Nothing smells better than that new buff smell, am I right? We are at the merge, and the feeling of anticipation and excitement that comes from knowing that relationships will be reconnected and alliances intertwined is what makes the post-merge game so great. Although, before we get there, we must visit the Mokuta tribe to see the fallout from the previous Tribal Council, which saw the elimination of Nick, the OG Snake himself voted out at the penultimate vote before the merge.
With Nick out of the game, Sharn is now putting all her eggs in her alliance with David and Moana. Luckily for her, David tells us in confessional that he feels much stronger in his new Mokuta alliance than he does going back to his former Vakama. With the suspicion that the merge is right around the corner, the Mokuta 7 decides to have a team meeting where they outline their strategy heading into a likely merge. Although “meeting” is probably not the right word since that implies there will be equal discussion amongst the attendees. Instead, it should be considered a way for David to push his agenda while looking like he is being inclusive of other people’s ideas.
David immediately takes charge of the tribe, as if he is an army general prepping his soldiers before going out to war in the trenches, and tells them all of their plan going into the merge. He puts himself in the position of the secret agent and lets them all know that their best move is to let him pretend that he is on the outskirts of the tribe so that he can reconnect with Brooke, Locky, and AK, to gain information. With their strategy set, the Mokuta alliance can decimate the Vakamas from the inside. With the approval from Moana and Sharn, we head into the reward challenge with a clear game plan in mind for this tribe.
DON’T DROP THE BALL
While this challenge is all about not dropping the ball, for David, his plans are contingent on him dropping out so that he can have as much time working his social game as possible to win over his old tribemates. Conveniently sandwiched between Harry, AK, and Brooke, David drops out early so that he can concentrate on feeding them false information. He whispers to them that the power lies in the alliance of Moana, Jacqui, Tarzan, and Zach, with Sharn and Lee being the swing votes. As the players slowly begin to drop out of the challenge one by one, David continues to paint himself as an outsider who needs the help of the Vakama alliance and promises his loyalty to them moving forward.
In the end, Lee wins the reward in a challenge that lasts over an hour. But, what exactly was he playing for? It certainly wasn’t food because Jonathan LaPaglia reveals to the contestants that, for the first time in Australian Survivor history, there will be a merge feast waiting for them back at camp. Instead, Lee wins himself a potentially valuable advantage in the very first individual Immunity Challenge.
The players head to camp for a feast of food fit for a cast of All-Stars. If there ever has been a group of people that deserve a merge feast, it would be this group that fought tooth and nail to get to the jury phase of the game. Speaking of All-Stars, as if we needed even more reminders of what this season is, the newly merged tribe names themselves Kalo Kalo, which means, wait for it, ‘star’ in Fijian (and is also the same name as the merged tribe in Survivor: David vs. Goliath). There is a mountain of food available to these hungry contestants such as whole chicken, whole fish, a whole pig, whole fruit, and whole grain! Honestly, it was great to see the players revel in such an iconic Survivor tradition that is the merge feast.
As the rapid gorging on food dies down, the conversations (or “strat-chats”) start occurring. Moana begins to play her part in executing David’s plan by making comments about how David is on the outs to the Vakama alliance. She reiterates to Brooke and Sharn that her main alliance consists of Jacqui, Tarzan, and Zach, with David being on the outside, pushing the idea that the Golden God can potentially be a number for the Vakama alliance to pick up. From there, it’s David’s turn to reconvene with Locky to see where his head is at, and it becomes very clear that they are indeed both on similar wavelengths and open to picking up where they left off. Locky buys David’s lies hook line and sinker and completely believes that the Vakama alliance has a new majority that includes Zach and David.
With the foundations of this plan firmly set, the Mokuta 7 must decide who their target is—and Moana knows who she wants gone first. In a quick conversation in the middle of the jungle, Moana tells David that she wants Locky blindsided out of the game in order to get revenge for her friend Mat Rogers’ elimination. Being the drama-craving man that he is, David loves the idea and has no problem going along with it. However, for this plan to work, the seven former Mokuta members (Moana, David, Sharn, Zach, Jacqui, Tarzan, and Lee) need to stick together and place all their votes on Locky, while making sure the Vakama group don’t suspect any foul play.
SHONEE’S SOCIAL STRATEGY
Vakama is obviously at a numerical disadvantage, and Shonee recognises the need to use her social game to flip the numbers in her favour. The two people that stand out as the people most likely to flip are Zach and David, which is unsurprising given the work Mokuta has been putting in. Shonee believes that her prior relationship with Zach would make her the perfect person to charm him into wanting to jump ship. The social game has always been something that’s been overlooked and been seen as a taboo by many fans, but the overwhelming popularity of Shonee has really seen the social game shine to the point that it is finally getting the credit, I believe, it deserves.
Its obvious Shonee has nothing in common with Zach but she uses the small pieces of information that she gathers about his life to build a connection. The example of this we see in the episode is Zach’s apparent love of birds. Shonee tells us that whenever she doesn’t know what to talk about with Zach, she uses the topic of birds as a way to bridge the gap between them and further build their relationship. It is a brilliant display of social prowess and using your knowledge of people’s lives to get them on your side. Viewers and contestants always underestimate how far likability can take you in the game. Not only that, she passes on the information of Zach’s love of birds to Brooke so that she can also pander to Zach alongside her to further increase his chances of wanting to work with them. Sure, this may not have ultimately bore fruit, but it is still an amusing scene, and between Shonee and Moana, it’s great to see different strategies get the recognition they deserve.
I digress, later on that night, the Vakama 5, in addition to Zach and David, meet up on the beach to discuss their desire to vote Sharn out of the game. It is a name thrown out by Zach, who worries about Sharn’s own social game, and the idea is received very well by the rest of the alliance. We end this scene with Locky exclaiming how much he wants to cause chaos as that is apparently where he works best. This theme of Locky talking about how much he loves chaos and big moves is definitely an intentional choice by the editors and is excellent to pick up on when you rewatch the episode.
WOULD I LIE TO YOU?
Survivor is a game about balance and juggling multiple parts without trying to drop the pieces. The first individual Immunity Challenge of the season exemplifies that—and along with it means that the epic sword of Excalibur is no more. In its place is an Immunity necklace laced with red jewels and horns of some description. The challenge requires the players to stand on a seesaw-contraption, where they must balance and place 9 blocks on a stand to create a tower without toppling them. Having won the reward challenge, Lee’s advantage is that he only has to place 8 blocks on the stand—and if his reaction is anything to go by, he isn’t thrilled nor high on his chances to win.
The majority of the players struggle to get a feel for the seesaw, and it quickly becomes apparent that it’s going to come down to either Sharn or Shonee, the two women who got a feel for the challenge the fastest. In the end, Shonee is able to cause an upset by stacking her blocks and earning the safety from Tribal Council along with it. Having seen the first two individual challenges of the merge, it is crazy to believe that I’m watching the same show as the pre-merge that valued physical strength so highly. These individual challenges are so much more balanced to accommodate for all types of players; it’s baffling that they only leave them for the merge.
Coming out of the challenge, it becomes apparent that the Vakama 5 are entirely snowed by the Mokuta 7. With a plan in place, and a target in sight, the final step for Mokuta is to come up with a decoy target so that the Vakamas are thrown off the scent. Moana talks with Sharn and Lee about making AK the decoy and leaves it in the hands of Sharn to sell this information to Vakama. Of course, when it comes time for Sharn to “warn” AK of his impending doom, AK takes Sharn’s word as truth as “she has no reason to lie.” This makes no sense coming from a superfan like AK, who knows everyone is playing a game (built on lies and deception) to win $500,000—everyone has many reasons to lie. If anything, Sharn is now making me crave an Australian edition of the show Would I Lie To You? Perhaps it can replace the boring talent show the contestants usually gravitate to on the island.
Regardless, the Vakama alliance is incredibly complacent going into Tribal Council, as Brooke and Locky laugh over lies they told Sharn, but considering that David is the cornerstone of both plans, you can never be fully sure which way he will go.
When we get to Tribal, the topic of conversation revolves around how the game changes now that we have reached the merge. Does the game reset? Do the targets change? And most importantly, does jury management play a role in how you vote people off? We reach the pinnacle of this conversation when Moana and Locky get into a heated discussion about what constitutes a winning game and what type of player they would want to vote for at the end. Locky takes a stand for players who make big, bold moves, by saying that he wouldn’t want to vote for a player that sits back and makes safe moves the whole time. Moana doesn’t take this comment well at all and is quick to shut him down by saying that Locky, along with his alliance, has done nothing but make the safe move for the past four votes. Locky’s rebuttal to this argument is to say that the real game doesn’t start until the merge because it is only then that jury management matters. The last person to present this argument was Neleh in her Final Tribal Council speech all the way back in Survivor: Marquesas, and it wasn’t very well received back then either.
From there, it is time to vote, and, as expected and telegraphed all episode, the Mokuta 7 alliance sticks together and blindsides Locky in a vote that left him shell-shocked. In his final confessional after the episode, we hear Locky quickly put the pieces together and realise that he was most likely targeted due to his decision to vote out Mat Rogers, and that was probably the downfall in his game.
With two of her targets now out of the game, Moana is truly cementing herself as a big threat. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how the other players react to the way Moana is playing and whether or not they respect her. While it is easy for us to see that Moana has agency in her game, I can only wonder if the other contestants see her as someone calling the shots or someone who is simply following the lead of David. After all, her game has been so subtle at times, and the way she managed to move the chess pieces in a way that they would be in her favour has been fascinating.
Moana went from someone who was being targeted by David for going after his closest ally Phoebe to someone David is calling a “badass gangster.” Her plan to eliminate Phoebe and take her spot as someone being protected by the giant meat-shield that is the Golden God appears to be working superbly. With that said, now that Moana is seen as David’s second in command, it’s easy to see her as someone who will face the same fate as Phoebe by being voted out as a way to weaken David. And considering David has two hidden immunity idols, it’s a very likely possibility that she is eliminated and caught in the crossfire.