Actions speak louder than words. Boston Rob, a five-time castaway from the US iteration of Survivor, exemplified this concept when he explained how he makes a social read on any castaway’s allegiance. Rob explained that he watches who sleeps next to who in the shelter at night. His reasoning was that no matter what you say or how you behave during the day, once you are at your most physically vulnerable, you will stay by the people you trust the most.
This week of Australian Survivor has been a minefield of thinking about who you can trust based on their word and hoping it is backed up by their actions when the votes are cast. This cannot be overstated more than watching Sharn in the recent string of episodes. Sharn avoided picking a rock by arguing that she would be 100% loyal to the Vacama trio, but ultimately, her actions booted Shonee (and any chance of receiving her jury vote) out of the game.
HE SAID, SHE SAID
Sharn’s narrative this season has been about playing both sides, but I expected this episode to be more about the fallout from having chosen a side. Her choice to keep David was important to continue on with her allies, but it has won her no favours from the Vacama Trio. And given the majority of the jury is old Vacama, it probably hasn’t won her any respect with them either. And the jury members—Zach and Jacqui—were both voted out with Sharn at the reins. So, in terms of fallout, Sharn seems to be well-positioned game wise but has lost her footing when it comes to the jury.
The annoying thing about the focus on Sharn playing both sides is that her partners in crime are doing the same thing. David won applause in the third episode when he teamed up with an opposing alliance on the sly to take out an alliance member he deemed untrustworthy. Yet when Sharn seemed poised to flip away from her former allies and take out arguably the season’s most influential player (David), it was presented to us as being wishy-washy and traitorous. Moana’s gameplay for the final days is centered on each member of her alliance being more loyal to her than one another.
The dynamics within the majority alliance have been three people playing together with a variety of sidekicks/henchmen… but Jacqui didn’t trust Zach, Tarzan doubts Sharn, David is suspect of everyone at some point, and Moana might not suspect anyone enough. Even though the four of Moana, David, Sharn, and Tarzan are ostensibly rock solid, it’s the unacknowledged truth that eventually they will need to turn on one another. There isn’t room for four people in a final two, yet all four seem to think they have a reserved seat on the bench. All in all, the group is strong together, but I fear that once they are fighting as individuals, things will be utter chaos and could get nasty quickly.
THE FIGHT TO SAVE AK
Brooke pulled off an incredible come-from-behind victory in the Immunity Challenge to the despair of the majority four. With Brooke out of contention to go home, the focus sits squarely on AK. Throughout this week, AK has explained game concepts to the audience and has been the strategic nucleus of his alliance since the earliest days. Despite the emotional pressures of the game, AK has been rational throughout and provided a logical perspective to his allies. But here he is faced with the inevitability of being voted out, though he refuses to give up.
Despite tipping over the tribe’s water barrel, it seems like AK keeps his cool. He even tells Moana that he flipped over the barrel so that she’d stop following him on his idol hunt— I’m not sure why she then does leave him alone, but it gives him all he needs: a few minutes alone. A few minutes when nobody can confirm that AK didn’t find an idol, which can make David just paranoid enough to consider what would happen if AK does play an idol. Despite being told that Sharn is the Vacama trio (now duo) target, you can see David’s mind turning over in front of AK and Brooke. Is this Tribal Council going to be a stepping stone or a stumbling block?
A BLAZE OF GLORY
Turns out, it won’t be either when the new twist “Trial by Fire” is introduced. On the one hand, I feel like these twists have to be pre-planned before any castaways hit the beach, but on the other, this seems like a means to keep the more likeable Vacama crew in the game. Although it’s impressive for an alliance to keep (mainly) together from merge to the endgame, it’s not scintillating viewing. Brooke, AK, and Shonee have been the loveable underdogs: easy to root for, relatable on many levels, and the goofy gamers playing against the more robotic Mokuta members. I wouldn’t blame production for trying to squeeze any time out of Vacama that they can… but when these twists pop up (often unheralded and unexpectedly), the game mechanics start feeling like they’ve been tampered with.
The twists make me feel like I took a wrong turn and got lost trying to find the finale in a labyrinth of Survivor, even when they don’t seem to change the outcome as much as delay it. If AK had managed to spread enough paranoia or doubt among the majority alliance I would be much more impressed with his gameplay than if he stayed because he could make a fire quicker than Moana.
AK’s challenge performance was a highlight of the episode and showed a new side of him than we’ve seen before. We saw AK paralysed in fear and later breaking down emotionally as he struggled between wanting to stay in the game and wanting to support his long-time ally. Where David, Moana, Sharn and even Tarzan seem to project more negative thoughts about one another, often on the precipice of betrayal and maintaining a level of suspicion at all times. AK, Brooke, Shonee and their other allies were full of love and support for one another. Even when the chips were down, they were ready to try and make the best of things. AK, and Shonee before him, left the game as as a loyal ally filled with appreciation for their friends and the game itself. Comparatively, Zach and Jacqui left on a bitter note and seem nonchalant sitting on the jury. That’s probably not a good sign for their former allies.
Between the twists and the ongoing decimation of all my favourite castaways, this season seems more like a slog to the end rather than an exciting race. Brooke is running out of ways to stay in the game: her only option seems to be winning individual Immunity. Is it possible Brooke could win every challenge all the way to the final two? Yes. Is it likely? Probably not. I’m bracing myself to pick a new favourite from the Mokuta Four… and hoping for a reverse of that season two twist and a juror gets voted back into the game.