What a week! In one fell swoop, we ended up with a complete change in dynamics, and also in a situation where we were shown that almost everyone is showing up to play. Even Avi, who is probably the only person left in the game who hasn’t shown any inclination towards deception, is probably now going to be thrust into a situation where it’s play or lose. In that sense, this week’s coup created great drama and made sure that the season won’t end in a boring pagonging.
On the other hand, right after Jeff Pitman described Sala as potentially New Zealand’s answer to Rupert, Sala went straight out in Rupert’s Pearl Islands spot, and it’s a big loss for the show from a couple of perspectives. First, New Zealand reality TV is never going to last 34 seasons – the fact we get any seasons at all is a blessing, and I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that the loss of Sala won’t mean a drop in ratings. But, he will undoubtedly have been the favourite of many, and he leaves the show in a less diverse spot, after having also just lost Lee. It’s a genuine concern.
Secondly, Sala drove a lot of the character story in the season. Where there were stories to be told about the character of individuals, Sala was often deeply in the mix, from the removal of Matua Tony, to the medevac of Lulu, to the many birthdays of his family, to his new alliance he forged with Nate and Barb. In losing Sala, the show loses part of its grounded heart. Each week that he hangs around at Redemption Island is probably good for the show.
That all said, what’s on the ticket this week?
The Barbfather (An offer that couldn’t be refused)
Barb, teabags on eyes, emerged suddenly as the first real villain the show has had. Dee, Shay, Tony and Mike’s boys club all feel like they’ve had turns being given a slightly villainous edit, but none of it has ever risen above the point of slight ineptness.
Enter Barb, pulling out a move on the person that she absolutely knew would be fan (and jury) favourite, and enjoying it thoroughly. While others have shown a little contriteness and sympathy when voting out people they like, Barb had none at all – she was here to win, and Sala was in her way. She definitely liked Sala, but she liked making the move that put her in the best position more.
Barb was, in my mind, 90% of the way to making the right decision for her game. When looking at the 6 in her alliance, I saw her as 6th, 5th at best (if Shannon ultimately went first), and Barb knew it. There would be no splitting Avi, Shay and Sala at 6, and so she needed to split them while she still had numbers to do it. It’s possible that she could have removed Jak here and waited until 7, but this decision probably gives her more flexibility going forward. In Barb’s mind, she is probably in the majority at 7, 5 and 3 from here, and she sees her clear path to the end. I also get the sense that if she does make it to the end, her move is going to be respected. Certainly, I feel as though Jak would now vote for her after previously writing her off, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he can win over the rest of his boys. I tend to think that some others might end up respecting her ability to outplay them if she makes the end, too.
However, I can’t help but think that Barb might have miscalculated her target slightly. While Sala would have been hurt to see Avi go, I don’t think he would immediately come back and make waves. Neither do I think he would be more likely to win immunities as a result. Avi, on the other hand, is going to find out who is responsible; he has a decent shot at winning the next immunity; and he also still has his relationship with Tom, through which he might be able to access Jak. It doesn’t seem completely unlikely that Avi will be able to put together a block of four to take Barb out next, and she better hope that Shannon becomes public enemy number one, or it might have been a big miscalculation.
Nevertheless, if Barb does go out next, then she did it making the best of a lose/lose situation. A week ago, Barb had no chance of winning the game at all, and also not a lot of chance of being remembered as a big character. What a difference a week makes. Barb is now a player you’d put down for a Survivor NZ All Star wish list. Great stuff.
Jak the Joker (Unanswered plot point: did they capture more fish?)
Jak also emerged in a new light this week.
There was still plenty of material pointing out his immaturity (not least of which was the reward challenge in which he got buried by consensus answers pointing out all of his flaws). He also got openly mocked by an on-screen ad during one segment (Gem Visa – in that screenshot above), which might be a Survivor first and which was my biggest laugh out loud moment of the season so far.
But he also showed a level head. He told Tom about Barb’s plan, but showed the right amount of concern and care about how Tom could wreck things. He clearly kept enough connection with Barb throughout the game that she felt she could trust him enough to make the move with him, which maybe does explain Barb’s early game efforts to get Jak on her side. And he showed that he also had the ability to laugh at himself.
Jak is an astute Survivor gamesman. At this point, if he gets to the end he probably has three votes waiting for him on the jury already. You’d expect others recognise this, and as a result it doesn’t seem likely that Jak gets by for much longer. However, this week showed that he probably has the skills to do it.
Shannon implodes (failing at the art of flipping)
On the other hand, Shannon’s game seemed to go downhill fast this week. While she was immediately the target of the ire of Jak and Tom, it was pretty minor – certainly nothing like what she would have received if they had returned to camp without an impromptu immunity challenge and Mike had still been there.
The ads for this week’s show that I’ve seen are simply an extended version of the ‘next week on’ segment, in which Avi comes back to camp upset and ready to go at it, and in that version it seems that Shannon is his first target.
After voting out Lee and Mike, Shannon needed to realise that her immediate reputation was going to be that of a flipper. She needed to change that reputation, and fast, by essentially claiming that she never flipped in the game, and that she had been with Barb and Nate since the beginning and had simply lied to the boys. Instead, however, she hid from addressing the allegations directly and then played right into them by also flipping on Sala, Shay and Avi.
There’s an art to flipping in Survivor. Sarah Lacina seemed to nail it in Game Changers, where she always had options open to flip but she only really made two big flips in the game (at 11 and 6), and the rest of the time she stuck with whatever side she was on even as she played both sides. That enables her to appear to be someone who only flipped when it was best for her, and she can talk about times where she could have flipped and chose not to as proof that it wasn’t simply going with the wind.
This wasn’t how Shannon did it. She can’t easily argue why it was the right move for her (not least of which is because Sala and Avi are bigger targets than her, but Nate and Barb are not), and she’s going to find it hard to ever shake the reputation now. With enemies on both sides of the column come jury time, it’s hard to see how Shannon would be able to win hearts and minds back quickly enough to win the game.
Avi’s Next Move (don’t get mad, get even)
If Sala is Rupert, could Avi be Sandra?
This was a really bad week for Avi. After last week saying nothing thrown his way could wreck his game, this week Avi found himself in a malaise and then down an ally. By letting his head check out of the game, he got blindsided. It was a really bad look.
However, it still feels very strongly to me as though the show is being told through Avi’s eyes. It’s hard not to still see him as the winner. How he gets there, though? That’s a trickier question.
I wonder if Avi’s edit this season is that of the ‘hero’s journey’. Avi is definitely getting a hero edit – for example, even when he’s in the fray (such as keeping Tom around) he seems to be a little above it all. This week, we saw the hero face his greatest adversity, and his first instinct isn’t going to be great – it’s going to be to lash out.
However, if Avi keeps his cool, he’ll see there are good moves on the board for him to make. First, he really does need to get rid of Barb and bring Nate back in. Secondly, he needs to get rid of Jak and bring Tom back in. If Avi can somehow get to final five with Shay, Nate, Shannon and Tom, he might quickly find himself back in the middle, where everyone knows they can’t beat him but they also all feel like he’s their best ticket to make it past 5.
The instinct Avi needs to overcome is the one that is telling him to get Shannon out next. Shannon would be a good choice for him to take to the end, while someone like Barb would certainly take him out before they got there together. I think that the next week is going to be very telling about Avi’s overall chances.
Having said that, perhaps the hero’s journey wouldn’t come from seeing an ally voted out at all.... it’s not impossible that Avi could go home this week and make it back into the game via Redemption Island, seeing a hero’s journey of a different kind. Certainly, watching someone win after being voted out would be an interesting first.
Nevertheless, for this week at least, sticking to my prediction - #teamavi for the win.
* Boy, they are really leaning hard into “Mike as stalker” at this point. It’s actually disturbing how much he is pining after Georgia when Georgia is clearly not single. I’d rather see him lose the duel than see this keep up – it’s uncomfortable.
* After criticising Shay for doing exactly this earlier in the season, I actually find it harder to criticise Nate’s choice to vote Shannon this vote. The reason is that I think Sala will take it differently than most other people. Where I feel like the bulk of people will see it as weak, and essentially as a move that didn’t help them in any way, I think Sala will see it as the exercise of dual loyalty – loyalty to both Barb and Sala. In this way, Nate both preserves his chance of getting Sala’s vote and the chance of working with Sala again if he returns. This is a case of ‘manage your jury’, and here I think Nate got it right.
* The best thing of all about this week is that I can only guess what’s happening next week now. Sure, I’m sticking with Avi, but now I’m wondering if that was all incorrect. Perhaps the editors have been pulling one over on us all along. I was completely blindsided by Sala being on the table this week (even though it was, once again, obvious he was going home by the time tribal council rolled around). If the season can keep up the momentum it generated this week, I think it’s easily going to be considered a good overall season of Survivor, worthy of the name. Given I had no faith in NZ reality television at all coming in to this, I can’t tell you how relieved I am.
Alright, that does it for this week. Please remember to comment and tweet at me. Till next time!
By day, Ben Martell is a public commercial lawyer from New Zealand.
By night, he moonlights as a self-described Survivor 'expert'.
By day or night, find him on twitter at: @golden8284
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