Australian Survivor: Blood vs. Water

Episode 23 Recap – Head vs. Heart

Alice Barelli recaps the latest episode.

Photo: Network 10

As any season of Australian Survivor begins to wind down, the episodes tend to become more repetitive in nature. There are obviously fewer strategic options with fewer castaways, a number cut down further by existing relationships and alliances. Occasionally you see a massive blindside or jaw-dropping move, but usually, the strategy for these numbers has been planned out in advance by castaways in a carefully planned path to the final tribal council.

Unfortunately, it can make for somewhat dull viewing. This season of Australian Survivor started with a lot of heart and really played the Blood vs. Water theme out in an emotionally and strategically engaging way. Every episode was interesting, and there were so many ways a vote could unravel either tribe that the dynamic constantly changed. The entertainment was in the constant freshness of who was rising to power and how it affected their loved ones. As the castaways dwindled and no loved ones remained in play, the game has become the remnants of a dominant alliance pushing forward.


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Josh and Mark have received ample screen time throughout the season, yet most of what we see from them is the same stuff they’ve been saying from early on. There are only so many times I can be impressed by Mark knowing how to read people due to picking up the skills while serving in the military. Mark, on the whole, is an impressive person—it is no easy task to gain entry to the SAS. But nobody needs formal military training to see that Chrissy is anguishing over her vote. It’s written all over her face. We’ve also heard a lot about how Mark’s objective when he returned was to win and that he wouldn’t feel right having left his son for anything less. KJ and Chrissy, fellow castaways at the final five, have also left their children at home and want to make their Survivor sojourn worthwhile.

We’ve seen Josh’s arc from being super loyal to his brief stint as Two-Face and back to supreme loyalty in a few episodes. Apart from steering the dominant alliance in its original form (remember when there were six of them, all working together happily?), Josh has mainly kept his game simple by relying on numbers to move forward. Both men have won individual challenges, and both recognise they need the other as some sort of meat shield at the final four.

There was a lot of talk about Shay having the upper hand in any endurance-style final immunity challenge. This season has done a lot of talking about Shay without hearing as much from her own mouth. Apart from being voted out and winning her way back in, Shay has mainly been a background player. Here, she handled the pressure of being the target going into the immunity challenge like a pro and pulled out the win. What I admired about Shay’s challenge performance was that she wasn’t worried about others, and she didn’t seem to be getting too caught up in the exact counts between dropping each ball. And while we don’t hear a lot of strategic content from Shay, she was smart enough this episode to link in with KJ to try and script the flip rather than relenting to the trio of Josh, Mark, and Chrissy.

Photo: Network 10

For someone billed as the ‘Crack-Up Queen,’ I’d like to think we got a much better game than anticipated from Chrissy. She may have been anxious about adding a big move to her resume throughout the episode, but she perfectly outlined her winning game in the very first moments: stroll to the end unnoticed and unscathed. Everyone at camp loves her. More importantly, everyone at camp thinks they can work with her. She stated she’s close with Josh, Mark, and KJ and had reasonable bonds with Shay. She was the only castaway in this episode that avoided being a target—even big boys Josh and Mark considered flipping on each other to secure their own spot one day more.

Chrissy may not be a super fan with intricate knowledge of Survivor, but she does have a firm grasp of the basics: have a strong social game so you have options, recognise the biggest threats to your game then wait for the right moment to take care of them, and make sure your game will be appealing to the jury if you get that far. This final point is what this vote hinged on: what was Chrissy going to do? On the one hand, she wanted to be loyal to Josh and Mark, who she’s been with for a long time. On the other hand, if she can take out one of these big threats, it would be an impressive move on her Survivor resume.

KJ considered the options and came to Chrissy with the plan that would be most palatable for all the girls: vote out Mark. The past episodes have highlighted how close Chrissy and Josh’s relationship is (with Chrissy even giving up her own attempt at a puzzle to help Josh), and so Chrissy voting out Josh was just a bit too much to ask. Instead, KJ and Shay put the target on Mark, giving Chrissy the less distressing option. Despite all the nervous energy, we saw Chrissy put her heart to the side and vote with her head to make the stronger strategic choice… if only Shay and KJ had followed through.

Photo: Network 10

I assume there is an unspoken understanding in Survivor that you have your own plan but also other fake plans to fool the intended target/s of your vote. When you hear a pitch about how to vote, it could be someone’s real plan, or you could be a fool’s errand to facilitate a blindside. This episode saw multiple plans in play: Shay and KJ wanted the girls to vote out one of the boys and so courted Chrissy to take out Mark. Josh and Mark wanted to vote out KJ since Shay was immune and expected Chrissy to fall in with them. KJ and Shay, unsure if Chrissy would vote with them, made a second plan when they went to Mark and offered to vote out Josh. It wasn’t any of their first choice of voting arrangements, but it would keep Mark safe and achieve the girl’s goal of voting out a boy.

Everyone seemed to agree to every plan, even though it was plain that not everybody could vote out multiple people. It appeared that the outcome would fall on Chrissy and that someone would go home with 3 votes to 2. It’s so close to the end, and there are so many factors to weigh up when considering how to vote. Chrissy was focused on needing a move on her resume to appeal to a jury of ballsy players and superfans. Josh was in her ear throughout tribal, trying to push her towards voting out KJ, but Chrissy was pushing back. She wasn’t putting Josh in danger, and she believed this was the right move for them both.

Chrissy put so much emotion into this vote, only for it to blow up in her face. KJ and Shay elected to go with Mark, voting against Josh, not realising that they’d actually swayed Chrissy. But they were being deceived by Mark all along—he voted for KJ along with Josh. So the revote between Josh and KJ was basically a formality. Mark and Shay would repeat their votes, and Chrissy would not be voting off her closest ally, so KJ had her torch snuffed with only two days left in the game.

Chrissy and Josh
Photo: Network 10

KJ was often a background character in this season, a frustration mainly because every time we heard from her (a confessional, a snippet of conversation, in a challenge), I just wanted to hear more. She was clearly a fan of the game and had carefully thought out her approach before she ever landed at the starting line. KJ may have benefitted from being cast due to her famous sister, but the true loss was ours since we didn’t get much insight into how or why she was playing.

As she exited, KJ summarised her strategy as “Listen more than you talk” (something I would’ve loved to hear more about as the season unfolded), and she was clearly thought of warmly by her tribemates. She had enough insight to know when she had to make moves but just never seemed to grasp the numbers to be able to do so.

Tomorrow is (maybe!?) the very final episode of this season. For the first time ever, we’re going to have a final three, and it will be interesting to see how having a loved one on the jury will influence how the speeches and questions go for the final remaining Survivors. It’s been a long season, so it’ll be good to wrap it up tomorrow.

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.

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