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Survivor: The Australian Outback’s merge tries to break a tie, but fails

This spring, I’m recapping Survivor’s second season week by week, roughly 20 years after each episode premiered. Today, Survivor: The Australian Outback, episode 7, “The Merge,” which originally aired Thursday, March 8, 2001.

My memory is not good enough to recall all 40 Survivor merges, but I can say confidently that season two’s merge is a vast improvement over season one’s merge, in part because the episode is titled “The Merge” and not “The Merger.” The cast is still referring to their “teams,” but at least we dropped that extraneous R.

In part that’s because the players are actually playing. Borneo’s Pagong tribe members each voted for a different member of Tagi, and all of Tagi (minus Dr. Sean), voted together. The Australian Outback’s evenly matched tribes stick together: it’s a five-five vote, twice, and goes to previous votes to break the deadlock.

The intrigue is about knowledge of previous votes cast, whihc

The producers did an excellent job of trying to get the tribes to connect, rather than In season one, one member of each tribe had an overnight summit to decide which camp to go to.

This season, the producers had a multi-tier approach:

  • sending ambassadors away
  • for an overnight visit at the other camp, after which they had to
  • pack up camp quickly, and
  • move to a new camp,
  • where they had to build a new shelter.

This subverted a lot of their expectations, like Kucha’s assumption that Ogakor’s women would be joining them, or that they’d be choosing which camp to go to. (The sexism was gross, like Jeff referring repeatedly to the “chicks,” as in, “they’re keeping the chicks apart,” and saying that he was expecting to “lather ’em up and go pick ’em flowers.”)

That led to my second-favorite moment of the episode, when Colby and Keith learned Jeff and Rodger were expecting the women to show up, and said, “Rodger, I’m real sorry, bro.”

My favorite moment of the episode was earlier, when Jerri just guesses the medical emergency that happened at Kucha’s camp: “Rodger had a stroke or anything.” Tina basically shrieks “oh my gosh!”, she’s so appalled. I was appalled because Jerri did not keep rattling off other fictional possibilities: Nick had his arm bitten off by a crocodile! Jeff was sucked into quicksand! Alicia was struck by lightning! Elisabeth was impaled through the eye with a stick!

The slow-burn merge gave the players form opposite tribes time to connect (during the overnights) and work together (building their new shelter). And it put everyone on an even playing field.

That did not succeed: no one betrayed their original tribe. But I appreciate the effort, and also appreciate the slow-burn merge rather than the Okay, move and start strategizing!

“Old tribal lines run very deep,” Probst says, and he’s right. (He’s also much more active at Tribal Council in calling out individual behavior during the immunity challenge.)

While using previous votes as the tiebreaker is quite anticlimactic, I definitely prefer it to the random draw of a rock, which is designed to force the tribe to make a decision or face their own elimination. The previous-votes thing could—and, if my memory serves me, will in the future—be used strategically, with players casting votes just to add another vote to someone’s tally.

The immunity challenge was an epic endurance challenge. The players just had to stand on poles in the water, but they were very comfortable, wide platforms, compared to more recent endurance challenges like this one:

Adam Klein during the Survivor Winners at War immunity challenge
Adam Klein during the Survivor Winners at War immunity challenge (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment)

I understand why the producers have made these standing endurance challenges go much more rapidly, because it’s better television and also makes their lives easier: a challenge is over in 30 minutes instead of nearly 12 hours. And they had to film Tribal Council after this challenge!

But watching these players was fascinating because this was not a physical challenge, just a mental one.

And it produced a lot of interesting moments: Nick realizing he could sleep instead of stand there; Colby trying to attract votes by acting cocky; Jeff Varner taking peanut butter and apple slices very possibly cost him $1 million.

Colby may have gotten votes whether or not he tried to get them, but he does seem to be responsible for making Jeff Varner give up immunity. He convinces Jeff Varner to jump down, pointing out that the remaining players are not going anywhere, and when Varner jumps, Jeff Probst looks over at Colby with a look of awe and admiration.

There’s a bigger act of self-sacrifice. Tina gives up immunity after standing on a log for nearly 11.5 hours. She tells us that was “the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” But she does it for the good of her team: to give Keith immunity and protect him, since he has previous votes cast against him.

Earlier, Tina says she knows they would have been “picked off one by one” had Ogakor lost immunity last episode, and now it’s a “tie ball game.” And while it’s an individual game now, Tina knows that it’s still very much a “team” game.

All of my Survivor: The Australian Outback episode recaps

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.

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