First off, many congratulations to Rob and Nicole and a warm welcome to Dominic, the newest member of the RHAP family! While we’re analyzing blood vs. water, they’re getting acquainted with a full range of bodily fluids. Have fun, rest up and enjoy, Cesternino clan!
One of the things notable about this season of Survivor has been its spread of returning players. Unlike Caramoan, which confined itself to a ten season range (with six players coming from two consecutive seasons), Blood vs. Water has a cluster of One World (season twenty-four) players, with the rest originating in seasons one, two, seven, twelve, thirteen, eighteen, and nineteen. Popular online theory has always been that old school players will be at a disadvantage to new school ones. This season is going to put that to the test.
It won’t be a direct old school vs. new school showdown though as the power alliance in Galang has finally been revealed: Gervase, Tina, Aras, Tyson and Monica. That’s the full range of schools working together. Nevertheless, despite what the episodes would have us believe, this is not the only alliance on Galang, and it’s certainly not the first. The same applies to Tadhana, as it becomes clear that there are more dynamics at play than just the five guys. Of course, the actual game of Survivor being far too complicated to entirely explain in a TV show, we don’t have anything as convenient as a precise breakdown for either tribe. Chances are, none of the people who actually played do either.
We are the Allies who don’t Say Anything
We have received confirmation of one pre-game alliance via RC who appeared on EW’s Inside TV podcast this week. She tells us that, before the game, she had reached out to a number of people, just to break the ice, but she had a formal pact with the three One Worlders (and presumably their partners). I speculated on a One World alliance last week, and while we can’t be sure the others considered it as definitive as RC did, their other halves have obediently hooked up, and Monica and Kat’s confessionals on Colton have focused on their trust in him, which would not be an issue if there was no alliance—even Tina referred to an alliance with Colton in her secret scene. Not to mention Colton getting Monica’s word on whether or not he’s a target—there’s an alliance there.
So what happened to it? Monica’s got herself into the power alliance (which really speaks well for her networking, since she’s the new kid on the block while Aras, Tina and Gervase have all known each other for years), and my guess would be that she’ll choose that one over her One World alliance, if only because it’s so much more stable. It’s also clearly more in the line of her muscle alliance strategy. (I don’t know if we should credit Monica for that, since the best athletes of the tribe seem a natural fit for friendship anyway.)
There is at least one other alliance in play: Laura Boneham says in her secret scene that she’s in ‘a great alliance’ already. Obviously, we don’t know how she defines ‘great alliance’. She might just have one ally who she really, really likes. But seeing as she’s describing how her game is going well, it’s more likely she’s in a good-size voting bloc (one hopes, but should not presume, a majority) with people she feels comfortable with. It’s impossible to tell who’s in this alliance, but we have to be looking at the old-school players and older women as likely bets.
My personal theory is that the Don’t Say Anything alliance is simply the core of an already established majority, or perhaps the overlap between voting blocs. It’s a working relationship that’s grown organically as these people have got to know each other in-game, and Aras’ declaration of ‘final five’ was the first time it became official. In which case, this should be a very solid, mature alliance that, in absence of twists, would indeed stay strong until the final five. A tribal swap could put paid to that, and in this season, the merge could also prove problematic.
Or a Redemption Island swap. Tyson’s choice was thoroughly analyzed in Know It Alls, and I trust Stephen’s estimation of his challenge ability. Tyson has one of the best athletic builds for this game. If he does go to Redemption Island, he becomes the favorite to come back from it—with the eternal caveat that you never really know what a challenge will throw at you. Everybody’s got their weakness.
I tend to think he won’t switch, mostly because I’m not sure Rachel will go for it. She doesn’t seem so committed to the game that she’d ask Tyson to risk his spot just to let her have another go at getting into an alliance. However let’s just say he does… or if not now, another time. (We didn’t see it in episode, but Jeff Probst has confirmed that John and Laura were given the chance to swap with their loved ones again. It’s just not something that’s going to make the edit when the answer is a given.) Does his final five alliance take Rachel in, or should they be wary of trusting her?
It rather depends how that alliance views Tyson. Tina certainly didn’t trust him before the game started! If he’s not part of their long-term gameplan, but is a useful ally now because of his challenge-strength, then there seems little point in bringing in Rachel when they could just as easily replace him with a Laura.
Yet we’ve all noticed the budding bromance between Tyson and Aras. (Perhaps ‘budding’ isn’t the word, since it looks like Tyson’s already got to second base.) If they genuinely want Tyson to be in their final five (and they have to consider Tyson’s return to the game as a real option), sidelining his girlfriend—or worse, voting her off—isn’t going to go down well. On the other hand, after making a final five deal with Tyson, they hardly want to preserve his biggest reason to break that.
Of course, that’s the least of their problems.
Old School vs. Hantz School
At this point, I think the most charitable thing we can say about Colton is that he is not at his best when he’s hungry. As with last time, he went through an emotional stage for the first day or two, got his bearings and immediately started resenting everything and everybody. He wanted to play the game; they were all insisting they shouldn’t worry until they had lost their first immunity challenge.
Now, I am always of the opinion that waiting to play the game until you lose an immunity challenge is a terrible idea. However, we’ve already established that alliances have been forged. All you really need to do before that first challenge loss is to make sure that you’re safe. And, as Philippines showed, having a bootplan with no Tribal Council in sight is a great way to set a tribe on edge. On the flipside, playing too hard too fast isn’t good either. Nevertheless, Colton has always prided himself on his hostile takeover of his tribe in One World; he was determined to do the same thing here.
A couple of problems: Colton had a very specific set of circumstances in One World that allowed him to take control. Firstly, he was given an Immunity Idol. Secondly, he was on a tribe with several other fans of the show and game: Bill, Jonas, Matt, Michael, Tarzan, and Troyzan—all of whom fancied themselves as major players. This resulted in a split tribe with Matt’s faction and Troyzan’s faction vying for Colton’s swing vote. Furthermore, Jonas, at least, felt that since Colton had the idol, the best thing to do was to play along with him, keep him happy, and make his big move after the merge. (Whether he’d ever have succeeded, we’ll never know, but I always felt Jonas was the most realistic one of the bunch.)
At any rate, when Colton tried to apply his chaos-theory to the laid back massage circle of Galang, the results were less than dramatic. Aras simply told him he didn’t believe him. Gervase and Tyson, of all people, told him to be patient! Colton got a little desperate and told Tina that Gervase was willing to vote for Aras, something Tina knew full well was ridiculous. Tina also gave him no reaction when he pulled her into his private conversation with Kat. That move did succeed in reducing Kat to tears, but assuming Tina took the time to comfort her afterwards, the rift there would be between Kat and Colton, not Kat and Tina.
It wasn’t a total failure, as Tina had some doubt over whether she was up to modern day Survivor. She says in her secret scene he’s thinking seven steps ahead while she can barely think one. But she shrugs it off, noting that she can only play the way she can play, and that there are too many twists in the game to think too far ahead. This is one of the things I love about Survivor, that everybody has to play it their own way. Players certainly can plan long-range and be very successful, but Sandra’s dual wins proved that a reactive game, playing entirely in the moment, is also an excellent strategy. It depends on what comes more easily to the individual player.
Tyson had experience against the chaos-creating gameplay style in Heroes vs. Villains, and he pointed out to everybody that all they needed to do was to talk to each other about whatever Colton was saying. It’s such a simple approach that it rather flies in the face of modern Survivor strategy which is to be devious and circular at all times. But these are mostly old-school players, and certainly older ones. They aren’t twenty-something first-timers needing to prove something to their own ego; they are happy to play a low key game for now but they’re not going to bow to the histrionics of a chaos-driven young’un. The only person Colton succeeded in agitating was the one the same age as him: Kat.
Well, Kat and himself. It’s hard to tell from the cherry-picked scenes the edit gives us, but it looks to me like Colton gets a little bipolar on the island, swinging between paranoid depression and defensive egomania. We saw him fearfully asking Monica if he had become a target, but his secret scene shows a more disdainfully confident Colton (the editors’ favorite kind.) He proudly announces that if he does get voted out, he can get Caleb to switch with him and then take over the newbie tribe. (Personal prediction: if Galang vote out Colton, he’ll say it was his plan all along because he wanted to get hold of Tadhana.) From Colton’s other reactions, I doubt very much that he would find it so easy to ask Caleb to take his place; I don’t think he’s considering the ramifications of any of his statements so I’ll take them all with a grain of salt.
Regardless of how Colton feels at any given moment, he’s succeeded in sidelining himself. With Tadhana noticeably whittling down the women, Tina and Laura Morett are likely to start fearing for their daughters soon. From a purely emotional vantage, both mothers are proud of their children, and I can’t imagine they would like the idea of Colton (or even Kat) outlasting them. From a game point of view, Katie and Ciera make better potential allies than the volatile Colton. I don’t normally advocate throwing a challenge, but I’d find it hard to blame Galang (or be surprised) if they did.
Tadhana – Just when things are looking up…
Poor John can’t get a break. He finally comes to terms with Candice’s exile to Redemption Island, and she goes and gives him the clue to the hidden immunity idol. (Quick note here: from references in multiple secret scenes, it seems Candice could have given it to a group of people or an entire tribe rather than an individual.) Laura Morett couldn’t believe Candice would do that to her husband, she was so certain that Tadhana would all target John next (which tells us a lot about how Laura intends to handle idols this time around). Tyson was more tolerant, noting that it was a dumb move, but who else was she going to give it to? Candice confirmed that she felt there was more risk to John if somebody else had the clue and the idol. I agree that there wasn’t much choice here. It was a case of give it to John, or give it to John’s tribe, and it makes more sense to give it to John and let him decide who else sees it.
Tyson felt that if John was smart, he’d show it to his tribe anyway. John, however, chose not to. In retrospect, that’s not a huge surprise. The precedent he would be very familiar with was in Heroes vs. Villains when everybody knew Danielle had found a clue to the Hidden Immunity Idol. She took her whole alliance to look for it, Russell found it without anybody noticing and kept it for himself. That was the idol Russell later used to flip Candice and played unnecessarily. Danielle went home three Tribal Councils later.
The big difference between ‘sharing’ an idol with your allies and sharing the clue could be who ends up holding the idol. Unless you’re allied to Erik Reichenbach, you’re probably better off finding the idol first.
But if your allies know you have a clue, there’s a certain level of expectation there. Vytas tweeted: “Came back to camp waiting for John to discuss the clue with our alliance. His silence was quite telling…” Before the game, John felt that one of his problems would be that he was too open, too trusting. It appears he’s over-compensating. It doesn’t sound like his alliance tried asking him about the clue directly; this is one of the scenarios where that might have worked. I can see John’s thought processes going: “I’ll just keep quiet and hope nobody says anything.”
He’d have done far better to say something to the effect of: “I’ll share the idol with you guys, but I want to try finding it myself first.” It’s still not ideal, but he needed to put something out there rather than leave them hanging.
Just in case that wasn’t bad enough, he lost his secret ally, Rachel. The episode kind of danced around this issue, and John’s edit so far seems to be entirely focused through his feelings for another player rather than his actual game. (Now he has something else in common with his wife. I am going to have my traditional moan about somebody being reduced to a love interest—that person being male doesn’t make it OK!) However, Rachel (for whom the love interest edit would be a promotion) specifically described John as her ally in her secret scene.
Another of my traditional grumbles is that the edit tends to portray women only through their connections to male players. This season I can’t really fault the editors for the narrative that the players have forced on them. The dominant alliance on Tadhana is boys only, and their motivation in each boot is to make a statement to a male player on Galang. It’s not active sexism on any individual’s part (I do believe this point was reached via a cascade of internalized misogyny, but that’s a whole other debate), but until Jeff Probst figures out why he doesn’t see memorable women on the show, I will point out any time women don’t get a chance to be memorable.
Duly noted. Let’s move on.
New school vs. Vytas
While it’s been unfortunate for the female characters on Tadhana, you have to hand it to Vytas who is the only player actively making use of the Blood vs. Water twists. If we’re keeping score between old school and new school this season, Vytas is from the newest school of all. Last week, I speculated that he used Gervase as an excuse to get a target on Marissa—perhaps to keep it off Katie. This week, I’m inclined to believe he did the exact same thing.
Of course, as Vytas himself tweeted, the logic he presented to his allies was sound. (Despite his insistence on voting off the likeable people, Vytas wins my undying gratitude for these helpful tweets.) I’m not convinced that Tyson would switch, and game precedent so far is against switching, but it’s still worth a try. The biggest danger is if Galang retaliate in kind (especially since I’d say Brad and Caleb are the players left in the game who are most likely to swap). Yet it’s also very convenient that by targeting Tyson, Vytas gets to test John’s loyalties which have been in doubt since he kept his clue to himself.
The moment John demurred on the Rachel vote, Vytas’ fears were confirmed. Would it have been better for John to admit that he was nervous about putting Tyson up against Candice? It’s still not showing total commitment to his alliance, but it’s a perfectly understandable reaction and one Brad would likely have sympathized with. Sometimes it’s good to play the game with your heart on your sleeve, as people are less inclined to suspect you later. As it stands, although John has passed the test by voting Rachel off, it’s likely his allies will be treating him with caution, unless he has a heart to heart with them soon.
There is another way in which Vytas might have benefited from the Rachel vote: it protected what looks like a potential secondary alliance. Before the vote, we see Vytas and Hayden discussing it with Katie and Ciera. This isn’t a case of one guy passing on a message of who to vote for, this is two guys actively asking the girls for their input.
Last week, I was trying to work out if Katie was approaching anybody for her planned alliance of players who will go against their loved ones. In the picture at the top of this article, she’s fist-bumping Ciera—or maybe even pinky-swearing. Both girls are close in age and here with their mothers, so they would be a natural fit for an alliance. Ciera’s alertness to Rachel’s alliance and paranoia that John might save her suggest that Laura Morett’s daughter wants to play as hard as her mother; getting herself an alliance is only to be expected!
Hayden was not somebody I expected Katie to be interested in, but he is also in his mid-twenties and agreed with Kat pre-game that they would both flirt for the sake of strategy. In his secret scene, he points out that unlike the other couples, he and Kat don’t share a bank account, and I wonder if this is something he’s been letting other people know.
So Katie’s potentially gathered an alliance of four solo-players (or four players asserting they’ll fly solo), and Brad has an alliance of five. There are now seven people left in that tribe; you only need four for a majority. (Or, to put it in Brad-terms: Four with seven means IN!)
The problem here is that we’ve officially run out of outsiders. With everybody wary of John, Vytas and Hayden might be able to convince Brad that they can safely boot him now. True, four won’t be a majority after the merge, but Brad’s no doubt planning on merging with Monica’s alliance at that point anyway. For Katie and Ciera, the lack of a post-merge majority might be more of a problem, as Vytas and Hayden have less impetus to stick with them—except as players who won’t be targeted as challenge threats and who aren’t married to their partners, Katie and Ciera might be considered better post-merge allies anyway.
We can go round and round the carousel of hypothetical scenarios, but it really depends where Vytas and Hayden choose to stop. For now, I’ll just make note of the fact that Katie wasn’t targeted this episode. She said she did the barrel portion of the challenge because nobody else wanted to do it, so she hoped it would raise her stock. If that’s her focus at the moment, I’d say she’s succeeding. I would put money on Ciera going before Katie—and there’s a decent chance they can break the guys’ alliance before that happens.
The plot thickens, and so does the water
Of all the alliances currently in play, it’s only the Tadhana guys’ day one alliance that could incorporate their partners post-merge (becoming the One World plus extras alliance). The power alliance on Galang actively made a final five pact that excluded their loved ones.
The fact that it was Aras who brought up ‘final five’ was particularly striking. In his secret scene from last week, Aras started by observing that he’d been able to get through Exile Island lying less than he would have done outside the game, and he planned to try and do the same this time. He ended by saying that he had no plans to turn on Vytas. This episode has made those statements contradictory. He could be lying about ‘final five’ but it’s an unnecessary lie. He didn’t have to be the one who said it. Alternatively he’s decided that sixth place is fulfilment enough of his fraternal duty.
Or perhaps, five days into the game with their tribes, all the players are getting distracted. Kat commented on how she spent four days thinking of herself and described her guilt ahead of the Redemption Island duel when she realized she had not been worrying about Hayden. Vytas himself noted that he was loving his tribe and hating his brother more as the game went on (mostly spurred by challenge losses.) It appears that it is surprisingly easy to forget about your relative once you’re busy playing the actual game.
At the merge, when players find themselves reunited with their loved one, it looks like the blood vs. water theme will come into its own. Will players honor the agreements they incautiously made with their friends, or will they save their relative at their allies’ expense? How sympathetic can those allies be if they have already lost their partner? A tribal swap might answer those questions sooner, but the Water side of the season’s title should still have a couple of episodes to strengthen its bonds. This particular contest might not be the no-brainer that we thought.