Australian Survivor has the most unique schedule of any series in the franchise, airing two to three consecutive days per week. And while that is a lot of island living to binge, from a creative perspective, it gives production an opportunity to plan twists around the run. I think that loomed large in the minds of Survivor AU as they set out to create one of the oddest weeks of the show I have seen to date.
The past three episodes were essentially themed "Exile Week," as we saw a new Exile twist announced, carried out, and seen through to its conclusion. There were some other interesting elements thrown in there, such as Lee's tragic exit from the game. But the action, by and large, centered on the temporary change in format. And while it produced arguably the best episode of the season since Daisy's boot in Wednesday's installment, how do we look back on the gamble the show took from Days 34-38?
Before we get into the matter at hand, I wanted to take some time to discuss what happened with Lee in Monday's episode. In a fairly unique departure (preceded only by Terry Deitz in Cambodia), the season 1 runner-up left the game due to an outside situation involving the impending death of his mother. And I will say, for as much as Survivor AU may eschew verisimilitude to push larger than life characters and epic storylines, this was a time for the show to slow down and embrace the shock of reality that entered the game.
The result was, in my opinion, a beautiful series of scenes. I know "beautiful" is an odd way to describe the circumstances. But the editors brought the necessary gravity, starting from Tarzan's very fitting "and then it changes" confessional. In general, I think Tarzan was the right choice to narrate this story here, especially with Lee himself indisposed and assumingly going right to the airport after the news broke. Say what you want to about Tarzan's gameplay, but he is the bleeding heart of the players left in the game. Add on top of that his own relationship with Lee, as well as the loss of his own mother described in the Mama's Kitchen reward. When Tarzan mused that Lee did his mom proud, it meant something.
I believe Lee Carseldine is a genuinely good person. That actually was his downfall in his first season, as I think he truly did make decisions he thought were honorable and honest, even if the jury did not. He was one of the people I was most intrigued to see come back, a player who had genuine skills but not the intention. His All-Stars results are a bit mixed; he didn't spearhead any decisions like in season 1 and was on the outs of the Mokuta alliance. But the reaction to his departure from friend and enemy alike shows how much of a stand-up guy he is, and as Tarzan said, someone who I'm sure made his mother proud every day.
But now we get to the twist of the week, in three stages:
Stage 1: The introduction
Of course, it was nearly impossible to not move on from Lee's departure without some awkwardness. For the first time ever, it looked like the players were going to respond, "No" when asked if they were ready for their next Immunity Challenge. And it didn't help the situation when the episode ended with one of the most confusingly-introduced twists in Survivor history.
I've seen overall mixed opinions about this Exile twist. I do think at least some of the positivity is results-oriented, considering we started the week with the Vakamas doomed, and we ended it with the majority being blown wide open. I know I'm still trying to reconcile my thoughts. To me, it resembles the Outcast twist from Pearl Islands. Narratively, it made for a great story. But structurally, it sprung a vague and complicated series of votes onto the players that reeked of last-minute planning.
And to clarify, that's absolutely fine. Because Harry let his advantage be unplayed, they needed to have a non-elimination episode in the postmerge. Lee's sudden departure would have added another non-elim to the schedule. This is an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone to make sure your endgame is nothing but vote-outs and (hopefully) pulse-pounding action. On top of that, making elimination work in multiple tiers gives everyone the fairest shake possible of avoiding the snuff. You could either avoid being the six voted out, or be one of the three who won the challenges, and even then you still had a chance of surviving. But unlike other Exile instances, this gave you an opportunity to use whatever your best skills are to remain safe.
The issue to me was its rollout. And you can look no further than the way social media responded to Monday's and Tuesday's episodes. JLP's initial announcement of the twist was vague as all get out, simply saying that the six people voted out in the next two Tribals would compete in a series of challenges on Exile. Then, in the next Tribal Council, he spills more information, saying that only those who did not win the challenge would ultimately be up for a vote. The community pored over the limited language, trying to figure out how the hell this twist would actually work.
That is problematic. Asymmetrical information has become a problem in modern Survivor, with players being blindsided by things like the Idol Nullifier with no prior knowledge that it even existed. I truly do not understand why they chose to reveal this information in two stages. Not only would it make it less confusing for your audience, but we see firsthand from Tuesday's episode how it would inform the votes. If the players were told about the final vote from the beginning, I think that someone like Tarzan would have a greater chance of getting sent to Exile, as he was near-guaranteed to come back no matter what.
Talking about the vote itself, sending three people at once happened to play into the currently-existing plan. The majority already planned to split their votes between Brooke and AK, so nobody had to deviate. Instead, the Vakamas got their own bit of power, no longer neutered to gun for one another. I know there's been discourse about them tying the remaining votes 1-1-1 to get Mokuta to out the pecking order. But I actually think Moana was the correct choice here. As I spoke about last week, she's the fulcrum of the majority, in on deals with every member. Removing her not only gets rid of a common denominator but also the supposed leader of the pack. With Moana removed, the Mokutas are about to find out what they truly think of one another.
Stage 2: Mokuta cannibalism
David claimed that his vendettas were done at the end of last week with Harry's boot. But that doesn't mean he still didn't take the opportunity to make some magic. With Shonee already filling a slot as one of the three boots, two alliance members had to be sacrificial lambs. And David was sharpening his knives, ready to do some good old-fashioned Survivor butchery.
If you're looking to completely save the majority, theoretically you would send your best challenge performers to Exile. And though Brooke hilariously threw shade at him in the previous TC, David is one of those people. It was entertaining to watch him not only realize that logic but use his meatshield's biggest strength against him. Zach has been touting his physical strength, as well as making "big moves" all season long. So giving him the opportunity to do so is something he'll not only gladly take, but repeatedly affirm is the right decision. Not to mention, Zach is looking to build an endgame narrative. And making his way back to the island not once, but twice, is certainly a story.
Jacqui, on the other hand, is less than willing to go than Jheri curl Clark Kent. And her reluctance allows Sharn to make the first attempted coup against the Golden God. Sharn's judgment here gives more insight as to Moana being the connecter between her and David. The more pertinent piece of information, though, is how close David is with Tarzan. It was stunning to see Tarzan do his best Durao impression and rat out the plan against David, considering we've seen next to nothing of the two of them interacting. But that could prove to be monumental for David's success in the game now that Zach is gone, and shows how the remnants of Mat Rogers' alliance may not be as tight-knit as assumed.
Ultimately, the plan against David falls apart, even if it does earn him his first vote of the season. That's just one part of what is still a confusing outcome in Tuesday night's episode. Looking at how the votes fell, it seems like the majority was meant to split their votes 2-2-1 between Shonee, Zach, and Jacqui. However, two factors occurred to produce our first tied vote this season. Shonee voted for Jacqui, which I can't tell if the Mokutas expected or not. Because of the split vote and the small number of active players, her vote actually meant a lot more than expected. The irony of it all is, if she went along with Sharn's plan and voted for David, she would actually guarantee he goes to Exile with her.
Secondly, Jacqui voted for David, which caused a tie between him and Zach. However, in the tiebreaker, the show regarded Shonee and Jacqui as already voted out, and therefore ineligible to vote. The revote, then, didn't involve the person who actually tied the vote in Jacqui, instead having Tarzan and Sharn vote between Zach and David, despite neither voting for either one of them initially. I think this is the unfortunate externality of getting rid of half your group at once: Every vote counts, no matter how stray they may be. If I had my druthers, Jacqui and Shonee would be able to vote in the revote. But the ultimate outcome ends out working just fine, as Zach gets his wish to check back in at Hotel Exile.
Stage 3: Jacqui's Big Move
While the first two installments of the Exile Trilogy may have been meandering, it finds its direction in a satisfying way by the end of the week. Admittedly, the outcome did feel very telegraphed. JLP seemed to ask Zach at every junction point of Wednesday's episode if he regretted going to Exile, including right before he was voted out. We got several boastful confessionals of Zach for his gambit, while literally everyone else in the game incredulously mocked him for it.
But to be fair to the edit, it truly is an unbelievable story. The guy purposely made himself vulnerable with three chances to earn safety, and he ultimately fails thrice. Not only that, but the self-proclaimed "challenge beast" not only loses both challenges to women, but it's the women of his alliance who ultimately come up with the plan to get rid of him. Though the Zach of All-Stars is clearly a far cry from the harsh misogynist of season 3, it's an incredibly fitting conclusion to his arc from when we first saw him on the Contenders tribe.
It's tough to figure out who the edit wants us to give credit to for this massive move. Is it Shonee with her stellar social game, claiming to Jacqui that she voted for her because she wanted to hang out on Exile? Is it Moana and Sharn, who decide to pull the trigger while simultaneously acting like they hadn't touched the gun? Or does it come down to Jacqui herself, considering how personal she claimed the vote was?
Looking at it from Jacqui's perspective, while this was an exciting move from a viewer perspective, I go back and forth as to whether the time was right for this. She's witnessed firsthand how tight Shonee, Brooke, and AK are. Leaving a tight trio in the game at the Final 8 is a risky call to make, but they'll most likely be targets over her in the immediate future. David being left out means he'll feel he's in danger and more likely to use his idol(s), which helps flush them from the game. And though it looks like she solely flipped, Moana and Sharn were in on the plan and can look out for her within the majority alliance.
Speaking of Sharn and Moana, let's talk about their side of this plot. It was smart for them to purposely vote in the minority. We saw how well playing the spy worked out for Ben Driebergen, even if things blew up for him soon after. With a lot of game still to be played, the inner circle wants to keep their options open while still trimming off the unwanted members of their alliance. From what we saw on screen, this allows them to have their cake and eat it too. But hearing what actually happened is a bit of a different story. Namely, Moana apparently told David to play the idol for Zach before the votes were read. That complicates the situation. Did she want the plan to get blown up? If not, why did she do that? And then subsequently do a mic drop gesture at the jury to make it seem like she was in on the vote? As much as Moana may already be starting jury management (see below), she's only muddying the waters for herself.
Finally, let's see Zach off here. I think it's safe to say that the vast majority of the All-Stars cast are playing how we expected them to. The biggest exception is Zach, who obviously had a deep hole to climb out of after the extremely negative reception he got (and subsequently doubled down on) in season 3. At the end of Zach's second Survivor season, my overall impression is that he's a ... normal guy. There were certainly parts of him that are more interesting than first blush, between the bird sanctuary and his flamenco skills. But to be honest, if he appeared like this in season 3, I'm not sure it would be a performance noteworthy enough for a returnee slot.
Mike Bloom is a television writer, podcaster, and Survivor obsessive. His work around the show can be read at Parade, where he provides exit press and other exclusive nuggets. He can be heard talking way too much about domestic and international Survivor weekly on Rob Has a Podcast, as well as the long-running Survivor Historians podcast. Mike also covers other island-based shenanigans with his LOST rewatch podcast “Down the Hatch” on Post Show Recaps. He feels BrantSteeles are a good way to keep the blood pumping. Banter with him on twitter: @AMikeBloomType