Having been a fan of Survivor for more than half my life means I have grown invested in arcs that span longer than a few episodes or even a season of this show. I’m also invested in arcs that span across years and decades. I love seeing players who return after waiting 20 or 30 seasons and reflecting on how the actions of a castaway on the beach in 2000 might affect castaways in a different country or different language are playing the game. No matter how much I watch Survivor, I love seeing callbacks and references, like the repeat challenge from this episode.
Naturally, as a super fan, I love Sandra. In my mind, she’s the true queen of the show and has never feared claiming that title for herself. So even though I’m devastated that Sandra was voted out in the previous episode (a pillow may have been thrown across the room), I’m in a sense relieved because the further Sandra progressed in the game, the more inevitable I felt that she would win. She’s a threat of astronomical levels, and so long as she remained, I felt less invested in storylines other than ‘How will Sandra survive?’.
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Like an amazing book series, I felt like Sandra’s departure marked the end of a chapter, or an era, where the remaining pages (or episodes) will unravel to show who will rise to be the new monarch of Australian Survivor. There are clear characters in contention. There is the heir apparent, Princess Nina, playing a savvy game, the long serving warriors Sam and Mark, returning to snatch the win, and new threats arising from the pack through sheer luck (Chrissy) or years of studying the game from home. So while I’m devastated that Sandra has left the outback, I’m also ready to see who will emerge from her shadows.
The season’s dynamic is coming to the fore: how does an individual keep a careful balance of their strategy, relationships, and emotions when
also trying to counterbalance those of a loved one? Can strategy eclipse emotion, and if it can, when is the right time for it? Ciera Eastin made herself famous in Survivor lore for voting off her own mother in Survivor US’s first Blood vs. Water season. Ever since then, she’s been that castaway “who voted off their mom”—the only player to do so in that season.
In this season, we’ve only just reached the first tribe swap, and already two castaways have voted against their loved one to prove loyalty to their tribe. One might argue in both cases that the presence of their loved one was only serving to increase their own vulnerability, though for very reasons. Sandra’s threat level only grew every second she existed in the game, and so long as Nina was attached to her, she would be in danger.
Rather than being a shield for Nina to hide behind, Sandra became a dam of sorts between Nina and the rest of her tribe. While Sandra was there, no information was flowing to Nina. And information and communication is crucial for building allies and relationships to carry you into the later parts of the game. Nina acknowledged how the move was about playing strategy rather than emotions because she can fix her emotions, but it’s hard to fix strategy. In contrast, this episode saw sister flip on sister to try and give herself some space to breathe.
This season seemed like a personal ode for sisters being sisters. There can be tension and misunderstanding, but there can also be deep trust and a bond that defies all others. KJ had been playing her own game, which was muddied by the arrival of her sister after the twist. Still on the same tribe post-swap, KJ and Sophie’s differing playstyles clashed with one another, resulting in a tough decision having to be made.
Early in the episode, it becomes clear that KJ has been caught between her alliance with Sam and her relationship with Sophie. And this isn’t helped by the seething tension between Sam and Sophie. KJ tries to play the middle ground without upsetting either, which only serves to upset herself, as she describes the situation as being backed into a corner.
While KJ has hardly been on screen, her sister Sophie has been a divisive personality across the season. From pre-season rumours that she was paid exorbitant amounts to appear, to her brash leadership style, and her seeming inability to understand why she was voted out the first time, we have been on a rollercoaster of a ride. Sophie confessed she wears her heart on her sleeve, and this couldn’t have been more true watching her interactions with KJ across this episode.
Firstly, Sophie tells KJ she can continue to be uninvolved in the ongoing tension between herself and Sam, but moments later says in confessional that she’s mad that KJ isn’t on her side. When the tribe is scattered and trying to bring together the moving parts of a vote, Sophie overtly searches for an idol or advantage, further putting KJ at risk. If KJ is backed into a corner, she desperately needs to break out before she is broken down completely.
Whether Sophie knows she’s endangering KJ by potentially playing an idol is unclear, but any consideration for her sister is not shown in her actions. A crying KJ is comforted by Khanh while Sophie explores trees and the riverbank with ally Ben. Finally, at Tribal Council, KJ urges her sister to stop fighting with Sam—a tension that has already placed Sophie in danger and only attracts more attention in the final moments she could be using to plead for her life.
The ups and downs of Sophie lead me to believe there was so much of her we didn’t see. There were times in this episode Sophie seemed self-aware, such as when she professed that she’d never get the votes for Sam and when she suggests Sam exploit the tension between them to make Khanh feel safe (and consequently be voted out with an idol; a plan that never materialised). Contrast these moments with her chaotic behavior, like feeling she was blindsided for things she didn’t do (namely forming a core four without a majority alliance, leaving Sam in particular feeling uneasy) and the fake idol shenanigans from this episode.
If these are just the highlights of Sophie that made the edited episodes, I can’t imagine how much else she gave while she was playing. Even if she isn’t my favourite, and even if I feel like she was unfair to others at times, I firmly believe Sophie came to play and win—something I appreciate in any individual who gets to play this game.
Seeing two relationships in profile on back-to-back nights leads me to wonder about the dynamics of other pairs we are yet to see fully explored. Jordie has come out swinging in his swapped tribe by masterminding the vote against Sandra, but little brother Jesse has insulated himself within an alliance while hiding behind big player Sam. Mel always seems happy to see her twin, yet Michelle said she’s glad they’re not on the same tribe this episode. Croc is a superfan with a clear grasp on the game, but Chrissy is worried she’ll mix up the real and fake plans and then looked terrified when JLP posed a question to her at Tribal.
If so much energy can be extracted from the elimination of (admittedly) two focal characters and their remaining loved one, then the sky is the limit for what can happen as the plot thickens.