SurvivorSurvivor: Blood vs Water

Individual Games – Writing the Playbook

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This season has created a game unlike any Survivor before it, and it has been fascinating to watch the players figure out the best way to make use of the elements introduced this season. Yet the boldest move of the episode was one that could have been made in any Survivor season, and the most surprising thing about it was that it hadn’t been done before. A paranoid Caleb pulled in outsiders, Katie and Ciera, to take out the head of the tribe, Brad. Nobody went into that Tribal Council expecting to write Brad’s name down, yet Brad’s torch was snuffed, all because Caleb dared to have a voting discussion in front of Jeff Probst.

We do have a few precedents which come close: in Fiji Alex made it clear to his allies that he would be voting for Michelle, and there was Caramoan’s infamous Three Immune Amigos tribal council where Phillip went home. But Caleb’s approach was far more direct and simple—and it very nearly didn’t happen. Jeff explained to Entertainment Weekly that Caleb decided he would come out with it if Jeff asked him just one more question… and Jeff unwittingly did. Nobody expected it; Vytas tweeted that he had been sure Ciera was going home, and the women must have been hoping for Caleb at best.

Through one spontaneous decision, the whole dynamics of the tribe changed.

A blurred line between friendships and alliances

If you’ve been reading this column for the past few weeks, you’ll know my pet theory that Hayden, Vytas, Ciera and Katie were all in an alliance. Considering how Vytas and Hayden tried their best to get rid of Ciera this week, that seems to put paid to my hope that they and the women were the true power in the tribe. Of course, believing in a secret power alliance that is really running the show is a rookie mistake and I apologize for making it.

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That said, I can’t drop the theory altogether. As I said last week, if Hayden is comfortable enough with this foursome to talk about turning against Brad, then he has to have reason to trust them. Otherwise, Ciera and Katie would be going to Brad with: “Before you think about voting one of us off, just bear in mind that Hayden was campaigning for your boot!” Perhaps they should have done that anyway—for all we know, maybe they did and Brad didn’t believe them. The fact remains, you don’t talk about turning against the head of the tribe if you don’t trust the people you’re with not to go bearing tales.

Or, if you’re Caleb, you talk about turning against him publicly, so there’s no need for anybody to keep it a secret. Stephen Fishbach, on Know It Alls, made the excellent point that Caleb’s move might have endeared him to the two women but it’s probably broken his trust with Hayden and Vytas. He succeeded in his play, but that doesn’t mean it was a good one. Surprisingly, Caleb even has a secret scene where he says he would love to keep Brad around to the merge, because he knows everybody will be gunning for him instead of Caleb. Throwing that away for some ill-founded paranoia seems like a huge mistake!

However, Caleb has another secret scene this week which provides an extra insight into his motivations, for it turns out he’s very close to Ciera. The combination of Ciera and Caleb on the same tribe seemed designed to provoke controversy, considering Ciera’s political stance. However, they both come from conservative, rural backgrounds, and have more in common than otherwise. Both are used to dealing with prejudice—for Caleb, it’s his sexuality; for Ciera, her teenage pregnancy. Because of this, Caleb was unconcerned by Ciera’s initial shock on discovering he was Colton’s fiancé rather than his brother, and he admires how she’s struggled through with a child, since his mother had a similar experience.

We know from a confessional of Ciera’s, two weeks ago, that she had sufficient respect for Caleb to question her own views on gay marriage. There’s no suggestion that either of them ever made an official alliance with the other, but there’s a definite friendship between this pair, and on Survivor, friendships are a great lead-in to an alliance.

It’s hardly surprising that Caleb was reluctant to vote out somebody he was so close to. (Perhaps had it been Katie on the chopping block, he’d have kept quiet?) Besides, if Laura Morett had been as angry about her loved ones vote off as Gervase, Tyson and Candice had been, who’s to say that Brad wouldn’t have voted Caleb off to give himself a break for one duel?

One way of looking at the post-tribal situation is that since Vytas and Hayden wrote Ciera’s name down, there will be a rift between her and them. Caleb just reinforced his friendship with Ciera by saving her backside and allied with both women by default once he brought them into his vote; Caleb also still has his alliance with the guys. This does, indeed, put Caleb at the core of the tribe, connected to both factions and able to decide which way the vote will go next Tribal Council.

But that brings us right back to my pet theory of Hayden, Vytas, Ciera and Katie being in an alliance which excludes Caleb. Considering Vytas and Hayden were ready to vote Ciera out this week (and that Vytas had felt John’s boot was too early last week), it’s clear that this alliance would be secondary to the five guys alliance. Possibly they intended to go to the merge with the guys but were keeping the women on side with a view towards using their votes to seize control at the endgame.

That kind of strategy assumes you’re in the majority at the merge, so it would make sense to cut Ciera loose before Brad, Caleb or John. Now they’re down to five, do they keep focusing on challenge-strength, do they start planning for entering the merge with a minority or have they reached the point of every man for himself?

I’d love to know a little more about Katie’s viewpoint here. Did Hayden and Vytas alert her to how the vote was going down, or was she told to vote for Caleb? Caleb made it clear he was closer to Ciera than Katie; has Katie noticed this, and how happy is she to let Ciera have this connection? Both women have been working together to save each other’s backsides, but it’s Ciera’s name that’s been coming up, not Katie’s. If Caleb is going to be calling the votes, that puts Katie on the chopping block ahead of Ciera. Yet, considering Katie’s pre-game strategy, does Caleb’s solo status make him a more attractive ally?

Meanwhile, Hayden and Vytas were not at all happy about the situation they were put in. While the women were willing to stick with their vote, knowing how vulnerable they were, Hayden and Vytas were in a much more secure position on the tribe. Exchanging that for a 25% chance of being booted was not worth it.(Vytas confirmed that in the case of a second tie, Ciera and Brad would have been safe, but Katie, Caleb, Hayden and Vytas would all have had to draw rocks to see whose torch was snuffed.) I’m more surprised that Hayden wrote down Ciera again than that Vytas switched!

Caleb might expect that Hayden and Vytas have no choice but to work with him, but either way, the pair have to mend a bridge. They can choose whether it’s the one Caleb burned with them, or the one they burned with Ciera—and Katie might just be willing to help them with the latter. Going with Caleb will mean more challenge strength and a guy who has no loved one to flip to, but Caleb would always be the connecting point between them and Katie/Ciera. Going with the women gives them an alliance where they have equal footing with the other members, and potentially more sway with Galang—but Katie and Ciera might never trust them fully again.

In an ideal world, Hayden and Vytas could keep their options open, but short of a tribe swap, I don’t see how these two can put off their decision more than three days. It’s also entirely possible that the decision will be taken out of their hands if the women and Caleb decide they’re going to stick together and use Hayden and Vytas as their buffer while they pray for a merge.

Cody vs. Culpepper vs. Galang

It’s time to look back at how Tadhana found themselves in this chaos, namely Rachel’s decision to stir the pot from Redemption Island. On that occasion, Candice apparently refrained from commentary, but if Brad thought she would be equally reserved after John’s vote-out, he was much mistaken. It’s the one way she can involve herself in the actual game.

Candice and Marissa were probably ready to continue the FUBC campaign no matter who had walked into camp, but once John showed up on their doorstep, the game was on. Marissa’s secret scene shows both women coaching John for his own tirade against Brad, Candice explaining that he’s got fifteen to thirty seconds to get his point across and Marissa reminding him that he has no obligation to the people who voted him out.

The women don’t have the best candidate to work with. Near the start of the scene, John delivers the quietest, most sorrowful FUBC of the season. Handily, Candice has had practice in getting verbally aggressive, both in Cook Islands when she called Jonathan a rat for his betrayal and in Heroes vs Villains when she smacked down Parvati’s final tribal argument by comparing her alliance with Russell to an abusive relationship. She entered the arena fully prepared to make the most of her fifteen to thirty seconds.

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Brad was ready for more abuse.

This time, Brad was also ready: he made no reaction to Candice’s initial rant and toned down his other responses. (Though, clearly, “You made a wrong decision in trusting me,” was a poor choice of words.) The end result was damaging for Brad’s image, but probably worse for Candice’s. Laura Morett was baffled that a three-time player didn’t understand that she was basing her opinion on information from players bitter about their vote off.

Laura’s observation overlooks the fact that Candice only got involved when her husband got voted off, so her bitterness is understandable and hardly unprecedented. However, unlike Gervase and Tyson, she’s not venting from the security of an alliance and friendships with other players. (Nor is she fettered by a relationship with Monica.) This outburst has been significant in the other players’ estimations of her, and Candice should have been aware of that.

Perhaps she was. The environment of Heroes vs. Villains, which prompted her controversial final tribal response to Parvati, was a touchy one for women. After the merge, almost every female player spent half their confessional time insisting that in their real life they would stand up to the men, but here they had to shut up and take it for the sake of their game; the other half of their confessionals was spent complaining that the other women let the men walk all over them. (Disclaimer: this irritated me so much that it probably didn’t happen nearly as often as I remember, but it certainly was an ongoing theme.) By visibly standing up to Russell’s bullying tactics, Sandra built up a strong reputation which contributed to her victory.

Considering the limited information we see, it’s hard to say that Candice is not achieving the same effect. Perhaps Tyson and Gervase raised a coconut to her in private. Perhaps Katie and Ciera are thinking that they want to be in Candice’s gang. Certainly, should she get to the end, nobody can question Candice’s dynamism in the game. Should she get there.

If I were to guess from the comfort of my sofa (which is frankly the entire MO of this blog), I’d say Candice crossed the line when she brought Monica into it. Giving her the idol clue was a deliberate attack on Monica as well as Brad, and the little “Doing as she’s told,” jibe made it personal. I don’t agree with all of Linda Holmes’ blog on sexism and Survivor but I do agree that Candice was actually following up Jeff’s dig at John for obeying her. Regardless, Caleb didn’t take it that way, and Monica and her friends certainly won’t. Last week, Monica was hoping for the chance to write Marissa’s name down. She’s bound to want to extend Candice the same courtesy, and as it stands, Monica is part of the biggest alliance in the game. Making such an obvious play against Monica might have done irreparable damage to both Codys’ games.

Candice has had a decidedly mixed social history on Survivor. Everybody loved her in Cook Islands (if none quite so literally as Billy Garcia); even when she mutinied, nobody on Raro wanted to vote her off, and while her alliance with the Aitu Four ended in vendetta, they made it up after the game. In Heroes vs. Villains she had entirely the opposite effect.

This season, Rupert didn’t care for her, but Marissa was doing her level best to replace John in Candice’s affections. I can’t figure out whether Candice has social magic or not to work on the merged tribe in the event of returning, but right now, I think she’s got an uphill battle. We can give her actions a pass this week, owing to the emotions of John’s vote-off, but she needs to get her head back into the game soon and start currying favor rather than burning bridges.

John hasn’t been helped by all this either, should he be the one returning from Redemption Island. Mostly though, this past episode made me wonder if he’s really got the heart to keep playing the game. In the Cody secret scenes, John accurately noted that nobody lasts long after returning from Redemption Island; Candice declared that winning would make the perfect ending to the story they’ll tell their kids someday. John’s might be the most realistic view by far, but Candice is the one who’s still got her eyes on the prize, so if they get the choice, I’d say they should be putting Candice back into the game.

John had a rough introduction to Survivor—on another season, he could likely have kept his head down and pulled his weight in challenges while getting to grips with the socio-strategic game. Instead, he got a knock to his self-esteem. That said, he looked positively delighted at the chance to do an individual challenge where nobody else could drag him down. Full marks to him on pulling out the win in that—looks like Tadhana should have been putting John on the puzzles all along.

With Brad (who is used to heat and high pressure) now joining them in the arena, I don’t like to make any guesses as to who will be winning the next few challenges. There’s part of me that hopes Candice and John get to continue their Blue Lagoon experience, but another part of me would love to know how Brad and Candice would fare together (and here I thought nothing would be more awkward than Candice and Rupert). Ironically, the best thing for Candice’s game right now would be for her and Brad to make their peace with each other on Redemption Island.

It wouldn’t hurt Brad either. For the record, I don’t think there’s a chance of Brad letting Monica switch places with him at Redemption Island. Partly because Brad comes across as the fight-my-own-battles type, partly because I think he’s too protective of Monica to risk her at Redemption Island… and mostly because, in that particular relationship, Survivor is Monica’s thing. It’s not like Rupert or Candice who might have felt it was their loved ones’ turn to play. Brad’s had his football and has known success with that; Monica had some bad luck her first time in Survivor and didn’t get the chance to see the merge and jury.

This time, Monica’s got herself into position to go far into the game, and it would, in the long run, be a big deal for her to sacrifice that for the sake of letting Brad have the glory again. I think Brad understands that she’s their primary player—for all that Monica took his orders on burning the clue, Brad made it clear in the first episode that he was following Monica’s advice in the game.

So Brad will stay at Redemption Island and could prove an upset for the Doctors Cody. I’d say Candice or John has a better chance of coming back into the game, based on the skillsets they’ve proven in challenges, but I won’t write Brad off yet. Like them, he’s going to have some image control if he gets back into it—no matter how much Galang might like Monica, I think they’d have to be wary of Brad. On the other hand, I bet any surviving Tadhanas would realign with Brad like a shot at the merge with no harm done to his standing among them.

It’s Monica whose game has been hurt more. (Well, aside from the whole one-challenge-loss-and-game-over thing.) She’s continuing to struggle with Brad’s treatment at the Redemption Island duels, and her need to defend him to the rest of her tribe probably isn’t doing him any favors. Human nature being what it is, it’s hard to hear that somebody you don’t know is working harder and better than your loved ones without automatically loathing him.

Serious plaudits go to Gervase here who gently tried to explain to her that the Brad Culpepper she knows and loves in the real world is not the Brad Culpepper that Tadhana are coming to know in the game. Gervase has as much reason as anybody to be bitter against Brad, but he’s taking it in stride, much as he does everything else in this game.

The other issue Galang might have with Monica is the clue for the hidden immunity idol. Burning it in the fire was a great way to score points off Candice, but I wonder how many players on Galang were really happy to see the clue go up in smoke? I’m sure somebody in Monica’s alliance would like to know the idol is on their side, but I can guarantee that at least one person on Galang would like to find the idol. If somebody accepts it now, they’re going to have twice the target on their back because Monica’s set this precedent. Real Galang players burn clues.

It’s possible that the no-strategy strategy of the power players on Galang might fit more comfortably with leaving the idol unfound, but that could put them at a disadvantage against Tadhana. (Hayden, at least, is actively looking for it with the clues they know.) My hope is that Galang or its power alliance convened after that duel and agreed on the policy for idol clues going forward. Mind you, I also think it would be hysterical if nobody accepted an idol clue for the rest of the game, leading production to go to increasingly desperate lengths to get these idols found.

Final question: Why on earth did John not reveal that Brad knew all the clues to the idol? Perhaps, seeing as Brad was voted off without finding it, the edit cut it out, but it seems like a such an obvious way to get a target on his back (John didn’t know Brad had already told the others), that I’m stunned it didn’t come up.

The Rise of the Coconut Bandits

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Kat has no idea what’s going on with the tribe or where she stands in it.

Seven days in, it’s still not clear what the hierarchy is on Galang. Yet it’s not a total surprise that Kat has no idea what’s going on with the tribe or where she stands in it. That’s virtually a confirmation that she’s at the bottom, even if it doesn’t look like she’ll be in any danger short of a double tribal council. The two Lauras are also supposedly adrift of the main alliance, but they are so at ease that they must have reason to feel safe.

Can I take a moment to express my frustration that in a tribe with such a different demographic from the norm, we’ve barely heard the older women say two words to each other? Especially considering that same demographic is probably contributing to the laid back atmosphere at the tribe.

At any rate, we have already talked about the convoluted alliance and friendship layers of Tadhana and it seems likely that Galang is the same way. Vitally, for a tribe who has yet to make their first trip to Tribal Council, there are no obvious cracks, save for a single acknowledgment that Aras and Vytas together would be a dangerous combination. Unlike tribes of seasons past, Galang seems to be thriving on its string of victories.

We did get to see a new sub-alliance this week, if only for its comedic value. While their coconut crab scam is fraught with island ethical issues, the illicit rush has, no doubt, stimulated the pair’s relationship. Gervase and Tyson have just become the season’s best showmance since Marissa staked her claim as Candice’s big spoon. (Sorry Arson, you’re coming a distant third.) The loss of their loved ones sealed the deal, but in personality, these two jokers are a natural fit for each other. I don’t think we’re going to see them buddying up with Laura Boneham over the loss of Rupert.

Instead the absent loved ones gives a pointer for how the game dynamic between these two will work. In the Don’t Say Anything alliance, they’re the only ones who have lost their partners (though Monica is on the verge of joining that club). While the agreement in this alliance was final five, they must all be aware of their counterparts on Galang. When everybody else in their alliance has a potential vote in their back pocket, ready for the endgame, Tyson and Gervase are disadvantaged. Forming their own voting bloc acts as compensation, though as the numbers on Tadhana drop, they’ll have less motivation to stick together.

It was another mixed episode for Tyson. His shoulder seems to be getting better which is good, but by taking an active role in every part of the challenge with only one arm, surely he makes himself an even bigger physical threat? Perhaps his plan is to play up his injury until the end-game, and then throw off the sling and go on an immunity tear. Whatever happens, the players have got to be thinking of the underdog story that the one-armed handicap gives him for the final Tribal Council. Even so, he’s keeping his focus, and despite choosing him almost at random, I’m feeling pretty good about my pre-season pick to win!

One issue I am about to close the book on is the temptation for Galang to throw challenges. Colton quit, so they’ve lost the one person who was causing trouble at camp, and everybody with loved ones on Tadhana seems to have come to terms with competing against them. In Entertainment Weekly’s deleted scene, Tina says that she thinks Katie must be in a strong alliance if she’s still there. I wouldn’t be surprised if everybody has convinced themselves of that by this point. It will be interesting to see if Brad’s exit shakes anybody’s conviction, but I’m guessing not. Even if Kat or Aras suddenly panic that Vytas and Hayden could be in danger, Tyson, Gervase, Monica and Laura Boneham are all motivated to keep winning. It’s difficult to imagine a challenge where at least one of those four would not be involved in each stage.

I suspect the unspoken thought around the Galang campfire is that it’s easier to weaken a threat by annihilating Tadhana and their loved ones than it is to go against them directly. Gervase and Tyson may be wary of Aras, but with any luck, Vytas will be voted off before the merge anyway, saving them any strain on their alliance. Certainly, at the rate we’re going, we could be looking at only a couple of players being reunited with their loved ones (or even less if Candice returns from Redemption Island and Caleb doesn’t get voted out).

That would be a terribly anticlimactic end to the Blood vs. Water concept. We’ve got enough players that we should still get plenty of excitement, but it will leave a number of issues unexplored. Yet again, I’m left imploring the producers to find a way to stop the Ulonging! At least the players themselves are attacking the game with vigor. It may be too early to say how smart they’re playing, but they’re playing hard (which isn’t necessarily the wrong thing), and for the entertainment that that’s bringing us, I thank them!

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