Okay, mea culpa, the calvinball experiment of the convoluted Exile twist ended up delivering the goods. That said, I still stand by my initial assessment of what the twist was announced to be on Monday night’s episode, where the Exile 6 would face off in a “series of challenges” and suggesting that the loser of this gauntlet would be eliminated—that is still a terrible idea. But what the twist actually ended up being was pretty fascinating.
In the end, this week of episodes effectively became one extended round of the game, with multiple different avenues for securing Immunity. Shonee and Sharn earned fleeting Immunity through the conventional means, though Sharn’s win in Tuesday’s episode having a much greater weight as it secured her complete safety from Exile. Meanwhile, David and Tarzan earned Immunity through the wholly unconventional means of ending up on top of the strategic and social ladder, manoeuvring their way out of getting voted onto Exile in the first place.
For the rest, banished to a purgatorial beach through Tribal Councils that were more nominations than votes, it came back around to challenges, with two different skillsets being tested to earn effective Immunity for Moana, Brooke and Jacqui. That left three, AK, Shonee, and Zach, the only players vulnerable and now dependent upon their social and strategic games once again. The twist threatened to disrupt the majority’s hold on the game, but it didn’t hand the minority a win easily and facilitated opportunities for physical, strategic, and social games to shine.
If all of the mechanics had been laid out from the beginning, preferably at the first Immunity challenge that Shonee won, I would have been more on board with the twist from the start. With the Final 9 elimination still down to a vote in the end, it’s still Survivor, just with extra steps— a lot of them. And I still maintain that withholding information about the mechanics of twists only harms the game—as it did with Harry’s Tribal Nullifier—and that it is better to give the castaways the ability to actively engage with twists rather than just react to them. Nevertheless, in the end, the twist worked out and I ended up enjoying it. I don’t know if I’m in any hurry to see it again—we got the best-case scenario out of this convoluted mess—but even if we set aside the actual result, it ended up working for me.
But in the context of the result? This was a delicious episode of Australian Survivor, and arguably the best episode we’ve had since David and Mat conspired in Episode 3 to pull off the insane cross-alliance Daisy blindside. From the textbook downfall of a cocky Survivor villain in Zach to the triumph of an under-the-radar player making their mark with Jacqui’s Big Move to the Vakama 3 finally catching a break and the Mokuta alliance fracturing in an effort to weaken David’s power, it was a welcome relief from the miserable predictability the last few weeks had begun to foreshadow.
One of the most intriguing repercussions of the twist was its extended separation of Kalo Kalo. Survivor has flirted with separating a tribe between an Immunity challenge and Tribal, but an afternoon is rarely enough time for plans to be concocted and executed. With several days where the tribe was split between Exile and the home camp, and with the denizens of each beach constantly shifting with the initial Tribals over the last two nights, and then the staggered challenges here, there was ample time for social and strategic bonds to develop throughout a period of flux.
While trapped at Exile awaiting the challenge, the castaways had ample time to strategise for the coming storm, and Shonee led the charge for a Vakama comeback. While I imagine AK and Brooke were also working towards exploring options with the other players dragged to Exile, Shonee’s targeted appeal to Jacqui was the necessary catalyst for the eventual outcome. Identifying her as the only one on Exile sent there, unwillingly, by her alliance, Shonee preyed on that fracture to push Jacqui to consider the power dynamics of her allies. More than that, Shonee offered comfort, even parlaying her vote against Jacqui into a positive by claiming it was so that they could spend time together. And she also appealed to Jacqui’s burning desire to make a play and not become the sequel meme to Sue’s Big Move in one of the most beautifully meta Survivor moments ever.
THE PERFECT PLAN
Jacqui is such an interesting factor in this season. Although certainly a headscratcher amongst the initial cast release, I was legitimately intrigued to see how this largely forgotten pre-merge boot would fare. Jacqui had shown some real fire and passion for the game in Season 2, and as All-Stars kicked off, I was disappointed that we weren’t seeing that side of her as she fell into the role of a loyal soldier to Mat and then Moana. So to see her coming out party in this episode was a long-awaited blessing, and boy did she bring it.
The seeds of the Jacqui/Zach conflict had been sown back in the pre-merge, most significantly with their squabbling at the final block-stacking Immunity challenge that ultimately doomed Nick. So to see that tension bubble over again as they went head-to-head in a physical battle felt like a fitting continuation of that story—and an appropriate meeting of Jacqui’s only other storyline of being an insanely fit bodybuilder. As Jacqui bristled against Zach’s arrogance and condescension to outlast him in a strength challenge, it was a glorious victory. But it was made all the better by Jacqui’s desire to translate her physical victory over him into a strategic manoeuvre that opens her game up.
Following the Exile challenges, only AK, Shonee, and Zach were eligible to receive votes. In a revisiting of the initial plan for Monday’s episode, the Mokuta 6 had the numbers to split 3 on AK and 3 on Shonee, forcing Vakama to choose sides out of self-preservation. However, this left a perfect opportunity for Jacqui to seize the moment—her vote alone, alongside a united Vakama 3, would be enough to turn the tables on Zach, 4-3-2. It would be a massive play, and for Jacqui, it was a highly beneficial one. Not only would it remove a personal conflict by getting rid of somebody she consistently didn’t mesh with, but voting out Zach would also weaken David’s grip. It seemed like everybody had pegged that Zach’s blustering decision to volunteer for Exile had come down the line from David, and this emphasised that Zach was decisively in David’s pocket. For Jacqui, circling on the outside of David’s plans for the Mokuta alliance moving forward, removing one of his puppets was essential to her longevity in the game.
But cleverly, Jacqui saw that simply flipping her vote to get Zach out in a massive blindside wasn’t enough to secure her advancement in the game. If you’re going to pull off a heist, you need a getaway car, and Jacqui made a stellar decision to consult her closest allies about her intention to make a move against Zach. By ensuring that she didn’t burn bridges with Mo & Sharn, she gave herself options moving forward. With Zach out of the picture, she could utilise her newly forged relationship with Shonee and with Brooke & AK by extension. But she could also fall back in with her Mokuta alliance, and importantly, into a potential female majority of herself, Mo and Sharn over David and Tarzan. It was risky. If Mo or Sharn were unwilling to break up the Mokuta 6, they could have spread word and switched up the 3-3 AK-Shonee split, blocking Jacqui’s ability to flip, or even coerce David to play his Idol on Zach and ensure Mokuta held their numbers. But Jacqui made the right call to keep her bridges unburned.
If that wasn’t enough great Survivor, though, we had an added layer of bonus strategy. With Moana & Sharn seeing the advantage in using this opportunity to cut out David’s puppet, they were happy to go after Zach. But knowing that the move would blindside David, they needed to construct a defence mechanism against his inevitable wrath. For Mo & Sharn, who have a secret alliance with David, it was essential to maintain that façade. Sharn proposed an elegant solution—even though they were in on the plan, she and Mo would still cast alliance-approved votes for AK, making it look like Jacqui had gone rogue in a 4-3-2 vote when in actuality, it was a 6-3 decision. This covering of tracks was a brilliant play, and it obfuscates the reality. David is a dangerous player, especially when he’s feeling vulnerable, so anything they could do to mislead his energy in the wrong direction would be hugely beneficial, especially for his secret allies.
I’ve sung these praises before, but I really like it when Survivor shows us the beats of a developing blindside rather than trying to surprise the audience. The building tension throughout this episode was palpable, from Shonee planting the first seeds to Jacqui winning the challenge and considering making a move on Zach to her risky choice to share the plan with select Mokutans, to the question of whether she’d still go through with it. And, of course, the ever-present threat of David’s Idol coming in to knock over the Jenga tower of a precarious plan. This slow-building tension is always so effective and gripping, and the move playing out without a hitch made for a much needed boost of phenomenal Survivor in a season that’s been petering out over the last few weeks. Here’s hoping this is the start of a more rambunctious endgame through the last six episodes.
I’VE MADE A HUGE MISTAKE
Now the move itself was fantastic not only in its strategic execution but in its narrative reprieve from a predictable Pagonging. But what really elevated this episode was the classic tale of pride before a fall. You couldn’t have made up a better tale of hubris—it was just too good to be true.
I was higher than some on Zach’s ultimate choice to volunteer for Exile. Much like Ozzy’s self-imposed South Pacific jaunt to Redemption Island to remove a possible threat, going to Exile to win his way back and keep the Vakama minority vulnerable was a potentially effective tactic. It plays to Zach’s strengths in challenges and could be pitched as a ballsy and assertive move. And let’s not brush past it, but it nearly worked. Brooke beat Zach in the fire challenge by mere seconds, and the second challenge of pure brute strength is the kind of thing that should be solidly in his wheelhouse, were it not for a determined Jacqui out to prove the young’ uns—and specifically Zach—wrong.
Nevertheless, his unapologetic faith in his decision to choose to go to Exile made for such a satisfying comeuppance. As the tribe discussed, you shouldn’t want to go to Exile as it’s one foot out the door, but Zach was undeterred. He gets to the beach of banishment and is practically giddy at the thought of his Big Move™ that it drives his fellow exiled castaways crazy. They see right through it, crediting the move not to Zach but to David pulling his strings, yet big ol’ Zach is none the wiser. Zach loses out the first challenge, but is still unfailing in his confidence—there’s still another challenge. He loses that one—nope, still confident in his choice because he knows his alliance will back him up. And then… “Sixteenth person voted out of Australian Survivor… Zach.”
Yes, the edit was pretty hamfisted with its emphasis on Zach’s overconfidence, but just as it’s thrilling to see a blindside come together piece by piece, so can it also be exhilarating to watch overconfidence get cut out at the knees. It was a two-for-one in also getting to see David blindsided, once again in a ridiculous Tribal Council fashion statement. Still, in Zach’s case, it felt like such an appropriately ironic exit for a character built on bluster.
Count me among the people who were infuriated by Zach’s casting as an All-Star after his misogynistic behaviour on and off the island in his first season. That sentiment hasn’t gone away, but I did appreciate that we saw a different side of him this season through his love of birds and a little less machismo. However, his own personal heroic quest of Exile brought back a lot of that bravado—and a reminder of his less savoury attitude in the heat of the moment with his talking down to Jacqui in the challenge. And so there was even more satisfaction in his demise at the hands of smart, capable and strong women. But all in all, Zach’s blindside after a two-episode arc building towards this self-inflicted disaster was a thing of beauty.
AN OPEN FIELD
As Zach headed out the door, AK mimed an explosion, and it’s accurate. This move certainly blows open the game. AK, Brooke, and Shonee are definitely still on the bottom, and there’s a world where Mokuta regroups and finishes them off over the course of next week. But with Jacqui making a big play, David hellbent on revenge and excised of his right-hand man, Tarzan’s steady core alliance shaken up, and Moana & Sharn sharing a move of subterfuge, the cracks are showing. We’re at the pointy end now, and these All-Stars can’t afford to keep waiting to make their move. JLP sent Kalo Kalo back to camp with the suggestion that it could now be an all-out war, and hopefully, we’re that lucky.