Pre-credit sequence. “Another tough vote,” Tyson says as Kasama returns to camp. Ciera is, once again, apologizing for playing the game and all that. She is, however, hopeful that Redemption Island will bring an alliance-mate back into the game. It could hardly not. “My best shot is going to be with Monica and Gervase,” Tyson says, explaining that he may have to use the Immunity Idol to keep Monica in line. Tyson offers her the Idol and tells her that she can either use it or take it home to her kids. She doesn’t take it, but Tyson says he’ll send it to her. Monica has a plan. “If the guys really do think I’m their lapdog, fine. But I’m not going to be manipulated by Tyson and Gervase,” Monica says, noting that whoever comes back from Redemption will give her two choices at the Final 3. This is gonna be a big Monica episode, I sense.
Jeff Probst or Tyson are the only people who deserve to win this season. Hayden gets to Redemption Island. “Shoot a monkey,” Tina says, in apparently disappointment. “Getting voted out sucks,” says Hayden, who reminds us that he’s played two competitions and this is his first time getting voted out. Tina and Laura are mighty pleased at Ciera’s challenge win. “If it’s Tyson, Gervase and Monica at the end, I’m gonna vote for Jeff,” Hayden says. I made that same joke on Twitter last week. Hayden is ready for a duel that pits him against two grandmas. Tree-mail tells them that the Duel is do-or-die. “If I come out of Redemption Island with one ounce of energy in me, I did something wrong,” Tina says. Laura plans on being the cavalry riding in to help Ciera.
Ace of Vase. Let’s Duel! Tina, Laura and Hayden arrive at the Arena. The task is simple and dull: You have to place one foot at the end of a teeter-totter. On the other end is a vase. You move to much, the vase falls and breaks. “There is no second place today. One winner. Two losers,” Jeff Probst explains. Laura has won five out of six Duels, Probst reminds us. You can’t win “Survivor” based on that, but it’s not unimpressive. After 15 minutes, nothing has happened, but people are starting to sweat. Laura’s struggling most of all. Her vase is wobbling. “Dig, woman!” Probst yells. Laura digs and her vase steads. Hayden slips and down goes his vase. “Tina, let me have it please,” Laura says. “No way sister,” Tina says. Laura seems a much more viable candidate to return to the game as Queenmaker. Tina will be returning to leave, probably. After a half-hour, both women are in trouble, but Laura vase drops first. Tina wins and will rejoin the game. “When you’re out here, you begin to appreciate what you have back home,” Hayden says, excited to give Kat a big kiss. He burns his buff. Laura cries and tells Jeff that she didn’t finish strong, prompting Jeff to give Laura a lecture on parenting. Shut up, Jeff. “What good is winning six, seven challenges if you can’t finish it,” Laura says. “You showed me out here how to be a better friend, how to be a better woman and how to be a better mom,” Ciera tells Laura. “How can you walk away saying you lost after that?” Laura says. And Tina’s back to continue a game in which, thus far, she’s done absolutely nothing.
Good Cop, Tina Cop. Tina’s back, knowing what she’s working against. She’s determined to either find The Idol that Isn’t There or to start a Three Moms alliance with Ciera and Monica. Anything could happen, I suppose. Tina’s first step is finding The Idol That Isn’t There. “Tina is a freak,” Ciera says, watching Tina crawl around trees. “She acts like she’s my age,” Ciera says, eventually getting around to telling Tina her suspicions that Tyson already has the Idol. Without an Idol, Tina makes her pitch to Monica. “The Jury will be ugly. I promise you that,” Tina tells Monica, saying that people on the Jury are going to be mad at her for being disloyal. Ciera doesn’t like Tina’s approach and plays Good Cop, telling Monica that she has a strong physical case to make to the Jury and that this could give put a big strategic move on her resume. “I’ve got a lot of sorting out to do,” Monica says, calling it “a brutal game.”
Balance of power. Immunity is, as you’d imagine, back up for grabs. It’s another balancing task. There’s an unbalanced table. You have to hold the table flat, while also stacking 10 tiles. When did this become “Survivor: Balancing Edition”? This challenge is actually much more complicated than the Duel, but coming so soon after the Duel, it’s frustratingly familiar. People getting close and then their tiles all fall. Methodically, Tyson is just one tile away. Working practically in slow-motion, with a patience we never knew he had, Tyson wins Immunity, his first challenge win of the season. Good timing on his end. “Can I kneel like I’m being knighted?” Tyson asks, as Probst places Immunity around his neck. “I’m not gonna celebrate, because it’s not done,” Tyson says, eying the next vote.
Handling Monica. Everybody pretends to be happy for Tyson as they return to camp. They’re not, unless they’re Gervase. Tyson wants to keep the Hidden Idol to give Rachel as a present, but some of that will relate to who they vote out tonight. Tyson and Monica and Gervase sit on the beach and discuss the next vote. Gervase very correctly observes that they have a better chance to beat Tina, because Ciera made a big move. Monica, however, says that she’d keep Ciera, because Tina has no enemies on the Jury. She’s not wrong about that, but it’s also not especially relevant. Monica feels that she’s been bullied by Tina. I don’t know what this stems from, but it leads to a fight between Gervase and Monica. Monica is really, really convinced she’s been bullied all game. Gervase correctly tries arguing that Tina’s already won and they won’t give her another million. Gervase, however, makes his points to Monica much too loudly and she feels bullied by them. Good gracious. Gervase pretty much ruins everything when he talks. Monica, feeling scorned and bullied, suggests voting Gervase out, which Tina and Ciera love. “Tonight’s Tribal Council, I’m gonna own it,” Monica says. Ugh. This is awful. I wish Monica didn’t keep talking about being bullied, when she hasn’t been, about the perception that she’s a lapdog, a perception only voiced by people trying to manipulate her. It doesn’t make Monica seem very impressive.
Tribal Council, No. 1. As Jeff Probst notes, Monica’s in the middle again. She agrees, comparing herself to a first round draft pick. Why are Gervase and Tyson having to defend themselves against charges of being villains? Ugh. Ciera returns to the exact same things she was telling Monica last week. “I’ve never used the term lapdog EVER,” Tyson says. “You come away feeling like, ‘I just want to die inside,'” Monica cries. Ugh. “Tonight is my strategic move,” she repeats. “My heart just dropped out of my chest,” Gervase says.
The Vote, No. 1. “Tonight, it’s about me,” Monica says. WE GET IT. So. Annoying. We sell products and then return for the vote. Tyson gives Gervase his Hidden Immunity Idol! Zing! The votes: Gervase. Gervase. Ciera. CIERA. And that’s that. Wait. So do we not even see the last vote? I get that Ciera’s gone for sure, but don’t we deserve to know if Monica flipped? And if Tyson made a good move? “I had plans I put into motion, but it didn’t work out,” Ciera says. “I’m leaving with just so much confidence and strength,” Ciera adds. We did, indeed, see Monica’s vote. She voted for Ciera, sticking with her alliance.
[This recap is going to be ridiculously long. The second half of this recap, including the result and my Bottom Lines is on Page 2.]
It’s Morning in A-Monica. “I’ve gotta say. Y’all shocked me on that one,” Tina tells her tribemates. Monica’s pissed off, because she knows that Tyson and Gervase wouldn’t have used the Idol if they felt they could trust her. She’s determined to win Immunity and control her own destiny and OH MY GOSH STOP BABBLING. Tina is proud to still be around on Day 38, but she’s convinced that if she doesn’t win Immunity, she’s done. Tina and Monica bond over discussing the sunrise. Tyson and Gervase are less excited. We’ve got 50 minutes to go and not only is there only one acceptable winner for this season, but every other alternative is becoming increasingly unacceptable.
A worthy Final Immunity Challenge. Huzzah. Immunity is up for grabs for the last time. For Final Immunity, they basically have to do a lot of everything. There are obstacles and puzzle pieces and endurance and stuff. This is, at least in the beginning, as close to a worthy Final Immunity Challenge as we’ve had for a while. I like it when a season comes down to a big and cumulative challenge. Monica and Gervase get out to a solid lead on the first two puzzle bags, though barring something big, it’ll come down to a final puzzle, as it always does. Monica has four of six bags of pieces first, with Tyson close behind. Tina is lagging. Tyson and Gervase have a small lead starting on the puzzle, but Monica is in the hunt as well. The puzzle is a set of instructions they have to follow to unlock a combination lock. This is a great Final Challenge. Tyson solves the puzzle first, but now he has to figure out the clue. TYSON WINS. This should be a frigging rout. Tyson has been the dominant strategic player all season and he’s now won the last two Immunity Idols of the season. Anybody voting for anybody other than Tyson at the Final Jury is a Bitter Betty. Tina thinks that she can present Monica with the chance to make it a two-two vote. Whatever. It shouldn’t matter. At all.
Fire Walk With Me. “You earned it. That’s for sure,” Tina tells Tyson. “This is the first time I’ve made it to Day 39,” Tyson says, calling it one of the best days of his life. He’s hoping to up the ante with his Jury speech the next day. Meanwhile, Gervase and Monica are bickering about Monica cross-checking him out of the way during the challenge. Gervase figures the vote is simple at Tribal and he’s looking forward to presenting his case to the Jury. Of course, Monica is contemplating making things less simple by being obnoxious. “What if she beats us? Do you think there’s a chance that could happen?” Tyson asks Gervase about Monica. Gervase agrees it has crossed his mind. Tina insists that she can beat Gervase in fire-building, but only if Monica makes it a tie. Tina suggests that Gervase may have played a better social game than Tyson. Monica is left with the choice of making a big move for her resume, but possibly needing to sit next to Tina at Final Tribal. Sigh.
Tribal Council, No. 2. Tina knew that she had to win today, but when she lost she went and worked Monica. I don’t get why Monica and Gervase are still fighting about such a tiny bit of competitiveness in an Immunity Challenge. Monica’s making the point that she’s been the swing vote for weeks, which will presumably be the totality of her Final Jury argument. “A big move sways a lot of people,” Gervase admits. Once again, that’s Gervase making an argument for exactly the worst possible thing for his interests.
The Vote, No. 2. Probst tallies: Tina. Tina. Gervase. TINA. “You guys be kinda to one another tomorrow,” she tells them. So Monica’s argument is going to be that she was the swing vote every week, while her voting record is going to show that with a chance to make a big move each week, she stuck with Tyson every week. I’ll say it again: Any vote against Tyson is an embarrassment. Tina is convinced that she was one tribal council away from tying Sandra for two wins. Or was she one Tribal Council from having the chance to tie Sandra? She isn’t saying she’d have won, is she? Also, Sandra’s still 2-for-2.
Going through the Pre-Tribal Motions. Is it time for a Final Day breakfast and Rites of Passage? Yes! They have champagne and an assortment of vegetables and cheeses and eggs. Mmmm. Bacon. Monica’s proud that she made the Final 3 without Brad. She suggests that actually she did it without anybody else. REALLY?!? Gervase says he’s come full circle, saying that the game he returned to is totally different from the game he originally played. Wait. NO RITES OF PASSAGE?!?! Or did my Slingbox skip over it? [UPDATE: Nope. No Rites of Passage. Weird.]
Final Tribal Council – Opening Statements. Yeah, yeah. The power in the game switches to the Jury. Gervase is up first. He says he used a mixture of Old School and New School “Survivor.” On the New School side, he credits himself with getting Aras out, which is probably true. Gervase insists he played the game the way it was meant to be played. “I think sitting in this position definitely warrants your votes,” Gervase says. Monica begins by insisting that she wasn’t “drug along like a puppy-dog.” Monica notes that she had choices, but she took the one she took because she has less blood on her hands and betrayed fewer people. Sigh. Tyson begins talking about his sense that he was going to be a major target from the beginning and so he was determined to have fun. He says things changed when he saw Rachel at Redemption Island. He starts crying about how it was important to show Rachel he appreciated her sacrifice. He says he did what he had to and won challenges when he had to. “Everything I did was strategic. Nothing was out of malice,” he swears.
Final Tribal Council – Jury Bitterness. Vyras credits Tyson with getting him before he got got, but he reminds Tyson that he promised that if he voted him out, he wouldn’t get his Jury vote. Vytas says he’s gonna stick to that problem. Boo. Vytas then tells Gervase that Old School doesn’t work in “Survivor.” And Vytas is pissed off that Monica had a real friendship with him and betrayed him or something. Katie thinks that when Tyson sent Katie to the Jury, he did it with malice. He agrees that he did and admits that the drawing rocks thing was a moment of emotion. Tyson asks her to look past that, but admits that maybe he wouldn’t be able to. Tyson apologizes and says it was his one regret. Caleb wants Monica to say something from the heart. Monica wants this, because nothing in the last 21 years has been about her. “I’m proud of me. I don’t know if you all are proud of me or not,” she says, claiming that she hasn’t had a friend out here since Day 1. I genuinely can’t tell if anybody’s buying this. Ciera is up next. She wants to know if Tyson sees himself as the villain or the hero. “Every move I made was strategic,” says Tyson, who doesn’t view himself as the villain. “A hero? Rachel considers me a hero,” Tyson says. Ciera asks Gervase if he ever was going to vote out Tyson. Gervase says he considered it, but he felt like he could beat Tyson. Laura says she doesn’t know who Monica is, asking to see her ugliness. Monica says that she’s felt out of place, listing negative things that people have said about her. “How did that not devastate you and bring yourself to your knees out here?” Laura asks. More tears from Monica, who insists again that this is her time. Laura congratulates her for being vulnerable. Holy crud. Is Monica going to cry her way to a million dollars? Tina asks for one word and one word only to describe their core. “Generous,” Monica says. “Honorable,” Gervase says. “Is fun-loving one word, or is it two?” Tyson asks. Ugh. Bad answer, Tyson. Hayden’s up. He asks Tyson where the Idol was. Tyson explains. “Touche,” Hayden replies, in a salute to Kat. Hayden asks Monica for more vulnerability and openness. “Have you all never met a nice person? Have you all never met someone who wasn’t selfish?” Monica says. Aras is up last. He asks Gervase to choose from either Monica or Tyson. Gervase doesn’t hesitate and praises Tyson. Interesting. “You can ‘t knock anything about his game,” Gervase says. Monica agrees that Tyson made the biggest move in the game. “I feel like he was a charging horse for 39 days,” Monica says. When Tyson is asked, he says he’d vote for Monica, though I’m not sure I really understand his rationale at all. I’m really intrigued by that last question and the strategic implications of their answers. Were they honest? Or did they say the person least likely to get votes to protect themselves? And should Tyson just have answered, “Jeff Probst”?
The Final Vote. How many votes will we see? Caleb writes “Tyson” and urges him to buy Rachel a house and make lots of babies. “You’re a little bit annoying, but you’re a real strong woman,” Vytas says, writing Monica’s name. No token Juror for Gervase? That’s not a good sign. “Bye Jeff,” Tyson leers as Probst walks away with the votes. “Bye, Tyson,” Probst replies.
The Live Results. The crowd is lively, which Jeff Probst figures is all for him. Probst tallies: Monica. Tyson. Tyson. [I think it’s a rout from here.] Tyson. [Tyson is starting to cry, because he knows.] Tyson. TYSON. He knew this 100 percent. There’s a big hug for the Final 3. Mazel Tov to Tyson.
Bottom Line, Part I. Tyson deserved to win. Period. Easy. Last year, when I tried saying Cochran’s win was a Top 10 “Survivor” performance, I got a lot of lip. In retrospect, I may not have put that right. It was one of the Top 10 most satisfying wins for me, but that was a lot about Cochran being a “Survivor” winner I can relate to and my enjoyment of his underdog strategy, rather than any particular celebration of the quality of his gameplay. I don’t mean to take anything away from Cochran’s gameplay. He had a great season. I just may have gotten caught up in personal enthusiasm, rather than objective respect. So I’m not going to rank Tyson’s performance this season. HOWEVER. Tyson has always been a guy whose performance in “Survivor” didn’t live up to the idea of Tyson. As a result, he had a fairly short run his first time and basically voted himself out the second time. This season, though, Tyson came in and put a target on himself from the very beginning and he controlled the game with very little subterfuge. No, Aras didn’t see Tyson coming, but just about everybody else did and they couldn’t stop him. He massaged his alliances and even though Monica kept seeming like she was going to flip, but she never did. Surely that’s Tyson’s most impressive achievement, honestly. Holding Monica in position to make four or five crucial votes at the end seems like a big move. But anyway… Tyson was the deserving winner.
Bottom Line, Part II. The twists mostly worked this season. The “Blood vs. Water” twist yielded exactly one vote by a player against their loved one, but it impacted every bit of strategy at least two-thirds of the game, often in ways that the producers probably didn’t anticipate. I doubt the producers could have predicted Brad Culpepper’s strategy of trying to hurt the stronger players on the other side in order to help Monica and if you look at the results… Wow. Brad’s moves were all, he said, to help Monica. And Monica made the Final 3. But Brad voted out Marissa and Rachel first and second and *their* loved ones also made the Final 3. In fact, Tyson said point-blank tonight that Rachel leaving the game forced him to focus so that he could make sure her departure hadn’t been in vain. So Brad Culpepper’s over-strategizing perhaps helped Monica and perhaps it hurt her, but one thing that’s certain is that Brad’s interpretation of the “Blood vs. Water” twist was what shaped this game. I’m sure what the producers wanted was more Cieras voting out their Lauras, but even if they didn’t get that, they reinvigorated the game’s strategy, which is no small feat in Season 27. In addition, because of the fact that the people on Redemption Island all had loved ones back in the game, Redemption Island had meaning for the very first time, because the players had rooting interests at those Duels. [Without those rooting interests and emotional ties, Redemption Island was, as always, a total dud. Laura Morett was voted out, dominated at Redemption, came back and was voted out again. Tina was sluggish and useless at Redemption, won the last Duel and even though she lasted one vote, she wasn’t a factor in the Endgame.] The twist that we can debate is the opening vote-out/replacement twist. On the down side for the producers, it basically squeezed Rupert out immediately. On the plus side for many viewers who are sick of Rupert, it basically squeezed Rupert out immediately. Laura B wasn’t a very interesting player, though her cardinal sin of being honest with Vytas was amusingly presented. Candice became a much more interesting player on Redemption than she ever was in her previous seasons, but in order for her arc on the show to pay off, she would have had to keep winning Duels and been able to return to the game. She did not.
Bottom Line, Part III. I don’t know if this was a *great* “Survivor” season, but it was a good “Survivor” season, possibly a very good season. Like I said above, there were fresh strategic elements introduced and those elements were important to the eventual results. That’s big. There was a deserving winner. That’s even bigger. There were hissable villains, which helps, but isn’t always necessary. And there were big Tribal Council surprises, which you need for “Survivor” to work. Caleb’s in-progress Tribal Council blindside of Brad Culpepper was unique. The Ciera-forced rock-drawing wasn’t quite unique, but it was rare. So for me? That adds up to a good season.
What’d y’all think? Did Tyson deserve to win? [If you think he didn’t, you may need to leave.] Did the twists make for a good season? And if you have pressing Exit Interview questions for anybody in the Top *SEVEN* let me know.