It seems infuriatingly appropriate for this season that the episode where the majority is forced to turn on each other, they still somehow manage to make the least interesting play after teasing a strategy that is not only more exciting but is actually better for their game. This season has certainly had its ups and downs, and we’ve had glimmers of hope, excitement, and even compelling struggle along the way, but so we continue the plodding march to the end. When your All-Stars season is demonstrating some of the worst game theory in the series history—and especially coming from one of the ostensible best players coming in—it’s a rough outcome.
THE ALL STAR MOVE
Let’s get it out of the way—Sharn’s strategy is inscrutable. I was a huge fan of Sharn coming into this season. She made some horrifically terrible mistakes in her first season, including the one-two punch of voting out the disliked opponent to instead go up against a likable real-world Aussie legend at the Final 2. And then bungling her Final Tribal performance by leaning on loyalty when she had an impressive physical and strategic resume to point to instead. However, with her keen mind, I really thought she’d learn from her mistakes and course correct. And if she could avoid the target on her back, she could manoeuvre herself into a winning position with aplomb.
Instead, she’s running the same road, repeating the same mistakes, and is actively positioning herself to come second again. For some incomprehensible reason, she’s succumbed to the fallacy of believing she should go up against the best at the Final Two. Bizarrely, last week she explicitly stated that her plan was to go to the end with David, who has played the most impressive game of the season, and even though he’s made some horrible mistakes, it’s not close. But it’s not even that Sharn has the wrong read on Dave, perhaps perceiving him as more disliked or a lesser threat than he is. No, Sharn is completely aware that David is the biggest threat on the board—and she actively wants to go up against him in the Final Two. In her mind, to be the best, you have to beat the best at the end.
But that just isn’t how Survivor works. Jeanne Michel of Survivor South Africa: Philippines addressed this mistake beautifully in her season, and it’s a lesson Sharn should be taking to heart. Survivor isn’t about going up against the best at the end. To beat the best, all you have to do is vote them out—that’s still coming out on top because Survivor is a game played over weeks, not mere hours of a Final Tribal Council. For Sharn, this should be abundantly clear. Not only has she made this mistake before, but on this very season, the Jury is champing at the bit to see a player make a bold move and play an active game. Going up against Dave at the Final Two isn’t the All Star move—voting him out with an Idol misplayed or sitting in his pocket is the big move.
For a brief moment, I thought that Sharn might have seen the light. With Brooke immune, and the alliance forced to turn on each other, the consensus had arrived on voting out Tarzan, as he was not integral to Mo and Sharn’s end plans, and he was less likely to beat out Brooke in a future challenge. However, knowing that David had an Idol, that David and Tarzan were close, and that Tarzan would almost certainly be voting for Sharn, there was a non-zero chance that David could pull a fast one on her. If Dave played his Idol for Tarzan and then voted with him against Sharn, she’s out in a flash. Despite being gung-ho about going with him to the end, Sharn was not confident David felt the same in turn, so she tried to engineer a safety net.
There was a glimmer of thought—perhaps this was the perfect time to blindside Dave. Even though he would surely play his Idol, Sharn and Mo could team up with the free agent in Brooke to put their votes on David. That way, if he played his Idol on Tarzan, he’d cop the repercussions, and there goes David in the biggest move of the season. If he played it on himself for security, though, and still believed that Tarzan was the one going, that would allow them to still vote Tarzan out on a re-vote.
Brooke was on board unquestioningly, and it should have been an obvious play for Sharn and Mo to make. They’d already been complicit in Jacqui’s move to weaken David by cutting Zach, so why not finish the job? And why not take a shot at the biggest threat still in the game, rather than pick off Tarzan who, despite the endearing “aw shucks” character, is no real threat to win—heck this is the guy who is agreeing to go to the end with David, knowing there’s at least a 90% chance David beats him.
I can see the drawbacks of following through on the plan against David. If he plays his Idol on himself, that boosts his reputation further as he’s now saved himself from going home. That said, I feel like just taking the shot is something the Jury is literally salivating for, and even a foiled attempt would still earn respect from them. But the biggest fear is that David & Tarzan conspire to put their votes onto Sharn in the hopes of playing the Idol correctly, thus sending her home. So I can see why Sharn would be nervous about being in such a precarious position. However, at this stage of the game, you need to take calculated risks. There’s no prize for second place. Literally, there is no monetary reward for second; no difference between runner-up and fifth place or seventh or twenty-fourth. The only prize in Australian Survivor is ultimate victory, so why not play all out for the crown?
That said, there’s always a chance to take David out next. If Brooke continues her streak, then an Idol-less David is the obvious target, poetically going out in fourth place like his buddy Luke Toki. But with only two Immunity challenges left—and another huge target in Brooke—there is no wiggle room for Sharn and Mo if one of these two is able to win out both these final Immunities. So take the shot at one of them while you can.
Sharn has had countless opportunities to make a bold play throughout this season. Her biggest play of talking the Vakamas out of rocks is impressive in isolation. Still, the fact that she followed it up by refusing to take a clean shot at David with them (despite reading correctly that he was bluffing with an Idol) has led to a point where Sharn has an uphill battle if even a chance. With a Vakama-heavy Jury, there’s almost no chance she wins out a Final 2 over underdog favourite Brooke. David’s bombastic play and incredible control of the game is unbeatable unless he completely bombs the last few rounds. Moana is a good candidate for Sharn to go up against. Still, Mo’s demonstrated more active control of the game’s trajectory despite her social faux pas along the way, making it a more evenly matched fight for Sharn, who has also broken promises with the Jury and has yet to make a clearly bold move.
The best theoretical option for Sharn was Tarzan —but he had no interest going with her as his allegiance still lay with Vakama before all else, and she just voted him off. I can see Sharn getting to the end—she’s Moana’s Number 1, and Brooke and David are big enough threats that at least one of them is going to get picked off. But I feel like we’re charging towards a repeat outcome, and Sharn could become the third in the Kimmel, Hantz, and Coombes triumvirate of two-time losing finalists.
Moana, meanwhile, is in an interesting position. She’s played an active game from the shadows, and we’ve certainly been privy to a lot of her scheming and planning in the confessionals. However, her bristly interactions with those not in her alliance could make it hard for her to win over a Vakama-heavy Jury. Even here, as she and Sharn courted Brooke to throw a vote on David, Moana never spoke to Brooke like a co-conspirator: she spoke down with authority. Going against David wasn’t a move they’d make together, it was a “trust vote” to evaluate Brooke’s loyalty that would be threatened if Brooke tried to air the plan to anyone else.
As such, I can’t imagine Moana would fare well against David or Brooke—a major, visible player and the underdog champion of the minority. She would have had a strong case against Tarzan, as a Jury wanting big moves would have to choose her over the guy who coasted, unmoving, in an alliance with no active interest in making waves. Sharn would be a tight battle, as neither has been flashy, and both have put off the Jury. But as it stands at the Final Four, Sharn is Mo’s only hope, and given Sharn seems to change her mind about David every other hour, it’s a gamble whether she can get to that outcome without winning the Final Immunity Challenge. But Australian Survivor has seen the Final Immunity be a player’s first win before, so it’s not impossible, but it’s a steep ask.
David, however, is almost assured victory against Moana or Sharn. He’s a huge threat on all fronts. Physically, he’s no slouch, with one Immunity to his name already and highly competitive performances along the way. Strategically, he’s a mad scientist, pulling off plays that shouldn’t work but somehow do. He takes bombastic risks that toe the line between calculated in impulsive, but he’s able to articulate and rationalise his thought process in an engaging way. And the ability to sell a narrative at Final Tribal is perhaps the most essential skill you need. But his social game has been phenomenal, earning multiple shields along the way and managing to coordinate enough belief in others to protect him when, by all logic and reason, he should have been handily voted out.
Mo and Sharn aren’t without a story, but this is a Jury who wants to award the title to a veritable All Star player, and it’s hard to go past David. There is almost no scenario in the world where it happens, but a Brooke/David Final 2 would perhaps be the most up-in-the-air conclusion. Brooke would certainly have the Vakama votes locked down—Locky, Harry, Shonee, and AK. David would have his buddies Zach and Tarzan. Moana and Sharn would depend entirely on the way they went out of the game, but seem like they’d lean towards David. And then Jacqui is a wildcard who had her issues with David’s authority, but who also didn’t appear to have an especially strong personal relationship with Brooke (who also dropped her at the rock draw). I think Brooke has the edge, if only because she’d only need to win over one vote, compared to David’s three, but it would be an intriguing end.
Lastly, Brooke seems like the player doomed to be the “robbed g.oddess.” As I’ve theorised above, she’s the odds on favourite to win in any remaining Final 2 configuration, but getting there is the issue. As she said this episode, as soon as she loses Immunity, she’s gone. It’s not an impossibility that she could win her way to the end— she’s an absolute challenge beast, and she’s on a tear, with a third consecutive Immunity win here. This victory also pushes her to a record-breaking fifth Individual Immunity of the season, breaking the Australian record previously held by Sharn, Brian Lake, and Luke Toki, and equalling the all-time US record held only by men (Colby Donaldson, Tom Westman, Terry Dietz, Ozzy Lusth, Mike Holloway, and Brad Culpepper).
Brooke’s social game has also been incredibly strong with her Vakama allies, and she’s not without strategic acumen given her influence over the game when she had power pre-merge. Brooke is a powerhouse, and her ultimate victory would be a compelling push to end the season. Still, when Immunity wins are your only path, and David, Sharn, and Mo have all won individual challenges this season, it’s anything but a guarantee.
I can’t say that this season has been my favourite of the Australian iteration, with its terribly lop-sided editing, iffy twists, and frustratingly stagnant gameplay, but as I look at our Final Four, I’m at least optimistic that it will be a compelling conclusion. After a long, bleak slog, Brooke winning out would be cathartic. A David victory would be a landmark for the franchise as the first alpha winner of the series. Moana winning would be an intriguing comeback story for a player who left early in her first time out. A Sharn win would be so unexpected at this point that it would have to mean these final episodes are massive. But even if it’s bittersweet along the way—Brooke’s long fight coming to a predictable close, Moana’s heartbreak after coming so far for her family, David falling just short after gruelling back-to-back seasons, or Sharn repeating history—there’s room for the season to still end on an intriguing note.