Australian Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains

Episode 24 – Checkmate

Who was the Sole Survivor?

Photo: Network 10

After 45 days, it’s time to put this iconic season to rest. Two Villains, two Heroes. Three newbies, one returnee. And four different journeys to the final four.

Gerry started as a weak link nobody took seriously, but a surprise twist gave him a second wind and kicked off a season-long revenge arc against the Heroes who shunned him. Matt became the season’s biggest challenge beast and helped shift the game at the merge, but there’s still one make-or-break challenge left. Liz entered the game as a novice but leaned on returning players to teach her their tricks, and now she’s the underdog against a tight trio. And George, the last returnee standing, chose to boost his threat level rather than hide it, leaving him as the biggest threat, biggest player, and biggest character.

But there’s still one last bit of business to handle before we crown one of them the winner: a final immunity challenge straight out of a torture chamber, an Australian Survivor specialty if there ever was one. And this time, it’s the infamous crucifixion challenge, only instead of changing it to be as quick and fun moment-free as possible like the US version, Australia’s made it even more drawn out and painful by including a wall of spears that slowly dig into their backs.

To help the final four through the pain, JLP brings in their loved ones: Gerry’s fiance, Matt’s pregnant partner, Liz’s boyfriend, and Cara. No, seriously. George somehow got his old ally Cara as a loved one, and it’s incredible.

Across four long, wet, painful hours on the same lava rocks where Kristie and Jericho cemented their legacies, the final four battle it out for a spot in the end. Liz immediately asks for more pain once JLP starts cranking the spikes forward, and as they reach the one-hour mark, Gerry drops out. Two more hours pass, and George can’t take it any longer, telling Matt to finish the job and pulling Gerry aside on the bench to keep his vote secure.

Between Liz and Matt, Liz struggles first. But once again, she asks for the pain to be increased all the way, eventually forcing Matt to slip up and send her to the final three. Four hours in, and the underdog has emerged as the victor, forcing the trio of men to finally turn on each other.

On paper, it should be an easy 3-1 vote against George. He’s not immune, there’s no idol to be played, and it’s the last chance for the newbies to prove they aren’t his helpless pawns. But just to ruin Liz’s perfect day, Gerry asks to be voted out after witnessing the amazing performances of the others, feeling as though he doesn’t deserve a spot at the end. It’s music to George’s ears, but if Gerry won’t straight up quit without a vote and wants to leave with the usual process, he needs to convince Matt and Liz to go along with it. And that will not be easy.

Liz has sought revenge against George since Shonee was blindsided, and the constant trickery she’s been subjected to between Shonee being removed from the jury and Nina being voted out behind her back only made her hunger more ravenous. And Matt, despite tying himself to George at the swap and never letting go, is finally ready to make that move himself as he fears George is the tougher opponent at the end.

George walks into Tribal praying for a tie, but the editors won’t let the audience have as much faith about that possibility. Once Liz puts George’s name down, his fate is sealed, and off comes his head after 46 hard-fought days. The pawns have overthrown the king, giving us an all-newbie final three facing off against a seven-person jury of returning players.

To eulogize George, though… I don’t even think words can describe how much of a stranglehold he had on this season’s narrative from minute one. From beginning to end, this was the George show, barring the few hours he was in danger of being evacuated with Jackie in the premiere. Almost every memorable move was George’s doing. Most of the season’s quotable lines came from his mouth. Most of the post-merge was either George plotting something or the others talking about George in some fashion. And by raw airtime, George had more than the final three combined.

But you know what? He earned every second of it. Heroes v Villains was his season. Without George, the season would’ve lost so many of its best moments, its best strategies, and its epic energy. Though he came up short yet again as the fallen angel final juror instead of the runner-up, he’s more than earned a spot among the greatest to never win across every version of the show. Being able to watch not one but two entertaining games from this man was an honor, and I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of him on this franchise, so count me down for watching him make another run at the title someday.

We’re left with an admittedly weird final three of Gerry, Liz, and Matt, three players who rode returnee coattails for most of the season and don’t have much to discuss at Final Tribal in the way of tangible moves. It’s not like this isn’t a cut-and-dry case of the new era meta, though. Many recent seasons ultimately come down to three supporting players once the top dogs eat each other alive and leave room for a goat revolution in the game’s final moments, and this season is no different.

But props to these newbies for doing what nobody expected of them, especially when they were the only newbies to even make the jury among some elite returning players. And as usual, when you have three random players at the end whose games don’t speak for themselves, it all comes down to how well they pitch their stories.

With their opening statements, all three finalists give passionate speeches with conviction. Liz owns up to riding returnee coattails, framing it as a means of learning the game on the fly to prepare her for the inevitable moment where she’d need to step up both as a challenge beast and genuine social player who weaved her way across multiple alliances. And to top it off, she immediately claims credit for the George boot, listing all the points where she wanted to knock him off the throne but had to bide her time for the sake of a winning game.

Matt focuses on his social game, highlighting his survival at the swap as a crowning achievement in addition to his selfless actions that painted him as a nice guy, giving him the perfect cover to play a more deceptive game when he flipped at the merge and dominated challenges. And Gerry talks about his incredible story of endurance and revenge, about how he survived injury, was cast out from the Heroes, and emerged as a vengeful player who took out his hit list person by person with the help of George as his loyal partner.

With three solid pitches fresh on their minds, it’s time for the jury to rip some people apart. Sam starts by asking Liz whether her game was proactive or reactive; her answer is clear and concise. She had to hit the ground running being a newbie among returnees, lest she be left behind like all the other newbie villains. And at the swap, she was away from her allies and had to scrape by on her own by forming new alliances, mutinying to her old ones, and setting up relationships for the post-merge.

Simon calls Gerry out for being easily manipulated and dragged along, asking him to prove him wrong. Gerry claims that’s a misread of his game, framing himself as George’s equal partner who even managed to flip George’s mind at a live tribal, which George himself verifies for the jury. He couldn’t play the game alone, so he built a strong alliance that got him to the end.

George goes for a two-for-one deal, asking Liz and Matt to name just one move they made that wasn’t created by him. Matt tries to claim the George boot, citing his conversation with Gerry a day earlier as the moment his fate was sealed. Liz fires back, explaining her process of swearing revenge in the wake of Shonee’s blindside, waiting in George’s shadow for the right time to strike, and finally carrying out her mission at the last possible second. Matt tries to salvage the situation by taking credit for almost voting for George in the Isolation round and then voting Nina out, but George doesn’t give a damn about what could’ve been. It’s an idea, not a move, and the Nina move was all George. So with his talking points shot down, Matt spends the rest of Final Tribal with his tail between his legs.

Seeing a chance to boost her chances, Liz steps in to show Matt how it’s done. Though Shonee might be gone from the jury, her presence on the season is not lost, and Liz is more than happy to inherit the moves they shared as The Shiz, including the move to save Flick at the swap with an idol threat. It presents her as an active player who might not be flashy but had intention behind her moves and wasn’t just following George to her doom.

Hayley asks Gerry if he has any regrets, and his answer is no. His only real grievance is that his older age prevented him from bonding with a cast half his age, but Sam and Shaun quickly undercut his excuses. In short: his social game sucked. Sam felt like Gerry talked way too much about himself instead of learning about others, and Shaun informs Gerry they do have things in common, but Gerry never bothered to learn what those were because he assumed Shaun was a football-loving jock with no other passions in life.

Given one last chance to plead their cases, Gerry and Liz give it their all as Matt gets shut out. Gerry tearfully says he’s proud of his journey whether he wins or not, but Liz goes in for the kill. Her game was more exciting than anything Matt or Gerry did. She played hard, learning the game on the fly among more experienced players. She’s the last woman and the last Villain standing in a season where those qualities made others early targets. And right at the end, she balanced being a Hero and a Villain to slay the king and take his crown with a perfectly timed move.

To nobody’s surprise, Liz’s rock-solid performance wipes the floor with a hapless Matt and Gerry, culminating in a unanimous 7-0-0 victory. As underedited as she was for most of the season, I still think Liz’s game was evident in the final product. It wasn’t flashy. It wasn’t in your face. It wasn’t oversold to the audience to the point where she was the obvious winner. It was honest, blunt, and to the point, just like Liz herself. She won’t be ranked in the upper echelon of Survivor winners, but she knew what needed to be done, played with intention, and presented a great case at the end.

As for our co-runner-ups, Matt and Gerry were effectively linked at the hip for the entire post-merge, and their downfalls were one and the same. As the game reached its final days, they refused to budge against George as the growing jury grew increasingly annoyed by their stubborn cluelessness. I do feel for Matt here, though, as a final two format was his best shot to win and seemingly what he was playing for all along, but if his entire game hinges on it being a final two against a huge goat, it’s not a great plan. These two men weren’t awful players, but they never capitalized on the opportunities. They got tunnel vision at the worst of times, all while Liz had to expand her view of the game to make the right calls and build a proper case.

And there we have it. Australian Survivor’s latest installment is in the books, and despite some flaws in late-game design and the usual unbalanced editing… it was a great return to form! Production wisely let the great cast play the game this year instead of forcing a million twists into the mix. Casting itself was full of hits, with only a handful of misses who largely left early. And even the editing, as messy and unbalanced as it usually is, managed to weave together a solid narrative with way fewer frankenbytes and more camp life.

It’s not the best season of the franchise by any means, but if this is a sign of what’s to come with future seasons as newbie casting opens yet again, I think Australian Survivor is on the cusp of a new renaissance. Let’s just cross our fingers here and hope the incredible momentum this season set up is not a one season wonder.

Written by

Cory Gage

Cory is a writer and student from Texas. He's a die-hard Survivor fanatic who's seen over 50 seasons worldwide, hosted his own season in high school from scratch, and hopes to one day compete on the show himself.

2 responses to “Episode 24 – Checkmate”

  1. Great review, Cory!

    If this season of Survivor Australia isn’t the best of the franchise in your opinion, which one is?

  2. Who would you rank as runner up & 2nd runner up between Matt & Gerry as last year I know Chrissy was ranked as runner up & Shay second runner up

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