Over the next few weeks, Inside Survivor is counting down all forty Survivor seasons from worst to first. 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 No: 27
Broadcast Date: September 18 – December 15, 2013
Location: Palaui Island, Philippines
No. of Castaways: 20
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Survivor: Blood vs. Water is a season that shouldn’t have worked when looking at it on paper. It was yet another mixed newbie and veterans season—a tiresome staple of the 20s seasons. And bringing family members into the equation just seemed to be asking for trouble, especially after what we’d seen previously with Brandon Hantz. On top of that, one of the most maligned Survivor twists of all-time in Redemption Island was coming back. The season had flop written all over it. And yet, against all odds, these elements somehow work in Blood vs. Water, which turns out to be a genuinely fun and entertaining season, albeit with a predictable winner.
For proof of how good Blood vs. Water is, you need only look at the implementation of Redemption Island, the only time this much-hated twist positively adds to the show. Having loved ones preside over the duels gives them an emotional weight that was lacking in Seasons 22 and 23. Here, there are real stakes involved, especially as loved ones can choose to switch places, effectively removing themselves from the game, as we see with Rupert Boneham in the opening moments of the season. It gives us classic moments, like Marissa Peterson’s “F**k you, Brad Culpepper,” and also does an excellent job in highlighting the women’s challenge strength, particularly that of Laura Morett and Tina Wesson, something often undervalued in the main game.
The choice of returnees is also an interesting mix, for the most part. There are past winners, Survivor icons, big characters, underestimated second chancers, and Colton Cumbie, for some reason, who quits early on in one of the season’s grimmer moments. But the great thing about the Blood vs. Water cast is that the veterans don’t completely overshadow the newbies like in previous mixed seasons. Sure, the past players mostly dominate the gameplay, but there are some shining stars on the newbie side. Ciera Eastin and Vytas Baskauskas are captivating in their own right, wily, rootable players who step out of the shadow of their returnee loved ones. Brad Culpepper makes for a perfect pre-merge villain with an entertaining downfall. And former Big Brother winner Hayden Moss, along with the likable Caleb Bankson, show off crafty Survivor skills at various points.
It’s a season that has a bit of everything: humor, drama, emotion, intensity. Perhaps the gameplay becomes a bit predictable post-merge, as Tyson Apostol takes a more strait-laced approach than his previous appearances. Still, that cheeky Tyson humor comes out from time to time—there is, of course, the coconut bandits moment with Gervase Peterson and the whole “Rustle Feathers” exchange. The post-merge also sees Ciera voting out her mom—this isn’t a top moment because it’s a ruthless blindside; it works because we see Ciera forced to write Laura’s name and her mom’s eventual acceptance. And, we can’t forget, there is the infamous rock draw at the final six, an event not seen since Season 4.
Blood vs. Water overcomes what appears, at first, to be a ridiculous theme by providing a great cast of characters, some unexpected moments, and just a whole lot of fun along the way.
Rupert’s sacrifice — After a first impressions vote-off, which sees Laura Boneham ousted from her tribe, her husband Rupert chooses to switch places with her. This sends Rupert to Redemption, where he goes on to lose the duel. It’s a surprise start to the season that shows nobody is safe.
Undateable — Kat Eddorsson was one of those fun characters that it was cool to see return for a second shot. And while she doesn’t last too long, she does provide a classic Kat quote before she leaves, when she wonders if her boyfriend Hayden will still want to date her post-vote-out. “No one wants to date someone who doesn’t make the merge!” she cries. Kat and Hayden broke up not long after the season had aired.
Brad’s blindside — The Brad hate-a-thon at Redemption is a funny side-story of the season, but his blindside is also fantastic. Brad mistakenly thinks he’s still in control of the tribe, only for the tide to turn at Tribal. It’s our first sign of scrappy Ciera and also shows off Caleb to be a strong-willed strategist. Caleb forces a tie, which then sees Vytas flip on the re-vote, sending Brad to his welcoming committee at Redemption.
She voted out her mom! — Yes, this moment has become a Survivor meme over the years, and the way the show presents it as this cutthroat move is certainly wrong. However, it’s still one of the season’s highlights, but, as I mentioned, not because of the blindside but because of the mother-daughter relationship and the conversations that come before it.
The rock draw — I think it’s easy to forget just how shocking this moment was at the time. It’s almost become lost in the shuffle because we’re now accustomed to BIG MOVES era Survivor. Plus, the fact we also saw a rock draw in Millennials vs. Gen-X perhaps lessens the impact. But you have to remember; this was pre-Cagayan before Big Moves and advantages became commonplace. We hadn’t seen a rock draw since Season 4, back in 2002! So when Hayden pleads for Ciera to join him in forcing rocks and she goes through with it, it’s a real mindblowing moment.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which season placed at number 18. You can check out the previous entries here.