Blood vs. Water – A Retrospective


Once again in 2014, Survivor Oz will bring you Feature Articles to brighten up your Mondays! In our first feature of 2014, New Zealander and Blood vs. Water doubter, Nick Chester, takes a look back on the season, discussing what went right and what went wrong. Nick then gives us his take on how the concept could be developed and evolve in the future. As always, we want to hear what you thought of the season after initially hearing about the format, and you can also have your say on Nick’s ideas about how to improve the Blood vs. Water concept by commenting below!

There is a saying that in life, the key to happiness is low expectations. During the Blood vs. Water preview show, I loudly proclaimed that the season was nothing more than a spin off version of the show and that the numerous twists bastardised the concept of the show into an almost unrecognisable format. As is often the case, I was proved wrong and was very happy to be so. Blood vs. Water was a thoroughly entertaining season, with few slow episodes and a lot of twists and turns to keep things interesting. The addition of competitors with pre-existing relationships had the benefit of injecting emotion back into the game, which was good as the show had been increasingly edited over the years to be seen as a strategy heavy contest where player’s relationships with each other felt distant and cold. There was a lot to recommend the format and as such, I would be shocked not to see future Blood vs. Water seasons in the future.

Survivor also got a lot of other things right this season, which ensured things worked well. This included a great cast for the most part, of both returning players and first timers. Bringing back players who haven’t been seen in years in Aras and Gervase was a great move. Although I wasn’t a fan of her game, Monica certainly delivered and made for interesting television and proved she deserved to be there in her own right and not just because of who her husband was. I think producers got lucky that the more uninteresting or polarising veterans went out early, (Candice, Rupert and Colton).

The loved ones though were really the big surprise. I think it would be fair to say that the “fans” in the two Fans vs. Favourites seasons were somewhat lacking in their desire to actually play the game and perhaps a little star struck by the veterans. As the family members all knew at least one returning player prior to playing the game themselves, (and almost all of them had seen this person fail to win). This wasn’t the case in Blood vs. Water and made the new players better at the game and more hungry to win rather than just make it far. For me, Ciera and Hayden were absolute standouts in terms of their game play, prepared to risk everything knowing that playing a passive game would be unlikely to lead to victory. This was incredibly refreshing and made for great television. Caleb and Vytas also were fun to watch at various times and we were certainly robbed of entertainment by having Brad go home so early. So overall, it would be safe to say that Blood vs. Water surpassed our expectations and is a season that will be remembered as very memorable.

However, it wasn’t all good and I have a few gripes that I would like to see changed, not just for another Blood vs. Water format, but in all seasons going forward.

1. No More Redemption Island

Its time to accept that this twist simply doesn’t work. Production has tried and in the three seasons it has existed, it has failed to have any significant impact on how the season has played out. It messes with the format of the show, making Tribal Council’s less impactful. I heard the argument that it did actually work in this season, because of the emotion injected with loved ones still in the game. However, other than Rupert’s Day One Switch, nobody traded places with their loved ones. If we are looking for more drama and emotion, I would suggest this could be achieved by allowing the tribe that wins Immunity to attend Tribal Council in an observing capacity. Seeing your loved one actually get voted out and have their torch snuffed would be much more raw and emotional that having to watch them stack a bunch of tiles. I like to keep an open mind on game twists but this one has had its chance and hasn’t panned out. Redemption Island still falls over by only testing one of Survivor’s three key skills, (“Outplay”, or the ability to win challenges), and in fact it allows players in the later half of the game to bypass the most essential one – “outlast”, or the ability to play a good social game. Tyson was my pre-season pick to win the game, in large part because I figured that even if he was voted out, it would have been incredibly difficulty for two people to beat him on Redemption Island. The twist simply doesn’t work, with or without loved ones. There are better ways to achieve drama without messing with the fundamental rules of the game.

image Even with the loved ones twist, Redemption Island doesn’t work.

2. Retire the Hidden Immunity Idol

I would like to think that the lesson has been learnt about giving Idol clues away in the open and that won’t be done anymore. Having said that, this season only highlighted why the Hidden Immunity Idol has had its day and should be “retired” as a Survivor twist. Since the crazy days of Idol plays in Heroes vs. Villains, the Hidden Immunity Idol has only been used effectively once; that was in Caramoan and it needed two Idols and an Individual Immunity Necklace in order to succeed. Every other time since Nicaragua, the Idol has either been in the hands of the person in control, or the controlling alliance has been able to split votes in order to nullify its effect. This isn’t a good return on the time invested into showing people looking for Idols, or talking about who has them and how that will be dealt with. It’s time to face up to the fact that Survivor players have adapted to the game with an Idol and it no longer plays a significant role in the season. Let’s remove it from the game and come up with something new.

3. Cast more confrontational couples

The emotion of seeing people deal with their loved ones was a great element of Blood vs. Water, but almost all these pairs were working on the assumption that playing with their loved one was the best idea. This makes sense for a lot of pairs, but the show would have benefitted from having several couples ready and willing to turn on each other. Yes, Ciera did vote for her mother, but Laura was going regardless and this move was made much more of a big deal than it actually was. I had expected that Aras and Vytas might turn on each other, but this never happened and they worked on the assumption that playing together was the best move. One of the best parts of The Amazing Race is when teams turn on themselves, with the pair not being able to function and self destructing. For The Amazing Race fans, how great would it have been to see a dynamic on Blood vs. Water like Tim and Marie had on the latest season? We all know that Survivor likes to get a lot of drama and this seems a really good way to get it done. Maybe a team of ex’s or more brother and sister teams would allow this to happen? Mother and daughter’s or married couple teams seem less likely to eventually turn on each other. Which brings me to my next point.

4. Survivor Rivals?

Blood vs. Water has unlocked the gate for more possibilities of pairs of people with pre-existing relationships to appear on Survivor. If pairs of people who love, or at least like each other is a good idea, could teams of people who hate each other work? Could “Survivor: Rivals” be a future season? There have certainly been many rivalries created on the show over the years, it could be fun to put them all back on the show in a massive grudge match. Boston Rob vs. Lex, Corinne vs. Sugar, Aras vs. Terry, Kim vs. Troyzan are just some of the many options you could use. As much as this season asked if loved ones would turn on each other, the same question could be asked in reverse – can enemies put aside their differences and work together?


If Blood vs. Water works, how about Survivor: Rivals?

5. Or Old School vs. New School

The return of Gervase was hot on the heels of Mike Skupin’s return following a very long absence from the game. Both made it to the end and both failed to get the votes to win, for very similar reasons. Although they both improved their strategic game, they had forgotten how important the social aspect of Survivor is, and therefore had poor Jury management skills and couldn’t get the votes to win. This trend perhaps leads nicely into a potential theme for an All-Stars season, where “Old School” players are pitted against players from recent seasons. This would allow many favourites who perhaps have not had a chance to return so far to get a shot, (such as Helen, Deena and Shane), but also see if having played the game more recently allows players to make better decisions.


Could both the success and failings of Gervase and Skupin open the door to a Old School vs. New School season?

6. Some old problems still exist

For all its good points, my major problems with Survivor still exist. Tyson was a worthy winner and played a great game but the editing on the show still seems to be stuck in a repetitive loop where the winner has to be made clear to the viewer early and often. The same was true of Cochran, Kim and Boston Rob. I understand that when Tyson plays a dominant game and wins the Jury vote eight-one-zero, it’s pretty much impossible to tell the story without making his actions central to the action. However, he made several mistakes in the game and had a lot of luck on his side. Glossing over this and making him out to be a perfect player doesn’t make for interesting viewing. I don’t need the winner to have played a perfect game and in many ways, seeing the eventual winner make mistakes is reassuring as it shows perfection isn’t a requirement. There was a lack in subtlety to the edits of both Gervase and Monica, as we saw little of them in many episodes and were then shown their respective inadequacies, (Gervase’s arrogance and Monica’s superficiality), in spades. Showing their positive attributes and how they got to the end would have left more ambiguity in the last few episodes. To me, it seemed fairly obvious Tyson would win as soon as Aras was voted out. This doesn’t make for interesting viewing. Listening to exit interviews, its clear Gervase was still very charming, just as he was in Borneo, and that Monica actually did try to make more connections than we were shown. Both were reduced to one dimensional characters and goats for Tyson to drag to the end. You could argue that Sophie and Denise both won the game in convincing style but neither of their games was shown in such a dominant fashion. Editing does not need to be so obvious.


Who didn’t see this coming weeks in advance?

Now we enter a very interesting period for Survivor. With ratings holding solid or perhaps even rising slightly, a lot rests on the success of Cagayan. The first season in two years to not feature returning players has a lot to prove – that Survivor can still be interesting without relying on tried and tested returning players. Many will argue that Nicaragua and One World failed to deliver and after the surprise success of Blood vs. Water in the face of much pre-season criticism, the future of the franchise could really be shaped by what happens over the next few months. I can’t wait to see what happens.


Do you agree or disagree with Nick? Comment below to let us know!

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19 Comments on Blood vs. Water – A Retrospective

  1. I think the Philippines idols deserved to be there since they were played perfectly and affected the game a lot.

    • Hi Brian
      I agree that the idols worked much better in S25. The hiding in plain sight is a fun idea which should be used more often IMO. I also agree that idols do affect the game, even if they arent played in a way that leads to a blindside. But both that were played were mitigated by a split vote, and Malcolm never played his. For the amount of screen time given over to the search for and finding of idols, and then strategising on how to nullify their impact, I personally dont think they are worth the trouble. However, having twists that keep the game unpredictatable is good so I would advocate for something to replace the HII, I just dont know what! Thanks for your comment.

      • Well, Penner would have gone home for sure if he didn’t play his idol, so the split vote doesn’t really come into it, does it?

        I have never really got the argument against HIIs; I think they’re the one additional twist that Survivor producers introduced to the original concept that has a reason to return every season.

        That aside, though, I enjoyed this article and agree with most of the rest of your points. I have always been a fan of the Survivor: Rivals concept so I hope we get to see that one day – as long as there are plenty of new player casts in the interim, of course.

      • Ozlet Nick // January 14, 2014 at 11:39 am //

        Hi Dave – thanks for the feedback. My point about Penner and his idol in Philippines is that the majority alliance (at that time at least) split the votes to ensure if Penner did play his idol, he wouldnt go home. Yes, it saved Penner but it didnt result in a blindside, which is one of (if not the main) purposes of the HII.

        I have always liked the HII and think it is a good addition to the show, I just think its reached it’s use-by date, because teh players know how to work around it now, and the show is kinda forced into giving so much screen time over to the finding of the idol, often for not much payoff when it is used (if at all).

  2. The Ghost of Shane Powers // January 13, 2014 at 1:13 pm // Reply

    Great article Nick! I enjoyed reading it and generally agree with all your points.

    A “rivals” season would be epic, great idea. Maybe a rule were you can’t vote for your rival, forcing you to work together. Imagine Phil and the grey haired dude from RI!?

    Along similar lines I was thinking a season of ‘crazies’ v ‘saneies’… Although the sane tribe would naturally be very boring hence an early tribe swap may be required…

    • The Ghost of Shane Powers // January 13, 2014 at 2:32 pm // Reply

      And one important point I forgot. The whole thing looked absolutely stunning in HD. What beautiful location and stunning production. This made a massive difference for me!

  3. I agree about removing Redemption Island for good! I miss seeing the Reward Challenges with HIIs HIDDEN WELL. Maybe they can change how HIIs look like so castaways will be confused like in China/Philippines. I want final 2 again! I hate seeing the 3rd person not getting any votes AT ALL, its nonsense and a joke lol.

  4. I think Redemption Island works, but only as a pre-merge twist. The need to stop it there. That gives the producers what they want, by giving good players who are voted out early, a chance to re-enter the game. But once the merge hits, there is no need to Redemption Island to continue.
    I think casting confrontational couples is a bad idea because I feel like that defeats the whole purpose of “Blood Vs. Water”. It may be interesting to watch on The Amazing Race, but this is Survivor, not The Amazing Race. Keep in mind, Blood Vs. Water has only had one season to show what kind of excitement it can bring to the game. So when they do more seasons of it, we may very well have couples/pairs that want to play against each other. If the couples/pairs are confrontational to begin with, then there isn’t a whole lot of question on what will happen once the game begins.
    Also, I feel like Survivor: Rivals wouldn’t work, as it has been proven in previous returnee seasons that for the most part, rivals want the revenge. Such as All-Stars. The majority of the season was based on rivalries and revenge. Hence why all the winners were voted out so early.

    • Hi Cam, great comments. I agree with your sentiments about RI being better in the first half of the season (especially in S27) but I think if a twist fundamentally messes with the game, it has to have a great payoff (ie the outcast twist in Pearl Islands). RI just doesn’t pack a big enough punch, it sucks the energy out of tribal council and just isnt worth the time spent there. I don’t think we need it at all. I take your point RE: confrontational couples. But CBS basically hyped this season with promos asking “Would you turn on your brother/mother/wife” etc. This is what they wanted and by casting couples that simply wouldn’t do it, it seems a wasted opportunity. You don’t have to cast estranged couples who hate each other – but people with a clear rivalry. We were teased all season that Aras and Vytas wanted to turn on each other but it seems clear that never crossed either of their minds in reality. A good mix of couples would be a good way forward IMO.
      I think casting the right “rivals” would work well – yes, Corrinne and Sugar may never work together, but I could see the likes of Troyzan and Kim seeing the advantages of it, at least for a while. I think it has some merit. Thanks again for your comments.

  5. Love the article, Nick!
    Redemption Island, booooo.

  6. I agree in that redemption island sucks and shouldn’t be brought back again. Regarding the idols, I don’t see an issue with keeping them in play, but I think something new should be introduced regardless. Having a new twist in addition to the idols could add a new dimension to the game, making it even more complex. Random idea, but maybe an item that allows the user to change one person’s vote of their choice would be interesting. I don’t know if this is a good idea, but just throwing it out there.

  7. I loved all of your points, but #1, #2 and #3 were all amazing. We need to go back to a more old-school and basic Survivor. The game if Survivor is such a great and interesting concept that it doesn’t need countless numbers if twists to make it worth watching. It’s still pretty sad to me that we haven’t had a basic tribal division with no returning players since Samoa.

    In terms of the season BvW, I thought it was very average. I’d probably rank it almost directly in the middle of my ranking, like most people that I’ve seen online have.

    I have two critisisms of your article, but they just come down to my personal opinion. 1. Candice was the star of the season and the season was really hurt by her leaving so early. 2. Nicaragua in no way shape or form “failed to deliver”, it was a completely unpredictable season with an almost perfect cast (easily a Top 10 season at the very least).

    • The Ghost of Shane Powers // January 14, 2014 at 10:34 am // Reply

      Candice the star of the season???? She has sucked on every season she has been on – especially this one. Whilst Nicaragua had some pretty cool characters, the setup (old v young & medallion of power) was completely botched and led to a young domination. They could even afford to boot their strongest member on the first TC.

      Plus the old tribe was way too boring and decrepit. It was pitiful to watch. Half of them (danny, weird lady, older jimmy, hell younger jimmy too) belonged in a retirement village. Admittedly Marty Piomobo was awesome though. The two quitters is what really ruined that season though. Fabio and Marty need to return!

      • I’ll admit that Candice may not have been a huge character on HvV, but how the f*ck can you say she sucked on CI and BvW? I’d actually started writing a long comment about why she was such a prominent character in those seasons, but I didn’t think it was fair for me to write a long comment that logically justified my points when you had [stupidly] just written that she “sucked” as your argument.

        I don’t understand how it “led to a young domination”. I realise that La Flor may have won more challenges than Espada originally, but the season was such a glorious clusterf*ck that neither the older nor the younger people dominated. I realise that the F3 did consist of three original La Flor members, but at the Final 6 we were tied 3 on 3 in terms of original tribes. That’s one of the things that made the season great. OMFG, IT PISSES ME OFF SO MUCH WHEN PEOPLE SAY THAT. HOW DID PEOPLE QUITTING IN ONE EPISODE RUIN THE WHOLE F*CKING SEASON? If anything, the quits just added a new dynamic to the game that we’d never seen before and was interesting to see how people’s strategies developed because of this; eg. Sash had to come up with a whole new F3 set-up.

    • Hi Joe, not sure I agree about Candice, apart from her RI rants she didnt add much to the season, although not really her fault. There is only so much you can add when you get voted off on day 1.
      Interesting point about Nicaragua – may be worth delving into on another feature article! I actually agree with you to a point but I think the general reaction to the season wasnt positive. I may be wrong though!

      • To be honest, I think I am pretty biased towards Candice (probably because she’s my favourite player ever lol). You are actually right, not many people do like Nicaragua for some reason. The vast majority of people on Sucks love it, so it’s not like everyone dislikes it though. I’d love a feature article on that, that’s a great idea!

  8. If they keep the HII they are going to need to give it a revamp. I agree the best seasons are the ones where it was hidden really well and took ages to find. I think the rules should be changed to allow the HII to be stolen. If it suddenly becomes a free for all then it’s going to make it less predictable. Look at all these season where people bury them and keep them in their bags and people have come across them. Imagine the chaos if it could be stolen and how much more secretive it would really be because people wouldn’t be sharing that they have it with even their closest ally and there would most likely be more shock vote outs.

  9. The Ghost of Shane Powers // January 15, 2014 at 8:01 pm // Reply

    Dear Joe, or should I say Adam, better still Penner or whoever else had a crush on Candice. You seem very emotional about all this. Sit down smoke another one of those reefers youve been puffing on and let me correct you. She was a spoiled, immature brat on CI. She was probably the worst character on there. The “mutiny” was just so she could get back w her “boyfriend” who didnt even like her (and was one of the crappest people ever cast). As for the other seasons… zzzzzzzz yeah she was a bit bitchy and reasonably good at challenges (and yes she got hotter) but overall she was very boring. And id just like to point out I think she is way over rated in the looks department. Parvatti, Brenda, Andrea and (skinny) Natalie White are much hotter.

    Your Nicaragua comments are just bizarre. There is no reasoning with this. im guessing youre one of those types who loves redemption island and of course the “medallion of power” …and people quitting – gotta love the drama when that happens :-/ Still, you clearly love the show and people enjoy different things so good luck with that. PS, whose your hash dealer?

    • You are probably the most annoying person I have ever seen on the internet. You’re comments about “hash” are pretty ironic considering the name you have posted under is “The Ghost of Shane Powers”.

      I honestly don’t understand at all how she was a “spoiled, immature brat”. There’s no reasoning or logic behind that comment. I’m assuming you’ve only said it because she was going through medial school at the time and is now a doctor, which could lead to one assuming that she’s somewhat wealthy. You’re probably jealous of this fact (possibly due to your own occupation) which leads to you labelling her as “spoiled”. If I’m wrong, please provide me with evidence as to how she was in anyway “spoiled”. By the way, I’m pretty sure you meant to say “spoilt” (I could be wrong though). In terms of the Mutiny, that was a smart strategic decision. You probably have no understanding of how the game works, so I doubt you see how this was a logical move. Had CI not been completely rigged, that move could have definitely worked out for her.

      WTaF are you talking about? How am I comments even remotely “bizarre”? I stated exactly how Nicaragua was an entertaining and unpredictable season. As a matter of fact, like any sane person, I hate RI. I don’t see at all how me liking Nicaragua makes you assume that I like RI. The Medallion of Power barely even had an impact on the game, so I don’t understand how anyone could have strong views on it. PS, you need to grow the f*ck up.

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