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

Survivor: "Gloves Come Off"

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This fall, CBS should be thankful that their 27-season-old reality stalwart is in such good shape. The network is so confident in Survivor, in fact, that they can easily air it on one of the lower-watched television nights of the year—a night when every other network just punted—and not have a care in the world that it will affect the show’s long-term health.

In a season where loved ones are forced to work both with and against each other in the game, it seems rather appropriate that the show aired an actual episode the night before Thanksgiving rather than the normal clip show. It’s basically the show’s way of inviting us to take a break from arguing with our parents about real politics and settle in to watch loved ones go at it over game politics.

Sadly for those distraction-from-our-own-loved-ones purposes, now that the game is down to the final seven players, the Blood vs. Water conceit is actually the least important it has been in the entire game. All that’s left in the game are unattached players—with straggler loved ones Tina and Laura marooned on Redemption Island—so the game is far more now about what individual player each person can trust. After Ciera’s big move to vote her mom out last week, her position in the game is suddenly as the lynchpin between two parts of her imploding alliance. Hayden and Caleb see it as the perfect time to get out Tyson before he can turn on them, but they make their move before they really know if they can trust Ciera, and that hastiness backfires when Ciera takes their idea and runs right to Tyson with it.

This is an interesting dynamic because Ciera was originally on Tadhana with Hayden and Caleb, so it’s understandable why they would think they could turn to Ciera (and also old tribemate Katie) in order to take out their main competitor from the other original tribe. What I think Hayden and Caleb discounted is how marginalized Ciera felt at the beginning of the game under Brad’s totalitarian rule, and how much she’s blossomed strategically since Tyson joined their alliance and brought her in on the strategy sessions. Ciera says she sees Hayden and Caleb’s move as untrustworthy, but really it seems more like she sees Tyson as a far sounder strategic partner and uses this opportunity to cement her place in his alliance.

It’s a smart but risky move on her part, especially when Hayden starts to realize something feels off and goes into scramble mode to cover his tracks. Caleb and Hayden try the old “Ciera is playing both sides” gambit, which should be far too simplistic to actually work but Tyson seems just paranoid enough to believe it. He agrees to go four guys strong to the end, and his agreement with Hayden and Caleb’s plan is convincing enough that it’s not entirely certain what he’s actually going to do.

The best thing about this episode was how it was very difficult to tell who was actually going to go home until the votes were read at Tribal Council. Jeff’s questioning at Tribal was all about the challenge and the reaction to people sitting out of the immunity challenge, but very little of substance is actually said. From the amount of screen time Hayden got in this episode, you would think the vote would be between him and Ciera at the end, but it’s like his name was never even mentioned—if the votes went against Hayden and Caleb, Caleb would be the one going home. It’s this misdirection, with his name only mentioned briefly in passing as a potential vote-getter during the episode, which made me think Ciera was surely doomed.


But no: Caleb is voted out, and Tyson stuck with his now four-person alliance with Gervase, Monica, and Ciera. Caleb is surprised, but the most surprising thing about his ouster is that he blames it all on Ciera’s duplicity and not his own. Sure, Ciera told Caleb and Hayden that she would vote with them against Tyson. Sure, she turned right around and told Tyson. But technically Hayden and Caleb were duplicitous first. That’s the game, Caleb. You were just on the wrong side of the duplicitous coin this time.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I’m throwing all my turkey bones on the floor in honor of Tyson.


Stray observations:

  • Thanksgiving feast! Tyson’s insistence on eating food in whimsical ways amuses me. I’m sure the people who had to pick those bones up off the ground were less amused.
  • Speaking of Tyson, why does he always bring up Ciera’s teen mom status as evidence against her trustworthiness? That’s strange and very not cool.
  • Each week Monica disappears for the entire episode, only to show up and smoke everyone at the immunity challenge. She is going to win her way all the way to the end of this game if people don’t watch out.
  • What does everyone think about Laura helping Tina beat Vytas at Redemption Island? It’s dirty business, sure, but why wouldn’t Laura want to keep someone around who she can easily beat?
  • Bye, Vytas! For only making the jury, Vytas and Aras sure got a disproportionate amount of screen time in the first half of this game.
  • “She should have picked a side and stuck with it.” Um, Caleb? She kind of did. It just wasn’t your side.