Are you ready for a twist?! What? One twist isn’t enough for you? Well, I hope you don’t suffer from motion sickness because we are in for a bumpy ride. In this episode, we combine the excitement of a huge blindside with the annoyance and inconvenience of multiple twists in the game resulting in a viewing experience that can only be likened to being pelted by a barrage of soft crocheted balls. A mild inconvenience that is bearable enough to sit through. But through all the bells and whistles that we saw in this episode, I don’t want to lose track of the amazing gameplay that was set up before the contestants went to Tribal Council.
Let’s not bury the lead and get straight into one of the twists of the night that significantly impacted the narrative of the episode. When the contestants rocked up for their Immunity challenge, they were greeted by a mysterious item under a black tablecloth. One might have safely assumed that the contestants were in for an Immunity/Reward combo, but what was instead revealed under the black cloth was two individual Immunity necklaces—one for each tribe. Yes, both tribes had to go to Tribal Council by the end of the night, with only one player from each tribe being declared safe.
This was a classic Survivor challenge of endurance where the players had to hold two wooden discs up against a wall without dropping them. Considering that we’ve had to bear witness to challenges of wrestling, lifting heavy weights, pushing heavy weights WHILE wrestling one another… it was a nice change of pace to see a challenge that evened out the playing field somewhat. In the end, that was exactly what we got with Jacqui winning the Mokuta necklace, while Brooke was able to win the Vakama immunity. So, with the challenge out of the way, we were left with two tribes who were ready to scramble and make the most of this crazy situation.
TOO LYDIA TOO LATE
I don’t know if you all knew this, but…THIS IS ALL-STARS! I might be stating the obvious for some, but for others, this is totally new information. Lydia erupted from the crevasses of the Fijian jungle to let us all know that everyone is, in fact, on Australia Survivor All-Stars and must start playing like it. Coming out of the Immunity challenge, the dynamic of the new Vakama tribe was clear cut with the vote coming down to two people—Lydia or Mat.
Shonee was the driving force behind the plan to get Lydia voted out and was shown to be an extension of her increasing confidence after having survived multiple Tribals being the main target. As Shonee said, she won’t stop until she eliminates all her enemies and nobody else is coming for her. With her alliance of Brooke, Flick, Locky, AK, Mat, and Harry that she solidified last Tribal, Shonee found herself in a well-insulated position in her tribe. While the alliance agreed to split the vote between the two last outliers, Lydia and John, we saw Lydia begin to work on her plan to secure her own safety.
You see, while Shonee doubled down on her mission to seek and destroy everyone who wronged her, Lydia decided that her best move was to completely disregard Shonee and instead try to target Mat and enact her own form of retribution. Lydia was still bitter about her blindside by Mat in Champions vs. Contenders and thought that the perfect payback would be to vote Mat out with his idol still in his pocket once again. She planned on enacting this revenge by bringing in AK, Harry, John, Brooke, and Locky by pandering to their egos. “Now is the time for a big move!” she told them again and again. Why should Harry and AK squander this combined Tribal, which is clearly the perfect opportunity to show everyone how big of a player you are in the game, leaving you with absolutely no plausible deniability whatsoever?
To her credit, Lydia said a lot of the right things to the right people. Not only did she try to pander to their egos, she also tried to enlist fear in one of the biggest power couples in the game—Brooke and Locky. In one of the last conversations that we saw before Tribal, Lydia told Brocky (?) that Shonee and Harry were only following the numbers and would soon team up with Mat to split up old Vakama. Considering that the relationship between Locky and Mat was already tenuous at best, it was a good way to try and sow further seeds of doubt in their minds. It was a solid pitch but difficult for it to stick considering how last minute it seemed.
The question then became whether Mat could read the room and decipher the conversations that were happening around him, to know whether or not he needed to play his idol. He did notice Lydia chatting with everyone on the tribe but was unsure if she would be able to change any hearts and minds. He ended up approaching Locky to ask him about the vote, to which Locky vaguely reassured him. The tension and awkwardness between Mat and Locky is palpable as their relationship is dictated by the weirdest power dynamic—with Locky having control of the numbers and Mat having an idol. They both pretend to be friendly with one another and as if they have each other’s best interest at heart, but they also don’t buy any stock in what they say either.
PUTTING THE MO IN MOKUTA
Across the island, the Mokuta tribe was a hot mess and a pressure cooker waiting to explode. If there was ever a reason to suggest that putting twists into the game isn’t needed to create scintillating television, then this would be it. While we began the episode with a scene of David putting on his detective hat and trying to figure out who opened Pandora’s Box, it served merely as a reminder to the viewer that the twist was still on the minds of the contestants. The fact that the Pandora’s Box twist was an irrelevant afterthought by the end of the episode is a complete testament to the fact that you don’t need twists in the game when you have good players on the beach.
With the paranoia of Pandora’s Box running rampant in David’s brain, he devised a plan to get Nick (“the original snake”) out of the game. While it was obvious throughout the episode that David doesn’t trust Nick, we never saw him explicitly state that he believed Nick was the person who took the advantage from the mysterious box. Nevertheless, after the Immunity challenge, David started to get all the pieces he needed to blindside Nick by approaching Zach and asking him if he was interested in joining his plan—and Zach was definitely up for it. He then approached pretty much everyone else on the Mokuta beach apart from his prime target.
Meanwhile, having been separated from Mat due to the tribe swap, we finally got to see more from Moana and her thought processes in the game. Moana was one of the biggest unknown quantities coming into the season because she had been given so little airtime throughout her time on the show. Her first season was cut short because she practically begged to be sent home due to illness, and this season she has been put in the shadows due to her relationship with Mat absorbing all her possible airtime. Here, we witnessed what Moana is truly capable of when put in a position where she needed to take her fate into her own hands.
From my perspective, Moana knows how to play a smart game for Australian Survivor. The mighty Mat Rogers was her shield that she could trust and rely on while she sat back, gathered information, and waited for her time to strike. Now was her time, and she decided that the Golden God himself was the person she wanted to target… or at least, weaken. This wasn’t a one-dimensional plan where Moana sought out a majority to vote David out and then call it a day. What we saw was a longer-term plan, carefully constructed so that she could create a stronger relationship with David while simultaneously orchestrating the blindside of one of his closest allies—Phoebe.
During the Immunity challenge, Moana reached out to David after they’d both dropped out and asked about his plans for the merge. David, who played coy, let Moana know that his plans weren’t set and that he didn’t see a clear path to the end yet because he didn’t have a “Luke” this season. Moana proposed that they form an unlikely alliance that they can take to the end if they both happen to make it to the merge. We later learned that Moana was intentionally selective with her words and promised David safety after the merge, so any move made against him pre-merge was still on the table. A very cheeky way to make someone feel comfortable working with you if you know you want to eventually break your promise.
Moana had David where she wanted him, with his guard down, and all she needed now was to put the vote onto Phoebe. However, gathering the votes proved to be more complicated than it seemed, as Phoebe had ingrained herself in the tribe by creating solid working relationships with her tribemates. One of those players was Nick, who actually had his eyes set on voting Moana. Nick saw through Mo’s quiet, under-the-radar demeanour and noticed an intelligent and observant player. For whatever reason, Nick was certain that this was the time to strike. And, to complicate matters further, Mo wanted for her and Tarzan to vote with David against Nick to keep up the ruse that she’s working with the Golden one.
Going into the Tribal Council, we had a scenario where there was a Mexican-stand off of strategy where three players were secretly trying to vote each other out without the others noticing. David wanted Nick out, Moana wanted Phoebe out, and Nick wanted Moana out. Out of the two tribes, this was the dynamic that was the most fascinating and the one I was excited to see play out.
TWISTS AT TRIBAL
Entering Tribal, I was interested in seeing how this promised twist would be executed—whether it was going to be the tribes coming in one at a time or whether one tribe was going to be sitting off to the side while the other tribe voted. What we got was a giant 18 person Tribal where the players had to sit uncomfortably close to each other. Then, before the votes were cast, Jonathan dropped another bombshell, revealing that the two players voted out would have to face off in a fire-making competition with the winner being saved. At this point, it is crystal clear that Australian Survivor LOVES to make the players vote each other out before revealing that the very person they vote out will be coming back in the game with a vengeance.
The results for these two votes were contrasting, to the say the least. The Vakama elimination went as predicted, with Lydia being voted out after the tribe split the vote between John and herself. Clearly, Lydia’s “let’s blindside Mat” plan did not pick up traction. And Lydia even admitted at the end of the episode that she wasn’t blindsided. On the other hand, the Mokuta elimination was a shock to almost everyone watching, as Moana pulled off the blindside of the season when Phoebe was voted off in a 4-3-2 vote! Please don’t ask me how the votes actually landed because the show didn’t give us this information! [Editor’s Note: Although, if we were to guess, one would assume Mo & Tarzan voted against Nick with David, that Nick & Phoebe voted Mo, and the other four put their votes on Phoebe].
With Lydia and Phoebe voted out of their respective tribes, all that was left was for the fire-making challenge to take place. The competition was tense, not necessarily because of the fire-making challenge itself, which was pretty one-sided, but rather because we kept on getting close up shots of Moana’s anxious face as she realised all her hard work was for nothing.
In the end, Phoebe emphatically won the fire-making challenge in a tearful victory, which she dedicated to her father, who taught her to make fire. And as disappointed as I was to see all of Moana’s hard work completely backfire, Phoebe’s win was definitely the better of the two options for a more dynamic game moving forward.
However, my initial feelings as a viewer coming away from this episode weren’t particularly positive, I must admit. The timing of this twist was poorly considered and terribly executed. Not only were we teased by the joke that was “Exile Beach” last episode, which was pretty much just a glorified holding pen for Shonee and Zach before the tribe swap, but now that’s two episodes in a row where the vote (along with the strategy leading up to the vote) was completely redundant. Moana managed to pull off one of the biggest blindsides of the season by stringing together the votes to eliminate Phoebe with a strategic plan that was layered and very nuanced. And yet it is all negated by a twist that she had no knowledge of or control over. However, this is the reality of Australian Survivor and is something that has been with it since it came back to our screens in 2016.
What stings the most about this episode was that we were led hand-in-hand by the editors through a beautifully scenic path of well-constructed strategy where Moana carefully gathered her chess pieces before she struck against Phoebe. It was meant to be Moana’s strategic coming out party, but instead, she had the fires of her game fanned out of existence, and her strategic integrity compromised. Moana’s strategic brilliance a mere afterthought, nothing but rubble and ashes. A wisp of smoke that will fade into the air by the time we enter the next episode.
Okay, maybe I am being SLIGHTLY dramatic about it all, but my sentiment still stands, and this episode was an entertaining roller-coaster of emotions and wavering expectations. But to add more insult to injury, the final scenes did not reveal how the Mokuta tribe voted! We were only given the result of the more obvious of the two votes from the Vakama tribe. If we were to take an educated guess and extrapolate based on the tribe dynamics we saw throughout the episode, we could probably make sense of it, but in all honesty, the gun was being pointed in so many directions at the Vakama tribe that it is difficult to say with full confidence where the final votes lied.
Going into tomorrow’s episode will be a tough watch because it will be such a shame to see Moana potentially get voted out after the one time she decides to take her game into her hands. But if we can get through an episode of Australian Survivor without any twists, then I think we can all walk away as winners.