When I started this blog I was mainly an anime watcher but in recent years I’ve found my love of anime being subsumed by my rediscovery of the TV show Survivor. Just in time for the re-birth of the Australian version of the franchise. This post is probably going to be pretty rambly, more so than normal, because I’ve had a lot of thoughts about this season and I’m not 100% sure how I should structure them. And also I’m a bit more interested in the season through the lens of the production process and the community reaction than maybe the season itself. I’ll do my best to explain any terminology I use that is specific to Survivor but I apologise if I miss any because I use/think in these terms so often I forget what is clear and what isn’t (classic example how in sports GOAT is a great thing but in Survivor a goat is a terrible thing)
PART A- The All Stars Game itself
Broadly I enjoyed this season. A player I like won and surprisingly they were playing pretty hard from the get go. But it was also in some way a pretty boring season- after the merge the votes were largely incredibly straight forward despite Productions best efforts with the exception of one. But this was really due to how good a game Dave played- he made sure in the pre-merge to not only form cross-alliance relationships in his original tribe but to make sure every person in his swap tribe who also had cross-tribe alliances was voted out. This meant that he was the only option for building a post-Merge majority and he rode that majority to the end. Unlike the typical Survivor winner (particularly in Australian Survivor) rather than playing ‘under the radar’ until the end Dave was active the whole game. Starting with an incredible move as the head of of alliance in his original Vakama tribe to form a secret alliance with the head of the other alliance. While acting as a mole against his own alliance was a risky move, what it did was inoculate him against a common problem for big Survivor players: getting swap screwed. Ever since tribe swaps were introduced way back in Africa, it’s been common for players who take control at the beginning of the game to be ‘swap screwed’ when the tribes swap and they go from being in the majority to the minority. However by having this cross-alliance relationship with Mat (who shared the info with other members in his minority alliance, in particular Moana) And while Dave did fade into the background a bit around the middle of the season, this was in itself the best game move. After his killer pre-merge (and merge vote moves) he needed to cool down and make sure he wasn’t so much obviously better than everyone else. He’d taken out a huge number of big threats and targets already and was at risk of becoming the next target himself. So by settling in with his majority of alliance of super loyal soldiers and riding out his publicly known idol as a deterrent for people trying to swing things against him. I don’t think there was a time in the entire game where Dave was every really at risk of going home- his built really good alliances all across the board in the early/mid-game which were directed to take out people who were good players and threats to Dave. He then managed to combo his majority alliance of highly loyal, poor game sense Makuta players with his known immunity idol to make targeting him an unappealing and very risky option compared to knocking off the Vakama minority (and to be clear not all of the Makuta players had poor game sense, just… half or so of them. The ones with game sense were put off by his idol, the ones without by their mantra of loyalty). Not only was Dave never really at risk, but as the game went on it became pretty clear that if he got to the end no-one could beat him. I think that as the Merge went on the only people who were threats to beat David were Lee, maybe Sharn and *any Vakama minority member who got to the end* (which turned out to have Brooke as the most likely candidate). Unfortunately we didn’t see much from Lee all game, most likely due to the way he exited and the timing of his exit meaning no strategy stuff he was involved with ever panned out (with him either being voted out or winning). But I think he was with David in the middle of the Makuta group while being equally well liked (especially in comparison to the rest of the the Makuta people- the only more liked person was Tarzan but he had zero gameplay or strategy so would do poorly in a final tribal, as he himself acknowledged when talking to Dave) and probably also being an equal or better challenge threat compared to David (and everyone else aside from maybe Brooke- although Lee did beat Brooke in his first season). While the shield strategy Sharn and Mo were using Dave for would work even better with Lee given his status as a runner up player, so their desire to keep Dave would have shifted to wanting to keep Lee. Plus that extra tribal may have been the break needed for a move to go against Dave to make him burn an idol and have him ultimately be vulnerable at Final 5. We’ll never know what would have happened but to me Lee has cemented himself as the best Aus Survivor player to not win (and is a better player than at least two of the winners). Conversely, ensuring that no Vakama minority member got to the end was a pretty simple affair- having the majority Makuta rally and use every vote (bar one) to get out Vakama members at every available opportunity. The one vote where this did happen, the post-Exile 2.0 Zac boot, was also what lead Dave to make what I think was his best move of the game; cementing ongoing loyalty, guaranteeing at least 3 votes for himself and destroying any chance for Sharn to win, cinching the game up for him there (provided he won the clutch Final Immunity challenge to guarantee he’d get to the final. The almost rocks vote Before talking about this vote and how it basically won Dave the game, we need to look at the vote before. It was the resolution of the Exile Island 2.0 twist (see below the problems with it) and resulted in personal difference between Jacqui and Zach prompting Jacqui to vote with her heart not her head (a very bad gameplay move) by flipping to vote with the Vakama 3 against Zach, who then went home with a plurality of 4 votes as the other five Makuta split 3-2 on Shonee and AK. With their plan being to have a 3-3-3 tie of Zach, AK and Shonee in case of an idol play by the minority and then voting out not-Zach with their numbers advantage on a revote. Part of the reason why Jacqui flipped was also because she was annoyed that she was chosen by her alliance to go to Exile over Sharn, David and Tarzan. And then they’d only been cheering for Zac in the return challenges. So the next episode Jacqui suddenly thinks she is in this powerful swing position. Because apparently she is bad a math because her options are either going 5-3 with Makuta or tying it up 4-4 with Vakama. So she’s not actually in that powerful of a position. What’s more the Vakama 3 are continiously harping on about how it is such a big move to “go to rocks”. For those not familiar with “going to rocks”, if the tribe is unable to vote someone out due to a die and can’t come to a resolution through the tiebreak mechanic, then suddenly the people who were tied on votes become immune and everyone who is eligible to go home (i.e. no immunity necklace or idol) then draws a rock where one rock is a different colour. And whoever draws the different rock is elimated. Basically it’s a game of Russian Roulette. AND IT IS NOT A BIG MOVE. It’s a stupid and desperate move that you resort to because you fucked up in a previous move and left yourself with no actual options to go forward. People who think that rolling the dice and relying on random chance are bad players and the fact they think this is a good move suggests why they found themselves in this situation in the first place. (For reference, in this case the bad moves they made were pre-merge, post-swap where they voted out all the people with cross-tribe relationships and thus ended up being vulnerable to the Dave-Zac deception at Merge. If for example they had kept Mat Rogers around he would have upset the Dave-Mo-Sharn dynamic and given more options for the Makuta-Vakama lines to blur and thus give them more options to go forward. The other mistake they made was convincing Harry not to give his tribal delay advantage to Nick, but that is more the Producers fault for not explaining the impact it would have on Merge properly. See discussion on that later on) Anyway so we have this spike in Jacqui content as she is debating which way to go and being fed this insane line that rolling the die on random chance is a good idea somehow Jacqui is convinced to go for the 4-4 and they agree to vote for Mo. I’m not sure what reason is given in the TV edit but it is pretty clear that the Vakama 3 don’t like Moana personally (they all voted her to Exile 2.0 with no prompting and social media comments from people indicate Moana was not liked) and Jacqui’s history of flipping was because she didn’t like Zach, so similar reasoning seems plausible for Moana. And it’s not a half bad plan if you think rocks is a good move- they’ll vote four on Moana. The Makuta 4 will vote four on a Vakama, lets say Shonee given she was the big target. They would have a tie and obviously neither group would change their vote. Suddenly Mo and Shonee would be immune and there would be a rock draw.. Dave had won immunity so would be excluded. So there would be a 5 person draw- AK, Brooke, Jacqui, Sharn, Tarzan. Which means that there was a 40% chance of a Vakama person going home and a 40% chance of a Makuta person going home (and 20% chance of Jacqui). Which mean a 60% chance of the Makuta majority being broken apart (although if Jacqui went home it’d be 4-3 in Makuta’s favour so… yeah… thats an interesting option the Vakama people clearly hadn’t thought of) But Dave and the Makuta 4 were thinking of that option and how the way rocks would play out would negate their numbers advantage and risk them getting fucked over. So they switched the target from a Vakama person to Jacqui. Suddenly to rock equation changes. It isn’t 40-20-40. Jacqui would become immune and all three Vakama’s would be drawing a rock. It was 60:40 against the Vakama minority. But then to lock it in for Dave, he plays his idol for Tarzan to everyone’s surprise. This is important for two reasons- one it shows great loyalty to Tarzan, basically locking in Tarzan’s jury vote should (when) Tarzan end up on the jury. It also sends a signal to Zach (who was blindsided last vote) that Dave wasn’t in on that as he is clearly willing to play idols to protect allies. Which is reinforced by the Makuta target being Jacqui- further locking in Zach’s jury vote for Dave as he sees Dave get revenge for Zach against Jacqui. Meaning Dave has just won two of the ten votes on the jury. This idol play gets even because no matter who he plays it on, there is a 1 in 3 chance that he straight up nullifies the Vakama votes and they win. Or it might have been 1 in 2- for some reason I think Sharn wasn’t an option and it was always a question of Mo or Tarzan being the target. But if he guesses “wrong” and it isn’t Tarzan, then suddenly we end up with the split vote where the rock draw is 3 Vakamas and either Mo/Sharn. Where the one of Sharn/Mo who is up for rocks needs to negotiate hard with the 3 Vakamas to either have them flip and vote for Jacqui (burning Jacqui’s jury vote), flip on Mo/Sharn and vote them out (burning their vote possibly). And in either case the person up for rocks is going to put themselves in a position of having to publicly declare them siding with either the Vakama 3 or the Makuta 3… thus leading to the direct losses of the three people they don’t side with. Or accept a 25% chance of being eliminated due to rocks despite being in a majority. And this is how Dave (accidentally?) destroys Sharn’s game. Because Vakama+Jacqui vote for Mo. So it’s a tie between Jacqui and Mo. And Sharn then looks incredibly wishy-washy trying to manage the two groups as she promises to work with the Vakama 3 if they flip and vote Jacqui rather than rocks, while promising Mo, Dave and Tarzan that she will remain loyal to them. To the three current jurors- Locky, Harry and Zach she looks very wishy-washy and weak; disinclining them to vote for her to win. She then convinces the Vakama 3 to flip on Jacqui- burning Jacqui’s vote (and thus locking in her voting for David should he come up against Sharn or Mo in the Final Tribal). Then the next tribal Sharn breaks her word with the Vakama 3 and goes back to Makuta, leading to Shonee, AK and Brooke to be voted out in order; poisoning their potential jury votes against Sharn (with Tarzan eliminated in there too due to Brooke’s immunity run- cementing two more jury votes from Tarzan and Jacqui to go Dave’s way). And that is how Dave guaranteed his win, barring a Mike Hollaway style immunity run by Brooke which was broken at Final 4 when Dave beat her. Oh and one other thing- in the process of doing the revote Mo mouther to Tarzan to try get him to flip from Jacqui to Mo. Hoping he’d vote with Vakama against Mo, get Mo out and keep Sharn’s hands clean. He is of course Captain Loyalty and did not flip on Mo. And later called Sharn out to Mo (who didn’t believe him), which is important later. The Edit- spoiling Survivor since forever However a Survivor fan with a keen eye (and a social media feed) could pick out pretty early that Dave was going to go very far and win much earlier than that, thanks to the way the TV show was edited together. The first clue was in episodes 3 where Dave became the mole in his majority alliance, got Brooke to waste an idol on him and got his chosen target of Daisy voted out… to then apparently get away with it scot-free with the tribe swap in episode 4 with none of his alliance any the wiser. While on the surface this isn’t odd, the player commentary on social media was very empathetic that the majority very quickly worked out he was the mole. And likely would have been the target the next vote. But the complete absence of any mention of this ‘flaw’ (for lack of a better term) in Dave’s game hinted that the Editors were trying to protect him and big note his moves. Literally in the Final Tribal Dave made a big deal of revealing he was the mole to literally zero reaction from anybody. But the big giveaway was in the context of the Phoebe boot just before the Merge. In the episodes leading up to Phoebe being booted there was this really weird franken-editing going on the make Phoebe look really villainous and greedy/selfish. Which from all the player commentary was super disingenuous- Phoebe was (allegedly) being bullied quite badly by Moana in particular and struggling to cope emotionally. The moment that gave it away for me was the episode before Phoebe was booted at the Survivor Auction. Without going into detail on the mechanics of how the auction worked, through the bidding process Moana forced Phoebe to bid heaps of money on an item to tie the bid at the max value. But when JLP explained the rules of of resolving the tie Moana was allowed (for some unexplained reason) to withdraw her maximum bid. But Phoebe wasn’t, meaning she had to either forfeit the item or lock in the maximum bid. The entire middle part of that was removed from the TV product, with Mo’s action being removed and it appearing that Phoebe had jumped to the maximum bid with no prompting to selfishly guarantee the item for herself. And then had reactions from players, including Mo, from other bids edited in to be negative reactions to Phoebe’s bid. (In particular a comment from Mo going “why would she bid so highly for no reason which was something she said about the bidding on a different item by a different player). This artificial villianifying of Phoebe (combined with the hiding of villainous actions by Mo) was really confusing. Until Phoebe got voted out. Via a super brutal and dick move by Dave where he managed to wrangle an idol out from right under Phoebe’s nose and then pulled it out to wear at tribal to brow beat the tribe to vote her out over Mo after a tie vote. It’s hard to put into world how cruel and dickish this move was in the individual moments, but the larger narrative seemed to be trying to cast this as a really heroic move by David as he took out the ‘bitch’ Phoebe. And saved the ‘nice’ Mo. This made no sense. Unless David was the winner. And the Editors didn’t want him to look like a cunt. So they made his cunt move seem like a hero one by the victim of it being a bad person. At this point, pre-merge, I made a $100 bet with a friend that Dave would win. He was incredulous at my confidence and took me up on the bet… to then have the rest of the season a little ruined for him as Dave ploughed his way to victory. He actually hung his hopes on the dark horse Moana but I was very confident she wasn’t going to even make the Final Tribal The uniformly positive portrayal of Moana’s game was highly suspicious to me. From all reports both on screen and on social media she was a lazy person who did no work around camp and just stayed in the shelter. She also didn’t make any efforts to build relationships with other groups- she inherited the Mat Rogers alliance (which she was later credited with forming even though it was all Mat’s work) and by all accounts was at best disinterested and at worst hostile towards the people not in her ‘in group’. But these things were only presented as positive… if they were even brought up at all. This was suspicious because while Dave’s “negative” things were gameplay based and being made positive, Moana’s were personality based and were being hidden. Whenever someone who is that polarising gets to the end there are always people on the jury who do not like them as a person and as such ask an awkward question to that effect and specifically vote against them winning the game. So if Moana got to the end and lost votes/got asked awkward questions because of this; then it would have to be shown on TV so the audience would understand why. Alternatively, if Moana went pretty deep but stumbled towards the end and didn’t make Final Tribal, then amping up her “strengths” in the game would keep the audience guessing for the longest as to who was going to win. Confessional Count and the Edit. The other huge hint was the confessional count. We got to see so much of David in confessionals- from strategy stuff to character moments (e.g. his Iron Man mucking around, his Star Wars references etc. There was a pretty clear trend in every episode- the two people with the most confessionals were David and whoever was getting voted out. Which made it very obvious who was being voted out in several episodes simply because someone we had never heard from in confessionals started getting confessionals out of nowhere- John, Flick, Jacqui, Zac and Tarzan out of memory going from basically invisible to super prominent immediately before getting voted out. By the end of the show David had over 100 confessionals more than Sharn and Moana. There was no way someone who had been that prominent, compared to the rest of the people in the game was not winning. Fun fact I learned was that across his two seasons David got more confessionals that Boston Rob (BRob), who is arguably the face of Survivor, got in four seasons. I think this is a huge problem with Aus Survivor and their inability to edit an even game. Or rather, their decision in recent seasons to completely remove some individuals from the game in order to dedicate more time. It has become super apparent in the era of Champions and Contenders where they give way more screen time to the famous people and people who get to the the end that those people don’t really need or deserve; making it super obvious who is and isn’t going to do well. Like I think in All Stars Mat Rogers ended up with the 3rd most confessionals over all, including a non-stop stretch of 10-15 minutes of solo content in his boot episode, despite being voted out 1/3 of the way into the game. This over exposur eof Davud really wore down my appreciaton of him as a player and TV product. yes he was fantastic, but too much of anything is a bad thing and while I’m sure in isolation all the stuff he was saying/doing in confessionals in the back third of the season was great but that stage I (and most other people) just wanted him to shut up for a bit… but by that stage there wasn’t anyone else around to fill the TV time! Shit that didn’t matter There were also a few things that featured prominently in the show that quite frankly didn’t matter. I don’t know why they were ever brought up. First was David’s fake idol. He made that within the first couple episodes and then it basically disappeared to then appear in one confessional of his mi-season (where we wore it with his two other idols and maybe the immunity necklace) and then it was briefly talked about around Final 5/Final 6 as maybe being worth using (but apparently everyone knew David had it so no-one would be fooled by it). I was expecting David to bring it out at the Final Tribal as an argument along the line of ‘look how active I was, not only did I make a Fake Idol on Day 6 but I had so much control I didn’t even need to use it”. But it didn’t appear. It was just a random thing as part of the deluge of Dave content that could have been cut to give time to develop another player and their game. The other weird thing was at the back end of the season where, after constantly having people (mainly Mat Rogers) cry “this is All Stars” we seem to get this insane decision by Sharn to buy into that line and plan to choose to take Dave to the Final 2. With her “big move” being the decision to take the best player to the final and then… somehow beat them because of that? I don’t know, it makes no sense and the entirety of Survivor history has shown that when you choose to take the best player to the end, they absolutely crush you (I’m looked a you Woo from Cagayan) or just a more well liked player will also beat you (Colby from Australia, Lil from Pearl Islands, anyone with Russell Hantz in any season). And Dave was both a better player and more well liked than Sharn (especially given how wishy washy she appeared and her decisions around and after the almost rock vote). But not only did it make no sense for Sharn to be saying this, but it also made no sense for us to be shown this content… unless it turned out that Sharn won the Final Immunity Challenge and then DID take David to the end (and get smashed). But in the end, David won the immunity challenge and then he chose to take Sharn (who who then smashed in what should have been a unanimous vote but Mo voted for her friend Sharn instead). So us seeing Sharn plan to make this decision was utterly pointless. Rewriting history mid-game and Survivor “luck”. Now I fully understand why as time passes, the actions and decisions of people are given a rose tinted view and history gets rewritten to make some people look better than perhaps they otherwise deserve. But within Survivor I don’t think I’ve seen history get rewritten more blatantly or inaccurately while the season was ongoing as with Shonee and Moana. I’ve already touched on the Moana rewriting already- in the original Vakama tribe Mat Rogers was the person who set up the minority alliance, found idols and formed the secret relationship with David. Then after the tribw swap, through no skill of her own Moana found herself in the incredibly lucky situation of having Mat swapped away and she then inherited the loyal soldiers of Tarzan and Jacqui plus the Dave alliance. She then had her great friendship with Sharn (discussed below a bit) and Dave picked up Zach. So through literally zero work of her own she found herself in the middle of a solid majority. But as the game went on suddenly it was being rewritten that she was this great mastermind that was the driving force of setting up this stuff. Fuck off that’s rubbish. She was just incredibly lucky and benefited from other, better players doing things. (And while yes luck is a huge factors in doing well in Survivor, we should acknowledge when it affects things and not try and pretend it was something else). But the Shonee stuff was so much worse. Shonee found herself at the bottom of her tribe and was successfully voted out by Abbey’s alliance. She was then miraculously saved by a bullshit Production twist (see details below) and sent to Exile along with Zach. Then after the tribes swap she was allowed to just reenter the game with no penalty and was then assigned by Production to go onto the nuVakama tribe where she was handed a place in a majority 6 alliance against the pairs of Abbey-Lydia and John-Mat. And then got this big revenge arc of her ‘getting vengeance’ on Abbey and Lydia by getting them voted out even though she has absolutely no agency in any of this happening. Then post-merge she was suddenly this huge threat to win as she was a social master and a challenge beast, despite the fact any potential win by her would be hugely tainted by the fact she she was technically voted off pre-merge (and then also voted off again during the second Exile Island twist detailed below). And one could point out that like Moana, Dave was also very lucky with how the swap worked out and that it was from this swap he basically won the game. Yes and no. Yes Dave was very, very lucky that the swap happened when it did… but on the other hand, no. It is also known pretty well when swaps are going to happen and Dave actively set things up before the swap to maximise his options for potential swap outcomes. So while Dave was lucky, he had made that luck himself through his pre-swap gameplay building the relationship with Mat and Mo. And while Mo was lucky to be swapped to be with her friend Sharn, Dave had no pre-existing relationship with Zach who he pursued in the game to form the close relationship and guaranteed vote (and also Dave did the same on Tarzan who switched from being a loyal Mat/Mo follower to a Dave follower over the course of the season in content that we did not see at all until Zach was voted off and we were suddenly told that losing Zach didn’t matter to Dave because Tarzan was actually his right hand, loyal soldier) Lee’s exit Much of this blog post is bashing Production and Editors for taking a masterclass game and turning it into less than excellent TV. But I do want to shoutout how excellent there handling of Lee’s withdrawal due to his Mum’s stroke. It was done really respectfully and in a way that the viewer really connected to it through not only Lee but the entire tribe, especially Tarzan. Always great to see men expressing emotions on TV. While it was extreme, it really shows how this show is more than just big moves and strategy and I wish we got a better view of the characters these people are beyond just how it relates to their gameplay. (Also it staggers me that they didn’t have that just be a self-contained, thoughtful episode but then dovetailed into detailing the Exile Island 2.0 twist which was then further developed in a shorter ep the next night. Really they should have bumped the Exile 2.0 stuff to be it’s own, longer episode on the second night) The Final 5 vote It’s probably also worth discussing briefly the Final 5 vote as the decisions that were made here seemed to confuse some viewers. Briefly, after the almost-rocks draw the Makuta 4 had voted out all the Vakama members (despite Productions efforts to delay things) and only Brooke was left. And then Brooke won the Final 5 immunity challenge. So the Makuta 4 was forced to vote out one of their own- Dave, Sharn, Mo or Tarzan (and the sudden appearance of Tarzan confessionals did somewhat tip what the end result would be). But the question is- who should they vote out? The obvious choice would be David as he is the biggest threat to win after Brooke. But David is also the best chance of a Makuta to beat Brooke in a challenge. Which is why Brooke is guaranteed to be voting for Dave and will not consider voting any other way. But lets break down the Makuta votes. Dave can choose between voting for Tarzan, Sharn or Mo. Now he does not want to vote out Sharn because after the almost rock debacle the jury is poisoned against her game play. Similarly a lot of Vakama people do not like Moana so he could maybe have some jury votes cast against her. But she has being involved in some strategy so could take votes off him. Meanwhile Tarzan is a highly liked person but hasn’t really done much game play stuff. So Dave has reasons to go for both Tarzan or Mo depending on his jury strategy. Also one could say that he has extra incentive to keep Mo around as a better challenge person to try beat Brooke compared to Tarzan… but honestly looking at their respective challenge performances I would say Tarzan was a better chance of beating Brooke than Mo was. In addition, Dave knows he is 100% copping one vote from Brooke so he has to play his idol for himself because a) it’s the last opportunity and b) if Mo and Sharn decide to flip and vote with Brooke against him he is fucked. Tarzan is ultra loyal and will not vote for Mo or David as they’ve been loyal since the start. Sharn however has not been loyal because she tried to make him flip on Mo in the almost-rock revote. So she is not protected by his loyalty vibe and he is guaranteed to vote for Sharn. While Dave plausibly would prefer to vote out Mo over Tarzan (better chance to beat Brooke, better chance to beat at Final Tribal), the fact that Tarzan will not vote for anyone but Sharn rules out that option. Sharn doesn’t want to vote for Mo because they’re friends. She also doesn’t want to vote for Dave because he has an idol and he is the best chance to beat Brooke. Also she want to keep him as a meat shield to draw the target off her in the last few votes and maybe take him to Final Tribal… whatever. Alternatively she wants to take her friend Mo to final tribal. In either case, she has to vote for Tarzan, with maybe a long shot off flipping on Dave and hoping he doesn’t play his idol. Because if he gets wind she and Mo are flipping on him, he can vote with Tarzan against her and she’ll go home instead Mo is basically the same as Sharn- wants Dave to beat Brooke and knows that if they flip on Dave it could backfire and result in Sharn going home and/or Brooke doing the immunity run to victory. She doesn’t want to vote for her friend Sharn. So she is voting for Tarzan. And as such the final five pans out as it has to- Brooke votes for Dave and Dave plays his idol for himself to protect against Brooke’s vote and potential flipping, Sharn and Mo vote for Tarzan because flipping would be crazy. Tarzan votes for Sharn as he refuses any other option. And Dave is forced to vote for Tarzan too because he is unable to wrangle anyone else to vote for anyone else. And he wants to not put any cracks between him, Mo and Sharn. Just to be safe. I saw some commentary of ‘Why didn’t Dave play his idol for Tarzan to save him?’ and the answer is ‘Coz that would be stupid as he is risking himself going home and Tarzan is insistent on voting out the greatest goat that Dave wants to drag to the end’. Do some fucking math you morons. Sharn- Aus Survivors first centurion and Australia’s Russel Hantz/ I am a fan of the game Sharn played in CvC 1 and think that is was bullshit bitter jury rubbish from Mat (who cops it in the fan community) and Shonee (who is given a pass for no clear reason) that led to Shane beating Sharn 4-3 in the final vote. And until this season I would have said Sharn was probably the best player to never win (not rating either of Luke Toki’s efforts as actually good, winnable games). And on paper it is very impressive that she lasted to the Final Tribal twice, lasting over 100 days and was runner up twice. But I think that is disingenuous and hides the fact that Sharn got to final tribal in two very different ways. In her first game she played her way there, beating other players and winning several immunity challenges including the Final Immunity to guarantee her spot. Choosing to go against Shane over Brian as she had all the power. I’m not sold as to whether she would have beaten Brian Lake in a Final 2- I think he played a much better game than Shane but was also much less likeable than Shane. Have heard commentary from jury members/fan community members in both directions- same say Sharn would have crushed Brian, others say Brian would have crushed her. Looking at the vote breakdown, I feel Brian would have probably won as the people who voted against Sharn still would have or maybe would have voted for Brian. The only question on that is Monica… but then Robbie who voted Sharn would definitely have voted for Brian so that cancels out at worst or goes 5-2 in Brians favour. And in All Stars Sharn did not win/play her way to the end. She was dragged as a goat. She was wishy-washy all game as she tried to play the middle but managed to just alienate large swathes of the jury. David recognized this and as such dragged her along (e.g. in him deciding to vote out Tarzan at Final 5). At the same time Mo was dragging her along due to their friendship. So while Sharn’s legacy is on paper enhanced by her back-to-back runner up appearances; I think upon any real inspection it is clear that her legacy has been tarnished from going from being the Pia Miranda of her first season to the Baden Gilbert in her second (no offense to Baden). I think it also, in conjunction with the above reflection on her chances against Brian in CvC 1, draws a surprising conclusion about the style of game Sharn played. That is it is a style of game that has a 100% success rate of getting you to the end. But it has a 0% chance of actually having you win the game. Potentially making Sharn the Australian version of Russell Hantz. Or maybe Amanda Kimmel for a less cunt-y of a comparison. Which shows that once can’t really assess a Survivor players quality based solely on where they place. Some non-Dave related thoughts While Dave obviously dominated this season, and what we were shown on TV, there were a few other things I thought worth commenting on in this season: The Second Coming of Zach: when Zach was announced as an All Star I think everyone was disappointed. In his first season he was a sexist piece of shit and while post-season coverage revealed he had been done dirty by Production in that they’d had him come in as a Villain based on his work in the TV show Gladiator and then put to air every single negative thing he said about the women and none of the negative stuff he said about the men (or positive stuff he said about the women). In any event, the TV product they’d put out of him was this sexist buffoon who had no place in All Stars. But then over the course of the show not only did they show his real, normal and appropriate attitude to women they showed that he was in a loving, healthy relationship with a realm storng, independent woman and spend heaps of his time saving birds who’d been hurt and needing nursing back to health. What a 180 degree shift in character. It was somewhat undercut toward the end when Production got lazy and tried to justify Jacqui’s stupid decision to flip on Zach being mean/piggish to her… even though the bits where he got angry at her a) she was clearly at fault for stuffing things up and b) everyone was getting angry at her not just Zach. Harry takes votes deliberately- this was only a small thing but I thought it was actually quite a potentially game changing move. In a pre-merge vote, Harry agreed to be the dummy vote for the nuVakama majority so that there would be no need for secret conversations between the majority members as to who should be the second target should the minority have an idol. Conventional Survivor wisdom is never make yourself a target and take votes else you might go home. But it worked- the majority stayed strong and rode that all the way into the Makuta wall. AK explains how rock draws work- we got a really long confessional from AK explaining how the tie break and rock draw mechanics worked and I’m 80% sure that was where Production learnt how the two mechanics worked. Abbey thrown under the bus for voting strength- this ties in with the rewriting of history to make Shonee look good, but I found it super annoying how the edit trashed her for her ‘strength first’ mantra. That is 110% a great strategy from her because a) Aus Survivor challenges are so disproportionately strength based voting out your strength is a very easy way to get wiped in the tribal phase and then get destroyed post-Merge due to being in a minority (i.e. what happened to nuVakama after they voted Abbey, then Lydia and then Mat out) and b) as a ‘strong’ player herself the best strategy for a player like Abbey to win is to surround herself with other strength players as shields so she isn’t the obvious individual immunity threat everyone targets post-Merge. Dave vs Sharn vs Mo- who wins alternate Final 3?- Dave clearly trounced Sharn but how would he fair against Mo. I suspect he would have easily beaten her too, maybe not as near-unanimously. From things I’ve already talked about, if Mo had got to the end we would have seen the negative parts of her social game much more to show why Dave solidly beats her. But Mo vs Sharn is an interesting question. I lean towards people voting for Mo but it would be much closer. I think Sharn’s work accidentally poisoning people against her (through burning bridges and being wishy-washy_) would add up with people respecting Mo’s better control of votes and alliances and the better story of Mo getting the $500,000 to give her a tight win. Maybe.
PART B- General Discussion of Survivor
To start with, I think it is important to note the difference between Survivor The Game and Survivor The TV Show. The former is what happens on the island and is where the goal of everyone there is (in theory) to win the 50 day game. The later is made from the footage of the former where the goal is to produce X minutes of entertaining content Y times a week. In the US it’s a highly optimised machine of 42 minutes of content (to give space for ads in the hour timeslot), once a week for 12-14 weeks. In Australia it’s a bit looser, anywhere from 50-120 minutes of content (plus ads) for generally 3 but sometime 1-2 times a week (Australian reality TV production, especially Channel 10, is fucking wild) And often the better one of those things is (Game or TV show), the worse the other one is. In that sense, the All Star season of Survivor AU was in my opinion both the best and worst season yet. I think it is pretty clear that David Genat played by far the best Survivor Game in Survivor AU history and is in the Top 5, possibly Top 3 of games played by anyone in any version of the show. However when someone has that much dominance in the game, it means that flashy things don’t happen which makes the TV product much more straight forward. Which made the TV show of Survivor All Stars perhaps the worst season yet. I think some good comparisons are US Survivor Thailand (which I’ve seen) and US Survivor Redemption Island and US Survivor One World (which I’ve not seen) because in these three seasons one individual player exerted incredible control over pretty much the entire game and rode that control to an inevitable victory. Which then made for what are generally considered less enjoyable TV series, even with the acknowledgement that the winner’s gameplay was incredible (except in Redemption Island because BRob was handed the game by Production but that’s an entirely separate blog post). For a sportsball fan, an analogy would be you probably prefer to see your team win a close, great game against a good opponent than see them win in a one-sided massacre as your team beats up on an opponent flailing on the bottom of the ladder. Yes you can enjoy the clinical execution of skills from an intellectual level but in your heart you want the thrill of the close contest (and victory). Also I want to note here that typically the “superfan” community are big fans of Survivor the Game while the “casuals” are more into Survivor the TV show. And these different things have different appeals that can be generally summed as as The Game is best viewed/enjoyed/understood through the things that span the entire season e.g. seeing how alliances and blocks form and break, seeing how the target moves as the game evolves, remembering what happened four episodes earlier and to understand what is shaping the decisions being made in the current episode. But The TV show is best enjoyed through things in each individual episode i.e. the particular challenge the contestant compete in and the specific tribal vote that happens in that episode. And weirdly fire-making challenges seem to be a thing that “casuals” fucking love. I dunno why but listening to casuals talk about the game and seeing the response on the Aus version of Goggle-box to Survivor, there is this huge love of fire challenges… Anyway, given the “casual” group is much larger and more fickle than the former (if tonight’s episode is boring, why would you bother to tune in to tomorrows episode?); Production for the show smartly try and skew things to maximise the TV show good bits at the expense of the Game good bits i.e. the increasing number and variety of various twists and advantages to try break the core game mechanic of majority vs minority numbers. Because the best way to keep the fickle casual fan tuning in it to make sure every single episode is a twist laden adrenaline rush of awesome action. And Production know their bread is buttered through advertising dollars which require maximum eyeballs. However there is a balancing act here and I don’t think Production realise they are starting to fucking up in Australian Survivor. While big flashy moves are great for TV audiences more often than not they are bad for a players game. Because when you make those big moves, you suddenly become the front runner to win and thus everyone targets you. That’s why the Survivor annals are littered with “Robbed G.oddesses” and “Fallen Angels”- because they players who made big flashy moves almost always do not win. Like looking at the previous four winners of Aus Survivor; all four of them were ‘under the radar’ players who only really made big moves at the very end to specifically take out the ‘big move’ players and won because they were the best but because the person opposite them in the Final 2 was worse than they were (or because bitter juries in S1 and S3 but that’s also a discussion for another blogpost). So for Production they need to be careful here- they want to encourage “big moves” by players… but players will only make “Big Moves” if doing so won’t immediately tank their game. They need to be able to make a reasonable plan forward not just for the vote where they make their move (assuming it’s not a move of desperation to stop them being voted out) but also the next several votes so they know they won’t be voted out next (or at least have reasonable avenues pursue to not be voted out). If you give too much stuff to players for them to turn the game on its head, the other players (if they’re not idiots) will have to play conservatively to minimize their vulnerability to becoming a victim of a twist. So Production needs to put in enough stuff to spice up the TV show but not too much stuff that The Game becomes stale as players respond to things. This is where I think Australian Survivor made a big mistake. Because in All Stars they kept introducing twists (which I will certainly touch on at some point in detail) none of the players were ever in a comfortable enough position to feel confident about making a big move and, in particular, flipping on the tribal lines post-merge. When you’re in the majority (in terms of the voting numbers) and you don’t know what crazy thing is going to be introduced down the line you have to be an absolute idiot of a player to choose to surrender what modicum of control/power you have by flipping to the minority (as we saw in this season). Specifically in All Stars, the conversation generally seems to be that the pre-merge was great because of all the big moves/craziness but the post-merge was terrible because it was a boring ‘Pagonging ‘ (where the group with the majority just votes off the minority in order, named for the Pagong tribe in the original season of Survivor who suffered this fate). Lets look at why that probably was: the huge imbalance of twists pre-merge and post-merge. In particular player controlled ones. Productions distribution of Idols and Advantages Pre-Merge there was Henry’s idol (time limited), Brooke’s Idol, Mat’s Idol, Shonee’s Idol, Dave’s Idol, Phoebe’s Idol (which Dave got) plus Harry’s ‘tribal cancel advantage’, Nick’s extra vote, Henry’s fake idol and Dave’s fake idol. All of these things were in player hands and, with the exception of Dave’s idol and maybe Dave’s fake idol, were known to players through either being players or being discussed. So everyone went into the Merge knowing that there was heaps of crap flying around that could be used to shake up the game, But post-merge there was zero idols or vote altering advantages made available. This massive change is important because the players don’t know there aren’t more idols/advantages around. They’ve seen this huge wave of things pre-merge and if they currently don’t know about any idols/advantages then they will naturally assume someone else has the things and isn’t telling them. In fact the general rule of thumb is that there is one idol hidden for each tribe, including the merge tribe, plus extras found through challenges. Then whenever an idol is played, a replacement one is then hidden at the tribe beach where one was played, with idol re-hides beginning the get capped post merge as Production always wants to make sure that there aren’t enough immunity options in the game to have a tribal where everyone is immune (or everyone but one person as happened in ‘Advantage-geddon’ in US Survivor Gamechangers where all but one person was immune and that person was eliminated despite receive literally zero of the votes cast at that tribal). Now this is a huge simplification of the precise rules of idol placement but the point is that at the Merge the players would rightly have expected at least one new idol guaranteed to be hidden, the Merge Tribe Idol, plus potentially some that have been held on by people from the pre-merge and probably incoming wave of new things as Production continued to flood the game with stuff. So expecting all this crazy shit to continue to happen, the players need to come up with a way to counter it. Or risk becoming a victim to it. And the only way to counter a possible idol/advantage you don’t know someone has is to have a numbers majority- if you can make sure that the two people with the most votes are not you/your allies, then even if one person does something to be safe then the other is the one who goes home. Meaning that there is even more incentive to not break the majority. Which is what happened- the Mokuta tribe went in with a numbers advantage and aside from a dumb move by Jacqui rode that all the way to to end. Because that is the smart thing to do. That’s the only thing to do if you want to have a chance to win. But this makes for “boring” TV for a casual audience, as you have a string of episodes in a row where it is super obvious who is getting voted out. Which then prompts Production to add in even more non-player controlled twists to try spice up individual episodes, further forcing players to play conservatively. And these were definitely the worst part of the season, both pre-merge and post-merge. The Production Twists First there was the “Exile Island” twist where in episode 6 the top two vote getters were sent off to Exile Island. And then came back the next day to be “randomly” assigned by Production to the newly swapped tribes. This was bs for several reasons- firstly by having the top 2 vote getters go, this distorts the whole point of tribal as someone is kicked off without receiving the most votes. It also meant that both the majority and minority groups lost a member (Zac and Shonee respectively), further cementing the division as there was no need or ability to work something out. Especially because they were told about this twist AFTER they had already voted and thus were unable to think about using this twist to any sort of advantage. All it did was save the minority member (and TV darling) Shonee from what should have been a straight forward elimination. And then even after being voted out, not only were they not penalised but they were assigned by Production to go onto new swap tribes that put them into an unearned beneficial majority (particularly Shonee) letting them get out players who had been playing much better games than them (i.e. Abbey and Lydia) who’s only mistake was being a good player who didn’t need to benefit from random production interference. (Actually- I have to put an interlude here to highlight the primary reason why Production put in this, and probably every other, twist that ‘negated’ a tribal vote. The TV product requires 24 episodes for a season. And with 24 players, that means that with a Final 2 they only can have 22 episodes where people are eliminated. Which means that they need at least 2 non-elimination episodes to get their 24. Or 3 non-elimination episodes if that want a Final 3 which rumor is they do. Now a non-elimination episode isn’t necessarily bad. And this first twist could be made good through three things. Firstly, the tribe is told well in advance that they are voting people to exile not out of the game. Maybe after they lose immunity to give them a few hours to have to try and strategise what to do. But at minimum it should be the first thing said at Tribal. Secondly would be to maybe have two rounds of voting with the top vote getter in each being sent to Exile. And the third would be to change how the players get back into the game- ideally there should be some sort of challenge. Either the two tribes compete and the winner gets to pick which Exile person they get. Or the two exiled people compete and the winner picks a tribe. The worst but still acceptable option would be to have the two players do a random draw to see which tribe they went to. Doing these three things, or at least the first and third, would take this from a stupid, broken and unfair twist to an awesome one. Sure you lose the ‘shock value’ of reveal at tribal when people realise their entire day of planning is now pointless. But in its; place you get an entire day of much more interesting game-play strategy, an opportunity for cross alliance moves to be set up and an extra challenge. A much better deal!) A few episodes later, episode 8 I believe, there was a double tribal council where both tribes went to vote someone out… only to then discover immediately before casting their votes that the person each tribe had voted out would infact compete compete in a fire challenge, with the winner then returning to the Tribe who had just voted them out. This is very bad because in Survivor it is never a good thing if you vote for someone, they know you voted for them and then they don’t go home. At best it’s awkward. At worst they get revenge and you get voted out. This meant that as people were going up to cast their votes they were no longer sure if they should make the big play to try vote someone out because there was now a chance the person would come back looking for revenge or if they should stick to majority-minority lines. And we ended up with the worst of both worlds- in the nuVakama tribe the majority stayed strong and voted out Lydia. While in nuMokuta Phoebe was voted out with a plurality of votes but not a majority of votes as the big move that had been planned was half aborted by some of the players. And then when Phoebe won the challenge and went back to nuMokuta she was an easy/obvious target to be voted out at their next tribal. (Again an easy fix- get told about this twist more in advance and the winner of the challenge either a) goes to the other tribe or b) can choose which tribe to return to. I’d probably lean towards b) but both would work.) The we get the the dumbest of dumb twists of all- Exile Beach 2.0 in Ep16. After having the incredibly sad and touching hour of content dedicated to Lee and him having to leave the game after his Mum had a stroke, rather than ending the episode there we then have another 30-40 mins of tonal whiplash into the most confusing and dumbest twist ever. There are now 9 people left in the game and the top 3 vote getters at each of the next two tribals will go to Exile Island. Then there will be a series of challenges by which three of those six people voted to Exile will be able to come back into the game, upon which the all nine people will go to tribal and vote out one of the three people who didn’t win their way back from Exile via challenge. This suffers the same problem as the first Exile beach twist of distorting the voting mechanic and letting the minority ‘vote off’ a majority person who by all rights should be safe (this time, Moanna). It also has the most fucked thing where 6 of the 9 people left in the game go out to Exile. There are more people out of the game in the game. But perhaps most fucked was that the details of this changed every tribal. The explanation and details JLP gave at the first one was different to what he gave at the second. And then in the next episode the details changed again. In particular the details over who/how people would ‘win’ their way back. And no point was it said that there would be two return challenges, with the winner and second place person in the first returning and then the winner of the second returning. This is so convoluted and reeks of something that was thrown together at the last minute to try break the strong Makuta majority up. At the first tribal the majority six was large enough to vote out two members of the minority three (AK and Brooke, while Shonee was immune) with three votes each and Mo copped the stray bullet of the minority’s three votes. Then at the next tribal Shonee got voted out so the majority HAD to turn on each other to fill the other two spots. Obviously Production’s idea was to try expose cracks in the majority alliance to give the minority some room to move. But when no-one in the majority (or the minority for that matter) were betraying anyone and causing cracks to form. They were just further solidifying behind tribal lines and any majority member voted out had no rationale reason to be bitter as their allies had no choice… and in fact were able to deliberately send their best challenge people to exile to maximize the chances of those people being able to come back. (I say no rationale reason because this complicated twist did aggravate personal differences between Jacqui and Zach, leading Jacqui to flip to vote out Zach… to then herself be voted out and have the Makuta majority ride it out to the end anyway…). And we again hit on that problem of player confidence- when something so fucking crazy is dropped on them right before they’re about to vote why would they risk a big move that might backfire. Especially when five of the six people who are voted out will come back. That means that if you blindside someone and vote them out, they are incredibly likely to come back and be seeking vengeance. A lot was made about how incredible it was that Dave was able to have a known idol for so long (from revealing it in the Phoebe vote out in episode 11 and then holding it until the almost-rocks vote in episode 18) but the fact of the matter is that good players like Mo and Sharn who could conceivably want to make a move and blindside Dave (which was discussed as a possibility in these Exile 2.0 episodes) and get rid of his idols knew that the risk of blow back was too great because he would have a huge chance of getting back into the game. And why would you risk that and split your majority alliance up (and have the old minority running around) leaving you vulnerable at the next vote when who knows what Production is going to add in to the mix. All signs point towards players doubling down on their current groups- the majority to keep the numbers and protect against more weird twists and the minority to try have enough fire power to take advantage of the next weird twist. Such a mess. (Unlike the two pre-merge twists, this one is such a mess that I’m not sure how it could be tweaked to be better.) And then the last Production twist for the season was the most pointless of all: Trial by Fire. Specifically we’re down to Final 6 with Makuta 4 (Dave, Mo, Sharn, Tarzan) and Vakama 2 (Brooke, AK). Brooke has immunity. So four votes are going on AK. So after casting votes but before reading them the players are giving the opportunity to go in to a firemaking challenge if they believe they are going to be voted out. If someone declares this, then the others get to nominate another person to compete against them. Should the tribe not be able to agree on someone to nominate, they draw rocks to decide who will be nominated. If the declaring player loses the firemaking challenge, they are eliminated. If the nominating player loses, then no-one is eliminated. AK of course knows he is fucked so declares for the challenge. There is then some interesting discussion where Brooke wrangles the worst of the Makuta firemakers Mo to become nominated. The Makuta players did not want Brooke being nominated because she would just not try and let AK win, so they wanted to get a consensus on not-Brooke. Conversely Brooke had do decide whether it was better to agree on a less good Makuta fire-maker or go for the 1 in 5 shot of rocks for her to be randomly nominated. In the end everyone made the smart move of consensus agreement on Mo, who faced no repercussions for doing badly. Mo then faced AK and beat him pretty handilym so AK went home. Meaning that the whole thing was a pointless waste of time. But think- what if AK had won? Well then… there would be another immunity challenge and tribal council. At best Brooke or AK would win immunity and then the other one would receive four votes and go home. Likely AK given Brooke was far better at challenges. At worst neither of them would win immunity and then it would just be a question of if the majority would want to split 2-2 to counter a potential late idol play or something. So again it would be pointless as AK or Brooke would still be voted out next. It would basically just be delaying the vote by one tribal with no change to the game. (Again, I’m not sure how to make this twist better. Maybe add in the risk that if the nominated player loses the challenge they lost their vote at the next tribal? But I’m not sure if that is necessary. The rumor is that this twist was basically intended to just delay a tribal, add in an extra non-elimination episode and then allow All Stars to have a Final 3 not a Final 2. Basically Production had gambled that either Harry’s tribal delay/cancel or this Trial by Fire would pay off and they just got unlucky that neither did. So maybe it’s less a case of ‘fixing’ this as it is figuring out a better way to do a non-elimination ep for a Final 3 more broadly) Timing and details of Production’s advantages and twists. I might dovetail into here to talk about the problem of timing of some of these twists by Production. I’ve already mentioned that the timing of Exile 2.0 meant Dave got to ride his idol for way longer than he should of, letting him stretch two idols into ~11 tribals worth of protection. To the point where he never even needed to play either idol for himself- he played one to protect Tarzan and thus alter rock-vote math and destroy Sharn’s game and the other he played on himself at Final 5 and he only got 1 vote (although presumably he only got 1 vote because everyone knew he was going to be immune with his idol). But with Trial by Fire- why do it at Final 6 with AK? Why not at the Merge Vote to save Lochy? Why not Final 7 to save Shonee? Why not Final 4 to save Brooke? Or Final 5 when all idols expire? There is no logical reason for this to happen at F6 over any other time, and there were probably lots of reasons to do it at a different time. The exact same thing can be said about the pre-merge double-tribal fire challenge. Why do it on episode 8 at Final 18 (ish)? Putting it off by one ep to occur in episode 9 would mean that, given the 3 episode weekly cycle, you could then end the cycle with this “crazy twist” and spend the next four days hyping up what’s going to happen as the firemaker victor goes out for revenge. Conversely the timing of Exile Beach 1.0 was great- given the timing of swaps can generally predicted some people can be voted out as people want to reduce options for other players in swapped tribes or want to get rid of challenge threats who might end up on an opposing swapped tribe. So saving those people and giving them a chance to be thrown into the melting pot dynamic of swapped tribes to make those melting pots even crazier is great timing. And by having it happen in episode 6, the end of the second week of episodes, they got to hype up ‘what’s going to happen now’ for the entire four day period leading into the next cycle (sure it was a massive anticlimax that was solved in like 5 mins but that’s coz they fucked up the re-entry part) But the worst piece of timing for a twist was probably Harry’s Tribal Canceller Advantage. He found this advantage in episode 12 (around day 25/26) when there was 14 people left in the game and it was only valid until the Merge. Australian Survivor’s current pattern is Merging at Final 12- so Harry only had two possible opportunities to play this Advantage. And only if his tribe lost both/either of those immunity challenges. His tribe did lose the first one but he was safe as the target was Flick. But then his tribe won the second, putting Harry in a situation of trying to save an ally on the other tribe… but then risking there being another cycle of tribal challenge and council before Merge. In which chase if his tribe lost he would be the target and probably go home, or if they other tribe lost then the ally he saved would go home anyway. Again making it entirely pointless in terms of Survivor The Game (even though it gives Survivor The TV Show an extra episode). Which then dovetails into another problem with this stuff- Production giving insufficient info and/or fucked things to players. Allegedly, if Harry had played his tribal canceller (or passed it on save an ally Nick) then the Merge would have happened at 13 instead of 12. Which would have had a huge impact on the season because instead of the numbers apparently being 6-6 (and David using his cross-tribe relations to flip to a 7-5 majority for Makuta), it would have been 7-6 in favour of Vakama. However Harry was not told that. Which is fucking stupid, because if that had been made clear he absolutely would have played it and the TV show would have got what it wanted while the Game would have been much more interesting. In a similar vein, Nick managed to get his hands on an extra vote advantage as I mentioned before. However the way that this worked was that it was a single vote… and it did not carry over if there was a tie. Which is what happened- When Nick’s side was down 4-5 in the nuMakuta tribe he used the extra vote to tie it 5-5 on Mo and Phoebe (to much confusion of some players who couldn’t figure out how there were 10 votes and 9 players). But then when the re-vote happened to break the tie, he didn’t have the extra vote and lost the re-vote 5-2 and Phoebe went home. This is particularly galling because the steal-a-vote and extra-vote mechanics are very fleshed out and much better developed in the US version so there is no reason they could not be taken whole-cloth. In brief- they carry over to ties unless the person with the extra/stolen vote is unable to vote in the tie. So if Phoebe had played the extra vote, because she is unable to vote when she was one of the tied people the extra is lost. But Nick would be able to use it again as he was still voting (this played a part in the use of the Extra Vote in US Edge of Extinction with Julie and Gavin figuring out who should have the extra vote to make sure the person with the extra vote didn’t become one of the tied votes). But if Nick had stolen a vote from Phoebe or Moana, he would only have one vote in the re-vote because that stolen vote was ‘lost’ as the person he was stealing it from would lose it. Why not just do that? Why give such a weak and pointless advantage that has such a limited use (only valuable in a perfectly split tribe e.g. 6-6 where no-one is open to flipping e.g. to make it 7-5). Also- Lee’s special advantage at the merge challenge for of stacking 8 blocks instead of 9 was a complete waste of everyone’s time and effort. What a meaningless ‘advantage’. Casting But it’s time to talk about the biggest problem with Australian All Stars: casting. When All Stars was announced it was quite a shock- there had only been four seasons so far, meaning that to get a cast of 24 players you would need to be bringing back 1 out of every 4 previous players. Comparatively, when US Survivor had it’s first All Star season, it was Season 8. So they had seven previous seasons of 16 contestants from which to draw 18 contestants (one of the ‘twists’ of US Survivor All Stars was that it started with three tribes of 6 rather than two tribes of 8). Doing some quick math, this meant that US All Stars was drawing just over 15% of all previous players back, while Aus Survivor was drawing 25% (well, slightly more given Luke Toki was the returnee in a prior season and wasn’t in the mix for All Stars). This higher percentage has an obvious effect- the quality of player who qualifies for All Stars is by necessity lower. This is compounded by the nature of Australian Survivor- it is much longer and physically demanding that US Survivor, has more players and pays out far less money that US Survivor. Meaning that the ability for someone to take time out of their lives for ~50-60 days not once but twice within a 4 year period for a long shot chance at winning $500,00… that is a hard sell for people not only in terms of their financial capacity to not have a job that long but their physical/mental capacity to go through the Survivor game again so quickly. As such, the ultimate cast of Australian All Stars had some frankly shocking inclusions and exclusions. For a legitimate All Stars I would suggest many of the following would have needed to be included: Pia Miranda, Luke Toki, Janine Allis, Brian Lake, Benji Wilson, Kristi Bennet, El Rowland and maybe Baden Gilbert. But I confess that my memory of earlier seasons is a bit sketchy as to who was a good player and who got carried. There are likely other great players I’ve missed in my cursory skim of the wiki pages. (Like, technically speaking given they needed 24 players they should have cast the Final 6 players from the previous four seasons for a “All Star” cast. Although as I noted when talking about Sharn, simple prior placement isn’t everything for judging a good game) Conversely the inclusion of Moana, Tarzan, Jacqui, Zach, Lydia, Daisy, John, maybe AK and maybe Phoebe was shocking as those players did not place well originally and didn’t do anything worth being called an All Star (I can’t remember AK and Phoebe’s original games so acknowledge they may have played incredible games early and warranted a call back). Sure these people are potentially interesting characters who deserve a second shot but given how much Australian Survivor hypes up big moves and edits the TV show they need to be casting players. And I say that as someone who loves Survivor because of the characters not because of the players. Although I think the legends who became All Stars are generally both. There is clearly a big disconnect between what Casting is putting on the table (characters) and what the Editors are apparently looking for (players). The problem with having such a broad spread of quality of previous players in one that had been endemic all all previous returnee seasons: a question of “target”. The better a player has done in their previous season, the larger the target is on their back for other players to want to get them out. Personally this is what ruined US All Stars for me, all these great players came back and then were immediately targeted to be voted out and had their legacies ruined. Same thing happened in Game Changers- all the good players went early and then the lesser players were left at the end. Even seasons with some returnees that I’ve seen (Guatemala and Edge of Extinction) had the returning players have being targets on their back which led to them never having a chance of winning (and I feel uniformly left with worse reputations that they had at the end of their first seasons). “Heroes and Villains” and “Second Chances” are two returnees seasons I haven’t seen yet but are generally regarded as great but I think that the reason for those was the theme choice- every person cast for those two seasons had the same general vibe going in- they were a Hero player, a Villain player or a player who had played great but just come up short for some reason their first time around. This meant that they all went in with the same threat level or target as everyone else, so the game play was able to evolve naturally based on what happened in the game. Conversely in the other seasons with returnees, the external factors played a huge role and suffocated the game itself. This theory I think is being borne out by the current US Season 40 “Winners at War”. A season where there are 20 players, all of whom have already won. This means that they are largely going in with the same threat level, with different people being rated higher or lower based on how much each individual (either player or viewer) rates different styles of play or aspects of the game. Whereas in Australian All Stars, the huge differential in player past performances resulted in a huge discrepancy in threat levels which hugely dictated how things went. Starting with the first two votes getting out both previous winners (an obvious move that any non-idiot player should angle for, especially since neither winner was much of a challenge performer which is essential for pre-merge Aus Survivor). But this problem with casting became a hugely apparent problem with the Merge. While the pre-Merge was fantastic in terms of moves and strategy and players going against each other to take out the big threats; by the time the Merge happened we’d ended up with a very lopsided cast. A huge number of the threats had been taken out. We had two runners up in Lee and Sharn, a couple players who’d had deep runs like Harry and Shonee and then a handful who’d made Merge but been knocked off well before the end (Dave, Brooke, Lochy). But then you had a big group of players who’d been eliminated pre-Merge: Moana, AK, Zach, Tarzan and Jacqui. And that last group if the problem, because four of them were in the majority alliance. AK was the exception (and was I believe the only one of these four who really had any reputation as a threat). The other four were not respected players and aside from Moana clearly had no sense for how the game worked. Meaning that they were basically just extra votes for whichever player happened to befriend them. Which turn out to be David (Zach and Tarzan) and Mo (Jacqui). Then when you add in Sharn and Mo being real life friends, you have a majority of 7 that is unshakably loyal (barring Jacqui being an idiot, flipping for emotional/personal reason and then immediately getting voted out the next vote thus showing that flipping was a bad idea…) So at the Merge vote you apparently had this Makuta group of 5 that was made up of people were were really low or high profile threats (Mo, Tarzan and Jacqui as low and Lee and Sharn as the high) against the Vakama 5 of moderate/large threats (Brooke, Shonee, Harry, Lochy and AK). With Dave as a moderate-big threat in the apparent middle position (who could drag the very low threat of Zach with him). But in reality David was already going with the first group. Putting him safely behind the two big threats of two previous runners up (one of whom, Sharn, was incredibly risk averse after how she lost her first season) while having three easily manipulable votes in Zach, Tarzan and Jacqui who wouldn’t know gameplay or strategy if it hit them in the head. Plus Moana who was incredibly polarizing and disliked by large swaths of the cast. This meant that he was protected on both sides (whether the target moved to ‘big threats’ or ‘undeserving players’) and could easily coral votes to get out the people he wanted. Which wouldn’t have been possible if he’d gone with the Vakama 5 who were all probably comparable threat levels and equally active game players as he was. But because of this Dave was able to coral this group of 7 through the various Production Twists to Final 5 and Brooke’s great immunity run to Final 3. All because, in my opinion, a bunch of the players cast on this season were not up to standard for what makes an All Star and were this able to be manipulated by the actually good players to follow the herd. Pre-game relationships and the edit One of the things Survivor returnee seasons has struggled with is how to deal with pre-game relationships. In the pioneering US Survivor All Stars, they basically ignored them which led to problems as people made decisions that didn’t make sense in the context of the game and the reactions especially didn’t make sense. Most famously the blow up between Boston Rob and Lex van den Berghe where Boston Rob betrayed a pre-game alliance he and Lex had set up so he (Rob) could continue to work the pretty girl Amber (who he would later marry). The currently airing Winners at War series is doing a great job at acknowledging these things and how they affect game-play- like Rob and Amber’s marriage, Wendell & Michelle dating and even Jeremy and Natalie’s strong friendship. Or the alleged “Poker Alliance”. Because these all play a huge role in what motivates people to do specific things and vote in specific ways in the game. Unfortunately not only did Australian All Stars ignore these preexisting relationships, they actively tried to hide the effects they had on the game in order to tell “interesting stories”. I already touched upon how Sharn and Mo are apparently great friends. This was never mentioned once in the entire game. Which meant that to the casual viewer who wasn’t getting fed info by the players social media channels, it made no fucking sense why neither Sharn or Mo ever elected to flip on the alliance that had built to go in another direction. In particular why Sharn, when given the option multiple times, didn’t flip on Mo and vote with the Vakama group. In an even more egregious bit of TV craft, in Season 1 there was a huge moment where Flick flipped on her ally Brooke to vote her out of the game. So one would presume that a big story line could be the rematch of that to see if Brooke would get her revenge. However in the intervening ~4 years since that happened, the two of them have become great friends. So they had every intention of working together the whole way through. In the end it was a big Game move by AK to vote Flick out yet when it came to the TV product an entirely fictitious storyline was edited together about it being Brooke gunning for revenge. I believe that Phoebe also may have been involved in that real life friendship out of the game but it never really was acknowledged as affecting who she was or wasn’t going for. This is particularly important when you realise that the returning players from Season 4 did terribly- all bar two were gone pre-merge and Harry was the second one gone after the Merge (David of course then won). This was undoubtedly because the season these players were in was literally airing as All Stars began filming, meaning that they hadn’t had the opportunity to a) repair their relationships e.g. David and Daisy or b) form relationships with players from other seasons. It further shows a good a player Dave was that even with that handicap he maneuvered his way to victory. Big moves are da best and other dumb take by “fans” One of the most frustrating things in watching All Stars was seeing people in facebook fan groups get increasingly shrill in lambasting players for “being boring” and “not making big moves”. Not seeming to realise the inherent obvious connection/answer between “Why do the big move players always get voted out” and “Why isn’t person X making a big move?”. Almost as though one question answers the other one. This really ties back to my earlier point about The Game vs the TV Show and how good gameplay often doesn’t equal good TV. And I kind of wish the Editors did a better job at showing and explaining this so that my social media feeds weren’t being filled with cretins who have no understanding that these people are playing to win $500,000 not entertain you on the couch for 90 minutes a night. Also all the personal hatred, vitriol and attacks were pretty pathetic. People are well within their rights to questions and critisice the decisions players make but to then extrapolate that into personal attacks about them as people rather than TV characters if fucked. In a similar vein, the idea that “Person X is boring and they’re doing nothing and are a bad player” was a common hot take I saw amongst fans that was so patently absurd it’s almost laughable. No-one on Survivor is doing nothing (except for maybe Moana). They are all doing something. They are all playing the game they think is going to have them win. But we don’t see all of that- they have 48 hours x *the number of remaining castaway* worth of story footage which to edit into a ~90 minute TV product with the primary goals of a) explaining who gets voted out and b) setting up the eventual winner and some plausible alternate winner options. By necessity the vast majority of footage does not make it to air and thus large chunks of people’s actions, decisions, reasoning etc is not seen by us. In fact if they aren’t the ultimate winner we probably don’t see any of their stuff except what leads to their downfall. But that doesn’t mean they’re doing literally nothing and the incredibly unbalanced edit of players only exacerbates this misunderstanding amongst the fans. Like seriously, whats more entertaining a TV product- watching David crush a bunch of idiots who don’t appear to be doing anything or watching David cleverly outmaneuver (one might say outplay, out wit and outlast) 23 other component and intelligent players who were worthy contestants and respectable in their own right? Also also- the number of people who posted on things in facebook wither “hey fuck you spoilers it hasn’t aired in WA yet” (seriously, get off social media if you don’t want to be spoiled) or “hey who was voted out last night” (seriously, watch the last 2 minutes of the show or look at any fucking social media coverage if you want the answer to that) was astounding. An interesting hypothetical- what if no idols? In one of the fan Facebook groups I was in, towards the season one person asked the group whether the Final 3 would look the same if idols weren’t in the game and David didn’t have his two idols. The vast majority of the responses boiled down to “No way dickhead, Dave is the Golden God and would win even without his idols coz everyone else is an idiot that does nothing” I thought it was an interesting hypothetical because of how insane the effect of idols was in this game (and probably all games). Which makes the haphazard way they (and other advantages/twists) were thrown out kind of shocking. Most people who put in any thought went back to the Jacqui boot, Sharn rocks decision and how the lack of an idol there probably increased the chanced of rocks happening and then who knows what happens after that. But that is a very basic take on the effect of idols on this game. To fully realise the effect of them in shaping the season we have to go all the way back to episode 3. If idols weren’t in the game, then Henry wouldn’t have found an idol and given it to Mat. This means that Henry wouldn’t have been as clearly aggressive and “big moves-y” and his relationship with Nic wouldn’t have imploded; massively changing the dynamics on original Mokuta- possibly saving Michelle and definitely leading Shonee to be voted out pre-swap. Meanwhile Mat wouldn’t have had an idol to protect himself/his alliance on original Vakama and as such would have been voted out instead of Daisy. That minority alliance of Mo-Jacqui-Tarzan may not have kept together with Mat gone and there would not have been any cross-alliance relationships because Dave would not have turned mole on his majority alliance because doing so would have made no difference. And then we go with these super different people and relationships going into the swap at which point it’s impossible to say what would have happened next. So by removing a single idol, literally the very first idol in the game the entire game has changed. Who knows who gets voted out when and who ultimately wins. That is how fucking powerful an idol is in the game. And Production in both Australian and US Survivor hand them out like hotcakes to every second player.
Part C- going forward
As this season wraps up and the next one is delayed due to COVID-19, I’ve heard some discussion about how this season is going to affect future seasons. And while I don’t think this season will change things, I must admit that I’m not a fan of the trend of the recent era of Australian Survivor. Firstly, the Dave archetype of player was already a big threat and I expect his win to be the exception rather than the rule as future players are now way more inclined to target those types of players. Think Tony from Cagayan. Or maybe even the effect the Black Widow Brigade still has on any mention of an all-women’s alliance over a decade after it happened. If anything future players, provided they aren’t stupid, will be even more wary of anyone making big moves and under the radar players will continue to be the most successful kind. One possible change is that maybe physical threats won’t be protected in the pre-merge game. If Dave had lost that Final Immunity challenge, Mo/Sharn would have taken Sharn/Mo and that would have been it. No Golden God anymore. Meanwhile if Brooke had won the Final 4 challenge over David, not only would David have been voted out but Brooke probably would have been the heavy favorite to win Final 3 and thus the whole game. Both the favourites to win were heavily dependent on immunity wins so taking them out in the tribal phase when they can’t win immunity would be a positive development for the show. However I fear any movement in that direction will be massively overwhelmed by a broader trend in Australian Survivor of having challenges that are overwhelmingly physical and incredibly difficult. Since they started with Champions vs Contenders (S3), one of the big selling points of Aus Survivor in the marketing has been how crazy difficult the challenges are. Aside from this being (in my opinion) pretty boring viewing when it’s the fifth straight challenge where the tribes pick people to 1v1 in some sort of strength contest, it’s hugely unfair to players who bring other attributes to the game like social play, strategy play or even alternative challenge skills like puzzle abilities. And losing tribes are forced into a Sophie’s choice of either voting out their physically weakest players to minimize their chances of losing again, or voting out someone for other reasons and thus increasing their chances of having to come back to vote someone else out. I can only recall one puzzle challenge in the pre-merge part of the game and even then the puzzle was like 3m tall and had blocks that weighed ~20kg so you needed physical strength to do the puzzle. Going forward I really want to see a broader diversity of challenges, but I don’t think it will happen. Partially because the casual fan apparently loves these strength challenges and it’s way easier to make “exciting” TV with tight finishes or blow outs, people struggling to keep going and the development of cross tribe rivalries between people after repeated 1v1 rounds. But also in Australian Survivor they appear to do a challenge every single day (or almost that) between reward challenges and immunity challenges plus have a Tribal Council every 48 hours. This means that the Production side of things is going at a crazy hectic pace assembling and dissembling things and I suspect it is much easier, faster and cheaper to use physical challenges than anything else to be made, tested for fairness, completed by the players in time to go to tribal and then have parts recycled to be used in future challenges. I’m very worried about how Survivor has become caught in the Channel 10 playbook of filling the cast with C-list celebrities via the Champions tribe (and then the All Stars which heavily drew on prior Champions tribes) to try generate interest amongst the casual audience. Aside from these people generally being worse than average players who are hyped on mateship and loyalty (on account of them not wanting to ruin their reputations by being backstabbers in the game) they also get a hugely disproportionate amount of screen time for what they do. Which I suspect is also the Editors want to get maximum bang for their buck for whatever payment they’ve agreed to give these celebrities to go on the show. Mat Rogers is the poster boy for this, getting so much content in All Stars that was literally just him going “this is All Stars” and “I have an idol, what should I do with it” which added up to him getting the (I think) 3rd most amount of content for an individual despite going home before the Merge. So if this trend continues we’ll continue to get these people who don’t really get the game taking up huge amounts of screen time to do nothing. Or do something boring. One other thing that these CvC seasons have apparently caused is a weird phenomenon of splitting casts into very separate in groups and out groups- where the people on each of the two different tribes have very little to do with each other (both in game and after the game) and are actively dismissive or hostile towards people in the other tribe. Whereas people from the first two seasons of Aus Survivor (and US Survivor) generally have put those divisions behind them and united as an entire cast in a reasonably friendly group. I really don’t like that because at the end of the day Survivor is a game and it’s meant to be fun… and such hard formed cliques do not enable fun to be had by everyone. The huge amount of twists this season that were uniformly botched does not inspire much confidence in me either. Before this season aired it was reported that the Production team for Aus Survivor has been heavily cannibalised to set up the Production team for the new version of Aus Amazing Race. So I went into this season worried that the people behind the scenes might not have the same knack of setting up good game stuff as they have in previous seasons. And the botching of all the back end parts of this season- from casting to the challenges to the twists to the TV edit seems to have bourne that out. And I am very concerned that they are going to react to the feedback received to this season (near universal praise for “finally a good winner” and “best season eva!”) that they will double down on this stuff but not luck out with the once-in-a-decade legendary level of player they got in Dave and it’ll become a complete clusterfuck. The alleged push for a Final 3 is also a little concerning for me. As US Survivor has shown, the reasoning for going to a Final 3 (to stop the best player going home third) only works the first time it is introduced for a close contest (see: Cook Islands). After that people just work to get the best player out at fourth (now leading the the Final 4 Fire Challenge in US Survivor to stop that). It is pretty clear that no matter what point you cut it off, players will just make sure to get rid of all the best players at least one before that point and fill up the Final Tribal with themselves and goats. Frankly I think the only way to mitigate this would be to have a variable F2 vs F3 set up where players don’t know what is going to happen for their season, but I also feel that doing so is basically penalising good players who use their knowledge of the Survivor game mechanics to their advantage. So I’m not necessarily a big fan of that option. My bigger concern is that a Final 3 would necessitate either more non-elimination episodes or an even larger cast. Currently the Editors struggle to give all 24 players a fair shake so adding in more people will only make that worse. And Productions efforts to make non-elimation episodes so far have generally been either disappointing in their implementation or aggravating in the very concept. I don’t think they’ve yet managed to get 2 good non-elims episodes in a season or even one non-elim twist that wasn’t botched mechanically. Except maybe juror removal- which would actually be required because if they continue to Merge and start the Jury at 12, a Final 3 will have a 9 person jury which can theoretically result in a 3-3-3 unresolvable split. Although given how other Production decisions have gone I’m not sure if any of them will have done the basic math to realise that and move to prevent that being an option. I should point out that I think that theoretically a non-elimination twist and episode can be executed well. Many of the ideas Aus Survivor have used can be adapted and tweaked to go from bad to good quite easily. I just don’t have confidence in the current Production staff to hit on the right solutions based on their past performances.