, that’s what Australian Survivor needs going forward. It needs to invest in the stories of all of its players to help keep the post-merge game alive. If it only invests in a few main characters, then it’s hinging all its hopes on the fact that the audience will love their designated picks. And love them enough to tune in every night for their same catchphrases (“I’m the Joker HAHAHA”) like this is some laugh-track sitcom. But if they actually invested in more diverse stories, there’s something for everyone, which inherently creates a more exciting narrative. If we’re invested in every player, then we’re going to care more. And that’s going to go a long way in combating the fatigue of the marathon length of the Australian Survivor seasons.
It’s not impossible to do. While Season 4 had issues with the edit, especially pre-merge, it did a surprisingly solid job fleshing out multiple characters who made deep runs into the game. While savvy edit-readers might have still predicted the outcome, there was still a spread of players to invest in, and that helped make it one of the best seasons of the series. There’s no reason this season, with its objectively complex and unpredictable gameplay, couldn’t have been on a similar level had it told its story with a little more intention.
Maybe I’m shouting into the void, but the players are giving us lightning time and time again. Production, and especially the edit, just needs to actually figure out how to ride it, or the spark is going to die.
Agree completely. The whole thing seems dumbed down. Not a patch on US Survivor. Host doesn’t help either, I wonder if he really is devoid of personality or thats just the edit too.