Mixed Bag

Last week, there was this distended farcical moment that preceded Tyson playing the Hidden Immunity Idol. As Jeff announced that the window to play an Idol would soon be closing, Tyson gestured to Jeff and reached into his bag. Dramatic music swelled. Tyson searched and searched anew until the music just petered out. “Jeff, it’s in here somewhere,” he said while nervously rooting though his bag.

Unfortunately, it is this moment before he produces the Hidden Immunity Idol that may very well be the lasting image we retain of Survivor: Blood vs. Water. It seems every week I reach into the bag of Blood vs. Water in the hope of retrieving something that resembles an interesting season, and yet, I keep coming up empty handed.

Sure, we will periodically pull out pieces of saccharine hard candy which make the season watchable: an alias predicated on a mutual interest in pilfering the island’s food supply called The Coconut Bandits, Kat’s paranoia that Hayden will dump her because of her lackluster performance, everyone using Brad Culpepper as a verbal punching bag, the fraternal feud of Vytas and Aras. But one cannot subsist on these things. Where’s the beef? Where’s Monica’s Reality Sandwich? I’m starving over here.

It is a classic issue of competition: Tyson has been running the show all season long. We are down to the final seven (counting the returning player from Redemption Island,) and no one has emerged as a suitable challenger yet. Everyone is just laying back and playing cool.

This is even more flummoxing when you consider that this is season in which half of the contestants are returning players. To my knowledge, this issue is unprecedented on an all-star season.[1] Could they not find more polarizing, dominant players willing to reenter the fray? Or was it just that they were hard pressed to find familial counterparts?

“Namaste, bitches.”—Vytas

Vytas seemed promising and was, in my mind,  the most compelling figure of the season, but he caught some bad breaks. This concluded last week when Laura aided Tina in ousting Vytas in a puzzle. As much as I championed the cause of Vytas, it’s hard for me to feel too indignant about this. Vytas was already voted out; he had a fair shot.

However, I don’t like the precedent this is setting, particularly if this were to occur outside of Redemption Island, say, in a multiple round competition. It’s akin to what we call a “backdoor” in Big Brother parlance: You deny your target the opportunity to compete. It is unquestionably a smart move by Laura, who is rightfully a little spooked by Vytas, but it’s also drearily anticlimactic. It is something I can admire from the perspective of a contestant but not as a viewer.


The Self-Loathing Newbie

“Hey, I may hate myself but not because I’m Jewish.”—Woody Allen responding to the accusation that he is a self-hating Jew

I feel like CBS wants me to root for Ciera because, as Katie cutely pointed out, she “chose water over blood,” thus truly confronting the crux of this season. But isn’t her praise a tad disproportionate? She voted out her mom when that outcome was inevitable, after she failed to shift the vote to Katie. It seems like a move, but it’s more like passivity.

Now I don’t think Ciera is necessarily a bad player. We certainly see glimpses of perspicacity from her like when she got Katie to reveal that she didn’t have the Hidden Immunity Idol or when she intuited that her mom was on the chopping block. But where does it get her? She ultimately makes the boring, conservative moves that clueless players make.

Ciera overestimates her value within the game of Survivor. In the early stages of Blood vs. Water, we saw her volunteering for the puzzle portion of Immunity Challenges only to fritter away a sizable lead and lose to her mother.[2] And last week, she dismissed Hayden and Caleb as fickle newbies [3], I suppose, momentarily forgetting that she herself is a newbie. It is as if she fancies herself above the rest of the newbies: a newbie in name alone with the acuity of a veteran.

Ironically, this has placed her in union with Tyson, a man whose Survivor dossier doesn’t exactly read like a bastion of nobility. In fact, it was just two weeks ago when we saw Tyson lie to Ciera about Hayden and Caleb spearheading the movement to vote out her mom. And again, Ciera was smart enough to see through this lie! I don’t know what her long-term strategy is, but protecting Tyson and burning bridges with her newbie compatriots is awfully dubious. Does she think she can beat Tyson in the final three?

This is the case Hayden will attempt to make this Thursday. He is our last feasible shot at upending the very comfortable trajectory of this season. And well, I'm pulling for you, Hayden. Swing for the fences.

[1] To put this in perspective, last season consisted of Cochran, Dawn, Phillip Sheppard, Malcolm, Brandon Hantz, and Corinne.

[2] She would not be in the game right now if it weren’t for the reckless megalomaniacal gameplay of Brad Culpepper and the ballsy whim of Caleb.

[3] Ciera: “ … I feel like these people who haven’t played the game before are so willing to flip and flop on each other. It’s too sketchy for me to invest in them. So I told Caleb and Hayden what they wanted to hear, but I don’t wanna work with people like that.”