We're going to do this recap from back to front this week. Reverse chronological order, starting with the present.
This was an extremely difficult episode to watch and write about, coinciding as it did with the news of the death of Taylor Collins -- Katie's brother and Tina's son (who participated, along with Katie, in the loved ones reward challenge way back in Survivor: The Australian Outback, at right). Real-life tragedy has a way of making everything associated with a show called Survivor seem particularly vacuous and pointless. Not only that, but we have little appetite for our usual praise or griping over minor victories or perceived infractions to the show's body of work. And it's a cruel coincidence that this episode, in which fate sent Katie to reunite with Tina on Redemption Island, aired this week, of all weeks. Our thoughts, as are those of many Survivor fans, are with Tina and Katie and their family at this time, and we wish them nothing but the best.
But Survivor also offers inspiration, such as Hayden refusing to go out quietly, and fighting his way to a tie that saved him (albeit while semi-eliminating Katie). Or in Tina facing elimination in the duel, only to be saved as Caleb's card stack collapses in the last 30 seconds. As Jeff Probst himself said during that competition, "That is why you never give up." And so, we push forward.
Katie's elimination by the White (not Purple) Rock was the climax of the episode, a somewhat victory for Hayden, who would have been voted out, had he not convinced Ciera to flip, forcing the tie. It was a strange turn of events, especially since Katie was virtually unheard from during the episode, an omission made all the more glaring (imagine a Tyson glare here) by Gervase's bonus scene, in which he expresses his relief at winning immunity, allowing him to relax and avoid the strategizing, because "I know Hayden is still workin' it, Katie's still workin' it, so..." The edit showed only Hayden's efforts, and none of Katie's, except that it was Katie's idea to follow the other four players as they hunted for the idol. But not only that, Katie had no confessionals. Even Kat and Laura B. had one in their boot episodes! Admittedly, Hayden's push to save himself was impressive, and it worked, and history is written by the victors. But it seems as if there must have been some aspect of the episode's events that Katie ought to have been allowed to talk about before heading to Redemption Island.
You want to draw what?
The decision to draw rocks, however, seemed fairly logical for everyone involved, except one: Tyson. Ciera, convinced she would be cut right before the Final Three by the three veterans, had a chance at toppling that alliance. Even if it worked out as it did, Hayden is still the most likely target at the next Tribal Council (unless he wins immunity), and the next vote after that will probably be against whoever returns from Redemption Island. So Ciera's flip at most marginally altered her position in the game. Katie, however, had nothing whatsoever to lose, and everything to gain. She was at the bottom of the pecking order entering Tribal Council, and had Hayden been voted out, she would almost certainly be next. It didn't work out for Katie, but it was an easily defensible gamble.
But Tyson? Tyson had just found an idol (which presumably would not have saved him from the White Rock) AND was controlling the game. Leaving from the clear prime position in the game, with an idol concealed in his crotch bulge, after drawing a rock? That would have been an even more inglorious exit than his self-boot in Heroes vs. Villains. Admittedly, the odds were in his favor (2/3 chance of someone else getting the White Rock), and his only other option was to flip on Monica on the revote, which would not have been viewed favorably by Monica (nor, whenever she reached Ponderosa, the other jurors). He made a laudable effort to keep Ciera on his side at Tribal Council, but still: Going to rocks was an ENORMOUS risk for Tyson.
Hayden gathers no moss
Even though he narrowly escaped the boot in this episode, Hayden's still in an extremely perilous position. He's now outnumbered 3-2. If he can turn one of Monica or Gervase against Tyson, he might have a shot, but Monica seems particularly resistant to flipping, and Gervase already started burning his bridges at this week's Tribal Council. Even so, Hayden's relentless efforts in trying to lead a counter-offensive against Tyson were impressive to witness. Starting from the minute he returned from the previous Tribal Council, and not letting up until time to vote in this week's Tribal Council. Wow. Did you know he won Big Brother?
Wait, you people are capable of moving?
For the first time since the merge, this week's reward/immunity challenge actually required people to move around and do things in order to win. We know, that's pretty remarkable, breaking as it does a string of five straight challenges in which not moving was the aim of the game. We're guessing they're saving the balls-on-the-plate challenge from the Redemption Island merge episode and Chimney Sweep for later, and that this was just an oversight. But even with this challenge's lamentable climax in a carnival game (tossing sandbags at cylinders), this was a refreshingly active challenge, and one that, by focusing on balance and agility, seemed a lot more fair than the past two. Who can object to a competition that's fair and balanced? More, please.
Whether it was Hayden outright saying it throughout the episode, or the extremely humanizing confessional in which Tyson tearfully vowed to push on, to make up for not switching out for Rachel at Redemption Island, this episode made clear that this season is now Tyson's to win or lose. Awesome.
Well... okay, we wouldn't mind just a teensy bit more mystery, even if it's just making Tyson's edit more complex with awkward bits of tone-deaf hotheadedness, such as when he told the quietly departing Katie "that's your chair over there" with the jury. But if missteps such as this are supposed to plausibly point to Tyson's undoing, shouldn't someone else be a believable substitute to snatch away the title? Because it still seems as if we're missing a few of the characters. With five-plus (the plus being the eventual Redemption Island returnee) people left, and just two episodes remaining, you can almost make a plausible argument that each could win. Maybe. We'd just like to hear from all of them occasionally. Like, remember that one woman, who keeps winning the challenges? What's her name? Uh... oh yeah, Monica? She last had a confessional four episodes ago. What up, Brad?
Further dumbing down of the duels
We're of two minds on this week's duel. First, we're perfectly happy that Tina won, especially in that she just sat out the rest of the duel as the clock ran down, which must have irritated Jeff Probst. But it's his own fault, for putting a TIME LIMIT on a duel. Baseball games aren't played "for nine innings, or whoever's leading after eh... an hour. Whichever." They go on (and on) until one team wins. Likewise, if someone's fighting for a (probably delusional) chance at a million dollars by clearing the already-low bar of "not losing" on Redemption Island, they ought to be expected to at least complete the same task that the actual winner of the duel did. Except this season, apparently.
Even so, despite the thickheaded planning of this duel, the irony of the duel's finish was delicious. After all Probst's exhortations that "This is why you never give up," in the end, Tina won by not doing anything for the last half-minute. Not only that, but in doing so, she eliminated Caleb, the hard-working farmer. And for another layer: Caleb just happens to be the guy whose fiancé Colton literally gave up, right there at the Redemption Island arena. And all this happened because production arbitrarily decided that 30 minutes was long enough to wait around for these people to build a house of cards that reached their inviolate 8-foot height goal, which couldn't possibly be lowered if you wanted to, say, introduce added pressure to finish quickly.
Good for Tina for exploiting the design. Boo to the designers.
Hope you guys are all happy playing for second place. Except you, Tyson.
Ha ha! Jury management.
Certainly not find idols, keep Monica close, or draw rocks, right?
Sigh, just give me the check now?
The majority alliance all decide to vote Hayden next. Done and done. There's no way this can possibly fail.
Everyone is thrilled at the chance to watch people stack wood. Hoorah!
If I close my eye, I can pretend they're not there, Jeff
Good news, I have a lunch date scheduled, so this duel has a time limit.
The EXCITEMENT BUILDS
It would have been funnier if none of the towers had been finished within the time limit. Damn your wide-ranging abilities, Laura Morett.
Third consecutive win
Yay, Mom! (Please don't come back in and ruin my game.)
The race to beat the clock is #2
That ain't good
Caleb's game collapses around him
I got a clue! Now to share it with the people I'll soon flip on!
It's the return of the Five Guys by the well! Except two are now women, and three of the guys are now two, and only one of the original Five Guys is left, and he's not here
Shorter clue: Just look in an obvious tree, you idiots
And now the prey has become the predator
Why do you keep panning up, pointing, and giggling, guys? What? Is there a booger hanging out of my nose or something?
But first... tears
Got it. Again.
Aw, man! I wanted that!
Come on, Gervase. I really want to rip your alliance apart. Please?
Pre-challenge lineup, Ep12 RC/IC
By our count, that hashtag was used a whopping 32 times on twitter this week. Money well spent, guys.
Poles and balls
Monica is in first, naturally
The head is not the recommended carrying position for the ball. Sorry, Katie.
Gervase makes his move
Monica scores! Hayden's ball drops! You've got to pick it up, Hayden!
Cy Young form
Tyson makes a late surge with the sandbags
Pick me, pick me, yeah?
Too easy, Gerv. Pick another.
Okay! Smiles, everybody! Smiles!
I said SMILES, people!
Ah, that's more like it.
Get your Iced Cream! Fresh Iced Cream! Been in this cart since 1906!
Please. This is a family show.
I scheme, you scheme. We all scheme during ice cream.
Hayden: Time to make a move, Ciera. Ciera: Can't. Leave. Hammock.
Seriously, that hammock was way too comfortable.
Okay, Gerv and Ciera. I promise you: If you vote with me, you will BOTH be in first place. I swear it.
Really, tell us how, Hayden! Us too!
Is the sun setting or rising on Hayden Moss? Kidding. Tribal Council is upon us. It's obviously setting. Duh.
The calm before the storm.
No backstabbers here!
Can I say something, Jeff? Preferably repeatedly?
It would be crazy to stick with Tyson, Ciera. Crazy! And I should know, I was on Big Brother.
One, two, or three is better than four, Ciera. And for me, not-sixth is WAY better than sixth.
Don't let this fool you, Hayden! You will be on the jury, and not voting for me!
Come on, Ciera. Sure, there's a slight, 33% chance you'll be out if you force a tie. But there's a 0% chance I will if you do. Don't make me rustle feathers.
Heh heh, he said Russell. Mmmmm, Russell.
The yelling before the draw
Rocks! Get your fresh rocks here! They've only been in this bag since late 2002!
I'll let fate determine my fate, Jeff
Okay, guys. Put your hands out, close your eyes. Visualize yourself holding the Emmy. Or at least me.
The Last Snuffer
How DARE you accuse me of glaring?
Great. Camping with Mom again. Yay.
Yeah! We're down 3-2 now! Victory is ours!
Recaps and commentary
Exit interviews - Caleb Bankston