The ads for the fourth week of Survivor AU: Brains v
Brawn promised jaws would drop. For the first two
episodes, that felt pretty far from the truth, as the
post-swap Brains continued to both lose and pick off the
original Brains women that weren't Cara. But then came
Episode 12, and everything actually was pretty amazing.
In what turned out to be the final pre-merge Tribal Council, Hayley and Dani finally agreed to target Simon, shortly after he revealed to Dani and Chelsea that he was holding two hidden immunity idols. All of a sudden Dani's long-term "target the alpha" plan kicked into high gear, she recruited the ex-Brains, and they even threw an immunity challenge to carry it out.
But then things got more complicated, because Hayley wasn't content to be a passenger in Dani's blindside train. Hayley recruited Baden and Andrew to ensure that if anything went sideways, such as Simon playing one of his two idols, it would not be Flick getting booted, it would be ... Dani.
Then things got even *more* complicated, and Cara and George were also given free passes to vote at the same Tribal Council, with no prior information.
Somehow, despite all these combustible ingredients, everything went to plan. Nobody "cooked it" this time. All the votes went where Hayley expected them to (but not where Simon or Dani did). Simon went home, Dani got a good scare (and was pissed about it), and George and Cara got to take part in a Brawn blindside.
Dearie me, what fun!
But let's get there the slow way, the way the audience had to: By trudging through Episodes 10 and 11 first.
Episode 10: Simon vs. Emmett in everything, hello and goodbye to Georgia
In Episode 10, Georgia makes an admirable return from her temporary medevac (more on that below) to the Brains tribe. After which the Brains predictably lose the immunity challenge, as they are wont to do. And immediately after, Emmett decrees that one of Georgia, Rachel, or Laura should be out. Rachel has a great confessional talking about how frustrating it is that physically strong men just get to be in charge, and every one else is expendable. After looking at the two challenges in this episode, we have to ask: Gosh, why would that possibly be?
The RC was a classic, and a fun callback to US season 2, The Australian Outback: "Shoulder the Load." But it's obviously also a test of strength and endurance. As expected, the participants were all original Brawn (except Baden, who is a professional athlete). Also as you might expect, it ended up a showdown between Simon and Emmett, each struggling to hold 90 kg (almost 200 lbs, for Americans).
The IC started off a little more varied, but it was really just another "move the entire tribe across a series of obstacles" test, plus a few isolated solo tasks. The first task required agility/arm strength (holding on to a rope with one arm while sweeping sandbags off a platform above your head), and it went to Andrew and Emmett. The second was firing sandbags through a net tunnel. Simon monopolized it for Brawn, Rachel and Laura each had brief tries for Brains, before Emmett took over. The last was firing a slingshot, and Gerald and Dani each took shots at it, before it reverted to the usual suspects, Emmett and Simon.
After some brief early attempts at more balanced challenges this season, there has been just one puzzle (which Emmett threw, in Ep11) since way back in Episode 6, when Brawn finally solved one. This was before the swap. Apparently SurvivorAU breathed a huge sigh of relief that Emmett and Simon ended up on opposite tribes, and decided there's no need to ever have puzzles any more. It's now Brawn v. Brawn, which, like Champions v. Champions, is probably what the show and network would prefer, anyway.
In the entire pre-merge, women sat out of challenges 15 times. Men sat out just four times, and two of those were in this week's very last IC of the pre-merge (which the Brawn tribe threw, which explains Baden sitting out). That's not "balance."
US Survivor has its faults, but it at least tries to have occasional challenges where each person has a defined task, not this nebulous "move the tribe from one end of the course to the other" crap. Also, if every solo/hero challenge element is a test of strength and/or skill, and tribes can swap in anyone at any time, it'll always end up being the same guys (Simon and Emmett) who ultimately do everything.
For example, look back at "Beyond the Wheel," the Ep4 IC in Winners at War: four people pull the boat, three different people jump off the ledge to grab keys, two different people work the block puzzle at the end. There are specific tasks for specific people. Anyone can be a hero or a goat. It's not just one shapeless mob going from one end to the other, with the same man performing all the hero tasks. The last challenge that resembled this kind of setup? The Ep6 IC ("Hitching a Ride"), with key retrieval, turning the crank, and a puzzle the Brains blew. The aforementioned last instance of a puzzle.
Ironically, the two challenges in this set of three episodes that broke this mold (the cube-slide-puzzle element in the Ep11 IC, and the "Discy Business" Ep12 IC) were the ones each tribe took a turn at throwing.
Again, it's like the show decided it was okay if, after the swap, only the strong guys were allowed to be indispensible to their tribes. So of course they have power, if the tribe would constantly lose without them. Of course physically weaker players are seen as expendable. (Be honest: would you expect anything different from SurvivorAU?) This is not going to change until the show changes. The show likes rippling muscles and tests of brute strength. Good luck convincing them otherwise.
Important circa/post-Ep10 information: The show tweeted an official post-boot Georgia update, which explained the physical ordeal she went through, and why she was temporarily pulled from the game. It gives a lot of perspective as to how much strength it took for her to go back in to the game, just to be voted out (as she said, "the right way"). Read the tweet thread here:
Australian Survivor takes the health and safety of our contestants very seriously. During filming, Georgia became ill and subsequently required hospitalisation. pic.twitter.com/0SxtN9TaLG— #SurvivorAU (@Survivor_AU) August 9, 2021
Episode 11: Is George trolling the audience?
There's a hilarious bit of revisionist history at the start of Episode 11, kicked off by Geoge wandering through camp carrying a hatchet. "If you work against me, you're gonna go!" George gloats, before rolling through his list of enemies he personally — all by himself — slew: "Mitch was gunning for me, he's gone." (Mitch was taken out by Joey's group, at which time George played his idol for himself, wasting it.) "Joey was gunning for me, he's gone." (George at least voted for Joey, although the plan was organized by Hayley.) "Now, Georgia was gunning for me, she's also gone." (Emmett did all the work in keeping Kez from voting Cara, which would have resulted in a tie. George just agreed to the move.) The one plan George actually spearheaded was the vote split that Cara screwed up, resulting in the accidental idoling out of Daini. (Well, and his Ep1 advantage debacle.) But sure, chop on, George.
Just when you're done rolling your eyes, though, later in this same episode there's a record-scratch, peer-behind-the-curtain moment with George. The Brains lose, and the majority five predictably decides to pick off either Laura or Rachel, doesn't really matter. George proposes guys vote Rachel (3), girls vote Laura (2). Done and done. (Cara, please actually vote Laura this time!) And then, a while later, after Rachel and Laura approach George to see if there's interest in bringing the Brains back together, seizing the 4-3 numbers advantage, and blindsiding Emmett ... that's where we get the bit where George takes his mask off.
George reveals he intentionally made the (very casual-seeming) vote split that way so that, if he chose, he could flip back to the Brains (without Cara), creating a different 3-2-2, where his, Rachel's, and Laura's votes would combine to take out the Brawn of their choice. (He doesn't end up taking this option, but that's beside the point, which is: he's aware of it, and he planned it that way.) This is brilliant, next-level thinking from George, and it makes you wonder how much of the George we've seen so far is really George, and how much is George trolling the audience/producers?
If George is smart enough to set himself up with options like that on a vote split, he's surely aware of how the audience will receive his recitation of his "victims" at the top of the episode: With raised eyebrows, scowls, and furious tweeting about how delusional this guy is.
But is he really? How much of what we see on screen is George Mladenov, and how much is the fictional King George of Bankstown, a Tyrion-esque toff who makes outrageously self-aggrandizing statements and constantly natters on about parliament and Macedonian Jesus? Joey had seen just one season, and knew that if he puffed out his chest in confessional and praised his own alleged puppet-mastery, he'd get a lot of screen time. But Joey actually believed his shtick. George has (allegedly) seen a lot more Survivor than Joey. What if George is doing the same thing, while being fully aware he's at best tagging along strategically at this point? Also: What if he's doing the same to his castmates? (At the swap, Cara makes him swear, "No more smack talk".)
Because seeming like an emotional, self-absorbed superfan who just can't quite grasp the mechanics of the social game is a *really* good disguise for getting deep into the game. Imagine if someone could act like an F2 goat long enough such that everyone wants to take them to the end, only to flip the tables at around Final 5 or so. That could work, right? Is that what's going on here?
(At this point, we've at least ruled out the alternative hypothesis that George is simply a recruit who's never seen a lick of Survivor, but is pretending because the producers realized too late that they forgot to cast a nerdy superfan. Haven't we?)
Episode 11: Rachel's pitch falls on deaf ears
It was rough to see Rachel make a solid, logical case for staying, only to lose out to the Brawns, especially when George had given himself the option to strike at Emmett, or whoever he wanted.
In order for that to have failed, he must have felt safer with Emmett, Kez, and Gerald than with Laura and Rachel. Why? You would think the answer must be mostly distrust of Laura, since she's been fairly vocally anti-George since Day One. Which makes George's approaching Laura in Ep12, after Rachel's been voted out, all the more confusing. It's as if George is punishing Rachel for siding with Georgia and Laura after the swap, while giving Laura herself a pass.
Perhaps part of the problem is Cara: The three Brains women *did* participate in the split vote that resulted in her idoling herself out (briefly). And Cara was 100%, irrevocably, in with the Brawn people after she joined their tribe. When Cara came back into the Brains tribe at the swap, she came, as George said, "with friends" that put him in the majority. Cara (perfectly reasonably) had no interest in working with the same people who had just voted her out two Tribals earlier. So maybe the Brains women just had no shot at working with Cara (and by extension George).
In George's defense, at no point after the swap did we see Laura or Georgia or even Rachel approach George and Cara to align with them. (It's certainly possible they did, but it just wasn't shown.) Not until Georgia had been voted out, anyway. Only once they were out of other options did they revisit the "Brains strong" concept, which was obviously far too late. Big moves are fine, but if you're not putting in the foundations for them beforehand, they're pretty unlikely.
Still, while we saw Emmett talking Kez down from flipping in Ep10, it's weird that we saw absolutely nothing in the way of reassurances from the Brawns to George and Cara in Ep11, apart from what Emmett and Gerald said at Tribal. There must have been something more, right? Did George already forget that Rachel helped out in the epic blindside of Joey that George designed and executed all by himself?
Episode 12: The Blindside
While Simon was a big fan, he did a lot of things wrong in the game, mainly by elevating his threat level to stratospheric heights throughout the pre-merge, for no obvious reason. His intra-Brawn feud with Shannon probably distracted him from a more balanced approach, but his holding two idols clearly (since he said it himself) made him feel "bulletproof," and that can't have helped.
So there's a certain degree of satisfaction in Simon being voted out while holding two idols, mainly because it seemed so ridiculous that he was more or less given a second one ... just because. (He had just found the Brawn idol hours earlier — which, good job — but which made it seem so unnecessary for production to just toss another fully powered idol in with the reward items.) And the fact that Dani decided to pull the trigger on blindsiding Simon — something she'd been planning to eventually do all along — precisely because poor Simon trusted her and Chelsea enough to finally reveal he had two idols? *Chef's kiss*
Still, with the merge coming next episode, it's not *that* shocking to see the #1 challenge performer taken out. If it wasn't done here, Simon would have been targeted the next round. Maybe he saves himself a few times with a combination of necklaces and idols, but he'd be out fairly soon, either way. Now with Simon gone, Emmett is almost certainly the next biggest target (then maybe Andrew?), unless petty vendettas take over the strategy for the foreseeable future. Who knows, with this cast, that's definitely a possibility.
The editing of Ep12's Tribal Council sequence itself was pretty spectacular, though. Everyone in on the plan is desperate to not tip Simon off, to keep him relaxed, to ensure he doesn't play an idol, and the editors throw in every trick they can think of to make you think Simon has caught on, or at least has caught on enough to opt for safety:
- Simon catches Baden whispering with George and Cara: "Sorry Baden, I didn't want to interrupt." Then he goes on: "Having a couple of other people here can derail everything. I don't think many people would come to Tribal Council and not be worried."
- JLP asks Simon about his thought process while voting: "In the back of my mind, I just hope it's not me. There's crazier things that have happened in the game of Survivor."
- Simon's sandal breaks as he goes up to vote: "Whoa. That's not a good sign!"
These moments of concern all add up, so that even knowing who gets booted, you're still terrified that when Simon snaps his head towards JLP before the vote reveal, that might indicate he's about to pull out an idol. But no, he doesn't. It was all a ruse. The idols go unplayed, Simon goes home.
It was a really well-put-together sequence. And good on Simon for taking it with a smile, even as he says leaving with two idols "really hurts."
Episode 12: Did Hayley misplay the vote split?
When initially describing her vote-split plan, Hayley describes wanting to protect Flick (in case Simon played one of his idols), by "flipping that second vote onto Dani." When she discusses it with Baden, it somehow turns into a 4-3-1 split, with herself, Andrew, and Baden putting their three votes on Dani. Was that overkill? Why three?
On the one hand, they knew they couldn't be sure how George and Cara would vote (thankfully, they at least knew they would be attending beforehand, so it could have been worse.) In that context, the three Dani votes are hedge against George and Cara voting, say, Andrew. But they don't protect Flick, because if George and Cara follow the fake narrative and pile their votes on Flick, then it's 4-3-3, and if Simon plays an idol, it's a 3-3 tie between Dani and Flick, and who the hell knows how that turns out?
Wouldn't a better plan have been to keep it at two votes on Dani, while still trying to get George and Cara to vote Simon? That way Dani assumes it's George and Cara, the two dummies who weren't in on the plan, who voted for her. Surely Hayley must have foreseen Dani's irate reaction to seeing her name three times, given her hardline response to Cara accidentally idoling out Daini?
Anyway, the plan worked, Simon left the game, and the damage control can begin. The merge may complicate things a bit, though.
How does the merge sort itself out?
Coming into the merge, it's really unclear where the true alliances sit. There are a lot of strong pairs, but no real cohesive larger group joining them all together.
The one exception might be the original Brains people currently on Brawn. The core seems to be Hayley and Baden, with Andrew loosely linked to Baden, and Wai a virtual free agent. If Andrew is with them, he can probably pull in Laura fairly easily, to make it a four, and Wai would make five. They also have a decent chance of pulling in Flick, making it a six. That's one short of a majority on the 13-person merge tribe.
Do George and Cara fit with this group? Maybe. For now. But they've also been tight with the ex-Brawns currently on the Brains tribe. Still, with George freshly aware that he's #4 in that group, he could swing to the Brains side. He did just vote with them, after all. (Or he could take out Hayley, just because we can't have nice things).
Kez and Gerald are clearly still pretty close, and were not particularly tight with Emmett before the swap. They were close with Flick, though, so together, they could make a powerful threesome, if they play it right. If George and Cara stay with Emmett, Kez and Gerald could easily put Hayley's group into the majority instead.
Then there's Dani and Chelsea, who despite turning on Simon, still bear the stain of having been Simon's minions. Dani doesn't seem the kind to forgive and move on after she's been wronged, so she could be out for Brains blood. They have a likely ally in Emmett (who's otherwise SOL). It's not out of the question that original Brawn ties will help them reconnect with people like Kez and Gerald, either.
Then there's Flick. Flick really seemed to relish taking out Simon, but does that transfer to his buddy Emmett (who helped boot Shannon)? Flick got along well enough with Dani and Chelsea, so in theory all the Brawns *could* get back together, for a six. (Which would be the majority if they also include Cara and George.) But Flick also seemed to get along better with the ex-Brains, like Wai. Which way will Flick go?
So in short: The swap (and the factions within the original tribes) worked really well at shaking things up. It's probable that the original Brains/Brawn branding will still shape people's post-merge thinking, at least at first. But there are enough new connections (and new scores to settle) that the post-merge should still go in interesting directions.
- Let's move this along: Merging with 13 left seems a bit early for SurvivorAU (12 is standard), but it's hard to overlook that both tribes threw an immunity challenge in the final two pre-merge episodes. It's possible that Emmett and the Brains hierarchy were *also* trying to throw the Ep12 IC, because they had to re-start at least once. (If it was a throw-off, it's sad we weren't let in on that.) Nothing greases the merge skids better than wholesale challenge throwing, so good work, everyone.
- A rarely seen fun moment: After the Brains throw the Ep11 IC and Brawn wins, we briefly see both tribes intermingling, and whispering secret pleas to each other (mostly Laura and Rachel worried that they're about to be picked off). Does this sort of cross-tribal chatter always happen, and it's just cut? Aussie tribes always seem so much more congenial towards each other than US ones (where Boston Rob famously voted Matt Elrod out for simply congratulating the opposing tribe for winning), so the post-challenge back-slapping seems normal here. But it's still fun to see it occasionally!
- WTF with Cara's advantage? One: Why was this advantage necessary? If Brawn hadn't thrown the IC, it would have gone to waste, since before they remembered they were throwing it, Brawn almost accidentally won before the Brains had even placed a single ball. Two: This was the last tribal IC. Where the hell was this advantage two or three episodes ago? Three: Why was this advantage so poorly hidden? Past versions (on the bottom of a plate laden with food, inside the popcorn machine) were at least *hidden*. This was just sitting there, in a tube of candy, in plain view. It took Cara seconds to retrieve it. Just look at how thorough every other visitor was in their searches. It's not like there weren't actual hiding places!
- Before we move on: a word from Savage Hayley, as she votes for Dani: "Dani : Thanks for doing all the legwork on this blindside against Simon. I'll take the reins now." Even if it ends up backfiring, an iconic moment.
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