I’m back for another season of recapping Survivor New Zealand. With only one episode a week you won’t get to hear my pearls of wisdom as often. A nation, nay the world weeps I’m sure.
For all the complaining I did about the lack of gameplay, dragged out storytelling and the lackluster winner, I really did enjoy season one. It felt like an old school season with the lack of twists and advantages. A back to basics season that we needed in the big moves era of Survivor where there’s no bag of tricks to save you, only your wits.
With recent events like Advantagegeddon sending Cirie Fields (the best player of all time) home without receiving a single vote, and Ben Driebergen winning Survivor: HvHvH with a combination of suspect idol finds and the controversial fire twist, I was hoping Survivor New Zealand would take its time getting around to that side of the game. As stated last week, idols are in play this season and the pureness of season one is gone. Idols played a big part in Episode 2 and I can see them playing a big role in the season as a whole.
The episode opens after tribal council with Chani back at camp. God bless Liam. He’s still baffled as to why they’d get rid of a strong player and I don’t think he grasps the importance of being left out of a vote. He’s athletic and harmless enough that he can probably survive this tribal section of the game. Most likely being a number for the savvier players until they no longer need him. Liam is the type of player that’ll be happy with 8th place thinking it’s some kind of achievement.
The alliance that formed to take out Jose do an okay job at minimizing their visibility. JT spins some story about Jose throwing his name out, forcing him to retaliate (none of which we saw last week). And the rest either keep quiet not wanting to draw attention to themselves or say they felt like Jose wasn’t including them in her plans which sketched them out enough to get rid of her.
Despite it obviously not being an alliance of 9 (now 8) the only one worrying about her position is Karla. Having gotten votes last tribal she knows her position within the tribe. “I definitely think it’s a good indication that I’m probably the second on the chopping block. I just have to fight every day like every day is my last day,” says Karla. That’s what I love to see in a Survivor contestant. Awareness of game dynamics and an unstoppable determination. Too often we see contestants stop fighting when things are against them.
Chani got flint at tribal council and for the first time get to eat a proper meal. It’s a huge morale boost. A quote I’m sure won’t be taken out of context by podcasters and bloggers: “Oh my god, get in me” exclaims Franky. “It’s like gold,” says Arun. The tribe is riding high at the moment. We’ve seen in past seasons of Survivor how important a tribe’s attitude is. This might be what they need to break their losing streak.
Over on Khangkhaw, there is a Cold War brewing. Dylan came into the game wanting to align with threats implementing the tried and true meat shield strategy. A solid plan on paper. Come merge time people are too busy worrying about threats that you can sneak into the finals. Dylan is finding it harder to put into practice, however. The alpha males have bonded together and see no real use for Dylan. They’ve pulled in Adam and Tess to form what is being referred to as ‘The Invisible Five,’ and there is also talk of roping in Lisa but then that makes that name redundant. Pro tip: don’t join a pre-existing alliance with a number in the title (Four Horsemen, Three Amigos).
Dylan is their prime target at the moment. Wimpy lil’ non-leaders often don’t get the respect they deserve in Survivor. But no one should be underestimated in this game. Dylan is a former podcaster of Survivor and is a die-hard fan of the game. I myself have chatted with him on Twitter about various Survivor seasons and what came through in our interactions is not only his love of the game but his strategic mind. He is an underdog at the moment, but if things break his way I could see him making a deep run.
Things aren’t looking much better for Kaysha. Tess has gotten bad vibes from her feeling like she isn’t genuine. Adam has a connection with Kaysha but being close to Dylan means that Adam has to distance himself from her. Those two are on the outs and unless something changes they will be knocked out in quick succession.
At the reward challenge, Khangkhaw gets their first look at Chani. Dylan has the most visible reaction at seeing Jose as the first one voted out. “It means people are here to play and it’s going to be an interesting game,” he says.
For the challenge, tribes will swim one by one, relay style to a pontoon where they will then climb up and smash a tile to retrieve a key, swim back, repeat until they have all five keys which will open a chest containing one ball (budget really showing TVNZ). They will use the ball to break five tiles in a good ole Survivor carnival game. First to break all five tiles gets a platter of fruit.
Chani gets out to an early lead which is widened when Kaysha has trouble getting her key. She is successful in her second attempt but is so exhausted she barely makes her way to the tribe mat before collapsing out of exhaustion. Host Matt Chisholm calls over the medical team and spends a minute checking up on Kaysha. When he’s given a thumbs up that she’s okay he gets back to challenge mode giving play-by-play of the goings-on. I don’t expect Chisholm to nurse her back to health or anything; I just find it interesting how easily he flicked the switch from decent human being to reality TV host.
Contestant Matt (not to be confused with Host Matt) makes up some time and beasts the challenge as well as doing a pretty good Australian Survivor Locky impression by showing his ass when his swim trunks slip down. With the help of Matt and Josh the Khangkhaw tribe make up a lot of ground and its neck and neck going into the tile break portion of the challenge. It’s Arun for Chani vs. Brad for Khangkhaw. Arun tries his best but is unable to come through for his tribe. Khangkhaw are victorious once more, heading back to camp with sweet fruit while Chani goes back with only the bitterness of defeat.
The celebration is interrupted when Adam projectile vomits. There’s no challenge to call so Chisholm is much more concerned this time and the medic is called over once more. From what I witnessed maybe an exorcist would have been handy. The tribe really went all out to win and it shows. Contestants are battered and bruised, and Adam is now feeling the results of giving more energy than he had. After a moment or two and the medical assistance of Chisholm, he’s good to go.
While the Khangkhaw tribe enjoy their reward, we find out Adam loves watermelon. He states that his life’s theme is “peace, love and watermelon.” He has a tattoo of a turtle with a watermelon pattern. Survivor New Zealand has a lot of rough edges, but it does something the U.S. version rarely does, explaining the meaning behind contestants tattoos.
At treemail, the tribes learn they must select one tribemate to go to ‘The Outpost.’ JT, of course, has chosen the only person he trusts. Himself. He sniffs the scent of an idol and is going to use all his tricks to be the one chosen. His superliminal approach of simply coming out and saying “yeah, I’ll go” works better than it should have. Being in a solid majority created little resistance. His alliance members were fine with him going as at least any advantage gained would be safe with their numbers, and mental giants like Liam probably have no idea an advantage is on offer. I was impressed with Eve and Dave in this moment. Eve subtly makes a case for JT which I’m sure swayed tribemates to go with that decision. Dave uses this opportunity to test JT. If he comes back and makes up some poem about a throne for a king, he might not be the best ally.
Khangkhaw decides fairly by drawing straws. Not really the best of plans as the advantage/idol might get in the hands of someone outside of the Invisible Five. The Survivor gods are smiling down on them though and Tess gets to go.
At the Outpost, JT and Tess meet face to face. Tess was dreading seeing him there. “Anything to do with JT scares me,” she says. I have to highlight a significant flaw in Survivor New Zealand. We have no idea what happens in the pregame. I’m unsure whether the contestants meet each other in casting or if they spend time together getting to know each other just before the game starts with team building exercises and icebreakers. Whatever goes on pregame has a distinct effect on how the game plays out. Last year Shay had an unexplained vendetta against Tom. Something which may have resulted in him coming in second place yet we were never adequately given a reason for her hatred. Once again we have a similar situation. Tess has supposedly never met JT but dislikes him for being a shady character. Unless he stole her LeSnack at kindy, there’s no reason for her to distrust him this early.
Chisholm watches over the pair as they battle it out head to head in a fire-making challenge. The Outpost it seems is utilized in a similar way to the duels of San Juan Del Sur with one tribemate competing on behalf of their tribe. It’s a good alternative to Redemption Island (which I will still defend, you bastards!) as you keep casuals happy with a challenge, fill the runtime and spice up the game a little with advantages/rewards thrown in.
Despite trimming his eyebrows with flames, JT comes up short. Tess winning the fire making challenge gets her a clue to the hidden immunity idol. She has the power to keep the clue to herself or share it with JT. Seriously, is that really an option?! JT confidently says “Sweet, this is my time to shine.” I was skeptical he’d be able to pull anything off. Information is power in this game. The more you have the more control you have over the game. There’s no benefit to sharing the clue with JT because you’re essentially handing your opposition the tool to take you down. For some reason, Tess falls for JT’s smooth moves and shares the clue that the idol is under one of the tribe mats at the next immunity challenge. JT is in a great position. He either gets an idol, or he knows who has it on the other tribe, in essence, stripping it of its power. Tess’s lack of Survivor knowledge is really showing here. If only you had watched a few clips of Celebrity Survivor like Sam Webb of Australian Survivor did.
Both duelists return to camp with different approaches. Tess says she won the challenge (great lies are based in truth) and that the prize was mattresses, tarps and hammers for both tribes which she refused to accept because she didn’t want to give Chani any advantage in the game. It’s somewhat plausible and to be fair it worked on most of her tribemates. It has shades of Ziggy from Australian Survivor season two where her lie was so over the top that anyone should be able to poke holes in it. It is essentially the neutral box strategy and inexplicably it worked. So Kim was the real Game Changer.
JT comes back and tells all the goss. Mostly to show off, I think. JT is playing a good game, but it would be a great game if he wasn’t making sure everyone was seeing his moves. It’s a mistake many players make; I might fall into that trap. I’ve watched Survivor for a good chunk of my life, even blogged about it, so if I ever got the chance to play, I’d want to make sure people witnessed my greatness. I fear all this peacocking will end up being the downfall a great Survivor. I’ll print this blog out, put it in a bottle and throw it through time, so JT doesn’t get sent home prematurely.
The elements are hitting hard this season. The Chani tribe were unprepared for a rainstorm and had a horrible night trying to keep warm. Karla and Franky were affected the most with Franky having to see the medic during the night. She was given a choice of being pulled from the game or toughing it out. Franky chose the latter. I’m unsure how serious it was as if she was in any real danger they’d yank her out.
The immunity challenge is a favorite of mine. Three tribe members must balance a pole on their shoulders; every round weight will be added to the pole increasing the difficulty. It’s equal parts strength, endurance and willpower which is why I love it. I have fond memories of Rupert back in Pearl islands defeating Savage and Osten with his never say die attitude and JT Thomas setting records in Tocantins. Added to all that is that there’s an idol hidden at the challenge with both tribes trying to snatch it without getting caught.
Tess let her alliance know about the idol so they could keep it out of JT and Dylan’s hands (two snakes on two opposing tribes) and some dude called Brad ends up getting it by pretending to tie his shoe. Up until this moment, I didn’t know there was a Brad and was confusing him with Matt who is also on that tribe. I have man bun blindness apparently.
Chani are hoping Arun, Dave and Renee can break their losing streak against the Khangkhaw tribe who are putting up Brad, Kaysha and Josh. Dave is first to drop, unable to hold 50kg of weight, Renee falls not long after leaving just Arun to win immunity for his tribe. The weight of the world is literally on his shoulders becoming too much for him to bear. Chani have their fourth straight loss. Pretty soon they’ll be joining the ranks of Ulong, Matsing and Malolo as contenders for the worst tribes in Survivor history.
The scene back at camp illustrates how important information is. Through piecing together different tidbits of info carelessly given out from various Khangkhaw members, Chani knows exactly where the idol is and who is aligned with who. Come swap or merge time the Chani tribe have all they need to dismantle their rivals.
I thought the move to take out Jose last week was too early. JT’s big moveitis has caught up with him as now the Chani tribe don’t have much challenge strength. Winning immunity is their biggest priority, so the vote is between the two weakest members of the tribe. Karla or Franky. They should have knocked out Karla last week and kept Jose around as a figurehead to be a target at a swap and also improve their chances of winning immunity.
At tribal council, Eve lays the groundwork for her Final Tribal speech bursting into tears saying how much the money will help her family and how she’ll be able to build a life with her partner. JT adds that a Chani will win the game. Those types of quotes are left in for a reason. If I had to call it now, I’d say Arun wins the title based on nothing more than my gut.
Karla sees the writing on the wall and does all she can to stay. Speaking up at tribal to say she goes camping and makes fire. Outside of Day 1-3, those skills aren’t necessarily crucial, so it’s not that strong a pitch. Unsurprisingly it’s unsuccessful as the social bonds made by Franky were strong enough to keep her over the arguably stronger Karla.
It’s a predictable boot, but I was still on the fence about who I wanted to see go home. Franky’s health is an issue and I’m unsure if she’ll be able to bounce back. I’d rather she go out now than dragging it out only for her to be medevaced later. On the other hand, she’s an interesting character. And I’ve said this before, but attractive blondes are under-represented in reality TV.
Karla is the typical older woman archetype (she’s not that much older than me though!). She has an uphill battle and always needs another three days to find solid footing. Karla really wants to be there not just for the experience or to get TV time but to play the game she loves. She’s a fighter, and I really respect that. I’ll always cheer for a fighter. Those are the best characters on reality TV. The people that know it’s impossible but try anyway.
Not everyone is a legend. Not every character is going to change the game or make it far. Some people are there to be the second boot. My mind often wanders to a world where Cirie Fields is kicked off in favor of the lumberjack lady (Timber Tina) or if Holly Hoffman never recovered from her breakdown. It makes me question a lot. What if everyone has the capability to be a SURVIVOR, they just need those extra three days.