Blood v Water was not a great or even good season, and there was not much about this finale that was genuinely surprising either. But with the dust settled and a winner finally declared… I still can’t say it was the worst viewing experience the franchise has to offer. I could have done without the slow burn of an airing schedule that dragged out this post-merge, and I’m glad it’s finally over. But the overall season, while a massive disappointment after an energetic pre-merge, had a few redeeming qualities. It’s far from the best, but after enduring All-Stars two years ago, we’re going to be okay.
But let’s rewind to Day 46. We have our final four. Shay the Warrior, Mark the Commander, Josh the Pilot, and Chrissy the Social Strategist. There are four different approaches to the game, four complicated paths to the end, and four contenders for the title. And for the first time in Survivor AU, we have a final three instead of a final two. Oh boy.
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Now, as a die-hard lover of the final two format, I’m not ecstatic about this change if it’s permanent. In the context of a Blood vs. Water season, though, it feels plenty appropriate. While a pair navigating the entire season to take up both seats in a final two would be a feat for the ages, it would also be a serious suspense killer if the only thing truly up for grabs is the title itself, assuming the pair would split the money. With a final three, it guarantees at least two “entities” will contend for the cash if a pair manages to steamroll together. So for just once, I’m perfectly fine with a final three over a final two, especially without Forced Fire-making in the equation.
After receiving phone calls from their loved ones, the final four take their places overlooking the gorgeous waterfalls they’ve known for over six weeks, poised in increasingly painful positions in another epic Australian Survivor endurance challenge. The name of the game for Mark, Chrissy, and Josh is simple: beat Shay. But this challenge, predictably, is right up Shay’s alley. And after her three deadset opponents fall, she walks away with one of the easiest necklace wins of her Survivor career, securing a spot at the end.
With their target immune, the majority must cannibalize each other. Shay wants to take Chrissy with her, so the debate is about which big threat is getting booted between Mark and Josh. On paper, Mark and Josh should have the same idea, as whichever one sits at the end would secure the win without much opposition. But Josh is determined to play a loyal game heading into Final Tribal Council, pitching a 2-1-1 vote to Mark with Chrissy as their target. All they’d need to do is get the women to split votes and it’s a done deal.
However, there’s one little problem with Josh’s master plan: he’s the last name on Mark’s hit list. For five weeks, Mark pushed Josh as the leader of their big boys’ alliance, using him as the perfect meat shield right up until the end, and now he can reap the rewards and finish the mission with flawless execution.
But for Chrissy, this vote is yet another battle between heart and head. She knows taking Mark to the end is the better play, but she’s been tight with Josh for so long that putting his name down in heartbreaking fashion would go against everything she stands for. Either way, the tribe has become her Outback family, and any vote she casts will be made with a heavy heart.
Unsurprisingly, Josh is voted out unanimously, giving Mark and Chrissy the cold shoulder as he departs. Ironically, the editors gave him the cold shoulder as well, because after the great game he played… why was he completely hidden for half the season? As much as the edits of Jay, Mel, and Jordan felt insulting, at least there was the flimsy, not excusable rationale that their games just weren’t great television. But with Josh, it makes no sense. He played a well-rounded game across the board and was one of the two true contenders to win. Yet we only saw half of it on our screens. I’m sure Josh is proud of the game he played, and he should be, but among all the baffling editing choices, this one is among the most mind-boggling.
But at long last, we have a final three to pick apart: Mark, Chrissy, and Shay. They all have powerful stories. Mark opens up about a traumatic military experience, but his time in the game has allowed him to replace those haunting memories with happier ones, and he’s proud of his well-rounded game. Shay had no power in the game, but her long-running underdog performance has taught young girls to back themselves, never stop fighting, and dig deep to find the strength to push forward in the worst of times. Chrissy came in as a fish out of water but honed her social skills to make life long connections with her tribe and reached heights she never expected to. After a season with fairly dark undertones, it’s nice to have such a positive prelude to Final Tribal. But the good vibes can only last so long because it’s time to grill these finalists.
Mark’s opening statement is almost flawless. His strategy was simply to win, and with moves like blindsiding Andy, choosing to stay apart from his wife at the swap to forge new alliances, taking out royalty in Sandra and Khanh, blindsiding Jesse, and setting up Josh to take the fall at the end, he’s certainly met the standards. He compliments the jurors along the way, communicating a level of respect for their games rather than apologizing and making excuses. It’s concise, clean, and justifies his argument.
Chrissy’s statement is equally impressive in its delivery, even if she doesn’t have many moves to list. Her game was forced to be social, so she pinpointed the best of the best, aligned with them, and played to her strengths. She attended 19 Tribals, her name only coming up at two of them, and when push came to shove, she put her foot down and played her own game apart from Croc. After taking out Ben, she worked with Josh until the bitter end, eventually cutting him as her sole big move. It’s not the most impressive story, but her argument makes sense, and she’s doing the best with what she has. Capping it off with a complimentary run down of what she learned from each juror, she’s set herself up pretty well.
Shay’s statement, however, is an omen for where her performance will eventually lead. Her argument is all about surviving on the bottom and winning challenges, from the physically demanding pre-merge to the doldrums of Purgatory to the intense endgame where a loss meant guaranteed elimination. Unfortunately for Shay, while the challenge beast underdog argument isn’t bad, her speech lacks the drive and passion needed to sell it against two much flashier statements. Her delivery is awkward, she stumbles over her words, and it just gives off an air of uncertainty.
Khanh, Jordie, Jesse, and Josh grill Mark on his game. They want to know how hard it actually was to sacrifice people to get to the end and why he threw people under the bus. And Mark, true to form, delivers concise, clear, and justified answers. It was hard to cut Sam, but it was the right move they both agreed on. It was tough to gaslight Jordie and lie through his teeth about the idol, but Jordie was a big threat, and Mark couldn’t let him get any footing. It was tough to turn on Josh, but he never intended to vote for anyone else because Josh was his biggest competition, and he couldn’t trust a fellow big player not to do the same to him.
On top of that, Mark explains his subtle strategy of being underestimated via his focus on the social game, making himself seem smaller physically by hiding his massive body whenever possible, and just being openly in agreement about his threat level to make people re-think their impressions of him. Overall, Mark gives a well-rounded, essentially flawless performance.
KJ, Josh, and Sam address Chrissy, questioning how emotions impacted her game, what the game means to her, and why she made her last-minute betrayal of Josh after playing a loyal game. And to my surprise, she delivers some really great answers. She admits she was a bit too caring and let those emotions cloud her judgment, but when the time came to make a game-winning move, she took it because she couldn’t disappoint her kids. To Josh, she explains how she noticed his cues changing throughout the final day, realized her name was on the chopping block and had to get Josh before he got her (a great answer that unfortunately goes unrecognized by Josh in a fairly hypocritical manner given he turned on her as well).
Summing up her experience, Chrissy details how she’s a powerful woman who can smash anything she puts her mind to beyond any of her expectations. Once again, she doesn’t have the sheer amount of ammunition that Mark does, but she’s making the most of what she does have, pitching her case with charm and justified reasoning at every turn.
Michelle is the only person to address Shay, asking her to rate her overall game on a scale between 0 and 10. That alone is a red flag because it implies the jury has made up their minds and only wants to test her social awareness. But Shay’s answer sinks any chance of getting votes on the spot. Rating herself as an 8 and then hilariously giving herself a bonus half-point by the end, she explains how she was never in the position to make moves because she was always on the bottom.
It’s a logical argument to make, sure, but the tone she sets here is one of total aloofness. According to Shay, the path of controlling numbers and masterminding moves is the easy route to the end. And because she excelled physically and only relied on that skill set, she never worried about her strategic and social games. Looking at the values of this jury full of super fans and big players who thrive on strategic and social games, she might as well flip them off and call it a night with an answer like that.
Unsurprisingly, it’s a big win for Mark, who locks in every vote to win 10-0-0. And what a well-deserved win it is. I know the fans at large aren’t over the moon with Mark as a winner, but it’s impossible to deny his game’s strengths. He maintained control for most of the season, only losing it temporarily near the endgame when he was required to navigate the chaos. He made calculated moves to vote out big targets while saving others for his collection of meat shields. He obtained two idols but only needed to save himself once, surviving the last three rounds of the game without the necklace around his neck. Any fears of Mark steamrolling to the end with idols and challenge wins were quickly washed away by the masterful social game this man put on display, one built piece by piece and optimized to create the ideal path to the end.
And, of course, it’s hard to praise Mark’s game without giving Sam some major credit for what their duo was able to accomplish. While Mark had control of the numbers via the big boys’ alliance, Sam was crucial in maintaining relationships with people Mark wasn’t super close to. She made key strategic decisions with her husband, swindling Jesse’s idol, which only added a second safety net to their chances. Eventually, she took the heat and the fall so Mark could press on to victory. As Mark and Sam have said over and over, as long as one of them wins, both of them win. They might not be massive fan favorites, but hopefully, time is kind to their great games.
As for our tied runner-up duo, Chrissy put forth a worthy effort. She was out of her depth, but she made a strong pitch and had some good ideas along the way, even if she wasn’t able to achieve them. Given Shay’s lackluster performance and the jury’s confused reactions to her answers, it feels fitting to give Chrissy the “spiritual” second place.
And as for Shay, major respect is due for surviving to the end without tasting a lick of power for 95% of the season. The challenge beast route isn’t easy, but this jury wasn’t the type to reward that style of play. Perhaps last season’s jury would’ve been open to voting for her game to represent them. But even so, her FTC performance was one-note, awkward, and embarrassingly aloof whenever she had the rare chance to speak. She seems to be a wonderful person with great goals in life, but overall, modern Survivor just isn’t her kind of game.
So ends another season. While production’s scaling back of twists was a welcome change, most of what this season had to offer was par for the course. Casting was a mixed bag, bringing in several big stars but also casting a few people simply to fill a slot (which, in a Blood vs. Water season, is an unfortunate side effect). The boot order was a mess, as losing the biggest personalities early left the last weeks of the game with a sluggish mood. But the inclusion of players like Sandra, Nina, Khanh, Sophie, Andy, Sam, Jordie, and Chrissy kept things energetic. And once again, the editing was middling at best and downright insulting at worst, with records set in the Purple Edit category despite the endgame feeling fairly balanced.
If the show is lucky enough to get another season, they need to make some changes. I’m not talking about throwing in more twists to prevent steamrolls as they did with Brains vs. Brawn. I’m not talking about casting more people to circumvent the need for non-elimination episodes. And I’m not talking about casting a ton of meta gaming super fans whose only personality trait would be loving Survivor and talking about resumes. Straight up, either production fixes their horrendous editing issues and cuts the massive OP twists from the drawing board… or the network hires new producers to get the show in shape.
Australian Survivor isn’t past the point of no return by any means. There’s still so much to appreciate if you can see past the massive warts. Someone with power needs to step in, put their foot down, and create a better TV product. One that doesn’t hold the audience’s hand with repetitive franken-byte confessionals, doesn’t throw in botched twists to get easy promo material, doesn’t make the winner obvious in the first week, and overall… just trusts the entire cast to deliver great TV. I’ll say it again, a million times if I have to: trust the cast, invest in their stories, and Survivor magic will happen.