Winners and losers were one and the same over the past two weeks of Australian Survivor: Heroes V Villains, showing just how swiftly the game can turn on its head.
Two episodes into the merge of this relentless season and the swap victors – that is, the old contingent of game-ruling Heroes – are now scrambling for survival, after the rag tag Vigilantes seized the day and the power at the most pivotal vote of the game.
Underdogs rising up to become the conquerors is an all-time favourite trope, and this likeable seven are easy to root for. Before they flipped the game, the post-swap brought anarchy – let’s see how we got here.
The biggest winners of the post-swap itself had to be the OG Heroes stronghold, who used a split vote, the threat of what was believed to be a real cookie idol, some favourable swap numbers and new connections to the old Villains to only lose Paige from their original core group. Flick connected with Shonee and Liz over the promise of margaritas on the outside, Shaun marched his group forward in the face of multiple idol threats and Matt found an in with George and Gerry that spelled survival to the merge.
However, there were costs beneath the surface of these successes. Jordie’s gambit may have failed in saving him, but it did drive fractures into the Hero core, dividing Sam, David and Nina from Shaun and nearly sending Hayley home. Furthermore, Matt didn’t just pretend to flip in the name of self-preservation, he actually flipped and, along with clear outsiders Simon and Hayley looking for a home, gave the Vigilantes their merge majority.
For me, the biggest winner at this point in the game is George. His reads have been flawless and his social game and connections have been at their best. Watching him construct the all-important merge majority of key allies, new recruits and old connections was enthralling, peaking with a renewed truce with Simon after their many all-out wars. Now, he, Shonee and Liz are maintaining that group with electrifying fun, cohesion and protection, and making the Vigilantes feel like a part of something significant. To think that George has kept rallying in the face of losing prospective allies to injury, twists, wrong assessments by his partners and the early Villains demolition is remarkable. We are witnessing one of Survivor’s great games.
A key word of the Heroes V Villains post-swap was “collateral”, as players saw themselves sacrificed to a larger cause. Ben may not have been the Spice Girls’ primary target, but the scary-sounding cookie idol and his own lack of connection to the Villains side he didn’t vote with at the swap which may have otherwise been a port in the storm, saw him become an easy out.
Steve, ever a loyal solder in George’s army, had to be surrendered with no other option, as the girls stuck together to protect Flick, and Matt’s mole potential and connection with Gerry slightly surpassed Steve’s necessity to what would become the power faction tomorrow, taking him out just one day before probable longevity in the game.
In their own way, Simon and Hayley faced hardships through this second phase of the game. Simon thought he’d finally found his place with the other beefcakes, and earnestly gave them his idol, even pushing to send it to help former rival Flick on the other side, hoping to cement his place on the tray. However, when the idol was revealed as fake, his deals were dashed and his social capital wasted, and he may well have been the Heroes’ target if bigger fish and a non-elimination didn’t intervene.
Speaking of that aforementioned fish, Hayley’s horror week started with her being held to ransom and ended with her being saved from elimination by the grace of the mutiny twist. With the suppressive Heroes and a weighted threat level that left her no room to move, Hayley’s game through this first half has been conservative, as she’s held on to eventual enemies for dear life. For both Simon and Hayley, George’s safe haven offers them a new start and a second life going forward.
This scintillating season doesn’t stop for a moment and so many episodes compelled me through this two-week arc. Jordie and Liz’s very aggressive two-idol gambit was intriguing, as they held Sam’s Survivor life in their hands and left his allies pained and hopeless without options of what to do. It was the ideal plan to create division to carry them through the swap, but, with so many numbers on the other side, they needed to protect against split votes by actually playing their trinkets. The greed of having their cake and eating it too took out Jordie, but it was a valiant effort nonetheless.
From cake to cookies, the cookie idol has been the unofficial 25th player of the season (and truthfully, for the mark it’s made on the season, probably more like the tenth player). For a piece of wood with no power it did a great job of locking Shaun into swearing on his kids so Simon couldn’t be sacrificed, and it then saved Flick and Matt from their swap troubles with implicit immunity. The non-idol journeyed from the cookie jar to Simon’s butt, to Shaun, to Flick to JLP, where all was revealed, and then continued to bury Simon’s reputation in its afterlife. Best yet, it happened to culminate in a tribal council where Ben went home. Having found the same clue on the other side, Ben was the only person who knew it for what it truly was. His reaction to the mix up delivered, as they sent the one person who knew what on earth was going on out the door.
This entire phase showed the post-swap complexity of having your allies separated from you and your enemies in sight, especially when contestants are playing this hard. Idols (and their fake counterparts) were passed, information was shared across the aisle, challenges were thrown and, in George’s classically dramatic fashion, people were literally referred to as hostages on the mat.
The challenge arenas became more about strategic gains than physical competitions, all culminating in the focal merge vote, where the stakes couldn’t have been higher. I love this season.
The good ship Vigilante can’t stay afloat forever because, not only does that hardly ever happen in modern Survivor, but also because this particular ship includes George and Simon splashing water at each other from the deck. I predict one more stabilising vote and then a break at the always crucial final nine.
This whole season is a lesson in changing tides and never counting your chickens. To quote Heidi Klum, one day you’re in, the next you’re out.
Australian Survivor: Heroes V Villains airs Sunday - Tuesday at 7.30 on Network 10 and 10 Play on demand