The Baker's Dozen - Survivor: Blood vs. Water

Sometimes, when I sit down to write the Dozen, I’m inspired – I have a theme, I have stuff I want to say, and the column can barely contain me.


Other times, though, – such as right now – I look at my notes on the episode and think, Why bother? I have a seven-year-old son who would like nothing better than to hang out with his daddy, and here I am, staring at a screen on a Sunday. Something is wrong with this picture.


So screw themes. Forget about 6000 word manifestos. Here’s all I have to say about this past week’s episode of Survivor:


Totally ripped

1) I’ve ripped Brad Culpepper pretty hard over the last few weeks, so rather than talk about how he played the game, I’d like to touch on an issue his physique – and his wife’s – brings to mind: Steroids and Survivor.


Before anyone jumps down my throat, please understand that I am NOT accusing the Culpeppers of having used performance enhancing drugs. Have I implied it? No way I can say ‘no’ to that question with a straight face. But my goal here is not to commit libel; all I’m trying to do is open a debate.


So what AM I saying? That when a lot of money is at stake – as it is in professional sports and in the entertainment industry – the desire to get an edge is a temptation that will inevitably overwhelm some of the people pursuing the dream. Athletes and actors, so we keep discovering, are taking HGH and synthetic steroids to get to the top of the mountain and/or stay there.


Rumors have swirled over the years that a number of Survivor players have taken steroids in the weeks and months before their seasons began. And why wouldn’t they? The entire experience favors a physically fit castaway – not to mention that bodies are on display in high definition for an audience of millions – so if the use of PED’s can significantly increase the odds of doing well both during the game (challenges) and after (modeling, etc.), at least some of the players would at least consider it, right? And it’s not like Survivor has an anti-doping policy; even if they knew that a player was using, would they really do anything about it?


Here’s the thing: I know that writing this is horribly unfair. I don’t know for a fact that ANYONE has taken steroids right before playing Survivor. But we live in a culture where we look at players – Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones – and wonder if they’re playing it straight. In many ways, everyone is now guilty until proven innocent, particularly if they look different (Bonds) or the results are extraordinary (seven Tour de France titles).


Do I think the Culpeppers have done anything even remotely like this, either to do well in Survivor or as a pharmaceutical fountain of youth? I have absolutely no idea. No doubt they crush it in the weight room, eat well, and earn how they look with sweat, blood and tears. But when I consider the fact that they’re both past the age of 40 and factor in Brad’s former occupation as a lineman in the NFL (which, unsurprisingly, has quite a history with PED’s), I wondered. No more, no less. Just wondered.


I have a feeling that I’ve just pointed to the middle of the room and bellowed, “Elephant!” So it goes – I’m no stranger to controversy. I have a feeling that steroids and Survivor have coexisted for a number of years now – and I, for one, think it’s a topic worth discussing.



2) Kat is all that’s wrong with Survivor casting


I’m 99.9% certain at this point that Probst was referring to Kat during his Chuck Klosterman interview when he said that two players in a recent season had IQ’s so low that he worried about how they would function in life.


And yet she was brought back.


Of course, the real reason she’s included in the Blood vs. Water cast is Hayden, who has been solid from the outset. I can understand why casting was willing to turn a blind eye to Kat’s weaknesses – Hayden deserved a shot, and if this is how it had to happen, so be it.


I just think it’s misunfortunate that a spot was wasted on Kat.


Dudes. Plus Ciera.

3) Boy, was I ever wrong: the tribe swap was completely random, and I couldn’t be happier about it


I just hope that Probst and the producers don’t look at the fact that a random swap put a blossoming star like Vytas in danger and decide to never do it that way again.


4) At this rate, there are going to be a TON of alpha male challenge threats alive at the merge


Given how physically superior Tadhana 2.0 is right now, the merge almost has to be next week, doesn’t it? Given who I think is going home this Wednesday (see #13), here’s a list of the men who will be competing for individual immunity:


John, too, could become a seventh member of the XY club, if he escapes Redemption Island.


Something tells me that Tina is going to have ample time to arrange for alliances while the boys’ club feeds on itself. And if I know Tina, she’s going to pick up less threatening players like Gervase and Caleb during the post-merge melee; if no one identifies what she’s doing before it’s too late, Tina could conceivably become Survivor’s second two-time winner.


Much has changed since Survivor: The Australian Outback, but at least one thing hasn’t: Tina is really, really good at this game.


5) If I were the Redemption Island challenge winner, I’d ask Probst if I could personally deliver the clue


Assuming Probst said yes, once I had it in my hand, I’d tear it open and quickly read it to all of the other players. After that, every trip into the jungle, no matter how innocent, would put a player in peril; Is she looking for the idol? the other players would wonder. Maybe we should vote her out.


The chaos would be glorious.


6) More proof that newbies don’t stand a chance against returnees: They talk too much after tribe swaps


Volunteering information about relationships? Explaining all of the eliminations? Sharing everything you know about the location of the Hidden Immunity Idol?


Tyson’s right. Stupid will be stupid.


The power of Vetus

7) If Hayden, the winner of Big Brother 12, enjoyed puns, after Kat got voted out, he’d give a confessional describing the strategic prowess of Baskauskas the Elder as “The power of Vetus.”


Apparently, playing Survivor well is hereditary; how else to explain how good Aras and Vytas are at the social game?


Not only has Vytas mastered the art of using vulnerability as a weapon, but he also diplomatically eviscerated Kat at Tribal Council. Everything he said was filled with truth, and yet it all served to remove his head from beneath the guillotine and to replace it with Kat’s. Well played, sir. Well played.



8) In a shocking upset, the quote of the episode belongs to Brad Culpepper


Admittedly, Kat unleashed two instant classics:


“The way to play Survivor is to shut it.” A master class on Survivor from Kat Edorsson!


“Who wants to date someone who doesn’t make the merge?” Good question.


But Brad had me laughing out loud with this brilliant nugget:


“Through my fault, or no fault of my own, I probably became an anchor.” – Brad, explaining to Monica why he was voted out of the game.


That pretty much covers all of the possibilities, doesn’t it?


(I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it was door #1.)


9) Probst Probe #1: You’ve probably seen the tweets – Probst has invited tandems to apply for a future Blood vs. Water season.


I understand why: this season has been undeniably compelling and largely unpredictable because of divided loyalties.


Will we care as much about newbies struggling with the possibility of betraying loved ones? I have my doubts. But it might be fun to find out.


That said, as someone who really wants to play the game – as well as watch Survivor in its purest form – I have to admit that I’m disappointed.


10) Probst Probe #2: Brace yourselves – apparently Colton Cumbie is going to come back AGAIN.


A fortnight after shredding Colton on national television for being a two-time quitter, Probst admitted in an Entertainment Weekly interview with Dalton Ross that he voted for Colton to be on this season (despite previously throwing casting under the bus for Colton’s inclusion). Worse still, he explained that Colton will probably return in a future returnee-heavy season, despite his own misgivings.


I think that’s all we really need to know about Probst and casting, don’t you?



11) Fortunes rising: Gervase


Once the merge hits, Gervase is going to sit back while the alphas attack one another; when I play out the various possibilities, I don’t see any scenario in which he doesn’t make the Final 7. At that point, his social game will pay dividends, as he forms an endgame alliance with players like Tina and Tyson. If a few things break right, Gervase is going to find himself making his case for the million at the Final Tribal Council. And how cool would that be, to see someone from Borneo (and maybe the winner of Australia) outlasting all of the new kids?



12) Fortunes falling: Aras


The way his narrative is unfolding, Aras is living on borrowed time. The unbalanced tribe swap was a temporary stay of execution, but there isn’t a single person left in the game who hasn’t identified Aras as a threat. With no place to hide and a familial betrayal up ahead, King Aras will soon be the victim of a fratricide regicide.


13) Prediction time!


Leaving Redemption Island: Can you see Kat defeating John and Laura in a puzzle-based challenge? Yeah, me neither.


Sent to Redemption Island: Is it just me, or are the commercials revealing way too much? I mean, given what we’ve been shown, the following pretty much has to happen:


** Galang 2.0 loses again.

** Vytas is the initial target.

** Laura Boneham violates Survivor Commandment #4: Don’t tell a player he’s the target when he still has time to scramble.
** Despite wanting to take out a male player (and isolate Aras as an ally), Tina realizes there’s no point in keeping someone she can’t trust.

** Laura B. is voted out.


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

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