I’m currently at cruising altitude on a passenger jet high above the frozen plains of Nebraska with my semi-collapsed laptop thrust into my abdomen by the restless and reclining occupant in the seat in front of me – in other words, ideal writing conditions.
Given that the Finale is about 48 hours away – and knowing that I won’t have tons of time between now and then to write – I will spend the next few hours hunched over my MacBook baking you a Dozen, despite the fact that if the woman in front of me decides to lean back any further, I’ll be having unwilling, intimate relations with digital hardware from Apple.
I’ve got a lot of strong emotions about Finale weekend – excitement to reunite with some old friends and meet up with some comparatively new ones; regret that it feels like I’ve burned bridges with Rob Cesternino, with whom I shared the Finale experience a year ago; trepidation over how this season’s players will react if and when we meet – so I suppose it’s apropos that I shape this column into three emotional categories: Like, Love, and Loathe.
And so, without further ado – and moving from the beginning of the episode to the end – let me start with how much…
1) … I loved the moments Tina and Katie shared on Redemption Island.
As the father of a seven year-old boy, I tried and failed to hold back tears watching Tina hold her daughter’s hand… my heart ached deeply for them both, a sister and a mother who are now being asked to endure the unendurable… and now, writing about it, the pain returns and the screen swims, and all I can say is that your boy, your brother, was beautiful, so beautiful, and your loss is a loss beyond sorrow.
2) I loved Tyson talking about Survivor 101.
To paraphrase, “You don’t tell a person at the bottom that they’re on the bottom. You give them hope.”
If memory serves, that’s Survivor Commandment #8: Never give ’em time to scramble. From what Tyson is saying, however, Gervase told Hayden point blank that the Big Brother winner was going home. Whoops – yet another example of a social game mistake.
Yes, when the numbers are low, it’s hard to come up with another name that the obvious target will believe, but how difficult would it be to convince Hayden that you’re going to sacrifice Monica? Say you fear her immunity challenge prowess; say that everyone likes her because she was willing to relinquish a reward; say that you are constitutionally incapable of spending the last week of the game hearing Monica talk about herself in the third person. Say ANYTHING other than, “Hey, Hayden, you’re going home – thought you’d like a day or so to try and flip the script – good luck!”
3) I like that Tyson is a sound-bite machine, particularly when he speaks the truth succinctly, humorously, and with just a hint of mean:
“[Monica] is not that great at Survivor – but she comes in handy.”
Just so, Tyson. Just so.
4) I love that Ciera wants to go down swinging.
Ciera could just have easily been the Blood vs. Water equivalent of One World’s Christina Cha, blindly following the butcher, as all good goats do. But that’s not how she’s wired – she is her mother’s daughter, that’s for sure. When she gives thoughtful, even contemplative, confessionals completely devoid of regret about her failed moves, and suggests that she’s going to keep fighting until she’s out of the game for good, I think one thing: See you on a future season, Ciera.
5) I loathe that Ciera and Hayden didn’t immediately assume that the idol had been found.
Setting aside the lack of foresight involved in sharing the clue – even if you think you’ll never flip on your alliance, you still want the idol in your possession – you have to suspect that Tyson has it, don’t you? There is no way he’s going to rest until the idol – and the danger it represents – is in his hands, so if he’s back at camp, lying in the hammock, THE IDOL HAS BEEN FOUND.
The only thing that can keep Tyson’s alliance from having to turn on itself at one of the two Final 5’s is securing the idol (otherwise, an immunity win and the idol would force the issue, and who knows how that would play out – Tyson and Gervase could remain tight, but maybe not) – not to mention, the idol would keep Tyson safe from a betrayal at F5 that the others would be unwise to not at least consider.
Which is all a long-winded way of saying that if night falls on the day of the idol hunt, and Tyson is resting easy, then he’s got the idol.
6) I love AND loathe the endgame rhetoric being articulated by Gervase, Monica, and Tyson.
All this talk of trust and loyalty and scruples is precisely what the members of an alliance SHOULD be saying to one another – it makes everyone think twice about flipping, because they’ll feel that they’re losing jury votes if they betray one another.
And yet, this sort of trust makes the endgame stagnate right when we want it to kick into a higher gear. Gervase and Monica should NOT want to sit next to Tyson at the Final Tribal Council, but they’ve convinced themselves that they have winning narratives. What I wouldn’t give to hear the unedited conversations these three have with each other, to find out just how they convinced one another that they’re the perfect final three, all with a legitimate shot at the million.
7) I loathed Ciera picking Hayden for the reward.
Given how often players screw up reward challenge partner selection, there must be some powerful underlying psychology related to these choices. I mean, it’s easy for me to say, “Pick the swing vote!” – but I’m not there, am I? I wonder – is it as simple as wanting to share some comfort with a member of your alliance? Or does it go deeper than that?
And yet, whatever the psychology of the situation, you have to resist it and PICK THE SWING VOTE! Or, if you think Monica is a lost cause, choose Gervase and threaten him (tell him you’ll see to it that Tyson will get at least five votes if Gervase doesn’t flip)! And even if that fails, walk around camp and act like it DID work – and the next time Tyson’s within earshot, have a “clandestine” conversation with Hayden during which you talk about how Gervase is on board with the plan.
You can have a nice dinner with Hayden after the game is over, Ciera. Reward meals are for sowing the seeds of discord. I’m not saying any of this would have worked, but you have to TRY.
8) I like that Monica didn’t flip.
If Gervase ended up being the first Final 5 victim, Monica would likely have been the second, given that Tyson had the idol, and the R.I. returnee would have eagerly teamed up with Hayden and Ciera.
If Monica is going to make a move, it would be at the second Final 5. Take out Gervase, and then eliminate Tyson at Final 4. I don’t think this’ll happen, but it’s the only way that Monica can build a big move/strategy resume this late in the game.
9) I loathe that I’m running out of time. You know what that means. Speed round!
** I love that Tyson got nervous when Ciera was smiling after her talk with Monica. Bottom line: In his third bite at the apple, Tyson has developed a great gut for the game.
** I love that Hayden is not only ready to speak up at tribal, but that he has anticipated counterarguments. Can you name five players in the history of Survivor that have mixed it up at Tribal Council as well as Hayden? I can’t.
** I love that Ciera pointed out that Monica will be watching all of this at home and see that everything Ciera is saying is true. Shattering the fourth wall. Positively Penner-esque.
** I loathe that Ciera and Hayden didn’t point out that yes, we’re backed into a corner, and yes, we’re throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks, but contradictory things can be true: what we’re saying isn’t only self-serving – it also happens to be 100% honest.
** I loathe that Ciera and Hayden didn’t say all they could have. One possibility:
“Monica, look at the jury – they’re not voting for you. Your immunity challenge wins and loyalty just aren’t enough, not with Tyson in the game. They won’t reward you – one look at their faces should tell you that. So stick up for yourself. Establish your argument right now – what did you do that he didn’t do better? The fact is, you have to make a move. Here’s how you win: take Gervase out now, then Tyson. And Gervase, if Monica won’t listen, you should.”
** Oh, and I loathe that CBS informed me that the Finale is full (last year, there were at least a half dozen empty seats in the press section). Sigh. Hopefully, I can find another way in.
10) Probst Probe: During the Redemption Island challenge, when Tina was starting to pull away from Katie, Probst yelled out, “You do not love beating your daughter!”
11) Fortunes rising: Hayden.
For one reason: His bold gameplay over the past two episodes has turned him into this season’s Fan Favorite. Sprint may not be handing him $100k (one-fifth of his Big Brother check!), but he deserves the POTSie (Player Of The Season). Vote early and often over at RHAP!
12) Fortunes falling: Gervase.
Another tribal, another outburst. And this one didn’t need to be included in the edit – sure, it added drama and conflict, but it didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know – which means it’s there to illuminate the end of a character arc. The end of this story: Gervase doesn’t win.
13) Prediction time:
Clearly, I don’t know what the heck I’m talking about, because if I had only had a brain, I would have known that Ciera would pull out a come-from-behind individual immunity challenge win, and that Hayden would be sent to Redemption Island. Sigh. I feel like the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.
The beauty of being brainless, though, is that I’ve already forgotten pretty much everything I wrote last week. Which allows me to gaze into my crystal ball with my mind clear – or empty, as the case may be – and share what I see:
I see Laura M. winning the final challenge in Redemption Arena – she’s got more strength than Tina, more balance than Hayden, and more stamina than both of them. She’s totally going to smoke that pot… challenge. (Apologies.)
Laura’s R.I. reward: Getting voted out at Final 5.
Gervase let us know in a confessional on Wednesday that Tyson and Monica are his Final 3 alliance, and Monica said the same in a secret scene. And Tyson would be foolish not to go to the end with them both. Which means their alliance isn’t budging (the editors will work overtime during the first half of the finale attempting to convince us otherwise, but it will be all for naught).
In other words, Ciera is going home at F4.
And for all of the accusations and acrimony that will be on display during the Final Tribal Council – sometimes I think the castaways are contractually obliged to be mean – Tyson will win this thing in a landslide. Yes, over the last few episodes he’s been edited into a villain – and yes, Monica has an argument to make – but this jury will reward gameplay, first and foremost. And that means Tyson must, and will, win.
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 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