Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Survivor: “Big Bad Wolf”

Illustration for article titled Survivor: “Big Bad Wolf”

What would you do for $1 million? Would you lie, cheat, steal, or betray? This is the basic question at the heart of the Survivor format, but it takes on a new meaning this season now that loved ones are involved. Up to this point, other than the temptation to switch places with your loved one at Redemption Island, betraying them in the game has really been a non-factor.

Until tonight, that is. Backed into a corner, Ciera commits the ultimate betrayal and votes her mother out of the game in order to maintain her own position. It’s absolutely the right move for her to make but the pure thought of sacrificing your own mother for a silly game show is really tough to imagine if you aren’t in that situation. My brain just kept screaming "That’s your mom! What are you doing, Ciera?"

What Ciera was doing, and what she has been doing since the beginning of this season, is playing a pretty great game. She had a lot of good moments tonight—tricking Katie into revealing she didn’t have the immunity idol was fairly genius—but the pinnacle had to be her very candid conversation with her mother where she laid out exactly her position in the game and how voting her out is probably better for her in the long run. As both Ciera and Laura note, it’s a bit of a turning point in their relationship, as Ciera shifts from advice taker to advice giver, but it’s honestly even more than that: It’s as if Ciera is asserting herself as a fully formed, independent entity from her mom for the first time, and it’s really interesting to watch. Even Laura agrees that Ciera is likely on the money with her assessment of the game dynamics and their unlikely chance to move forward as a team.

That doesn’t mean it hurts any less when Ciera ultimately votes her mom out of the game. Watching the totality of this settle over Laura as she gives her exit interview is a compelling bit of television; it’s as if she’s simultaneously accepting of Ciera’s decision and still deeply, deeply in denial that it actually happened. Likely, Laura watching the actual episode will give her a better feeling: Ciera didn’t want to send her home and did plenty of scheming to attempt to get Katie voted out instead, but eventually, she just ended up a victim of the Tyson steamroller.

Because that’s what Tyson is right now: a steamroller. He’s completely running this game, and has been since the tribal shuffle. It’s gotten so blatant that even he acknowledges that he needs to be careful or he’ll be the next big target, and players like Ciera nonchalantly discuss how they need to keep their moves from Tyson if they want to have them be successful. Although Tyson has basically gotten everything he’s wanted since the tribal shuffle, now is the time he needs to start getting worried because his alliance is far too big, and the remaining numbers in the game far too small, for it to continue working as one cohesive unit.

Other than the big drama of the Ciera and Laura saga, there was not a lot happening in this episode. A significant amount of time was dedicated to Katie’s desire to find an idol and Laura’s desire for her not to find it, and watching someone thwart someone’s idol search is just not a very compelling thing to watch. (The hunt and eventual discovery is far more pleasing.) Post-merge Redemption Island is proven to be the dud I feared it would be, as all of the drama is left behind for a boring challenge and a few “good games” from Aras as the loser. Even Tribal was tamer than normal, as it featured a lot of talk about all of the reasons the vote could go either way, right before it went exactly the way we expected it to.


But Ciera and Laura’s storyline more than makes up for it. When Survivor decided to do this twist, the producers had to have been foaming at the mouth for a situation like this, and it mostly delivered. Sure, there was no betrayed yelling and no recriminations, but Laura is at Redemption Island and there’s always next week, when Ciera could certainly join her. She proved tonight she might be a bit smarter than that fate, though.

Stray observations:

  • Is there another hidden idol now that Tyson found one? Or is everyone looking futilely?
  • That we didn’t spend the whole episode focusing on Monica’s paranoia about being voted out was probably a sign she was going to win immunity. Thank you for giving away your reward food, Monica, if only so we could see Tyson stuff two hotdogs into his mouth at the same time.
  • Nice Dharma maze, challenge producers. Next week do the thing where you push a lever and get a fish biscuit.
  • Jury Aras looks identical to Game Aras.