After a couple of iffy episodes, Blood vs. Water returned to form this week. Slick moves sprang from previously untapped sources, personal hashtags continued to blossom, and most importantly, the show took the time to explore the core connections between its three sets of still-paired contestants. That one of the key decisions in the episode hinged on Ciera having to sever that connection, voting her own mother out, drove all that home. CBS and Survivor made no attempt to obfuscate what was going on here, either, with a full week of ads and previews pretty much announcing what was coming, which was refreshing. What emerged was a solid exploration of family, parenthood, and loyalty. At least as it pertains to stabbing your friends in the back for a million dollars.
Blood beats water, by default - or does it?
This episode was all about familial relations, and when this episode opened, the standings showed a decisive victory for the titular battle: All six of the "water" relationships had been rent asunder, either with both out, or with one member left and their loved one not having made the merge. In contrast, the four blood relationships were sorted into every possible configuration at that point. Gervase and his niece, Marissa, were (like the water relations) split across the jury/pre-jury divide, but the other three pairs were all still somewhat intact. The next-closest bond, between the brothers Baskauskas, was doubly represented at Redemption Island. One of the mother-daughter pairs (Katie/Tina) felt the strain of the in-game/Redemption split. And of course, the other mother-daughter duo, Team Morett, was still together in-game. Clear-cut victory for blood relationships, even though they were initially in the minority, right? Not really.
As was made clear in the episode, in-game loved one pairs are (and rightly should be) now seen as a major threat. People are also starting to realize that having a loved one on the jury is also a detriment to one's long-term goals. Of the seven people left in-game, five have no loved ones still playing, while two (Katie and Ciera) have them at Redemption Island, headed perhaps to the jury. Already people saw Vytas's gift of the idol clue to Katie as a sign that Tina and Baskauski would be likely Katie votes if she reaches the Final Three. Ciera will face the same problem if Laura M takes a jury seat. It's just one vote, but with only eight jurors, every vote is important. If Ciera reached the finals with two returning players, the three original Tadhana on the jury could team up with Mama Morett to deliver four votes for her. It would not be shocking if Katie and Ciera are now seen as the two biggest jury threats, and that could be a justifiable reason for taking them out before a more obvious post-merge threat like Hayden or Tyson.
While the tight fraternal affection between Aras and Vytas is obvious for all with eyes to see, Jeff Probst's repeated digging for a post-duel "moment" after Aras lost at Redemption Island seemed a bit... tawdry? Vampirish? "Do you guys remember the 'Sumo At Sea' challenge, where Aras cried? That was great TV. Could you cry again now for us, Aras? Please? Oh you won't? Come on Vytas, we always liked you better, anyway. Maybe if you cry, we'll give you a bigger slice of the edit? Anyone?" Kudos to Aras for staying positive, and resisting Probst's attempts at "creating reality." Still, we were disappointed in his steadfast refusal to use his talk about Vytas to make repeated "bro" puns.
That momentous Morett moment in the middle
What made this episode work, far and away, was the time it took exploring the passing of the Survivor torch from Laura to Ciera. (That's how this show works, right? It's a relay?) On first watch, we were distracted (quite a bit, in fact) by the cloying sentimentality of the soundtrack. Syrupy flourishes of strings, flute, acoustic guitar, and piano threatened to drown out the discussion. Which is a pity, because on rewatch, the confessionals and the conversation within the segment were actually really, really strong. We're glad we set aside our initial objections to give this another shot, because it truly was the emotional and narrative heart of the episode. Also geographical, since it came in the center, time-wise.
Why was this so good? Because it got to the heart of the instrinsic conflict in this season. It's a game only one person can win, yet each person started out playing with a loved one. Which means they're also playing against a loved one, if they're both trying to win. As we've seen all season, the loved one bonds have been far stronger than any formed pre-game or in-game. Admittedly it's a small sample size, but until this episode, no contestant had ever voted against their loved one, despite all the pre-season commercials asking if "you" would. (Note: If neither Laura nor Tina return to the game, this is also the last time this could possibly happen, apart from the extremely remote possibility of one of the moms not voting for their daughter to win the million.) But that's not even why this was good. It was good because of how each Morett felt about the possibility of Ciera voting against Laura.
Ciera made a strong, logical case that because she had a better chance of getting to the end than her mother, this move was the correct one. Ciera had finally come into her own, and was playing Survivor. And the episode even supplemented this by showcasing a key move by Ciera, tricking Katie into admitting she hadn't found the hidden immunity idol. All classic Survivor gameplay. But it was Laura's simultaneous agreement with and resistance to Ciera playing for herself that made this segment so powerful. Laura, who had butted heads with Russell Hantz in her previous season, who had just fought her way back into the game from Redemption Island's purgatory this season... that Laura now faced giving up her own game to let her daughter advance.
This paid off in a far more compelling way than Rupert's similar decision in the season's opening minutes. It's a moment any parent could identify with, the fundamental goal of raising children in the first place: getting them to the point when one can, to use Laura's previous words, "cut the apron strings and say, 'Ciera, you've gotta fly on your own, you can't live under my wing any more'." Laura's halting, tear-streaked confessional (complete with a serendipitous lightning flash in the background) in which she comes to terms with this, weighing her desire to fight on against her pride in her daughter's coming into her own, was absolutely perfect. And devastating.
That is why this season has worked.
Thank you, Monica von Ertfelda?
We were less thrilled with the reward/immunity challenge. It's a decent challenge, but it was pretty obvious before it began which contestants had any chance of winning (Monica, Tyson), and which were completely doomed (Hayden, Caleb, Gervase). We were even less excited by Monica's reward-abstaining move, but not for the reasons you probably think. As presented, Monica's decision to give away the reward feast to every other player could have been intended as anything between 100% strategy and 100% generosity. It's an interesting question, one that relates directly to how the game could play out, should Monica reach the Final Three. So to whom does the show turn for insight? Caleb.
Caleb? Caleb, who deftly, politely demurs when Probst attempts, by proxy, to call out Monica on trying to butter up potential jurors. Issue settled! This may surprise Survivor's editors, but it turns out there's this TV interview format called a "confessional," in which you may directly question a contestant on their actions, thereby gaining access to their strategic thinking. Monica had none this episode. Woo! Good call, guys. Time well spent.
Sorry, Katie, but it's okay, you're safe now, unless production hides an idol for you
I would have preferred a hug from my mom, Tyson
We're a pair! We're somebody now! Things are going to start happening to us now!
It's pretty great to have my mom around, at least until she becomes a burden
Pack of circling wolves
Welp, time to blow this house down
Arrival, Ep10 duel
Two winners and a reformed former sinner
I might switch out for Katie if you sweetened the deal with some Doritos, Jeff.
Not-quite Survivors ready?
Aw, is that the grappling hook I got your Christmas?
Clearly, the live studio audience is just as thrilled at watching the duelers hook two unnecessary bags as the at-home audience
Tina! First to the table maze! As your reward I will now bellow from directly behind you! Don't screw up!
Somehow, Probst managed to avoid mentioning Ozzy vs. Cochran here
Victory is at hand, but sadly, Vytas's forearms will now be forever locked in the 'up' position
Tina getting closer...
Oh my gosh! Now Tina has lost her mouth! This is a catastrophe!
Now it's spread to Katie! Can anyone stem the flow of this calamity?
Aras discovers what will later be taught in medical schools around the world as the Miley Cyrus cure. Miraculous!
Tina's mouth is restored! She's still alive! Oh, happy day.
Katie recovers as well!
Aras regrets he has but one life to give for the well-being of others mouths
Don't let that fool your grandkids
Wait, 'Dude'? You can't use 'bro'? Pretty sure you're allowed.
Ah, there it is
Why is there no special buff for jurors?
Still theoretically in the game, even if Probst's 'previously on...' monologue suggested RI people really aren't
Of course I'm not gonna burn it. I'm gonna smoke it!
'Aras is gone' - Deep insights like this allowed Hayden to win Big Brother
Vytas gave me a hidden idol clue! I'm totally saved!
Sure you are. Sure you are.
For the fourth clue, a DreamTeamer comes to camp and digs the hole for you.
Time to dig my... latrine, yeah that's it.
Quick! You guys! Hide all the digging tools!
Hmmm, yeah. Whatevs.
I probably should get around to making a fake idol and burying it, but that seems an awful lot like work.
I'm hiding my bandaged thumb behind my head now, so it's okay to talk.
Sorry dude. We mostly just listen.
*Groan* It's time to have 'the talk' with Mom.
You want to put me on that CBS ripoff of The View, Ciera? How could you?
No, Mom. It's nothing that horiffic. I just need to vote you out.
Okay. But I don't have to pretend to enjoy hanging out with Julie Chen or Sharon Osbourne, right?
Come on, Mom. I'm not that cruel.
This is probably not the right time to tell her I auditioned for that. It will stay locked away in the closet for now.
I'm glad we had this Talk.
Pro-tip: Ciera and Laura are sleeping next to each other. Therefore, they may be in an alliance together.
I woke up nice and early to look for the idol today.
Surprise! I come from a family of diggers!
Proof that Caleb and Hayden also appeared in this episode.
Looks like I have a new hashtag. That's pretty sweet.
This is a great joke, Ciera. You're going to laugh and laugh. [Looks down.] Dammit, I already took off my shirt.
Piling on decorative muscles may not have been my wisest decision.
Monica looking fierce
Oh sure. You leave me, the guy with the $5000 pants in to beat Morett? Come on!
The other Culpepper wins!
Monica looking elated
Quick, try to look really hungry, you guys
Wait'll you see the decorative details on your reward.
Kasama Burger! Isn't that great? Huh? Huh?
I dunno, Jeff. There are more hot dogs. I don't wanna tell you how to run your show, but wouldn't Kasama Wieners have been funnier?
Look, Culpepper. I'm in charge here. You can take your 'suggestions' straight over to that dock over there. Kasama Wieners. Pfft.
Hey guys, look! I'm 'wolfing' down this food! [Ed. note: We are very sorry.]
You guys, I just told you, I'm the big bad wolf, not a snake. You should probably pay better attention.
Pinky-swear rulebook, Section IV, Article B.2, Item #102: Not valid on hammocks
Get out! That can't be true!
Or we could all vote for one of the guys. Ha ha! That would be hilarious!
That's so crazy it just might work
Has Katie even WATCHED Survivor before? You don't vote out buff, challenge-threat guys after the merge! That's crazy talk!
You guys, I might have told Katie a teensy lie...
A lie, you say? GO ON...
I am having a 'confessional'. So's Caleb! Not Monica, though. Tough break.
This is like my eighth confessional, but I just want to say: Stay the course, still voting Laura
You're welcome again, ladies.
Evidence that Gervase actually appeared in this episode.
I'm really upset that Katie might float to the end. I mean, who plays that way?
Full Kasama tribe, mostly full of Kasama Burgers, Ep10 Tribal
You guys had a few burgers and hot dogs? That's cute.
I don't want to give too much away, but pairs of people named Morett are really dangerous.
It's true. Especially the ones that are grandmas.
One is two, Tyson. I learned that from Brad while we were at Redemption together.
Mom, I TOLD you not to talk...
Whoa, deja vu
You guys, you just broke up the last pair. Now it's just regular Survivor. How are we gonna market that? Didn't you read your buffs?
Recaps and commentary
Exit interviews - Aras Baskauskas