In 2010, the original Heroes vs. Villains premiered in the US and gave Survivor fans one of the best seasons to date. That season had it all: an all-star cast; strong challenges as well as twists; an unpredictable boot order; the first-time two-time winner in the Survivor franchise, and most importantly, it had the perfect balance of old-school Survivor while providing fresh and entertaining nuances that paved the way for the franchise to carry on into what became the modern Survivor era.
Now, in 2023, Australian Survivor has brought back this beloved theme, and much like its predecessor, the first episode was packed with old rivalries, newbies that had to adapt to the game quickly, returning players willing to do whatever it takes to prove themselves, and as it is usual on Survivor no matter the country, ruthless gameplay that led to the first blindside of the season.
As the two tribes meet in front of Jonathan LaPaglia, we’re introduced to both tribes: the Heroes, with returning players such as sole Survivor Hayley Leake, Sam Webb, and Nina Twine; and the Villains, with “King” George Mladenov, Jordie Hansen, and the first three-time player in Australian Survivor, Shonee Bowtell, leading the cavalry.
Jonathan explains the first reward challenge, which is a good old-fashion marooning, but on land. Both tribes are set to collect their starting supplies, and only the first team to light their respective torch can keep them, while the others will begin the game with nothing. As the challenge starts, chaos ensues, with people immediately tackling each other for the fishing gear. The Villains don’t waste their time when they start taking from the already separate Heroes pile, though, as Jonathan says, it’s still fair game at this point.
The Heroes start to pick up a sense of rhythm through teamwork while the Villains struggle to keep up. Just as the two last players are set to return with their torches, the Villains continue to try to sabotage the Heroes, but it proves pointless as the Heroes go on to take the first win. Much like its US predecessor, the first challenge showed how both tribes relied on their respective namesake in how to play the game, at least when it comes to the challenges so far.
At the Villains beach, the tribe starts to build their shelter with the help of Simon Mee, who played before in Brains vs. Brawn and is a chippie back home. Simon is remembered for being voted out with two idols in his pocket. He complains that people are already starting to show their priorities, such as strategizing over shelter building. The architect of Simon’s previous demise, George, is one of those people, as he’s started to create bonds that will help him go further in the game, mainly with Jackie Glazier from Champions vs. Contenders 2018 and newbie Anjali Rao.
On day 2, the Villains are looking miserable as they haven’t been able to make fire. As most are seen around the campfire, newbie Michael Warren looks for an idol. Michael is caught by none other than Jordi, who starts to spread around that Michael is being sneaky and paranoid but sees a use in Michael’s gameplay of wanting to get rid of George, as they all have a common enemy, or as Simon calls it, a “cockroach problem.”
At the other side of the island, the Heroes’ beach is filled with merriment as no one takes the lead role, with everyone pitching in to build the shelter. However, not everything is kumbaya for Hayley, who, like her nemesis George, begins to rally her troops. Hayley knows she has a tremendous target on her back as the game’s only previous winner, and word is starting to spread about her past season. Hayley is also facing the so-called “winner’s curse,” as no returning winner has ever survived their first tribal council in a subsequent Australian Survivor season.
Luckily for Hayley, newbie Rogue Rubin is looking to be a perfect new target as she’s seen trying to one-up everyone on the tribe and even goes as far as asking her tribemate Shaun Hampson, from Champions vs. Contenders 2019, if he’s circumcised. Not the best starter in any conversation, especially on Survivor and not while handling a machete. But that’s not the worst comment. Rogue then tells Nina that she’s “more African-American” than her because Rogue’s from Africa, leaving Nina and everyone around them stunned and uncomfortable.
At the first immunity challenge, George and Jackie from the Villains tribe are injured after taking a bad landing on the first obstacle. The challenge isn’t paused even though Jackie’s injury does look serious, and the Heroes start to pull ahead, eventually winning immunity and their second challenge in a row. Feeling the sting of defeat, the Villains head back to camp to plot who will be the first to be voted out of their tribe.
Several plans are proposed back at camp, and no one is safe. All eyes are set primarily on George; however, as George is still with the medical team, the Villains have to have a plan B in case he doesn’t make it back in time for the tribal council. Who would’ve thought that injuring oneself might come with its perks, as perhaps being injured is what could save the king?
Shonee is, of course, worried that she will be targeted next in George’s absence, so she sticks with her previous gameplay of having a number one ally who she trusts the most. She chooses newbie Liz Parnov, as Liz gives off “BFE”: best friend energy. Shonee decides to target Jackie if she returns and use George as a meat shield, as George would always take the heat off her. Anjali, another of George’s allies, is picked as the replacement vote in case George and Jackie don’t return.
For her part, Anjali and others noncommittally decide to vote out Stevie Khouw from Champions vs. Contender 2018. However, Stevie also has plans, as he wants revenge on Shonee for orchestrating his blindside on their previous season together. All in all, it’s not looking good for any returnee nor newbie Anjali, as all of them face being the first Villain to have their torch snuffed.
When the Villains get to tribal council, Jonathan announces that George and Jackie are still under medical supervision for the foreseeable future, which means they won’t join them for the first tribal. After Jonathan asks whether George or Jackie were in danger of the first vote, Michael sheepishly says it was possible as everyone is fair game. Also, throughout tribal, Stevie and Shonee banter with one another, pretending to be over their shared history. But we all know that one will prevail over the other sooner or later.
Before reading the votes, Jonathan says that George is okay but still has to remain under observation for a while; unfortunately, Jackie has a fractured collarbone, and though she is all right, she will not be able to return to the game.
As mentioned earlier, the blindside arrives, as Jonathan gives the tribe the option to either read the votes and lose another person or for the tribe to remain as it is. Surprisingly, the tribe starts to ponder their decision, despite Survivor being a numbers game, and as history has repeatedly shown, it’s never a good idea to lose people intentionally. Numbers eventually bite people in the butt, and both returnee and newbie players should remember that.
It's giving… best friend energy ✨ #SurvivorAU @shoneefairfax pic.twitter.com/hND2Cz3fj2
— SurvivorAU (@Survivor_AU) January 30, 2023
Facing the chance of being three players down on day two, as George’s return isn’t still guaranteed, Jonathan questions the players and reminds them about upcoming challenges against the Heroes. Nonetheless, the Villains shockingly decide for Jonathan to read the votes, and Anjali is voted out unanimously. Besides losing two members, potentially three, at least the Villains got a flint. The most expensive flint in Survivor’s history, perhaps.
What a great episode to start the newest Australian Survivor season. We have two solid tribes, each with its own set of drama and history; two action-packed challenges; two injured players; the first medevac, and hopefully last, of the season; the first time that a tribe in Survivor history could lose three players in one go; and what seems to be a build-up of several battles to come. The Queen vs. The King, Shonee vs. Stevie, and, of course, the heroes versus the villains.
Who will be the next to be eliminated from the battle? Or, as Anjali said, who will be the next pancake to be thrown in the bin?