SurvivorSurvivor: Blood vs Water

Individual Games – When Not to Hold Your Tongue

If last week’s Tribal Council was the point at which Gervase lost the game, then this week’s marked Monica’s defeat. All season long, we’ve been hearing about how Monica talks too much, and this episode Ciera referred to her as an emotional wreck… Yet every Tribal Council, Monica brings her poker face and is careful with her words. Often, this is a great asset in Survivor, but the jury have only about as much to go on with Monica as we do watching her confessional-less edit: what others are saying about her.

Vote-wise, she made the right choice, but it’s easy to get blinded by the vote in Survivor. The truth is that Tribal Council isn’t just about voting somebody off. It’s also about filling in the jury (by their proxy of Jeff) on what is happening in the game. A poker face is great in front of the people you’re still playing with, but the jury wants a window into your gameplan.

Due to the time crunch between episode and finale, I’ve not got a lot of time to expand on this so let’s get some extra tidbits out of the way before we jump straight into the scrambling. For simplicity’s sake, I will assume the obvious final three of Tyson, Monica and Gervase; if somebody else wins the final immunity, this could all be moot.

Miscellany first

e13-ri Tina and Katie aren’t the first pair to compete against each other at Redemption Island.[/caption]

Tina and Katie aren’t the first pair to compete against each other at Redemption Island, but they were the first to battle for that final safe spot and send the other one home. For the Doctors Cody, Candice fought it out with Brad; for the Brothers Baskauskas, Vytas beat Tina while Aras trailed hopelessly. However, with Laura charging through the challenge at her usual rate, Tina had to make a direct decision of whether to lay down her game for Katie or not. I’m so glad she didn’t, even if Katie had to tell her to go ahead. I liked both of them, but as a mother myself, I really didn’t want Tina to let Katie win.

It was the perfect challenge for such a decision. How much more symbolic was that pause at the gate, than putting in the last piece of a puzzle would have been?

Speaking of challenges, I was thinking it was great for Hayden to finally have a challenge where muscle and lung capacity were favored… and then we got to that puzzle. I loved the answer being: “You are going to have to dig deep.” Word puzzles are usually the easier ones, in Survivor, and a large part of that is because they have keywords like ‘council’, ‘immunity’, ‘tonight’, ‘final’… How many people did we see getting hung up on the word ‘vote’? The actual answer had none of those yet was an instantly recognizable Probstism.

Kudos to Ciera for pulling it out after struggling through the physical portion of the challenge (I always love the sheer exultation of the underdog who wins), yet as much as I loved the puzzle, it felt a little empty to have its difficulty negate the first part of the challenge. This isn’t something that ordinarily bothers me—Hayden and Tyson still got a massive headstart on the others, but in a season where Redemption Island ensures that so many challenges will be stationary, it would be nice to see more complex obstacle course style immunities that don’t necessarily end in a puzzle or throwing.

Finally, Hayden has an interesting clip where he reviews his relationship with Ciera, admitting that they’ve both tried to vote each other out before. From the timeline he gives, it sounds like she was trying to vote him out after the tribal swap. We know Hayden and Caleb told the Galang men that they would vote out Ciera. Did she do something similar, and did Tyson play the field by letting each side know of the other’s treachery?

Oddly, despite this background, Hayden assures the camera that they are the tightest two and the majority three has cracks. There’s something to be argued for the bond of desperation, but his assessment of the majority is wishful thinking. Those three have been together since the beginning, weathering storms from tribal swaps to drawing rocks. It’s going to be really, really hard to break those up.

We know he decided the crack was Monica, but I wonder what would have happened if they’d worked on Gervase? Gervase is getting edgy and losing his temper every time they talk about Tyson winning. He’s already blindsided his real life buddy to advance his game; he might have been provoked into another betrayal. I still think it’s unlikely, but he seems to have more possibilities than Monica three days after the Tribal Council where Ciera and Hayden both wrote her name down but Tyson went to rocks to save her.

Tyson’s Achilles’ Heel

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Tyson knows how to use this kind of badmouthing to bond with others.

I liked Hayden’s tactic of telling Monica what Tyson’s been saying behind her back, because this is going after one of Tyson’s greatest social weaknesses. Tyson knows how to use this kind of badmouthing to bond with others, but he should have taken more precautions against exposure. We never actually saw Tyson say any of these things, but it’s so plausible that it doesn’t matter if they’re true or not. Tyson is the kind of guy where that’s totally believable—I certainly believe he said them. Monica’s probably heard him say similarly atrocious things about the other players.

Where Hayden’s plan founders is that he was playing to the stereotype of the older woman and mom who will let moral scruples get between her and a million dollars for her family and/or the glory of victory. This is the third straight season that this has happened, and Monica hasn’t been anywhere near as conflicted as Lisa and Dawn were.

Take heed, Survivor contestants: these older women are here to play hard not nice. Monica was upset by the information he and Ciera brought her, but she didn’t let it sway her from her gameplan. Rather, she called their bluff: if having good people win really matters to them, they can vote for her over Tyson at the end.

For that matter, hurting somebody’s feelings in order to manipulate their vote isn’t moral either. Gervase rightly pointed out that Hayden and Ciera only respected Monica enough to warn her when they needed her vote. At the same time, Hayden and Ciera had to make this play right before Tribal Council, so the wound would be fresh. They didn’t want to give Monica time to grow hardened to the idea.

And that again is why doing this to Monica was a reach. She’s forty-three—that’s almost two full decades of life experience on Hayden and Ciera. Like all the players, she’s got a healthy dose of vanity and cares about her portrayal on television, but she’ll have dealt with cruel gossip before.

Ciera did a great pitch, but there was a transparency to her ‘woman to woman’ assurances, and the content she was feeding Monica was high school stuff. Monica hasn’t just lived through high school, she’s got kids in high school. Navigating them through this kind of gossip is probably all in the daily routine.

The episode had to keep things ambiguous, but in her secret scene, a clearly upset Monica vents by ripping Hayden and Ciera’s play to shreds in confessional. Ultimately, she recognizes that switching will just put her in Hayden and Ciera’s laps. The former is going to get all the votes at the end (probably true; nobody could beat Hayden at this point) and the latter will pull on heartstrings.

Meanwhile, this news plays into her own gameplan, which is to go to the end with two guys that nobody likes. This is not a totally unreasonable assessment… as I said last week, it’s only Hayden that’s been saying Tyson will win. Caleb called them out, Gervase has been antagonizing all the jurors every Tribal Council, and we know Tyson at least sent a parting shot across Katie’s bow.

There’s a lot of fire to Monica in that clip, and it’s a great argument for her game. The only problem is that it was to a camera, and none of the jury will have seen it until this week, six months after they cast their million dollar votes.

Hayden Seizes Control

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Hayden’s voice was the loudest at Tribal Council.

From what Ciera was saying, it sounds like Tyson was telling his Tadhana five that Monica was his puppy dog before the merge—this would make sense to assure them that they would have a majority against Aras. By doing this, he was shaping an image of Monica for them, perhaps one that was in keeping to how they envisioned Brad Culpepper’s wife: Monica was a pawn to be used (and one that Tyson had no emotional attachment to).

This also proves what I’ve been assuming, that Tyson and Monica had a sub-alliance before the Tribal Swap. Even though Laura’s return from Redemption Island meant that the Tadhana five didn’t need Monica for their majority, Tyson brought her on side anyway—loyalty to her, extra number for him… same difference. Since Monica had reason not to trust her original alliance, this was the most advantageous move for her, but she and Tyson (and Gervase) decided to play down their relationship.

The result of this was that everybody else saw Monica voting with them, just as Tyson had said she would, even though she had no safe alliance on that side. She became the ostensible bottomfeeder, adrift in a sea of pairs, scrambling to make a friend.

I don’t know how much of this was intentional strategy on Tyson’s part; like Corinne, he has few compunctions when it comes to snark anyway. Still, by the time he was ready to risk his own neck for Monica, Hayden and Ciera were ready to dismiss that as dragging her to the end because he knows he can beat her. For the record, saving a finals goat is a terrible reason to draw rocks.

Hayden may be a lone voice saying that Tyson will win, but his voice is the loudest at Tribal Council. Hayden’s greatest strength in this game is his smooth-talking; this is probably the main reason nobody wants him near the finals. Ciera had immunity this episode, but Gervase confirms that Hayden was their intended target all along.

Still, while Hayden can’t win the game unless he wins every challenge in the finale, his consolation prize is the game’s narrative. His assurances that Tyson will win are becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. The only answer Gervase has for him is that he’s a bad loser; Monica opts for graceful discretion.

Monica might feel that she’s letting facts speak for her, as has happened since Tina called her out for being on the bottom. But unless she’s planning to blindside Tyson (and she clearly isn’t) then that’s not applicable here. A poker face doesn’t let the jury know which gears are turning, and might give them the assumption that none are—her decision this week was perceived as inaction by Hayden, who concluded that she was the lapdog Tyson had advertised all along.

Nor can she save her case for the final Tribal Council. The jury can see where the game is going, just as we can, and I guarantee they’re now thinking about which of that final three they’d rather vote for. Come the actual night, they’ll be looking for the rationale for a decision they’ve already made and their questions will be couched accordingly. You don’t want to sway a jury at Final Tribal. You want them to be rooting for you to start with.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again and again and again… Take a leaf out of Sophie’s book, and perform at every Tribal Council from final seven onwards. Show the jury you understand what’s happening early.

Now, it’s entirely possible that Monica did unload her entire spiel then and there, and it was simply cut out for suspense purposes, but Monica’s default Tribal Council setting is impassive, and she’s been careful not to get into the confrontations with jurors that Gervase and Tyson have. The two men, however, have at least been active participants, though we can’t let Gervase off the hook either. He’s an intelligent man with a lot of insightful things to say about the game. He should be staying poised and making those observations calmly, not getting on the defensive and lashing out.

Tyson has been struggling to stay calm himself—we saw him lash out at Katie as she left, and he was struggling to rein himself in with Hayden when they got back to camp, but for the most part, he can take the discreet approach because he doesn’t need to counter Hayden’s words so much as make a display of faith in his allies. He hasn’t had the best finesse at Tribal Councils, but he’s maintained his image which is all he needs to do. In many ways, his game owes as much (or maybe more) to Sandra than to Boston Rob.

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Gervase should work on grace in the face of triumph.

So it is that Hayden’s decrying Monica as a lapdog, praising Tyson’s game to the skies and all but exchanging punches with Gervase. We’ve only seen a little bit of the jury’s opinions at Ponderosa, but they clearly don’t like the bad sportsmanship going on, with particular focus on Gervase, who, let’s face it, set the tone for that image himself, all the way back in the first episode. If Gervase plays again (and I so hope he does!), he should work on grace in the face of triumph. Tyson hasn’t been entirely gracious either, and had Hayden favored Monica out of the three, I believe this season would have a very different end. As it is, Tyson’s his guy, and while Hayden does not exactly like him now, he’s making it clear to the jury that out of these three, Tyson is the only acceptable vote.

Tyson’s got lucky that Hayden’s effectively campaigning for him, but it must be acknowledged that he fostered the image Hayden has of him. Tyson couldn’t beat Hayden before a jury, but the best move he’s made all season was in getting Hayden to respect him above his allies and final three of choice. (OK, that and getting Ciera on side. Literally carrying his family on his back in the first five minutes wasn’t a bad idea either.)

So let’s wrap it up until Sunday night. It seems a little spurious to predict the finale’s outcome now, so instead I’m going to give my own answer to Deb’s voicemail from this week’s podcast where she asked who would propose at the finale. There are so many factors to take into account here, but with everybody taking a leaf out of the Boston Rob rulebook these days, I’m going to say Gervase. Assuming my final three scenario, Gervase will ensure that one way or another, he’ll get the million by proposing to his fellow Coconut Bandit.

I can but hope that the happy couple will be gracing our screens in The Amazing Race 25.

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