Another two and a half hours of New Zealand Survivor down, another single set of US Survivor’s cycle down.
I am enjoying NZ Survivor so far – it’s good to see so much focus put on character development and interpersonal relationship in a way that US Survivor can’t do in 40 minutes a week. But nevertheless, two and a half hours a week is just a little too much, and this was particularly on show in the first 90 minute instalment this week. While the second episode was top notch, the first one was (in the words of Bilbo Baggins) like butter spread over too much bread. There was plenty of interesting stuff in there, but it was really hammered home and then, in some ways, made irrelevant.
Still, there’s plenty of real game to talk about, so let’s get going. On the ticket this week:
An uneven Hermosa (why it still feels like Megatron is destined to win)
Finally, this week, we got to see more of the Hermosa tribe, after the first week felt almost entirely based around the Megatron tribe. While it might have been said that the only reason they were underdeveloped in the first week was the fact that they won the immunity challenge, this week they had plenty of air time despite winning immunity. But, on the whole, they still remain largely undeveloped.
Lee seems to have found Woo’s ninja stealth mode, and is happy to live there. Lee seems like the kind of guy who you would expect to get airtime on New Zealand television, but all we actually see of him is that he kills a puffer fish. We hear he is in a tight three, but we don’t see his view of it.
Jak seems to be reduced to his Seth MacFarlane humour. He’s self-admitted to hoping that he’ll be underestimated, but all I see him doing is putting himself in a position where people see him as an easy number but ultimately expendable if necessary. Barb and Nate thought he might be someone they could target to flip, but it’s not going to happen. There’s nothing about Jak at the moment that suggests he has what it takes to win, or even that he’s got much of a run in him at all.
Michael, aka Captain Sparrow, seems to be getting the dodo edit of the season. He has a real Bobby Jon vibe to him, a guy that is likeable enough but really doesn’t come across as having much of a brain. I mean, they are leaving in comments like him being disappointed that Georgia isn’t single. That’s not a good look. Whether or not that edit is fair, it feels like it’s leading to him being well outplayed.
Georgia also seems to be getting a one-dimensional edit, that of the Parvati-like dangerous threat that will sink her claws into all of the men if they aren’t careful. She doesn’t come across this way to me at all, but perception is truth out in the game. She already has a big target on her back, and it’s unclear if she realises how big it is.
Barb seems to be treated as the token ‘old and on the outs’ person who isn’t doing any thinking for herself. I’m sure this isn’t true, but they are giving all the credit for any thinking being done around her getting back in the majority to Nate.
That leaves only Shannon and Nate as players from Hermosa that are actually getting a bit of depth to their edit. Compare that to Megatron, where it feels as though all five of their remaining players have been given both personal and strategic depth (where Izzy, this week’s boot, had not been given much at all), and it’s hard not to feel like this game is about to be turned around on Hermosa.
While I don’t have a huge amount to say about Shannon, it should be noted that she is literally the only one of her alliance of five that seems to be bothering to make bonds with Nate and Barb at all. One of the cardinal rules of Survivor is that you shouldn’t let people feel like they’re on the bottom, and Hermosa are breaking it badly. It looks good on Shannon that Nate and Barb believe they have a chance to have her on side while she is busy telling us in confessionals that she wants Nate out.
Nate emerges (will he be saved by a swap?)
However, all six of those people felt like they got about as much air time combined as Nate did this week. We were carefully shown Nate’s perspective at every step this week, and it was good stuff.
We saw him try to work with Shannon. We saw him try to work with Jak. We saw him try to work with Michael. We saw him sit out a reward challenge and admit that a big part of the reason why was that he hoped Barb or Jak might fail at the challenge and appear to be weaker performers than he was. Every step of Nate’s path made him look like a savvy player of the game.
Now, it’s possible that we are just being set up for the reason that Nate gets targeted soon, but that all seems like a bit too much effort to me. Instead, I wonder if the real reason we are seeing so much of Nate is that he is saved by a swap, where he defects to work with Megatron to vote out some of his current adversaries – perhaps the invisible Lee or the untrustworthy Jak?
While I wasn’t sure if NZ Survivor would have a clear edit going on, Nate is the first clear sign that there is genuine design going in here. What is the design? Still hard to say. But I feel like we are getting a whole lot more of Nate before he’s going home.
The rise and fall of Shay (how to lose friends and alienate people)
Shay came across to many as the player of the week in week one (didn’t she even get the Danzy from Nick Iadanza?), but this week showed up that she is much more transparent than she would have hoped.
First, Tony all but called her out at Redemption Island. Tony already has the feel of someone who is being set up to Elrod his way back into the game, and so this feels bad for Shay on that level alone. But Lou also dropped the bombshell that Shay had betrayed Tony to Shannon and Georgia (which might lead them to try and pull her in briefly but will ensure they won’t ever trust her long term), and we also heard Tom – the very man whom Shay saved by voting out Tony – immediately want her out when he got back to the beach.
And it’s not a surprise Tom wanted her gone, because it was apparent that the moment they got back to camp, she flipped back to being allies with Sala and Lou. So what was she thinking? Was she just taking Tony out because she found his presence around camp difficult to deal with? Is it possible that she is playing much more with her emotion and less with her head than we are being shown?
And that’s not even including the fact that she has now been to tribal council three times and has voted for her ostensible ally all three times (more on the bizarre 3-2-1 soon). While getting on board with the Hannah vote makes sense from a tribe unity perspective, the other two votes she’s cast, for Tony and Lou, both seem to make very little sense from the perspective of Shay’s strategic game.
It’s hard to imagine that Shay can last long with this style of play, and even more difficult to see how she could have enough respect from a jury to win. She may have had a good first week, but she is flaming out fast.
Hero immunity? (I hope you’re watching, Probst)
With New Zealand reality TV, you can never quite be sure if everything will be a knock off, or if they’ll come up with something new. So it was a very pleasant surprise to see something that I’ve never seen before... and believe it was so good that it should be given a go in the mothership series.
The idea of each tribe selecting four people to participate, but that all they needed was to have the last person standing to win, felt like a masterstroke. It potentially sets up a single individual to play the hero (as Lou very nearly did in this challenge), and as a result it could see the dynamics in the tribe shift. It’s hard to say that Lou was really in danger even before this challenge, but it was certain that her name was never going to be brought up afterwards.
I see so much potential with this format. For an individual like, say, Malcolm Freberg, who might want to come into a season and sandbag a little to minimise their threat level, what would the ideal situation be? It’s hard for them to argue they should sit out, unless the challenge clearly favours others in their tribe. It’s also very difficult to deliberately sandbag/fail at the challenge when the consequence could be a date at tribal council. It could lead to some very difficult decisions for individuals, and I like it.
Not every twist NZ Survivor will throw at us is going to feel like a success, but thumbs up for delivering on this one.
(I’ll also note that every Redemption Island duel has been at the end of an episode. While we surely do have too much dead space, this is still a good way of handling the duels, and I hope it continues).
An ambiguous vote (the show finally brings tension to Tribal Council)
For the first time this season, the show got to Tribal Council and I wasn’t sure who was going home.
I mean, I was leaning that it would probably be Izzy. But I thought there was a real chance it was Tom. And with Shay and Avi’s names coming up as well, I also began to feel like there was the real chance of being surprised. Matt Chisholm’s lines of questioning didn’t feel as though they revealed the outcome before the vote.
And then we got to the reading of the votes and... they were done right. The vote for Lou was so confusing and only increased the tension, and there was really a sense that the final vote could send Izzy home, Tom home, or even in extreme circumstances might be a 2-2-2 tie that we didn’t see coming. So kudos for that, editors!
Having said all that, what I particularly liked about the leadup to this tribal council was that it felt like we were seeing team Megatron coalescing. They needed to be a tight five coming out of this vote, and while there wasn’t consensus about who should go, it felt like everyone heard everyone out and no one refused to have a name on the table.
While 3-2-1 votes are usually the outcome of a sly strategic play, it didn’t feel like that was the case here. Shay’s vote for Lou was out of the blue, and I’m fairly confident she wasn’t misdirected into a genuine belief that this is the way the vote was going (if she was, we didn’t see it). I can only assume that she agreed to vote Tom with the girls, but then decided that she would rather Izzy go home, so threw a vote somewhere else (instead of at Izzy), to avoid blowback. That doesn’t seem likely to work. She didn’t only vote for Lou, she made sure that Lou’s vote (for Tom) was irrelevant and going towards someone still in the game. It’s just bad on so many levels. She’d have been better off just voting for Izzy straight, but perhaps Tony has scared her off.
Avi once again managed to keep Tom on board, although I’m beginning to worry that he is burning far too much social capital to keep Tom. At some point he needs to back off. I think that his best alliance here long term is probably with Lou (assuming Lou isn’t medevaced, which looks like a real possibility based on that preview), because Tom feels like a guy who doesn’t have your back, and Shay isn’t going to be trusted by Lou long term either.
All in all, though, the Izzy vote out felt like the best outcome from the tribe and it also felt like an outcome that could bond the tribe together. I’m predicting next week we’ll finally see someone from Hermosa go home.
One final note – did anyone else spot Sala wearing a purple buff in the preview for next week? I’m assuming swap, but it could also be a player steal or simply a confessional edited out of order... whatever, at some point it appears Sala will be on team Hermosa. Something to keep an eye on for next week.
In the mean time, thank you all for reading. Please comment or tweet me, @golden8284. I’ll see you all next week!
By day, Ben Martell is a public commercial lawyer from New Zealand.
By night, he moonlights as a self-described Survivor 'expert'.
By day or night, find him on twitter at: @golden8284
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