Stephen Fishbach was the runner-up on Survivor: Tocantins and has been blogging about Survivor strategy for PEOPLE since 2009. Follow him on Twitter @stephenfishbach. Erik Reichenbach is a Survivor fan-turned-favorite, a comic book author and artist. He placed fifth on both Survivor: Micronesia and Survivor: Caramoan. Follow him on Twitter @BloodyAmer1can.
“I can go to tribal council willing to take the rock … I’m willing to make that gamble. I came to play a game.”
– Ian Rosenberger, Survivor: Palau
Last night on Survivor, for the second time in the show’s history, the contestants drew rocks to determine who was eliminated. Returning players Tyson, Gervase and Monica were deadlocked at the vote against newbies Hayden, Katie and Ciera. After one of the most jaw-dropping, feather-ruffling tribal councils in Survivor history, Katie was eliminated by drawing the white rock. “I got rocked out,” she said.
Hayden wins this week’s Fishy Award for making it all happen. Sure, Team Hayden came out on the wrong side of the rocks and it’s dollars to donuts he’s gone next week if he doesn’t win immunity. Nevertheless, he managed to turn a certain loss into a glimmer of hope, a 33 percent chance of fully flipping the game on its head and taking control. If nothing else, he garnered another three days in the game.
Hayden’s most difficult task – and most shocking accomplishment – was convincing Ciera to flip to his side. At the start of the episode, Ciera seemed locked with the veterans. “I have no intention of doing anything with Hayden or Katie,” she said. But Hayden kept up a drum beat refrain throughout the episode: Ciera was fourth in the alliance and nobody could beat Tyson in the end.
“If you want to get him out, it’s this tribal, right now,” he enthused, channeling an inspirational speech from a TV coach. Hayden was all flying rhetoric with Gervase and Ciera, but privately you could see he was going a little bit crazy. “I’m the worst loser!” he exclaimed, his body actually shuddering in frustration.
At first Hayden’s efforts seemed fruitless. It’s surprisingly hard to convince people to flip on a dominant alliance, even if they’re clearly at the bottom. Players delude themselves that they can win. See, for example, Gervase: “I think I have the chance to beat Tyson.”
But at tribal council, goaded on by a giddy Jeff Probst, Hayden redoubled his efforts. Every time Tyson, Monica or Gervase made a case that Ciera was a core ally, Hayden countered. Monica said, “Four is better than six.” Hayden responded, “Monica just told you that you’re fourth.”
I don’t think I have ever seen someone make a more persuasive case to a swing vote in the entire history of the show. Certainly not at tribal council. And certainly not one that actually worked.
Hayden was helped by Gervase, who’s on a mission to alienate his allies and piss off the jury. (Pro tip: It’s not a great idea to repeatedly call the jurors “sore losers” if you want their votes). When Jeff asked Ciera what she thought about Gervase snubbing her on reward, Ciera let Gervase off the hook, saying she’d gone on a lot of food rewards. Gervase, however, made it clear that his decision was based on his undying loyalties to Tyson and Monica. Smart!
People often talk about drawing rocks. In Samoa, Galu was ready to draw against Russell’s crew. In South Pacific, Ozzy’s Savaii tribe committed to rocks against Coach’s Upolus. But someone from the more fractious tribe always flips. Usually someone named John.
So kudos to everybody who drew a rock – Tyson, Ciera and Katie. Putting your hand in that bag is a big move in itself. It proves you have the courage to risk everything for the chance to win.
It’s unfortunate that Ciera didn’t come to her epiphany earlier – like last week, when Caleb made a majority. Or perhaps before she showed the idol clue to Tyson. A well-played idol would have made the rocks unnecessary.
The new players now have a hard fight ahead of them. And a furious Tyson is glaring them in the face.