Australian Survivor, week 2. What are you doing, Australian Survivor?

Welcome to week 2 of Australian Survivor coverage.

Update: episode 5 is posted.

For those of you looking for a place to watch Australian Survivor, it’s still streaming at:

(Disclaimer: The Purple Rock Podcast is not associated with Dailymotion.)

"Yeah, there's, um a throne.... for a king."
This is not the face you make when you are trying to lie to someone.

“Episode 3”

Australian Survivor is still a little predictable, but that’s a small quibble as long as it keeps being fun. If this post-merge is gonna be series of minor villains taking their show and being shown the door, I’ll be satisfied.

We start the episode with the return of the “honesty” and “deceive” boxes last seen on World’s Apart. In theory this shouldn’t work, on a season full of huge Survivor fans you’d expect someone to remember how taking the small bag of beans went for So Kim, but no. Everyone chooses to lie to their tribes, setting off this episode’s central conflict.

At Aganao, Rohan and Phoebe decide to pretend they were given a choice between a big bag and a small bag with no indication as to what was in either. Evan is immediately suspicious and heads to the meeting point. It turns out that Rohan let the clue fall out of his swim trunks. We should just assume now that if Aganoa has to do anything at all, they will find a way to screw it up. When Rohan realizes what’s happened he runs off to do damage control, concocting a ridiculous story about how he was going to share the clue but wanted to slowly release the information. It shouldn’t work, but does, because that’s how little people trust Evan at this point. Evan remains blissfully unaware of this, and talks to the camera about how he’s securely in the center of things.

Vavau’s representatives, Nick and Tegan, choose to admit the clue was there but make up a fake version to share with the tribe. Unfortunately, their unenthusiastic performance makes the lie obvious to Craig and Andrew, whom Nick ends up having to confess to. It’s hard to tell what the actual dynamics are at Vavua since they continue to be so dominant in the challenges, but I’m impressed with how Craig and Andrew are handling things. They appear to be fully aware of how hard Nick is working things but are currently content to let him be in the spotlight, knowing that if something goes wrong he’ll take all the heat for it. If Vavau can stay intact until the merge I see them coming out as dominant forces in the second half of the game.

Aganoa, of course, continues to be a disaster in the challenges. At one point in the reward challenge they even manage to get the rope holding their buoys tangled around their boat. But what really sinks them is their total lack of puzzle solvers. When this episode’s immunity challenge ends with the standing visual puzzle (although, unlike the blank silhouettes used on American Survivor, this version has an elaborate pattern), they’re basically screwed. As hard as production tries to make it look like the red tribe are still in it, when Saanapu pulls off a second place finish, Aganoa is about half done.

Back at the beach, it looks like it should be an easy vote. Not only is Kat on the outs, she’s now failed twice on a puzzle. But Phoebe sees this as a good time to blindside Evan, who is, in her words, “no use to her going forward,” whereas keeping a foot in the door with Kristie and Kat will help her in the long run. She reconvenes the woman’s alliance and pulls in Rohan, who really has nowhere else to go at this point.

Evan for his part seems to have no idea this is coming. He’s confident both because he believes he’s in alliance of five and because he has the clue lie to hold over Rohan’s head. When Kat lists an inner four of Lee, Rohan, El, and Phoebe at tribal council the look of shock on his face at not being included is genuine. And in his parting words he’s still talking as if he thought the game was his to win.

At least the show can have some fun with him on his way out the door. He’s hilarious post-challenge, mimicking sucking up to Rohan in what feels like a bad Ricky Gervais impression and getting in another chance to call Phoebe dumb. Also, he had leaves in his hair for some reason. If it makes it a little more obvious when his number is called, it’s worth it for giving him one final clowning.

Discussion questions:

  • Lee is so adamant about voting off Kat he writes her name down even after it’s clear that’s not happening. He can probably get away with it because Aganoa needs him, but why stick your neck out like that?
  • I didn’t talk about Peter getting the idol clue or Kylie feeling on the outs but then being okay because why bother. Saanapu was in like five minutes of this episode. Not really a question, just, man, are they boring.
  • Why did Evan have leaves in his hair?

Episode 4”

So, after a decent string of episodes, Australian Survivor has its first dud. And hey, ever since Peter asked to be voted off, the possibility of him quitting was a thing, but the show handles it in the most awkward, tension killing manner possible.

Let’s start at the beginning. Aganoa comes back from tribal council with Evan gone and Phoebe feeling triumphant. She’s got the option of going with the women or of sticking with Lee, Rohan, and El. But tension starts to brew when Rohan finds the idol and backs out on his promise to give it to her. I’ve been really enjoying Phoebe (and thanks, Australian Survivor, for letting a young, blonde woman narrate her own game) but she’s coming close to overplaying things here. Being suspicious of Rohan at this point is sensible, but rein it in a bit; the time to act on those suspicions probably isn’t coming soon, and in the meantime all you can do is create distance between the two of you.

Already into damage control mode is Nick over at Vavau. He pulls Craig, Sue, and Jenna-Louise over to explain the real idol clue, but only manages to make things worse. His exaggerated act of only remembering fragments of the text is painfully transparent, and deepens Craig’s growing suspicions of him. Nick has been our surrogate at Vavau for pretty much all of the game, but he does seem to have a lot of irons in the fire, and this could easily be the start of his downfall.

Assistant Dragon Slayer speculated in the comments last night on how they’re going to fill 2 to 3 hours of show a week and the answer turns out to be not well. The first sign that maybe suprersizing Survivor wasn’t the best idea comes tonight, in the form of a human interest story about Kate, who we learn was involved in a serious accident that probably should have killed her. These pieces are good as short beats, and serve the important function of humanizing the players, but the longer this one plays out the more it just drags. And that’s with 3 tribes to check in on and a fairly compelling story. Filling air time is only going to get harder as the game progresses.

Also Saanapu is a tribe that is still there. Kylie still feels on the outs and looks for the idol. The camera makes it look like she’s in the right spot but just can’t find it, so we’ll see how that plays out. And Peter is still bummed about not getting voted out. Can I stop talking about Saanapu, now?

This episode’s immunity challenge starts with the tribe’s retrieving heavy crates from the water. Lee and Rohan, easily the two strongest people out there, manage to build a decent lead for Aganoa. Vavau, already the weakest tribe, have also managed to break their flint, and three days on starvation rations are taking their toll. As Vavau falls farther and farther behind it looks like Aganoa is going to get a reprieve this week. At this point I turned to my roommate and said, “don’t be fooled. They’ll still screw up the puzzle.”

Which they do. The new puzzle team of Phoebe and Rohan don’t fare better than previous iterations. Matt the magician easily catches up to them and secures the win for Saanapu, and they don’t seem to have made any progress when Vavau finally arrives. Nick passes them as well and Aganoa is going to tribal council again.

The obvious thing to do is vote off Kat, who’s still at the bottom of the pecking order and wasn’t even allowed to compete in this challenge. But Phoebe’s paranoia about Rohan is ramping up. She makes things worse by all but outright telling him she’s flirting with betraying him, then seems to get back on board with voting for Kat, but only after whispering doubts to El and Lee. It’s a muddled approach that only serves to build unnecessary tension in her alliance.

But, as Aganoa head off to tribal, we go back to Saanapu because Peter has finally decided to quit. LaPaglia hunkers down with him on the beach, then sends Peter off on the quit-boat so he can go bag on him to the rest of the tribe gathers everyone around for a teary goodbye, in what is possibly the starkest contrast between our two hosts we’ve seen yet.

There’s never a great way to handle a late-episode quit, but this method seems designed to maximize tension and then refuse to pay off. Everything episode seemed to be building towards the moment when we finally see which way Aganoa is gonna break, so ending with a tribal council where we know nobody is going home can’t hep but be anti-climactic. LaPaglia tries to throw fuel on the fire by all but forcing the tribe to admit they’re voting out Kat before telling them there’s no vote tonight, but it doesn’t help, and the episode ends with a wimper.

Discussion points:

  • LaPaglia hit a new mark for heavy-handed questioning this episode. How does everyone feel about the decision to blow up the Aganoa Four?

  • So Aganoa should just go ahead and throw a challenge to get rid of Kat, right? She’s not useful to them and she could do serious damage in the event of a swap.

Episode 5”

Dammit Australian Survivor, this isn’t Big Brother. You need to calm down a little. Gimmicks can be fun, but all things in moderation. Not only is piling three twists into one too much at once, it also means it’s been two episodes since someone’s been voted off. I’m honestly kind of at a loss as to what to say about this one, but here we go.

We start at Aganoa, where Kat is understandably upset that she came this close to being voted off. I know Rob and Stephen thought it was actually gonna be Rohan, but if even Kristie thinks the target was Kat, it was probably Kat. We don’t hear from Aganoa again for the rest of the episodes, which tells us the immunity challenge does not involve a puzzle.

At Vavau, the tide is turning against Nick. While he’s off hunting for the idol, Craig is stoking suspicion towards him back at camp. It’s starting to look like Nick’s days are numbered unless he finds the idol, which he does not. At Saanapu suspicions are mounting that Kylie has the idol, which she does. Flick starts floating a backup plan to target Conner. Despite being 75 minutes, this episode feels weirdly compressed, because this is all of it I can remember before the challenges.

The reward challenge is a replay of the barricade challenge from Micronesia. This isn’t technically the challenge that brought down Penner, but it’s the one that made it obvious something was wrong, so fuck this challenge (actually, now that I think about it, this challenge potentially saved his leg and possibly his life, so challenge, we’re cool.) Except this time, rather than just getting enough material out that everyone can crawl through the tunnel, you have have to pull all the lumber out so you can navigate a chicken coop to the end. First two tribes through get to keep the chickens. But there’s a twist! First tribe through also gets all the stuff Vavau are giving up to get a new flint. This is the kind of twist I’m fine with: a creative patch for an unexpected problem. More of this; less of what’s coming.

The building phase of the challenge pretty much gives away how this is going to go. Saanapu builds an impenetrable wall through Vavau’s tunnel, while Aganoa struggles even to get all their planks into Saanapu’s. The result is that Saanapu tears through their barricade with ease, while Vavau can barely make a dent. Saanapu comes in first and gets Vavau’s stuff, Aganoa comes in second and gets chickens.

Back at camp the tribes learn that two of them are going to tribal council this episode. Not knowing what’s coming, this feels like pouring salt in the wounds of last episode. I get that they had to preserve the secrecy of their SHOCKING TWIST but in the moment my reaction was, “really, if you were planning a double elimination, couldn’t you have just made Aganoa vote last week and not do this?”

So, as already seemed obvious, this challenge doesn’t end with a puzzle. Instead, there’s a slingshot, and chief master of throwing things Lee is able to secure victory. Aganoa is safe, Vavau and Saanapu are going to tribal council.

At Vavau, it’s fairly cut and dry. Either Craig’s whisper campaign against Nick will succeed, or Nick’s intended target of Barry will go home. At Saanapu, on the other hand, things get weird. Conner finds out Flick is plotting against him and heads off to confront her. He rattles off a string of inconsistent deals she’s supposedly made and demands she admit they’ve been aligned since day one. It is not a good sign for things to come.

When the tribes walk in to council it’s immediately apparent why this was a bad idea. Having two tribes do council at once means neither gets full attention. That’s exacerbated by the fact that Vavau basically stonewalls, while Saanapu, who have done this before and should be better at it, turn into a dumpster fire of accusations and counter accusations between Conner, who seems to be actively torpedoing his own game, and Flick. The only saving grace is the constant cuts to Craig’s shocked face as Conner gets progressively crazier.

Before the votes are read, LaPaglia announces part one of the twist. Nobody is going home tonight, both tribes were voting someone onto the other tribe. Vavau sends off Nick. Saanapu is tie a between Conner and Flick. On the revote, it’s still a tie. But, before they have to go to rocks, Conner volunteers to go to Vavau, so it’s on to the second part of the twist: both players choose someone to take with them. Nick chooses Tegan, Conner chooses Sam, and episode 5 quietly shuffles off.

I get how this seemed like a clever way to trick the players into making the tribe swap happen, but for so many reasons there are better ways to do it, and, however you do it, it should not be the climax of the episode. I’m fine with Australian Survivor trying new things, but, on a baseline level, they were given a tried and true formula and need to stick to it.

Discussion points:

  • I don’t have a lot to say beyond, “this was a bad idea,” so let’s critique Nick and Conner’s choices.
  • Conner: Saanapu now has both of the two best puzzle makers in the game. You really should have taken Matt with you.
  • Nick: I get that Tegan is your closest ally, but taking her with you means nobody can find Vavau’s idol. I’m not sure who the best person to take would have been, so let’s say Craig for comedy value.