It was a race to the bottom in this episode of Australian Survivor with contestants falling over themselves to make the most strategically questionable decision. It all begins at Mokuta, where Sharn lays out the dynamics of the tribe. She states that Lee, Nick, and herself form one trio, with Zach tangentially floating on the outskirts of this alliance, while Moana, Jacqui, and Tarzan form the secondary trio, and finally, Phoebe and David form the last pair—with Phoebe firmly being on the bottom of the tribe.
Having already been voted out of her tribe once (only to be saved by a fire-making twist), Phoebe embarks on a mission to try and find a hidden immunity idol using the clue she found at the Cake Shop reward challenge. Before she starts searching, she decides to tell David about her clue, a conversation that David does really well to play down his emotions and make Phoebe feel like he has her best interest at heart. She doesn’t go into any details of the clue itself but merely tells him that she found it and needs the idol in order to be safe. David (being the borderline psychopathic creature that he is), to his credit, plays it very cool and doesn’t push her too hard to tell him the specific details of the clue itself and instead reiterates the fact that he is with her and needs her in the game to succeed.
That said, it is in David’s nature to always be in control, and to do that, he needs to find a way to get Phoebe to tell him the clue to the idol. The moment where the tribe begins to question Phoebe’s whereabouts is the perfect time for the Golden God to strike, as he is able to subtly put pressure on her to do whatever it takes to find the idol quickly. David finds Phoebe in the jungle and warns her of the tribe’s suspicion. Sensing her start to panic, he asks her where the idol is supposed to be hidden so they can look for it together and find it faster. Lo and behold, we find out that David knows of the exact termite mound that Phoebe has yet to look through and is confident that is where the idol is. All that is left for the Golden God is for him to take poor Phoebe on a wild goose chase, making her double-check all the termite mounds she has already examined earlier.
At this point, the idol has all but been stolen from underneath Phoebe’s nose with David just having to lead her astray for long enough so that he can grab the idol from the termite mound behind the shelter. Eventually, Phoebe goes off for one final look providing David with ample time to sneak the idol while nobody is looking, marking him as the first player in Australian Survivor history to hold two hidden immunity idols at the same time. The dynamic between David and Phoebe’s relationship is such a fascinating one because there are so many parallels we can draw upon—the most popular comparison being to the relationship between Parvati and Russell in Heroes vs. Villains.
Over at the Vakama tribe, we’re introduced to ‘AK the Akountant,’ the man who loves to crunch numbers, run scenarios, and make informed decisions. We don’t see a lot from Vakama this episode, but what we do see is mainly from Harry’s point of view. With Mat gone, it’s difficult to see who is on the bottom of the tribe if Vakama were to return to Tribal Council as the relationships that are left are very fluid. Harry is unsure of whether he is safe or not, which is an interesting assessment considering that three former Mokuta tribe members have gone home in a row, leaving himself and Shonee as the lone two original Mokutans.
Sure, they were the only Mokutas that we cared about, but it doesn’t bode well for them being so outnumbered regardless of how socially ingrained and fluid the relationships on this tribe seem to be. Aside from Shonee, we see Harry and AK bonding together over their love of numbers and running scenarios in the game. Of course, we don’t hear much from the perspective of AK as it will ultimately not be relevant for the rest of the episode but is nevertheless an intriguing dynamic we are shown moving forward.
The Vakama tribe does manage to end their demoralising losing streak in emphatic fashion by winning both the Reward and Immunity Challenges. It is a great day to be a Vakama tribe fan as they’d lost every challenge they had competed in ever since the tribe swap. Not only did the tribe get a break from Tribal, but they also got some gourmet sandwiches! The kind of sandwich that can make a grown woman cry, as Shonee did when she saw how robust her sandwich was.
INFORMATION IS POWER
The Survivor community has been pretty vocal all season about their dislike of the way Australian Survivor goes about editing their characters. Aside from producing a dull and predictable product, the inconsistency that results from blatantly favouring certain players makes it difficult to understand where all the other contestants are coming from when it comes time to vote. It is safe to say that this criticism can be put to rest, even if only for one episode, as we are left, as viewers, truly in the midst of a tailspin by not knowing who will be going home this episode. Coming out of the Immunity Challenge, we get to see the perspective of the four players that will be crucial at this impending Tribal Council—David, Phoebe, Moana, and Sharn. Let’s break them down.
Moana’s previous shot at Phoebe was foiled by an unexpected twist, which gave Phoebe a second life in the game. This time, with no twists in sight, Moana is determined to strike again. There’s an element of arrogance wafting around Moana as she describes her strategy to fly under the radar while she sends her “minions” off to gather information for her. These minions come in the form of Jacqui, Tarzan, and Zach, who is the latest addition to Mo’s alliance.
This strategy immediately comes into play with Moana approaching Zach with the promise of keeping him safe alongside Jacqui and Tarzan. Zach is receptive to the plan to vote out Phoebe and goes off to talk it through with Lee—someone who understands how big of a threat Phoebe is but is too loyal to his alliance to do anything about it. Once the conversation is over, Moana approaches Zach and gets confirmation that Lee is still on Phoebe’s side and that Zach will proceed with her plan. With David also on her side and promising her a Final 3 alliance alongside Sharn, the numbers appear to be well on her side, leaving her with one last thing to figure out—how to spell Phoebe’s name.
With her idol adventures leading her nowhere, Phoebe’s plan is very simple, and that is to secure the votes that have gotten her to where she currently is in the game. Phoebe effectively has the votes of her fellow Season 1 players, Nick and Lee, in addition to Nick’s extra vote advantage he attained from Pandora’s Box, leaving them with four votes—two votes shy of a majority. When it comes time for Nick and Phoebe to discuss the votes, they are both extremely confident that they have Sharn and David on their side to give them a firm majority.
David’s vendetta against Phoebe is interestingly the most fleshed out by the edit yet still the most confusing to get my head around as a viewer. The final confessional we hear heading into the commercial break after the Immunity Challenge is David telling us that his decision to target Phoebe is an “obvious” one because she is clearly “not with him anymore.” This statement is baffling to hear, considering we had just been watching 45 minutes of Phoebe effectively throwing her game away due to her blind loyalty to David. If we listen to how the show explains it to us, this whole situation stems from the fact that Phoebe told Nick that David wanted him out and voted for Moana without consulting him. At this point, I’ve learned to not try to look at the game through the lens of a strategic madman, but it all reeks of a big bruised ego.
All that aside, one of the more surprising revelations we see before heading into Tribal Council is the strong three-person alliance between David, Sharn, and Moana. The link between the three is mainly David’s love of getting into “unlikely alliances” with unexpected people. David tells us that he has wanted to get into an alliance with Sharn since the tribe swap and that his partnership with Moana is watertight since they are bonded through their mutual distrust of Phoebe.
Last but not least is the woman caught in the middle of all these plans, and that is Sharn. As someone who has been on the quieter side of the edit, we finally see more of the inner workings of Sharn’s game and her plans moving forward. She tells us that she wants to be the person in the middle of two alliances, playing them both against each other, and that is exactly the position she is in here. She has Nick and Phoebe wholly convinced that she is on their side to vote Moana, while she was just promising David and Moana that she is going to vote Phoebe out.
Sharn has effectively put herself in a lose-lose position no matter how she goes about the vote, as she will be making somebody angry either way. But if she can lose herself in the theatrics of Tribal Council, then she might continue to fly away unscathed and unnoticed. But there’s no doubt, going into Tribal, Sharn has all the power as she has all the information she needs to make an informed strategic decision—after all, she knows where all the votes are going! The decision should be an easy one in theory, as betraying David would always be a recipe for disaster, as he has demonstrated on both his seasons.
Tribal begins with the tension between Moana and Phoebe finally boiling over, with the two of them defending the way they choose to play the game. Moana says that she doesn’t choose to jump into alliances straight away and prefers to have conversations first before she decides to work with certain players. Conversely, when questioned about why Moana received votes at the last Tribal, Phoebe takes a swipe at Moana’s under the radar gameplay and says that she isolated herself by staying in the shelter for two weeks. When Nick chimes in with a comment saying that Moana is “bumping heads” with Phoebe, Moana decides to set the record straight by saying that her decision to target Phoebe is strictly strategy and not personal.
If that drama isn’t enough to create a palpable tension in the air, David pulls out one of his hidden idols and tells everyone that he is going to play it on himself. Knowing that he was receiving no votes, David’s bluff was seemingly very unnecessary and only served as a tool to create exciting television and shocked reactions. Nevertheless, it is the last thing we see before the votes are read. When the contestants go to vote, we see David’s brazen idol shenanigans play on Sharn’s mind when she goes to vote—no doubt having flashbacks of Benji pulling a fast one on her when it came to her idol play. As she goes to write a name on the parchment, we see that she ends up voting for Moana.
When it is time to read the votes, there are shocked faces throughout Tribal, as a mysterious tenth vote on a gold embellished parchment for Moana is revealed, causing a 5 – 5 tie. Moana, David, Zach, Tarzan, and Jacqui all plant their votes on Phoebe, whereas Nick, Phoebe, Sharn, Lee, and Nick’s extra vote for Moana force the tie. The writing is on the wall at this point of the revote as Nick no longer has his second vote to protect Phoebe. However, interestingly enough, we see that Sharn ends up flipping her vote against Phoebe on the revote, completely solidifying herself as a double agent flip-flopper. Her double agent antics don’t go unnoticed by David, who is livid in his voting confessional, telling us that he learned that Sharn cannot be trusted.
This was an episode with captivating and baffling decisions that made good TV but bad strategic sense. Sharn was someone who had all the information at her disposal as she moved between opposing factions in the game. She knew where all the votes were going; she had the knowledge that David had flipped on Phoebe and would have known that Zach was voting for her as well, yet she still decided to go along with the minority alliance. It makes even less sense if she knew about Nick’s extra vote, since then she was intentionally putting herself in a position where she voted for Moana and then Phoebe, further cementing herself as a flip-flopper in the game—a title that isn’t heavily respected. And don’t even get me started on David’s idol bluff. But it’s safe to say, we’re in an exciting predicament heading into the next episode.