After a season of unpredictable game play and twists that delivered near-constant drama, Survivor Blood vs. Water coasted through a predictable and comparatively boring finale. Its final alliance of three stayed solid, giving Tyson Apostol an easy but well-deserved win capped off by the two final immunity challenge wins and a strong argument at the final Tribal Council. He cried as it became clear that he’d won a near-unanimous vote from the jury.
His victory marks another $1 million win for a three-time player, though Tyson didn’t exactly have the smooth and easy path that Boston Rob did, thanks especially to Ciera’s bold game play, which made it more difficult for him to stay ahead of those who would evict him. (In 2009, when I interviewed Tyson before Heroes vs. Villains, he complained about the three-time players.)
The only true variable in the final two hours was Monica, who stuck with Tyson and Gervase until the end, and that was her best play, even though betraying them and forcing a fire-building challenge between Tina and Gervase would have been better television.
Probst promised a “brutal” final Tribal Council, but it was tame compared to previous ones; the only brutality, if you can call it that, was directed at Monica. Putting on their entitled and self-important hats, several jury members challenged her, and not just to justify her game play. As Hayden said, “maybe you’ve been a little fake” and “we want to see inside Monica.”
Monica finally broke down: “Have you all never met a nice person?” she cried. “Have you all never met a neat lady?” Monica wavered between despair over needing more validation than the role she’s taken on (“some sort of badge of honor other than Brad’s wife and [kids'] mom”) and taking credit for Brad (“I made him”), which continued to the reunion.
Sure, Monica was frequently annoying, especially referring to herself in the third person (my sister commented mid-episode that the immunity challenge combination lock code should have included the “number of times Monica has referred to herself in the third person” and “number of times Monica has said “*now* I’m playing for Monica!”), but she did outlast almost everyone else, and even got one more vote than Gervase thanks to Vytas. The kindest words for Monica came from Tyson, who complimented the strategy she executed from the bottom of the pile: “it was amazing how well it worked.”
Even if Laura M. had rejoined the game, the outcome would likely have been similar, since Ciera and her ally had no power unless Monica switched (and oh, how I wanted Ciera to win!). After Laura’s insane stretch of challenge wins pre- and post-merge, I was absolutely rooting for her, and for the first time during a Redemption Island challenge, I found myself screaming at the TV not because of something Probst was saying. But it was Tina who balanced a vase for the longest amount of time and re-joined the game.
The true surprise of the evening was the reunion show, which did not give out a fan favorite prize (no sponsor?) and indulged in salivating over a former player only once (to tell Cochran’s story).
The entire cast was on stage, sitting in pairs, and Jeff Probst talked to almost everyone, which was so remarkable I missed that he basically ignored Marissa. But compared to last season’s segregating the pre-merge players and Probst’s tendency to focus on his alpha male bro-crush dudes, this was fantastic and a great improvement.
He saved Tina and Katie for last, and Tina talked about her son Taylor’s death, urging people to wear a seat belt because he’d be alive if he had. Tina explained that they came to the reunion because her fellow cast members and CBS people were like family, and “it is comforting to be here with all these people.” Katie said, devastatingly, that Taylor “was so excited to come” to the live reunion with them.
The reunion also introduced next season’s twist: three tribes (woo!) divided by stereotypes just like Big Brother 11 did (what?). Survivor Cagayan. We also know that there will be no returnees and also not include Redemption Island. That’s exciting, but Survivor Blood vs. Water did prove that both can work, and gave us a season of non-stop entertainment and strategy, and for that, I’m very grateful.