Over the coming months, Inside Survivor is undertaking its biggest list ranking yet, as we count down the 100 best episodes of Survivor ever. As always with these kinds of lists, it’s entirely subjective, and we’re sure many fans will have different opinions. This is simply Inside Survivor’s ranking. Join us each weekday for a new entry.
Season: Blood vs. Water
Episode: “Rustle Feathers” (Episode 12)
Original Air Date: December 4, 2013
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When Survivor first implemented the rock draw tiebreaker, first seen in Marquesas, the show gave birth to the perfect tiebreak methodology they could have ever hoped. Sure, the idea of somebody being sent home purely because of random chance is divisive, to say the least, but a game mechanic like that is bound to cause drama and tension, which is what the show wants.
The possibility of a player’s fate in the game being decided by an odd-colored stone is enough to force people’s motivations to change, causing some of the biggest flip-flops in the history of Survivor. It seemed as if an actual rock draw would never occur again, though, as the self-interested players involved in those kinds of situations would choose the safer course of action that would better guarantee their safety. Then this episode happened.
Blood vs. Water had been a pretty exciting season up until this point. The concept of throwing returnees and their loved ones into the same season turned out to be unexpectedly refreshing. While the season’s theme doesn’t necessarily play into this historic Tribal Council, it indirectly creates a cast of hyper-competitive players. Start with an eclectic group of returnees, add in the loved ones, and top it off with a former Big Brother winner, and you’ve got a recipe for some big and bold gameplay.
Heading into this vote, that aforementioned Big Brother winner, Hayden Moss, looks to be done. Up against a tight four-person alliance, he and Katie Collins spend pretty much the entire episode looking for a crack, hoping one of the dominant players will budge even a little. The easiest person to try and sway to their cause is Ciera Eastin—herself being in a curious position of being a Survivor newbie who is aligned with three returning players.
But, no matter how hard Hayden and Katie press Ciera, she will not move. The veteran trio had done some solid work to ensure Ciera would stick with them. Tyson Apostol, in particular, had convinced Ciera that it was Hayden who initiated the hit on her mom, Laura Morett, a few rounds earlier, covering up his own involvement in that vote. Now, with what looks to be Hayden’s last Tribal looming, he has one last Hail Mary to try and survive the night.
Not only is this Tribal historic because of the outcome, but it also features fantastic moments of both suspense and humor. Hayden comes into Tribal ready to play and puts on one of the most impressive displays of verbal maneuvering ever seen on Survivor. He says all of the right things, pounding the point home that Ciera is the number four person in her alliance, and if she wants a shot at winning, she needs to jump over to him and Katie and force a tie.
This gambit prompts some excellent, over-the-top bravado from Gervase Peterson, the guy wearing the Immunity necklace, as he blasts Hayden for his attempts to pull Ciera over to his side. Gervase proudly declares to Hayden, “You’re going to be on the jury! Believe that!” Tyson quickly realizes the big mess Gervase is making and adopts a more even-handed approach, professing his loyalty and honesty to Ciera, desperate for her to cling to his side.
All of this discourse eventually turns into Hayden and Tyson furiously pitching to Ciera to come to their side, like the angel and devil perched on both of her shoulders. The back and forth between all of the players involved is completely riveting because, as Jeff Probst describes it, “This is where the game is won or lost.” Both sides know that they’re about to make a massively important vote and are desperately trying to be on the right side of it.
Then, amidst all this chaos comes the perfect moment of levity. Hayden gets into a little spat with Tyson regarding the former’s diction. The dispute over Hayden’s choice of “rustle feathers” or “ruffle feathers” brilliantly captures Tyson’s personality. Here is Tyson, playing the game of his life, with a potentially game-changing move on the horizon, and he still takes a moment for this witty and sarcastic comment, displaying that classic Tyson sense of humor.
The voting finally commences, complete with Gervase’s vote for “Haydone” and his superb accompanying confessional, “Don’t hate the players homie, hate the game. This isn’t Big Brother; this is Survivor. We do things different here. You’re about to get a lesson in how to play the game.” But, when the votes come in, Gervase and the others get a rude awakening. Ciera flips, forcing a deadlock, and the rest, as they say, is history.
A unanimous decision on who to send home isn’t forthcoming, as Ciera refuses to flip back, knowing that she is going to be out fourth. However, Tyson isn’t budging either. That means Hayden and Monica Culpepper become safe, while Tyson, Ciera, and Katie must draw rocks, only the second instance of such an event in Survivor.
In the end, it’s Katie that picks the unlucky rock and is promptly snuffed out of the game, but not without some parting words from Tyson. As he hugs her goodbye, Tyson points to the jury and whispers to Katie, “That’s your chair over there. One of those.” Not a good look for Tyson to end the night, but after what he’d been through, it’s easy to understand why he might be a little lippy.
This vote instantly went down in the history books as one of the most exciting Tribal Councils of all time. It cemented Ciera as a ballsy player and essentially kicked off the “big moves” era that would come to define modern Survivor. It also proved that every moment counts until that torch is snuffed, and if you’re good enough, you might just be able to make something happen.
Check back on Monday when we reveal which episode placed at number 22. You can check out the previous entries here.