SurvivorSurvivor: Blood vs Water

Individual Games – The Last Resort of the Damned

I never watch promos, but early on last week I stumbled across the information that the final six survivors would be going to rocks. I detest drawing rocks as a game move, so this was depressing news for me. I anticipated an episode sapped of all suspense, with a climax that would lower my opinion of half the players and cast a permanent shadow on the finalists’ path to the end.

Drawing rocks, wilfully reducing the manipulations and machinations of Survivor down to a banal game of chance, is a deliberately unpalatable option designed by the producers to make it appealing only as a last resort. It doesn’t matter if the odds are (ever) in your favor, there are very few gambles worth the risk of your torch being snuffed there and then. It’s a move that requires the highest of stakes, and saving the leader of your alliance isn’t one of them. (Ask Vytas.) Neither is securing your alliance’s majority post-merge. (See Cochran.) Saving yourself from certain doom? That’s worth it.

The story of this episode was not the rock drawing, but the desperation that led to it, and while Hayden led the charge, it was actually Gervase who made it possible.

A Scratch in the Teflon

e12-monica Did Monica’s earlier gesture mean nothing?[/caption]

A couple of weeks ago, Monica won the first combined reward and immunity challenge, and when Jeff asked her to choose somebody to share it with, she told him that immunity was all the reward she needed and she would like to give the food away. (She intended to do the same thing this week, and I’d love to know if Jeff would have let her.) At the time, Gervase declared that he would have picked one person and eaten in front of everybody, because her gesture meant nothing in the game.

In light of this episode, I’m surprised that scene didn’t make it to air, because this was the week that Gervase proved the value of what Monica did. His pick of Monica was entirely acceptable, given the reasoning he provided at the time. Picking Tyson and leaving out Ciera was not so good, not when he’s supposed to be part of Ciera’s final three. He was already tight with Tyson… choosing both women, keeping them both secure that they were in his favor was surely the best option.

Of course, it’s so easy to say the theory. Tyson admitted that he had been restraining himself from saying “Pick me!” because that would have made Ciera feel excluded. Time after time, we see people go with their buddies for these rewards, and the only reason for that is because it’s really hard to be objective and disciplined when you’re starving and emotionally exhausted.

Gervase almost got away with it. Ciera accepted the reason he gave at the time and refused to let the reward or Hayden get under her skin. She said as much to Jeff at Tribal Council—and then Gervase spoke up again, explaining that he had picked his Galang buddies, the people he had put his blood, sweat and tears into playing the game with from the start.

That was when the penny dropped for Ciera. Ever since Tyson asked for her help in voting out Aras, Ciera’s final three has been her and a pair of guys. She’s been targeting the other women in order to protect her spot as a male pair’s third. Now, she’s finally picked which set of bros she wants to go with, and she’s hearing Gervase declare that he’s closer to Monica?

I should put in the disclaimer here that were I on Survivor, I’d be having similar foot and mouth encounters on a daily basis, but it was still one of those incredible moments: an inadvertent but total reveal of exactly where a player’s loyalties lay.

The worst of it was that this happened in full view of the jury.

We got a taste of what Gervase’s argument to the jury would be this episode when he declared that Tyson couldn’t have done anything if it wasn’t for him, that he had put Tyson where he was. We know Aras, at least originally, put most of the responsibility for his blindside on Gervase, and although Hayden was playing up Tyson so vocally this episode, it’s entirely possible that the jury could have liked Gervase enough to accept his rationale for their votes. Gervase is intelligent and capable of some very good game commentary. I’d not like to count him out at the Final Tribal Council.

That said, it’s hard to gloss over the biggest mistake of your game when the jury saw it and its fallout live. Not only that, but Gervase’s immunity necklace meant that it was Tyson and Monica who ran the risk of being the immediate victims of his talking. At the final negotiation, Gervase was the first one to declare “Let’s draw rocks!” A bold decision for the one person who was safe.

Meanwhile, Tyson, Gervase’s game-long partner and thus the person whose argument he has to trump at Final Tribal Council, did the most to fix Gervase’s mistake. He whispered a final three deal in Ciera’s ear, he broke Hayden’s stride by correcting his idiom, and, of course, he drew the rock. For Aras and Vytas, tonight was the most gameplay they’ve directly seen out of Tyson and Gervase, and Tyson came off superior.

Obviously, it’s impossible for us to know if Gervase had a shot of beating Tyson before this Tribal Council, and it would be premature to say he has no hope against him now. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen the person wearing the immunity necklace damn their game this much without taking it off.

That said, I’ve been surprised by how little criticism Gervase has got from the pundits for this slip up. For me, it’s the worst statement since Tina told Monica she’d be fifth, yet most people have focused on praising Hayden or blaming Monica for her error (which was also egregious but Gervase made the initial mistake, and Monica wasn’t in Ciera’s final three anyway). Nobody’s said Gervase played a great game this episode, but nobody seems to think any the less of him either. Hats off to him; the Teflon Don continues to live up to his title.

One Angry Man

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Ciera would not have flipped if Gervase hadn’t slipped.

While I doubt Ciera would ever have flipped if Gervase hadn’t slipped up, it was Hayden who had prepared the ground for her and Hayden who talked her over the edge.

Hayden, in fact, earned my undying adoration (pro-tip: don’t bet on the ‘undying’ part) by doing what I’ve wanted somebody to do since Redemption Island: Do a dry run of Final Tribal Council at camp. At the end of every season, Jeff tells the jury that the power has now shifted to them. It’s about time somebody realized that that power is actually available to them in the game.

So it was that Hayden stood before the prospective final three and their plus one, and declared why he would be voting for Tyson at the end and encouraged Gervase to argue his case. It was a confrontation, but I’m in agreement with Know-It-Alls sub, Kim Spradlin, that he wasn’t burning bridges. He wasn’t actively hostile; he kept smiling and so did Gervase, even as they were shouting at each other. It didn’t get people steering clear of him; indeed we see Gervase asking him (if mostly rhetorically) what move he should be making.

What I learned from Hayden this episode is that this strategy can’t be a solo effort. From what we saw, Katie stayed quiet rather than back him up, and Caleb dug out the pre-merge Redemption Island strategy of blaming those responsible for his ouster. Afterwards, Monica savored Caleb’s reaction, observing that she wants to go to the final with the “two gangsters”. Ciera, high on the rush from sighting the game’s end, wanted him to stop telling her she couldn’t beat Tyson “because I can!”

If the rest of Kasama think that the other jurors have a different opinion or are open-minded, Hayden can swear he’ll vote for Tyson until he’s blue in the face, and nobody would bat an eye. If he’d got Katie joining in this crusade, if he’d addressed the players at Redemption Island and tried to bring them into the conversation, would that have made a difference? Future survivors, you too can earn my undying adoration by testing this strategy further.

Still, Hayden kept at it, determined to go down fighting as so many players have before him. Watching this secret scene I was struck by how many times we’ve heard his sentiments before from other doomed players or in post-boot interviews. The difference between Hayden and almost every other player determined to go out swinging is that he didn’t go out.

Statistically, luck is going to favor some of these players, and as I’ve said, I think if Gervase had kept his mouth shut about why he chose Monica and Tyson, Ciera never flips. Still, I do give Hayden a lot of credit for taking the opportunity presented to him and for keeping up his relationships. In One World Kim could have blurted almost anything out at Tribal Council, and I doubt anybody would have flipped from her to Troyzan.

He also kept it up: every time Tyson, Gervase and Monica said something to Ciera, he turned their words to fit his argument: “With them, you’re fourth. With us, you’re final three.” He’d said going into the Tribal Council that he was happy to draw rocks all day long, so I don’t think he planned so far ahead as to realize that if it did came down to rock-drawing he’d likely be immune (though he probably figured that out by the time he was yanking Ciera to his side), but he didn’t need Brad Culpepper to tell him that a 33% chance of going home is better than 100%.

The one thing I’d question is his choice of Monica to vote against, though of course we don’t know why he chose Monica. Did he fear that an idol would be played for Tyson, the more obvious vote-recipient? Did he think Tyson was more likely to flip on the vote than she was? Did he want Tyson to be the one drawing rocks? Or did he think Ciera was more likely to join them in a vote for Monica?

That last is why I think that he shouldn’t have guided the vote towards Monica. Ciera’s been envisioning a final three with Tyson and Gervase. So far as we know, Monica doesn’t really figure in her gameplans at all save as a rival for that third spot. If Tyson had flipped and sent Monica home, I think the chances would have been fairly high that Ciera would have been ready to go right back with Tyson and Gervase again. If nothing else, by putting Hayden on the jury, she becomes the one finalist who can take credit for this Tribal Council.

With this in mind, would it have made more sense for Tyson to cut Monica adrift here? He would probably lose her vote, but he’d be safe from the rocks. Once Tribal Council was over, he could tell Ciera: “Never mind what Gervase said. I always wanted you at the end, and I hope I’ve proved that by voting Monica off for you.”

Instead, he proved to Ciera that he was deeply loyal to Monica. In fact, he must have tipped her off to that when he pitched her a final three of the two of them and Monica. Ciera went into that Tribal Council believing she was at least on an even footing with Monica in the eyes of Tyson and Gervase; before it was over, she knew Monica had the upper hand, while she herself had next to no chance of getting into the finals by sticking with the returners.

While it’s a little galling to see her come to this realization an episode too late, I still enjoy Ciera’s approach to the game. While she’s getting berated this week for giving the clue to her alliance, may I point out that an idol valid to final five is irrelevant to the fourth place finisher? By giving the clue to her alliance, she curried favor with the people she wanted to bring her to the end, and she kept Hayden and Katie from finding it this week or next—all résumé padding for the jury.

Not having the idol won’t make any difference to Ciera even now. It’s always possible Tyson might target her next, but he’s at least as likely to want to take vengeance on Hayden, and Hayden’s a lot more dangerous to leave hanging around than Ciera—or Caleb. I felt that Tyson voted Laura off one episode too early, but he targeted Hayden one episode too late. Ciera might get targeted before the Redemption Island returnee (assuming it’s not Hayden), but I think she’s still fourth, and the only way for her to have immunity at final four is to win the necklace.

(I would dearly love to know what the consensus was around camp when the immunity idol wasn’t publicly discovered. The only reference to it in the secret scenes was Hayden saying he didn’t think it had been found yet, but that was a whispered confessional during the initial search.)

Losing the Game of Chicken

At the top of this blog, I suggested that the only situation worth drawing rocks for was to save yourself from certain doom. This could be said for all three players who drew rocks, since whoever backed down was going to find themselves in the minority and finishing outside of final three—though it could also be argued that they’d be better off staying out of it, trying to work their social magic and praying for some form of immunity at the right time.

However, we should bear in mind that drawing rocks was not necessarily the intention. It could be that they stayed true to their votes because they were expecting somebody else to flip. In South Pacific, the entirety of Upolu stuck to their guns in the merge episode, not because they were ready to draw rocks, but because they had a deal with Cochran that he would flip on the revote.

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Was Tyson surprised?

In Tyson’s case, I really wonder if he expected Ciera (or even Katie) to give way under the pressure. We’ve already discussed if he would have done better to vote for Monica in the second round, but as a veteran of the game and as Tyson, I wouldn’t be surprised if he figured that another, lesser person would crack so all he had to do was stay the course.

Tyson wasn’t around for the Tribal Council where Brad went home after Caleb forced a tie, and we don’t know how much he heard about it. In that instance, it was Vytas who flipped his vote. Caleb, Katie and Hayden all held firm. (Ciera couldn’t revote, but was directly saved by Caleb and Katie’s intransigence.) For Katie and Ciera, the precedent was to stick with the vote; it had worked out for them the first time. They probably also had subconscious delusions of immortality—these two girls ‘should’ have gone home in the first two episodes, yet chance and their social game have always saved them.

Tyson didn’t play his idol, though it’s not entirely clear what the rules for the immunity idol are in a tie. The necklace grants you immunity until the next immunity challenge, but the idol is specific to a round of votes of your choosing. Because of that, I assume that had Tyson played the idol after the first round of votes, he would not have been immune for the rock drawing. (NB it’s not clear to us and maybe not to the players either.)

By that logic though, he should have been able to play the idol after the second round of votes, for Monica, yet Jeff didn’t ask for the idols then (that we saw). Regardless, after playing it safe last Tribal Council, he hung onto his idol this time, which suggests an assumption that he would not be drawing rocks. Either that or confusion over the rules made him keep it in his bag for fear of revealing it to no purpose.

Certainly, Tyson didn’t look at all happy that entire Tribal Council. He was the last person to agree to draw rocks, yet (as the extended scene shows) when Jeff asked what order they wanted to draw rocks in, he immediately insisted he was going last. It was reminiscent of his decision to draw the last buff at the Tribal Swap, and I suspect it’s his own brand of superstition—he’d rather the decision was made for him than to make it blindly.

Hayden, I’m sure, was definitely hoping for a rock drawing, since that would save him (small wonder he had such a big grin on his face come the end). Katie and Ciera were at least prepared for it. I tend to feel that Tyson wasn’t—certainly, I’m going to be curious to see how he reacts to Gervase when they get back to camp.

2 Bros + 1 Mom = Final 3

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Can the final 3 be anyone other than Gervase, Monica and Tyson?

There won’t be a rift there that Hayden can exploit though. One thing this episode seems to have settled is our final three, for how can it be anything but Tyson, Gervase and Monica now? Even if Gervase and Monica accept that Tyson stands to beat them, they can’t take Hayden or Ciera after that Tribal Council. The only possible alternative is if Laura returns from Redemption Island. Laura hasn’t made a great many social connections that we’ve seen, so the only argument she’s really got is her streak at Redemption Island. Monica and Gervase both have immunity wins under their belts, and they never got voted out.

If this doesn’t happen, and if Ciera and Hayden don’t win the right challenges to get themselves into the finals, then we’re looking at Tyson, Gervase and Monica, just the way those three have intended for weeks now. After this episode, I don’t see Gervase beating Tyson. He’s the Chelsea to Tyson’s Kim… if you want to reward the game they’ve played, you’re going to give the vote to Tyson.

It’s actually Monica who has the best argument against Tyson right now, though I’ve no idea if she’s planning on making it. If anybody asks her what her big move was, she can tell them it was putting herself at a disadvantage at the merge to reap the benefits at the endgame. The alliance she had been loyal to was turning on each other, and she had to pick a side. She could go with two pairs that she knew but who all had a stronger relationship with each other than with her; she could go with an alliance including three people she didn’t know at all but which contained Tyson, the person she trusted most with her endgame plans. She took the gamble, and found herself playing the role of low woman on the totem pole, obliged to hide her closeness to Tyson and Gervase, while still reinforcing that bond.

She can also argue a superior position to both Tyson and Gervase at different times. Compare the outcomes of her choices vs. Gervase’s when they won food rewards. As for Tyson, let the record show that Monica had him so firmly on side that he drew rocks for her. Of course, it’s all semantics, but that’s what Survivor is… slanting the story to favor yourself!

I don’t think Monica actually has a prayer of beating Tyson, but she should do. (Yes, I’m disagreeing with Boston Rob. He’s not got the final ruling on all things Survivor.) There are still question marks (such as why doesn’t anybody ever try to flip Monica?) that keep us from having a full picture of her game, but aside from the paranoia wobble for a few days after the merge, she’s done a good job of maintaining her poise and keeping her head in the zone.

By staying at the bottom of the Tadhana alliance and flipping on Galang only after that alliance had already ruptured, Monica’s not truly betrayed anybody, and unlike Tyson and Gervase, she kept her cool at the most recent Tribal Council instead of antagonizing future jurors. Despite the Coconut Bandit bond, Tyson revealed this week that Monica, not Gervase, is his strongest alliance. If the wrong person does win final immunity, it’s likely to be Gervase going home just shy of the finals. And, of course, she has the best immunity record of anybody in the game. (Thus far, though only Gervase would be able to beat her at this point.)

I still like Tyson’s game better than Monica’s, but I can’t help but feel that if Monica were a bro, she’d be getting more recognition for what she has achieved. Cultural biases being what they are, this is somewhat specious reasoning, since if Monica were a twenty-something male (or even a younger woman or an older male), she’d have had a very different relationship with the other players from the outset. Whether you’re a player or a viewer, you’re going to mentally file players into categories by age and gender, and you’re going to expect certain things from those categories.

Obviously, it’s entirely possible for an older woman to win Survivor (Exhibit A: Denise), but in this age of bro-dominated juries, I would posit that it is easier to be ‘good’ at Survivor if you’re a younger man. At any rate, as long as I feel a player is being dismissed unfairly, you can expect me to talk up their game.

There are three more Tribal Councils to get through before that final three, of course, and if Tribal Councils stay as crazy as they have done, we could yet be surprised. But we are running out of room for maneuver here, especially with the hidden immunity idol staying in Tyson’s hands. Still, even if everything is totally predictable from here on out (and between the editors and the promos, how will we notice the difference?) it’s been a fantastic season, and this Tribal Council made for a great cap to its surprises.

Even so, I would be perfectly happy if we didn’t see rocks again for another twenty-three seasons. I know many people will consider Katie no great loss if somebody had to get rocked out, but I was a little disappointed that after all the times she’s dodged the vote, it was the rock that took her out. It just doesn’t feel like a true torch-snuffing.

I fully agreed with John Cochran in South Pacific when he said that letting his fate be decided by a stupid rock was not Survivor. This is something that’s always up for debate among the Survivor community, but for me this is a show about using what resources you have to make the most of the hand that is dealt to you. Letting the vote go to rocks might be considered playing the odds, but it’s a cop-out from playing Survivor. (Compare to becoming the Author of Your Fate by quitting.)

This one time, I’ll let the rocks pass, because Hayden earned them. I don’t know what he can possibly do with his three extra days in the game, but I look forward to finding out.

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