Pre-credit sequence. It’s Night 26 at Kasama and Ciera is reassuring the rest of her tribe that it’s OK that she voted her mother out and it had to happen. “I’m surprised that Ciera chose water over blood, but Ciera has a plan and I don’t think her mother is really a part of it,” Katie reflects. Ciera, meanwhile, thinks this means that she’ll be viewed as strong and trustworthy. And, indeed, Tyson respects her for the move, but she also now viewers Ciera as dangerous, which he presumably did not before.
The Eyes of Laura M. Tina and Vytas are on Redemption Island waiting to see who comes next. Hilariously, Laura approaches them whispering “Mom,” faking out Tina, who had dreaded her daughter’s arrival. Well-played, Laura. “I’m having a hard time defining how I’m feeling about Ciera writing my name down,” says Laura, who is proud of her daughter, but not necessarily happy. Vytas, Tina and Laura all agree that, under the radar, Tyson is running everything. “Why isn’t anybody voting him out?” Vytas asks. CREDITS!
Gleaming the Cubes. It’s time for another Redemption Island Arena Duel. But first, Jeff Probst has some narrative-driving instigation he wants to do! “Ciera voted you out of this game. She voted her mom out,” Probst charges. “I’m proud of her,” Laura insists, reassuring her daughter that it’s OK. “Sorry,” Ciera mouths to her mom. The Duel begins with the contestants getting four squares through a tunnel. The cubes have colors on all sides and have to be arranged in a particular order. Laura and Vytas get out to a reasonable lead when it comes to cube accumulation, but the challenges always come down to the puzzle at the end. Tina lags way behind, but if she’s good with the puzzle, it won’t matter. Laura wins the Duel! She moves on to start coaching Tina. In fact, she isn’t coaching so much as she’s steering Tina entirely. This is shades of Amy helping Nicole in last week’s “Amazing Race.” Tina finishes seconds before Vytas and Vytas is eliminated. He’s cold to Laura, as he promptly follows Aras out of the game. “They don’t want me to move forward because I’m threatening to them,” Vytas says. Vytas hopes that the shared experience will bring him closer to Aras. “Namaste, bitches!” he says, as his buff burns. Laura gives the Immunity clue to Ciera and she returns to the tradition of burning the clue. We get at least one cutaway to Katie thinking, “But you told me you had the Idol!”
Might Tyson Punch Out? Everybody returns to Kasama talking about the moms bonding. Tyson thinks that the next couple votes are the biggest in the game and he attempts to point things in Katie’s direction by emphasizing that Katie already has three Jury votes guaranteed. “You do not want to be the guy who waited too long to make a move,” Hayden says and he goes to Caleb and says that if they don’t make that move, it’ll be too late. “He’s been in control the whole game,” Hayden says of Tyson. Caleb tells Katie that a blindside is coming and, of course, Katie’s both giddy, but also terrified, comparing herself to a hermit crab trading shells. Caleb and Hayden make the same pitch to Ciera and she initially seems Katie-esque in her agreeability. “We can so outsmart these veterans,” Ciera crows to them, as they make a Final 3 deal. HOWEVER. Ciera isn’t lacking in respect for her elders and worries at the newbies and their flip-flopping. “I don’t want to work with people like that,” Ciera says and promptly goes to Tyson and tells him that she’s voting how he’s voting the rest of the way. Interesting. And not stupid. Tyson knows he has Gervase and Monica, so if he has Ciera, they can take either Hayden or Caleb out. I’m intrigued. Tyson tells Gervase what Ciera told him and Gervase wants to vote Caleb out because of how likable he is. “Two days ago, the four guys, we had control of the game, but now we’re all plotting on each other and it makes me nervous,” Gervase says.
Keeping your hidden alliance secret. You’re Doing It Wrong. The next morning, everybody is sluggish. Ciera invites Tyson to get Tree-Mail with her. Who does that? Hayden and Caleb are instantly suspicious that Ciera isn’t making eye contact. Tyson and Ciera agree that all systems are go and Ciera trusts Tyson, figuring that he owes her. Tree-mail is cryptic and Hayden is paranoid. Nobody understands why Ciera and Tyson are suddenly so chummy. Katie warns us that Ciera could become a target again if she doesn’t win Immunity.
Midday Meat Train. And guess what? Immunity is back up for grabs. Ropes are attached to buckets holding 25 percent of their body weight. However, anybody feeling secure can sit the challenge out in favor of lots and lots of BBQ meat. They’re each handed white rocks and black rocks. White means “I’m competing.” Black means “I’m eating.” Tyson, Gervase and Ciera pull black rocks. Wow. Seriously, Ciera? That’s utterly inexcusable from a strategic point of view. I mean, I suspect she wouldn’t have done it if she’d known that her two co-conspirators were also eating. “Seven people came here to compete. Three have opted out,” says Probst, who’s reliably contemptuous of choices like this. Uninterested in Probst’s smugness, Tyson calls the feast, “Delicious to the taste and very desirable” and adds, “Keep it up guys,” as he chows down. Monica, winner of two Individual Immunities, wants to show her kids that there are two badasses in her house. Tyson continues to belch and toss his bones into the woods. He’s rubbing this in. Katie’s bucket drops first. She’d have done better if she’d have worn her awesome hipster glasses. Tyson and Ciera are sharing sausage. Tyson and Gervase go “Lady and the Tramp” on a long roll. This is a heck of a performance those three are putting on. I can’t wait to ask about it whenever I get them for exit interviews. Remind me to, eh? Caleb’s hands are bleeding and he drops out. He didn’t get Immunity and he didn’t get food, but he got Jeff Probst’s respect, which is meaningless if The Three Eaters have their way. It’s Hayden versus Unbeatable Monica. Monica isn’t even flinching, while Hayden flails. Monica wins her third Individual Immunity. She’s a Monster. Much respect. Hayden checks out the remains of the feast as they leave.
Tyson talks about his meat. Post-challenge, we’re hailing Monica. Tyson is telling everybody about the steak and also the chicken. Hayden finds it telling that Tyson, Gervase and Ciera felt comfortable enough to eat and Katie agrees. “I’m in a predicament,” Hayden says, wondering if his old alliance is a sinking ship. Hayden and Caleb decide to flat-out ask Tyson and suggest a vote against Ciera. They confront him on blindsiding them. Tyson confronts them about blindsiding him. Tyson comes away believing that Ciera is playing both sides, which isn’t exactly untrue, but he doesn’t trust Caleb or Hayden either. It’s interesting that Tyson has gone from being a no-brainer target, to being nobody’s target at all. “She should have picked a side and stuck with it,” Caleb says. The last piece is Tyson going to Gervase. “Somebody’s lying in this. It’s either Hayden and Caleb or Ciera,” Gervase says. Gervase, who definitely isn’t going home tonight, will trust his gut.
Tribal Council. The Aras & Vytas Jury enters. Hayden shows his blisters and admits to jealousy. Caleb says he wasn’t shocked by anybody sitting out, but Probst wants to make sure that we find it shocking that Ciera sat it out. Ciera says neatly that if she doesn’t think she can win a challenge, she’d rather eat. Tyson is smarmy. Gervase hopes he can trust the people in his alliance. Hayden reassures Gervase and Probst prods Ciera to be uncomfortable. Tyson says he’d be shocked if he were voted out, but that’s “Survivor.” Caleb says he expects a blindside. Ciera says she’d be shocked if she went home and insists upon her honesty.
The Vote. Caleb votes for Ciera and accuses her of running her mouth too much. Ciera votes for Caleb. Probst asks if anybody wants to play an Idol. Wow. Tyson reaches into his bag and dumps it upside down and final plays his Idol. Some people are amused. Other people look irked. The votes: Ciera. Caleb. Ciera. Ciera. Caleb. Caleb. CALEB. That was a weird, weird, weird, weird, weird vote. Tyson gives Gervase a wink. “I was shocked that my name was on there,” Caleb says, calling it “a successful blindside.”
Bottom Line, Part I. Vytas played a good game, under the circumstances. However, given what we’ve seen in recent weeks, I don’t know how much I credit him for slipping through his Post-Shuffle tribe and how much he was spared by pre-game alliances, pre-Merge predictive strategizing, residual bitterness we’d only barely seen and more. In the moment, it looked like Vytas’ manipulation was masterful, but we’ve seen ample evidence that voting out Kat, Laura and Laura made sense to that alliance for other reasons having nothing to do with Vytas. Basically, in the moment, it looked like because Vytas was a man, he’d automatically be voted out of that tribe, but we were working with the assumption that if you give women a majority, they’ll vote together even if it isn’t in their best interest in other ways. Our bad for making that assumption. If you take that assumption away, Vytas wasn’t such an inevitable vote-out and maybe he wasn’t so impress as we thought and, in turn, maybe the women weren’t as manipulated by him as the editing made it seem. I’m genuinely not sure.
Bottom Line, Part II. On one hand, Tyson went the right way with his vote at Tribal Council. Hayden and Caleb were plotting against him unprompted and Ciera went to him in pretty straight-forward candor. If his vote was based on who was accurately representing the plotting against him, Tyson read things correctly. But if he was reading things correctly and he knew that one alliance wanted Ciera out and another alliance wanted Caleb out and he was the linchpin in either vote, why would he have still decided to play that Idol? It was, from what we saw, an Idol that nobody was even slightly aware he had. Coupled with his performance during the Immunity challenge, I wonder if Tyson’s strategy is eventually going to involve making more likable people believe everybody hates him and then turning the tables by emphasizing his central role in every vote this season and hoping that the Jury is prone to voting on game merit and not cuddliness? I really don’t know. It’s weird and I go back and forth between thinking it’s a terrific play and thinking Tyson is heading for another flameout.
Bottom Line, Part III. I really don’t know what to make of Ciera. I think any evaluation of her actions in this episode depends on whether you believe that she was going to be Tyson’s next target or if he was going to vote Katie out first. If you think Tyson wanted Katie out first, then Ciera talked her way from getting zero votes and being the swing between either 4-3 against Katie or against Tyson into getting three votes, very nearly going to Redemption Island and now having everybody certain that she’s playing too hard to be trusted. If you think Tyson wanted Ciera out first? Then she just made a choice to go with Tyson rather than the people who wanted Tyson out and we’ll have to see what comes next. Either way, the choice to eat was dumb, because it reenforced paranoia in order to get a temporary boost of protein.
Bottom Line, Part IV. At some point, Monica becomes a target, right? Obviously if she never loses Immunity, that’s moot. But she’s gone from the paranoid flip-flopper with zero credentials for a win to being the Immunity juggernaut who hasn’t stabbed anybody in the back. Three weeks, ago, you’d have thought it was absurd to suggest that Monica was heading for anything better than a third place finish. As it stands now, nobody hates her and she’s building a resume. We’ll see.
Thoughts? And happy Thanksgiving to you all!