Well, the merge of Australian Survivor: All Stars has finally hit. And if you ask most of the fandom, it's appropriate that they're wearing black. This week of episodes has been one of the sadder ones in the show's history, losing two of the game's most noteworthy strategists and watching a tight "family" get completely outfoxed by a group consisting of three premerge boots. But that being said, with the amount of content Survivor AU blesses us with every week, there is always some good to talk about. And I'm here to talk through everything light and dark from Episodes 13-15, as well as what the painting looks like for the end game.
As a disclaimer, I am near-guaranteed to mimic what I remarked to the fantastic Shannon Guss when I got to appear on RHAP's Survivor AU podcast this week. If you haven't checked it out yet, I had such a fun time getting to talk with one of my great friends about this week, among many other topics. Otherwise, if you're looking for my opinions purely through the written word, I have a lot!
Sayonara, Survivor student
Monday's episode saw, if you're to believe the many, many words David said through confessional, a "blindside" for the ages. Now look, obviously this was not a blindside. Nick was fully aware he was most likely going, specifically being targeted by David. Even Harry acknowledges that Nick was a dead man walking on Mokuta. Though the pioneering "snake" tried to mount a last-minute campaign, he was not surprised whatsoever to get all the votes. So David's clai of a delicious blindside ended up being a light snack.
So why did he insist it was one so aggressively? My theory is simple: Dave knows the producers. Being a huge character on season 4, he is completely aware of what those behind the camera and in the edit bay think makes for entertaining television and great marketing. If he goes on and on about a huge "blindside," that gives him a high chance of becoming the narrator once more, as he's created a storyline where there really wasn't one.
Little did he know there was another storyline brewing this episode that would have even blindsided him. I'm talking, of course, about Harry debating whether to give his non-elimination advantage to Nick. Through various sources, it's come out after the fact that, had Nick used the advantage, the merge would have happened right after that Tribal Council. So in that case, it's an absolute no-brainer for Harry to use it. He sees Nick is in danger, and having him live to see Day 29 means the Rascals are reunited. Right?
Here's the problem. Allegedly, the producers refused to clarify for Harry whether using the advantage would delay the merge or not. That's where Harry's conflict comes from. If using it delays the merge, then there's very little upside to using it. If Nick uses it, then they'd have another premerge IC & TC. If Mokuta loses, Nick most likely goes; they've even shown that capability when Phoebe was voted out twice. If Vakama loses, Harry is looking at three people who have been together since the beginning, and he's the person who just delayed them guaranteeing to make the merge. You could take a significant risk in guaranteeing one more round of play, so I don't begrudge Harry at all for doing what he did if he really thought that's what would happen.
My blame more so lies with production here. To me, they very clearly should have clarified what would have happened if the advantage was used. I understand revealing that information makes it a no-brainer for him and prevents footage of him weighing his options. But giving a player incomplete information feels manipulative, which is saying something for a reality show. Not to mention they accidentally ended up preventing what could have been great TV in Nick stopping his demise, as well as a more combustible merge.
Speaking of Nick, let's send off our final premerge boot of the season. I can't hide my personal bias when I talk about seeing someone get taken out who I have been so lucky to become friends with over the years. It's sad on a number of levels, especially considering how close he was to getting to the merge, and how he really ran up against a brick wall of this solid alliance of seven. That being said, there are a lot of things I'm really happy Nick was able to do in his limited time this season. He made close bonds, even rebuilding a relationship with someone who aggravated him for years. He slowed down his gameplay, but was still able to make moves when he felt they were right. He found advantages in a much stealthier way than his first season. He went out with his head held high, ready to hold his daughter in his arms again.
Now that I announced it on the podcast, I can also officially come out and say in writing that I helped give Nick advice a few days before he went out to play All-Stars. I'm sure what Shannon and I were able to provide was merely a drop in the bucket for the incredible work he did preseason to get back in shape physically and mentally for the toll of the game. But I'll admit, when I saw him absolutely crush that cube puzzle--possibly saving himself from being the first post-swap boot--after advising him on how to solve it and even sending him toys to help practice, I couldn't help but smile.
Back during Week 1 (brighter days ... ), I talked about how my favorite Survivor AU episodes walked through a plan from beginning to end. Instead of the typical editing of going into Tribal Council with either Person A or B up for elimination, the drama instead revolves around whether the con will get pulled off, without any hinkiness to squash a game-changing strategy.
Overall, this merge was a tier below episodes like the boots of Henry in season 2, Mat in season 3, or even Daisy from earlier this season. Those still had the drama of the intended target pulling out an idol or a last-minute maneuver to ruin everything. Here, the Vakama quintet were in no possession of an idol (odd in retrospect, given they only had Harry's advantage while Mokuta had an idol and another idol at the cake reward). So instead what we saw was more akin to the infamous Roger Sexton boot from Survivor: The Amazon, as Locky and his alliance were built up as being confident as all get-out before the rug was promptly pulled.
That being said, I enjoyed the storytelling of the merge episode. Was it David-heavy? Of course, but everything this season seems to be. And here, he was at least an integral part of the plan. I absolutely loved the confessional he opened the episode with, informing us that a large reason he took out Phoebe and Nick was to guarantee he's the only connection between the two tribes at merge. It's a genius mentality and makes me admire his premerge tactics even more so. I just wish we got this perspective of David more than him having to claim revenge or make up TDT-esque statistics to substantiate targeting people.
Another scene I loved was Shonee and Brooke working on the other supposed "swing vote" in Zach. It's no secret that Survivor across the board has trouble showcasing the social game. With so many things to show, it's tough to represent the smaller moments on the island that can really culminate in someone choosing to work with a person. This scene did a succinct, yet sublime job at showing the social game, as Shonee instructed Brooke to connect with Zach over a love of birds. With her insistence to not talk strategy, she highlights how personal bonds are something important that contestants cling to out there, especially in a merge situation where the two are on opposite sides.
And unfortunately for Vakama, on opposite sides they shall stay. Major kudos to Mokuta for playing their roles to a tee. David pretends to tuck his tail between his legs, reminiscent of Russell's prayer hands to JT during the height of the Heroes vs. Villains letter saga. Zach throws out Sharn's name to unify the Vakamas. Sharn tells AK his name is being thrown around, showing her usual role as a middle(wo)man can even be used across tribes. I really admire this septet's dedication to one another and this merge plan. Not an ounce of information leaked out, absolutely stunning the Vakamas.
And at the head of that was Locky, truly edited to fulfill the "cocky Locky" moniker this episode. I am very intrigued to see the nature man become the mayor of Jury Villa this season. His final Tribal Council was him doing his best Ciera Eastin impression, stumping for big moves and blindsides from here on out. Look, I know that there's a good chance that he and Harry were doing that to scare people like Sharn and Lee to flip over to them. But facetious or not, it always grinds my gears when people make that argument. Especially with him claiming he'll never vote for someone who played a "safe" game. Considering how much time he'll have in Jury Villa, we'll see in a few weeks if enough Skittles will allow him to see past the flashiness.
Bye-Bye, Banana Boy
What an episode to be Harry Hills. This entire series of events seemed to be one large season 4 flashback for the ice cream maker. He gets subjected to an excruciating Immunity Challenge that lost him the game last time. He undergoes a pre-Tribal Council hurry-up that doomed his alliance before. And he finds himself once more at the bottom, with no out to let Dirty Harry get away squeaky clean.
From an editing perspective, I thought Episode 15 was an absolute step in the right direction. As much as David may be one of the greatest reality TV characters period, having him be the overwhelming narrator of the past two episodes, especially in such repetitive fashion, was a lot. Luckily, his immune system realized this as well. And while he tried to strategically lay low and separate himself from the Vakamas after betraying them, he physically layed low as well, using the episode to recover from his illness.
That gave us more time to explore Harry's plan to save himself, namely attempting to swing Zach and Lee. The Lee choice I understand. He and Brooke are (somehow!) the only season 1 people left, and he's not packed in as tight as Moana's trio. Plus, it seems like he's looking to make moves, a mentality that he for some reason felt lost him the game last time. While I appreciate the desire for introspection, especially in someone like Lee, I hope he didn't get the wrong message about season 1. Because if he makes a bunch of big moves to get to the end, then once again doesn't own them, he may do even worse in the final vote than last time.
I think Zach is the more questionable one here. Perhaps they don't get this sense observing them, but David is Zach's closest ally right now. Even if he were to vote against Jacqui, it's guaranteed that he wouldn't do it without telling him, the only person to actually extend an invitation to work together. And once David finds out, then the plan is really squashed. That being said, Vakama felt they had to flip two, unaware of Mokuta's split vote plan, so I could understand the logic. And subsequent voting confessionals revealed that Zach was surprisingly the one more likely to jump over, while Lee was set with Mokuta.
I'll admit, I've never been as much of a Harry devotee as others. To be candid, it may just be because his more dry, mellow way of speaking is less compelling to me than the peaks and valleys that someone like David brings. But All-Stars has made me a huge fan of his. Going into this season, I thought he was Public Enemy Number One, considering what the rest of the cast just saw him do. But he was able to completely overshadow his reputation during the premerge, really endearing himself to nearly everyone he encountered. I give him and David both massive, massive kudos for being able to overwrite what we've seen of them, in an installment that's so far been dictated a fair amount by previous seasons.
Where do we go from here?
The Survivor AU community has an understandably bleak outlook of what's to come, given the events of this week. On paper, the Mokutas will take out AK, Brooke, and Shonee. Then, from there, David uses his connections, his idols, and his wiliness to take out his opponents and handily take the victory.
Do I think parts of that narrative will manifest in the postmerge? Definitely. Is there still room for some exciting gameplay and shake-ups? Definitely. Here are my thoughts on what the path looks like for some of the major players left:
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