Pre-credit sequence. We begin on Redemption Island, as Katie arrives after her ill-fated rock-draw. Tina is happy to see her daughter, but sad that she’s on Redemption. Katie gives a blow-by-blow on the rocking and both Tina and Laura agree that Katie did the right thing by taking her fate into her own hands, kinda. Even if she sorta stumbled into the rocks. “I would not be opposed to letting you win,” Tina tells Katie about the upcoming Duel. “It’s my daughter and that takes precedence over all things, even a million dollars,” says Tina, who has previously won a million dollars.
Also, never get involved in a land war in Asia. Things are nutty as folks return to camp. Tyson is still reeling. Hayden is apologizing and saying he loves people. While things failed for his alliance, Hayden’s gambit at Tribal Council worked for him individually, so he’s pleased, but not as pleased as if Tyson had gotten the wrong rock. “That’s why you don’t let an insane person know that they’re the next to go, Gervase,” Tyson says, debriefing his alliance-mate. “You have to give them home. You have to tell them somebody else’s name,” Tyson says. As of now, Monica is relieved that her alliance stuck with her. Don’t worry, she’ll forget that relief. Monica worries, though, that if either Tyson or Gervase has an Idol, she could be in trouble. To shut her up, Tyson reveals to her that he has an Idol, but that doesn’t calm Monica, who worries that she doesn’t have any respect. “It hurt me and I’ll never forget it,” Monica vows. “She’s not great at ‘Survivor,’ but she’s really come in handy,” Tyson cackles to Gervase.
I got nothing to lose, much to gain/ In my brain, I got a capitalist migraine. For some reason, Ciera is feeling relief after her performance at the last Tribal. She’s glad that, if nothing else, she made a move. Suddenly, Ciera wants Laura back in the game. She also wants an Idol and to win a challenge. Anything, really. “The great thing about my position right now is I have nothing to lose,” she says.
Sniffle. Duel time! Tina, Laura and Katie arrive at Redemption Island Arena. “This is by far the hardest day,” Tina says, admitting that she can’t say if she’s capable of giving 100 percent. “What I’ve decided is I’m just gonna play today and I’ll make that decision in the moment,” she says. It’s that task where you have to make a pole and then use that pole to collect three keys on rings and unlock a door. The task begins and Tina starts coaching Katie immediately. Laura gets the first key. Laura gets her second as Katie gets her first. And then her third. Laura is a Redemption Island powerhouse and wins another Duel, leaving mother and daughter struggling. “The question is: Will Tina fight hard enough to defeat her daughter?” Probst inquires. Neither Katie nor Tina seems to have a particular desire to win. Tina, playing from behind, gets her third key. “Katie, are you OK with this?” Tina asks as she unlocks the first lock. “Are you sure?” she says after the second. “I love you. Sorry,” Tina says, walking through her door and surviving. They cry. They hug. Tina explains that because she was adopted, she never felt a connection in life until she had Katie. Sniffle. “I’m so incredibly proud of both myself and my mother,” Katie says. Sniffle. I suspect that recent events in their actual life made that hit me harder than it might have otherwise. Laura gives her daughter the clue to The Idol That Isn’t There, while Tina tells Hayden to win the next challenge.
How do I trust thee? Let me count the ways. Hayden and Ciera have a more informative clue now to The Idol That Isn’t There. Their strategy relies on winning Immunity and finding The Idol That Isn’t There. As the music gets wicked dramatic, they climb trees and search. Monica strolls by, as you do. Hayden is convinced that he’s isolated the right tree and since The Idol That Isn’t There isn’t there, he’s sure Tyson has it. Back at camp, Gervase and Tyson are being friendly with Monica, keeping her content and happy. “1 to 10, how much do you trust me?” Gervase asks Monica. “10,” she replies. Tyson gets the same score, while Ciera gets a “5.” Monica is grateful that Tyson drew rocks rather than flipping on her, calling it a selfless act. She figures she’ll have a lifelong bond, but she announces that she’s playing the game for Monica. In the shelter, Ciera and Hayden decide their only play is to try to manipulate Monica, lying to her about things Tyson and Gervase have been saying.
In which a Jeff Probst cliche finally becomes relevant. Immunity is back up for grabs. The task involves swimming and some puzzle-solving. They’re also playing for Reward. Want to know what they’re playing for? A “Survivor” takeout menu. The first half of the challenge is entirely physical, so Hayden and Tyson have a big lead. As always, it’ll come down to the puzzle component, in this case a familiar “Survivor” phrase. Really, everybody but Ciera gets to the puzzle at roughly the same time. It’s an eight-word phrase and everybody is initially stumped. Probst keeps repeating over and over and over that it’s a phrase he’s said to them. Wow. From nowhere, Ciera spells, “You are going to have to dig deep.” Ciera wins Immunity and skips to Jeff to get her necklace. Ciera gets to choose a lunch companion and, of course, it’s Hayden.
That pizza didn’t even look good. Ciera is ever-so-happy. “Oh my gosh! I just won!” Ciera says, all smiles. She can’t wait to tell her mom, which is cute. She thinks she just proved that she didn’t make a mistake in flipping on Tyson. “Now that I know what it feels like, I’m gonna be going for that every single time,” she says. Hayden’s happy to be “crushing” some food, but the majority alliance agrees that they’re still planning on voting Hayden. Full of food, Ciera is ready to go after Monica, The Crack. At the beach, Ciera unloads to Monica, explaining that Tyson is a villain and that he was talking “mad crap” about Monica. She spins an elaborate lie about the things Tyson has said about her, all things Tyson probably *has* said about Monica, but not in the context Ciera’s explaining. Monica has some faith in Tyson after the rock-drawing, but the only thing easier than shaking Monica’s faith is… Nothing, actually. Shaking Monica’s faith is the easiest thing in the world. And she’s shaken. But will she be stirred to action? Monica says “It’s now become a Me game,” Monica says, vowing to go on offense. Tyson is worried, but Gervase is confident.
Tribal Council. “Katie looks hot,” Hayden says, checking out the new Jury member with clean hair. Even Ciera is impressed. Probst steers conversation to Hayden and Ciera being on the outs. Scrambling, they go after Monica, chipping away, even as Tyson tries to protest. Gervase declares, “One man’s perception is another man’s reality. Why they perceive is a reality to them.” Monica explains what Ciera told her and says that “perhaps” there is truth. Tyson says that Ciera lies as well, but Ciera protests that her conversation with Monica was woman-to-woman. Ciera plays this HARD. “It’s funny how they’re telling Monica this now, when they’re desperate to stay in the game,” Gervase says smartly. Hayden and Gervase get into a heated fight about who’s controlling each alliance. Ciera keeps pushing on the “Evil, rude things” Tyson has said. Monica is digging deep and vows that a new side of her has come out. “Morality and ethical issues are going to bite you in the ass in the end,” Monica says and Gervase squirms. I like the way Ciera and Hayden have decided that “dog” is the word that gets Monica’s goat. Ciera’s going over-the-top here, talking about Monica’s family cheering her big move. If she were trying to convince any fully rational person this wouldn’t work, but she knows what’ll work with Monica. I don’t think she’s wrong.
The Vote. Probst goes to tally. Nobody plays an Idol. Probst tallies: Hayden. Gervase. Hayden. Gervase. HAYDEN. Monica stuck with her alliance. Hayden is gracious and smiley.
Bottom Line, Part I. I’d be hard-press to say that what Katie played was “a good game,” but I think it was a pretty solid floating game when you consider that, by rights, she should have been the first person voted out of the game. She was the weakest player at that first challenge and in many or most seasons, she just gets sent packing without hesitation. Instead, she ducked and dodged and was amenable with anybody who would keep her around and people kept getting voted out before her. She wasn’t playing a game that, under any circumstances, could have won, but I’ll give her full credit: She could have lasted one day and she lasted 33. That’s a decent run.
Bottom Line, Part II. And while I’m giving kudos, kudos to Ciera and Hayden for the scrambling effort they put in these past couple weeks. Well, maybe not kudos to Ciera, who still upset the applecart last week and, at least as of now, hasn’t put herself in better position to win. If she was No. 4 in the Monica/Tyson/Gervase alliance, she’s No. 4 outside of it as well. Lots of pieces were moved around and nothing changed, except that her chances of moving up to three seemed better from inside the alliance than from outside. We assume that one more person is coming back into the game, but I don’t see how anybody from Redemption would shake things up, but that’s only because we didn’t get any comparative sense of Monica’s relationship with Laura or Tina. But Hayden and Ciera created drama the past two weeks while accomplishing nothing and “Survivor” requires drama, however hollow.
Bottom Line, Part III. I feel like we still have too many people left. There are seven people still technically alive in the game and there’s zero chance I’m doing seven exit interviews next Monday morning. Probably I’ll end up saying that I want to talk to the Top 3 plus, if they don’t make the Top 3, Tyson and/or Gervase. I probably want to talk to those guys no matter what. This hasn’t been a season with only one dominant figure. Brad Culpepper was the most visible figure for 14 days. Aras and Vytas were the most visible figures for at least another week. And Tyson and Gervase have been in control ever since. Nobody beats Tyson in the Final 3. Probably if Tyson goes out before then and Gervase is still there, nobody beats him. But what are the various permutations in a game in which something shocking happens and the next two players out are Tyson and Gervase, leaving a Final Three of Ciera, Monica and Redemption Returnee TBD. Tina beats nobody. I may not be sure of anything else, but I’m sure of that.
Thoughts on tonight’s episode and the season heading towards Sunday’s finale?