And so we come to the end of a strange, strange journey that was Australian Survivor All-Stars. Though it only ran for nine weeks (originally intending to be eight), the sheer number of episodes coupled with the general state of the world has made it seem even longer. But alas, another 50-day season has passed, and it has produced one of the greatest and most half-naked winners the Survivor franchise has ever seen.
That being said, despite the prodigious game we can look back on, the final three episodes of season 5 were, much like their airing schedule, a bit dragged out. After last week's Vakama gambit, the only questions still unanswered were: A. Is Brooke going to be able to win three challenges to make it to the Final 2? And B. Which combination of David and his allies will make it to the end? That being said, my verbosity means I could get a good 1000 words out of the process of paint drying, so I'm sure there will be a lot to talk about.
When Brooke was able to clinch another much-needed win, the rock-solid Mokuta alliance was finally forced to turn on one another. The ultimate decision is Tarzan, which is both cathartic and coincidental. As I mused last week, the vast majority of the time, someone like Tarzan is going until at least Final 3. In talking about his alliance, he commended Moana as a silent assassin, David as an all-around great player, Sharn as super smart, and he's there too! Ordinarily, he would be the perfect person to sit next to; while likable, his story and narrative is much thinner than his allies'.
The decision to vote off Tarzan was essentially the same reason Shambo (another presumptive goat) got voted off back in Samoa. In both situations, all the ruling alliance needs to do is defeat a seemingly unstoppable force to get to the end intact. When that's the case, the game turns surprisingly tribal once more, as challenge weakness becomes criteria for elimination. From Moana and Sharn's perspective, they'll serve as the kingmakers for the next two rounds, maintaining their deal with David, but also with the numbers to get rid of whoever of him or Brooke doesn't win next challenge.
We need to, of course, talk about Sharn's frankly baffling confessional where she expresses her intention to take David to the Final 2. I do appreciate her at least providing what she feels is the strawman argument that doing that could be seen as a huge mistake. Because it is! It appears the concept of this season being all-stars has officially made its way into her bloodstream, as she feels taking the biggest threat to the end would be seen as the biggest move in Survivor AU history. Which it would. But it would be the biggest mistake in Survivor AU history.
This is monumentally different than Coach in South Pacific, who was castigated for not taking big players to the end. To the best of my memory, Sharn has not been beating a drum of "to be the best, you've got to beat the best," so she wouldn't have been hung up on that line if she took a weaker opponent. On top of that, Moana is her real-life friend. Much like the controversy that embroiled the American All-Stars, you could imagine Mo would feel if she was slighted, especially if the reasoning was that her game was weaker in comparison to David. Luckily (and confusingly, based on this moment being shown), Sharn did not ultimately have that choice in her hands.
As we send off Tarzan, I'll speak briefly on David's choice to play the idol on himself rather than Tarzan. At first thought, it's a logical way to guarantee yourself Final 4 and, ironically enough, keep the blood off your hands by not angering anyone in playing the idol on Tarzan and screwing up any plans. David has a deal with Tarzan, as well as a deal with Moana and Sharn, so essentially he's choosing which alliance to go with. It's a tough call, though, since he's eschewing someone 100% loyal to him and willing to lose to him in lieu of a pair of friends. Maybe Brooke calling him out at Tribal Council spooked him into playing it for himself, correctly assuming at least one vote would come his way. I'll be intrigued to hear his thoughts in the deep dive.
If it ain't Brooke, don't fix it
Australian Survivor has a unique approach to its endgame, choosing to dedicate an episode apiece to the Final 6, 5, 4, etc. On the one hand, it allows for true investment into some of the most pivotal votes of the game, as opposed to the US method of trying to cram it all into a 2+ hour episode. On the other hand, the more straightforward votes will still need to fill a large amount of time. And we saw the consequences of the latter here after Brooke lost the challenge.
The end of David's second postmerge mirrors the beginning of his first with challenge domination. Up to this point, he hasn't needed to win at all, a testament to his social and strategic game. But the fact that he can pull some physicality out of his pocket when in a hot spot helps put him up with the elite, as David can remove his name from where he was probably the most vulnerable this game. As he emotionally crumbled after the challenge, his inner monologue was clear. "Brooke's lost. And I've just won this game."
I'm going to give it up majorly to Brooke here, though. There was next to nothing she could do to infiltrate an unbreakable alliance of three, especially where two of the members were close friends. I'm not sure if trying to turn Moana and Sharn against each other was the absolute correct move, considering they have always doubted that the other had nefarious intentions. Knowing what we know, I think the move would have been to go to David, tell them about Sharn and Moana's promises to take each other to the end, then promise him you'd take him should you win the final Immunity Challenge. A 67% chance at the end is much better than 33%, that's just math! But Brooke decides to go for the more social choice in pursuing her surprising connection with Moana, so I can't chide her too much.
Ever since season 2, I've believed that the best non-winning player of each Australian Survivor season is the fourth placer. And this season is no different. Though she had a more subdued edit than her fellow allies Shonee and Harry, I think Brooke absolutely met and exceeded the expectations I had for her preseason. She had the social ability, forming a tight relationship with Locky and even ending her game connecting with one of her worst enemies. She had the strategy, seemingly running the Vakama majority in the premerge and arranging for the hit on Flick. And clearly, she had the physical game, becoming the winningest Survivor AU contestant challenge-wise. Another fourth-place Robbed G.oddess. And no, producers, please don't take this as a sign to finish with a Final 4 next season.
No mo' Mo
I'll admit upfront that the All-Stars finale might be my least favorite of the five we've had so far. In my opinion, every one of the previous finales had some element or storyline to them that made the episode interesting. Season 1 had one of the greatest episodes of all time. Season 2 had the unlikely story of Tara becoming a possible winner contender. Season 3 had Sharn losing the game at final TC. Season 4 had the country wondering who of Harry or Pia would prevail in that final challenge.
That wasn't really there for me this time. Sure, David capped off an all-time game with a fantastic set of jury answers, a clear display that he learned from the immaculate performance Pia did last season. And watching Sharn once again get caught up in a previous move was astonishing to watch, literal Survivor history repeating itself. But considering David had a two-thirds chance of getting to the end going into the finale, and his confessional count completely enveloped Sharn's, the outcome seemed pretty clear.
Before we get there, though, a slip off some oddly phallic rocks means the end of Moana. To be honest, I'm still not sure what to think of her. What we saw her play was extremely impressive. She continued where she left off on season 3, becoming the "goddaughter" and seemingly assembling the most dominant alliance in the show's history. The only vote she wasn't in on was her very first one, and she was able to make big swings like taking out Phoebe and Zach.
But it's become increasingly clear that, whether stemming from her introverted personality or not, her social game was a bit limited. We never saw her bonding with any of the Vakamas save Brooke at the end, and social media seems to indicate that she may have done some stuff that turned them off her forever. Her Jury Villa was by far the most awkward one, as even Moana herself muses that she didn't really get to know anyone, but can't wait to do so after the game.
I do think she was ultimately the correct choice for who to vote out, though. The arguments to boot Sharn were that she has been to a final TC before, and has the narrative of surviving despite being a big threat. But the flaws in Sharn's game are a lot bigger than Moana's, especially to the jury. As David has vocalized after the fact, either situation would result in a win. But Moana would have given him more of a run for his money.
It didn't help either one of their cases that their pitching to David happened at Tribal Council, in front of the jury. The Final 3 is the time where you have to convince the immunity winner that you are the better (i.e. weaker) opponent to take to the end. It's a very tough look to do that, then come back the next day and say how all that was a load of crap and expect the majority of jury votes.
The God gets the gold
The final Tribal Council continued the format from last season, a merge of the old and new styles from the American version. Nearly every juror was shown posing a question to David and Sharn, but the others also had the chance for response when, say, they find out their closest ally was willing to let them go to "test" another ally during a tense deadlock.
Okay, let me just start by saying this about Sharn: She is a great Survivor player. I'd say this about anyone who makes it to the endgame multiple times, including Amanda, Parvati, Sandra, and (ugh yes, even) Russell. Survivor is a tough game, full of a wealth of variables. If you can make your placement consistent multiple times, that shows you have to have at least some skills.
And Sharn does! She is someone who can engender trust very easily, which allows her access to information that she can use to her benefit. She held the (until now) unbroken record for individual challenge wins in a season. She's able to consider other options, even when she's already in a good position. And I thought she had a great start to her second final Tribal Council, talking up the role she was able to play in making the decisions entirely from the middle. Though I would say, "Consider my full 100 days in the game" is a bit of a lofty goal, considering the majority of them you haven't played with.
But it seems to me that we found out Sharn's weakness after this performance. For some reason, she'll always have a moment where she's caught flat-footed at Tribal Council. And when grilled about it on Day 50, she falls apart, angering jurors and losing their votes. Last time was much fierier, as Mat Rogers fumed she had prior information about his blindside and didn't use the idol on him (despite the fact he had an idol himself). This time, it was her moment of pleading with the Vakamas to not force rocks, guaranteeing them a promise she knew she couldn't keep.
I spoke about this in the last column, but it was a terrible look for Sharn. In making that deal, she extended a hand to pull the Vakamas out of the pit they fell in, then took it away at the last second. A broken deal feels significantly different when you're on the top as opposed to when you're on the bottom. When it's the former, you feel the rush and can commend those who took you out of a powerful position. When it's the latter, you feel salt in the wounds, someone providing you unnecessary false hope in your hour of need.
When Tarzan brings up her trying to get him to change his vote last-minute, she gives an odd response that she was "testing" him for his allegiance. Moana blanches at the idea of her tightest ally and friend trying to channel Ken McNickle, which causees Sharn to stumble into the logic that she knew Moana wouldn't go, but still wanted to test Tarzan. She then follows it up by claiming her biggest move was to not tell David about the Zach vote so he couldn't play his idol. Not to say withholding information is not a move, considering how much information is currency in the game. But to say it's your best move invites this association that your strategy was entirely passive.
I'll also take the time here to talk about AK's question, which was arguably the highlight of the finale. It was equal parts Sue Hawk and Jigsaw, an opportunity to get Sharn to do what she was so fearful of doing previously that she lied directly to his face: Take a chance. His wording, though, reveals a larger complexity here, though. To me, this entire question is a Catch-22. If she goes for the rocks, she, according to AK, is not "backing her game," which wouldn't play well with her narrative. If she sticks to her guns, then she just blatantly turned down a juror, which could also have repercussions. On top of that, I think there's a nonzero chance AK didn't even have any white rocks in the bag! Like a Brenda/Dawn situation, it's a chance to see someone squirm who led directly to your demise.
While Sharn, unfortunately, served as the Goofus in this final Tribal Council, David was able to cleanly walk through as the Gallant. He, of course, had a lot he could work with, including finding two idols, winning multiple challenges, making genuine relationships, and the apparently-meaningful stat of most days played consecutively. But he furthered that playing to each of the jury, adapting to each question. When Locky said the "Golden God" disappeared in the postmerge, David easily countered by reminding him that he orchestrated Locky's very blindside at the merge. When Moana called him weak for not wanting to go to the end with her, he talked her game while simultaneously reminding her that he had a family to take care of as well. And in his impromptu closing argument, he addressed every juror, showing the hand he had in all of their games at different points.
To speak very briefly about the reunion, it was handled about as well as it could have been due to the situation. JLP was trapped in the States, a little over half the cast could be there in person, the second- and third-placers had to Skype in, and it almost seemed like people drew straws to figure out who sat where. That being said, I thought the reunion did an admirable job of covering the bigger parts of the season and getting around to nearly everyone (#justicefornick). And I personally think the Phoebe/David stuff was only awkward because Osher didn't direct his question to a particular person, which caused some confusion. Also, I would love to see the 24-esque situation where they were able to get a jungle mock-up and the votes set up in L.A. in time for the reunion.
For this final edition of Mike's musings, I figured I would talk about the season overall. Which is to say, it was definitely a mixed bag for me. There was still fun to it, as there would be with this group of people. But I can't lie and say there wasn't anything that disappointed me. But let's start with the good!
As for the not so good:
I'll finish with one more good thing, and that's all of you. Thank you all profusely who even gave a glance ot my ramblings on this season. I had no idea what I was getting myself into with Survivor blogging, and I usually like to be positive in the stuff I put out there in the ethos. I know that there are a smattering of opinions on this season in particular, and I hope any criticism I had was seen as constructive and not as overly petty. My love for Survivor knows no bounds or countries, and Survivor AU has shown over the years just how great of a product it is. I'm looking forward to whatever comes next from the series, whenever it comes. For now, who wants cookies?!
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