Mothers are a demographic often dismissed by the other players in Survivor, but this week, the remaining Blood vs. Water mothers put forth a showing to give their tribemates pause for thought. From Tina and Monica’s challenge performances to Laura and Ciera’s painful acceptance that they could not continue as a pair (not to mention Laura’s shadowing of Katie’s idol-hunt), the Moms got to rule the game for just a few days, while the Bros offered the cameras little more than some raised eyebrows.
Of course, as we all know, what makes for good television doesn’t always make for good gameplay. The mothers have shown their mettle, but at the end of the day, it was a mother who laid down her torch.
Survivor MatricideLaura wants nothing more than for Ciera to succeed.[/caption]
On the big moment of the episode, that moment when Ciera votes off her own mother, I am in agreement with Lisa Ferreira’s take. I would vote off my mother (I’d never hear the end of it, but I’d still do it), and I would absolutely forgive one of my own children for voting me off. Laura puts it perfectly in her secret scene when she says she wants nothing more than for Ciera to succeed.
The natural follow up question is: Would I vote my own child off assuming the situation warranted it? I can’t give my absolute answer on this as both of my children are under five and the relationship I’ll have with them in their twenties will be completely different. I’d like to say I would, but perhaps I’d find that I couldn’t. I certainly don’t feel nearly as sanguine about it as I do about my own hypothetical vote-off at their hands.
Of course, the real crux of the matter here is what situation warrants that kind of gameplay? Ciera’s point of view was that her mother couldn’t win the game unless she went on an immunity streak, but she, Ciera, could fly under the radar and make herself the final five swing-vote—provided she could escape the target of being a pair. This is the definitive case for sacrificing your loved one: you’re in the minority, one of you will be voted off sooner rather than later, and it’s clear that one person has a better shot of winning. To me, that absolutely makes sense, and I’d lay down my torch for my child every time.
All that said, I don’t share Ciera’s view of their circumstances—I was in full agreement with Laura when she asked Ciera if she could win when she got to the end. Of the two, I think Laura is more likely to win jury votes, just because of her underdog battle; as I said last week, if Ciera wants to get to the end and win, she needs to create a new alliance, not just try and be the swing for the current one.
Yet whether I agreed or not, that conversation was one of the most original scenes we’ve had on Survivor for a long time. The edit gave us plenty of warning that Ciera would vote against her mother, but I never expected Ciera to explain her plan to her. Again, this is where the blood vs. water theme comes into its own, because we would never have seen that otherwise.
It was reminiscent of other close alliances like Yul and Becky or Cochran and Dawn, where they were comfortable enough with each other to discuss strategies for how one of them could win at the final Tribal Council. Discussing voting the other one off at some point in the future breaks new ground though. Paradoxically, to achieve that level of calmly logical anticipation requires a strong emotional bond.
Equally, this is why it made no sense for Ciera not to vote for her mother, once everybody else in the tribe was doing so. She’d already told her mother she would vote her off, and she knew her mother would forgive her. She hadn’t had that conversation with Katie—in fact, she’d told Katie she was trying to help her. While we know from last week that Ciera is not keen on playing with Katie going forward, she doesn’t need to burn that bridge either.
I should also note, I’m not convinced that she blindsided her mother either. Tyson intended it to be a blindside: According to Vytas, Laura asked him to prove she wasn’t going home by letting her wear his jeans to Tribal Council, and sure enough she got voted out while wearing them. But Laura’s final words, and her demeanor at Tribal Council do not indicate a true blindside, and I would not be surprised if Ciera tipped her off.
Regardless of the strategy behind all this, I loved the whole sequence. But we do also have to look at the strategy behind it; that’s kind of the whole point of this column. I said last week that Ciera should put together an alliance of old Tadhana plus Laura, because she would be the lynchpin. This week, she stated on Twitter that she initially approached Hayden and Caleb about turning on Tyson, but they didn’t trust her mother.
NB: Stephen suggested on Know It Alls that we can’t really trust what players tweet after the fact. I personally doubt Ciera would lie about approaching somebody. If she was saying: “I knew Hayden and Caleb wouldn’t trust my Mom,” that could be muddled memory, influenced by retrospect. If she claimed to have had a conversation that never happened, chances are high that Hayden and Caleb would call her out for it. (See also: Tyson and Aras’ reactions to Gervase’s claims that he threw the first swimming challenge.)
Bro vs. Bro – Not just for Red I
While voting Laura off may or may not have been solid strategy for Ciera, it definitely worked out for Hayden and Caleb who seem to have been looking for a reason to vote somebody other than Katie off anyway. Hayden implies in his secret scene that he would prefer to vote Monica off before Katie, and Caleb makes it clear that he wants to start breaking down the alliance of seven without waiting for Katie to be voted off. (I have no idea how this fits in with his in-episode confessional that Katie needs to go next. Was this edited out of sequence or did he change his mind between the duel and the immunity challenge?)
Please note, neither of them seemed interested in working with Katie, so, despite the previews, I’m dubious that Hayden and Caleb have been planning all along to use Katie’s vote to turn against Tyson. At the time of this episode, they might just be a little antsy about their position and want some confirmation that the next few votes will go the way they’ve been planning.
Last week, I observed that if Hayden and Caleb put together an Old Tadhana alliance, they would be ceding a lot of power to Ciera. However, with Laura gone, that potential alliance becomes more evenly balanced. Ciera might be closer to Katie than either of the men, but Hayden and Caleb are probably the tighter pair in game, and they can expect Ciera to agree to a final three with them while Katie finishes fourth. If nothing else, you have to think Katie will pitch the alliance to them.
So, if anything, I would say Tyson made the bigger mistake in pushing for Laura’s vote. Is this his short attention span again? He was twitching to vote off Aras before the merge. Since Aras’ blindside, there have been two straightforward, no game-change votes… If Hayden and Caleb were itching to get onto the next stage of the game, then we have to assume Tyson was as well.
But up until this point, Tyson and Gervase could keep a rift between Hayden/Caleb and Ciera by talking up the threat of loved one pairs. Remember before the merge when Gervase pointed out that Vytas was taking up one spot in Aras’ final four that the other guys could never have? Same logic applied to Ciera. While her mother was still in the game, she only had one available spot in her final three.
(NB: Katie kept making reference to a final two. It might be that she defaults to old-school thinking, but perhaps the players have speculated that the blood vs. water format could be leading to a final two. In that case, pairs become even more of a threat!)
Now Hayden and Caleb have lost the biggest reason against reuniting the original Tadhana. Not only that, but Tyson pushed hard enough for her vote to over-rule Ciera’s play to keep Laura for another three days, tipping his hand as a serious player. Would it have been better to fold, to let Ciera have a moment of power while he retreated innocently to the shadows? After Ciera’s sudden proof that she has serious game to her, it would have been easy enough to spread further paranoia about her and her mother by the time of the next Tribal Council.
Instead, Tyson’s leadership style has moved from figurehead to decision maker, and right before that danger time of final seven. He’s got his idol as insurance, but the idea is not to need it! Previews being what they usually are, I don’t suppose he’s really in trouble, but in absence of any reason for Laura to go this early, I don’t like the move. Katie’s best value is as a vote for sale, and she will come cheaper to her original tribe. Sitting tight and sending her home seemed to be the better option.
Similarly, this is bad for Gervase and Monica, though Monica should at least have a better relationship with Katie than Laura, seeing as she was in an alliance with the former, while Aras reported that she and Tina never trusted the latter. Gervase, the self-styled Teflon Don, is certainly playing an active supporting role in Tyson’s game, but he’s not been pushing the votes. If Tyson gets voted off, could Gervase still fall back to a final three with Hayden and Caleb?
The other wrinkle in the hierarchy is the idol. By claiming she has it, Ciera has effectively stopped Katie looking for it, but the rest of the tribe are still assuming it’s out there. That in itself might have been reason enough for people not named Tyson to vote Laura out before she could find it.
Twitter conversations revealed that Ciera actually went a step further than that and went through Katie’s bag to read the clue for herself. She might not have been the only one. Tyson notes in his secret scene that the digging at the site is getting to some really hard, compact earth by now, and he’s not sure when everybody will decide that somebody has found it.
Last week, I wondered if Tyson would tell a few people before they got to that point, since now the clue is so specific. From his reaction this week, I’m guessing not. Generally speaking, it’s unusual for players to get to the point of idol invalidation without anybody knowing they have it, and even if they do, they usually play it then. Sandra played hers, while Kim kept her idol secret until after the lights had gone up at the final Tribal Council.
Tyson might need to play his before final five at the rate he’s going, but if he does stick it out past then, I think he should anticipate Rob’s recommendation to bring it out in his final arguments. When it comes to a Tribal Council reveal, players always appreciate a few theatrics, and if anybody can ham up the big reveal, it’s Tyson. (OK, Gervase could also do an excellent job, but he’s missed the boat on that one.)
This season, the idol has been such a mystery (one never found and the other’s general location searched by so many players for so long) that it’s going to be one of the major questions for the jurors. If anything was going to tip an undecided juror, it would be the revelation that one finalist had had the idol all along.
If Tyson makes it that far. From where I’m sitting, he could be gone in two more episodes.
Feeding the Family
The other example of maternal self-sacrifice came when Monica gave up her food reward so the entire tribe could eat. In her secret scene, she says she is happier watching other people eat, which is a patently ludicrous statement, but I know exactly what she means. This is how ridiculous the hormonal shift when you become a mother is. (Alternatively, it could be trained behavior. Even in my early stage of motherhood, I have learned it is better to go to hungry than to deal with the tantrums over a snack that I can’t share.)
Before we get into the strategic fallout of Monica’s move, for my money, the most important outcome here is what she avoided. It’s debatable how long any good feelings over her gesture will last, but temporary good feelings are better than temporary bad feelings, and the latter is what often seems to have the most fallout. Meanwhile, picking one or two people would either reveal her hand or risk antagonizing the people she does have an endgame agreement with.
Because that’s exactly what the reward choice is designed to do, I’m shocked that Jeff let her get away with the move—and I very much doubt that it will happen again. But good on Monica for doing it nonetheless, not least because it’s easier to say that’s the right course of action than to actually turn the food down when it’s right in front of you. And for having the initiative to say “everybody” instead of choosing one extra person to take her share (which is what I was expecting Jeff to make her do).
To look at some context here, let’s imagine if Monica picked Tyson for the reward, thereby indicating that she was loyal to him. This could raise even more red flags about the grip Tyson has on the game. (Tyson should be doubly thankful to her.) If Hayden and Caleb do turn on Tyson after his push to get rid of Laura, they would put Monica in the crosshairs right alongside him. It’s unlikely that they’ll let Monica into the scheme anyway, but by hiding her association, she might have bought herself some extra days to work on them.
I’m not sure how much Monica thought through the ramifications of her offer, but she should have noticed how those reward choices played out on her season, even if she wasn’t around for them. (It’s also consistent with her refusal to accept the clue to the Hidden Immunity Idol.) In her secret scene, she’s mostly delighted to have the immunity necklace after being so rattled by Tina at the previous Tribal Council. She does point out that she was asked to pick one person when she’s in an alliance of seven and this was the way she could make everybody happy. Her most optimistic outlook is that it might have got her a friend or two, which is all you need in this game.
So a significant move, though not a particularly ambitious one. But as I said repeatedly about Monica last week, her motivations are not nearly as important as the ones the other players attribute to her, and many of them had the same reaction as Richard Hatch did on the podcast, which was to laugh at her for being so foolish as to think giving away her reward would change anything.
Hayden did acknowledge that she was selfless, and it might just have been a kind gesture, but he doubted it and added that she was not getting into final five. Gervase was more explicit in his dismissal of the move, saying that food is too crucial in the game to waste when it’s been proven that feeding people doesn’t keep you around.
In Monica’s case, I disagree that food is that vital. She’s a lot smaller than Gervase and simply needs less energy to keep going; it’s usually the big guys who suffer most from the starvation. Meanwhile, no amount of hot dogs is going to bump up her physical strength to the point where she could beat one of the guys in that kind of contest—food is often cited as a challenge advantage, but it very rarely plays out that way at the individual stage.
Caleb and Ciera, on the other hand, both felt it was a genuine gift rather than strategic, so there’s hope for Monica yet. But it’s a big contrast to the reaction to Brenda’s similar sacrifice in Caramoan. There the remaining players were worried that it would win her jury votes so (paradoxically) they agreed to vote her out. Here, nobody, not even Ciera and Caleb, are saying that this will make Monica harder to beat at the end.
The real difference is between the players not the moves, and that’s a little harder to pick up from the little we see of camplife. Brenda was apparently very well-liked among her tribe; this week, we have four secret scenes where (in completely different contexts) players say Monica talks too much—including Tina on Redemption Island and Monica herself!
Ciera has perhaps the best insight into life with Monica when she explains that Monica and Brad were made for each other; neither ever stopped going and neither were ever quiet. She used to go to sleep hearing Brad’s sports stories and now she goes to sleep hearing Monica’s shopping stories. I have become a Culpepper fan over the course of the season, but I never ever want to go camping with them.
Ciera is laughing and good-humored as she says this, so she doesn’t hold any animosity over it, and this could be true of others in her tribe. Monica can drive people crazy, but they know she means well and appreciate her work around camp. However, what we’re not seeing is a lot of respect for her gameplay. Giving up the food is the most obvious move she’s made all game and it’s regarded either as simple kindness or a ploy so transparent as to be laughable.
This is also why Monica’s paranoia became inflated in the players’ eyes—the cynic in me assumes that the reason we saw so little of Monica this episode was because she wasn’t giving the editors any fodder for that storyline. Monica was genuinely afraid of going home when Tina was laying into her at Tribal Council, which was why she was so relieved to win immunity, but she explains in a second secret scene that she’ll have faith in her alliance and that the boys are more leery of Laura.
If Monica’s strategy is to sit tight and work on her social game, then it’s absolutely the right one. However, she’s on a really tight deadline. Gaining enough friendship to be shunted through each Tribal Council might be feasible, but I don’t know if she can earn the necessary respect before day thirty-nine. It doesn’t matter how good her argument is at Final Tribal Council, if the jury is set to ignore it.
I have to root for my home demographic, so I’m Team Mum all the way, but it looks like Team Bro will prevail. While the mothers brought all the drama to the episode, the Bros remain our contenders for the win with Ciera and Monica becoming increasingly dark horses. With the final seven upon us and apparently the perfect opportunity for Hayden, Caleb and Ciera to secure their final three, we will have to see what pans out next episode. The preview can’t be accurate for two consecutive weeks, can it?