Here’s A Dummies Guide To Australian Survivor, From Someone Who’s Watched All 580 Episodes

Australian Survivor
Contributor: Stephanie Anderson

Hi besties. Australian Survivor: Brains v Brawn officially kicked off yesterday and it was action-packed!

If you’ve been seeing the ‘Stayin’ Alive’ Australian Survivor ads and want to get into the show, but feel like you’ve missed the boat because Survivor has been on since the literal millennium, I’ve got you. 

Welcome to the newbie’s guide to Survivor.

Now, I totally get why it could be overwhelming. With 40 seasons of the US version and season six of Australian Survivor beginning tonight, it’s a lot! But it’s so worth it. 

Before 2018’s Australian Survivor: Champions Vs Contenders, I’d never seen a single episode. I got absolutely hooked, and within a year, I’d watched all 40 seasons and then some. No, I don’t have a life, please don’t judge me!!!

Survivor is the definition of a reality show where there’s more than meets the eye. When I started watching, I assumed it was just a game of strength and being able to rough it, and that whoever was the toughest would win in the end. I simply could not have been more incorrect.

The game of Survivor isn’t just a competition of strength, but rather, requires contestants to Outwit, Outlast and Outplay everyone else. Physical strength is just one element of a game that also requires strong social skills, as well as the ability to deceive, manipulate and strategise. 

This is what makes it so interesting. You don’t have to be the fittest, the toughest, the strongest.

This season of Australian Survivor: Brains Vs Brawn is sure to highlight everything that makes Survivor great. A classic theme adapted from the US’ Brains Vs Brawn Vs Beauty, contestants will be separated by their strengths to see which is more important in the game.

But don’t take it from me. Chatting to Pedestrian.TV on Friday, Australian Survivor: Brains Vs Brawn host Jonathan LaPaglia had this to say:

“Personally I think in terms of reality shows it’s one of the most sophisticated out there and it’s the least produced in terms of the director deciding which direction it’s going to go in,” he said.

“The great thing about Survivor is that it really is the contestants who are dictating the direction of the story,” he explained. “They’re the ones who decide who goes home. They’re the ones who decide in the end who wins.

“It’s always, always unpredictable, because there are so, so many pathways to get to that end point. I think that’s what makes it so great to watch, you just never know how it’s going to play out.”

How it works

Initially, contestants are split into two tribes–like Brains Vs Brawn–and go head-to-head in challenges to win rewards for their tribe and camp, as well as immunity, which keeps them safe from Tribal Council.

The tribe that loses an immunity challenge goes to Tribal Council that night, where they deliberate and then vote on who should be eliminated. This repeats for the first half of the game, at which point the tribes merge. 

From merge, it’s everyone for themselves. Now, contestants are duking it out for individual immunity, which keeps them in the game for another day. The eliminated contestants post-merge join the jury that will vote for the winner, the Sole Survivor. 

At the final two (or three), contestants will plead their case for why they believe they deserve the title of Sole Survivor, the jury votes, and at the reunion episode, the winner of the title and the prize money ($500k in Australia, a million in the US, lol) is announced.

What if there’s a tie at Tribal Council?

This happens! In the event of a tie, the tribe–minus the two people up for elimination–revote. If there’s still a tie, plot twist! THEN, the two who were up for elimination become safe, and the remaining tribemates pull rocks out of a bag. Whoever pulls the white rock gets eliminated.

Advantages and Hidden Immunity Idols

When played correctly, a hidden immunity idol is an absolute gamechanger. These are played at Tribal Council after the tribe has voted but before the votes are read, and will save you from elimination. You can also play them for other tribemates, in order to keep the numbers in your alliance strong and advance yourself in the game.

Found around camp, these hidden immunity idols, clues and advantages are a huge asset in the game… if you know how and when to play it. 


Physical strength will get you so far, but if that’s all you’re offering, if you’re not also forming alliances and thinking three steps ahead of your tribemates, you’ll be perceived as a threat and your torch will be snuffed the second your tribemates get the chance. This is where strategy and alliances come into play. There are plenty of ways to approach an alliance. You can team up with the people you consider the best players, you can team up with the people you like the most. Alternatively, you can team up with the weakest players, using them as an extra vote while you pull big moves in the game. If the two of you then make it to the final Tribal Council, you can then throw your alliance member–known in the game as a goat, someone you’ve dragged through the game–to the wolves and explain why you’re actually the best player in the game. Strategy involves reading people, identifying threats to your game, orchestrating blindside eliminations, and knowing when to betray the ones closest to you, before they do the same to you.

Social game

The social game is probably the most underrated and subtle element of Survivor. On the surface, being a good social player means charming people, getting them to like you so that they don’t want to vote you out. Social players are able to win the trust of their tribe mates, which in turn sets them up to be able to make bold strategic plays. Sounds simple, but in a game where there’s strategy and paranoia at every turn, it can be quite the tightrope to walk. Being able to play a strong social player means being able to turn on an alliance, blindside someone and walk away unscathed. 

Introductory seasons:

If you’re looking to get into Survivor and just want to know which seasons to start with, these are some of the best examples of seasons you could try.

Season 7: Pearl Islands

This is a Survivor classic, and introduces the viewer to some truly iconic players who will return in future seasons. It’s early enough that you don’t need a lot of intricate knowledge of the game, but late enough that the game has evolved to a more sophisticated level over the previous six seasons. It also has one of the most chaotic strategic moves in Survivor history that will leave your jaw on the floor, but I can’t say anymore without spoiling it.

Season 16: Survivor: Micronesia

The theme of this season is Fans Vs Favourites, which combines 10 returning players (the favourites) with 10 new players (the fans). This season is just so much fun to watch. It has one of the strongest alliances in the game’s history, and also features the single worst strategic decision a player has ever made. Historic!

Season 18: Survivor: Tocantins

Come to Brazil! Tocantins, Brazil is a great introductory season as it features some great gameplay. It’s all new contestants, so it’s spoiler-free if you want to go back later and fill in the gaps, and there are some real characters on this season. More modern than Pearl Islands, Tocantins also features the Hidden Immunity Idols, which were first introduced in season 11.

Season 20: Heroes Vs Villains

If you don’t care about seeing returning players before watching their original seasons, then this is the season for you, because it is hands down the best season of Survivor. This season brings players known for playing loyal, noble games and players known for playing sneaky, deceptive games head-to-head. It’s got all the biggest and best players the first 20 seasons of Survivor had to offer bringing their A-game. Basically, it’s iconic.

Season 28: ​​Survivor: Cagayan

Coming out of the early 20s, which is a dark era for Survivor, season 28 was a true return to form. The original Brains Vs Brawn Vs Beauty series, there’s a ton of great gameplay in this season, and an alliance that calls themselves Cops R Us, which is about as ridiculous as it sounds. The cast is great and introduces a number of players who return for future seasons, as well.