A Journey Through “New School” Survivor — Season 27, Survivor: Blood vs Water

While there is no “official” start to the New School era, I consider its beginning to be after Heroes vs. Villains, the twentieth season of Survivor; often considered one of the best, if not the best season in Survivor history. This season has always seemed to be the “opening of the gates” to how everyone could play things strategically, even when odds are against you and numbers aren’t on your side. Nobody was simply “happy to be here” or “just wanted the experience”, everyone wanted to win and do it in a way that could put them in the pantheon of Survivor legend status. And with that, the old school survival and social experiences of the show took a back seat to hardcore and fast paced strategy that defines the new school era.

And with that, I continue my journey with Survivor: Blood vs. Water. Since I took a break from watching Survivor when it aired pretty much after HvV, I’m coming into most of the seasons completely fresh without knowledge of what happens (with a few exceptions of one or two seasons I have watched before and a couple more seasons where I have knowledge of who the winner is already). I will start each article with a spoiler-free review of the season for people who stumble upon my little write-up here and haven’t seen the season yet and want to watch still. After that, I will go into an in-depth analysis of the season’s strategy and entertainment through the vessel of awards and superlatives.

Survivor: Blood vs. Water — The Spoiler Free Review

The 27th season of Survivor brings returning players back to the game to play alongside their family members, and the result is a pretty entertaining product that focuses more on the gameplay. In a rare occurrence in the past few seasons, this season felt like it was elevated by its twist. Because loved ones started out on opposite tribes, a new layer of strategy was added to this game. Players not only had to manage the politics of their tribe, but they also had to make moves with the knowledge of protecting a second player in their mind. Some contestants looked at how votes would affect the loved ones on the other tribe, some tried their hardest to play with their loved one, and some had to deal with the fact that they might have to oppose their loved one and get them out of the game. This season also brings back Redemption Island, and while that twist is often considered one of the worst in Survivor, it makes more sense to use it in a family members season. The duels allowed for family members to react to their loved one’s exit and confront those who voted them out, and the time we spent at Redemption Island offered enough drama and entertainment to make it worth having this season.

A highlight of this season is the gameplay from a great group of castaways. Even though you would expect the season’s key storylines to revolve around the emotions with family, the key moments of the season were all about strategies and gameplay. This season’s cast has one of the most well-rounded returning member tribes, and were supplemented with the family members who brought so much to the table this season. The returning tribe included three true OG players (Tina, Gervase, Rupert), two former winners (Tina, Aras), and multiple notable players from the past and from recent seasons (Candice, Tyson, Laura, recent players from One World) . On top of that the new family members came to play incredibly hard, unlike our last season with the flaccid fans tribe in Caramoan. Many of the most exciting moments of the season were initiated by the family members trying to make big game moves.

The dramatics are a bit more subdued in Blood vs Water, barring some fights at duels at the beginning of the season. Most of the non-gameplay entertainment revolves around the relationship dynamics between the loved ones, from the tumultuous relationship of Aras and Vytas to the Survivor role reversal of mother and daughter Laura and Ciera, to the confounding love story of Colton and Caleb. While the cast is indeed very likable, it feels like that big personality is missing. Tyson is probably the closest we get to a big personality, and even he is a bit more focused on the game and less goofy this season. However, the trade-off of a goofy character for better players is an acceptable one. Blood vs. Water was low on players that only offered a vote to the strategy of the season, and players who ended up in the minority left with some fight rather than leaving with a whimper.

RATING: 3.5 OUT OF 5 STARS

A solid gameplay-focused season that offers up many likable castaways both old and new and many different people to root for.

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AWARDS AND SUPERLATIVES

(Here on out it’s spoilers)

Ten Best Moments from the Season

10. Survivor Sumo — Aras vs. Vytas

Survivor Sumo is one of my favorite early season immunity challenges (thinking back to Season 20 when the heroes chose violence against the villains), and this stage was the emotional climax to the Aras vs. Vytas brotherly rivalry, as the absent older brother faces off against the golden boy younger brother. Vytas trying to play dirty amped up the dramatics of their past rocky relationship.

9. Vytas Survives after Laura B’s Social Mishap

You could feel the whole episode foreshadowing the suicidal social move that Laura Boneham was about to do. Thinking she was safe in the nearly all-women tribe, she chose to announce to Vytas that he was going to be voted in an effort to avoid being deceptive to a person she liked and respected. Vytas, a good player and an identified threat, used this mishap to fan the fires of distrust of the women in power against Laura, leading to her blindside and allowing Vytas to make the merge.

8. Aras is Blindsided

This game shaping move was in the works for a long time by Tyson and Gervase. Aras had built a solid alliance in the original Galang tribe and when merged, he banked on bringing in Vytas and Katie from the other tribe to pair up with their loved ones and ride the game out to the final seven. Aras and Vytas both talked about how much they were in control of the game and how they had “the island on lock” but the threat was immediately disposed of at the first opportunity Tyson and Gervase could get. It goes to show how you can’t fall into contentment and complacency with your position in Survivor.

7. Rupert Takes His Wife’s Place at Redemption Island

It was the only time loved ones traded places, and of all the people on this season Rupert would be the betting favorite to make that sacrifice. It made so much sense for Rupert to do this: it fits the Rupert persona as the mountain man who loves his wife, and you know he loves the hero moves too. Ironically, his former tribe was disappointed he wasn’t going to play with him while Candice on Redemption Island was equally disappointed that she had to live with Rupert.

6. Colton Quits (Again?)

A fitting end to a very disappointing second chance season for Colton. Let’s not forget that in this interaction with Jeff Probst that Jeff accused Colton of faking an appendicitis on his first season at One World, said he should have never left his couch to play Survivor, and told him to keep his buff because only real players get to throw it in the fire at Redemption Island. I watched One World recently (read my article :) pls) and if I remember correctly a doctor medically DQed him for his stomach pain regardless of if it was actually appendicitis or not. However this second exit is pretty egregious so I don’t mind Jeff giving Colton the business. It absolutely looked like Colton quit because he had a bad start and people weren’t doing whatever he told them.

5. The Food Eating Immunity Challenge Gives us a Season 1 Callback

I’m a sucker for nostalgia, so seeing Gervase jumping around eating a grub just like he did on the second episode ever of Survivor is a cool repetition of history. On top of that you have Tyson’s snarky commentary and Monica pulling out the unexpected victory. A great Survivor challenge in all aspects.

4. Candice and Marissa Fight Brad Culpepper at the Duel (Part 1 and Part 2)

The most explosive arguments of the season came right at the start, as Marissa and Candice each take shots at the mafia boss of Tadhana. Part 1 features Marissa saying those four magical words that made her short time on the show worth it. Part 2 features Candice popping off by giving Brad the finger, accusing Brad of shushing women, and it leads to Monica burning the idol clues (kicking off a unique trend from this season).

3. Caleb Makes A Big Play At Tribal Council And Sends Brad Home

Armed with the knowledge that Brad had done some scheming against him earlier in the day, Caleb makes a power move at tribal council by forcing the issue and causing what should’ve been an easy vote to end in a tie. Vytas decides to switch on the revote and Brad gets sent home on a blindside. The fact that a lot of Caleb’s play was done on the fly instead of being pre-planned on the beach back at camp makes it even more impressive, and it earned him all the power in the tribe before the eventual tribe swap.

2. Ciera Votes Out Her Mom

True to the theme, Blood vs. Water was finally tested and Ciera chose water. Ciera knew that her mom Laura was on the voting block to be sent home as a strong challenge competitor with little ties to the power alliance. Ciera, believing she was in a better position to win (and a better player in general I might add), chose to stick with her alliance and go with the majority. She was the only person to vote against their loved one this season, cementing herself in Survivor history.

1. Rocks are Drawn at Tribal Council

It’s the second time a tie vote has ever been sent to rocks (the first time being in season four), as Ciera flipped the vote in a last ditch effort to put a dent in the dominant three-man alliance. What made the play memorable was Hayden’s scrambling and pleading to Ciera in tribal council that made the difference and swayed her decision at the very last second. If Tyson had pulled the white rock and got sent to Redemption Island, it would have been an iconic Survivor risk that paid off and Hayden and Ciera would have essentially guaranteed themselves final three and the possible win. It would have completely changed Tyson’s legacy too, since his path to victory would have been completely shattered, and even if he does make the final three he’s most likely sitting next to Hayden or Ciera, which would have been a tougher Final Tribal Council to win.

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All-Survivor Teams: Outwit and Outplay

Similar to the All-NBA teams, the section awards five contestants who did the best in the season, separated by Outwit (for best strategic play) and Outplay (most entertaining to watch)

2 men, 2 women, and a wildcard spot for each team

All-Outwit Team

Tyson — He consolidated power with the strongest alliance in the game and was consistently calling the shots on who was going to be voted out next. On top of that he had complete control over hidden immunity idols which offered him that bonus protection when he might have needed it. The only time he really felt at risk was at the final seven, and obviously when he had to draw rocks.

Hayden — He wouldn’t have found himself on this list at all if not for his performance after Tyson sniffed out his and Caleb’s blindside plans. His scrambling was top notch and was able to save himself from what seemed like an easy vote out by convincing Ciera to flip sides and send tribal council to rocks. Hayden was able to step up from his previously quiet numbers based alliance game to play a risky game which paid off. Turns out the experience from winning Big Brother does help you out in Survivor.

Ciera — She may not have played the cleanest game but she definitely played with the most flair. Her big moves include: sneaking into the Tadhana Five after Caleb made his move against Brad, being the only player to vote out their loved one for the good of her own game, playing two sides of her alliance to expose Caleb and Hayden to get in Tyson’s good graces, discovering that Katie was bluffing a hidden immunity idol with a savvy bluff of her own, flipping on her new alliance at the last second to force rocks, and making the most progress at deteriorating the final three pact that Monica had with Tyson and Gervase. She had a great understanding of how to play the social game of Survivor.

Monica — While Monica didn’t play the perfect game, she had positioned herself in the driver’s seat as the swing vote in the crucial portion of Blood vs Water. Monica stuck to her alliance for better and for worse which allowed her to get all the way to the end. What kept her chances of winning slim was the reputation among her tribemates as an over-strategizer and paranoid, and in a season where “big moves” were applauded, staying put in an alliance doesn’t carry the clout you need.

Gervase — He was seen as the right hand man to Tyson, but his strategy of being involved in the big blindsides but avoiding the blood that Tyson had on his hands was sound and worked for him. Of course, going to the end with Tyson doomed his chances of winning, but unlike past right hands he was shown to be actively involved in the strategic plays (like the Aras blindside), and was open to moving against Tyson; he just missed the best opportunities since Tyson won the last two immunities when he would have been most vulnerable.

Shoutout to Caleb as well… honorable mention who probably would have made the list over Monica without my self-implemented gender slots.

All-Outplay Team

Ciera — Her moves spoke for herself and in a gameplay focused season, her gameplay was the most fun to watch. Also the amount of times she dissed her mom’s game skills were pretty hilarious knowing she ended up choosing to vote her out.

Tina — I for one welcomed the OG energy and spirit Tina brought to the game. After her last appearance in All-Stars ended up as the first one out due to the winners being targeted, her rebound this season with a fourth place finish, looking better than ever might I add, was the shot of nostalgia I didn’t know I needed.

Brad — His aggressive playstyle gave us all the drama in the first third of the game, so he has to be commended as the lightning rod for all the early action and drama.

Vytas — He’s just so charming. He’s a more likable version of his brother, due to his reformed bad boy personality that allows him assume the underdog role that Aras could never pull off.

Tyson — While Tyson was more dialed into the game this season compared to the past, he found his opportunities to entertain us as Survivor’s #1 dick. Highlights include his creative coconut stealing at camp, his enjoyment of the food at the optional immunity challenge, and his decisive grammar correction of rustle vs ruffle during Hayden’s scrambling at the biggest tribal council of the season.

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The Wallflower Award — Most Forgettable Player: Katie

Katie got really far in the game without doing that much so she got the award this season. But she was one of the more active wallflowers since I started doing these writeups. The family member twist allowed for everyone to have a little time in the spotlight.

Foulest Move: The Emotional Manipulation of Monica at the End

Monica really got sent through the ringer by her tribemates, with it peaking at the end of the season. First, Hayden and Ciera “kinda” lied to her face about how Tyson and Gervase were being fake to her (they both talked shit about her gameplay behind her back but Hayden and Ciera definitely embellished it). Then, the Final Tribal Council brought her to tears multiple times by mildly implying that she was being fake nice to everyone the whole time. In reality Monica seemed to be honest to a fault, and her tribemates saw her as surface level and “putting on an act”. It felt like Monica took a lot of unwarranted heat for sticking with Tyson and Gervase as she was the easy target.

Best Day 1 Player: Brad Culpepper

Brad quickly put together a majority guys alliance and controlled the vote to get Marissa out in a flimsy scapegoat excuse of her loved one Gervase’s showboating. If Redemption Island didn’t exist this season would he have made the merge? The main reason his tribe soured on him seemed to revolve around perception driven by the voted out contestants and their loved ones on the other tribe.

The Idiot Award: Colton

He straight up didn’t adjust to how the game was pacing early on in the season, and it leads to a hilarious meltdown where he looked like a child throwing a tantrum at the duel as he ran to his fiancé Caleb to cry in his lap. All he has to do is swallow the bitter pill and adjust or get voted out; instead Jeff gives him an earful and he walks out a quitter who will probably never get an invite back again.

Best Entertainment to Days in the Game Ratio: Candice

Has anyone done more on season with less time in the main game? The answer is obviously no…. She spent like 10 minutes in the main game and gave us multiple duel wins, two full blown fights with Brad Culpepper sitting the arena stands, some quick bitching about Rupert, and the montage of her loving relationship with her fiancé John at Redemption Island.

Best Showmance (In Tina’s Head-Canon): Vytas and Katie

Tina saying she’d be okay if Vytas wanted to date her daughter was one of the funniest little moments of the season.

Biggest What-If Scenario: Ciera Goes Along with the Tyson Blindside

Assuming that Tyson doesn’t hear about the blindside plan, the family members get him out while he has an idol in his pocket and the game becomes completely wide open. Can you even make a prediction on who wins the season without knowing how the numbers would shake out post blindside and who comes back from Redemption Island? My guess would be Hayden, Caleb or Ciera, but if Gervase can sneak into the final three could he have won? Would the family members turn on each other if they perceive the others as threats to win? If Tyson survives and wins the duel he would still have his idol to play which would have been a big deal. The end definitely wouldn’t have felt so favored towards a Tyson victory here.

Most Interesting Fashion Decision: Tyson’s Cupcake Belt

Just remember it’s made of metal. You can’t eat it.

On a scale of one to ten, how much did the winner deserve the win?

9/10

Once Caleb was voted out Tyson seemed like a clear front-runner to win this season. But he has to credit Ciera for informing him of the plan to blindside him so I can’t give him a ten out of ten because of that. Having Gervase and Monica in his pocket benefitted him greatly.

Who Should be Invited Back Again for a….

Heroes vs Villains Season

Heroes: Hayden — His valiant scrambling against the “villain alliance” led by Tyson and Gervase earns him his spot as a hero fighting hard against the odds.

Villains: Brad Culpepper — The spurned Redemption Island castaways solidified Brad as the villain of the new contestants this season. His aggressive playstyle fits the mold perfectly.

All Stars/Fans vs. Favorites Season

Ciera — She played the most entertaining game and I would love to see her play as a returner and refine her Survivor strategy in round two.

Next up — Survivor: Cagayan, aka Brains vs Beauty vs Brawn

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jfish

Reality TV connoisseur writing about the shows I like, especially Survivor. I also watch the Challenge, the Bachelor, Love is Blind, and more.