Airdate: November 20, 2013
Boot: Aras Baskauskas (eliminated from Redemption Island); Laura Morett
Quote: “We’re always going to be mother/daughter…it’s now morphed into the role where I’m trusting her decisions.” – Laura Morett, on Ciera
Rating: 8 + Tier C (3) = 11
The random number generator has hooked me up with two iconic episodes in a row–first, Kel’s beef jerky saga in season 2, and now the immortal “She voted out her mom!” episode of Blood vs. Water.
For better or worse, this episode is the ultimate culmination of the Blood vs. Water concept, and it’s not just because of Laura and Ciera. While I’m loath to give any credit to Redemption Island, the brotherly duel between Aras and Vytas is compelling, especially with the nail-biting finish between Aras and Tina. The first female winner actually had pulled ahead at the start of the challenge, but a devastating setback allowed Vytas to overtake her, and Aras nearly did the same. Here’s the real treat though: getting to see Tina (and her daughter) curse. Heavens to Betsy!
Back at camp, Tyson tests the waters for a Laura blindside, adamant that Ciera not be informed so she’s not put in the precarious position of having to vote out her mom. Oh, you’re so naive, Tyson! Ciera is already plotting Laura’s exit on her own, because matricide is trendy these days. And, well, what better way to guarantee yourself airtime and a return appearance than by eliminating the woman in whose womb you spent nine months of softness?
Ciera and Laura are the last pair in the game proper, and Ciera is especially aware that that puts a collective target on them. And she’s ready to make the ultimate betrayal in order to further her own game. “I’ve proven to be the better player,” she declares, although I’m not sure what metric she’s using. Who does Shambo hate less?
The two convene for a heartfelt session in which Ciera opens up about her plan. Laura is not only not upset, she’s proud to see her daughter taking a stand and looking out for her own game. Her tearful admission that she’s willing to prioritize Ciera’s success is sort of a double-edged testament to the power of the Blood vs. Water format. While I love the compelling dynamics that go along with having loved ones play against each other, I really can’t stand the inevitable schmaltzy presentation that colors every interaction.
Now, I get it. This is the scene the producers were hoping for when they came up with the season’s concept. And it is naturally highly dramatic. But much like the contestant backstory packages introduced in Survivor 41, the heavy-handed approach drives cynical viewers like me crazy enough to want to cyberbully teen girls into taking Proactiv and inspire a whole new generation of sad Survivor backstories.
Beyond the schmaltz, this episode suffers from featuring by far the worst type of scene on Survivor, a player hunting for an idol that the audience knows has already been found. There’s a small payoff later when Ciera cleverly fools Katie into admitting she didn’t find it, but come on. Idol hunts are the most agonizingly repetitive sequences the show offers, and I’m grateful that in more recent years they’ve become a bit more playful and experimental in how they present them.
On the more redeeming side, when Monica wins immunity, she opts to give up her reward of burgers, hot dogs, and fries so that everyone else can eat. It’s a sweet, motherly, and seemingly sincere gesture that is probably also partly because Monica is literally the last Survivor contestant I can imagine eating a hot dog. She’s an incredibly fit mom who calls herself a “neat lady.” Forgive me for thinking she’s not Oscar Mayer’s target customer.
At Tribal Council, Jeff points out that Laura and Ciera are the last remaining pair, and Caleb says that the difference between them and Katie and Tina is that Laura “wants this just as bad as Ciera does. She’s not gonna lay down for Ciera’s game.” But while everyone seems to be pushing a narrative that either one would be willing to vote against the other, Laura for some reason argues the opposite; that aligning with one secures two separate votes. Ciera’s sullen look of guilt here almost says more than the bittersweet vote that Jeff saves for last: “Laura (Mom) :(” The parenthetical and emoji distracted from Jeff’s major wood as a result of such a big move.