Week three of Survivor AU: Brains v Brawn's theme was: "What the hell?" (courtesy of Laura in Ep9, along with the rest of her quote at the top). Hayley broke free from the strategic pack with a pair of massive moves, only for everything to be more or less buried under a garbage dump of odd production decisions, especially in the excessively convoluted and sketchy Episode 9. Seriously, after Hayley makes spectacular use of an idol to turn a 50-50 chance of a Brawn being out into a 100% chance, production just says, "Ha ha, no. We'll make it 50-50 after all. Using these four rubes we just liquored up with champagne."
Sandwiched in between Hayley's wizardry was Episode 8, which will forever be an iconic Survivor AU episode, because the recently saved-by-production Cara, who had otherwise intentionally idoled herself out in Episode 6, now found herself freshly swapped back to the Brains tribe, after (saying she was) growing attached to the people on Brawn. Cara somehow misvoted, resulting in the accidental idoling out of one of the biggest Brawnsters, Daini. How does this even happen?
Well, the theme *is* "What the hell?", so just roll with it. It is what it is.
More troubling is how the week ended. Georgia was feeling sick, took herself out of the immunity challenge, then was whisked away by medical ... overnight. This meant she missed Tribal Council, which for some reason had to be the day after Daini's idoling. But everyone *else* was forced to attend. There, Georgia's Brains tribe ally Laura was also voted out, but then was immediately sent back in, thanks to Survivor AU's disdain for actually voting people out.
This fake-out double Tribal/single boot mechanism is essentially the same as the Lydia/Phoebe one from Episode 8 of AU: All-Stars, so it shouldn't really have been a surprise. And to be fair, despite the frequent use of a double Tribal Council to remove two players over the past 30 seasons in US Survivor, *every* time Survivor AU has done a double Tribal, it's never an actual double boot, because if there's one thing Survivor AU can't do, it's vote people out any more often than they already do, because then there wouldn't be enough people for 24 episodes. You're more likely to have zero people voted out than two.
But still, despite the high likelihood that only one of Laura and Shannon was actually leaving, their fate was then decided by three of Laura's former tribemates/allies and one of Shannon's longtime enemies — arbitrarily decided by their sandbag-tossing luck. That seems particularly unfair, particularly in comparison to the Lydia/Phoebe set-up, where they at least had some direct control of their own fate. So why do it this way? This seemed unnecessarily opaque, arbitrary, and capricious.
Also, again, the Georgia situation: There was no need for this Tribal to take place on this exact day. This was a one-day episode. It could have been two, like pretty much every other one. They could have waited for medical to clear her, or not. Survivor AU clearly needs to stall for time repeatedly, anyway. So what was the rush?
It all just seems so random. Like letting four people who (eventually) happened to land sandbags on a post decide the direction of the game. Sure, you *could* do that. But why?
Episode 7: Hayley's (first) big move
After a two-week deluge of bizarre half-tribe advantages, smug-but-inaccurate declarations of power, and idols seemingly falling out of every tree, Episode 7 was a breath of fresh air, thanks to Hayley. A textbook demonstration of simple, straightforward Survivor: Rounding up the underdogs to overthrow an overconfident and under-democratic majority. It was glorious.
This was a simple 5-4 vote, just like the power shift that took out John Carroll in Marquesas. It didn't require an idol. It didn't require any advantages. It just took Hayley being tired of being told what to do by Joey, and rallying those on the outs (George, Baden) and her fellow disgruntled minions (Rachel, Wai).
The one potential holdout was Wai, who had just been lured into the majority alliance on the previous vote. But Hayley had an angle here, too: Joey was fine with splitting the vote between George and Wai, in case George had found another idol. (Which, again, falling out of every tree, so ... reasonable worry.) So Hayley pointed that out to Wai, who correctly read the lack of security she actually had in that majority group.
(At first glance, recruiting Wai seems like it might have been overkill, because Joey's four still went ahead with their split plan, and it was a 5-3-1 vote. But Wai would've been the fourth vote for George otherwise, and then George would be out on the revote. So ... carry on. Parentheses are here for a reason.)
Anyway, just a delightfully artful job of persuasion and execution by Hayley. At least *one* of the Brains has an idea of how Survivor is supposed to be played. (On a related note: As revealed in his 10play.com exit interview, Joey had only ever seen AU: All-Stars. Now all the repetitive, overly performative confessionals and strong-arm leadership tactics make sense.)
Episode 8: Swap success (Swapcess?)
Before we get to the Tribal debacle, this episode started out with a much-anticipated tribe swap. As random swaps go, this one actually worked pretty well.
On the Brawn side, the Simon/Emmett duo was split up between the two tribes. Flick and Shannon remained on Brawn, but the other half of their majority four (Kez and Gerald) were sent to Brains. And we get a fun scene of Simon and Shannon (and Dani and Chelsea) attempting to bury the hatchet and work together. (It was not to last.)
For the Brains, Hayley got to avoid blowback from her big move by escaping to Brawn. Baden also got out from under the majority's thumb and went to the tribe he probably felt he should have been on in the first place (Brawn), and we also got to see bemused new Brawn Wai flexing her "guns" for comedic effect.
Meanwhile, George and Cara are reunited back at Brains, and from there, it all goes terribly, terribly wrong.
Episode 8 Tribal: OMG, WTF. LOL
Obviously, the highlight of Episode 8 was Cara's accidental idoling out of Daini. Frankly, it's somewhat amazing it didn't in the mid-20s era of US Survivor, when split votes were all the rage, and recruit-heavy casts had lots of contestants not exactly known for their superfandom or smarts. Lack of food affects your mental acuity, including remembering simple things, like which person you're voting for.
It was bound to happen to someone eventually. It did happen to Gavin on Day 5, just this season, but he got away with it, because his didn't really matter. Here, it happened to Cara in the most public, embarrassing way possible. Seriously, watch it back after you know what's coming. The squirm-inducing cringe is palpable as she realizes her mistake. Poor Cara.
Also poor George, who put the move together. He had put in all the legwork, snooping on Rachel and Laura, observing that Laura had found *something*, probably an idol. He deduced that it was an idol, from their post-IC interactions. He came up with a very straightforward, bulletproof vote split to dodge that idol. He even made the extra effort of letting the ex-Brawn guys pick the person they wanted to vote for, which was a really solid, trust-building measure. He even double-checked with everyone that they understood, and repeated the name each person was voting for. George did everything right. This bulletproof plan should have been King George's crowning glory!
And then one of the bullets misfired, and suddenly the bulletproof plan blew up.
Still, hard to get too upset, when the person who screwed it up is the same one who saved him two rounds earlier. With great self-sacrifice comes great forgivability, or something. And to be fair, Daini probably would have been out at the merge anyway, or shortly thereafter (which in AU is a mere 200 days away, or so). It is what it is.
Episode 9: Hayley's even bigger move
Episode 9 features an even more spectacular strategic move by Hayley, who takes advantage of some weird production decisions (two people per tribe win individual immunity), and an idol that she found in front of everyone at the Ep8 IC (also a weird production decision, to be fair, but at least one that was fun and interesting) to dramatically improve her and Baden's otherwise dismal chances of survival in the Brawn tribe, where the ex-Brains are outnumbered, 5-4.
It's a brazen display: While Andrew and Wai are away enjoying their reward, she tells all five original Brawns — "in the name of transparency" — that the Brains are sticking together, and since Andrew and Wai are immune, she'll play her idol for either herself or Baden, which means there's a 50-50 chance the Brawns will guess wrong, in which case the Brains will decide which Brawn goes home.
The Brawns thank her for her transparency, then wander off to plot amongst themselves. In reality, the announcement had nothing to do with transparency (she had no intention of playing her idol), and everything to do with exposing the cracks in Brawn. It doesn't take very long to pay off. Both the Flick/Shannon faction and the Simon/Dani/Chelsea trio have little interest in any of their fates being decided by a virtual coin flip, so they quickly decide to turn on each other. Shannon and Flick strike first, convincing Simon he'll be the target, so he should play his idol, and also they should all vote Chelsea, because ... reasons. Simon immediately takes this back to Dani and Chelsea, and they quickly vow that Shannon's head will roll. Both sides separately go back to Hayley and pledge to work with her.
In a few short minutes, Hayley has taken herself and Baden from likely boots to guaranteed safe, with a 100% chance of some Brawn being voted out instead. Not only that, but she then delays the decision of which Brawn faction to side with, and uses the choice as a means to unite the four Brains, and make them each feel included. (Andrew in particular was not close to any of the other three Brains, and had he not been away on reward, this gambit likely would have fallen flat.) Just brilliant work by Hayley, from start to finish.
The only worry here is that Hayley has revealed her threat level way too early. It's Day 19, not Day 35, nor even Day 45. There is a *lot* of game left, and every person playing will now see how dangerous she really is (thanks especially to the double Tribal Council).
But still, on this season, where anything can blow up for any stupid reason at any given time, you have to applaud the occasional flashes of brilliance.
Episode 9 Tribal: Hmm
On the one hand, Shannon didn't seem to be long for this game, anyway. Simon had two idols, and her consistent insistence on taking him out felt like tunnel vision, especially after the swap. It was never going to work out in her favor, not when he has two idols. From Daini's 10play.com exit interview, it sounds like Shannon had an alliance with Dani and Chelsea (and Daini), so she was on good enough terms with the two women to move forward as a Brawn-Strong unit. It's just the Simon part that held her back.
That said, the confluence of unfair decisions (the lack of delay to work around Georgia's absence, having the IC winners vote instead of going straight to firemaking, etc.) does tarnish her ouster a bit. Then again, this is Australian Survivor, so any time both tribes attend Tribal Council, something sketchy, possibly dumb, is likely to happen.
In Survivor AU: 2017, Peter was given the chance to mutiny. He did (shrug). In Champions v Contenders 1 (2018), Tegan was voted out of the post-swap Champions, and the observing Contenders tribe was given the chance to overrule this vote. They declined (shrug, again). The next year, in Champions v Contenders 2, rather than the (again post-swap) Contenders voting someone out, the IC-winning Champions were awarded the chance to kidnap someone, and they took "the Horse," Shaun. (This was fine. Much better than doing so after an actual vote.) Then last year, in AU: All-Stars, Phoebe and Lydia were each voted out, but were then pitted against each other in a fire-making competition, with only the loser going home. (Not great, but preferable to the version this time.)
Enough. This is all so unnecessary. If the end result is one person out, why not just have one tribe vote in a normal Tribal? Sure, it's fun and informative to have both tribes present. Having the winning tribe observe the losing tribe's Tribal Council has been done many times. Why not just go with that? Clearly, trying new things isn't always a good idea.
- Some rare moments of human kindness and joy: In the first post-swap challenge (the Ep8 IC, "Weight and Sea"), several of the original Brains (Wai, George, Rachel) struggled on the floating balance beam. Rather than frustrated groans, several of the original Brawn players offered unwavering support and encouragement, especially Flick and Simon. This was really touching to see. The same team spirit was evident in the next episode's reward/immunity challenge, where the Brains all worked together to clear the obstacles, rather than running ahead, as the Brawns did. Even there, Simon (who had run ahead) and Shannon seemed genuinely thrilled for Wai when she surprisingly secured the second Brawn individual immunity.
- Who put him up to it? The biggest mystery of Ep9 is Baden's vote for Flick. The other members of the Brains/Simon/Dani/Chelsea group all voted for Shannon as planned. Did Baden pull a Cara, or was it a failsafe, in case someone played an idol? Simon and Hayley had the only idols. Theoretically, both factions could have been lying to Hayley, and Simon could have played an idol for Shannon AND one for Chelsea, saving all the Brawns. In that case, Baden's vote might have been a Brains plan to send Flick home instead, but that would require Hayley/Baden to know Simon had *two* idols. It's also possible Simon and/or Hayley was worried Shannon had an idol, which would fit the Flick vote, too. Either way, it's weird that JLP didn't show this vote publicly (or did he, and it was just edited out)? So many questions!
Jeff Pitman is the founder of the True Dork Times, and probably should find better things to write about than Survivor. So far he hasn't, though. He's also responsible for the Survivometer, calendar, boxscores, and contestant pages, so if you want to complain about those, do so in the comments, or on twitter: @truedorktimes