“We’re drawing rocks”: Survivor Blood vs. Water’s intense unpredictability continues

Despite the suspense being dulled by CBS’ insistence on giving away the a twice-in-a-series’-lifetime moment in a preview, Survivor Blood vs. Water delivered again last night with an incredible Tribal Council that ended up with Katie Collins being sent to Redemption Island as a result of a random draw. And was it ever intense.

Yes, the infamous purple rock was back for only the second time in the show’s history, though this time it was a white rock. The rule, which is detailed on nearly an entire page of the Survivor rule book (page seven), specifies that after two deadlocked votes, the tribe has to make a unanimous decision, or else those who received votes are safe, and everyone else draws rocks to send someone home at random.

Tribal Council’s awesomeness illustrated why I get so frustrated when the show, or its host, or its producers, or its host/producers, or its network, get desperate, and do things like kill most of an episode’s tension by spoiling, without warning, the outcome of two votes in a promo.

Survivor works.

Even knowing the outcome of the epic lobbying for Ciera’s vote, never mind the rule-mandated discussion to try to reach a unanimous decision, it was still dramatic. The intensity of the arguments was fascinating, and the discussion following the two deadlocked votes was super-fast; no one would budge. Ciera was so bold: “let’s not bullshit me,” she said, and when she got more bullshit, just looked at Probst and said, “Okay, we’re drawing rocks.”

Incredible. Ciera is the most unexpectedly great player the game has seen in a while, and not just because she was unassuming at first, but because of how she’s deftly navigated her strategic kayak down a very rocky stretch of rapids.

Earlier, Hayden tried to talk Ciera and Gervase into joining him, which, after telling us he’s “the worst loser,” he actually confessed to Tyson that he was trying to “convince everybody to blindside you, and it hasn’t worked.” It didn’t seem to work at all until Tribal Council, when Ciera’s alliance kept calling her “number four,” as in, here, put on this red shirt and come explore the planet with us; we’ll keep you safe.

In case Hayden hadn’t figured out that he had no other choice but to make a bold argument and move, Jeff Probst told him at Tribal Council: “Hayden, this is the opportunity you need. Because you and Katie have nothing to lose.” Jeff then reminded Katie that she was on a reality TV show: “That is Survivor. This is where the game is won or lost. Do you get that?”

In related news, while immunity challenge winner Gervase was selecting who to eat ice cream with, Probst boomed, “People have made million dollar mistakes at this point in the game. Who do you choose and who do you leave behind?” I expected him to keep going: Who gets ice cream and who gets no ice cream? Who cries while everyone else eats? Who gets noting? Who do you screw using your ice cream? WHO WILL GET THE ICE CREAM STICK SHOVED IN THEIR METAPHORIC EYE UNTIL THEY CANNOT SEE WHO BETRAYED THEM?

Gervase did fairly well in the challenge, though he was almost beaten by Monica, who’s proving herself to be surprisingly resilient, even in non-endurance challenges, never mind in the game. However, I don’t really understand Gervase’s strategy; at times he comes across lost, like Tina sometimes did, perhaps because both initially played the game in its early life. After last episode’s Tribal Council, when Hayden told the tribe that Tyson was going to win and therefore should be a threat, Gervase jumped up and said, “Tyson can’t do nothing if it wasn’t for me,” Gervase said “He’s on my lap.” That was funny, but also the equivalent of him saying, No, I’m the threat! Vote me off!

If Ciera and Gervase end up at the end, I can see the jury giving her much more credit even despite her strategic shifts, because she’s playing a more visible yet simultaneously collegial game. For example, Ciera received the clue to the idol’s location because her mom, Laura, won the Redemption Island challenge yet again, and she shared it with her alliance.

The clue clearly said something such as, Look in the places where the camera operators pan to while you’re searching nearby. Hayden missed that clue, because he was on Big Brother and the cameras there are mostly invisible, kind of like his chances without an idol or some kind of other game-changing shift.

Tyson found the idol in a tree, of course, and proved that he wins this year’s best commentary award when he told the camera that he’d “put it in my crotch where nobody will suspect a bulge.” Tyson also had another great zinger when he interrupted Hayden at Tribal Council to correct his vocabulary: “you said ruffle feathers.” Hayden corrected him back and gave him a lesson in what “rustle” means, but Tyson still won, having succeeded in throwing Hayden off. He’s a smart one, that Tyson.

Redemption Island delivered a moment of spectacular unscripted entertainment, too, even though it was a repeat of a challenge that feels like we’ve seen it half a dozen times, and even though the challenge’s outcome was spoiled by the preview showing Caleb sitting in the jury. With less than 30 seconds to go, Caleb’s tower started leaning and fell over, as if in slow motion, and as if the universe was punishing him for selecting Colton as a partner, the base of his tower collapsed itself a few seconds later.

That’s kind of what’s happened repeatedly this season: Every time there seems to be a solid alliance or game plan, it collapses. And there is nothing more entertaining than that.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.