After seven weeks of hyping certain contestants, ignoring others, and twist after twist after twist, the overall season-long narrative of SurvivorAU: Brains v Brawn finally started to fall into place as Episodes 22 and 23 pared the remaining contestants down to three.
It was a thrilling, surprising final four vote, as the unthinkable happened, and the one alliance that had been presented all season as completely unbreakable — George and Cara — was in fact broken. Hayley delivered a deft, game-changing pitch for George and Cara to keep her, while minimizing the reality that doing so required the pair to vote against each other. All the time the show had spent building up the George-Cara bond made this otherwise logical move appear completely inconceivable. And yet it happened. Truly a fantastic pre-finale plot twist. (For the audience, at least. Less so for Cara.)
This amazing 2-1-1 vote (impossible in US Survivor!) leaves just three players vying for the final immunity necklace and a guaranteed spot in the final two, in Sunday's finale: "King" George, who has described himself as the winner of the season since the first day, last female Brain standing Hayley, whose powers of persuasion neatly complement her all-around athleticism and strategic genius, and last Brawn standing Flick, whose fierce determination to persevere despite a heartbreaking family loss (along with obvious close connections to much of the jury) made her an obvious jury threat, a fact that drove this final four vote.
It's an endgame combination in which each remaining contestant has delivered a compelling, potentially game-winning season arc, and each has a plausible case for winning, should they reach the finals. Despite all this season's twists and turns (including two-thirds of the final three and three-fourths of the final four having been voted out once!), it feels right that it all led up to this. No matter how it all turns out, there will be a deserving winner.
Episode 22: No through Wai
To get to this final three, of course, we first had to cut two players, and both were shocking and/or disappointing losses on their own. First to fall was Wai, who had previously appeared (to me at least) to have one of the best cases for winning, particularly as the only person other than George who hadn't been voted out.
Wai's downfall, of course, was her lack of challenge ability, which coupled with an absolute dearth of idol and/or advantage finds (everyone else in the final five had found at least one, most two), made her extremely reliant on her social game. That approach had worked well up to this point, with just one vote against her in the previous 21 episodes. But all it took were two votes here, from Cara and George, all because Flick had an idol, which George (allegedly) sniffed out because Flick couldn't keep up the charade of looking for one all day.
There was also an interesting hero/villain turn here for George. First (as seen above), he dropped what he was doing in the immunity challenge to race back and help Wai cross the overhead beam crawl, the first segment of the challenge. It was a small effort, but a great, humanizing moment for George. He's a good person! Then later, of course, he convinces a deeply reluctant Cara they should both vote Wai, in order to save either of them from being sent to the jury by an idol-playing Flick's one vote.
(Given George's predilection for always splitting votes this season, it seems unlikely that this plan actually came after George spotting Flick relaxing instead of idol-hunting ... or for that matter that he even actually did see this, since there were no shots where both are in the same frame, suggesting it was just an editing creation. Rather this was likely just a standard safety play George devised, because everyone knew it was the last time to play an idol. This also fits Cara's insistence that Flick didn't have an idol, because why would George not tell Cara that Flick was relaxing instead of searching?)
Anyway, Wai's departure was disappointing, coming as it did right on the heels of her amazing immunity comeback win in the prior episode. Targeting Wai was the right move for George, taking out the only other player with a "clean" record (not having been voted out), and it was also a good move for Cara, who had a similar challenge profile to Wai, but had also been voted out once.
It's not really clear why Hayley and Wai didn't suspect Flick had an idol, though, nor why they weren't at least collectively pushing to do a 3-1 split, given that this was the last time an idol could be played, and idols have basically been falling out of any random tree you shake this season. Oh well.
Episode 23: The unbreakable bond is rent asunder
Heading into Episode 23, there was a pretty clear imperative for the remaining contestants: Flick and Hayley each faced the prospect of being voted out if they didn't win immunity, because the George-Cara pair was too inseparable. Whoever that pair put their votes on was out, and the other person was the likely immunity winner.
Flick and Hayley both thought that. The audience thought
that. George and Cara probably even considered it their Plan
Yet it didn't happen. George and Cara, the tightest pair in recent memory, who had saved each other with idols, voted together the entire game ... didn't vote together. Rather they each wrote the other's name down.
(Side note: There was some fantastic foreshadowing at the start of the episode, with (1) the two of them trying to sit in the hammock together, failing repeatedly, then eventually giving up, and (2) Cara showing George how to make fire, then George hugging Cara afterward with the machete still in hand, pantomiming stabbing her in the back. And the voting was still a shock!)
So how did this unbreakable pair get broken? From Cara's exit interviews, she and George had already discussed that there might be a point where they would be forced to vote against each other, and she viewed this as that time. From the show, Hayley clearly made a compelling pitch to both of them at Tribal: Flick is almost certain to win if she reaches the finals. Because the Final 3 immunity challenge is always endurance, Hayley is the best bet either of them have for beating Flick in that challenge, and because Hayley is aware she'd lose to Flick (as would they), keeping Hayley is their best shot at winning the game. (Hayley's argument here has the benefit of also being 100% accurate, as far as we in the audience can tell.)
There's more to it, though. Back in Ep22, we were shown an earlier conversation where George told Hayley he wanted to sit next to her at final two, because he knew he was disliked by people like Emmett, Gerald, and Dani, and that Wai, Cara, or Flick would have a built-in advantage against him in the finals, but Hayley wouldn't. This demonstrates George's level-headed, dispassionate strategic thinking far better than any of the thousands of confessionals where he talks about being King, or winning gold. Perhaps even more than Hayley's aggressive pitch, this calculation probably played a big role in George's decision to vote Cara here (and Wai in Ep22).
And so it finally happened. Flick did the logical thing, and tried to vote out her chief F3 IC competitor, Hayley. Cara did the logical thing, and voted against George. George did the logical thing, and voted against Cara. Combined with Hayley also voting against Cara, that meant Cara's torch was snuffed a second time, in a 2-1-1 vote, and she's now the 8th juror. (And a guaranteed vote for George, if he reaches the finals, which also seems guaranteed?)
The final three: who's going to win?
We're almost to the finish line. One more challenge, one more person voted out, then the jury vote. Who stands the best chance of taking home the money?
Flick is the clearly a sentimental favorite among the jurors. Dani is openly rooting for her. Gerald spoke glowingly of her in his exit interviews. She probably has a secure grip on Emmett's vote. That's three of the nine jurors right there. Against Hayley, she probably has a good shot at Cara's vote. Against George, maybe Wai's. And who has any clue where Laura's preferences lie? Simply put, if Flick reaches the finals, she has a really good chance of being the Survivor AU: Brains v Brawn champion. Because of that, it's almost certain that George takes Hayley to the finals, and vice-versa. Neither of them can risk it being a Brain vs. a Brawn in the finals, especially not a Brawn who's been through so much heartbreak and demonstrated so much grit and resolve as Flick.
Hayley is the phoenix risen from the ashes. She led the Joey blindside. She tricked the post-swap Brawns into turning on each other, sending Shannon home. She's played strategic circles around most of the cast. She convinced George and Cara to turn on each other! And since this is Survivor AU, she's also won three individual immunity challenges, and if she wins a fourth, she'll be in the final two. But there's also an obvious, huge mark against her: She was voted out. Unanimously, no less. It's hard to know the extent to which the jury will hold that against her. She can certainly make a solid case that she's continued to play a strong, aggressive game since receiving her second life, and has made the most of her extended time in the game. But will that be enough?
And then there's King George of Bankstown, the "cock(-a-)roach." What can possibly be said about George that he hasn't already repeated five or six times in confessional? (Seriously, this makes it difficult to evaluate George's game analytically, and the repetitive confessionals and grossly lopsided edits for main characters is one of SurvivorAU's biggest faults, as it was with David Genat's game in All-Stars.) George has clearly played a strong game, especially in the post-merge. Of the people currently on the jury, he voted out Gerald, Emmett, Andrew, Dani, Wai, and Cara. (He also told Cara to vote for Laura when he saved Cara with his secret Tribal idol, so he deserves credit there, too.) He's the most likely of the three to reach the finals. Hayley would clearly prefer to face the jury against him instead of Flick. Logically, Flick would probably rather take George, too, because she's already been publicly drawing contrasts between George quitting mid-challenge and her continuing to push, which led to her first win this week.
But can George win the jury vote? He's clearly convinced Cara he deserves the win (along with Channel 10's ad-makers and the show's editors). But will he hold the same sway over the jury? We've seen situations like with David Wright in Millennials vs Gen X, where multiple people saying "David is going to win if he reaches the end" became the jury's actual thinking. But at what point does constant *self*-promotion start to seep in and become the group consensus?
Let's go back to that conversation between George and Hayley in Ep22: George says he's disliked by several jurors. He thinks Hayley probably is as well. It's not clear to what degree this is true for either of them, but it's obviously a gamble he's willing to take, and it might pay off.
Hayley actively misled Dani that she had flipped to her and Flick's side, and was going to vote George out with them, then voted Dani out instead. Dani doesn't seem like she's forgiven or forgotten that, and will probably vote for George. Baden worked alongside Hayley at post-swap Brawn, but was also the conduit for information to and from George (and Cara) after the merge. Hayley's duel win sent Baden to the jury. He seems like he should still vote for Redemption Rock roommate, but who knows? For the George/Hayley pair, the Brawn votes are also a bit up in the air: Gerald? Emmett? Do they particularly like one over the other? Wai probably favors Hayley, Cara clearly favors George. End totals: Dani, Cara, (Flick?) are probable George votes; Baden, Wai are Hayley, and everyone else is somewhere in between.
Hayley/George is the most interesting possible final two scenario, and setting aside the edit's incessant elevation of George above the rest of the cast, it's hard to predict which the jury actually prefers. From the audience perspective, Hayley has the much more impressive strategic résumé and better all-around game (apart from being voted out), the perfect balance of Brains and Brawn. And yet it still feels like George has a slight edge, because he hasn't made particularly close friendships with anyone except Cara, so his betrayals feel less personal (than does, say, Hayley voting out Dani). Still, it *should* be close, and that will be interesting.
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