SurvivorSurvivor: Blood vs Water

Individual Games – Give the Jury What They Want

There are few things I love more on Survivor than when the dominant alliance gets to the finals intact and with everybody else on the jury. It happened in Tocantins, it happened in South Pacific, and it kind of happened in Caramoan. I know some people would like to have seen Gervase and/or Monica turn on Tyson, or for a final two to reveal who was really on the bottom, but just on a personal level, I love seeing the players who have taken the same journey make it to the end together. I’m always fascinated to see how the particular approach of the individual can so widely vary their reception by the jury.

This season is a little different in that Monica got split up from the other two during the Tribe Swap, which meant she ended up playing a very different role in the game than she would have done otherwise, but they’ve been a trio since the merge. Once the rocks were drawn at final six, none of them really had any choice but to take each other to the end. It’s not guaranteed that Tina or whoever else might have hung in there would have beaten them, but it certainly wasn’t worth the risk!

Of course, none of this negates the issue that Gervase and Monica faced: that Tyson was being tipped as the likely winner of their final three.

Trolling for the Win

e14-monica Monica cracked under the pressure of the last few days.[/caption]

Before the finale, I wrote about how Monica need to drop the poker face at Tribal Councils. Well, I certainly got what I wanted! Monica’s cracks under the pressure of the last few days absolutely made the episode for me, because she created / was granted opportunities that I never would have thought possible at this late stage of the game.

Let’s get this straight: she could never have flipped. That would only have ceded power to Tina and Ciera (final five) or robbed herself of second place (final four). Tina and Ciera knew that, and I’m fairly sure Monica did too; all her apparent considerations were likely due to a field producer asking her: “So, walk us through what would happen if you did vote with Tina.”

In her secret scene, we see her in confessional after Hayden’s boot, and she’s a little on the vengeful side, assuring an absent Ciera that she was too late and should watch out because this lap dog might bite. However, to Ciera’s face she said that it had just been too soon before the Tribal Council and she would need some time to think about it.

The ever optimistic Ciera immediately latched onto that hope and continued to lay on the same tactics as thick as she could. What she said, in episode, about pandering to Monica’s ego was sound enough theory, but she wasn’t fooling Monica.

I actually liked Tina’s aggressive approach better. Making no bones about the jury’s feelings had a ring of truth that all Ciera’s ‘woman to woman’ assurances lacked. I still don’t think it would have worked, but I wish Ciera would have let her finish talking. If nothing else, Ciera and Tina should have got on the same page before making their pitch.

Whether it was Tina or Hayden, something gave Monica a wake-up call. Why did she pretend to entertain the option of voting with Ciera and Tina? In the above-mentioned webclip, she noted that she had to keep Ciera ‘strategically close’ because she still wanted her vote on the jury. If you’ve listened to her interview, she’s not much clearer. Obviously, offering them some hope would earn their goodwill, but those hopes will be dashed by the time they’re at Ponderosa, and I’m with the Know-it-alls that the players would be the more bitter for it.

Coach did this in South Pacific, assuring players he’d protect them but not following through: that contributed to his downfall when he tried to argue that he’d played an honorable game. On the same season, Albert did a slightly subtler version: planning a counter-move with the minority only to back out with apologies at the last minute. They all assured him they were grateful for his attempts and that they’d vote for him, but come the final tribal, their opinions of his sincerity had grown jaded.

I don’t know whether Monica warned Ciera and Tina in advance or blindsided them, but showing interest and then going right back to voting with her guys was never going to help her lapdog image. Yet I do believe it was intended to shake it. In a confessional before final Tribal Council when she was giddily optimistic, she declared that she’d taken the time to listen to people’s criticisms, think about it and adapt. She credited that with her ability to control the final vote and get herself into a position to win the game.

She was wrong about winning, but she was absolutely right to emphasize that the final vote was her decision, even though it was Tyson who won immunity. So often, the other players just defer to the immunity holder, but Tina came to Monica, not Tyson, and it was the two women who talked through the pros of a tie-breaker. Best of all, Monica pointed that out at the relevant Tribal Council, instead of saving it for the final. By the same token, blocking Gervase on the challenge was a great anecdote to bring up. The lapdog was going rogue, and the jury could bear that in mind when they decided on their questions.

Her execution was a little rough around the edges, but she did a great job of pulling a spotlight onto her game, and it was at the point when nobody could risk voting her out: the minority needed her vote; the majority needed her next to them at Final Tribal. Performing for the jury was a great move, the main problem being that she was trolling them with the hopes of her flip.

I don’t know if she said anything at Tribal Council to indicate her vote hadn’t changed after all, but word of advice to future players: you are not bound by the same rules of suspense as the editors. It’s OK to reveal your intentions in advance of voting. It might even be preferable!

For me, this brought up a glorious what-if scenario: Instead of trolling her jury, what if Monica had trolled her alliance? After Tyson passed his idol to Gervase to play, I was seized by a sudden desire to see Monica wink at the Coconut Bandits and say: “Gotcha!”

e14-tyson

Who’s pulling the strings?

As we’ve since found out, she knew he was going to do it, and all suspense was manufactured by the edit, but could this work for a player who needs to change up their image? Granted, situations like this, where there’s no disadvantage to burning the idol, don’t come up often, but if the puppetmaster is scared into playing an idol unnecessarily, who’s pulling the strings?

When you can’t vote out the people you can’t beat, your only strategy is to make them look like idiots, and if you can prove yourself capable of manipulating them, so much the better. Lay it on thick at Tribal Council, and be ready with the exposition when the votes are read: “I thought you were going to keep the idol as a souvenir, Tyson? I was just getting a dig in at Gervase for pulling intimidation tactics on me.”

It might even be possible to bring the minority in on the act. Tina would have preferred to actually go to firemaking, but after her idol fakeout at her last vote-off, I’m sure she’d also have been willing to make Gervase and Tyson sweat a little on her way out by playing along with Monica’s threat of a tie-breaker. Would it have worked? Well, probably not, but it would have been worth a try, just for entertainment value.

Bravo to Tina, by the way, for her final placement. We all thought she’d be the first off Redemption Island, and instead, she battled through every duel, and then scrambled about the idol tree while Ciera wrung her hands nervously at the bottom. Was it a little anti-climactic after Laura’s streak? Maybe, but whoever returned from Redemption Island was going to be in the minority anyway, and not even for Tina could I root for the returner to win into the finals and steal the game from those who played it.

I personally agreed with Monica, that they should have got rid of her first, because I think Tina’s chances of pulling out an immunity win were higher than Ciera’s—particularly if they ended on an endurance challenge. But I’m glad they didn’t, since we ended up with a Galang final four anyway. (Though kudos to Ciera for never once giving up.) Ironically, it was Aras who declared they would be final five, but he was the only one to miss that.

On the flipside, I am intensely frustrated that we missed out on the Fallen Comrades segment for this of all seasons! I would have loved to hear Gervase, Tyson, and Monica weigh in on their departed loved ones.

Handling the Truth

e14-katie

Monica getting hammered over and over again.

I personally felt this was a lackluster jury. I’m glad they weren’t particularly bitter, but they weren’t exactly challenging the contestants on their gameplay either. While I felt sorry for Monica getting hammered over and over again, it was not done out of spite and we’ve seen far worse treatment (we only have to go back one season for examples of that).

Aras probably had the best question, and that was a stock one. Vytas didn’t ask anything, and Caleb, Hayden and Laura all asked Monica the same question. From what Monica said in her interview, it sounds like production tried to prevent that by feeding Hayden a different question, (“Draw an ‘e’ in the air.”) which hysterically, he didn’t fully understand himself. It seemed an inappropriate test of self-awareness in this instance too. Monica’s M.O. is to think about other people and how she presents herself to them, so drawing the ‘e’ facing the jury doesn’t really prove anything.

I don’t like those kinds of ‘catch out’ questions anyway, unless everybody’s getting them. It’s ridiculous to give Monica a question with a ‘wrong’ answer, when all Hayden asked Tyson was if he had the second idol when he drew rocks. He didn’t even follow up with: “Well, why not play it?” (unless that was also edited out.) But then, this jury was always going to vote for Tyson, and at least Hayden didn’t claim to have an open mind. Pro-tip to Survivor jurors claiming to have an open mind: if you’re lobbing softballs at one player and demanding impossible answers from another, you’re biasing your own vote.

Listening to the Jury Speaks videos, there was one trend in what they were looking for: authenticity—the phrase “no pageant answers” came up several times. All the final three were coming off as superficial in different ways.

Monica was seen as too good to be true. Caleb described her as a Stepford Wife which is apt. Monica breaks a cardinal rule of fictional characters: she’s so perfect and virtuous, that it’s tough to get invested in her, because we don’t know what she wants for herself. Monica’s generosity, her work ethic (defying the stereotype of footballers’ wives), her physical ability and beauty, and the perfect family she was always talking about… None of that let the other players understand what was driving her in the game other than Tyson.

There’s a sad irony in that Monica played Survivor (as she consistently told the camera) for herself, for her time in the spotlight, yet she would not let herself be selfish in the game. She waited on the other players hand and foot, gave away rewards, and her original strategy was to argue for somebody else to win the money. (Thank god, that didn’t happen… we don’t need another Gabon.)

Monica certainly has a personality: she’s highly competitive, opinionated and loves to laugh, yet when summing herself up in one word, she can only go with: “Generous.” It baffled the other players, who couldn’t figure out if she was playing to win or not, and while I think they ended up believing her when she broke down at Tribal Council, she wasn’t put in a position where she could give a winning argument. She expected to be answering questions about her strategy, and instead she was being challenged on a façade that wasn’t intended to hide anything.

e14-gervase

Gervase had probably done the best of all the final three at connecting with people on a social level.

Gervase had probably done the best of all the final three at connecting with people on a social level. Several people commented on how good he was at making amends after each vote: going to the minority, explaining why he voted as he did, and apologizing. Laura Morett described it as cleaning up the messes Tyson had left behind.

The problem Gervase had with the jury was perfectly summed up by Aras: he had given the jury no reason to trust him. (Fans of Aras’ RHAP appearances should watch that entire video for his insightful take on the finalists.) Time after time, the very first challenge of the season came up, with the jury remembering how Gervase had almost drowned only to celebrate with trash-talk and bragging once his tribe had won.

Of all the final three, I think Gervase was in the worst position. Monica at least had an argument to make (even if she never got around to doing so), but it was almost impossible for Gervase to defend his case against Tyson’s. On the other hand, I’m still blown away by how well he handled this game when his sole experience was with the first season, and I’d love to see him get a chance to come back and find a way to put himself in the alpha position. Or just lie in the hammock cracking wise… either’s good TV as far as I’m concerned.

And then there was Tyson, who joked around with everybody when he wasn’t talking game with them. He did an excellent job of keeping people comfortable to play with him, but Tina noted that he was the one juror she didn’t feel like she knew. (I would also recommend listening to Tina’s full clip, both for her unabashed explanation that she’d award the million to the person who would spend it the most wisely, and for a touching insight into two very different sides of Gervase outside the game.)

Tyson’s performance throughout the game was probably enough to win the million even if he had trotted out the argument of “Vote for me, and I’ll invite you to my awesome party.” However, his willingness to own his motivations and struggles in the game, even if it meant crying on national television, was undoubtedly the reason he almost swept the vote. None of the finalists were lying to the jury, but Tyson’s emotion over Rachel was the genuine, vulnerable moment they were looking for: the proof positive that he wasn’t a sociopath even if he is happy to play one on national television.

Tyson played a solid (though not flawless) socio-strategic game in the pattern of Boston Rob, Yul, and Kim, with a touch of Sandra in his social game, but what made this season was that his rivals didn’t just let him. They fought tooth and claw (again, not always wisely) to stay in the game. Even with this competition, I’m not sure about elevating Tyson to any Greatest of All Time status, but I rarely go in for absolutes anyway. I’m glad Tyson played his backside off, and I’m ecstatic that the other players did too.

While Blood vs. Water certainly proved the merits of its own twist, the cast deserves credit as individuals for the season’s success (the zero-suspense edit, not so much). Particularly in the end-game, much of the season’s drama came not from its new concept but classic Survivor. The three finalists all played competent games, and nearly all the jurors made big splashy moves along the way. (There’s a reminder, should anybody need one, that it’s the little moves, not the big ones, that win this game.) That is all a good season of Survivor needs.

That said, I am totally on board for another Blood vs. Water season—though preferably with new players this time. I never want to see a tribe of returners against a tribe of new players again.

In the meantime, I’ll look forward to Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty. My early prediction is that everybody not on the Brains tribe will resent the inference that they’re stupid and take revenge on the Brains accordingly. I am also going to complain already about Beauty apparently representing the social game. If they wanted alliteration, why not go with Bravado? On the plus side, we’re back to a three tribe format!

I will see you all back here for that. To wrap up this season, my thanks to Rob as always for hosting the blog and to Scott St Pierre, for getting my words onto the website every week and providing the pictures and captions alongside (something which probably takes more time than I realize). I’ll be spending my off-season watching Survivor: Amazon so follow me on Twitter if you want to join in on that discussion. Otherwise, enjoy the festivities of your choice and happy new year!

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