The Baker's Dozen - Survivor: Blood vs. Water

1) I’m an idiot.


I’m sure this statement of fact comes as no surprise to you – the regularity of my inanity in this column is well documented at this point.


Indeed, one of this season’s final six – none other than Gervase Peterson, who is kind enough to keep reading the Dozen week after week – pointed out just how wrong I can be in his Twitter response to last week’s proclamations of Captain Obvious:


@saygerv tweets


Breaking that down, here’s what Gervase believes I got wrong:


** Apparently, Ciera didn’t choose poorly when she sided with Tyson and Gervase (were the Bandits planning on backstabbing one another with Ciera’s help?)
** By extension, Ciera didn’t wait too long to make her move – because her best move was sticking with T & G.
** According to Gervase, Tyson was right to play the idol at F7… because his name had been kicked around? Or because he got it right back? Or both?
** Gervase did seriously consider Hayden’s plan to blindside Tyson (I won’t fully believe this one unless Gervase attempts a coup at one of the two upcoming F5’s).
** The castaways don’t think that Tyson is hated by the jury.
** Redemption Island doesn’t suck.
** There WAS a rationale to eliminate Caleb over Hayden.


That’s not to say that I entirely agree with Gervase, but he lived the adventure while we get to see 42 edited minutes out of every three days…


Side note: I really need to know more about picking Caleb over Hayden – was it because Caleb is likeable, and might win jury votes? Was it because Ciera likes Caleb and might consider working with him? I just don’t see Caleb pulling off Hayden-esque social game moves, which makes him much less of an overall threat… bottom line: the game doesn’t come down to rocks with Caleb there.


Anyway, that’s just ONE WEEK of screw-ups. Sigh.  


Oddly enough, though, I LIKE being wrong – it’s an opportunity to learn more about the game. Here’s the thing: I often write as if I truly understand Survivor, but the truth is, people who have actually played it have forgotten more than I’ll ever know about the game (unless I, too, have an opportunity to play it).


Obviously, Survivor is complex beyond measure, and one comprehends more after three days within it than thirteen years on the outside looking in. The more I think I know, the more I understand that I know nothing at all. Which means that it’s high time for me to take a quick look back at what I’ve written this season – and admit just how wrong I can be.

That’s right, it’s time for my very own gross food challenge…


Yep, I gotta eat some crow.


So here’s where I erred – badly! – with regards to our current Final 5.


Wrapped up

2) I thought Tyson would be out not long after the merge in part because of his early shoulder injury.


Here’s what I wrote: “But I have to temper my enthusiasm because of Tyson’s injury; at some point post-merge, he’ll need to win a challenge – something that involves supporting body weight with arm strength – and won’t be able to. I have a feeling that Tyson will go deep in the game, but won’t win…”


The truth is, barring an utterly unexpected blindside at one of the two upcoming Final 5’s, Tyson is going to win Blood vs. Water, with a reasonable shot at an 8-0-0 jury vote.


He had another great episode this week – from his tearful commentary about finishing this 39-day odyssey without Rachel at his side, to his genuine anxiety over the re-hidden idol and ensuing relief once he had it in hand, to his Spradlinian storage spot for the idol – everything we’re seeing possesses the style and substance of a winner’s story.


My favorite moment of all, though, was Tyson’s three-tiered response to Ciera’s betrayal at Tribal Council:


• Anger:  “What are you doing?!” he hissed, leaning in close to a defiant Ciera. Tyson quickly realized that wasn’t going to work, so he moved on to…

Bargaining: “Go with me and Monica.” The obvious insinuation is that Tyson is planning on blindsiding Gervase, and that Ciera can take his place in the Final 3.  She didn't buy it, but it was plausible, and precisely what she wanted and needed to hear. As a last ditch effort, it doesn’t get much better.

Acceptance: “We’ll go to rocks.”


Perhaps unsurprisingly, these reactions can be found within the five stages of grief; Tyson could feel the game slipping away from him in these tense moments, which must have been terrifying and agonizing and horrifying for someone who has been playing so masterfully for over thirty days. Thankfully, there wasn’t time for denial or depression – Tyson simply had to act. And by being willing to take the one-in-three shot that he’d draw the wrong rock, he has all but guaranteed that he will win the game.


There’s one thing that would have made all of this even more impressive: If he had been forced to face the possibility of his fate being decided completely by chance. The existence of Redemption Island made Tyson’s choice infinitely easier; what would he have done if the white rock would have sent him directly to the jury? Tyson knew that Redemption Island provided a safety net, a post-merge mulligan, and as a result, he’s not quite as bold a gambler as we’d like to think.


That said, he deserves to be this season’s Sole Survivor – a title I imagine he’ll receive next Sunday night.


You can believe THAT!

3) A few weeks back, I thought Gervase had a legitimate shot to win the game.


My exact words: “Here’s some sugar for ya, Gervase: I’m picking you to win it all.”


I did temper this with a proviso, however: “My not-so-secret hope is that Gervase will turn the tables on Tyson around F7 or F5, and should he stage an endgame coup at that point, everyone else still in the game should be willing to go along with it.”


We’ve got two Final 5’s ahead of us… but after what transpired this past week at Tribal Council, I just can’t see Gervase turning on Tyson and Monica. They’re your Final Three. Their unified approach to endgame decisions preclude any other options, and the edit demands it.


I clung to the idea that Skupin would win Philippines when it was clear Denise had the support of the jury, and I held out hope that Dawn could convince some of her Caramoan companions to give her the million far longer than I should have, but I’m not going to make that mistake again: Gervase won’t win Blood vs. Water… and I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if he finished third.


By the by, I LOVE that Gervase is willing to speak the truth – he called out Caleb for the hypocritical “a man’s word is his bond” accusations and spoke his truth at Tribal Council – but it’s catastrophically bad social gameplay. So is repeatedly, if inadvertently, pointing out that Ciera was fourth in their alliance. As is picking Tyson and Monica to share the ice cream reward which may have started this whole mess in the first place.


Of course, when it comes to winning the game, what viewers at home – and over-opinionated columnists on the internet – think about individual players doesn’t matter in the least. It’s all about the banished castaways in the jury box – and, given that they’re laughing at Gervase during Tribal Council (while smiling at Hayden and staring daggers at Tyson), it’s crystal clear that they’re not voting for him.  


Making matters worse, the other potential jury members don’t take Gervase seriously, either. The most telling piece of evidence: When Hayden explained to everyone back in camp that Tyson will win the game, Gervase reacted with the verbal equivalent of shouting, “WAIT, I’M THE ONE YOU SHOULD BE THROWING UNDER THE BUS!” Utilizing an amusing if visually disturbing metaphor, Gervase tried to insist that Tyson was his ventriloquist dummy, sitting on his lap with his hand on his back. But no one was buying it. The future jurists just don’t see Gervase as he wishes to be seen and how he sees himself. And that’s the kiss of death in Survivor.


Non-threatening loyalty

4) I gave Monica endless grief all season long.


I made a glaring mistake when it comes to Monica: I thought she, like everyone else in the game, was playing to win. But at some point this season – perhaps before it started, but probably after Brad was self-destructing in Tadhana – she decided she wanted to see Day 39 from inside the game, and made every decision from that point on with that goal in mind. Given that she’s on the cusp of making it all the way to the end, I have to give her credit: her non-threatening loyalty has earned her a seat at the Final Tribal Council.


Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this sacrificial “I’m not here to win” journey is that she can make a reasonable argument that's she's a good alternative to Tyson: “If you don't want to reward these two for how they treated you and betrayed you, give me the title and I'll donate the money. I was loyal, I was trustworthy, I dominated in challenges – I'm a worthy winner.”


I'm not saying it's a GREAT argument, but she'll be the only one who can make it.


And given who will be on the jury, she may well get a sympathy vote or two, which will net her a tidy $100k for her troubles.



5) I assumed that Hayden would get taken out before he’d have a chance to play the post-merge social game.


Here’s the damning evidence: “Hayden won’t be able to survive the post-merge alpha attack, but hopefully he puts his stamp on things before he goes...”


I love what Hayden brings to the game – he embraced the possibilities inherent in being in the minority (those on the outside can say and do things that those in the dominant alliance cannot – truth is a weapon, and only the marginalized get to speak it).


But before we shower him with endless encomiums, let's remember that he could have taken over the game at F8, if only he and Caleb had been willing to work with Laura M. By turning down that offer, he created the dynamic whereby Ciera was willing to vote out her mother (to solidify her alliance with Tyson), which in turn made it inevitable that she would tell Tyson about Hayden and Caleb's plan to blindside him (she had committed to a course of action at that point, and wasn't going to flip right after eliminating her mother – that act had to mean something for her).


Still, what Hayden was able to do at Tribal Council was deeply satisfying and incredibly impressive; had Tyson picked the white rock, Hayden would have won Blood vs. Water, and there’s no way you can convince me otherwise.


Bravo, Hayden, bravo.







6) I thought Ciera was an endgame goat.


One thing’s for sure: Ciera has been anything but boring the last few weeks.


While I don’t agree with her moves, upon reflection, I understand them.


At Final 8, she wanted to work with the newbies and her mom to flip the game, but Hayden and Caleb wouldn’t go for it. So she sacrificed her mom – and in so doing, picked a path that involved working with Tyson and Gervase.


At Final 7, she ratted out Hayden and Caleb rather than working with them because otherwise, she would have forsaken her mother for next to nothing. Ciera simply wasn’t going to flip on her new alliance until it was clear that they weren’t going to remain loyal to her. One could argue that she should have known that right from the start, but I can see it from her perspective: she went with the only alliance available to her, and wasn’t going to keep flipping unless she had no other choice.


As she sat through the Final 6 Tribal Council, I couldn’t help but wonder if Ciera realized that she was in trouble even if Tyson and Gervase wanted her in the Final 3: “Even if I'm not fourth in this alliance, I know T & G are going to remain loyal to one another, and Monica will be the prohibitive favorite in the F4 challenge. If Monica gets immunity at F4, I'm screwed – and really, the odds of me beating Monica in any sort of physical challenge are a lot lower than Tyson drawing the white rock.”


In the end, though, I don’t think the rock draw had any impact on Ciera; she wasn’t going to win with either alliance. If she goes to the end with Hayden, he wins; the jury loves him, and unless I'm mistaken, they'd give him the credit for the big move, not Ciera. Truth be told, the only Final 3 configuration that would have given Ciera a chance was Katie-Monica-Ciera, and, given that Monica was following the loyalty/integrity path to the FTC, that endgame scenario was never going to play out.


But now that I think about it, there’s one other option available to Ciera at this point in the game: Grab Hayden then go to Gervase and threaten him.


“Gervase, if you go to the end with Tyson, we’re giving our votes to him. I will get my mom to vote for him, too, and I guarantee you that we’ll convince Katie and Tina. That’s five votes – Tyson wins. If you help us blindside Tyson, however, the three of us go to the end together, and we’ll see what happens with the jury.”


Sure it’s a Hail Mary, but at this point, why not chuck the ball towards the end zone and see what happens?


Seems legit

7) I also got it wrong when I said “I’ve chosen to accept the show, warts and all.”


That is, if you believe that acceptance involves shutting up when I see something that makes me want to don my – as fellow blogger Sarah Freeman calls it – tin foil buff.


’Cause there’s no way I’m doing that – especially after Tyson’s rapid re-discovery of the hidden immunity idol.

Now, I’m not saying that anything was rigged – I’m long past that sort of finger-pointing – but I’m annoyed by the peculiar editing and time compression of the entire sequence.


After Tyson, idol in hand, shared his palpable, genuine relief (I love ‘real’ moments like this one – it’s one facet of the show of which I never tire), I was left with a litany of questions:


** How many trees could the clue have been pointing to? It HAD to be close to the water source – you’d think there’d be a limited radius.

** Did camera crews accompany all of the players individually as they went to look for the idol? Or do they shift from player to player as they intensify or abandon their search? (I imagine one could almost play a game of hot and cold with the cameramen…)

** How is it that Tyson could figure out the probable location of the idol, move away from that spot, explain his search to the cameraman, then run to the idol tree, all without attracting the notice of any other castaway? Especially when all of this had to happen within the vicinity of the well?

** And as entertaining as the “Hey, it’s over there in another part of the tree” camera pan was for the viewing audience, I immediately thought, “HEY! What if Tyson turns and looks at you while you’re doing that?!” Indeed, were I searching for the idol, I’d look for just that sort of tell from the person carrying the camera. It goes without saying that the entire production crew knows where the idol has been hidden – how else could he pan to the spot, otherwise? – so it’s only a matter of time before one of them accidentally – or not so accidentally – tips off a player.


Let me reiterate that I’m NOT accusing anything of anyone here – I’m simply curious to know how this all played out in real time. More questions to ask the castaways when I’m out in L.A. next weekend…


8) When I was studying film in college, I read an wistful quote from Orson Welles


(he’s the guy clapping in that Citizen Kane .gif above) that has always stuck with me; to paraphrase: “I wish I could forget everything I know about making movies – just for a day – so that I could watch a film the same way I did as a child.” His point? The more we understand how the tricks are done, the less we believe in magic.


What the heck does that have to do with anything, you ask? Because I feel the same way about Survivor. Spend long enough trying to read the edit and you end up understanding – all too well – what story the producers are trying to tell.  In the early seasons, I could feel where we were headed; now, I can see the strings that manipulate the marionettes, as I imagine you can, too.


SubtleIt is a monumental task to maintain mystery while preparing us for an ending that, upon reflection, feels warranted, validated, and justified by all that came before. That’s what the Survivor producers have to do, when all things are said and done: set up our expectations while avoiding predictability (viewers resent it when we can see the ending from a mile away; I’m looking at you, Redemption Island). And the producers have to do all of this not with a script and actors who follow it; instead, they have to work with the footage the players give them. Did I call this task monumental? After 27 seasons, it’s well nigh impossible.


Which is why it feels like next week will be a coronation, with Tyson, the kingslayer, joining Boston Rob and Kim Spradlin as landslide winners. It’s why we can understand how Gervase gets to the end but cannot win when he gets there. It’s why Monica has gotten a third place edit. Working backwards from the end, as the producers do – they edit long after the Final 3 has been grilled by the jury and everyone’s gone home – their mandate is complex and impossible and impossibly complex: cut together endless hours of footage to tell thirteen small stories and one epic one… along the way, make sure we understand how the Final 3 got there… and, oh, by the way, don’t make it obvious or millions of fans will be angry.


9) This narrative reality is also why Katie and Caleb got such invisible post-merge edits


(they were non-factors), why Ciera’s story was so scattered (it mirrored her erratic social and strategic games), and why Hayden is getting the “deserving but fell just a little bit short” treatment (he’s your prototypical fourth place finisher, the potentially great player who doesn’t make the medal stand).


Speaking of players who have finished just short of the Final Tribal Council, wouldn’t that be an interesting theme for a returnee season? Survivor: The Players Who, if We’re Honest, We Really Wanted to Win. Bring back a group of castaways who finished fourth (or third for seasons with a Final 2) and let them battle for the glory that was so tantalizing close but which in the end eluded them.


(For the record, I’m aware that this isn’t an original idea; I’m absolutely certain that this theme has been kicked around before – by fans, and probably by Survivor & CBS execs – but I thought it would be worth writing about, given that over the past two seasons, Malcolm became a member of this club and Hayden appears poised to join him.)


Such a season could be packed with Survivor luminaries: Malcolm, Ozzy, Rob C., Rudy, Lex, Jonny Fairplay, Yau-Man, Jerri, and Cirie.


Probst always frets that there aren’t enough strong female characters, but this format has plenty to choose from: Kathy (Marquesas), Jenna (All-Stars), Scout (Vanuatu), Sundra (Cook Islands), Natalie (Micronesia), Erinn (Tocantins), Holly (Nicaragua), and Ashley (Redemption Island).


And there are a number of other possibilities who might intrigue producers and viewers: Ian (Palau), Rafe (Guatemala), Terry (Panama), Matty (Gabon), Brett (Samoa), and Eddie (Caramoan).


I don’t know about you, but I’d watch that season.


(While grumbling about the lack of all newbie casts, of course, but still.)





10) Probst Probe: While at times I worry that Probst relishes playing the provocateur during Tribal Council...


...more than he should – I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that sometimes he knows TOO much about what’s going on back at camp – it’s hard to argue when the end result is an unexpected deadlock and the drawing of rocks.


I have a feeling that Probst gets positively giddy when he has a player like Hayden making desperate, yet strategically sound, moves during Tribal. Probst saw Hayden trying to start a fire underneath Ciera with the dying embers of his hope and truth and fear, and fanned the flames for all he was worth. Before anyone really knew what was happening, we had a full-blown conflagration on our hands, and just about everyone there couldn’t help but throw fuel on the fire: Gervase and Monica, of course, by repeatedly reinforcing Ciera’s status as the fourth wheel, but Ciera and Tyson, too, added heat with their incendiary insights.


Only Katie seemed immune to the inferno, and Probst was understandably dismissive of her as a result. It’s as if he was saying, “Don’t you see what’s happening here?! Give me something! Anything! No? Fine! I’m going to be Patronizing Probst and remind you that you’re playing Survivor!” And you know what? I was angry, too – this was not a time to confess that you’re at the bottom, it was a time to spit gasoline and toss grenades, to accuse, to reveal, to condemn. It was a time to point fingers, bellow the truth, grab for power, and damn the consequences.


It was, to put it simply, a time to blow s**t up. Hayden knew it – and Probst loved him for it. Forget Miley Cyrus – and forget Tyson – this season, Hayden is the wrecking ball, and the destruction he wrought was a thing of beauty.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that, despite the CBS promo editors’ best efforts to spoil everything, that was a GREAT Tribal Council, and Probst is a HUGE part of the reason why.


When he’s on his game, there’s no one better.


(Yes, I just praised Probst.)


(And I meant it.)




11) Fortunes rising: Tyson. All Hail the Kingslayer!


Hope you put some of the million towards an engagement ring. Rachel’s a keeper.


12) Fortunes falling: Gervase.


Two words: Third Place. (Sorry, Gerv.)




Before I get into my prediction for this week, just wanted to give you a quick glimpse of what’s up ahead:


The column I write after this Wednesday’s episode will likely be abridged – perhaps Half a Dozen – given that the finale is on Sunday. In all likelihood, I’ll be writing it on the plane as I fly out to L.A. – that’s right, I’ll be out there for finale weekend.


I will also post a wrap-up column – again, most likely shorter than usual – a day or two after the finale. Hopefully, it will be full of stories about castaway conversations and photos of player encounters. I’ll do what I can.


I’m still trying to land a ticket to the finale itself – I’ll let you know on Twitter if I somehow pull it off – but if not, I’ll seek out the Survivors and their stories throughout the weekend.


Hopefully, they’re not TOO mad at me for what I’ve said in the Dozen.




13) Prediction time:


Assuming that Laura M survives another Redemption Island duel – and, given that we're being teased about Tina's struggle with letting her daughter escape elimination, I think Laura’s victory is all but guaranteed – then Ciera has to be the next to go, right? Tyson and Gervase will want to avoid Laura reuniting with Ciera, which means mother and daughter both have to be at R.I. for that last challenge.


After Ciera’s torch is snuffed, we'll be down to four players in the game, at which point they'll have the final R.I. challenge, creating a new F5. I’m assuming that Laura will win, although there’s a slight chance she’d let Ciera rejoin the game – although what’s the point? Only Laura stands a chance of winning her way to the Final Three; she’s a challenge beast, and Ciera, to be generous about it, is far less of a threat. (How awesome would it be to see Laura sit Ciera down and explain why momma has to crush her baby at the challenge… parental payback!)


The good news for Hayden is that when Ciera is targeted at the first F5, he gets to live to fight another day; the bad news is that he's doomed shortly thereafter, isn't he? Tyson will have an immunity idol to play at the second F5 (prop bet: Tyson will wear it to Tribal Council), so there’s no way to target him, and there's no one else worth flipping on – which means Tyson, Gervase, and Monica will remain tight, and the two targets will be Laura – first, because of her challenge prowess – and then Hayden.


That explanation is a bit convoluted, so here’s my predicted boot order the rest of the way:


5a. Ciera
5b. Laura M
4. Hayden
3. Gervase
2. Monica
1. Tyson


That’s it for this edition of The Baker’s Dozen – if you’d like to keep the conversation going, leave a comment below!


Andy Baker

Andy Baker is a Survivor blogger who wants nothing more than to get a back rub from Jeff Probst the next time he's thinking about quitting his column. Follow Andy on twitter: @SurvivorGenius