Jeff Pitman's Survivor: Blood vs. Water recaps

Despite an initially interesting reward/immunity challenge, another solid Houdini impersonation by Vytas, and the threat of an impending merge, this episode seemed to be more an effort by the editors to whip together something passable than an hour that impressed with its intrinsic drama. The Kat/Hayden question of swapping out was at times touching, but also laden with a little more emphasis than really seemed necessary. And Vytas's again escaping the axe surprised almost nobody, since there's no way the editors would have spent this much time building up his "rivalry" with Aras, only to have that storyline snuffed the day before the merge. So while the middle of the episode had some legitimately entertaining stuff, it was bookended by what seemed an awful lot like fluff. So, in "Midway mayday?" we deliver our mid-season report card.


Midway mayday?

Midway mayday?


With the close of Episode 7, we are exactly halfway through this 14-episode season. As such, we'll eschew our weekly in-depth analysis of the episode that aired (except maybe in the vidcap gallery captions), in favor of a zoom out to the pre-merge as a whole. Which is (tl;dr version): Well done, Survivor. In direct contrast to Caramoan's pre-merge sounding a near death knell for the series, Blood vs. Water's opening half has been a triumph. And it's done so despite the vituperous pre-season objections of people like us. So, uh... shows what we know.


Blood vs water

The Blood vs. Water twist


Despite some questionable casting decisions, this seemed like the most likely twist to pay off, and it has done so, handsomely. Think of the many additional strategic layers that having split pairs of loved ones playing against each other has added, just in the first few episodes: (1) Voting out someone to punish their loved one on the other tribe; (2) voting out someone to try to bait their loved one into swapping out at Redemption Island; (3) inducing people who no longer have active loved ones to band together, to target remaining pairs; (4) hoping the other tribe votes out your ally's loved one, to remove any doubts of their loyalty, and so on. Had the season gone differently, there could also have been competing groups of pairs angling to scoop up a small number of straggler solo players at the merge. There's still room for more strategic exploration here, so we're not upset at all that Jeff Probst seems intent on repeating this theme in the Survivor 29/30 timeframe. Bring it on.



Pre-merge Redemption Island duels: Yay!


This has been the biggest surprise of the season. All-Stars already proved that splitting up loved ones had dramatic potential. Nothing in the two previous iterations of RI suggested it could be anything more than a pathetic eyesore. But to our extreme surprise, RI has worked this season. Or at least it has pre-merge. Where it's worked has been the clever choices to (1) bring both tribes together to watch the duels, and (2) allow wholesale airing of grievances by the people already booted. In this situation, where loved ones were playing on separate tribes, this provided built-in drama, in both the shock of seeing a loved one voted out of the other tribe, and the chance for the bootee AND (sometimes) their loved one to react to this vote. All of this together gave the show a massive dramatic boost, especially in the early episodes when most of the pairs were still active.


Far less compelling

Post-merge Redemption Island duels: Yikes!


What worries us going forward, however, is that the slim chance of potential benefits to keeping Redemption Island around post-merge are hugely outweighed by its pre-existing, certain, glaring drawbacks. To be fair, we don't know for sure that RI will be there post-merge, but there's no reason to believe it won't be. In fact, famous historic re-inaccurator Jeff Probst, despite claiming to Dalton Ross that "the player who returns to the game often dictates which way the game will tilt" (which has never, ever happened), goes on to say that person might get "a quick vote out and sent right back from where they came." (As, we should point out, has actually happened every single time.)


This is extremely disappointing, because all of the reasons RI has worked to this point will essentially become moot post-merge. There will be no straining to see who was voted out last night: everyone there was present and/or involved when it happened. There will be no need for back-and-forth bickering between the attendees and the duelers: almost everyone present was in on whatever went down. There should be precious little Worst of all, the fundamental unfairness of jury-phase RI remains intact: it's a place where a Matt Elrod or an Ozzy gets free reign to pander to jurors as they pass through, while keeping their own hands clean, and never having to actually play Survivor.


To swap or not to swap

Swapping out for loved ones at RI


This has also paid substantial dividends, despite our early misgivings. And not just because it tricked Rupert into taking himself out of the game before it started. (Which, in retrospect, was the only time this twist worked as intended, and then, didn't even take place at Redemption Arena.) Where it's been particularly and surprisingly effective is in making it that much more painful for contestants to see that their loved ones have been voted out. Just moments after that initial shock, they're then forced to decide whether or not to swap out. And in some cases, making the strategically correct but emotionally wrenching decision of not opting to leave the game and play duels on RI has continued to wreak psychological havoc, long after the dust of that first avoided duel has settled.


But this is also another arena in which post-merge RI will probably fall flat, since mathematically, it's likely to end soon. Of the 10 people still active, only two pairs remain (with a potential third in Laura M/Ciera). Maybe the show will get lucky, and half of both Vytas/Aras and Katie/Tina will remain in the game, while their loved one battles to remain alive on RI, right up until the finale. But chances are that won't happen, and instead, the bleachers will house a slouching horde of disinterested spectators, forced to watch their non-loved ones participate in crappy three-person duels.



Hidden idol clues at RI


This is the one area in which the creative team whiffed. At first, the Culpepper-led drive to burn every hidden idol clue was cute. But on the third go, it became tiresome, and with now four times and counting, there's little hope the social dynamics that enabled it will change any time soon. Maybe going forward, with the people booted now knowing who else is at risk in the (single) merged tribe, someone will actually accept the clue and find an idol. But it seems likely we're due for a few more episodes of pointless pyromania first.




All in all, this has been one of the most compelling pre-merge half-seasons in a while, rivaling even Philippines. We're still a bit apprehensive about how long the formula will work, as we have very few pairs left, raising the risk of this being just standard Survivor with Redemption Island crammed into it. But there's at least hope.


Survivor: Blood vs. Water Ep.7 image gallery

Recaps and commentary


Exit interviews - Kat Edorsson

  • Rob Cesternino at RobHasAPodcast: "Talking With the Latest Player Eliminated from Survivor -- 10/31/13"
  • Gordon Holmes at "Kat -- 'Hayden Did Not Break Up with Me'"