On the spooky night after Shaun’s ouster, engineered by Hayley, Simon is astonished that he is still here, and George accuses Nina of switching her vote. “You’re better off owning it as a move. I’d be more impressed by that,” says George. Hayley is lying low.
Nina is frustrated and goes for a chat with Hayley and tells her point blank that she knows Hayley flipped. Hayley has no intention of telling George, but she wants to talk with Nina and Simon. A plan is brewing.
Nina finds George in the dark. He is calmly adamant that Nina flipped. Nina counters, “How do I know that you won the Set For Life award?”
George immediately knows it was either Liz or Hayley who told and tells Nina she is dead unless she tells him which one. George says he is big enough to admit when he is wrong and runs to Liz with the information. George, in confessional, tells us he’s in a state of shock that his betrayer was Hayley, but the wheels are already turning. The game never stops for George.
The next morning, Simon asks Hayley for a cure for “severe bottomness.” And Hayley tells Simon not to blow her. But that there is a plan afoot.
George confides in Liz that he has two problems, and one of them is Matt. Matt was on the picnic where Hayley spilled the beans, and Matt didn’t tell him. George is sad because he and Hayley are friends on the outside, and he wanted to stand with her together at the Final Trial Council.
On the mat at the Reward Challenge, JLP pokes the castaways in a mini tribal chatter.
For the Challenge, they have to stack some things on a wobbly thing standing on a narrow thing. The reward is a night away at the Survivor Spa. Liz wins and takes George and Nina. She wants them to scrub, and make a plan to get Hayley out. Liz needs to make an alliance with George after the Shonee blindside, and has drawn in Nina, who she figures is in a vulnerable position. The time is right, so the Jacuzzi 3 agree to eliminate Hayley (unless she is immune, in which case, Simon) and go together to the final three. Liz wants to bring a piece of cucumber back to camp for Simon – the Cucumber Idol.
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George models his buff as a skirt, Liz warning him not to hoik it up any further as they can see his foreskin. Nina sees something else, though, a path to the end. The three of them rehearse what they will say at camp. Liz will say she took Nina to keep her from looking for an idol. Nina and George will continue to butt heads in front of the others, with Nina saying she admitted to flipping just to shut George up.
Back at camp, Hayley rightly worries that Nina and George will come to an understanding. Eating rice with the left-behinds, Simon baldly proposes that he, Hayley, Gerry, and Matt vote for George. It goes down as well as you would imagine. Hayley thinks Simon has lost his marbles. And we might agree as we watch him dump out rice in the night. He wants to “famish” the other players and with luck, win the Immunity Challenge.
The challenge is the fantastic Fire and Rain, one of my absolute favourites. There’s a fire drum and a water drum with holes in it on a balanced bar. The players must build a fire in a drum and fill the water drum from a holey bucket with seawater to raise the fire to burn through a flag. We first saw it in The Australian Outback. In Australian Survivor: Blood v Water, a version was played where the castaways raced to build a puzzle, with the water drum keeping their puzzle platform even.
Matt and Simon quickly pull ahead of the others. Liz abandons her station to run buckets of seawater for Matt, with JLP noting that it is within the rules for her to help him. It is a truly tense challenge, with both Matt and Simon’s flags on fire. And Simon wins. A moment later, George starts his fire and has a small personal celebration.
There are many reasons to love a returnee season and this returnee season in particular. One of them is seeing Simon, who went pre-merge in his first showing, dominate the individual challenges. And not just strength-based. He has shown flexibility and laser focus as well. He lets us see how important this is to him, and we love a castaway who loves the game so very much.
Back at camp, scrambling begins. George has already locked himself in with Nina, Liz, and Gerry to vote for Hayley. He doesn’t trust Matt enough to bring him into the plan. His pitch to Matt and Haley is a split vote between Liz and Nina. Nina goes off to “look for an idol” though, in fact, she is looking for an idol.
The real plan is for George, Liz, Nina, and Gerry to put four votes on Hayley. The false plan is for a split vote, Matt and Gerry on Liz, George Hayley, and Liz on Nina.
With the false split vote in mind, Hayley pitches to Nina that they vote for George along with Simon. And here there is a strange narrative line from the Survivor editors where they show Nina wondering whether to stick with the vote-Hayley plan or flip to the George vote. But the numbers only work if the false split is real; they don’t work with the true plan. Perhaps she has a grain of distrust with George, and is concerned that the false split is the real plan. We certainly feel the paranoia and obsessive counting and recounting of the castaways must experience here at final seven.
“I could never have predicted that I’d still be here,” Hayley tells George. “After tonight, this is the turning point.” George responds, “The person going home tonight is the unstable traitor.”
At Tribal Council, under JLP’s questioning, the narrative is that Nina is going home and that she and everyone else knows it. Everyone plays their part perfectly, and JLP can’t find a crack.
George, Liz, Nina, and Gerry vote for Hayley. Hayley follows George’s false-split plan and votes for Nina. Simon excitedly votes for George, and Matt repays Liz’s help at the Immunity Challenge by voting for her.
Hayley sees her torch snuffed and leaves smiling. She goes out graciously, pleading with the Survivor Gods that she isn’t going to exile. She’s happy to have made it so far in the game, and given she only had to survive two Tribal Councils to beat the record of other returnee winners, she has far outstripped that.
In her first season, we watched a subtle yet dominant game, from her flexible thinking to her physical strength, to her superb social game, while enjoying her humour and humanity. That she recovered from being twist-screwed and returned to the game seemingly untouchable to win 7-2 against George was a breathtaking masterclass in how to play Survivor.
This season, her pre-merge game was not easy to discern, as the Heroes only went to Tribal once in the first seven rounds. What was shown was her fear of “the winners’ curse” on Australian Survivor — that no returnee winner had ever made it past their first Tribal Council. I look forward to hearing about what wasn’t shown in her exit interviews. Post-merge, she stayed under the radar, but knowing she needed to step from the shadows, she moved against George’s wishes by flipping the Shaun vote. Although genuinely shocked, George rallied the Jacuzzi 3-plus-Gerry for revenge, and Hayley left the game, still one of the greatest to play.