This week on Australian Survivor seemed to be a constant barrage of challenges where two castaways are pitted against one another in a feat of strength. It’s like the game itself: the continual battle between contestants to get the upper hand or the loose vote so that they have their way at Tribal Council. After the masterful eliminations this week, I’m beginning to feel like this season is similar to Tarzan pushing Harry into the ocean with a giant block: it’s pushing iconic castaways out of the game one by one (RIP Michelle, loved and never forgotten, truly robbed goddess).
BRAWN VS. BOND
The story of this week has been the battle of brawn vs. bond on the Mokuta tribe. Which is better? To have a tribe that can win challenges or a tribe where you trust one another to keep you safe? In theory, the answer should always be about trust—getting further in the game means nothing if you don’t have people to work with to get you to the end. The early stages of the game are often dominated by talk about building a physically strong tribe—as early as Survivor: Borneo, the first boot was the person who let down the tribe physically. Every season of Australian Survivor, the challenges have become more physically demanding, and players whose strengths lie in social and strategic ability now have a higher hurdle to clear if they want to make it deep into the game.
Given the longer nature of the Australian Survivor game, the conversation about “keeping the tribe strong” seems to draw out: instead of one or two episodes, it has become two weeks of discussion about the merits of a challenge winning tribe. It is only day 13 in the game, and this debate has been particularly strong on the Mokuta tribe. The majority group has been determined to make the tribe “better,” which, by their definition, means more capable of winning challenges. Abbey, Lee, and Lydia all come from backgrounds where physical effort has been the carriage to achieve their goals. For them, the right team and enough practice has led to success in their chosen fields. With this in mind it is hardly surprising that they are inclined to try and build an alliance based on physical ability.
Until now, the weak link at the challenge has been on the outside of the majority and made sense to be the target to be sent home. It was particularly grating, then, that this episode’s least valuable performer at the challenge was given a pass. John struggled in the challenge—by his own admission. But although he was unable to complete his portion of the challenge, it seemed that the overall loss came down to generally poor planning by the tribe. Midway through, John confessed that being underwater was uncomfortable for him and was causing him to panic. Lydia later stated she should have been in his place rather than in the earlier, easier round. However, despite John’s poor performance, Shonee, who was competent in the challenge, was still the target to go home.
Before the challenge, the Little Rascals wanted to capitalise on Henry’s departure. Nick, Shonee, and Harry knew they had to make a plan moving forward, and their best approach was to recruit people away from the athletes and into their misfit gang. Two castaways were identified, Sharn, the least athletic athlete remaining in the majority, and Zach, who had been left out of the vote at the previous two Tribals. Sharn, in particular, seemed interested in the new majority due to her desire to keep Shonee around. Even though Sharn (a marathon runner) is no challenge liability, she also does not have the physical strength of the other remaining females. Sharn needs Shonee to stay as a “weakshield” to keep herself safe. Meanwhile, Zach was determined to forge a new path and chatted with Harry to feel out his options, with the Ice Cream Man offering a potential alliance in return.
With Tribal Council approaching, the athletes were firmly fixed on Shonee to go home while Zach was ready to join with the Little Rascals + Sharn and suggested they vote off John, using his challenge mishap as an excuse. Nick hoped to take this piece of gossip to the athletes and curate a unanimous vote against Zach in the name of tribe harmony. Nick reasoned that—despite his #brogress—Zach had minimal social connections and his ouster would cause the least waves, while saving Shonee in the process. This was a confusing strategy, as it seemed Nick was tanking a clear majority. However, Nick later explained his thinking on Twitter, revealing that the John vote-off fell apart shortly before Tribal when Sharn decided she wasn’t on board, and so the plan to take out Zach was him desperately trying to save Shonee.
At Tribal, Jonathan LaPaglia’s twist made the matter even more complicated by sending not one but two castaways to Exile Beach. This meant that even a technically unanimous vote would result in two people being exiled—and much less of a chance for tribe harmony. I’m not pleased that social goddess Shonee was the majority vote (again) and, given there’s a chance of a physical challenge to return to the game, I’m even less pleased that her potential opponent is powerhouse Zach. However, I’m still keeping my fingers crossed that both of them somehow get back in the game.
A TALE OF TWO TRIBES
The tales of Vacama and Mokuta seem to be mirroring one another in a bizarre series of events. On Mokuta, the theme has been cohesion and community. After the initial vote for Shane, the tribe appeared united as they steamrolled through the first few rounds of the game. Even as Michelle then Henry left the game this week, the outward argument was always about strengthening the tribe and making the tribe better overall. This focus on betterment has flipped and is now fragmenting the tribe due to a differing belief about what a better tribe looks like. The Little Rascals sought to preserve a group of people they trusted, while Abbey’s Athletes wanted to move forward with a physically strong group (who were, conveniently, all the people within the alliance).
Michelle’s vote-off was motivated by Abbey’s group. Henry’s elimination was driven by Nick and the Rascals as a desire to bring calm to the tribe. Even though both alliances wanted the tribe to function better as a result of the vote, each has only deepened the cracks between alliances. The twist—which has left Zach and Shonee with unknown fates—could very well leave the Mokuta tribe with a sense of tension that hangs over into the upcoming swapped tribes.
Meanwhile, the Vacama tribe has been split from the very start. From the first couple of days, there have been two clear alliances with everyone sure of who is on which side. The “high school clique” of Brooke, Flick, Phoebe, AK, Locky, and David have ruled against the lesser numbered but higher-powered underdogs of Mat, Moana, Jacqui, and Tarzan. There are some blurred lines with the Golden Godfather partnership but otherwise the sides are very clear. The majority were shaken by Daisy’s boot last week (a vote which came together like a work of art) and are still rattled even two votes later. And Mat’s discovery of an idol and its subsequent use to taunt Locky is both comedic and strategic.
However, there is something about the clear divide within the tribe that has allowed them to perform as a whole. They have now sent Mokuta to Tribal Council three times in a row. The most recent reward challenge (which featured family photos) really gave a sense of the Vacama tribe being bonded together through the sharing of food and emotional stories of back home. So while Mokuta has gone from cohesive to cracked, it seems that Vacama is moving from scattered to solidified. Will the reverse trajectory of these tribes make any difference moving into the swap?
CHANGING THEIR STATE OF PLAY
With two weeks of episodes under our belt, it has been interesting to consider how these returnee castaways have changed up how they play the game. Some have come in with clear intentions to play in a different manner. Some believe their previous game was fatally flawed, while others think that they are unable to play a similar game and get the outcome they desire.
Nick is a castaway that comes to mind when I think about those who are trying to play differently. He recognises the follies of his previous game (namely fake idol clues and generally playing too hard) and wants to be more subtle and considered in his strategy. I’ve been impressed with Nick up until this episode—the seemingly random desire to throw Zach under the bus seemed reckless until his tweet made it clear that John going home was no longer a viable option. I believe patience is an underrated quality in a good castaway—biding one’s time and knowing when to strike is a very considered art, especially with the amount of chance involved with many strategic moves. Daisy’s exit took many pieces falling into place perfectly to pull off successfully. Yes, Mat and David were integral to her going home, but without the luck of Henry finding the idol clue which he then told Mat about, it was doomed from the beginning. Nick’s willingness to throw someone who is seemingly an ally under the bus in the name of tribe harmony was a bit like Season 1 Nick seeping out, and I was a bit scared that the fatigue and starvation were causing him to lose his cool a little.
Lydia came in with a strong desire to exact revenge on Shane. Having done that, it seems as if she’s fallen into her old ways. Once again, she is in a physically strong, dominant alliance and seemingly taking orders from the alliance leader. She even said herself at Tribal that she was part of a strong, majority alliance in her first season, and they ended up sending her home at the merge. We have seen Abbey flip on her own allies before if she knows they could beat her at the end, and I believe she would do it again here without hesitation. Without her own social connections, Lydia could be staring down the barrel of another blindside.
Zach is another castaway who has acknowledged the failure of his first gameplan—that being loud, bossy, rude, and misogynistic didn’t work out for him. He seems to be genuinely trying to have a social element to his game, but comments from other castaways reveal that he has been unable to make true bonds with those on his tribe.
Another unexpected change has been that of Lee. In his first season, the retired cricketer came across as overly serious, set on being honourable and unwavering in his pursuit of mateship. This season Lee is Sir Custard Arm, a more relaxed and fun-loving version that has ties to multiple castaways and a commitment to be loyal to his allies even if it means being deceptive to others.
WHAT TO EXPECT NEXT
The swap is just around the corner. With Shonee and Zach taking an unexpected trip to Exile Beach, it does make one wonder if they might just pop right back into the game. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I’d love to see the swapped tribes compete to decide who gets who. Alliances are set to be shattered—the likelihood of an entire alliance been supplanted from one tribe to another is very low. Goodbye, Little Rascals!
Also, the swap tends to push new targets to the fore. David, a triple threat who is known to be devilish, could very well find himself on the wrong side of numbers if he goes to Tribal soon. The chance to take out such a strong player could be too good to miss. And as these foundation alliances are broken up, previous grievances could come into play. Sure, Brooke could trust Flick as one of six in her alliance, but could she in a different, more desperate situation? Phoebe and Locky have spent some time with the original Mokuta tribe members, will that play into their favour?
Who will take the chance to solidify a better game position and who will be left clinging desperately for some leverage? (Spoiler Alert: It’s Mat. The Godfather is not a happy man, at least, if the promos are to be believed).