Going into this episode, I was prepared to hate it. This is entirely due to CBS’s promo “strategy” of revealing the episode’s climactic rock draw, an iconic Survivor setpiece and something that hasn’t happened on the show in quite a long time. I understand the network’s urge to draw in viewers by teasing a legendary game moment, but seriously, CBS. Spoilers.
So yes, CBS blowing the big rock draw surprise wasn’t ideal—but a desperate player and the resulting lively Tribal Council makes up for a lot, and this episode had both of those in spades. After Caleb’s ouster last week, Hayden knows he is a dead man walking if he doesn’t come up with a way to flip a few votes his way, and this episode was all about him attempting to get those votes in any way possible. He’s basically forced to cram an entire game of strategy into one day’s time. To his credit, he handles it with a lot of smarts and a pretty good attitude. Having won Big Brother, Hayden is very well versed in the “this is just a game” mentality, and that little bit of remove (and innate fighting spirit) is really what keeps him going throughout all of his desperate pleas.
Desperate as they are, Hayden’s pleas do not fall on totally deaf ears. After a somewhat laughable attempt at convincing Gervase to flip, the main target for Hayden’s wooing is Ciera, who hilariously is the one who turned on him just last week. She’s not willing to vote with him—and when Gervase enters the mix, they both pretty much admit Hayden is screwed—so Hayden is officially so out of options that he makes jokes to Tyson about attempting to lure his alliance away and failing miserably.
It was a bit of a strange experience, watching this and knowing something was going to happen between this conversation and the end of Tribal Council to force people to draw rocks. Everything became incredibly clear, however, once Tribal started. and everything in Tyson’s carefully crafted world went to hell. There’s nothing I love more than a last-ditch effort at Tribal Council to lure other people to your side in order to save your own ass. And Hayden—with the assistance of both Jeff Probst and Gervase—somehow manages to pull it off. Hayden’s whole strategy is to get into Ciera’s head about her position within her alliance and convince her that forcing a tie is a better bet for her than being fourth in a four-man alliance. Somehow, it actually works! It’s a combination of some smart arguing on his part, Gervase accidentally outing Ciera as actually the fourth person in their four-person alliance by pointing out she wasn’t part of his original Galang tribe, and Jeff Probst dropping any veil of being the host and throwing his hat into the ring as an actual player, straight-out influencing Ciera by offering a synopsis of the proceedings that slightly manipulates what Gervase, Monica, and Tyson are saying to her.
Hayden knows he doesn’t have the votes to take out anyone outright, so his entire play is to force a tie and get to the rock draw. The genius portion of his plan is how he silently mouths to Katie and Ciera that they should all vote Monica, knowing she will then be immune from the rock draw, all while Hayden himself knows that the other side is voting for him and he’ll be immune as well. Without this play, Hayden is going home. With this play, only Tyson and the people on Hayden’s side have the potential to go home.
This is why it is absolutely insane that Ciera flips her vote and forces the tie. What exactly does she stand to gain out of this? If anything good happens, like Tyson going home, it is completely up to chance, and there is just as good of a chance that she will be voted out instead! She went from completely safe to having a one-in-three chance of going to Redemption Island, through no one’s fault but her own. Ciera seemed like a smart player in the last few weeks, but this decision showed that she’s a far less strategic thinker than I initially gave her credit for—especially when forced to make decisions quickly. When the second re-vote also comes out to a tie, and Tyson and Ciera basically decide they’re drawing rocks because Ciera is too far down her road to doom to come to any sort of decision with everyone, Hayden’s internal monologue must have been set somewhere between “What the hell just happened?” and “I AM A SUPER-EVIL GENIUS.”
In the end, Katie, Tyson, and Ciera draw rocks and Katie comes out as the victim of chance, completely blowing a hole in Hayden’s brand new alliance and basically dooming Ciera to a very ugly fate next week. This episode could have been an instant classic had CBS not forced the end surprise down my throat while I was innocently trying to watch a football game on Sunday, but knowing what was going to happen doesn’t mean this episode was a wash. In fact, it just proves that the best thing about reality television is still how the human race will never cease to amaze with what insane thing it will do next.
- These rocks are racist. I demand a purple rock!
- Having admired Hayden’s Big Brother game, I’ve basically been waiting for him to do something here. And, well, I guess he did. Good episode, Hayden. Good luck with the rest of your game.
- The “rustle feathers”/“ruffle feathers” moment between Hayden and Tyson was sublime. Really, this entire Tribal Council was gold.
- Fun with mocking: The editors throwing in multiple shots of poor Katie getting bonked in the head by her ball during the immunity challenge was both amusing and cruel. Some people are bad at balancing things on other things, okay?!
- Another great editing moment: Tyson getting emotional over the game intercut with him climbing a random tree and finding the idol. That guy, man.
- Redemption Island is absolutely horrible again. If it had gone away at the merge I would have been ready to call Redemption Island redeemed. Now? Not so much.