The fight for Monica's vote rages on. And the debate rages on as I rank Blood vs. Water against all the other Survivor seasons.
Monica Culpepper
Credit: CBS
SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols
S27 E13
  • TV Show

Okay, so we all know I was gone last week because I am always gone during the craziest episode of every Survivor season — from the revelation of the Outcasts on Pearl Islands (I actually watched that episode with Mark Burnett while on location for Survivor: All-Stars) to the triple immunity that got rid of Phillip on Caramoan (watched on my laptop not long after having my personal space violated by a Benedict Arnold impersonator while vacationing with the family in Colonial Williamsburg) to last week’s tiebreaking bonanza (not watched until a few days later due to my work trip to Toronto, because they won’t let you watch CBS shows online north of the border). Everybody’s been asking me for my thoughts on what went down, but you and I both know if I get too deep into that we are going to be here all damn day. Especially because we not only have this week’s episode to get to, but my updated — and always controversial — season-by-season rankings as well.

But there is one thing I do want to comment on regarding last week. No, it has nothing to do with Tyson’s crotch idol. Nor does it have to do with my good friend Russell Feathers. The thing that keeps going through my mind after watching last week is…what’s up with Survivor’s dissing of the color purple? And I’m not talking about Whoopi Goldberg/Oprah Winfrey movies. I’m talking about the actual color purple. We’ve been waiting 23 seasons for the purple rock to make its long awaited return ever since poor Paschal pulled the sucker back in Marqueses. And when it finally does…it’s no longer purple! It’s white!

Look, Survivor, I never meant to cause you any sorrow and I never meant to cause you any pain, but I am going to start crying tears of purple rain like my man Prince Rogers Nelson due to this gross injustice. Maybe it is because I fear change. Perhaps it is because I named my daughter Violet. Or par chance it could be because white is the lamest color of all colors. And that comes straight from a white dude! All I know is that this is a travesty of the highest order. (And yes, I asked Jeff Probst about the color change in this week’s Q&A, so you’ll have to go there to check out his answer.)

Okay, like I said, we have our updated season-by-season rankings to get to (where will Blood vs. Water fall?) so let’s get to it and recap this bad boy from the very top. A victim of the dreaded white (ne purple) rock, Katie makes her way to Redemption Island where she is reunited with her mother. “I would not be opposed to letting you win,” says mama Wesson of the impending truel. “I think we should both try our hardest,” counters Katie. Oh, boy. This is going to be a tough one because with duel dominator Laura Morett, it is pretty clear that either mother or daughter is going home.

Considering how spicy things got at the last Tribal Council, it’s somewhat surprising to see the big love-in going on once everybody gets back to camp Kasama. “That was a great play,” says Tyson. “I was excited to be a part of it. I don’t think Katie was excited to be a part of it.” Even as Hayden literally draws a line in the sand and Monica attempts to pull Ciera back over that line to her side, it is all done with smiles and chuckles. While everyone at this point is playing all out with everything they have, nobody is making the mistake of taking it personally. Which on one hand is refreshing to see. But on the other hand, if I’m being completely honest here, it’s also kind of upsetting in a way because it sure is fun to watch people yell at each other and point fingers and stuff.

NEXT: A mother-daughter duel

The only annoyance we see is Tyson losing patience with Monica’s constant need to over-strategize — which leads him to admitting he has the hidden immunity idol just to get her to shut up. It doesn’t work. She continues on even though there is really nothing to continue on about. “She’s not great at Survivor,” Tyson comments to Gervase. She is when it comes to challenges.

Off to Redemption Island Arena we go to watch Jeff Probst look down at his shoes. Why does Probst look down at the ground every single time he tells people to “Come on in, guys”? I have no idea. But he does. And I can’t stop obsessing over it. Once — just once! — I would love for Probst to gaze up at the heavens when he says this, just to throw us a curveball. Or maybe, you know, just look straight ahead like a completely normal person. In any event, come on in they do! The hostmaster general kicks things off by asking Tina is she’s capable of giving 100 percent against her own daughter. She says she’s not really sure and will have to make the decision in the moment.

Normally such a mother vs. daughter scenario would have me giddy in anticipation, especially due to my deep-rooted insecurities over the fact that my mother and sister have a much closer relationship than I could ever dream of having to hope with either of them. (Whoops! Let’s hope Probst doesn’t read that or we may all get cast on Blood vs. Water 2: Bloodier & Waterier.) However there is an inevitable sadness that hangs over the proceedings here due to the real life tragedy of Tina’s son/Katie’s brother Taylor dying in a car accident last week. I’ve met Tina a few times over the years, and Katie as well over the past six months. Both lovely ladies. Obviously what happened this past week off-screen eclipses anything that could happen on it a million times over. I’ve reached out privately to both of them so will write no more about it here. But suffice it to say that watching them battle each other to stay in the game is a little heartbreaking — and this comes from a guy known for having no heart whatsoever.

The truel is a Survivor classic. Well…classic may be overstating it. What do you call a challenge/duel/truel that has been done many times before and is decent but not particularly extraordinary? Well, whatever that word is, it’s one of those. Tina, Katie, and Laura need to use sticks and ropes to make a long pole, use the pole to retrieve three keys, and then use the keys to open a door. We all know Laura will win because Laura wins everything here. But Tina still gives Katie instructions right as the contest begins as to how to construct the pole. Or maybe she’s just doing her best Laura Morett impersonation…to take out Laura Morett!

NEXT: What’s your favorite Probst-ism?

Sure enough, Laura dominates and it comes down to the mother and daughter, who are even until Katie drops her key in the sand. That pretty much does it, as Tina races ahead, barely pausing to friend-check her own child to make sure she’s still invited over for the holidays after besting her. Here’s the back and forth:

TINA: “Katie, are you okay with this?”

KATIE: “It’s alright.”

TINA: “Are you sure?”

KATIE: “It’s okay.”

I put this entire exchange through my magical Survivor Truth Translator, and here is what came back:

TINA: “Katie, are you okay with the fact that even though I gave birth to you and have already played this game twice and even won the damn thing that I am just too damn competitive to allow you to beat me and extend your time playing by a few more days?

KATIE: “Ummmmm, NO! But now you’ve put me in a spot where I look like a major beyotch if I publicly ask you to let me win. Gee…thanks, mom!

TINA: “Sooooooo, if I’m hearing you correctly what you’re saying is that it is totally cool by you if I walk through this door and become the one responsible for eliminating you in this game and forcing you to awkwardly burn your buff and walk off to God knows where, right?”

KATIE “No, wrong! That’s totally wrong. But there are approximately 31 cameras on me right now and unless you want Dalton Ross to mercilessly mock me in his recap for pulling a Laura Boneham and asking you to completely sacrifice your game for my own, I don’t really have a choice but to say ‘Okay” right now, so…okay.”

I’ll admit it. I wanted Katie to say no, she was not, in fact, okay with it. But once again, that’s because I’m an evil, awful person and was dying to see how Tina would have reacted to such a move. I probably would have done that to my mom, just to see how she would have responded. Perhaps that’s why we’re not as close as she is with my sister. (Holy crap, am I working out my deep psychological issues here or what? At least I haven’t complained yet about all the misery rooting for the Washington Redskins has caused me in my lifetime. Okay, I guess I can now check that box off as well.)

So Katie burns her buff and takes the walk off shame out of Redemption Island Arena while Laura struts the useless clue over to Ciera. Not much happens after that until the challenge. Just Hayden climbing up trees, Gervase giving Monica a 1 to 10 test, and Hayden and Ciera formulating a plan to flip Monica (Key selling point: a complete absence of 1 to 10 tests!)

Hey, let’s go watch Jeff Probst check out his shoes again, shall we? “COME ON IN, GUYS!” It’s challenge time, and they are finally back in the water! Granted, they are barely back in the water. You could pretty much just spray a hose over them for a few seconds and it would qualify as a water challenge this season. This time the contestants are only a few feet deep, but I’ll still take it. They must push a buoy along a submerged rope and through an obstacle. Once they make it to shore they must untie a bag of letter tiles to solve a “classic Survivor phrase.”

Producers had a chance to pretty much make my entire life if said phrase was “Wanna know what you’re playing for?” It’s not, but I have to say the fact that they did choose a Probst-ism is flat out awesome. Jeff has always had a good sense of humor about his signature lines. He knows they’re kind of silly, but he also knows they have become undeniably weaved into the fabric of the show. Therefore I give two big enthusiastic thumbs up for the choice of “You are going to have to dig deep” as the puzzle answer.

NEXT: Ciera impresses…and then depresses

Hayden and Tyson take the early lead, but it’s pretty much everyone close to a dead heat except Ciera, who Probst keeps reminding us is “waaaaaaay behind right now.” In fact, he reminds us so often that one can’t help but get the sneaky suspicion that he is reminding us for a reason. And the reason becomes clear when she makes a huge comeback and wins the darn thing. I said a few weeks back that Ciera would never win a challenge and her performance in the beginning of this contest pretty much illustrated why. Throw in the fact that she got smoked in two different puzzles at the start of the season and she was not exactly inspiring confidence. But she killed it here. I also gave Ciera some gruff for blindly following others earlier in the season. She has definitely upped her game in the past two weeks so kudos to her.


Ugh. Okay. Well, at least Ciera finally does approach Monica post-feast and starts trying to convince her that, “Tyson is a villain in this game. He was talking mad crap about you.” The convincing continues right into Tribal Council when — after discussing in great detail how smokin’ hot Katie is — Hayden and Ciera continue to work on Culpepper. Ciera keeps bringing up “unbecoming” and “vicious rude things” that Tyson has been saying about her. Hayden says Tyson sees her as his lap dog. Ciera says the Culpepper family will be cheering her if she makes this brave, bold move. Unfortunately for them, Gervase has the best counter-argument of all, pointing out that if they had all this information all along, why did they just happen to wait until right before the Tribal Council to reveal it? Suspect timing, to say the least. Which is why Monica doesn’t fall for it and Hayden is voted out. And in typical Hayden fashion, after battling intensely to the very last second, once the result is locked in, he shows off his good sportsmanship and congratulates all on a good game.

NEXT: Who will win? And our season-by-season rankings begin!

But Hayden will have a chance to get back into that game if he can beat the seemingly unbeatable Laura Morett at Redemption Island Arena. And because of RI, we go into the finale with seven people still with a shot at the million bucks. Who will win? Tyson has to be the odds-on favorite seeing as he has the clearest path (remember that crotch idol) and has the big move of orchestrating Aras’s ouster to hang his hat on. But if Hayden can make it back into the game and into the final 3, the game is most likely his. Laura and Monica can make cases that they did so well in truels/challenges, but not sure they would get enough support just for that. Tina has survived rather than thrived at RI, so she probably doesn’t have the resume to win, and Gervase would most likely need to face two of the women to have a shot at the loot, and even then he could be in trouble. I actually think Gervase has played a solid game. Light years better than what he did last time. But I’m not convinced the other players see it. In any event, it should be exciting.

You know what else is exciting? Finding out where Blood vs. Water ranks in my newly updated season-by-season rankings. Now remember, as always, I reserve the right to move the BvsW ranking up or down a few spots depending on what happens in the finale. So why don’t I just do it after the finale, you ask? Because that recap is always too damn long as it is getting through three hours of finale/reunion madness. So it always goes here. That’s where it goes. So without further ado, away we go into the rankings!


1. (Tie) Survivor: Borneo (Winner: Richard Hatch) and Survivor: Micronesia — Fans Vs. Favorites (Winner: Parvati Shallow)

I’ve gone back and forth with these two over the years. After Micronesia aired, I named it the best Survivor season ever. Upon reflection, while I still considered it the most enjoyable, I also worried I was understating the impact of the first season, which became a national phenomenon. (Yes, Borneo now seems dated and tame by comparison, but it’s the biggest game changer in the past 20 years of television.) So then I returned that to the #1 spot. If I wanted to watch one season again, it would be Micronesia. If you ask me which is the most important season, well, obviously it’s Borneo. So instead of constantly flipping them, they can simply share the top spot…until I change my mind again.

3. Survivor: Heroes vs Villains (Winner: Sandra Diaz-Twine)

The Russell vs. Boston Rob feud made for the best pre-merge run of episodes ever. And the greatness just kept on coming. Filled with huge memorable moments like Tyson voting himself off, J.T. giving Russell his immunity idol, and Parvati handing out two immunity idols at one Tribal Council. Loses a few points for having so many three-timers, though, including a few (Amanda, James) that we simply didn’t need to see again. I know many people would consider this #1, but it’s all returnees. For me, the fresh blood of Micronesia keeps that season higher.

4. Survivor: Amazon (Winner: Jenna Morasca)

Probably the most unpredictable season ever from week to week. Some people hate on Morasca as a winner, but she won challenges and played an effective social game.

5. Survivor: Pearl Islands (Winner: Sandra Diaz-Twine)

Rupert stealing shoes. Fairplay getting drunk at Tribal Council. Osten sucking at everything. It was all delicious. Loses points, though, for the awful Outcasts twist, which also led to a disappointing final two (Lil? Seriously?).

NEXT: Where will Blood vs. Water rank?

6. Survivor: Palau (Winner: Tom Westman)

I loved watching one tribe decimate the other, culminating with Stephenie becoming a tribe of one. And the challenges may have been Survivor‘s best ever. What’s interesting about Palau is that we basically all knew Tom would win from episode 1, but it was still gripping nonetheless.

7. Survivor: Blood s. Water (Winner: ???)

So here it is. And here’s why. The returning contestants playing with/against their loved ones twist added new dimensions and forced players — and us — to think about the strategic elements of the game in an entirely new way. And for strategy nerds like myself, it was like opening a brand new Christmas present each and every week as new layers were revealed. And although I am certainly no fan of the Redemption Island twist due to the fact that it neuters the show’s most dramatic moment (the vote-off), it is undeniable that the RI element is what led to many of the intriguing strategic decisions of whom to vote out and why. (However, I still can’t figure out why they went with three person duels — a.k.a. truels — and they definitely should have stopped RI at the merge.) Yes, the challenges were a letdown this season and there was a bit of a lull just after the merge, but all in all, this has been a super solid season from top to bottom and a nice change of pace. And it starts our trend of the past three seasons in three straight slots here. (Note: As always, this ranking could still move up or down a slot or two depending on what happens in the finale.)

8. Survivor: Philippines (Winner: Denise Stapley)

This season was all about one thing: casting, casting, casting. When you look back on what happened, while there were a lot of shake-ups with the voting, there weren’t a whole lot of jaw-on-the-floor shocking moments. So why is it so high? Because the casting and storylines that developed gave us people to root for and against — something every great Survivor season needs. And the fact that Philippines had such a strong final four — Denise, Malcolm, Lisa, Skupin — also doesn’t hurt.

9. Survivor: Caramoan — Fans vs. Favorites (Winner: John Cochran)

A tale of two seasons this was, and I can already hear people yelling that I am putting it too high. But hear me out first before you Russell any feathers. If I was grading this solely on pre-merge episodes, this would be waaaay down the list due to the emphasis on big personalities (Shamar, Brandon, Phillip) as opposed to big gameplay. But everything post-merge was spectacular. I can’t remember a time there were so many moves and countermoves so late in the season. The same way it is more important for a sports team to play well in the second half of a game as opposed to the first, a great season needs to build momentum, and Caramoan definitely did that with six fantastic episodes in a row. It’s much more important to finish strong than to start strong, so I definitely put more weight and emphasis on post-merge episodes when doing the rankings, and this season made a remarkable comeback and slipped into the top 10. Also, don’t overlook how great the bevy of water challenges was. Should I push it down in the rankings due to the lackluster Reunion show that followed? Perhaps. Kind of not sure how much I should take that live show into consideration when ranking what happened out on the island.

10. Survivor: Samoa (Winner: Natalie White)

I like this season a lot more than most people, but Russell’s controlling of the game (especially post-merge when his side was down 8-4) was truly a work of art. Evil genius art. He was robbed in the end, though, in the most controversial jury decision ever.

11. Survivor: Marquesas (Winner: Vecepia Towery)

An underrated season that saw the first totem pole shake-up: where people on the bottom got together to overthrow those on the top. Yes, it was a weak final two, but it also had a woman peeing on a guy’s hand. Plus: Purple rock!!!

NEXT: The rest of the top 20

12. Survivor: China (Winner: Todd Herzog)

Last time I wrote that I “always consider moving it up a spot or two. But then I never do.” Well, I just did. No big shock here. I’ve always loved this season. It featured a really good cast stuck in a really bad location. Todd completely owned that final Tribal Council. That’s how you win a million dollars.

13. Survivor: Cook Islands (Winner: Yul Kwon)

What a difference a mutiny makes. It was listless until that fateful moment when Candice and Penner stepped off the mat. Then we finally had underdogs to root for. The Tribal Council fire-making tiebreaker between Sundra and Becky may be the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Plus, just look at all the great first-time contestants (Parvati, Penner, Ozzy, Yul). Mutineers must die!

14. Survivor: Australian Outback (Winner: Tina Wesson)

An overrated season, and one that seems to keep moving down my list. Probst loves it. I didn’t. Solid but unspectacular. Pretty predictable boot order as well. Dude did burn his hands off, though.

15. Survivor: South Pacific (Winner: Sophie Clarke)

Here’s another one that I like more than most people, which is curious considering how much it has in common with the season that aired directly before it, which I didn’t like: the same twist of two returning players, Redemption Island, the predictable vote-offs, no real water challenges, etc…. But there is one thing I really did dig about this season, and that is the cast. I was invested in the players and their fates — the ones I wanted to do well, and not so well. Plus, this season gave us three signature moments: Ozzy volunteering to go to Redemption, Cochran flipping, and Brandon giving away his immunity.

16. Survivor: Tocantins (Winner: J.T. Thomas)

Okay, you may roll your eyes at Coach 1.0. But imagine for a second this season without him. Bo-ring! His unintentional comedy single-handedly lifted this into the middle of the pack. Seriously, other than Tyson getting blindsided, were there any memorable moments that didn’t involve the Steven Seagal wannabe?

17. Survivor: All-Stars (Winner: Amber Brkich)

Overall, a bit of a letdown, but man, were there some hate-fueled fireworks at those final few Tribal Councils. Plus: Best. Reunion Show. Ever. (Remember Jerri getting literally booed off the stage?)

18. Survivor: Panama — Exile Island (Winner: Aras Baskauskas)

Ah, just writing the word Panama gets me daydreaming about Survivor Sally and her intoxicating knee socks. Terry was robbed on a final challenge that may or may not have been completely fair. Another unmemorable final two. Shane Powers should have been brought back for Heroes vs. Villains. Or any other time, for that matter.

19. Survivor: Gabon (Winner: Bob Crowley)

It got better near the end, but it was still a case of too little, too late. The fact that so many unworthy players went so far is simply too damning.

20. Survivor: Redemption Island (Winner: Boston Rob Mariano)

The first three episodes were dynamite, but then the fuse blew out. It certainly was entertaining at times watching Rob strategize (the most dominant showing ever) and Phillip philosophize (the craziest showing ever), just not very dramatic. Most of the vote-offs were clearly telegraphed and the Redemption Island twist sucked the life out of Survivor’s signature moment — the vote-off.

NEXT: Both last AND least

21. Survivor: Africa (Winner: Ethan Zohn)

Some great challenges. Not that much else was great.

22. Survivor: Guatemala (Winner: Danni Boatwright)

One of the more unlikable casts so far. (Remember Judd? Jamie? Stephenie’s evil twin?) Rafe was good for a few laughs, though. Especially on rope obstacles.

23. Survivor: Vanuatu (Winner: Chris Daugherty)

I don’t blame producers: The battle of the sexes worked well the first time around.

24. Survivor: One World (Winner: Kim Spradlin)

Look, I have total respect for Kim’s game. Like Tom in Palau and Rob in Redemption Island, she excelled strategically, socially, and physically. Unfortunately, that is really the only good thing I can say about this season. And that’s too bad, because I do think the “One World” concept was a solid one. But, man, what a thoroughly uninspiring cast. Colton was more a horrible human being than a classic villain, and the rest of the players were mostly either completely forgettable or people you wish you could forget. I worry I am being generous by putting it even this high, but out of respect for Kim, it will go here for now.

25. Survivor: Thailand (Winner: Brian Heidik)

The fake merge and brutal last challenge — where the final three had to hold coins between their fingers in a crazy painful pose — keep this dud out of the bottom spot. Barely.

26. Survivor: Fiji (Winner: Earl Cole)

With the exception of Yau-Man and Earl, a true bummer of a cast, and the ”Haves Vs. Have-Nots” twist was one of the worst creative decisions in Survivor history. Speaking of awful creative decisions…

27. Survivor: Nicaragua (Winner: Jud “Fabio” Birza)

It’s at the bottom for a few reasons. 1) Splitting the tribes up by age and the Medallion of Power were both enormous flops. 2.) Like One World, Thailand and Fiji, just too many unlikable players. 3) Two people quitting with only 11 days left. 4) No big memorable moments. Even Thailand had the fake merge and Fiji had the big Yau-Man/Dreamz free car deal gone bad, but what was Nicaragua‘s signature moment? Unfortunately, it was people quitting, and that was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Okay, so there are your rankings. Feel free to debate and discuss in the message boards. But also make sure to peruse our other goodies. What other goodies, you ask? Well, we have our weekly Q&A with hostmaster general Jeff Probst, as well as an exclusive deleted scene and pre-game interviews with Hayden/Kat and Tina/Katie in the video player below. And check back Thursday afternoon for our InsideTV Podcast with Katie. Of course, you can have all the Survivor scoop sent right to you by following me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

But now it’s your turn. Where would you rank Blood vs. Water? And who do you think should win and will win the million dollar prize on Sunday. Hit the message boards to let us know, and I’ll be back Sunday night with your supersized scoop of the crispy!

Episode Recaps

SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

Strangers starve themselves on an island for our amusement in the hopes of winning a million dollars, as host Jeff Probst implores them to "DIG DEEP!"

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  • 41
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