Who would have thought that the humble chocolate chip cookie could be a catalyst for so much strategy in Survivor? This episode, we saw the elimination of Jericho “The Cookie Monster” Malabonga as his game crumbled and disintegrated before him into a soggy, milky, inedible mess by the very thing that he loves the most—a jar of cookies.
While this episode was promoted as the first blindside of the season, the true takeaway of the season thus far is the cold-blooded back-to-back elimination of two of the game’s past winners—and loveable characters at that! On the surface, Jericho’s elimination wasn’t surprising, as seeing both winners eliminated back-to-back was high on the list of likely outcomes this pre-merge. From a viewer’s perspective, it was really unfortunate that the contestants went with the obvious elimination of Shane and Jericho. Still, from a gameplay perspective, it is really exciting to see that these contestants aren’t pulling any punches this season so far.
The vote to get rid of Shane and Jericho were maybe the “boring” decisions (as Shane put it), but they were not the only choices on the table and could have very easily gone another way. Jericho conceivably had a path to weasel his way into the game had he been given the opportunity. Jericho isn’t without fault in this situation either as he did have some cracks he could have slipped through. Mat and Moana were high on everyone’s list to be voted out—even higher than Jericho himself! And the vote flipped a few times before it ultimately landed on Jericho with Mat and Moana being the two original targets—two players who were incredibly close on their season now reunited together again on this tribe.
So what went wrong? Sure, Jericho’s reputation as a devious and strategic player ultimately came back to bite him, like the chocolate chip cookie he craves, but the series of events that unfolded was certainly more interesting than they appear on paper.
MILK AND COOKIES
The dynamics within the Vakama tribe appeared to have been split by age with Mat, Jacqui, Tarzan, Jericho, and Moana being labelled as the “old crew” while Locky, David, Phoebe, Brooke, Flick, Daisy, and AK are deemed the “young and attractive people.” This was an interesting assessment told by AK in his confessional considering David and Mat are practically the same age, and Jericho and Moana are the same age, if not younger than most of the “young and attractive” people. It definitely seemed like an oversimplification of the social dynamics of the tribe, but that can be blamed on the edit rather than AK’s ability to read the game.
Nevertheless, the stage was set really well for Jericho. While he wasn’t in the majority alliance, he excelled well enough socially that he was able to build relationships with most people in the game. He was beginning to form a strong relationship with Phoebe, which we saw a few times throughout the episode as they shared jokes over a coconut. And the mere mention of Jericho’s name was met with a collective “aww.” There was no doubt he was loved by the whole tribe, and you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that everyone was falling for his old tricks again. The only exception to this rule was David, who saw Jericho as a scapegoat that could unite his alliance against a common enemy.
David was a tall, frosty glass of milk who served to splash and dunk Jericho’s game until it was a crumbly soggy mess of a cookie. Much like last season, David found himself in a position where he was the head of his alliance, with all the women (and Locky) pandering to every move he made and every muscle he flexed. And just like last season, everyone can see right through it. David’s social influence this episode was highlighted as he was able to turn the target from Mat and Moana and push it onto Jericho. This was a massively impressive move to be able to get a large alliance of capable strategists together and convince them to not split up a strong power couple in Mat and Moana. Up until the point that David threw out Jericho’s name, the crosshairs were well and truly focused on the season 3 allies. Unlike many of the other pairs in the game, say Brooke & Flick and Lydia & Shane, Mat and Moana didn’t end up with one of them blindsiding the other in their original season.
The rationale that David put forth to vote out the sporty power couple was that the best way to weaken Mat and Moana was to go for the third in line—Jericho. It’s an argument that shouldn’t make sense since the game has only been played for 4 days at this point, so the relationships are still fluid. But when you’re dealing with a group of players who didn’t want to be voted off their tribe first, it becomes an appetising situation. Considering that David was fresh off his season and was able to integrate himself so well with a tribe of players who would have watched enough of last season to know how big of a threat he is was mightily impressive.
Seeing David so determined to get rid of Jericho and staring him down with his blue steel of death was definitely a shock considering that both these men share something so significant in common, having both played with Luke Toki. It was very interesting and deeply saddening to know that they couldn’t recreate that magic together this season.
So, where did it go wrong? What options did Jericho have at his disposal that could have shifted the target away from him once more? It all came down to the swing votes, Phoebe and AK. Jericho’s downfall can really be traced back to when the Vakama tribe won reward, which allowed two contestants from the tribe to go out to the Survivor Shop and “purchase” (no money was involved) 5 items to bring back to the tribe. With food, advantages, and luxury items to choose from, Phoebe and Locky decided to take a reward advantage (which allowed them to take any two contestants to any reward their tribe doesn’t win), a tarp, flint, some vegetables and a jar of cookies to share.
The notorious jar of cookies made a comeback this season and was bigger than ever. These cookies were kept a secret from the tribe upon Phoebe and Locky’s return to camp, which made them the perfect bargaining choc-chip to build trust and solidify their alliance with the young and attractive people. It wasn’t long before Phoebe and Locky assembled their alliance of David, Daisy, Brooke, Flick, and AK and devoured the sugary treats. And it was in this moment that the alliance solidified in the eyes of the viewers as David told us in his confessional that he can envision himself working with this group.
But Jericho’s extra-terrestrial cookie senses were tingling, and they were tingling very hard when Phoebe and Locky returned from the reward. Australian Survivor has a history of isolating one of two players off in a reward and giving them a dilemma that forces them to choose between luxuries, from which they must then explain to their tribe-mates upon their return. “Everything that came out of [Locky’s] mouth was full of crap!” we heard Jericho state. He wasn’t buying anything they were selling. Jericho experienced this first-hand on his season with his own ginormous jar of cookies, which is why he was so suspicious of Phoebe and Locky upon their return.
But the pair of reward winners handled themselves well and seemed to escape the experience relatively unscathed—something that can’t be said for many players before them in similar situations. We have seen so many people fall when confronted with the scenario of lying to their tribe about the reward, whether it was So Kim’s infamous neutral box or the fake idol clue poetry by Nick Iadanza. By confiding in a large group of people about the cookies, they really diminished their threat level and solidified themselves in an alliance well.
Phoebe and Locky were also significantly aided by the fact that they could add the reward advantage to their 5 list of Survivor Shop items, so that they could show the tribe what advantage was on offer if any. It should also be noted that Phoebe’s strategy to say as little as possible and leave all the talking to Locky was brilliant and clearly panned out very well from her. Her experience as a criminal lawyer was paying off in this instance.
But as I said, Jericho wasn’t buying it, and one of the opportunities he had was to use the uncertainty of the reward to throw further suspicion Phoebe and Locky’s way. But since Phoebe was the key to his safety, it was a door that was swiftly shut in his face. Without that, his only other option was to turn on his own alliance and get the votes against Mat or Moana, something we didn’t see him do. This could have conceivably worked considering how fluid the vote was shifting from person to person, but it didn’t seem like Jericho realised the target had shifted onto himself. Instead of using Phoebe and AK as his tool to further push his agenda to vote out Mat or Moana, he decided to lock himself in voting out Daisy.
It is important to note that Phoebe appeared to be very conflicted with this vote and could have gone against her alliance to keep Jericho in the game. Going into the vote, Phoebe did find herself in the swing position alongside AK. She told us in her confessional that, while being in the swing vote spot is often romanticised, it is a difficult position to be in as you have to mitigate the fallout afterwards. The vote to go against the grain of her sexy cool kid alliance would antagonise potentially 6 people, and to do so to save one strong relationship was a hard choice to weigh.
Is one really strong relationship worth more than 4 or 5 mild ones? How much are loyalty and trust worth in Survivor, and are they more important than staying in the majority? Not to mention that Phoebe already has the reputation of being one of the strongest strategic minds of Australian Survivor. Flipping at the first Tribal Council would not be a great place for her to start.
SNITCHES GET STITCHES
Over at the Mokuta tribe, we saw the line in the sand continue to be drawn with a smaller three-person alliance formed between Harry, Nick, and Shonee, brilliantly called “The Little Rascals.” This is honestly one of the better scenarios that anybody could have hoped for coming into the season, and I am very much here for it. While the strategy from this tribe was very minimal, we got a bunch of character moments that made this episode a pleasure to watch! We learned that Shonee is Nick’s Survivor spirit animal and that he was very much enjoying her company in the game. We also learned the story behind Shonee scoring a job working for a very rich man in London by stopping him in his tracks to tell him how much she loved his Dalmatian. The editors clearly did not hold back on giving us the Shontent for this episode.
In regards to strategy, we slowly began to see the puzzle pieces be put in place for a potential rivalry between Harry and Henry. As was seen last episode, Harry attempted to shift the vote away from Shane and onto Dirty Harry. It was difficult to tell if Henry’s style of erratic gameplay was his strategy from the get-go or if finding the clue to the idol so early on this season somehow propelled him with an air of confidence that he can no longer resist. It is certainly different than how someone like Nick has decided to approach All-Stars by reining in his super-fandom. Nevertheless, narratively speaking, this episode set the stage that Henry doesn’t know that Harry has him all figured out and is aware of his plans to vote him out.
Going into the next episode, we are promised “the biggest and best Tribal Council in Australian Survivor history.” Now, they say this every season at this point, and we all know that Network 10 love their hyperbole, but it will be interesting to see how the marketing team view “the best Tribal Council ever.” Will it be through the strategic moves that are made, or will it be because a big name goes home? If I was to hedge my bets, I would guess that the Mokuta tribe will be going to Tribal, and there will be idol shenanigans aplenty!
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Australian Survivor airs Monday through Wednesday at 7.30 pm AEST.
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