This one was the Tyson Show from start to finish (with guest appearances by Hayden and Ciera). Which means, obviously, that it was funny and lighthearted while also being solid on the strategy. It had idols, flips, feasts, and blisters. Hayden made an attempt at a big play at the traditional Final 7 slot, although it ended up not working. Despite that, he's still the only person with zero votes against. Of the seven people left at the start of the episode, four were officially boot targets at some point, which is the mark of the game being played. There were certainly parts that could have been better (such as: who is this Caleb guy?), but on the whole, one of the better post-merge episodes so far.
Hooray for new challenges... someday. Maybe?
Admittedly, Survivor has had a lot of challenges over the years, and as such, it becomes increasingly difficult to come up with new ones. We get it. We also agree it's probably not worth the effort to expend energy coming up with a new challenge, only to waste it on a duel. But even so, this season has had 12 full challenges, of which maybe one (the first) was completely new, two were variants of it, and several combined overused elements (ring toss, bolo toss, puzzles) with other old challenge elements. Worse yet, three of the last five were direct copies from Survivor: Nicaragua, hardly renowned for its challenge richness (except the dunking wheel, which none of these were), and the other two were seen less than a year ago in Philippines and Caramoan. Furthermore, nobody has had to swim for five straight episodes.
So it was somewhat refreshing to see the opening of the duel was entirely new, even if it was just moving cubes along a tubular net. And then it ended in a repeat of a duel puzzle from South Pacific, one that just happened to be lifted from Samoa... and that Laura Morett (and Galu) won in its first iteration. Sigh.
Go ahead and help. Who cares?
Even though Laura had a seemingly unfair advantage in the duel, we weren't particularly bothered that she was then able to coach Tina to a second-place finish. There is no cheating if it's not expressly forbidden. If producers don't want duel competitors copying each other, they'll put up blinds between the stations. (In theory. In practice the layout of Redemption Arena probably prohibits this, either because it would block the attendees from seeing all but the closest puzzle, or because it would block the cameras from doing so, or both.) But still, a true competitor seizes every advantage to which they have access, so why shouldn't Laura help Tina? It's perhaps not a great plan if Laura plans to re-enter the game, and wants Vytas's jury vote (and Aras's, probably). But she should certainly be given every opportunity to make that mistake.
Sure, sticking with (1) the guy who's seen as calling all the shots, (2) his genial, beloved sidekick, and (3) the badass challenge beast may seem like an unwise decision if you're playing to win, but it may have been the best option Ciera had. As the episode opened, the remaining six (Ciera, Monica, and the Tyson/Gervase and Caleb/Hayden pairs) should have been unified in voting out Katie, the last remainder of the merge minority alliance. Katie as a target made sense, since as Tyson noted, she has at least one, probably three jury votes currently at RI or on the jury, should she reach the finals.
Booting Katie was the easiest choice, so of course, everyone promptly abandoned it. Ciera's best chance at a win is to face a jury that contains her mom and all three of the other original Tadhanas. So an alliance with Katie, Hayden, and Caleb featured the worst of all options. In contrast, sticking with Tyson kept Katie as a target, unless the focus switched to getting rid of Hayden and Caleb (which it of course did, although that was an eventual goal, anyway). It probably won't get Ciera the million, but it wasn't terrible.
It's probably not coincidental that the last time Tyson was faced with an eat-or-compete decision was in his boot episode in Tocantins. Prior to that, Tyson had won the first two individual immunities, establishing himself as a threat. This season, Monica has taken two of the first four necklaces, and she'd just beaten Tyson (and his shoulder) in the previous challenge, which was only slightly different from this one. At this point in Tocantins, J.T. and Stephen opted to eat (as did Coach), while Tyson played shuffleboard. Tyson was in a solid position to win until the very last shot, which was made by Debbie, who won instead. Here in Blood vs. Water, Tyson's now in the driver's seat, and his idol gives him the assurance of no repercussions for sitting out, so why not eat here? Why suffer, and potentially come in second again, while others feast? With fellow Coconut Bandit Gervase joining him, a good time was had by all. Except Hayden, apparently.
Tyson flushes his own idol
On the one hand, Tyson guaranteed he would not be booted at one of the most frequent game-changing Tribal Councils (Final Seven) with an idol in his backpack. On the other hand, in playing the idol, he probably irritated more than a few of his alliancemates, who have spent the past few episodes shadowing people who were looking for idols that weren't even there. Often at Tyson's behest.
Tyson probably defused some potential anger with his comical charade of belaboredly digging through his bag to find it. Will that be enough? Working in Tyson's favor is the all-but-guaranteed prospect of the idol being re-hidden in the next episode, and the idol itself should still be functional for three more Tribal Councils. Assuming he can divert everyone's attention to the fact that there actually is an idol somehere out there to find now, Tyson can probably escape from this unscathed. But it will take a bit of finesse to play it properly once the tribe returns to camp.
Why Caleb? Why not Hayden? Also: Who are these people?
We'll admit it: We have no idea why Caleb was targeted over Hayden. Part of the problem here is that Caleb has been mute and invisible since the immediate aftermath of Brad Culpepper's boot. Nobody talks about him. But then again, nobody really talks about Hayden, either (although at least he gets the occasional confessional). So while we saw Hayden kick into high gear this episode, and make a solid, alberit unsuccessful, attempt at a Big Blindside, it's near-impossible to compare how Caleb and Hayden are viewed by the remaining players. Thanks, editors! We, the viewers, know Hayden won Big Brother (and even then, it hasn't really come up on the show, so many viewers may not know this). Does the Kasama tribe know this? Who knows? All we've really heard said about either of them is Tyson's asserton that Caleb is too likable, and thus was the guy to target, lest he reach the finals. On paper, this seems like the wrong decision, but in the context of the show, maybe it made perfect sense. Again, who knows? And again: thanks, editors!
Sorry, Ciera. Yeah, sorry, Ciera. Hey, I voted for her too, you guys!
I hope that, by voting for my mom, they see they can trust me
Ciera's playing really hard. She's even willing to vote out her mom. There's no way we can trust her.
Oh, that Laura M, pretending to be Katie when she got here! What a crack-up!
Arrival, Ep11 duel
Laura M, still proud of Ciera
The dramatic pageantry of moving cubes along a net
Vytas builds an early lead, for naught
And just like that, Laura is done with this challenge, which she also did in Samoa
Yay for Moms!
Not much left to do but walk Tina through the rest of it
Post-duel glowering with Probst
Oh well, at least I beat Aras
Gee, thanks, Mom. Just what I always wanted.
Tina tries to extract the magical power of grandbabies from Laura's hand
Pretty sure they're moms because they didn't, dude.
Hold up, bro. It might be time to make a move.
As it turns out, Caleb and Hayden have been on this show THE WHOLE TIME.
Can you? That's mathematically impossible. Should you? Eh, sure, whatever.
Good news, guys! We're turning this game around!
Hold up, bro. It might be time to make a move.
Dude, Hayden. I JUST voted out my mom to make Tyson trust me. Did you not notice that?
Bad news, Tyson. There are two guys named Hayden and Caleb playing still. Also they want to vote for you.
Thanks, Ciera. I'll have to verify that Caleb and Hayden are still here, though.
CIERA WAS RIGHT. Caleb and Hayden are still there, more or less.
I dunno, man. I'm still not sure there's a Caleb on this season.
I just saved you Tyson, by flipping on my former tribe. You must trust me now, right?
Two of the people that will be sitting out the IC read the treemail for it
Oh, holding stuff. We can never guess who'll win that.
We are literally plotting behind Tyson's back. How about that!
Pre-challenge lineup, Ep11 IC
Omega and alpha
Sausage fest? I like the sound of that!
And I should know, I was on Big Brother.
The white rocks of death
There are no grubs involved, right?
Probst: Ha ha, just kidding guys. The challenge just started, and you all have to hold those rocks out until you drop them. While I eat the feast.
Not falling for that
This would be a perfect time to surprise everyone, and break out the gender-specific necklaces
Just hanging out
Come on guys, there's an untouched bowl of coleslaw there, practically insect-free
We'll get to it eventually. Probably.
Statue-esque, or statuesque?
As do we all, guys
That's a more roll
Katie gets to watch Tyson eat
Imagining the cheers of thousands of Buccaneers fans (do they have that many?)
Can I call you Colbpepper?
Man, they got coleslaw?
Hayden apparently did not learn counting from Brad
Time for old Gil to swing into action!
Hard to believe this scene escaped CBS's exuberant hashtaggery
Hey Tyson, have you met Caleb yet?
Wait, now Tyson IS after me. Thanks a lot, Hayden.
He's right, I am after Caleb
Me? What did I do?
Another missed hashtag opportunity. Try harder, CBS.
This shot seems organic
These stigmata are proof of my sacrifice for you. And by 'sacrifice,' I mean I've watched at least one full season of Big Brother.
Whoa, that was pretty heavy, Hayden
Ciera's just happy to be here
Caleb observes, silently. For a change.
This punchline goes out you, my bros on the jury! Ha!
We are not laughing
No? I'm really starting to miss Debbie
Hold up, Probst. I've got something in here for ya
Dramatic bag dump
Here's a little something for your time, Jeff. Keep the change.
Hooray, this means these jackasses might not burn the next clue!
Is there a Caleb here? Come on, enough with the joke votes, guys.
Recaps and commentary
Exit interviews - Vytas Baskauskas