SurvivorSurvivor: Blood vs Water

Individual Games – Moms vs Bros – 12/03/13

As the pairs in the game steadily burn their buffs, the Blood vs. Water title hasn’t really felt all that relevant since the merge. No matter though, because the post merge game is becoming a battle of Moms vs. Bros, and based on how that’s going, I am all for seeing the latter concept get a full-fledged season too.

e11-cieratyson Why did Ciera go with Tyson?[/caption]

The big Why (or WTF) of the week is Ciera’s decision to go with Tyson and Gervase over Hayden and Caleb. Before we do that, I’m just going to recognize a few other notable moves of the episode that I particularly liked. Like so many others, I’m a little pressed for time this week due to Thanksgiving (we might not technically celebrate it, but we do get the days off and my family aren’t letting me spend that time tapping away on the computer), so I’m not doing a detailed analysis of everything… any other week, this blog would probably have been twice as long.

Exploiting a Loophole, Burning a Clue and Talking to the Least Obvious Person

Players copying puzzles on Survivor is nothing new. It’s come up several times before, including once on this season—heck, just a few days earlier even The Amazing Race was getting in on the action. It’s been a source of controversy every time, but since the producers have made it clear that they’re not going to stop it, then the players aren’t wrong to do it. In the end, Survivor is all about thinking outside the assumed rules.

This episode, Laura (who had been on the copying side herself in her previous visit to Redemption) turned the tables on the practice, by choosing which of her opponents was allowed to copy her puzzle and move forward. I don’t blame Vytas for being bitter about this, because it must have been an agonizing way to go out, but in the sense of morals, Laura had done the work of figuring out the puzzle. She’d earned her knowledge of the solution. Information is always power in Survivor; when Laura controlled the flow of that information, she was simply applying a classic strategy to a new circumstance.

Both Katie and Tina hazarded that she might have been swayed by personal preference for the players, though I doubt this can have been a major influence. She’d only spent four or five days with Vytas, and Tina tweeted that she and Laura weren’t even friends going into the challenge.

Laura’s own take was that she was simply getting rid of the bigger threat in duels (plus a small dose of revenge for past votes against her and Ciera). Sooner or later, a challenge would have come along that did not favor Laura’s skillset, but Tina is a similar build to her and a decade older. Laura stands a good chance of outperforming Tina in anything save throwing (maybe).

Increasing her odds of getting back into the game is an advantage that outweighs the probable loss of the Baskauskas votes. Besides, she’s likely raised her stock among the rest of the jury. Tina stated that if Laura was in the finals and Katie wasn’t, she would vote for her. Katie probably feels the same way. As for the rest of Kasama, they were very keen to get both Baskauskas brothers out of the game altogether. I suspect they’re all feeling fond of Laura right now.

The other privilege of winning was to give the clue to Ciera who renewed the practice of burning it. Perfect call. We learned last week that she had already gone through Katie’s bag to read the clue, and it wasn’t likely to have changed. Taking it now would only have required her to show it to the rest of her alliance.

I’ll be curious to see what next week’s recipient does. It’s going to go back to the vague first clue, so it might be worth letting it burn. On the other hand, with only three Tribal Councils left to find and play it (assuming two final fives), it might be more revealing than the original clue, and if you’re Hayden and Katie, you’re probably grasping at straws anyway.

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Hayden was smart to approach Tyson.

On the subject of Hayden, I absolutely loved his decision to go to Tyson with his fears of a blindside. Putting a flea in Monica’s ear about Ciera taking her spot as swing seemed like the obvious move (and for all we know might have worked out better in the end), but Hayden flipped the script. Instead, he and Caleb admitted to Tyson that they had been plotting his blindside, explaining that it was all down to the devious Ciera pitting bro against bro—a cardinal sin if ever we heard one.

It didn’t pan out, but it did work—to an extent. Tyson was ready to forgive his bros their transgression and vote out the girl that had come between them. He might not have committed to that action, perhaps on Gervase’s advice, but he was tempted by the excuse to keep Hayden and Caleb around a few days longer.

You have to give Hayden props for his smooth-talking. He talked Kat around on Redemption Island, he almost talked himself out of a bind this episode and he’s got a chance to do it again next time. He’s clearly showing his credentials as a reality show winner.

He’s hardly got a perfect record of course, and right now the biggest mark on it is Ciera.

Ciera’s Story So Far

I have been saying for the past couple of weeks that the original Tadhana crew should join back up and take out the returners, so when they finally did it, I was utterly mystified that Ciera betrayed the plot to Tyson. Maybe she’s crazy, maybe she’s stupid, but here at Individual Games, we don’t take those for an answer. So why on earth did Ciera choose to go with the all-too dominant returners over her peers?

On Know It Alls, Stephen was describing it as a flip, and indeed, that’s exactly what it looks like, based on the edit. But let’s backtrack and review the season from Ciera’s point of view. The first day on the beach, the five guys of Tadhana make an alliance with little care for discretion and start voting the women off. From the second Tribal Council onwards, Ciera’s name starts coming up for the vote.

Ciera’s only ally at this point is Katie. I speculated that she might have an alliance with Hayden and Vytas, based on the fact that these two guys would talk to them about the vote—and Hayden went so far as to suggest voting Brad off in front of them. However, all evidence since has suggested only that these two guys went to the trouble of building a relationship with the girls. They may have deflected the first couple of votes from them, but they did not make any particular effort to save them. Caleb also was very friendly with Ciera but never seems to have established an alliance with her.

The turning point could have been when Brad was voted off, since Caleb’s decision to flip the vote directly saved Ciera. At first, Ciera thought Caleb might have planned this in advance, but Caleb admitted it had been a spur of the moment choice, proving he had been prepared to vote her out. Meanwhile, Hayden had continued to write her name down rather than Brad’s—it was Vytas who broke the tie.

Obviously the remaining five Tadhana came together and won the next challenge, but Ciera was convinced at the time that she would have gone home if they had lost. In her view, she was still stuck on the bottom.

Then her mother got voted off, there was a tribal swap, and Ciera found herself the lone female on Tadhana. Hayden and Caleb went to the Galang men and told them they would be prepared to vote her out. We shall presume they did not reveal this to Ciera, but Ciera always seemed to be working on the assumption that it was her or Aras should they go to Tribal Council. When Tyson talked to Ciera about voting her mother off, he said it was Hayden and Caleb who were pushing for that vote (for all we know, that could have been entirely true). It’s not unreasonable to believe he might have been warned her that Caleb and Hayden were ready to vote for her after the swap.

By the time Tyson pitched the Aras blindside which forged the alliance of five on NuTadhana, Ciera was talking about Tyson being a leader and smart. I wonder if that was because he had cast himself in the role of her protector, letting her know that he was saving her from the chopping block. Behind the scenes wisdom from his past seasons has often described Tyson as the lynchpin of his alliances: he was the guy who everybody in Coach’s group adored in Tocantins, and in Heroes vs. Villains he was reportedly the biggest tie Jerri and Coach had to Boston Rob’s side.

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Tyson has experience with outsiders.

I don’t know to what degree all that is true, but certainly Tyson has direct experience of how outsiders can destroy an alliance. His Tocantins blindside was possible because Erinn and Sierra had felt so isolated on their tribe. In his next season, after he was voted off the Villains tribe, Jerri no longer felt secure enough to stick with Boston Rob’s alliance and flipped to Russell’s side. If Tyson had learned anything at all from his previous games, he should have made befriending Ciera a priority.

Regardless, for the first time in the game, Ciera was part of a majority alliance which was all gung ho about couples being a threat. The merge happens, and she finds herself suddenly part of a couple when her mother returns, and the rival alliance decide to choose them as their targets—which among other things means that Katie tries to vote her off. Yet again, it’s her name coming up at Tribal Council.

Ciera’s alliance seizes the majority, but she anticipates that she’ll have to vote out her mother and when Tyson pulls her aside, she assures him she’s willing to do so.

It’s worth noting that it’s Tyson she talks to, not Hayden and Caleb. We never see her running strategy by Hayden and Caleb before bringing it to Tyson. Is this because Tyson is running things? Or is it because Ciera feels a closer strategic partnership to Tyson than anybody else? Talking strategy with people is all part of the social game. If you’re talking about your game with somebody, you imply that they are included in it.

All this time, on paper, it’s made perfect sense for the original Tadhana to get together and take out the returning players. But from Ciera’s perspective, she was always on the outs with original Tadhana. In NuTadhana, she became part of the majority alliance, and in that she was closer to Tyson than to Hayden and Caleb. (NB there’s no evidence for what relationship she has with Gervase; from what we know of Gervase, I’m guessing he’s made friends with her on some level, though perhaps not to the extent of strategizing with her.)

When Ciera sums up her choice she describes Hayden and Caleb as wishy-washy. Like Monica in the merge episode, she doesn’t betray her alliance so much as she stays true to the original one and betray those who would break it. Hayden and Caleb had already been part of one alliance of five which collapsed on itself, and now they were turning on another. They have also tried to vote her off before now. Tyson, on the other hand, has never lied to her.

Interestingly, she makes it clear in this confessional that she only has a guarantee of final four when going with Tyson, while Hayden and Caleb were offering final three. I believe that Hayden and Caleb would have stayed true to that, if only out of logical necessity (Katie’s jury connections and underdog story make her too dangerous at the end), but considering Ciera’s view of things, I don’t blame her for feeling final four was the safer bet, especially when she has so much time to work her social game on her three core allies.

The other odd but revealing thing Ciera says in her confessional is that she feels she can beat Tyson and Gervase more easily than she could Hayden and Caleb. While it’s hard for us to agree with her assessment, the motive for her decision is beyond question: Given the option, always go with the people you think you can beat, even if it means a harder road to the end.

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Ciera and Katie are too similar.

Ciera’s previously said she doesn’t want to go against Katie because they’re too similar; she might feel the same way about Hayden and Caleb. It’s an unusual call, since Survivor players typically prefer to go with the people who have had similar paths through the game. Clearly, it doesn’t work out for at least half of the players who take that route, so there’s something to be said for Ciera’s reverse policy. On the other hand, she should bear in mind that her fellow players might be adopting standard practice. Rid of her newbie peers, Ciera will stick out like a sore thumb and could well be targeted in her turn before the end.

Threats Seen and Unseen

Ciera’s perspective that Tyson was less threatening than Hayden and Caleb wasn’t the only surprise this episode. It was at least as much of a shock that Caleb should be considered such a shoo-in to win. It’s a stark reminder that what seems so obvious to us is, in the game, camouflaged by everything else going on. The edit seems to be telling the story of how Tyson wins or loses, but everybody else will have a different focus.

Vytas said in episode that Tyson was in control, yet in a confessional definitely set the morning after Laura’s arrival, he said he was clueless as to who is running things. Did Laura paint a very different picture for them, perhaps believing Hayden and Caleb were responsible for her boot?

So let’s do a very quick run-down of everybody else, because when you stop counting confessionals and start thinking of the individual cases to present to the jury, we’ve actually got a very broad range of threats to win.

Ciera: With Vytas gone, the former teen-mom has the most compelling background to present to the jury. While I suspect players had mentally filed her into the Natalie Tenerelli category of grateful follower, she’s now getting a reputation as a devious player (a little more so than she deserves). Her ‘flip’ on her original tribe when she had a solid endgame deal could embitter Hayden and Caleb if they feel she cost them their game. Or it could be just the résumé-padding she needs to impress the jury.

Gervase: This episode, we actually saw Gervase in discussion with Tyson who was fretting over who to believe and who to vote off. While the edit loves a mastermind, the reality is that most strategy partnerships are collaborative, with either member needing guidance and support from the other at different times. Gervase swore he wouldn’t be anybody’s pawn this game, and on a strategic level, he’s probably comfortable that he’s on an equal footing with Tyson.

The key difference between them is that while Tyson and Gervase might agree on the vote first, Tyson is the one who goes and makes sure everybody else is on board. Is this just the edit? Or is Gervase happy to let Tyson be the bad guy and/or target, calling the vote while Gervase kicks back and makes friends? It worked for Cochran in Caramoan, but, despite the Mormon background, Tyson’s more of an Andrea than a Dawn.

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Hayden is less beloved than Caleb.

Hayden: He’s apparently less beloved than Caleb, whose mild-mannered lumberjack image may have made him more accessible to the female players. Still, Hayden’s shown some game in him, has a winning track record, and it looks like he’s got the good sense to put a spotlight on Tyson next episode. Not only that, but he’s proven to be the smoothest talker in the game… This is surely the last person you want at the end.

Katie: Underdog of the game, even more so than Ciera. She’s been to all but one of the Tribal Councils and was in the minority for all but two of those. We’ve not seen much of her, but we know she’s got good social connections with Vytas, which puts her in favor at Ponderosa from the outset. Because she’s so isolated in-game and she’s unlikely to go on an immunity run, she’s not a threat at the moment, but if she manages to duck and cover her way to the end, she’s got a decent story.

Monica: Since the merge, she’s appeared to be playing a Brenda strategy. Having found herself in a weak position, she’s working hard, being friendly and avoiding strategy. That tactic got Brenda into a power position (if only briefly) in Caramoan, and while I expect Monica’s social game is very different, it’s paying off for her as Gervase is now saying that she’s an asset to him and Tyson. He explains that she understands he and Tyson are the only people who have kept their word to her through the entire game and the three of them can trust each other and are working together. Yet her choice to compete in the challenge masked that alliance from the other players—I wonder if Ciera would have chosen Tyson and Gervase if she had known Gervase’s current opinion of Monica?

Monica has now racked up three out of five immunity wins—even if she doesn’t win any more, it’s going to be tough for another player to surpass her this season. Challenge wins rarely decide the victor, but they do hold some sway with the jury and Monica’s shown plenty of grit through them. She also has an underdog story, and while it’s unlikely she can get back into a position of strategic influence the way Brenda did, she can point to her social game in negotiating her way through the post-merge game.

Now, I’m not saying that any of these players would necessarily beat Tyson at the end, but if I were sitting on the beach at final seven and trying to work out who I had the best shot against, I could look at all these people and be concerned. Certainly, out of this crop, I wouldn’t think of Tyson as the most silver-tongued finalist. Most of these people could articulate a good case, whereas Tyson’s just as likely to get up there and tell the jury to vote for him or miss out on the party of the century as he is to actually plead a serious defense for his game.

The Art of Storytelling

Before finishing for the week, I’m going to take some time to call out CBS for their lax standards in promos this year. (Unlike CBS, I won’t be revealing the spoilers from this week’s promo, so read on without fear.) Before the merge episode, they freely showed clips of Laura Morett back at camp, spoiling her return from Redemption Island. For the upcoming episode, not only do they reveal the third juror, but they also reveal the outcome to what is likely the episode’s biggest storyline.

Early on this season, I stopped watching the promos for this very reason—nor have I ever followed any of the official twitter accounts. Yet once CBS puts this out in the official domain, it becomes fair game for fans to discuss it, and we end up with a grey area—for whoever heard of putting a spoiler warning on promotional material? Many fans have agreed that this promo’s content was something they’d prefer not to have known in advance, but others have innocently spread the information, assuming (quite naturally) that everybody knows it.

The edit is as guilty as the promos. The method of Aras’ blindside was explained to us for weeks before it actually happened, while several other boots have been telegraphed by a previously invisible player (especially on Galang) suddenly getting lots of airtime.

Meanwhile, other scenes that we know happened and which would explain some of the developments have been relegated to the cutting room floor. A prime example is Hayden and Caleb selling out Ciera after the Tribal Swap. Also, here’s a radical thought: instead of portraying Tyson as having some inexplicable control over everybody, why not show some of the bonds he’s made? Whether the focus on Tyson is giving away his victory or showcasing his defeat at the expense of the winner’s arc, we’re missing out on a better rounded, multi-dimensional story.

Blood vs Water’s cast has done a bang up job of giving CBS a great season full of twists and blindsides and layered politics, yet in post-production much of the suspense and nuance has been stripped away. It’s infuriating.

In the game itself, unfettered by CBS marketing and editing choices, the Moms and Bros (I like Katie, but she really is getting lost in the mix) continue to play their hearts out. Right now, it’s the mothers who are playing the flashier, more devious games, while the Bros are going for slow and steady. (If nothing else, we’re smashing some stereotypes.)

All that remains is to pick a side to root for. Are you Team Mom or Team Bro?

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