Australian Survivor, Season 2: Week 6

Welcome back to coverage of the world’s greatest game, Southern Hemisphere edition. After five weeks, Australian Survivor’s total running time has now exceeded that of an entire season of Merica Survivor. That can only mean one thing—it’s time for the first tribe swap.

Episode 12

Ziggy returns to Samatau beach with leftover food and a cockamamie lie. She says her advantage is the power to confer an advantage to someone else in the game, but she can’t specify what that advantage is or it gets nullified. But she is allowed to say that she can’t use it on herself, that she can give it to anybody (or nobody), that the person she gives it to can play it for anybody (including themselves and Ziggy) and that it expires at Final 5.

Now maybe this another case of “Survivor’s a lot easier from your couch”, but what Ziggy is describing in no way constitutes an “ultimate reward,” and as soon as she said “OK, this is where you guys have to trust me” and stops making eye contact with anybody, my bullshit detector would have red-lined. It’s unsurprising that Jarrad bought it completely, but disappointing that Tessa did as well.

Are you gonna believe me or my lying eyes?

Tessa says to the group “I can’t wait to find out what it is,” and Locky says “IF you find out what it is.” Tessa, not picking up what Locky’s putting down, says “Well, somebody’s going to use it probably,” and Locky mutters “If you’re still here.” You guys, I think Locky’s social game needs work. AK clarifies a couple of the fake rules (the person who receives the advantage can’t reveal that they have it) and in confessional (again unsurprisingly) says he doesn’t believe Ziggy at all.

At Asaga, Tara finally feels safe in her position in the tribe, and Luke boasts about his control over the game and says he’s ready to take out AK after the merge. And right on cue, it’s time for a tribe swap. While the swap isn’t Michelle Yi unfair, it doesn’t mix up the tribes as much as production was probably hoping for. The only people who end up swapping are AK and Peter (to Asaga) and Michelle and Annaliese (to Samatau). In Annaliese’s case, it puts her back on the tribe she got voted out of (“How could this get any worse?” indeed). AK is pissed about going to Asaga, and Tara is also pissed about AK going to Asaga. As everybody pretends to be excited about their new tribemates, Luke goes up to AK and gleefully yells “Whassup, baby, you could be doomed now!”, which is either me mishearing, the accent tricking me, or the most Luke-ish thing Luke has said so far this season.

The reward challenge is the “knock your opponent’s idol to the ground” challenge that Malcolm broke by throwing his own idol high in the air and tackling his opponent. Interestingly, nobody tries that maneuver this time, but some of the players with reach disadvantages come up with some interesting non-obvious strategies that I don’t think I’ve seen on US Survivor. One is, with opposite hands forward (i.e., left vs. right, right vs. left), to pivot on the front foot so that you’re back-to-back, then back into your opponent. Another is, with same hands forward, to wait for your opponent to lunge, grab their wrist, and pull them forward. Still another is to grab your opponent’s boob (at least, that’s what Tara says Ziggy did). Asaga wins, and it’s doubly painful for original Samatau since part of the reward is all the stuff they gave up for a flint.

Things they don’t teach you in self-defense class

AK knows he needs to scramble hard to win people over, both because the swap has put him at a severe numbers disadvantage and because Tara has been trashing him non-stop since she got swapped onto Asaga a week earlier.

At Samatau, Ziggy identifies Michelle as the easy boot because she’s the only true newcomer, while Annaliese thinks she’ll be the target because everybody already voted her out once. Chatty Michelle seems to be building connections with the women but turning off the men.

At Asaga, AK quickly realizes that Luke, Jericho, and of course Tara are ungettable, but he can still form a majority if he can swing Sarah and Odette. He sucks up to both of them, but it’s too transparent and it doesn’t help that Tara is always off to the side glaring at AK and sighing in disgust. Luke dangles the possibility of an all-boys alliance but it’s just Luke stirring the pot.

The immunity challenge is a variation of the coconut free-throw challenge, but with buckets of water instead of coconuts. On the strength portion it’s Locky and Ziggy for Samatau and AK and Tara for Asaga, and it’s as big a blowout as you’d expect. In fact, I’m surprised Tara even bothered to continue holding on to her bucket once AK dropped out.

AK confers with Luke again about the all-boys alliance, but he really just grasping at straws and he knows it. He checks in with Sarah, who is wavering as she considers all her options (this has to catch up with her eventually, right?). The “rational player” alliance (AK, Sarah, Peter, Odette) actually makes some amount of sense for both Sarah and Odette, but ultimately, AK just can’t build trust with anybody on Asaga, thanks in no small part to Tara. After as much of a pro forma tribal as I think I’ve ever seen aside from Alecia’s boot in Kaoh Rong, AK goes home.

I loved AK as a Survivor character, and you could say that he was screwed by the swap in the same way that Phoebe was last season. But unlike Phoebe, I honestly think we got all that we were going to get out of AK, and unlike last season, there are still plenty of strong players left to pick up the slack. Once again, the 55-day version of Survivor  is proving to be a marathon and not a sprint, and AK simply came out of the blocks way too fast and hit the wall. I’ll miss AK, but I’ll almost miss Tara’s stinkeye more.

Episode 13

Here’s the central dilemma you face playing Survivor: You can’t trust anybody, but you have to trust somebody. Having bonds with people you trust goes a long way toward assuring your safety over the longer term, but to form such bonds you ironically have to take a short-term risk and extend trust even though it might not be reciprocated, and indeed might be turned against you. This episode was all about how to form bonds well, how to form them poorly, the role of serendipity in choosing who to trust, and what can happen when you neglect to form bonds at all.  

AK was the glue holding alliances together at both Asaga and Samatau, and with him off the board, the alliances on both tribes are more fluid than ever before. Looming over all this as well are the relatively recent swap as well as the fiction and non-fiction versions of Ziggy’s “ultimate reward.”

With AK gone, Peter is now the only ex-Samatau on Asaga. True to all their natures, Luke and Tara gloat that he’s the easy next boot, Peter frets, and Sarah pulls him aside for a chat. 

Back at Samatau, AK’s former ally Ziggy needs a new bestie (as does Jarrad, presumably). She notes that there’s a budding alliance between herself, Locky, and Henry, with Tessa, Jarrad, and Annaliese on the periphery, Sideshow Ben on the outs, and Michelle most definitely on the bottom. Out on a swim together and away from the others, Ziggy, Locky, and Henry continue talking alliance. This makes a ton of sense, as each of the three is going to be a huge target after the merge.

Henry muses that having an idol (and making sure everyone knows they have it) would provide extra protection (conveniently neglecting to disclose that he himself has an idol). This prompts Ziggy to tell them that she has an idol. I get it—she wants to gain their trust and lock down the meat shield alliance. But there are at least three problems here. First, as Ziggy immediately notes in confessional, she blurted out on the spur of the moment something that really required more careful consideration. Second, just a few days ago Henry was on Asaga and Ziggy and Locky were in opposing alliances. She did the equivalent of talk baby names while on a coffee date. Third, and worst of all, by telling them she has an idol she implicitly admitted that she’s been deceiving them about the “ultimate reward” for several days. This completely negates the trust telling them about the idol was meant to gain. 

Indeed the subsequent confessionals with Locky and Henry show that Ziggy’s oversharing has backfired, then we see them both in the shelter conspiring to get rid of her. They discuss replacing Ziggy in the alliance with Annaliese, who they presumably trust more than Ziggy and who has the upside of having connections on Asaga. 

We check in with Asaga and it’s the status quo: Tara is basking in the absence of AK and taking credit for blindsiding him (which, what?), Luke’s ego remains out of control and he’s calling Peter the easy boot, while Sarah is scheming to keep Peter around. Sarah is once again shown as playing a quietly savvy game; she notes in confessional that Peter has nowhere else to turn, but also that he has connections on Samatau and that her own connections (presumably meaning Michelle) are on the other side too. 

At Samatau, we catch up with Annaleise after Locky and Henry have made their pitch. She’s rightly skeptical of Henry, not least because she saw him passing an idol clue to Jerricho. Huddled up with Locky and Henry, she tests Henry, states her suspicions in the form of a rumor she supposedly heard. Later, Henry invites Annaliese down to the beach to “meditate” (a move I pulled in college once–doesn’t work) and comes clean. Annaliese responds by revealing that she has an idol as well. Both Henry and Annaliese talk in confessionals about how this exchange of information wins their trust, and meat shield alliance 2.0 is born. Take notes Ziggy, this is how it’s done. This could have disastrous consequences for Ziggy down the line if, you know, she didn’t have a super-idol in her pocket that nobody knows about.

Note: Not foreshadowing

The next morning, Michelle suddenly takes center stage. The upshot is that she knows that as the newcomer she’s easy pickings, and that she’s going to have to scramble to get people to write anybody’s name but hers, and by “anybody’s” she means Ben’s. But before she throws him under the bus, she pumps him for the details of the “ultimate reward”. He spills the entire story as he knows it, and says in confessional that this was an attempt to win Michelle’s trust (that word again). She also asks him who he wants out and he says Locky, adding that Ziggy was throwing Locky’s name around when AK was still around. Michelle can’t believe Ben gave away crucial information to the person who is clearly on the bottom. Neither can I.

Immunity challenge time and it’s a nifty variation on the Shii-Ann/Parvati memorial water bucket challenge, only for tribes instead of individuals. With the addition of Henry to Samatau and the removal of AK from Asaga, Samatau should crush Asaga in every challenge that doesn’t involve a puzzle. But something interesting happens here. It turns out that Asaga has less variance in the strength of its members, and that enables them to outlast Samatau.

I won’t give a blow-by-blow of the rest of the episode, suffice it to say that motormouth Michelle throws everything against the wall and enough of it sticks to put five votes on Ben (herself, Annaliese, Henry, Jarrad, and Ziggy) against three votes for Michelle (Ben, Locky, and Tessa).

This is insane in at least four ways. First, I don’t think there has ever been a more goaty goat than Ben. He doesn’t have any allies on either tribe and he doesn’t seem capable of making any moves. There’s an absolutely hilarious scene, reminiscent of the Drewschebag episode in SJDS, where people are sitting on the beach talking about switching their votes from Michelle  to Ben, and Ben sits down right next to them, and after a beat they continue to talk about voting him out. That’s how little agency Ben has. prettyboyprobst has posted in the comments some of Network Ten’s charts showing how alliances have shifted over the course of the season. In almost all of them, Ben has been all alone in a sad little gray bubble. Why in the world would you want to get rid of someone like that? Unless you’re worried about another Kristie (hmm, that’s actually kind of a valid concern). Meanwhile, Michelle has friends on Asaga and the very fact that she’s starting to convince people to do something very stupid should alert them to the danger she poses. Second, Henry, Jarrad, and Ziggy were all shown in confessionals insisting that they wanted to keep Ben, and in the shelter Jarrad was absolutely adamant about keeping Ben. Third, in a very good move, Michelle stoked Locky’s paranoia to the point where he was leading the charge to get rid of Ben, and yet for some reason he voted Michelle. Fourth, Michelle’s finishing move was probably revealing at Tribal that Ben spilled the beans about Ziggy’s advantage, proving that he wasn’t trustworthy. But isn’t the fact that Michelle is now armed with this knowledge even more reason to get rid of her?

Discussion questions:

1. What was optimal cover story Ziggy could have told about the “ultimate reward”?

2. What does it say about AK, Michelle, or the game of Survivor itself, that when put firmly on the bottom of the totem pole by the swap, Michelle could wriggle free and AK (by far the superior player on paper) couldn’t?

3. How crazy is it that Henry’s yoga teacher lie actually, if indirectly, worked out for him?

4. It’s Day 30 on the island, it’s well past time to start the island hot discussion.