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Survivor: Worlds Apart Episode 9 Narrative Analyis- “Livin’ on the Edge”

 THE STORY SO FAR

*Smuff*

*Smuff*

Survivor: Worlds Apart had begun as a battle of social class; a three-way war between the White Collars, Blue Collars, and No Collars. After merging into the Merica Tribe, however, it was clear the game was simply a battle of Tribal Lines. The Blue Collars swayed the loyalty of the White Collars, and the majority came together to pick off the No Collars. Their target was Joe, the biggest threat in the game, but twice he had spared himself by winning immunity. Unable to vote for Joe, the dominant alliance instead sent Hali to the jury.

Without her closest friend, Jenn lost interest in the game, feeling despondent and alone. When a brutal challenge split the tribe into teams to compete for a chocolate feast, the loss to the other team only further shattered her resolve. As the rest of the losing team prepared to slaughter a chicken, vegetarian Jenn contemplated quitting the game. Rodney, however, surprised Jenn with his humor, and lifted her spirits when he impersonated his allies Mike and Dan. The spot on performance also revealed some of Rodney’s contempt for his longstanding allies.

This contempt was already apparent to Shirin, the rogue White Collar who had stuck with the No Collars when the tribes merged. Having bonded with Mike and Sierra during their reward, Shirin pointed out to Mike that Rodney had a sub-alliance with Will, Tyler, and Carolyn. Mike was also wary of this group, and hoped to use Shirin’s vote to his advantage. He asked her to prove her loyalty by turning on the No Collars and booting Joe.

When Joe lost individual immunity, it seemed like a done deal that he’d go home. Jenn had other ideas–she fought hard and long to win the endurance challenge so she could screw with the other castaways by giving Joe the necklace. Unfortunately for Jenn, she couldn’t pull it off, and Tyler won immunity. Without the necklace, Joe used his skills as a jewelery designer to craft one of his own. After Joe showed Mike his fake idol, the Blue Collars decided to split the vote between Joe and Jenn. Realizing the vote would split, Jenn asked her friends, Joe and Shirin, to vote against her, saving Joe even without immunity and granting Jenn her wish to leave the game.

Going into Tribal Council, it was Shirin, unbeknownst to most, who had all the control. Shirin wanted to honor Jenn’s wishes and reunite her with Hali, but had to play to better her own position. She cast her vote against the biggest threat–Joe–who became the ninth person voted out of Survivor: Worlds Apart and the second member of the jury. As a heartbroken Joe’s torch was snuffed, Shirin promised Jenn that she still had her back. Nine remain… who will be the next to go?

A CLOSER LOOK

SAY IT AIN’T SO, JOE

RIP Joseph Anglim 1989-2015

RIP Joseph Anglim 1989-2015

There are some players who could make the end almost every time, but never be able to pull the votes to win. Joe suffers from the opposite problem in that he likely would have bested any combination of players at the end of the game, but given that fact, the other players would never let him get there. Joe was too likeable, too engaging, too smart and too talented to be allowed to last. Nobody would ever consider working with him–not even the players who could have used an extra number–because the risk outweighs the benefit. Sparing Joe for even one extra round gives him another shot to win immunity and ruin plans further down the road. The last thing anyone would have wanted to do is wait too long and find themselves stuck in the end with Joe, wishing they had axed him when they had the chance.

And so when his neck is bare, Joey Amazing falls. While Survivor Facebook users across the nation weep for the loss of Malcolm 3.0, the rest of the Merica Tribe is preparing to move on with the game. Joe, for his innumerable strengths,  was always more of a figure in someone else’s story than the star of his own; an obstacle for the bigger characters to overcome. Now that they’ve succeeded in overcoming the obstacle, the story is granted the freedom to move into new places. Without the threat of Joe looming over the other players, they are free to start scrambling the numbers more freely–and I believe we’re going to see that scrambling begin very shortly.

THE HIT LIST

Negotiating this deal makes Shirin feel like Yul (she's never seen the Godfather and doesn't get your non-Survivor references)

Negotiating this deal makes Shirin feel like Yul (she’s never seen the Godfather and doesn’t get your non-Survivor references)

Shirin has been telling us all season she’s a superfan and that as such, she understands the game. In “Livin’ On The Edge,” we finally see her start to put that understanding to use as she, as she puts it, gets herself into the passenger seat so she can backseat drive. Mike had only one demand of Shirin–that she prove herself by ousting Joe, even against Jenn’s wishes–and Shirin followed through. Shirin successfully aligning with one of the most powerful players in the game is bad news for the slew of players who’ve been responsible for keeping Shirin on the outs, with Mama C having the biggest target of them all.

During Max’s time in the game, he and Shirin were painted as inseparable, as true, dyed in the wool superfan partners. Given their tight duo, it always struck me as strange that in our very first episode, Max is looped in as a third, while the heavy focus is between Shirin and Carolyn. As the story has progressed, this early anomaly has started to make sense. It’s important that we see Shirin excited to initiate an alliance with Carolyn and genuine in her desire to play with her, so that when Carolyn flips and leaves Shirin out in the cold, we don’t see Carolyn’s action as justified. Shirin offered Carolyn a chance to be a part of her game, and Carolyn spit in her face. Now Shirin is in the perfect position to make Carolyn pay for that choice. I think it’s very likely we see it happen very, very, soon.

FAMILY FEUD

Will Sims and Mike Holloway (Miiiike Hollowaaaaay)

Will Sims and Mike Holloway (Miiiike Hollowaaaaay)

Of course, for Carolyn to leave, the Blue Collar and Friends alliance is going to have to turn on each other, an event that has been dangled in our faces for weeks. At the crux of this eventual fissure has always been the contentious relationship between Mike and Rodney. It’s a relationship that the show never misses a point to tell us is fraught with tension, even if this week that reminder came in the form of Rodney’s impressions as opposed to a scathing confessional about how Mike is a redneck idiot.

We’ve also been reminded every week since the merge that Rodney has an alliance that, with the exception of himself, is devoid of Blue Collars, waiting in the wings to take out Mike and his associates. The problem is that aside from Rodney, we don’t really hear from anyone else in this alliance. Carolyn is really only summoned when the plot needs her. Will is beyond irrelevant–he jumped ship with next to no information as to why he did it! And Tyler has perhaps the biggest death knell of them all, as he finally dethroned Joey Amazing and took his necklace away, yet his only line in the episode was “I have no idea what’s going on.” We know this alliance exists, but we know nothing about them. We are informed from Shirin that Carolyn is the glue of the alliance, but don’t ever actually see it in action. Like Joe, this alliance is more of an idea than a unit comprised of real, fleshed out characters. With Joe out of the game, Rodney’s alliance becomes the next looming danger for Big Hero Mike.

This doesn’t necessarily apply to Rodney himself. Unlike the rest of his allies, Rodney is a character that we’ve gotten to see and hear from a lot. Often times its so that we are provided with a better platform to laugh at him, sure, but Rodney is more than just a punchline–he’s a player. The long brewing plan to oust Mike is Rodney’s child, and it’s been in the works from the get go, fueled further every time Rodney doesn’t get his way. If Mike successfully is able to get Shirin on his side, then Rodney loses yet another ally, and his rage-fueled desire to oust Mike will only further grow. As Rodney builds up more and more reasons to want Mike gone, and the field of players shrinks smaller and smaller, there will be only two possible resolutions to Rodney’s story: Mike will continue to thwart him at every juncture, or Rodney will at some point finally get his way and get the best of Mike. If the latter happens, then it will be the pinnacle of Rodney’s story. Having finally put Mike in his place, Rodney’s tale will have run out of places to go.

THE MOST NO COLLAR OF THEM ALL

Never underestimate the power of spite.

Never underestimate the power of spite.

The question of who, between Rodney and Mike, will ultimately be allowed to succeed, is one that Shirin holds most of the power to answer. But her answer to that question is going to be heavily compounded by her incredibly complicated and unlikely ally, Jenn. The relationship between these two will undoubtedly become a focal point, because much of how the game unfolds will be impacted by how Jenn rebounds from her lowest point in the game.

“I’ve still got you,” Shirin tells Jenn with a smile, punctuating the fact that despite Jenn hating Shirin when they first met, Shirin now sees Jenn as a friend. I think it’s very likely that we’ll see Shirin encouraging Jenn to keep on trucking, and maybe Jenn will realize that even with Hali gone, she still has a friend in the game. It’s also important to note that the core of Jenn’s character has been consistently portrayed as being about the here and now. When Hali is ousted and Jenn feels alone, Jenn wants to go. When Jenn starts having fun again, she’ll want to stay.

Having Jenn as a friend could also complicate things for Shirin going forward, because part of Jenn’s life in the moment is a heavy aversion to long-term planning and a propensity for creating chaos for the sake of her own amusement. Despite being mostly miserable this week, Jenn had one moment where she copped, on multiple occasions, to having fun, and it was when she was with Rodney. Rodney has shown Jenn that he’s more than a meathead she hates, and so Jenn might decide that she’s not particularly interested in screwing him over.

With all of that considered, what do I think the most likely outcome for Jenn will be? I think she’s going to get her head back in the game, and ultimately move alongside Shirin against Carolyn–but I think her newfound enjoyment of Rodney will come back into play, because his character still has places to go.

A BOLD PREDICTION

She's also said this when she found her Pearl Islands DVD set after thinking she'd lost it

She’s also said this when she found her Pearl Islands DVD set after thinking she’d lost it

Ultimately, the number of options these two have moving forward are staggering, as is the amount of this story that is shared between them. After inaccurately pegging Baylor as a losing finalist in San Juan del Sur, I’ve been hesitant to make solid predictions, but I feel now more than ever we can see the season-long focus on the three collar division as an indicator of a three collar Final Tribal Council. It’s Jenn and Shirin who give me confidence in this, because I think they’ve become tied together, and will own two of those three seats.

Jenn herself admits during the episode that the harder she tries to orchestrate her own elimination, the more likely it is that she’ll be kept in, because nobody will see her as a threat. Jenn doesn’t take Survivor seriously, which makes her a sharp contrast from Shirin, who, as a Superfan, takes Survivor very seriously. Even though Jenn tried to quit, most of the tribe still finds Shirin super annoying. If these two are, in fact, finalists, the Blue Collar representative could very well have an upper hand–particularly Mike.

But despite the reasons for each woman to lose, I’m not writing either off as a possible winner. Jenn had a major scene when Nagarote won the nesting turtle reward, gaining a perspective that she has a better shot at winning than she thinks. If she can refocus her efforts and keep pushing forward like the turtles do, Jenn could angle her unfiltered honesty as an excellent winning attribute. As for Shirin? She’s been saying it all season: She’s a Superfan, and nobody would appreciate it more than her.

 

NEXT TIME

[yelling] YOU BETTAH RELAX, BRO!

YOU BETTAH RELAX, BRO!

Tonight, everything goes down! Survivor Auction! Big Twist! Rodney vs Mike! Shirin vs… Will? I guess after weeks of silence (Wilhelm screams not withstanding), he’s decided to speak up.

Survivor: Worlds Apart Episode 8 Narrative Analysis- “Keep It Real”

THE STORY SO FAR

*smuff*

*smuff*

It took no time at all for the game of Worlds Apart to kick into high gear once the Escameca Tribe and Nagarote Tribe merged into the Merica Tribe. At Merica’s first Tribal Council, the alliance of No Collars was saved when Jenn played the Nagarote Idol and took Kelly out of the game. Though Jenn was thoroughly amused by her play, the Blue Collars were less than enthused. Rodney in particular was furious with the results, and complained to Will that the outcome could have been avoided if the alliance wasn’t hampered by Mike’s leadership. The twosome confirmed their plan to eventually flip on the Blue Collar alliance with the assistance of Carolyn and Tyler.

When the castaways competed for their first individual reward, Joe once again impressed everyone with his extreme challenge prowess when he won the challenge. Given the opportunity for a zipline adventure, Joe wisely chose to share the reward with the swing votes–Will, Carolyn, and Tyler. When Jeff told Joe he could pick one more, Joe picked Superfan Shirin, knowing how much she’d appreciate the experience. Appreciate it she did, though Shirin wasn’t enthused about having to be with her former ally Carolyn. Joe appreciated the experience too–he found a clue to the hidden immunity idol, but was unable to procure it from the soda bottle it was hidden in without Tyler seeing.

The next day, Joe had no choice but to share his idol clue with Tyler, but the two men didn’t realize they were being tailed by Mike. Wanting to keep himself out of the line of fire, Tyler spilled the beans to Mike, and after days of searching, Mike ultimately was rewarded when he found the Escameca Idol with tears in his eyes. To keep the target on Joe, Mike made a big show of Joe having the idol. Later, Shirin approached Dan to ask him his thoughts on the idol paranoia sweeping camp, only for Dan to rip into Shirin for being a “superfan who can’t do basic math.” Despite Dan’s bullying tirade, Shirin stayed strong.

When it came time to solve puzzles for immunity, Dan put on a sad showing when he solved it incorrectly–twice. Joe, on the other hand, put on a much more impressive performance, winning his third straight individual challenge and once again saving himself from the Blue Collars. Unable to target Joe, much of the Blue Collar alliance wanted to get rid of Shirin, who they saw as an annoyance, but Mike was wary that Shirin could have the Masaya Idol, and convinced his alliance that the wisest move was to splinter the No Collars by taking out Hali. Not all of the Blue Collars were on board, however. Sierra commiserated with Shirin over Dan’s poor treatment of them both, and her continued ire towards the Blue Collar men left her tempted to jump ship when the No Collars proposed an women’s alliance. With Sierra desperate to flip, Tyler was once again left in the swing vote position, given the power to weaken either the Blue Collars or No Collars.

At Tribal Council, Dan and Shirin once again butted heads when Shirin blasted Dan’s assertion that “flippers never win;” and Hali gave a rousing speech about the importance of flipping as evidenced by the American Colonists opting to flip on the British Empire during the American Revolution. Sadly, the inspired speech would be Hali’s last. The alliance lines held fast, and Hali became the eighth castaway voted out of Survivor: Worlds Apart and the first member of the jury. Ten remain… who will be the next to go?

A CLOSER LOOK

DANGLING THE CARROT

You know, Merica is the birthplace of femunism

You know, Merica is the birthplace of femunism

Amongst us Survivor fans who analyze the editing of this show, you’ll see a lot of talk about manipulation. Because that’s what the editing is, at the end of the day–manipulation. As much as the editors are storytellers, they are also puppeteers. The story’s job is to, well, convey what happened. The show’s job is to entertain us, and part of that entertainment comes by getting us emotionally invested in the outcome.

People have been comparing Jenn and Hali to Survivor: Amazon’s Jenna and Heidi since the start of the season because of the obvious surface level similarities. But as characters, they are much more similar Greg and Colleen from Survivor: Borneo, the beloved sweethearts of the ill-fated MTV Beach House Tribe. Being the antithesis of the “evil” Tagi Tribe that Richard Hatch led, they content to play the game by their whims–they were more concerned with having fun. And Colleen, in particular, was America’s sweetheart. Her ouster was the day a dream died.

I had been trying to figure out Hali’s place in the story all season, and it was only upon her elimination that I realized it–she was there simply to be liked. Her quirks made her endearing. Her spirit made her easy to root for. She focused frequently on what it means to be No Collar, especially as someone whose career track in law seemed to be the polar opposite of the No Collar way. She was, in many ways, a modern-day Colleen. She was the summation of an beautiful ideal, a concept in the skin of a character. She was the greater good, and that makes losing her sting hard. The framing of the episode makes that sting burn long after.

There are only two kinds of players in this game--players who don't do enough and lose, and players who do too much and lose. Guess which kind Dan is.

There are only two kinds of players in this game–players who don’t do enough and lose, and players who do too much and lose. Guess which kind Dan is.

“Keep it Real” leaned hard on the worst of Dan Foley, a character whose foundation is a complete lack of awareness as to how he is perceived. At the start, we think that the guy might be getting a raw deal, but as we get to know him, we see him constantly contradict himself and put his foot in his mouth. After all of his heinous hijinks, his scene with Shirin is a last straw. The entire scene, from the music ques to the way Dan delivers the lines, just drip with sickness. It’s not just obnoxious, it’s angering and sad. It’s watching a grown man who sees himself as so superior to everyone else acting like a playground bully. Like a child. The entire episode ran as a much darker take on the Drew Christy or Roger Sexton experiences. We saw every reason people would want Dan gone, and every reason why Dan would be gone. This was his humiliation conga. because as Hali told us, if you come at women with misogyny, you don’t get to win the game. It’s a much more certain statement than “Flippers Never Win.” (Or “Ouwijat, Oblaltay, Owlstr” for that matter).

And at the last minute, with only the most minor relevance to the episode, Hali’s on the jury and Dan is still in the game. The editors accomplished their job. They played expectations like a fiddle and manipulated the audience so people would gasp at the big reveal. We don’t receive the payoff that would turn the joke against Dan. Instead, he is validated and human sunshine walks off the island.

Going forward, the story cannot allow for Dan to get the last laugh. The narrative falls apart if he doesn’t get the final kick in his conga. We’ve had the carrot dangled in front of us. The storytellers will make sure by the end, we get a big bite.

THE OTHER REINDEER

I came in like a wrecking ball

I came in like a wrecking ball

A key part of the bite we’re going to get unquestionably involves Shirin. Her exact mechanisms are unclear right now. As she said to Dan, maybe we don’t understand her game. What we do understand about Shirin, however, is that she’s often a little misunderstood. And she’s definitely a Survivor nerd. If Dan is the playground bully in their exchange, Shirin is the nerd getting beaten up for her lunch money. And who doesn’t love a “Revenge of the Nerds” storyline?

Shirin has been presented as annoying, but ultimately harmless, and as having hidden depths beneath her eccentricities. As she becomes more sympathetic and her lack of power in the game becomes further emphasized, her numerous detractors start to look less and less reasonable with their contempt. This is dangerous for those detractors, such as Rodney and Dan (who both, in a show of some grossly ethnocentric behavior, showed a refusal to learn her “wacky” foreigner’s name) and Carolyn, who has hated her from the get-go, despite Shirin’s earnest attempts to befriend her on the first day. They should all be worried because as long as Shirin is fulfilling her mission of personal growth, the story will protect her with a cocoon. That cocoon will armor her from incoming hits, and if she gains enough traction, will allow her to rip through the game like a wrecking ball.

The momentum Shirin’s story really needs would be a be, well, a “reverse bomb” moment. She’s like a mutant in the X-Men, an outsider whose incredible mutant powers are out of control. The moment she can contain the storm cloud that is her manic fandom, she will wield a very powerful weapon. I think that whether or not anyone else realizes it at the moment, Shirin is carrying the power to change the game.

JOEY AMAZING

Oh, this old thing? Its just something I threw together at the last minute.

Oh, this old thing? Its just something I threw together at the last minute.

Of all the castaways, one in particular should be praying for something to change the game, and that’s Joe. The reason? Nobody is more dangerous than Joe. He performs exceptionally in challenges, and if being able to continuously win them doesn’t command respect on its own, everybody loves the guy. He’s this season’s Survivor Jesus, down to the glorious flowing locks. Joe is the type of person who not only could beat anyone in the endgame, but he’s the kind of person who, if left unattended, could win his way there when it’s least convenient.

The even bigger problem for Joe is that for someone who is in such danger for being so amazing, he’s also amazingly inconsequential to this story. Come on–the guy is basically a reborn Malcolm. If he made it deep, he would unquestionably be the main character of the season–sorry Mike! Instead, Joe is more of an idea than a real character in this story, in a similar way as Cliff was to Tony in Cagayan. We hear a lot about Joe, but nowhere near as often do we hear from him. Ultimately, Joe is a device in someone else’s plot, not the star of his own story. And that means that the moment immunity is no longer around his pretty neck, everyone else is going to lunge at his exposed throat and tear his pretty head clean off, dreamy tresses and all.

BIRDS OF PREY

Tyler is secretly hoping Mike will propose a key party right then and there

Tyler is secretly hoping Mike will propose a key party right then and there

Joe is aware of this, and in one of the most unique scenes we’ve had in a long time, we see him in hard at work to fix his situation as he jockeys for power in the form of the Idol. The problem in his way is that as he’s struggling for his piece of power, Tyler and Mike are pulling for it at the same time. What makes the strategizing between the three of them compelling is the pace. It’s a game of high speed chess, and that means each of the involved parties has precious little time to respond to their opponents mood.

Tyler seems to come out of the gate strong here. Like an owl, Tyler has hovered silently over this game, doing little more than observing carefully and waiting for an opportunity to strike. That opportunity comes when Joe chokes on his opportunity to secretively procure the clue at the reward feast. He’s exited to scold Joe and put the pressure on the golden boy. Tyler can see the options unraveling in front of him.

But when Tyler swoops in, Mike then mobs him like a vulture, overpowering him and stealing his kill. Much of Tyler’s abilities as a keen observer come from his careful nature, befitting of a White Collar. Averse to risk, Mike doesn’t even have to open his mouth for Tyler to preemptively give up the goods. Mike’s ambush leaves Tyler with no time to think around the situation, and not wanting to appear as a double agent, he coughs up the goods.

It’s the Blue Collar work ethic that pays off for Mike in the end. It’s not just that he squeezes the idol clue out of Tyler with little more than good timing; or that he finds the idol after being reduced to a sobbing mess in his quest for it. It’s that he was resourceful enough to spy on the other guys in the first place. It’s that he convincingly pins the idol on Joe in such a believable and public way that Joe is forced to go along with the charade, adding another red ring to the target he bears. It’s that when his alliance wants Shirin and Mike wants Hali, he soothes the herd and redirects them. It’s the that the emblem of Escameca is a vulture. The vulture emblazoned on the idol makes it a very fitting adornment for a man who embodies the success of the vulture’s opportunism.

PROTOCOTYPICAL

Jenn shares her generous opinions of Rodney

Jenn shares her generous opinions of Rodney

Unfortunately for Mike, he isn’t the only player watching and waiting for opportunities. Rodney, for example, has a great idea of what he’s going to do when he gets the opportunity, and that’s fuck Mike. (No, not like that. Rodney only has eyes for Joaquin.) This is the second episode in a row now that Rodney has articulated his endgame plan: once the opposing alliance has been disposed of, he’ll ditch the Blue Collars and knock them off one by one, starting with the bane of his existence, Mike. Rodney has been butting heads with Mike from the get go. We know a million and one different reasons that Rodney cannot stand the guy, but worse than going to church on Sundays and buying a house in Texas is that Mike took down beloved Joaquin instead of Joe. Not only is Joaquin no longer there, but Joe still is, and he’s causing everyone problems.

I don’t think there is a chance in hell Rodney succeeds with his exact plan. The members of his blended counter-alliance are not exactly complex, focal characters. An endgame of Rodney, Carolyn, Tyler and Will would have a lot of dead air, and no real discernible winner. Least of all would it be Rodney. Much like Dan, he’s a hypocrite who insists he’s playing “calm, cool and collective,” yet is completely unable to restrain his emotions. Not to mention the major strike of his early season display of sexism.

By the same token, however, Mike isn’t totally safe, because for all of his success and awareness, he doesn’t seem to realize what a threat Rodney poses to his game. If Mike catches on, the joke will be on Rodney, as Mike can take Dan and Sierra to join with whatever remains of the No Collar forces and turn the game back at Rodney. It would be a perfect moment for Shirin to enact masterful revenge on Carolyn and blindside her, idol and all. However, if Mike remains oblivious, it could instead be him leaving with an idol in his pocket, though he wouldn’t be going out without leaving a big mark behind.

In a story where the Blue Collars had a shoe-in to play the heroes, only Mike has stepped up to the job and lived up to the name. His astonishing work ethic has been revisited time and time again as the core of his character. Importantly, it pops up when he finds the idol, a discovery which Mike attributes to hard work, claiming that in Survivor, those who work hard reap the benefits. This sequence is the zenith of the story going out of its way to lavish Mike in glittering, golden praise. The story could be rolling out the red carpet that leads to his victory. Unlike Shirin’s transformative cocoon, that red carpet makes poor plot armor. Mike is at the top of the mountain, which means Rodney could snipe him down from it. But if Rodney does that, he’ll have killed the Blue Collar hero. He’ll have killed the Blue Collar family. He’ll have absolutely, unquestionably killed any chance he had at being the winner of the game, and of all the players in this game, the story will hold him accountable more than any of the others.

NEXT TIME

I mean, do we even need to see anything else?

I mean, do we even need to see anything else?

People fall during a challenge. Why, you’ll think it’s Merica’s Funniest Home Videos! More importantly, it seems without her Soul Sister, Jenn isn’t really vibing with the whole Survivor thing, so she considers throwing in the towel. Guaranteed–the preview’s focus on it ensures it won’t actually happen.

Survivor: Worlds Apart Episode 7 Narrative Analysis- “The Line Will Be Drawn Tonight”

THE STORY SO FAR

*smuff*

*smuff*

On Day 17 of Survivor: Worlds Apart, the Nagarote and Escameca Tribes merged, and though the swap had shuffled the players, the original tribal boundaries were still on everyone’s mind. Mike was elated to show his patriotism when he named the Merica Tribe, but was even more excited to be reunited with his closest ally, Kelly. With the support of Sierra, Dan, and Rodney, the Blue Collars were still 5 strong, compared to No Collars, who had only 4 when Joe rejoined Jenn, Hali, and Will. The White Collars were left at 3: a secret alliance of Carolyn (who had an idol) and Tyler (the only person who Carolyn told), as well as outsider Shirin–who was notably unamused by the new tribe name.

Though tribal lines seemed intact on the surface, as the Merica Tribe built their new campsite, it became apparent that the reality was not so simple. Rodney was still upset with Mike and the other Blue Collars for leaving him out of the loop and cutting off his budding bromance with Joaquin. He put pressure on both Carolyn and Will to join the Blue Collar alliance for the time being, promising that down the road, they could work with him and Kelly to take the other Blue Collars out. Carolyn was intrigued by the prospect of a Final 4 deal, while Will knew he was on the bottom of the No Collar tribe, and considered making a move as well. Despite being mad at Mike, Rodney agreed with the Blue Collar leader that Joe was a huge threat, and needed to go.

With the target squarely on his back, Joe put up an impressive show to save himself when he beat out Carolyn and a bee-stung Jenn in a rainy endurance challenge to win the first individual immunity. With Joe immune, the Blue Collars shifted their target to Jenn, hoping to break up another strong pair by separating her from Hali–but unable to fully trust Will, Mike told him Hali was the target instead. The two girls were able to secure Shirin’s loyalty, but knew, just as the Blue Collars did, that Tyler and Carolyn were the swing votes.

At Tribal Council, all of Merica seemed confident that whether with a knife, ice pick or chainsaw, a line was going to be drawn through the tribe–and that it was going to be a bloody one. While the White Collars were singled out as swing votes, Shirin made a point to show she wasn’t a swing vote, but loyal to the No Collars. The same couldn’t be said for Will, who flipped and voted for Hali as he had been instructed to. His vote didn’t matter, however, as Carolyn and Tyler ultimately sided with Mike and the Blue Collars to throw 7 votes Jenn’s way. It would have been enough to send Jenn home, but she wisely played the idol she’d kept concealed from everyone but Hali, and the blowback saw Kelly become the 7th castaway voted out of Survivor: Worlds Apart. Now eleven remain… who will be the next to go?

A CLOSER LOOK

GOD BLESS ‘MERICA

Fuck yeah.

Fuck yeah.

Merica is one of the more controversial tribe names we’ve seen as of late, and the story does its best to acknowledge this unorthodox choice and move on without making any declarations about its appropriateness. I don’t think it’s worth pouring over how we, the viewers, are meant to think of it–it is purely a bizarre choice that we’re given the resources to make our own decision on. If you find yourself choked up at the national anthem or praying at the Church of the Constitution, you may be inclined to see the name as a fun spirited show of patriotism, as Mike and Hali do. If you wish Middle America could stop living up to all the worst American stereotypes that have Europeans bristling at the mention of Americans, you may be more inclined to see the name as Shirin did. The story doesn’t really support or condemn either position.

BLUE BLOOD

It's been so hard without you, Kelly.. I mean, how do I reach these kids?

It’s been so hard without you, Kelly.. I mean, how do I reach these kids?

The most relevant piece of the story we can get from Shirin’s anti-Merica monologue is that the Blue Collars are as alien and unappealing to her as she has been to most of the other castaways. She ultimately tells us that not only does she not fit in with the Blue Collars, but that despite their fractures, they’re still clearly unified, and she doesn’t want to risk giving them the numbers. Conventional wisdom would echo Carolyn’s sentiments when she targeted Max episodes ago–take off the head. Shirin and the No Collars talk it over, and opt instead to rip out the heart.

As I noted last week, Kelly was cast in the role of “Mom” on the hit family sitcom Escameca! We knew that Kelly was tough and even-keeled, smartly removing herself from the dramatics of her tribe. We knew that Mike saw her as his unquestionable number one. When the merge hits, we see that Rodney trusts her as well, pulling her in on his plan to eventually shift the numbers against Mike. Sierra, mostly absent from this episode, has one of her only lines when she tells Kelly she loves her as Kelly takes her torch to Jeff. Even White Collar Carolyn is shown to have bonded with Kelly while on NuNagarote, indicating that the tight relationship between the two older women was a factor for Carolyn siding with the Blue Collars.

But beyond the fact that everyone loved Kelly, we knew from Kelly herself that she loved Blue Collar just as much in return. Staying Blue Collar strong was a no-brainer as far as she was concerned. Not only was Blue Collar the home to her closest ally, Mike, but she expressed that being away from them “depressed” her and that she couldn’t wait to get away from her new tribe. Surviving on Nagarote was little more than undercover work to her; more akin to infiltrating a group of ignoble criminals than it was an opportunity to meet and work with new and different people.

At the end of the episode, we see the logic of the No Collars quite clearly–Kelly was indeed the heart of the tribe, and I believe that just as they predicted, removing Kelly could be the final blow that causes the eternally unstable Blue Collars to finally fracture.

LUC LONGLEY

Single White Male Seeking Homie to Chill With For a Little Bromance

Single White Male Seeking Homie to Chill With For a Little Bromance

The piece of the Blue Collar puzzle that we’ve had it reiterated is the least secure is Rodney. It’s been emphasized from the get-go that Blue Collar is where Rodney and Mike’s similarities begin and end. Rodney thinks it’s “putrid” that after his devoutly religious, proudly Texan tribe leader blindsided Joaquin, he now has to be said leader’s “bitch.” Rodney wants Blue Collar to pay–Mike in particular. He puts this plan into action immediately after the tribes merge, going after Will and Carolyn to lay the groundwork for a plan to dismantle the Blue Collars down the road. But down the road may not come with someone as volatile as Rodney. Kelly’s ouster only loosens Rodney’s connections to Blue Collar further. Now, rather than in the “fourth quarter,” Rodney might take his shot sooner. Regardless, he will go after Mike at some point. I don’t know if a player who has been portrayed as so stupid will actually pull it off, but damn it, Rodney’s going to try.

SMARTER THAN I LOOK

Oh Jennifer--Dan has been in hot water from the first day of this game

Oh Jennifer–Dan has been in hot water from the first day of this game

I wanted to give Dan the benefit of the doubt at the start of the season. I thought that maybe, despite the fact that he was annoying his tribe at first, he could turn it around somehow. The Blue Collars, as a tribe, seemed like such obvious general audience proxies, and out of all of them, Dan best exemplified the “real people” that the users of the Official Survivor Facebook Page demand more of every season. The story would have loved if the old, fat guy could be the guy who proved everyone wrong. Dan himself is still confident that he’ll do it.

Dan’s major scene in “The Line Will Be Drawn Tonight” has him getting stung by a jellyfish and being corrected by Jenn on how to cope with it (hot water, rather than the urban legend of urine). After Jenn sets him straight, Dan proceeds to hijack her knowledge and presents it as his own. He doesn’t want to miss an opportunity to prove himself to the others. He wants them to see that he’s smarter than he looks.

This scene was very disconnected from everything else in the episode, almost feeling inserted solely to remind us what Dan is all about, in case we’ve forgotten him. It’s not surprising when we think back to his introduction as a character, who proclaims that he will be remembered. Whenever we check in with Dan, we keep circling around the same points. He is desperate for attention, desperate to be a legend, and insistent that he’s a far more capable player than he appears to be. We’ve been reminded of these things one too many times for them to be coincidental. I’m starting to strongly consider that Dan goes far–maybe even to the Final 3. If he does make it, it’s likely as a goat, where be slaughtered. But who knows? Maybe he’ll remind the jury yet again that he’s smarter than he looks, and reveal that he was playing a goat all along, knowing it would grant him safe passage to the end. Either way, I think Dan is going to get his wish of being remembered, and he’ll do it either by finally proving everyone else wrong, or by suffering a fall for the ages in his pursuit to do so.

THE PAWN

The only time I wish I could be more like Rodney is so I could have a good sports metaphor for Will's position in the game

The only time I wish I could be more like Rodney is so I could have a good sports metaphor for Will’s position in the game

Dan’s not the only token older fat guy who could be making a deep run, however. Until this episode, I’ve had a lot of trouble deciphering what the story was doing with Will, a character who’s edit has felt very situational.  Now that he’s flipped on the No Collars, his story becomes a lot more cohesive and clear.

The introduction to the character of Will  showcases his humor and easygoing nature, and his personality, at first, helps us see his value in spite of his lack of physical prowess.  Will himself never seems bothered by his own inability to perform in challenges, which has been hawked on and hammered home week after week, because Will seemed to have a game plan. After all, he said that everyone else on his tribe was playing checkers while he was playing chess. But that gameplan kicked off with throwing away a shot at power when he turned on Vince due to paranoia and hearsay. Now he’s jumped from the bottom of one alliance–an alliance he seemed to have committed to after they proved to him that he’s a part of the family–to the bottom of another, an alliance that didn’t even trust him enough to let him in on the real target. Will is a good guy; but he’s completely out of his depth in every way when it comes to Survivor. The clarity we get is that Will is the one stuck playing checkers on the chessboard. And on a board that has winning personalities such as Rodney and Dan, Will becomes another great candidate for a sharper player to pull along to the end.

BUSINESS AS USUAL

For someone who seems so freaked out by female nudity, Tyler sure is well versed when it comes to key parties

For someone who seems so freaked out by female nudity, Tyler sure is well versed when it comes to key parties

And he’s back! One of the sharper players in the game has always been Tyler, who finally gets an episode to really show what he’s capable of as a strategist when he’s put in a power position. The force that he exhibits isn’t really surprising. He’s always had nuggets of insight that show he’s observant and thoughtful when it comes to the game, and perhaps more importantly than that, as far as the narrative is concerned, is that he’s a White Collar. Survivor is business, and Tyler makes sure that the other castaways know he’s approaching it as such. His conversations with both Mike and Hali cut clear past any bullshit. He knows both sides need him, and that they’ll say whatever they can to sway him. He knows the Blue Collars have already burned him, while he doesn’t know the No Collars at all.

Perhaps most importantly, Tyler knows that pairs are targets, especially in this particular narrative, and Carolyn knows this as well. The story has done a great job of downplaying their alliance, despite the fact that it happened in the very first episode when Carolyn told Tyler about the idol. This week, we learn that the story has been in many ways mirroring their gameplay, intentionally disguising their relationship. From the conversations the competing alliances have with them, it seems to be working. No Collar wants Tyler to bring over whoever he thinks he can pull, showing that they don’t know for certain that person is Carolyn. Rodney makes no attempts to include Tyler in his plans, showing he doesn’t realize how vital Tyler is to Carolyn.

I think that Tyler and Carolyn’s ability to continue flying under the radar will be largely dependent on the choice they made to side with the Blue Collars, and how they handle the way that Jenn’s idol blew up the platform they were swinging to. Carolyn showed her toughness in the Immunity Challenge, Tyler has been showing his intellect all season long, and they have an idol on top of it all. I think that these two can recover for the short term, most certainly.

But playing an all-business game is a double edged sword, because business doesn’t make for a compelling story. While playing a smart, hidden game shows us Tyler’s aptitude as a player, it’s also left him largely absent as a character. Carolyn herself said the merge is like “Day One all over again,” and it’s on this Day One that Tyler’s story truly begins. It means there is a lot more incentive to watch what he does going forward, but with so many other characters who’ve been telling their stories for weeks, it’s doubtful Tyler can make a huge impact on the endgame.

THE BOMB SQUAD

Wow Joe, stop spoiling Season 31!

Wow Joe, stop spoiling Season 31!

Carolyn, on the other hand, has been much more involved in the narrative, and this week we see the threads of her story continue as Shirin commits herself to the No Collars. Throughout the episode, the castaways all fret about the White Collars as swing votes, but Shirin is very pointed in dismantling that perception at Tribal Council. When she declares she’s not a swing vote, it signals two things. One is that she’s heard Carolyn loud and clear, and that Shirin has nothing to do with the other original Masayas. The other is that Shirin isn’t leveraging her position. Rather, she’s chosen an alliance–the No Collars–and she’s going to stand by them. When it turns out that she’s the only one to do so, the window for Shirin to advance her own story about finally learning to fit in opens a little wider. Hali and Jenn agree that they need to put up with Shirin for the time being, but I have a feeling that over time, now that they’re stuck with her, they’re going to learn to actually like her. After all, it’s been apparent for a while that Shirin was more No Collar than White Collar. Ultimately, for this bonding to happen, well… none of the involved parties can go anywhere any time soon.

It would be so easy for the Blue Collars and friends to simply regroup and resume weeding out the Hippie Love Commune. In the game, there don’t seem to be any real obstacles to prevent it. But the story is a different case, because the players in that alliance are heavily armored by the plot. Shirin, as discussed last week, cannot be allowed to leave the story until she’s completed her personal evolution.

Even more important is Jenn, who has been a major character from the start, and is a character who still has a lot of game to play. Jenn told us that her idol would “screw up the game,” and Jeff likened it to a bomb going off after she used it. It wouldn’t fit with what we’ve seen for Jenn to simply save herself flashily and then immediately go home when she’s unprotected. I don’t buy it for a second. Jenn promised she would make a big wave happen, and her best friend, Hali, promised us that the No Collar Surf Sisters know how to ride the waves of the game better than anyone else.

On top of all that, in a season where a lot of attention has been drawn to pairs and the importance of splitting them up, Jenn’s idol has stopped the other players from severing the most clear-cut pair in the entire game in her and Hali. I think that there is a very real possibility that the girls could ride the wave together to the very end. If Mike Holloway can’t stop them, one of the Surf Sisters–be it out in front snarkmaster Jenn or the loveable and extremely bizarre Hali–will win this game.

(And I mean, really now–Hali is weird. Beyond any editorial importance to her confessionals, I think production just likes using them because she’s so surprisingly strange. For a show that usually casts young, attractive women in the blandest light possible, they’re really letting her freak flag fly. And her freak flag just so happens to also be a ‘merican flag.)

NEXT TIME

If Shirin can be trusted, Mike might be able to break his vow of celibacy up in these trees

If Shirin can be trusted, Mike might be able to break his vow of celibacy up in these trees

Jenn’s idol means that the Blue Collars are forced to realized there’s an unclaimed talisman somewhere on their beach, and everyone is scrambling to get to it first. In the meantime, Rodney scrambles to turn the tides against Mike.

Survivor: Worlds Apart Episode 6 Narrative Analysis- “Odd Woman Out”

THE STORY SO FAR

*smuff*

*smuff*

Survivor: Worlds Apart had begun as a battle between three tribes divided by occupation, but that all changed on Day 12 when three tribes were reshuffled into two: the (almost) all-male Escameca Tribe, and the (almost) all-female Nagarote Tribe. The concentration of strong, athletic men on Escameca gave them a huge advantage in challenges, and nobody was surprised when Nagarote lost immunity. Shirin, however, was surprised when her one-time White Collar ally Carolyn flipped on her, and sent home Shirin’s closest friend, Max.

On the bottom of the tribe, Shirin got no love from Carolyn, but Hali threw the underdog a bone and told Shirin that she’d been bothering her tribemates. Shirin felt that she had been trying too hard to fit in–just as she had done in her nerdy youth–and saw Survivor as her second chance to learn how to adapt. She was given the perfect opportunity to bond with the others when the ladies of Nagarote (and Will)  shot their way to victory in the reward challenge and got to spend a magical evening with nesting sea turtles.The experience helped Jenn to realize that she actually stood a chance to win the game.

On Escameca, people were bonding as well. Though Sierra was the original Blue Collar’s obvious outsider–especially after an unwarranted verbal lashing from Dan–another Blue Collar felt like he also didn’t belong. With Joaquin now on his tribe, Rodney felt he finally had someone with who he related. As they bromanced it up, Joaquin began to bring his new boyfriend into his alliance with Tyler. Invigorated by his new partnership, Rodney hatched a plan for Escameca to throw the immunity challenge and vote out isolated threat Joe.

At the memory-based immunity challenge, Mike followed through with the plan to throw the game, except he was doing it to protect his closest ally Kelly, who was alone on the other tribe. Though Kelly’s bad memory made it hard, she eventually won the game point (with a lot of prompting from Mike) and was touched by the gesture of loyalty.

With Tribal in their sights, Sierra was the hot property, with everyone vying for her valuable vote. Though Sierra liked Joaquin, she was hesitant to side with him when he insisted that Rodney join their alliance. Meanwhile, Mike petitioned Sierra to stick with Blue Collar, and split up the east coast bromance with Joe’s help. Neither option particularly appealed to Sierra, who had to align with one of the men she most hated.  Ultimately, even though Joe received three votes, Sierra sided with Dan over Rodney, and saw Joaquin become the sixth person voted out of Survivor: Worlds Apart. 12 remain… who will be the next to go?

A CLOSER LOOK

A JOAQ IN THE PARK

( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) Mhm.

( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) Mhm.

Joaquin was elated to tell us he was going to hustle his new tribe, just as he did with his old one. But members of that old tribe–both So and Shirin–told us that Joaquin didn’t really seem to know what he was doing. At the end of “Odd Woman Out,” Joaquin’s poor gameplay has sealed his fate. Of course, the best available move isn’t always as visible to the castaways as it is to the viewers, but, as I mentioned in the last analysis, the assumption would be that Joaquin and Tyler would have found a stable third in isolated Joe, and then use their total lack of blue collarness to sway over the disgruntled Sierra. Instead, Joaquin pulled in Rodney, and seemed oblivious to the fact that his Boston Bro’s presence was only going to serve to chase Sierra away. He appears completely oblivious to this when the three of them talk about possibly working together, largely because the second Rodney enters the conversation, the men begin speaking about Sierra as if she’s not even there.

What sticks out about all of this is that Tyler–careful, observant, calculated Tyler–not only approves the move, but has no input whatsoever. Tyler has not had any real storyline this season. His screentime is about establishing him as a smart player, first and foremost, and given this is his only role, you would think he’d have more input when it comes to an incredibly important vote. But we hear nothing, and Joaquin walks out of Tribal Council with Tyler’s game in his pocket. This only leaves questions as to what is next for Tyler, disconnected from the story and in a terrible position. Stealth only works if you can afford to fly under the radar, and with very little power, I have to wonder how Tyler will recover–and what it means for the story if and when he does. Either way, his dire position means that his next moves are going to have to be a lot bigger than they’ve been up until this point, and it’s likely where we’ll see his story emerge.

OHANA MEANS FAMILY

OTP Anyone? Please?

OTP Anyone? Please?

…and family means everyone ends up in therapy. As the last episode before the tribes merge, “Odd Woman Out” is the editors final opportunity to dress the stage before the curtain opens. This time around, it’s not so much a curtain that will be pulled back, but a pseudo-embroidered nameplate revealing a living portrait of a family before the announcer calls them down for a game of Family Feud. We learned prior to the swap that one of the families is the No Collars. Now the story has almost become ham-fisted in telling us that the other family is the Blue Collars. (The business-minded White Collars can’t be bothered with that sort of frivolity and are too busy loathing each other so, unsurprisingly, they’re not invited.)

You’ve probably seen the most recent episode on the preferred family sitcom of your choice–you know, the one where the rebellious teenage Son who is sick of Dad bossing him around and telling him what to do makes a cool new friend who Dad can tell is really just a good-fer-nothin’ bad influence. So Dad gathers the rest of the cast–Harry Potter’s Wacky Grandpa (previously seen buying space-themed pornography on Rugrats) and an equally rebellious Daughter (currently mad because she feels like her family doesn’t really care about her–but given that she’s a teenager, who knows what she’ll be mad about next?) and they get rid of the bad influence. Sonny boy is hopping mad, but remember what Mom (currently “away getting her Law Degree” or “on another Tribe” or something) said before: sometimes, you just have to let them have their brawl and, as we’ve seen this family do before, after the smoke has cleared, they’ll all move on. The Son, if given time, will realize that Dad was just looking out for him.

The speeches given by Dan and Lindsey during the pre-merge, along with the ever-shifting targets on the pre-swap Escameca, have hammered home the narrative for this family: they’ll fight, they’ll bicker, they’ll threaten to break off your jaw and feed it to you, but in the end, you don’t choose your family, and you make it work. Sierra proved this with her vote this week, siding with the people who scorned her as opposed to Joaquin, who she says reminds her of someone she’d befriend in her real life. Of course, Daddy Mike earns specific praise here, constantly reminding Sierra that while Rodney and Dan may be driving her up the wall, he has always been their for her with support and kindness. Sierra may be mad at her Brother and Grandpa, but Dad keeps her in line by all but saying “I’m wouldn’t be mad if you flipped… just disappointed.”

The problem is that when the merge comes, a new family is going to move into the neighborhood, with a lot more bad influences. If Escameca was given time, Rodney may have been better able to heal from Joaquin’s ouster. The merge will be this family’s biggest test, because Rodney might run away from home instead.

G.O.A.T.

After meeting Joqauin, Rodney is now the Gayest Of All Time

After meeting Joqauin, Rodney is now the Gayest Of All Time

To a Survivor fan with no interest in professional sports, it took me a while to realize that goat is an acronym with two extremely different meanings. For Survivor fans, the GOAT is a “Great Opponent At Tribal,” someone whose piss-poor gameplay, often resulting from a caustic or pathetic personality, ensures that they won’t receive winning votes from jurors at the end. In sports, however, the GOAT is the “Greatest Of All Time,” a title that has been applied to, amongst others, football mega-icon Tom Brady–who is perhaps not coincidentally a personal idol of Rodney’s.

Rodney sees himself as the Tom Brady of Survivor, but the editing surrounding him has done nothing but encourage us to laugh at his delusion. From the start, Rodney has professed he gets that Survivor is a social game, but he fails to play it as one. He is oblivious to how the women he’s playing with could possibly be bothered by his blatant misogyny–even when Jeff Probst points it out to him! He throws temper tantrums when confronted, lashing out at Mike, Sierra, and Lindsey all at various points–despite telling us that he is playing the game “calm, cool, and collective.” The editors never miss their chance to jump on his malapropisms–apples and oranges, anyone? To quote Inigo Montoya, “I do not think that means what you think it means.” And to make sure we don’t forget he’s the butt of the joke, his strategy to throw the challenge is immediately mocked by Mike in a confessional after he reveals it.

We’ve got Rodney for a while. There is no way someone this stupid doesn’t go out in a spectacular blaze of glory. Rodney thinks he’s Tom Brady, but sooner or later, someone else is going to realize he’s just a goat. Bleat.

ONE DAY YOU’RE OUT; THE NEXT DAY, SHIRIN

Three guesses as to who Shirin is mocking. Hint- see the above paragraph

Three guesses as to who Shirin is mocking. Hint- see the above paragraph

After Max was knocked off with his expertise tucked between his unclothed (and fabulous!) legs, Nagarote also had a pretty good goat contender sitting alone and unprotected in Shirin. We’ve watched for weeks now as Shirin annoyed her tribemates with a myriad of peculiarities! She doesn’t wear bottoms, but keeps her top on! She thinks monkey sex is funny! She fancies herself a one-woman band! She loves Survivor too much! She doesn’t shut up!

As I’ve said in the past, however, there is more to Shirin than just being annoying. On a Tribe that combined go-getters and nerds, Shirin was strongly an example of the latter, and this episode allowed her to expose the common wound that every nerd spends the rest of their life trying to heal from: exclusion. Shirin’s confessional as she talks to Hali is one that instantly humanized her, because she spoke to an experience that droves of viewers had probably been through themselves. It’s the experience of feeling invalidated and unrecognized in a world built for the success of people who aren’t like you. In a perfect twist of metaphorical fate, however, that experience is very much the reality of the game Survivor. A group of people together decide the rules of their world and what is valued. If you can’t fit in, you’re voted out.

Shirin herself points this out, and it is here where Shirin’s game is reborn and her story gains an incredible new dimension. Shirin knows that, in many ways, Survivor is a chance to re-do a past that was very difficult for her. As a teenager, learning to fit in is hard. This is Shirin’s opportunity to prove to herself that she can grow and adapt, and show these people that she belongs in their world more than they know. This upswing will be the crux of Shirin’s journey, and it is so rife with potential that the story has now taken Shirin hostage. The revelation of her perspective grants her plot armor; a cocoon to protect her while she metamorphoses. She’s safe in the game for as long as she needs to complete her transformation, and I strongly suspect it could take the rest of the season–meaning we’ll be with Shirin for a while longer to come.

TWO BROKE GIRLS

Can you surf on a turtle?

Can you surf on a turtle?

With the edit whipping around to throw us into Shirin’s corner, it makes her nemesis, Carolyn, look terrible by comparison. Her annoyance with and mistrust of her Day 1 ally comes across as paranoid and cold. When she says that Shirin was merely “tolerable,” it showcases a lack of empathy or compassion that perhaps we should have come to expect from the matriarch of the White Collars. It’s very different from the approach of the No Collars, particularly “the greater good” in Hali, who lends a sympathetic ear and helpful advice to Shirin (despite being the embodiment of the “beautiful and skinny” tormenters who were so prevalent in Shirin’s past).

Hali and Jenn have been a pair in the game for a long while now, bonded together for all eternity by their surfing trip; a coconut bandit passtime for a new generation. Hali’s openness to Shirin reflects the way that both of the surf sisters have been playing so far, which Hali has told us is about and waiting for the game to come to them and then riding its ups and downs. This playstyle in particular works well for slacker Jenn, who, if we’ve learned nothing else about, we know is someone who doesn’t like getting too serious.

But the turtles awaken something in Jenn. The confessional she gives during the nesting trip is brief but exceptional, a perfect narrative junction to advance her story. Upon realizing how hard a sea turtle must struggle to even get the chance to continue the circle of life, Jenn realizes that the challenges of Survivor are not that insurmountable. If she can buckle down, get her game face on, and really try, Jenn can win the game. Moving forward, I expect that Jenn is going to start playing a little more proactively. Jenn is now here to play, and that could be terrible news for Hali.

Hali has very much been purposefully hidden behind Jenn up until now, but with Jenn’s story now surging forward, Hali might not just be behind her, but completely in the background. These girls are a tight-knit unit, most certainly, but if they make the end together, there is no question that Jenn is out in front. Much as with the coconut bandits, Hali could find herself the Gervase to Jenn’s Tyson. As the paradigm of the game shifts with the upcoming merge, Hali’s story desperately needs something to keep her afloat as a contender, or else she’s going to drown beneath Tidal Wave Jenn.

WHITE COLLAR, BLUE COLLAR, NO COLLAR

Could Will's oft-focused on challenge ineptitude forecast a Finals Loser?

Could Will’s oft-focused on challenge ineptitude forecast a Finals Loser?

The meaning of the collar designations is still up to wild speculation, quite frankly–but the fact that the theme continues can only assure us that it will matter. We can see the impact that it has on the characters. The No Collars are empowered by harmony and flexibility, floating through the game like a coconut in the surf. The Blue Collars gain their power from the blood, sweat and tears that they expend for one another, because blood is thicker than anything. The White Collars are scattered, cold, impersonal, and out for themselves, knowing their survival is entirely contingent upon proving that they have worth to the corporation. These outlooks have hindered all three groups in a variety of ways, but they haven’t yet caused an out-and-out collapse for any of them. It’s early to predict, for sure, but I would be unsurprised if Worlds Apart’s thesis question (which collar will reign supreme?) is dragged out until the bitter end, with one of each collar making their case in the Finals.

NEXT TIME

I wonder what this could be!

I wonder what this could be!

Nagarote and Escameca are no more, because it’s mergin’ time! And with the tribes dead even, nobody is safe–least of all anyone who Rodney holds responsible for his #bromance’s premature death. With so many different factions that can move in so many different ways, it’s impossible to guess what’s about to happen, so watch, motherfuckers!

Survivor: Worlds Apart- Episodes 4 & 5 Narrative Analysis- “Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner” & “We’re Finally Playing Some Survivor”

THE STORY SO FAR

*smuff*

*smuff*

In the jungle of Nicaragua, three tribes of castaways, divided by social class, were still at war with each other, and the No Collar Nagarote Tribe was behind. They had lost two challenges in a row, and Will knew that if they lost again, the core alliance of Jenn, Hali and Joe would send him home. Fortunately, voting out Nina seemed to lift a dark cloud, and the positive, close-knit tribe vowed to forge ahead. Their unity helped them take a commanding lead in the reward challenge, where they came in first and won chickens for their tribe. When the tribe decided to celebrate Will’s birthday with a chicken dinner, animal loving vegetarian Jenn objected, and left camp so she wouldn’t have to see the slaughter. With her tribemates preoccupied, Jenn focused on the game, and found herself Nagarote’s Hidden Immunity Idol.

On the White Collar Masaya Tribe, the idol had been found much earlier by Carolyn, though only Tyler knew that she had it. Fortunately, nobody seemed focused on the tribe’s eldest woman. It was Shirin who instead continued to make herself an outsider, this time disturbing her tribemates by sharing a story about killing a rabbit in preparation for the game. While Joaquin couldn’t stand Shirin and wanted her out, Carolyn was more concerned with Shirin’s bestie Max, who she saw as a dangerous cult leader. She was adamant with Tyler and Joaquin that if they lost the next immunity challenge, they would have to behead the snake and vote out Max.

That didn’t end up happening, however, as the Blue Collar Escameca Tribe finally saw their total lack of cohesion catch up to them. From the very first day the tribe was at each other’s throats, with both loudmouthed Dan and workhorse Mike taking turns as the tribe’s least popular member. Now it was Rodney’s turn to make enemies. He infuriated Lindsey and Sierra with sexist comments about how women need to hold themselves to a higher standard than men. In her aggravation, Lindsey once again succumbed to her temper and attacked Rodney’s mother in front of the tribe. The target on Rodney’s back only increased when he fumbled during the immunity challenge, contributing to Escameca’s loss.

With their first Tribal Council approaching, and everyone in the tribe having pissed each other off, it seemed like it could be anyone. Lindsey and Sierra targeted Rodney, while Rodney returned the favor in kind to Lindsey. While Dan tried to convince Lindsey he was on her side, it was really Mike who was the swing vote. He found a solid alliance with Kelly, who impressed him by pushing through the pain when she received a brutal head injury during the reward challenge. Though Kelly was thoroughly annoyed with Rodney’s misogyny, Lindsey’s proclivity for outbursts didn’t make her popular either.

When it came time to meet with Jeff, Rodney was called out for his demeaning comments about women, and Lindsey gave a rousing speech about her love for the Blue Collar Tribe, but the decision was already set in stone. The votes split between Rodney, Lindsey, and Sierra, and in the revote, Lindsey became the fourth castaway voted out of Survivor: Worlds Apart, leaving fourteen remaining, and Sierra all on her own.

*smuff*

*smuff*

On Day 12, Jeff dropped a bombshell and revealed that the “Battle of the Collars” would be no more, and three tribes would become two. The castaways were all reshuffled into two brand new tribes. Hali, Jenn and Will stayed members of the Nagarote Tribe, and were joined by three White Collars–Carolyn, Shirin, and Max–and one Blue Collar, Kelly, who appeared to be an immediate swing vote between the two factions. Sierra was displeased to find she would remain on the Escameca Tribe with Mike, Rodney, and  Dan, the latter two who had torn into her after Lindsey’s blindside. She was done with Blue Collar, and elated to be joined by White Collars Joaquin and Tyler, along with No Collar Joe.

Escameca’s new brawn saw them win reward handily, but a shared steak and sausage feast only gave spurned Sierra a chance to bond with her new tribemates. Mike knew that the Blue Collar foursome could only keep their power if they could pull Sierra back into the fold, and he implored Dan to make nice with her for the sake of the game. Despite his insistence that he understood how to manipulate women, Dan’s apology was more of an attack, and Sierra was completely fed up. She was quick to sell them down the river to her new tribemates, but things were complicated when Joaquin took a liking to Rodney, being reminded of his friends from home. It didn’t end up mattering in the end–Escameca’s massive strength meant they absolutely clobbered Nagarote in the immunity challenge, sending the red tribe to Tribal Council.

While the new Nagarote appeared to be split between White and No Collar with Kelly in the middle, that couldn’t have been further from the truth. Carolyn was at her wits’ end with her annoying superfan tribemates, and wasted no time in pledging her loyalty to the No Collars. Max was excited to lose immunity and get to voting people out, especially as he and Shirin thought they had Kelly’s vote to take out Will. In reality, they were oblivious to the fact that the rest of the tribe was deciding who between the two of them would be the next to go. Shirin annoyed the tribe with her incessant talking; while Max came off as inconsiderate when he used the tribe’s drinking water to soothe his feet after being stung by a ray. In addition, nobody was charmed by either one’s frequent allusions to past Survivor seasons and trivia. At Tribal Council, Max told Jeff to hold up, bro–because he always wanted to say it!–but found himself wishing he could have followed through. Max became the fifth castaway voted out of Survivor: Worlds Apart, blindsiding both him and Shirin, now left on the outs. Thirteen remain… who will be the next to go?

A CLOSER LOOK

SUPER-FANNING THE FLAMES

You're on the same page, alright, but nobody else is even reading the same book

You’re on the same page, alright, but nobody else is even reading the same book

It was impossible not to notice the attention being drawn not only to Max and Shirin’s alliance, but to the fact that their major unifying factor was their shared superfandom of the show. I will admit that maybe as a self-identified superfan myself I was a little blinded by bias, but I didn’t exactly expect this to be how it all panned out! Despite Joaquin or Rodney appearing to be a more obvious Drew Christy successor, it was Max who instead emerged from what had been mostly a background role to walk face-first into a humiliating blindside, with the editing gleefully running his hubris up a flagpole. It serves as a reminder that knowing everything about Survivor doesn’t mean you’re going to be good at playing it.

Without her comrade-in-nudity, Shirin could not look like more of a sitting duck. She’s on a tribe in which almost every member got a moment to talk about how explicitly annoying they find her antics–and it just so happens to be a tribe that is physically outmatched in every respect. If the merge is at the final twelve, as it has been in most recent seasons, then Shirin could very possibly be that final pre-merge boot. But if Shirin goes, then all of the story’s very careful work in crafting the narrative surrounding her goes down with her.

Sure, the episodes worth of focus on how Shirin is an annoying outsider could have all just been building up to explain why Carolyn eventually turns on her and Max (and is justified in doing so). And again, maybe I’m just being a superfan biased in hopes of the success of my people, but I feel like that would be a waste–especially after the comparatively less visible and important Max was the one to take the brunt of the humiliation in the blindside. We’ve known for weeks that she was the next target on Masaya if they lost again, but she scraped by every time the White Collars won. Now once again, she slips through.

Don’t get me wrong–if Shirin is axed next, it won’t come as a shock to anyone. But Carolyn expressedly targeted Max because she saw him as the head of the snake. The narrative enforces this–Shirin only gets nude after Max has done it, calling him a “trendsetter.” The implication is that Max had total control over Shirin. When you cut off a snake’s head, the body dies. But a cockroach doesn’t need its head to live, and that’s what makes them so hard to kill. Someone else could find Shirin flailing with her head cut off and decide that she, irritating and completely alone, isn’t a threat to anyone. If Shirin needs a new head to follow, and someone is willing to play that role, they could even lead Shirin and all of her off-putting quirks to Final Tribal Council and a million dollar victory.

THE PAINTED LADY’S PROPHECY

Rodney can't even be bothered to listen when noises come out of a woman's mouth

Rodney can’t even be bothered to listen when noises come out of a woman’s mouth

The original Escameca Tribe was a mess. It seemed like every episode, there was a new black sheep in their flock. It seems that had they lost immunity sooner into the game than they did, Lindsey may not have been the first Blue Collar out. Unsurprisingly, Dan and Mike got the last laugh instead, and the narrative puts Lindsey in her place for her mean girl ways. Unfortunately, it happened to come at the same exact round when someone on the tribe would prove themselves to be even more disagreeable. I’m talking about none other than the beacon of feminism himself, Boston Rod. As much as Lindsey was punished by the narrative in prior episodes, the story made it very clear this week that Rodney was in the wrong. His attitudes towards women are appalling, and Lindsey was granted her day in the sun when she called him on his sexism.

This means that as she walks out of Tribal Council, her torch extinguished, we as viewers feel torn about Lindsey. Was she a terrible player who we were meant to dislike for her pronounced nasty streak? Or do we like her for staying true to herself when it really mattered? The ambiguity surrounding Lindsey means that there is also ambiguity surrounding her Day 1 prediction, revisited at Tribal: The winner of the game will be a Blue Collar. If Lindsey is a hyper-aggressive egoist with no grasp on reality or how to treat others, then her words lose all merit–in fact, if that is the case, we can effectively take her prediction as anti-foreshadowing; proof that the winner will not be a Blue Collar. But, if amidst all of her weaknesses as a Survivor player, the narrative grants Lindsey an occasional clarity and wisdom, perhaps we’re simply seeing a very important clue highlighted in neon.

If Lindsey’s prediction is, indeed, true, then in the fourth episode, we saw the only two players who could fulfill that prophecy band together in Mike and Kelly. Mike is a character who had a major presence right from the start. We get to check in with him often to see where his head is regarding the game. We know he wants to get dirty and play hard and seize opportunity when it arrives. We know he sees the big picture when he begs the tribe to not throw away the first 11 days by alienating Sierra–a point that is reinforced when he hands Dan the correct way to manage Sierra’s hurt feelings on a golden platter (only for Dan to toss them in the flames, wanting for the umpteenth time to prove that he knows better than everyone else). We know that Mike works hard and sees himself as a “true” Blue Collar. We’ve gotten some personal insight on him, learning about his faith and the role it’s played in his life. At this point in the story, Mike is unquestionably one of the leading characters, an exemplar of the Blue Collar Way. If someone fulfills Lindsey’s prophecy, Mike would make perfect sense.

But roaring in the foreground is not the only way to make an impression in Survivor. Knowing how to manage yourself is key, and we’ve already seen Mike make enemies when he needled Rodney for not pulling his weight. Of all the fighting that occurred amongst the Blue Collar Tribe, observant cop Kelly was the only one to wisely keep out of it. Episode 4 sees her break out in a major way when she champs through a startling injury during the challenge, earning her Mike’s adoration and praise. The injury is the jumping off point that the show uses to introduce us to Mike and Kelly’s alliance–he tells us he’s proud of her for fighting onward, and says that it proves that Kelly is worthy of the “never-say-die” Blue Collar title. As we progress further into episode 5, we see Kelly continuing to observe, continuing to show an awareness of her position, and continuing to tie in her relevant experience as a police officer to the game. Importantly, she gets the opportunity to tell us firsthand that she’s going to stick with the No Collars once Carolyn flips, because she knows there is no point in trying to salvage Max and Shirin’s chances. It’s a confessional that we didn’t really need to see after Carolyn steals the swing position, but it shows us that Kelly is still an active and aware agent in the choices she’s making. Her slow burn story could lead to a brightly blazing fire at the end–it’s not unheard of for Survivor to edit it’s female winners in a more low-key way.

However, Kelly isn’t as secure as Mike. Carolyn likely jumped up a spot with the No Collars by offering to jump ship; so if Shirin is spared, Kelly could be taken out as a preemptive strike against a Blue Collar reunion. It could be that the reason Kelly’s story was late to start could very simply be that it’s early to finish–though I would like very much to think otherwise. Alas, if Kelly is taken out, then Mike alone will have to keep hope alive for the Blue Collars. Or maybe Lindsey is just not to be trusted, even when she’s no longer in the game.

SIERRA RIDES ALONE

Do I even NEED a comment? Sometimes a picture says it all.

Do I even NEED a comment? Sometimes a picture says it all.

Kelly was not the only of the Blue Collar women to really come into the foreground during the double episode. Sierra’s role until this point was mostly as Lindsey’s blonde bestie, glaring in the background while Lindsey was busy ranting. Despite Sierra being out of focus, it was still made apparent that she and Lindsey were a tight unit–which makes it unsurprising that after Lindsey is booted and the tribes are shuffled, Sierra is salivating at the opportunity to go rogue.

A key issue is, however, that Sierra doesn’t have much of a plan beyond anger. She feels wounded because her old tribemates mistrust and mistreat her, but she we don’t get to see her feelings towards her new tribemates. All that we know is that she likes them simply because they’re not her old tribe–and those aren’t great grounds for a long term alliance. If anything, we hear more from Joaquin of all people, who has an evaluative eye on Rodney, seemingly wanting to work with him. Regarding Sierra, we hear mostly about her strategic future from Tyler, who has a great confessional about how he’s more than glad to scoop up any and all outsiders who come his way. In other words, Tyler wants Sierra because she’s hurting and will be easy to woo to his side of the numbers. Sierra wants Tyler because he’s not Rodney, Dan, or Mike.

If Escameca had lost immunity, we would probably see a quicker resolution to this storyline, but as of right now, I don’t think Sierra has settled into an alliance long-term. The story is focused on who Sierra is against (the Blue Collars), not on who she’s now with.This could mean that Sierra will feel differently when she’s had some time to settle down, and she’ll stick with her original tribe. It also could mean that she’s going to find an entirely different alliance down the road–or that she won’t make it far enough to matter.

OHANA MEANS FAMILY

They're too No Collar to all face the photographer for a family picture

They’re too No Collar to all face the photographer for a family picture

…and family means no one gets left behind. Well, unless you’re Joe Anglim and your family is the original Nagarote Tribe. To follow up briefly on Sierra: the other big issue with the “new” alliance on Escameca is that we don’t know where most of the new guys stand, least of all Joe. He’s the only No Collar on his new tribe, and we’ve heard nothing from him on that potential precarious situation. The natural assumption is that he would team up with the White Collars and try to sway Sierra, but that’s a big if. Joe could very easily find another plan that works better for him on the Blue Tribe.

What we do know pretty certainly about Joe is that he’s likely to rejoin the No Collars whenever they’re reunited. While Carolyn couldn’t wait to turn on Max and Shirin, and Blue Collar on the whole is allergic to tribal unity, the No Collars successfully sucked out all of their “bad wind,” so to speak. Paranoid and needy Vince is gone, as is “wet blanket” Nina and her piss-poor attitude. What’s left is a cohesive group that truly seems to care about each other, even when the don’t always agree–the biggest tension they had in a post-Nina world was Jenn not wanting to kill a chicken, and even then she found the idol, so I can’t imagine she’s too upset!

The whole chicken feast scene does more for us than just set the stage for Jenn’s big discovery, however. The story makes sure to tell us that they’re killing a chicken prematurely to celebrate Will’s birthday, and he tears up in a confessional where he expresses his utmost gratitude to his tribe for wanting to make it a special day. Will knew that if Nagarote lost another challenge, he was on the outs, but they didn’t, and now he’s not. The lowest man on the totem pole doesn’t feel alienated or like he’s in the bottom spot–he may even move up, given the circumstances of the swap–and having that sort of unity is massive for their alliance. If anything, I feel that Will was the member of NuNagarote who would have most benefited from jumping ship, not Carolyn. Yet the way their respective starting tribes managed their social interactions completely inverted the reality.

Right now, the No Collars are the closest thing this story has to heroes. We’ve seen them fall on their face, but as Hali told us, she can see the embers in their fire becoming a roaring flame. This group is on the upswing, and I would be entirely unsurprised to see a No Collar, particularly Jenn or Hali, walk off the island with the title. The problem in their story is that they’re too cohesive. We’ve been given a lot of reasons to root for the No Collars, but have yet to see the cracks in their individual armors. If Jenn, Hali, and Joe were to hold tight and make the final three together, how would the story explain which happy-go-lucky surfer the jury chooses? The story hasn’t given a reason for any of them to lose up against any of the others. They’re too neck-in-neck and too interchangeable. If we see a No Collar win this game, that person will be the only No Collar to make the Final Tribal Council.

JENNY FROM THE BEACH

She would probably only be more excited if she found someone's stash

She would probably only be more excited if she found someone’s stash

The No Collar who stands out the most right now is Jenn. It was a great few episodes for her. While she and Hali probably seem themselves as partners in crime, the story puts Jenn on top of their tribe’s hierarchy, and with the No Collars winning out on the vote split and ousting Max, Jenn is now sitting at the top of her tribe with an idol in her pocket. I can only imagine that the editors are thrilled to have her in power, because the story loves to use Jenn’s voice–the photo finish confessional was a dream.

Though Jenn took more than her fair share of shots at Max and Shirin, she also restated that she’s a big Survivor fan, a fact we first learned at when she gushed over the excitement of being in front of Probst at a past Tribal Council. Much as with Shirin, the show has gone out of its way to remind us that Jenn considers herself a fan, but they draw a distinction by portraying Jenn as the right kind of fan. She’s not bogged down in the minutiae like who played on what season or what tribe was on when. She doesn’t get hung up on the show’s past because she’s engaged in the present moment. Not only does her outlook on Survivor  probably relate to a much larger section of the viewership than the Max Dawsons of the world would, it also continues to highlight the fact that Jenn takes things as they come and rolls with the punches. Her approach to the world could grant her with a lot of flexibility to shake the game up, and her idol could only help in the process.

Jenn said just as much upon finding the idol, viewing it as the perfect tool for the Survivor No Collar, who can use it to really “screw up” the game. It’s a line that could have probably been trimmed out if she just clung to the thing for dear life as time went on. Jenn isn’t thinking too far ahead, because that’s not how she approaches life, so the idol isn’t going to rot in her pocket until the top five just to save her skin. She’s going to leap when the opportunity arises to create some chaos, both for the game and her own amusement. For many players, the idol is a shield, but in Jenn’s hands, it’s a weapon. That weapon makes her one of the most dangerous players in the game, and one of the most important characters to keep an eye on moving forward.

NEXT TIME

Charlie and Marcus look different this season

Charlie and Marcus look different this season

Shirin may be on the hot seat at Nagarote, but Escameca is lit ablaze by the flames of love as Rodney and Joaquin begin a torrid and passionate forbidden bromance. The other Blue Collars can’t seem to take the heat, though–so they might want to kick one of the boys out of the kitchen. I’m sure Rodney will be fine with that, you know, because the kitchen is for those women-folk and all.

Survivor: Worlds Apart Episode 3 Narrative Analysis- “Crazy is as Crazy Does”

THE STORY SO FAR

*smuff*

*smuff*

Three tribes have been abandoned for almost a week in Nicaragua, and it was the Nagarote Tribe who had to turn their vibe around on Night 6 after their first Tribal Council, where Will broke his word to everyone when he switched his vote and sent Vince home. To lift their spirits after a wild vote, allies Hali and Jenn went bodyboarding with driftwood; while their third, Joe, tried to provide for the tribe by catching a lizard as food. Nina, however, refused to try the fruits of Joe’s labor–feeling like even more of an outsider than before, she gave up, and her negative attitude began to wear thin on her tribemates, even the sympathetic Joe. Nina speculated that she might not be “No Collar” enough, having formerly been a White Collar Woman.

If Nina was too White Collar for Nagarote, then Shirin was too No Collar for the Masaya Tribe. She excitedly relayed her encounter with two copulating howler monkeys to her tribemates, but they only seemed put off. Later, Shirin joined her ally Max and the other White Collar men as they all hunted for an idol–but only Tyler knew that Carolyn had already found it days ago. During the idol hunt, Shirin butted heads with Joaquin, who knew he was on the outs–he had been ever since he took a clue to the Idol on the first day and sided with So at the first Tribal Council. Hoping to improve his position, Joaquin shared the idol clue he received on the first day with Tyler. Tyler appreciated the gesture, and the two bonded further over their mutual dislike of Shirin.

The biggest conflicts, however, were to be found on the Blue Collar Escameca Tribe–much to the surprise of Kelly, who expected her tough teammates to be a little less emotional. First it was Dan who pissed off Rodney when Dan made an off-color joke about Rodney’s mother. Their beef seemed to be squashed the next day, however, when Mike confronted Rodney over Rodney’s lack of work ethic. While Rodney slammed Mike to Dan in the woods, Lindsey and Sierra confronted Mike back at camp for not acknowledging the tribe’s hard work. Mike was devastated when things got personal, however, after the argument escalated and Lindsey attacked Mike for his strong Christian faith.

The immunity challenge became a close race for first prize between Masaya and Escameca. Nagarote fell behind quickly when Joe ordered Nina to run ahead of the tribe instead of helping them to carry their water bucket through the obstacle course, effectively robbing Nina of her shot at proving her worth to the tribe. In the end, despite their internal conflicts, Escameca walked off with a first place finish, while Nagarote found themselves forced to attend a second consecutive Tribal Council.

Prior to the vote, former friends Will and Nina knew they were going to turn on each other, unable to break the youngster’s three person alliance. That alliance considered voting out Will, who was failing to perform at the challenges and furthermore was difficult to trust. Nina, however, was also seen as a weak competitor–and in addition, as a wet blanket. She tried to save herself by throwing Will under the bus at Tribal Council and by promising Hali that she could embrace the No Collar way of being, but it was in vain. Nina became the third castaway voted out of Survivor: Worlds Apart. Now only 15 remain… who will be the next to go?

A CLOSER LOOK

A WORD ON ABLEISM

Nina advocates for herself... to be voted out

Nina advocates for herself… to be voted out

I was excited, as a blogger who would ideally like to focus on reality tv representations of marginalized and othered individuals, to learn that a deaf castaway would be competing this season. I also know that this particular series of blogs is about the narrative, and less about my personal feelings, so I’ll try to keep this brief and relevant. This episode clarified the tension-building ambiguity established last week by showing us that Nina was the party in the wrong. When she began to feel that the others saw her as an outsider, she began to see herself as an outsider. She refused to try and get in with the group, because in her mind, exclusion was already a done deal. She disempowered herself with her negative attitude and relied on the other members of the tribe to fix it for her. At the end of the day, the only person who could change that was Nina. From a perspective of both the game and the story, she dug her own grave.

As viewers, we need to remain conscious of the fact that Survivor is not real life. For most of Nina’s real life, she has not been deaf. She’s still learning to cope with the ostracism that deaf people encounter every day, and has undoubtedly experienced many people who’ve written her off based on her deafness alone. We may have gotten to see a well-rounded picture of a group of people who ultimately ousted Nina for her attitude, but that doesn’t mean deaf people are judged every day in society as being lesser due to their deafness. I don’t want the larger message–that ableism is often subtle and always ugly–to be be lost amidst the presentation of Nina’s poor game.

SURF’S UP!

What a babe.

What a babe.

I’m dying to talk about Hali–she’s like, my first biggest passion in this episode. When the season begins, we’re introduced to her surf sister, Jenn, first and foremost, and Jenn proceeds to hold court at No Collar for the rest of the episode. When Hali steps onto the stage the following week, the result is that we see her as Jenn’s second-in-command. Jenn’s helps this perception via her excellent narrative ability–she’s engaging and not afraid to get a little snarky in the name of a good soundbite–which means that she’s a preferable narrator for the story to use when possible. Jenn’s spotlight only shrinks when Golden Boy Joe comes around with roasted lizards and inspirational speeches about sign language. Even after giving Nina proof in the pudding that he has absolutely no faith in her, Joe walks off almost completely unscathed. When sandwiched between the comedienne and the hero, we’re too distracted to pay Hali as much notice–which is just what I believe the story intends. As much as she comes off as secondary to her allies, the story is taking great effort to paint her portrait carefully and give us her perspective. Three episodes in, we can see that she’s likeable, upbeat, and positive. She’s playing the game with both her heart and with her head. She’s the one given the responsibility of weighing out the choice between booting Will or Nina before the tribe heads to Tribal Council this episode.

It’s at Tribal where Hali shines the most, revealing that the biggest asset to being a “No Collar” in Survivor is the ability to go with the flow. “Ride the highs and ride out the lows,” she says. She’s the one to explain that Nina’s lack of this quality is what ultimately not only sets her apart from the tribe, but is what will send her home in a few short moments. Hali verbalizes a big lesson about how to play this game, and that’s by being adaptable. This is important to note, because I believe in the long run, this is how Hali edges Jenn out.

Jenn tells us during the episode that people take Survivor too seriously, and it could foreshadow a fall down the road if she’s unable to take the game seriously enough. Jenn comes off as a player who is bad at pretending to be someone she’s not. Faking it, like Hali suggested Nina do, doesn’t come easily to Jenn. Her success in the game is going to rest a lot on luck–that is, who she ends up on a tribe with come the inevitable swap. If she lands amongst like-minded people, she could flourish in a strong group. If she ends up with people who bore her, she might not care enough about pleasing them to make it work. Through this, this duo represents the best and the worst of what No Collar has to offer, and I expect they’ll both be around for a little while longer to hammer those points home.

COPPING A FEEL FOR KELLY

Kelly uses her cop skills to analyze if Rodney is doing the most or the lest

Kelly uses her cop skills to analyze if Rodney is doing the most or the lesst

Hali isn’t the only woman playing observantly, however. On Escameca, far deeper in the background, Kelly emerges at the start of the episode to give a brief, but extremely helpful confessional. It’s only her second one in the season, but it ties in well with her first, and the result is that while we rarely see Purple Kelly, when we do, we get a very quick, concise glimpse as to how she approaches Survivor, and can begin to realize that she’s flying low because she knows better than to jump in the line of fire. In the first episode, she notes that Dan has gotten himself in trouble because he can’t acclimate–he doesn’t know how to fit in with the group. In this episode, Kelly refuses to jump into the fray, and is notably the only member of Escameca not at all drawn into conflict. She says it’s a skill she’s learned from being a cop: you have to sit back and observe carefully before getting involved. In the end, the one thing we walk away knowing about Kelly is an important one–that she understands how to interact with people.

CRUELLA DEVILLE

If she doesn't scare you, no evil thing will

If she doesn’t scare you, no evil thing will

Lindsey has been dancing around the mean girl swimming pool since the start and took the plunge this week with her tirade against Mike. As has been mentioned in the past, both Dan and Mike haven’t been portrayed as innocents on Escameca, but I think we’re meant to see both of them as people who could be easily handled with a little bit of patience. Lindsey illuminates that lack of patience perfectly with a confessional where she exposes the big Blue Collar weakness of ego. Sure, everyone is a hard worker, but everyone thinks they’re the hardest worker, and that includes Lindsey. She takes the blow to her ego poorly, and while each individual viewer will likely have different opinions on how justified her initial confrontation was, the unquestionable moment that Lindsey is established as a full-fledged antagonist is when she asks Mike if he thinks “his God put the fire [in camp]… with his beard.” Earlier, we learned that Mike’s faith is a core component of who he is–he sees his pastor as his father, and has “PSALM 121” emblazoned across his back. As a wise, grumpy videographer once said, this isn’t strategic–it’s strictly personal. Lindsey goes for Mike’s faith because she knows the blow will sting, and it does just that. The editors would have never included this segment of the fight if we were meant to see Lindsey as righteously rageful with their tribe’s tyrant. Instead, she becomes the NaOnka or Abi-Maria of the season, all but begging the story to slap the ink off of her face with an embarrassing comeuppance. Her ascent to this role has the impact of tarnishing her perspective. It makes her insistence in the first episode that “the winner of the game is on [Escameca]” seem ridiculous. Not that the tribe needed her help with that–their total lack of cohesion does that for them.

If Lindsey is the Abi, then Rodney is Pete, albeit just as loud and obnoxious, if not more so–though also, like Pete, he’s portrayed as somewhat of a budding evil mastermind in the making. Rodney knows he should be following the 3 C’s–calm, cool and “collective”–but is hampered by the fact that he can’t resist the urge to bite when provoked. He makes things personal during his rant about how nobody wants to live in Texas, even though he was infuriated when Dan made a personal joke at his expense. Rodney knows what needs to be done to succeed, but he might have some difficulty pulling it off, especially as he pushes Mike further and further away.

TWO HEADS, ONE COLLAR

Shirin geeks out over sex while Tyler passes out over having his virgin ears tainted by talk of such foul things

Shirin geeks out over sex while Tyler passes out over having his virgin ears tainted by talk of such foul things

Joaquin and Tyler’s alliance is solidified this episode, and it benefits both of them. Joaquin is rescued from the bottom of the barrel, and Tyler picks up an extremely valuable piece. So told us that Joaquin doesn’t really know Survivor that well, evidenced by his over-eagerness to get to lying and backstabbing. Now Shirin repeats that point, noting that Joaquin’s scrambling exposes his lack of finesse. Joaquin’s lack of game knowledge could make him very easy for a more thoughtful player to manipulate. Tyler, who is a subtle to the point that we’re almost being bashed over the head by how subtle he is, could be just the person to do that job.

I think there are primarily two types of people who would be drawn to working and living in a White Collar world. The first type would be people who are ambitious; people who love success, money, or both. These are the “ruthless” and “power hungry” types that Jeff purports that the Masaya Tribe is made up of.  On this side of the coin we have Joaquin, clearly the type who would be lured to the White Collar life by the prospect of big money granting easy access to women and wildness; along with Tyler, ever the conscious, thinking game player, almost eerily detached and calculated, focused on the goal at hand. (Tyler, by the way, could very easily win this game–but if the others at any point catch on to him, we could see a lot of him from the jury just as easily.)

The other type, however, is quite opposite that: nerds. Geeky, weird, smart kids who are simply follow their passions to a job that *happens* to be in an office. We see these types of White Collars on Masaya as well in Max, and, much more notably, eccentric goofball Shirin, who is portrayed as ~so~ bizarre that Carolyn is unsure that she could really hack it in a corporate environment. It’s a scary sentiment for Shirin, as the division between the Cool Kids and the Nerds (so to speak) leaves Carolyn smack dab in the middle. While she was explicitly aligned with Shirin and Max to start, the only person she’s told about her idol is Tyler, and with Shirin working her nerves, Carolyn could easily change gears if Masaya is to lose again (though as I said after last episode, I don’t believe they will).

Because they’re likely to make the swap with these current divisions intact, I think it’s important to note the theme of players who are on the “wrong tribe,” as it’s now been brought up more than once. Nina’s failure was in many ways attributed to this–she was too “White Collar” for Nagarote, and now it seems Shirin could suffer a similar ouster for being too “No Collar” for Masaya. The saving grace here seems fairly obvious, though. If Nagarote indeed loses a third member (almost assuredly Will), their remaining members will be desperate for allies come the swap, and a woman who is “No Collar” at heart and looking for a better deal could be just what they need.

SURVIVOR WARFARE

The three tribes prepare for their biggest challenge of all--taking Jeff seriously

The three tribes prepare for their biggest challenge of all–taking Jeff seriously

As we finish our third episode, we are now able to start seeing a more broad-spanning picture, not just tiny snapshots of tribes and castaways. We can begin to see what the threads of our larger story is as we look at this slowly forming puzzle, and the frequent mention of the Collars sticks out. Sure, it’s going to get a lot of playtime, because it’s the seasons’ main twist at the moment and Jeff Probst is hella proud of it. But the big twist doesn’t always matter in the long run. It didn’t take long at all for Cagayan to lose its focus on the brains, beauties, and brawn. Perhaps it’s because that seasons’ winner, Tony, started on the brawny Aparri Tribe, and then used almost none of that brawn to win him the game. His accumen for scheming and socializing is what earned him the title, while the surviving brains of Luzon instead snagged immunity wins left and right. Tony never touched the necklace, so the idea that he somehow proved brawn is more important than brains or beauty is rendered moot.

The way that the Collars get woven into the story, however, signals to them having a larger role to play in this story. At this point, it feels too early to say what that role is. Could the winner prove that the worldview and skillset of their respective “Collar” is the best–such as cautious, smart Tyler; hard-working and bullheaded Mike; or laid-back thrillseeker Jenn? Or is the story instead of someone who wins by bucking tradition and rejecting their Collar, like Shirin? Perhaps it’s neither, and the winner is someone like Joe–hard working, smart, fun and good with people–who can master all four elements and save the world from the Fire Nation all three Collars and win the game. The jury is still out as to what ending we’ll be seeing (they haven’t even been formed yet, hyuck hyuck), but I think it would behoove us to keep track of who is wearing what Collars as the season continues to play out.

NEXT TIME

Somewhere in a stable in Massachusetts, Leon Joseph feels a surge of pain in his nads

Somewhere in a stable in Massachusetts, Leon Joseph feels a surge of pain in his nads

Drop your buffs, boys and girls, because the Battle of the Collars is no more! But before that, prepare to not be surprised by Lindsey and Rodney yelling… but prepare to be surprised by them yelling at each other? Also, someone may or may not die during a challenge. Prepare yourself for a Survivor double feature, because it promises to be fiesta!

Survivor: Worlds Apart Episode 2 Narrative Analysis- “This Will Be My Revenge”

THE STORY SO FAR

*smuff*

*smuff*

Survivor: Worlds Apart was on, with three tribes divided by career paths fighting it out for survival in the jungles of Central America. Only three days in the game had already seen its first Tribal Council, where Carolyn successfully saw that troublemaker So was ousted from the Masaya Tribe. Whittled down to only five members, the White Collar tribe had to summon a Blue Collar work ethic to turn things around–but budding allies Max and Shirin made waves when they channeled their No Collar sides instead and began hanging around camp in the buff. Their newfound penchant for nudity was difficult for Tyler to handle–but compared to their competitors, Masaya was the picture of unity.

Surprisingly enough, nudity was at the crux of tensions on the other tribes as well. On the Escameca Tribe, Lindsey was shocked and disturbed when Dan lost his “manties” in the ocean, only adding to the aggravation she felt towards the tribe elder and his “over the top” personality. Dan wasn’t the only one ruffling feathers, however–when Kelly suggested that the tribe unwind with a game of basketball, Mike found himself resentful that the rest of the group was playing around while he was continuing to work in a true Blue Collar fashion. Mike lost his cool and alienated himself, particularly from Rodney, who didn’t appreciate Mike’s insinuation that Mike was the only one working.

For the Nagarote Tribe, the tensions began pre-nudity. Despite their laid-back “No Collar” label, a rivalry had formed between Vince and Joe, with the former resenting the latter’s popularity and sway with the rest of the tribe–particularly Jenn. Discord only spread further when Jenn and Hali went skinny-dipping to the exclusion of the tribe’s third woman, the considerably older Nina, who they both admitted to having trouble bonding with due to Nina’s deafness. Feeling isolated and rejected, Nina lashed out at her tribemates, but later found comfort and acceptance in Will. After Vince awkwardly tried to confront Joe about what he believed was an issue of Joe’s ego, Joe, Hali and Jenn all agreed that Vince had to go. Vince, Will and Nina teamed up in response, and the tribe was split down the middle.

At the second challenge, Nagarote was in the lead until Will got stuck untangling a buoy in the water, allowing the other tribes to pass them. Joaquin and Sierra then led their respective tribes to victory, sending the No Collars to Tribal Council.

Prior to the vote, the younger No Collars courted Will as their fourth vote, and conspired to split the votes between Nina and Vince in case Nina found an idol. While Will spied, Vince expressed his concerns to Nina that Will might not be in good enough health to be an asset in future challenges. After learning of Joe’s plan to split the votes, Will, Vince and Nina hatched a plan of their own to vote for Jenn as a trio and send her home in a 3-2-1 decision. Things became chaotic, however, when Nina revealed to Will that Vince had misgivings about the state of Will’s health, and Will became concerned that Vince was gunning for him and couldn’t be trusted. At Tribal Council, the votes sure enough came in 3-2-1, but Will had flipped the script. Jenn was safe, and Vince became the second castaway voted out of Survivor: Worlds Apart. Sixteen remain… who will be the next to go?

A CLOSER LOOK

MASAYA CORPORATION’S WEEKLY NUDESLETTER

Stay sexy, you hunky hipster

Stay sexy, you hunky hipster

The Masaya Tribe was notably quite minimal in the second episode, a massive cooldown for the tribe as a whole after they were the primary focus of the premiere. The lone scene at their campsite did not unpack the ramifications of So’s elimination in any respect, be it the fact that they’re now simply down a number or the fact that Joaquin is now likely alone and on the outs without her. In fact, Joaquin was instrumental in the White Collars going from worst-to-first in the immunity challenge. It’s likely that if and when they go to their next Tribal Council, his past sins will be overlooked. Joaquin’s outsider status isn’t dwelled on because it seems unlikely to last.

Instead, the story at Masaya is focused on the nudity craze sweeping camp, and it uses this scene to both amuse and elucidate. Max’s penchant for dropping trou is used to flesh out his character in multiple respects. As Tyler points out, it shows that Max has a little bit of a No Collar streak, but the scene is also used to once again call attention to the fact that Max is a Survivor die-hard. He tells us his nudity is, in part, to pay homage to the original Sole Survivor, Richard Hatch, a homage which Carolyn makes note of. (Carolyn, by the way, has a huge drop in screentime, going from being the focus of the tribe to near-invisible. This casts doubt on the importance of her actions in the premiere, as it makes it appear that she only received focus because the editors had no other choice but to show her. When she’s not directly relevant, she disappears.) This is also not lost on Shirin, who is quick to adopt Max’s approach to nudity as she washes the dishes sans-panties. Shirin tells us herself that feeling comfortable with her body and getting naked is just one more commonality she has that bonds her to Max, an ally she made in the first episode. The other big commonality, in case you forgot, is that Shirin is just as much of a superfan as Max is. The reinforcement of this shared factor as the basis of their alliance is near the only thing we glean from our time at Masaya, meaning that this paring is likely important further down the road.

We also check in with Tyler while we’re at Masaya, who once again reminds us that he’s sharp, observant, and playing a carefully guarded and thoughtful game. Tyler points out that Max may have ulterior motives to his strip shows, using the comedy of nudity to distract the tribe from the depth of his intelligence and game knowledge. Of the four votes that took So out, Tyler is the only one who was not explicitly expressed to be involved in an alliance. His loyalty to Max is not as strong as Shirin’s. He’ll make a move against them if need be, and with only 5 people on the tribe, that need could very easily arise.

BASKETBALLERS VS FREE BALLERS

Is it really shocking that someone as tall as Sierra is good at basketball?

Is it really shocking that someone as tall as Sierra is good at basketball?

With much of the focus on the Nagarote Tribe this week, Masaya wasn’t the only tribe to go comparatively underdeveloped–we didn’t spend much time with the Blue Collars of Escameca either. As with on Masaya, the time we did spend there served to reinforce the dynamics that were established in the premier, namely in terms of determining an in-crowd (Rodney, Lindsey, Sierra and Kelly) and the outsiders (Dan and Mike). For the men on the outs, we’ve seen how both of them have put themselves on the outs by failing to conform to the vibe of the larger tribe, but as the dynamics of Escameca clarify, I’m unsure that we’re supposed to be mad at them for it.

As far as Dan is concerned, this episode is the second time that we’ve seen his stories questioned by one of the women despite his telling the truth. Last episode, Sierra thought he and Mike were lying about picking the “honest” option in the opening twist. This episode, Lindsey doubts that Dan actually lost his underwear, positing–rather aggressively–that it’s a ploy on his part for attention. Later in the episode, Dan promises Jeff–and his tribe–that he’ll surprise them and perform in the challenge, and he proceeds to do just that. We know Dan is a big fan and that he’s genuinely excited to be in the game and to be representing Blue Collar. I think that as much as Dan doesn’t know how to get along with his tribe, he’s trying. It’s more than we see the others doing–instead, they look judgmental.

For Mike’s part, he comes off looking less untouchable than he did in the premiere, especially when the tribe’s basketball game becomes justified as perfect practice for the challenge. Rodney also calls him out for ruffling feathers, and rightly points out that from a game perspective, Mike’s attitude is all wrong. What keeps Mike from falling completely into the territory of being an unruly tyrant, however, is that he ties his role as junior deputy firewood bitch back to something the story has told us is a positive–being Blue Collar. (Max on Masaya reaffirms that the “Blue Collar” label is one to be respected when he projects that the Blue Collars are likely killing it around camp.) Mike is a workhorse because that’s what Blue Collars are supposed to do. When he refuses to partake in fun and games with the tribe and then badgers them for wasting time, he may be pissing them off and putting himself on the outs–but he is also fingering them as not living up to the Blue Collar name. Rodney may be the person who is showing they better understand the game, but we’re meant to think of ourselves as more like Mike. There is no quality we can praise more in our cultural narrative than being a hard worker.

The story seems to be setting up Dan and Mike to eventually have the last laugh–Mike the admitted opportunist could certainly make this happen by seizing a chance to defect when it comes. However, I just don’t see any way that, if Escameca loses a challenge, that Dan isn’t voted out as a result. For Dan to come out on top, he’ll either have to find an idol to save himself or hope Escameca can make it to the inevitable tribe swap/dissolve completely intact. Given how things are unfolding, I feel strongly that one of these two outcomes happens, and if it’s the latter, that puts the other two tribes, especially Nagarote, in a very bad position.

NO COLLAR, NO CHANCE

BACK UP OFF ME!

BACK UP OFF ME!

The general rule of Survivor editing is that tribe that goes to Tribal Council is usually the tribe that is going to receive more focus. It shouldn’t be surprising, based on that, that we spent so much time with Nagarote this episode. However, this rule doesn’t explain the unusually extensive level of complexity and depth we were given during that time. When the episode ends, we have a much deeper understanding of who each of the No Collars is and where they’re positioned as players. This is even true for a character like Hali, who was inconsequential in the first episode (her screentime there was mostly in an introductory segment explaining why the hell a law student is considered “No Collar”). Whereas some of the other mysterious invisible women from the first episode, such as Sierra or Kelly on Escameca, only become more invisible, Hali comes rocketing into the game by comparison. It’s Hali who tells us that Nina is a nice woman who she wants to get to know better, but that Nina’s reliance on her cochlear implants for communication makes it a difficult task.

Outside of being told she is deaf and hears via implants, we didn’t get anything from Nina in the first episode at all. Being introduced to her character for what is really the first time through Hali’s perspective is important for setting the stage. Compare to Survivor: Amazon’s Christy Smith, the show’s first (and until Nina, only) deaf contestant, whose proclamation of deafness is met with doubtful, exclusionary confessionals from her tribe’s token mean girls Jenna Morasca and Heidi Strobel. With Nina we see the others, in spite of recognizing her niceness, struggling to adjust to her disability. Even her closest friend on the tribe, Will, has trouble communicating with her when they are crab hunting.  This makes Nina much less sympathetic when she melts down post-skinny dip, and makes her declarations that the tribe has “no human compassion” seem dramatic and self-pitying, as opposed to as an accurate reflection of reality. Hali proves the lack of ill-will when commiserating about the blow-up with Jenn–“She wanted to be a girl,” she wisely surmises.

The complexity comes, however, because the story doesn’t present the whole scenario in such an open-and-shut fashion. Vince corroborates Nina’s take on the events (though Vince himself is not exactly a reliable narrator), and Will expresses his bond with Nina comes from them both being outsiders from the group in certain respects. Jenn, who in the first episode was definitely showcased to be an important character, comes across as cold when uses a confessional to tell Nina tough shit–even though Jenn is also right in saying that Survivor is a game and that its on Nina to make herself a part on the group, not on Jenn and the others to help her along. The result is that as the tribe makes their way to their first Tribal Council, we have no idea how the schism in the tribe is going to resolve itself–the editors have been careful to not paint any of them as obvious heroes or villains. Sometimes, this lack of a clear good vs bad dichotomy is the result of sloppy, inconsistent storytelling, but it feels quite purposeful here. There is a huge amount of intrigue built up in Nagarote now.

What I think we can get from this in terms of the larger story is that much of the immediate game is going to take place on Nagarote, so their dynamics are of a greater immediate importance for us to understand, and that furthermore, the storytellers don’t want that game to feel easy to predict. I think that at the start of the season, all eyes were on the Masaya Tribe as the ersatz Brains of Luzon, with viewers bracing themselves for a painful series of losses after the first challenge. In reality, their starting-line loss distracted people from the tribe that’s really doomed for failure–Nagarote. They’re a tribe that we’ve already been told numerous times sucks at making decisions. I think we’ll see this theme pan out as they continue to lose, and I’d be unsurprised if by episode 5, we’re see the tribes shuffle with only three No Collars remaining.

LAST HIPPIE STANDING

He's thinking about boobies because of his out of control hormones

He’s thinking about boobies because of his out of control hormones

If we accept the supposition that Nagarote has a losing streak awaiting them over the next few episodes, the question then shifts to figuring out what this tribe will look like when the decimation is complete, and how their remaining vestiges will impact the game ahead for the other two tribes.

The Occam’s Razor outcome is that Jenn, Joe and Hali maintain their loyalty to one another and vote out the older (and coincidentally, less White) outsiders in Nina and Will. It’s also the more likely outcome from the perspective of the editing–Jenn and Joe have were established as important characters earlier than the rest of their tribe. For Joe in particular, the vote will likely be the most elusive, as his strength in challenges will protect him on a dying tribe. This isn’t to say that Will or Nina couldn’t sneak into a surviving spot, however. Will was definitely singled out by the story as funny and very likeable; probably the person on No Collar who the story has backed the most unabashedly. For Nina’s part, she’s out for revenge, and maybe she won’t go down until she’s gotten it.

If the young alliance are all that is ultimately left of their tribe, we still don’t know how the game will play out beyond there for any of them. We simply don’t have enough data. Vince’s elimination was not in any way portrayed as a machination of dominant strategists Jenn or Joe. Rather, they settled to split the vote, and Jenn almost paid the price for it. She was only spared because Nina scared Will off from aligning with Vince. Much of what unfolds after here will hinge on how the story deals with this lucky break, and how the characters involved recover from it.

NEXT TIME

Next Week, Lindsey is struck by a tropical illness that erases her mouth

Next Week, Lindsey is struck by a tropical illness that erases her mouth

While Jenn and Hali try to de-stress after tribal by catchin’ some waves (with bark as their surfboards?) the mere prospect of fun over at Escameca sends Mike into a tizzy, with both Rodney and Lindsey losing their shit with him. You know what they say–if people aren’t fighting, it’s not Survivor! Only I don’t think “they” say that at all. What do “they” say about Survivor, I wonder? Someone should ask Jeff Probst, since he’s always talking to the people on the street.

Survivor: Worlds Apart Episode 1 Narrative Analysis- “This is Survivor Warfare”

THE STORY SO FAR

In the jungles of Nicaragua, 18 Americans arrived in three jeeps for the 30th season of Survivor, divided into tribes based on occupation and life perspective. Right off the bat, Jeff Probst threw a curveball at the players, asking each tribe to select two of its castaways to make an important decision for their tribe. Unbeknownst to any of them, that decision would see those two castaways choosing to play with either honor or deceit. Choosing honor meant a large bag of beans for the tribe; while deceit would yield a miniscule bag of beans along with a clue to the hidden immunity idol. The ramifications of this choice would prove to have a profound impact; alongside the labels assigned to each group.

The Escameca Tribe were assigned the label of “Blue Collar,” the ones who follow the rules, consisting of hard working manual laborers like state trooper Kelly Remington and postal service mechanic Dan Foley, who as the oldest member of the tribe, was selected to be the decision maker. He was joined by oil driller Mike Holloway, who immediately formed a bond with Dan as they decided to play honorably and pick the extra beans. Mike and Dan weren’t the only blue collars to buddy up, however. General contractor Rodney Lavoie used tattoos to make a connection with hairstylist and single mom Lindsey Cascaddan when he shared the story behind a tattoo commemorating his dead sister. Rodney had ulterior motives, however, believing that he could manipulate the women of the tribe with his sad story. His goal was to form an alliance with the women of the tribe and serve as their leader. His plan seemed to fall into place when Dan put himself on the outs, condescending to Lindsey and rodeo cowgirl Sierra Thomas over the construction of the tribe shelter. Dan’s only friend was the high-energy Mike, the one person nobody on the tribe seemed to have any issue with.

Escameca was not the only tribe to navigate conflict, however. The Nagarote Tribe was assigned the label of “No Collar,” the free spirits whose careers and life goals are dictated by passion and a penchant for breaking the rules, such as aspiring public defender Hali Ford and hearing advocate Nina Poersch. The laid-back No Collars seemed content to treat their campsite like a hippie commune, with sailing instructor Jenn Brown expertly handling the decision she had to make with viral video star Will Sims by turning it into a tribe choice and choosing to play honestly. Jenn’s positive energy appealed to many of her tribemates, especially Coach Wade coconut vendor Vince Sly, who proposed that the two align. Jenn was quick to take him up on his offer, but soon realized Vince may have been thinking with his other head. When jewelry designer Malcolm Freberg Joe Anglim started fire for the tribe, after having already stepped up to lead construction for the shelter, it was clear Vince was jealous. The last straw for the distributor of the portable spiritual oasis was when he believed Jenn was crushing on Joe, crushing his spirits. He confronted Jenn in a heart-to-heart-to-armpit conversation, where Jenn realized that she would have to put in overtime to manage Vince’s expectations.

At the first challenge of the game, Joe brought Nagarote to victory when he quickly completed the puzzle, and though Escameca had trailed the entire challenge,  the “White Collar” Masaya Tribe fell behind on the puzzle, and instead found themselves the first tribe to attend Tribal Council.

Unlike the other two tribes, the corporate, power-minded Masayans chose deceit over honor, with marketing director Joaquin Souberbielle and retail buyer So Kim forming a fast alliance as they chose the clue to the idol. To cover their tracks, So peddled a lie that she and Joaquin chose the “neutral” option. Nobody else seemed to believe them, and corporate vice president Carolyn Rivera was positive that they’d come into a clue for the idol, and confirmed her suspicions when she followed So and found the idol for herself. The idol wasn’t Carolyn’s only protection–she was approached by Yahoo product manager Shirin Oskooi, who was quick to form an alliance between the two of them and media consultant Max Dawson.

In the challenge, So earned the tribe a commanding lead by tearing through the knots in the first portion of the challenge, but Shirin blew it when she failed to grasp the puzzle quickly enough. Despite Shirin’s failure making her an easy target, So commended her for stepping up, and wanted to target the tribe’s eldest member, Carolyn, instead. The vote became a question of challenge strength versus trust, however, and it was ex-CAA assistant Tyler Fredrickson who became the swing vote. To curry his favor, Carolyn revealed to him that she had found the idol, but instead, Tyler began wondering if it made Carolyn a threat. At Tribal Council, everything was dumped out on the table, as So and Joaquin were confronted for their “neutral” lie and every alliance in the group was outed. After a tense round of discussion, self-proclaimed “devil” So was exorcized, and she became the first castaway voted out of Survivor: Worlds Apart. Seventeen remain… who will be the next to go?

A CLOSER LOOK

LEGION OF  SUPERFANS

"Oh my gosh, please tell us *more* about kale, Max, it's soooo interesting!"

“Oh my gosh, please tell us *more* about kale, Max, it’s soooo interesting!”

The cast of Worlds Apart was picked before they were divided into their “collar” themed tribes, so there is some clear stretching of definitions involved in placing the members of the tribes. Regardless, it seems evident from the get go that the collar label is about much more than profession–as Jeff said, it’s about an approach to life. It’s from this perspective that we can see the importance this division will have, as it not only impacts how the players begin to see themselves, but how the story begins to frame the players. After all, in real America, there are hundreds of thousands of White Collar workers who arrive at work only to slave away in a cubicle as little more than a cog in a machine. These people are not the power hungry control freaks that Jeff posits the White Collars as being. When Jeff divides and explains the tribes, he’s doing his job for the story, not for the game. He’s telling us who we’re meant to root for, and who we’re meant to root against. This now creates a problem, as the editors have to use different means to create heroes on a tribe that defaults to being villains.

We got a much deeper look into the dynamics of Masaya than the other two tribes, likely because they were the tribe that had to vote this episode, and with that came a pretty clear stratification of alliances. Right off the bat, Shirin rounds up Carolyn and Max to form a tight threesome (it’s so tight that on Day 3 Max is already waxing poetic about how they’ve been together since Day 1!). At the episode’s end, we see that this alliance has been successful–it’s most visible and vocal member, Carolyn, has been spared, and her target, So (much drama!), has been eliminated.  This alliance is interesting, because their unification goes beyond the simple fact that we’re told upfront they’re together. We are shown a common thread of super-fandom that binds this group even further. All three make numerous comments and references to the fact that they are big fans and have learned a lot as “students of the game,” so to speak. Shirin says that Survivor has been a dream of hers since she was 16, and uses her knowledge as a fan to dismantle So and Joaquin’s lie by pointing out that production would never give the players a neutral option when they could instead walk them into a trap.  Max is highlighted as the professor who taught a class on Survivor, and he wisely stays out of the leadership fracas by citing the fact that it never works out. His advice is proven right by the story–Joaquin and So, who step up, take a quick fall because of it.

Of this trio, however, it’s Carolyn who becomes the most visible and important character. Like the others, she uses her Superfan Powers to her advantage, sniffing out Soaquin’s lie and capitalizing on it to hunt down the idol for herself. But beyond just being a superfan like her allies, Carolyn actively seeks to buck the label of a White Collar villain, instead espousing the positive qualities that being White Collar brings. She rejects the notion that she doesn’t work hard or have a free spirit, and brings her enthusiasm for the game forward with full force. When the gun is turned on her at Tribal Council, she comes out swinging in defense. Because Carolyn was so important to the events of the premiere (she found an idol and was also in the mix to be eliminated), it’s hard to know if her storyline is circumstantial or part of a bigger picture. Only time can tell, but regardless, she’s grabbed our attention.

These scenes of shared superfandom aren’t only used to illustrate that this trio is playing hard, but it reminds us in the audience that they’re playing like us. These aren’t the hot girls recruited from the pageant circuit who wouldn’t know Wigglesworth from Wentworth. They’re the same people who are sitting in your living room, yelling at the TV when someone does something stupid. Despite the fact that they’re the “evil” White Collars, they are also Just Like You (TM), and that, amongst other things, makes them the heroes of the tribe.

THE DEMON AND THE DOUCHEBAG

This screencap was taken right before they slaughtered a cameraman in ritual blood sacrifice

This screencap was taken right before they slaughtered a cameraman in ritual blood sacrifice

We’re also informed that Carolyn and Friends are the heroes because, well, they’re not So and Joaquin. So’s very first confessional has her describing herself as “the devil”–words she later uses to describe Joaquin when he pushes hard for them to deceive instead of pick the honest route. Joaquin in particular exemplifies almost every negative stereotype of the White Collar to a T, to almost cartoonish perfection. “Fast money, loose women, lots of champagne,” he laughs in his very first confessional, where he also professes a desire to always be “the guy in charge.” He comes across as over-eager to play the scheming, backstabbing baddie that the White Collars have been promised to be. Joaquin’s understanding of Survivor comes across as being very surface-level when compared to the others, especially as he becomes the one to drop the number one thing you shouldn’t ever say on a reality show if you actually want to win in “I’m not here to make friends.” To him, it almost appears that the more evil you can be, the better a job you’re doing at playing the game. Truthfully, I don’t know that he could approach the game any other way. He doesn’t seem to realize that Survivor is a game that’s all about making friends.

Of course, the end result of this is that Joaquin has put himself on the outs, his only ally sent packing. This isn’t to say he can’t survive, however. If Masaya takes to losing yet again, the dominant alliance could crumble in a desperate attempt to preserve their strongest competitors. Even if he’s able to squeak through, however, we’ve already learned everything we need to know about Joaquin–he’s a douche, and he’s not going to win this game.

UNSUNG HEROES?

Maybe they'd get something done with Work Hard Play Hard Zoe on their tribe

Maybe they’d get something done with Work Hard Play Hard Zoe on their tribe

The final tactic that the editors use to establish the “good” and “evil” factions of Masaya is by calling to the other collars for assistance. Designated Douchebag Joaquin doesn’t seem to care that nobody on the tribe can make a fire, saying that in real life, the White Collar Way would be to hire a Blue Collar to start the fire for you. Tyler is more perceptive, saying that if Masaya wants to succeed, they’ll need to find their Blue Collar work ethic and make it happen. This is because if the White Collars are the villains, the Blue Collars are the heroes. They represent the elusive “real person.” They’re the tribe that your mother or father would be on. They’re the people in your neighborhood. They aren’t high falutin’, self-important cogs in a corporate hive-mind of elitism like the “evil” White Collars–they’re Just Like You (TM). “We built the heart of America!” Dan gushes. “Blood, sweat and tears; callouses on our hands; sore at the end of the day… but with a smile on our face knowing that we accomplished a good days work.”

Additionally, Jeff says that if the White Collars are the rule-makers, and No Collars are the rule-breakers, then Blue Collars are the rule-followers. It’s the least flattering label to be slapped with in that regard, and it immediately creates stakes for the Blue Collars–this game is the chance for the castaways of Escameca to make a statement on behalf Blue Collar underdogs everywhere. This is their chance to stop following the rules, to decide their own fates and not be pushed around by the metaphorical man. Lindsey even says point blank that the winner of the game is on their tribe.

But there is a disconnect with this tribe, for as much as we’re explicitly told to root for them, the number one rule of good storytelling is to show, not tell. When it comes to what we actually see the Escameca Tribe doing, we’re not left with a whole lot to pull for. While Dan suckers us in initially with proclamations of superfandom and his Blue Collar shalingua soliloquy, he turns this perception on its head with piss-poor gameplay as he berates and condescends to his tribemates when he disagrees with them. When they justifiably become irate, he flips the script completely, refusing to add any input whatsoever. The behavior is childish and petulant. It’s not how we’ve come to expect a hero to play. Yet, while Dan is pretty unambiguously in the wrong, however, we aren’t given much reason to sympathize with the tribemates he’s mistreating. When he goes off, Lindsey and Sierra laugh in his face, and Sierra even talks about Dan as if he’s not there. Dan’s outburst only deepens the disconnect between him and the younger women: when he and Mike come clean about the deceit-or-honor twist, Sierra notably doesn’t believe them, even though they’re telling the truth.

The women’s dissatisfaction with Dan plays right into the hands of Boston Rod, the most obvious villain of the tribe–though it’s important to know that unlike Joaquin, Rodney is portrayed as the best kind of villain you can be on Survivor. He (rather misogynistically) tells us that he wants to form an alliance of women because he believes women are desperate to be controlled by a man, and reveals his plan to do so by emotionally manipulating them with his secret, sensitive side. We see him do just that by disclosing the story of his sister’s death to Lindsey. It’s not Rodney’s first lie in the game. When the tribes are first divided, he tells us that he relishes the Blue Collar label, because it gives him a smokescreen to work with. He hopes it will keep the other players from seeing his hustle. By the end of the episode, the Escameca women all appear at their wits end with Dan. They’re more than happy to laugh along with Rodney when he suggests that “Harry Potter’s Grandpa” is the first to go. The end result is that for a tribe of heroes, we aren’t really left with anyone to pull for; with a grumpy (if well meaning) old man on one side and a group of mean girls and their manipulative mastermind of a leader on the other.

MAGIC MIKE

Moments after this screencap was taken, Mike died from being poisoned by So and Joaquin as part of a ritual sacrifice

Moments after this screencap was taken, Mike died from being poisoned by So and Joaquin as part of a ritual sacrifice

If there is any redemption for the Blue Collar hero, it’s Mike, the castaway who perhaps most exemplifies the notion of what it means to be Blue Collar. The oil driller has a very complex and flattering portrait painted of him by the storytellers, and it’s all but circled in bright red, telling us to keep our eyes on the show. Mike has a lot of highlights–Dan calls him the “glue” that holds the tribe together; Lindsey enthusiastically cheers him on as he brings the tribe back from the brink to steal immunity from Masaya. He tells us that in his line of work, you get dirty–but if you’re not willing to get your hands dirty, you don’t get to win.

The most important scene for Mike is when he finds a scorpion and decides to eat it and take his protein where he can get it. The end result is that he ralphs it up, but it’s all in good fun; a learning experience. Perhaps if the scene was accompanied by other members of the tribe talking about how Mike is stupid and impulsive, he’d come off looking stupid and impulsive. The accompaniment that we get, however, is Mike telling us that eating the scorpion is a metaphor for how he’s going to play Survivor. “…If I see an opportunity in front of me, I’m going to grab it. I’m going to run as fast as I can, clench on as hard as I can, and ride that bull for as long as I can. I saw that scorpion, I seized the opportunity–and I payed the consequence!”

Not only does Mike entertain, but he lays out a path and a story for himself in the future. We now know that he is an opportunist and a risk taker who is willing to play hard and swing for the fences, even if it ends with him striking out. It rings true to the rhetoric that Jeff Probst has been slinging about the show in the last few seasons as he does his job to shape the outcome of a game over which he has no control: “You don’t win Survivor without making big moves.” It’s only the first episode, so Mike hasn’t had a lot of opportunity to make moves, but the story wants us to be assured that it’s going to happen.  Maybe history will repeat itself, and Mike will do little more than screw himself over further. Or maybe he’ll luck out the next time, and be rewarded for his willingness to take risks. While the outcome is uncertain, the story’s intentions for Mike–that we’ll be hoping for the latter–is pretty clear cut.

THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT JENN

That "something" is her pungent odor

That “something” is her pungent odor

Let’s be blunt for a second about gross reality: Survivor can get very sexist, very quickly. The editors of this show either don’t respect women as much as men, or don’t believe that the audience respects women as much as men. They don’t like to show women when they don’t have to. They often don’t seem to view as inherently interesting when compared to men.

This is pertinent because the Nagarote Tribe has on it two castaways who are very clear attempts on behalf of casting to re-create some of Survivor’s most iconic male castaways in recent years; with Vince as NuCoach and Joe as an Ersatz Malcolm. Yet it’s Jenn who is chosen as tribe’s most visible and vocal character; the narrator whose lens we view the tribe through. Any time we get to see the world of the game predominately from one character’s perspective, its worth taking note of, because this is how the story tells us that this person’s perspective matters. But the fact that it comes from a woman makes it stand out even more. Much as with Mike, Jenn has been circled in red. She’s even been given a Spirit Animal in the vein of Jon Misch and his howler monkey in San Juan del Sur (for mischievous Jenn, it’s instead the raccoon).

There is a lot to like about Jenn’s perspective, and it goes beyond the fact that she’s naturally funny and engaging as a speaker. Much of Nagarote’s screentime was used to establish just what exactly the “No Collar” life is about, and Jenn does a great job of it. Hali tells us she’s “for the greater good,” and Will tells us it’s about not taking life too seriously, but these statements and mindsets don’t get too thoroughly fleshed out. And sure, none of the No Collars are nearly as eccentric as Vince, but his bizarreness only serves to paint a shallow picture. Jenn is thinking the long game from the get-go–she deftly handles the initial twist by turning it into a tribe decision, noting wisely that discord early on helps nobody and that it kills the vibe of community that Nagarote is building it’s foundations upon. As much as Jenn abhors being told what to do–it’s the first thing we learn about her–she understands that Survivor is a game of people pleasing. This is made perhaps the most evident in how Jenn deals with the one-sided rivalry that forms between Vince and Joe.

COACH AND MALCOLM

"Stop wearing feathers in your hair. Don't tell your stories--people don't believe your stories. They mock you."

“Stop wearing feathers in your hair. Don’t tell your stories–people don’t believe your stories. They mock you.”

In an interview, Jeff Probst once said that most of the players in any given Survivor cast are nowhere near as self-aware as they think they are, and that it’s one of the key ingredients for the show’s success because the people who aren’t self-aware are incapable of realizing it. The character archetype established by Coach Wade in Tocantins is perhaps the most clear-cut example of this thinking, and as this seasons Coach-Lite, a lack of self-awareness is a trait Vince has in spades. We learn Vince is deeply insecure, but is unaware of how much he’s showing his hand. From Vince’s perspective, he’s doing a bang up job at hiding how insecure and sensitive he really is–he’s totally snowed himself, after all. To outsiders, it appears that all of Vince’s eccentricity is affect. He uses it as a security blanket and it reads loud and clear.

This lack of awareness, more than anything else, is what really puts Vince at odds with Joe, as Vince is threatened by Joe’s much more natural confidence. Joe seems aware that many of his own No Collar trappings are illusory, almost as if by design. Joe tells us he wants to be underestimated.  Joe knows he is smart, competitive, athletic, and charming. Joe knows that he could stand a very good shot at winning the game no matter who he’s up against in the finals, and that because of that, it will be very, very tempting for everyone else to vote him out. Joe knows he is the new Malcolm, but wants for people to think he’s the new Woo. Vince thinks he’s the new Malcolm and wants people to think he’s the new Malcolm. Jenn’s perceived rejection stings Vince because it’s more than just a pretty girl saying no–it’s someone who is failing to validate his narrative.

For Jenn’s part, I think the story tells us that she’s handling Vince as best as she can, but for as disconnected as he is to reality, he’s clued in enough to not buy what Jenn is selling. Fortunately for Jenn, this is a chink in her armor she can likely overcome–if Vince begins to feel cheated or played and tries to sell her down the river in retribution, he’s almost unquestionably already ensured that nobody will take his concerns seriously.

Also, Vince is a creep.

THE PROFESSOR AND MARY-ANN

I just love Lindsey's face tattoo and wanted a shot with it included

I just love Lindsey’s face tattoo and wanted a shot with it included

It’s only Episode One, so there’s obviously a lot to cover, and not everybody could be center stage. I want to take this moment to briefly touch base on a few of the less major characters who stuck out to me nevertheless. Lindsey is obviously one of them–she didn’t get a lot of screentime, but compared to the other women of her tribe, we were oversaturated with her. Lindsey’s very obviously alternative appearance would, at a distance, peg her as a No Collar, and a hairdresser isn’t exactly the job that springs to mind when you hear “Blue Collar.” Maybe the brief moments we got to learn about her life as a mentally-tough single mom were simply meant to show us why she’s Blue Collar as opposed to No Collar. Personally, I feel that there’s a little more to it than that. The storytellers have very quietly moved Lindsey’s piece onto the board, but she hasn’t come into play quite yet. I think Lindsey is going to have a job to do somewhere in this narrative, but we don’t yet have the resources to figure out what that job is quite yet. I’m hoping it’s a good one–it’s far too often on this show that the “alt” looking women are one-dimensional loose cannons, and I would love to see Lindsey buck that trend.

The other character who I took notice of was Tyler, who actually *did* have a fairly major role to play in the story as Masaya’s swing vote. Despite this status, he was very subdued, and I don’t think that’s an accident on either the his behalf or that of the story. Tyler is smart, and Tyler is athletic. Tyler could be very, very dangerous if people catch on, and I think that while Joe is a character who wants to hide in the background, Tyler is someone who is much more capable of actually doing it. He’s holding his cards very close to his chest–but I’d be entirely unsurprised if he was holding a winning hand the entire time. Of course, he could also just not matter that much to the story. Only time will tell.

NEXT TIME

"It's just... not worth it! *sob*"

“It’s just… not worth it! *sob*”

Nagarote’s hippie vibes are thrown off when Nina feels alienated and clashes with the tribe. Meanwhile, Masaya votes off all their clothes, and Max’s naked body leads to sadly expected “ew gross” posturing on behalf of Joaquin and Tyler, who have apparently never seen a penis before. They have that in common with the posters of the Survivor Facebook Page, apparently.

ONE MORE THING!

The Worlds Apart cast is one that is very excited about this season and involved in the fandom. I know there is a strong possibility that at least one of the cast members is reading this right now… and if so, hi! Thank you all so much for taking part in a show that means the world to me and a lot of other fans. In that process you put yourselves in a position to be judged and scrutinized based on heavily edited versions of yourselves, and that can’t be easy. It takes a lot of guts, and I have nothing but respect for everyone who goes for it.

Survivor: San Juan del Sur Episode 13 Narrative Analysis- “Let’s Make A Move”

THE STORY SO FAR

*smuff*

*smuff*

Survivor: San Juan del Sur was a game of Blood vs Water, and the loved ones were sitting pretty. 32 days in, a strongly unified alliance had formed on the Huyopa Tribe, consisting of dating couple Jon and Jaclyn, along with mother and daughter Missy and Baylor. The foursome were the only remaining pairs in the game, but they had key support in their fifth member, Natalie, whose journey had been very different. Her “Twinnie” Nadiya was the first castaway out, and her closest in-game ally, Jeremy, had been betrayed by the rest of the alliance. Alone, Natalie had been seeking revenge on Jon, and on Night 32, she made her boldest move yet to accomplish that goal by switching her vote to Alec, sending him to the jury. By doing so, she spared unlikely immunity threat Keith, who became the last member of his alliance standing, and an apparent sitting duck. To deflect Jon’s attention, Natalie lied, pretending that her vote against Alec had been an accidental result of miscommunication rather than a calculated move. While Jon trusted that it was an honest mistake, Jaclyn was suspicious that it may have been intentional.

Jon, Missy and Keith were the winning team in the Reward Challenge, but it came at a cost when Missy injured her ankle during the competition. Jon gave up his spot to Baylor to secure their alliance, allowing her to join Missy for a mother-daughter spa day. Fire captain Keith provided them both with laughs galore as a fish-out-of-water during the spa treatment, and got in touch with his feminine side as the massage rejuvenated him for the end of the game. Meanwhile, Natalie was sent to Exile Island, where the isolation beat her down. For strength, she refocused on her departed twin, vowing to use the angst of their separation as motivation to win it all. It paid off–Natalie beat out Jon to win the necklace at the next Immunity Challenge.

For Missy, however, the challenge was less exciting. Her ankle was only getting worse, and an examination from the medical team showed it may have been broken. A tear-struck Missy refused to quit, and the staff doctor had good news when he decided that because it was so close to the end of the game, they could simply immobilize her foot and allow her to wait it out. With her mother good to keep playing, Baylor now had to convince her to make a move and turn on her ersatz son, Jon, which Missy was reluctant to do; even though Natalie had already recruited Keith to help them split the votes in case of Jon’s Idol. At Tribal Council, a confident Jon erroneously held on to his idol, and paid the price when Missy flipped. The votes split between Jaclyn, Jon, and Keith, and in the revote, Jon became the fourteenth castaway to be ousted.

Now only five remain, with just four days remaining in the game. Who will outwit, outplay, and outlast all the others and become the Sole Survivor?

THE FINAL FIVE

NATALIE

Natalie Intro

It’s Day 34 as Natalie sits on Exile Island, tears streaming down her usually focused face. Everything in the last few episodes has been leading up to her finally accomplishing the goal she’s been talking about for episodes–avenging Jeremy by ousting Jon. But when she tells the camera where her emotion is coming from, it’s not from her fallen ally, Jeremy. Her emotion comes from Nadiya, her sister, her twinnie. We’re reminded that for the first time in her life, Natalie is alone–and that she refuses to let that experience break her.

As Natalie rounds the final corner, it’s almost astonishing to think of her as an Amazing Racer, let alone as one who was so thoroughly defined by the dynamic of her team. Establishing herself as an individual has been her story ever since Nadiya’s ouster, and she’s been doing a bang-up job at it. Natalie has taken to Survivor like a duck to water. She makes big moves and challenges the system of the game; angling for prizes; giving up rewards, volunteering for Exile; even setting the ball in motion to get a player from the other tribe voted out. What truly makes all of this a mark of exceptional play is that Natalie is completely undetected. She’s never had her name written down, or even brought up as a target.

Every episode, I can’t help but ask myself “if this player won, how would I expect the narrative to portray them?” It’s a question that is always answered perfectly for Natalie. She’s always being given exactly the content she needs from the story to explain her possible victory, beginning in the second episode with her impassioned vow to go as far as possible for both herself and Nadiya. Her scene on Exile Island in “Let’s Make a Move” was critical in bringing Nadiya back to the story. Since Jeremy’s ouster, revenge on his behalf has been Natalie’s major stated motivator, setting up the dominoes for Jon’s downfall. Because of the focus on Jon, it left a lot of room for blind spots in Natalie’s game–there was a real possibility that once she achieved her vengeance, her story would hit a dead end and have nowhere left to go. We’ve now been reminded that eliminating Jon for Jeremy’s sake was just just a Pit Stop on Natalie’s larger journey. Her broader motivation is still there, and that’s a story that can carry her to the finish line.

Right now, this is Natalie’s game to lose. What could undo it for her?

KEITH

Keith Intro

It’s been a long, wild ride for the Fire Captain, but despite having one of the worst senses of how to play Survivor maybe ever, he’s standing at the final five–and shockingly enough, he’s not in the worst spot! As much as Natalie’s narrative was given a major before-the-end positivity push, Keith’s was also given an eleventh-hour spit shine. Keith was kept in the game because Natalie thinks he “deserves” to be there. Baylor has an epiphany that the bumbling Dad she’s been plagued by all game is actually “kind of cool.” And in a season that has been all about subverting the initial perceptions people have surrounding gender and the roles of men and women, Keith learns that “girl stuff” can be for guys too and can actually be kind of fun! Plus, there are the numerous mentions to his status as a challenge threat (repeatedly brought up in spite of the fact he’s only won two challenges). There is a lot of care and attention to both how Natalie and Keith have been portrayed in this story. As they come into the endgame, they are the last obstacles in each others way. One of them is being built up by the narrative to throw the scent off of the other.

All season long, I’ve been reading Keith’s journey as one on a roller coaster–he has huge ups and terrible downs, and his end-fate is going to be largely contingent on which direction the roller coaster is moving when the end of the game hits. After “Let’s Make a Move,” I think it’s clear Keith is back on the upswing. What we’ve been learning about Keith is that you don’t have to be good at the “numbers and math” of the game to be successful at it. What you need first and foremost is for people to like you, and people like Keith, and it’s not only Natalie and Baylor. Josh loved getting to bond with someone from a totally different world on Exile Island. Missy didn’t want to let Keith go when it seemed like Dale might have an idol. And there’s that Wesley guy, I guess.

Keith is in a good spot socially, and for the first time, in a decent spot game-wise. Natalie learned from Reed’s mistakes, successfully coaching Keith into bluffing his way through Tribal Council. It’s a long way from the guy who stuck to the plan and got his own son booted–a move that Keith has been suspiciously distanced from, despite its badness. (This distance has also, however, kept him from commenting on his son’s ouster, which stands out in a bad way. I guess there is still time for that in the finale.) As she has groomed the “deserving” Keith to be her trained assassin, a connection has been formed between Natalie and Keith. Keith goes so far as to say that after nearly a whole game of having “nobody,” he suddenly has Natalie in his corner. I’ve felt very certain that most of the narrative threads this season are pointing towards Missy and Baylor together in finals, with either Natalie or Keith winning almost by default in the third seat. But with all of the sudden connection between Keith and Natalie, it would be in poor form for me to not acknowledge the possibility that Keith returns the favor to Natalie by helping to save her–or at least trying to do so–in the event that he wins the final immunity challenge and she becomes the target by default. Of course, if they end up in the finals together, Keith has thrown his own game away. His popularity can only  help him sweep a vote if he’s up against a duo of players that the jury is chomping at the bit to tear down to size.

BAYLOR

Baylor Intro

The original Blood vs Water found it’s unlikely breakout character in Ciera Eastin, the daughter who had to become the mother as she outmaneuvered mom Laura Morett to grow as a player and a person. The success of her character makes it pretty clear that when production was assembling the cast for San Juan del Sur, they were likely hoping to replicate Ciera with Baylor–a young woman who would be willing to play the game with bold statement moves and take over the leadership role with her mom if need be. From early on, it became clear that Baylor would be important to watch, but it’s also become very clear that for all of their similarities, she and Ciera are very different animals.

When the pairs were being introduced by Jeff Probst on Day 0, Baylor and Missy had the most distinct introduction segment, so jam packed with imagery and important information about their dynamic that it couldn’t be ignored or brushed off as irrelevant or coincidental. The twosome were overwhelmed by howler monkeys, animals that throughout the season were explicitly linked to Jon. This is paired with Jeff’s voiceover telling us that due to Missy’s mismanagement of her marriages, Baylor often has to play the mother. In “Let’s Make a Move,” Baylor fulfills everything this scene set for her, becoming the parent to Missy and empowering her to push back against the howler monkey in the game, a representation of the men who have wronged them both. She’s betrayed Josh, she’s betrayed Jaclyn, she’s taken care of her mom–everything the narrative has hinted at Baylor doing has come to fruition. There has been a consistent and suspicious focus on Baylor all across the season, which has clued us in as viewers that we should follow her story and witness it’s profound impact on the course of the game.

But the problem for Baylor is that with all of the reason to focus on her, she has never really had to spread her wings and fly. She hasn’t taken off as an individual; and her personal narrative is much the same. We’ve been told to pay attention to her, but there hasn’t exactly been a lot worth seeing. There is no more question at this point. Baylor will likely lose this game on Day 39, lambasted by a jury who doesn’t trust her–as she’s screwed many of them out of the game–and who furthermore, doesn’t respect her–as she’ll be seen as having been carried to the end by her mother and allies. Much as Reed said, Baylor is a brat; spoiled and ungrateful to those who she’s stepped on to sit at the end.

MISSY

Missy Intro

The intro segment for Missy and Baylor also was the first time we were introduced to the two of them as players who were completely interconnected–where one goes, the other follows. The success–or failure–of this duo was always going to be a matter of symbiosis. Much as Baylor carried Missy over a hurdle when it came to her “weakness” in Jon, Missy was present for much of the game as Baylor’s mother, ready and willing to carry her over obstacles by using the numerous bonds she’d created with the surrounding castaways. “Let’s Make a Move” was Missy’s time to struggle in the front and center. Her physical injury came about at the same time as her biggest moral dilemma yet, transforming from just a circumstance of the game to a metaphor for her darkest hour.

 It’s interesting to me how early in the game, Missy struck me as a potential winner–always present, always thinking, always using her maternal instincts to sink her hooks into the players around her. Her maternalism, however, has been turned on its head numerous times since that glowing start, highlighted as Missy’s greatest weapon and her greatest downfall. As a weapon, it’s allowed her to create meaningful bonds with players like Jeremy and Jon, leaving nasty scars when she’s turned and ripped them out of the game. As a downfall, it’s overtaken her whenever Baylor is threatened, challenged, or even criticized, pulling Missy’s focus from her game to her daughter. Before they oust Josh, Missy tells Baylor that you have to be a little phony in a game like Survivor, but she doesn’t seem to heed her own advice. In “Let’s Make a Move,” she effectively refuses to turn on Jon, feeling that would ruin her reputation as a trustworthy player who has stuck with her word. It’s an almost astonishing way for her to describe herself that seems woefully out of line with the reality we’ve seen. She tried to tell Keith that she was still working with him after writing his name down in case Dale pulled out an idol. She joined with Jon on what seemed to be a whim to oust her Day 1 ally, Jeremy. She told Reed to his face that she had his back in the game, rounds after voting out his boyfriend. Turning on Jon was an outcome that was well forecast, but it was far from being the first time in the game Missy has broken her word. Again, her maternal instinct is her downfall. What she tries to teach to her daughter is advice she can’t follow herself.

The symbiotic portrayal of this flawed mother-daughter duo has been steadily pointing to an ever-clearer outcome: someone is going to sit with both of them in the end and beat them. But as that outcome is only days from fruition, it begs the question: is it too obvious? Could something shake up in the endgame to split these players apart?

JACLYN

Jaclyn Intro

If something splits up Missy and Baylor, I’m doubtful it will be Jaclyn. But stranger things have happened on Survivor. For all I know, Keith could win the Final 5 Immunity Challenge and Natalie could decide to keep Jaclyn instead of Missy to have as many able-bodied competitors on hand to try and keep him out of the finals. I don’t think a lot of people expected Jaclyn to even make the last episode of the season; so it’s certainly possible for her to continue to defy expectations.

Jaclyn is a character who I would have never expected to exhibit the complexity and depth of story that she’s had. With the exception of the blooming romance between Amber and Rob on All-Stars, there has never really been a couple to play Survivor together–all of the couples on the original Blood vs Water never got the chance to reunite, save for John and Candice’s few short days together on Redemption Island. This has meant that in crafting Jaclyn’s narrative, they’ve really been in uncharted waters, and have had quite a balancing act to perform. Jaclyn had to at once be the spoiled Queen and an extension of her “big threat” boyfriend while simultaneously being the “voice of reason” within their duo. They’ve had to make her character both respectable and expendable at the same time. It’s all come to a head to create a surprisingly unique castaway that I’m really glad we’ve gotten to see.

Of course, this also means that of all the castaways going into the final episode, Jaclyn’s story is the one that has the most resolution, and the fewest places to go from here. She was Jon’s feminine armor, protecting him only so long as he payed her respect. She was ever the Cassandra, warning Jon when her intuition for the game detected a threat to their power position. The one threat that he never listened to her on was Baylor, who Jaclyn called out as untrustworthy as early as Episode two. By extension, this meant Missy couldn’t be trusted. Jon never listened, and he payed the price. Now, again, by extension, Jaclyn is probably doomed. If she does manage to squeak into the top 4, I just don’t see her making it into the Final 3. For what it’s worth, there is definitely a chance she can make it through at least one more round–without Jon, Jaclyn’s final piece of narrative will be a last ditch effort to prove herself without him. This is a woman who we know doesn’t give up without a fight and who is more than capable of making herself heard. The last thing she’s going to do is go down easily. She’s been a pleasant surprise all season long, and with her back up against the wall, I expect no differently. The claws are coming out, and this fight to the finish is going to be delightfully brutal.

NEXT TIME

It’s the finale, bitches! One final reward challenge, two more immunities, three finalists… and a huuuuuge fight between Jaclyn and Natalie. Stay classy, ladies. Also, Keith will probably spit, Missy’s divorces will probably be mentioned, and Jeremy will probably look grumpy from the jury. Here’s to bitter speeches!

Survivor: San Juan del Sur Episodes 11 & 12 Narrative Analysis- “Kind of Like Cream Cheese” and “Still Holdin’ On”

THE STORY SO FAR

*smuff*

*smuff*

After 26 days in San Juan del Sur, a powerful alliance of five had emerged on the Huyopa Tribe, with Jon sitting pretty on top. Natalie had come through for him at Tribal Council, when she implored Jon to play his Hidden Immunity Idol after Keith accidentally exposed Reed as playing both sides. The result was that Keith’s son, Wes, was voted out instead, leaving Reed on the bottom, again forced to scramble for his life.

The next reward challenge gave the castaways the opportunity to expose what they really thought of each other, but the dominant alliance didn’t take the bait. They agreed to forefit the challenge to Missy, so that she could get the opportunity to enjoy a reward trip with her daughter, Baylor. As well, it gave Missy the opportunity to send Jon to Exile Island, where he found the re-hidden Immunity Idol. With Jon on Exile, it meant his girlfriend, Jaclyn, would be without him, and she felt burned when Missy picked Natalie over her to go on reward. Reed was quick to point out to Jaclyn that she could be looking at the final three, ready to cut her and Jon once they’ve outlived their usefulness–something that was not lost on Jaclyn. With nothing to lose, Reed also called out Baylor for her brattiness; stinging not only Baylor, but her mother as well. The reward gave them the opportunity to retreat from the negativity, and gave Natalie an opportunity to tell Missy about the Idol she found with Baylor. By securing the mother and daughter’s trust, Natalie believed she could make it to the finals with them, where she would win handily.

Meanwhile, Jaclyn was alone at camp with the players on the bottom, who did everything in their power to sway her favor. Alec pulled out all the stops, channeling his brother to flirt with Jaclyn. Despite her boyfriend being in the game, Jaclyn didn’t seem to mind the extra attention, given that she had felt invalidated by Jon when accused her of not playing with his best interest in mind, seemingly brushing aside the possibility of her success in the game. Jon rejoined the tribe at the next Immunity Challenge, where Keith became the first castaway to win the necklace twice.

With Jon back at camp, Jaclyn was eager to tell him her concerns regarding their current alliance; but Jon, drained from his stay in Exile, blew up at her. For Jaclyn, this was the last straw, and she gave Jon the #SilentTreatment after they had a huge fight in front of the entire Huyopa Tribe. Their lover’s spat clouded the entire camp, casting a shadow of doubt over the next vote–with the Power Couple not talking, Reed had no way of knowing if they would finally turn on Missy. Unfortunately for him, Tribal Council became Couple’s Therapy, and in a unanimous vote, Reed became the eleventh castaway out and the fourth member of the jury, leaving only seven castaways in contention for the million dollar prize.

*smuff*

*smuff*

With another ally ousted, Alec felt more alone and desperate for survival than ever before… but unbeknownst to him, his game was on the verge of being saved. Natalie was still focused on avenging her ousted ally Jeremy by knocking out Jon, and she was pulling all the stops to keep him and Jaclyn comfortable so they wouldn’t see it coming. She even went so far as to share her dinner-in-bed reward with the couple, where she found herself driven to her wits’ end by Jon’s growing arrogance. She turned to Baylor for support, and Baylor agreed to not tell her mom Missy that Jon was the next to go; knowing that Missy had become attached to Jon.  The two #SurvivorSisters would pull in outsiders Alec and Keith to make it happen, allowing Baylor to prevent her mother from making another bad choice regarding a man.

The hit was in as Alec returned from Exile Island for the Immunity Challenge, where he performed abysmally. Keith seemed like he was well on his way to a third Immunity win, but a steadier hand and pace saw Jon win his first challenge instead, dashing Natalie’s hopes of blindsiding him. Keith’s excellent performance in yet another challenge put the target squarely on his back–a target that only became bigger when Alec opened up to Baylor about his loneliness in the game, impressing her with his sensitive side. Missy proposed that her alliance split the votes, just to be safe, and Jaclyn instructed Natalie to vote with her and Jon to take out Keith. But Natalie still had her end goal of eliminating Jon in sight, and told Keith she wanted to work with him to make it happen–Keith’s prowess in challenges meant he had a much better shot of keeping immunity off of Jon’s neck. At Tribal Council, she switched her vote, and Alec was snuffed by the torch collector, became the twelfth person ousted as he joined the jury. Now only six remain… who will be the next to go, and who will be left standing in the finale?

A CLOSER LOOK

THE MONKEY KING AND THE BEAUTY QUEEN

Jon contemplates the complexities of wine while Jaclyn contemplates eating Jon

Jon contemplates the complexities of wine while Jaclyn contemplates eating Jon

Jon has had quite the journey to his position as the nominal top of the food chain in San Juan del Sur. Athletic, young, male, (white)… he ticks a lot of the boxes that seemingly make a castaway a shoe-in for the moniker of “biggest threat in the game,” yet when Jon was introduced to us at the start of the season, he was far from it. Jon was little more than Drew’s goofy friend on Hunahpu; left very obviously on the outs when Drew orchestrated his own ouster. But we always knew that Jon was more than meets the eye, because Jon himself always got the opportunity to tell us. Even when he was screwing up, he got to justify it. Jon’s lack of power made the attention paid to him suspicious. Now the story is nearing it’s completion, and with only six castaways remaining, Jon is amongst them. The power players established early on (Josh and Jeremy) have fallen. We’ve seen many a Beta-Male ride that status to a million dollar check (Africa’s Ethan and Exile Island’s Aras spring to mind). Being the Beta (for lack of a better term) meant that Jon was able to skate by unharmed while the big guns were targeted. By the end of Day 32, Jon is the King–but much as with real-life Kings in the modern world, Jon’s title is little more than symbolic. His rise to the top has been accompanied by a narrative that exposes his lack of real power, a narrative that Jon himself is unable to see.

Part of Jon’s powerlessness is owed to the fact that he’s sharing the throne. This king has a queen in Jaclyn, whom all of Jon’s moves have been filtered through ever since the story managed to bring their characters together. The edit is not subtle about portraying Jaclyn as the “queen” of San Juan del Sur. She is all but explicitly stated to be secondary in importance to Jon, despite having enough influence over him to often dictate his game moves. “Kind of Like Cream Cheese” ups the queen imagery tenfold, with the entire episode focused around Jaclyn and the attempts of the game’s peasants to woo her favor. Even the king is powerless when her wrath is unleashed.

The characterization of Jon and Jaclyn as the King and Queen only further serve to blend them into the larger story and it’s themes–namely gender and partnership. By giving them the responsibility of carrying these themes, the narrative is able to build Jon as the man who was does things “right,” explaining why he is the one to ultimately assume the throne over Josh (the leader of an all-male alliance) and Jeremy (the guy who couldn’t trust his wife to protect herself). Now, the narrative tells us that the power is going to Jon’s head, and that his swelling ego is starting to push Jaclyn out of the picture. This is a problem, because without his queen, the king is nothing.

The blow-up between Jon and Jaclyn is, on its own, fascinating to watch. The storytellers don’t explicitly paint either one as being right or wrong–we’re given the tools to see the situation from both perspectives and the agency to come to our own conclusions. But the point in the larger narrative isn’t who is right or wrong. The point is that when Jon stops treating Jaclyn with the respect and deference he’s been using thusfar, the thematic armor that’s been protecting him begins to crumble. Baylor–ever the consistently present narrator–gets to explain this firsthand, agreeing to target Jon because she sees him not as the “good guy” we’ve been shown; but rather as the personification of men and her mother’s repeated mistakes with them. She delivers this summation the episode after Jon has nearly driven Jaclyn away; after Natalie grows so tired with his illustrated snobbery that she says she’ll “literally kill herself” if he wins. Even Keith–who the editors have not shied away from telling us is far from the brightest–is able to call Jon out as transparently working the jury when he breaks down about his dying father. The sharp turn in Jon’s portrayal tells me Natalie is probably not going to be held to her one-woman suicide pact. He’s ascended to Josh and Jeremy’s position in more ways than just one. Like them, his story has now become one of a king blindly awaiting assassination. He’s become a distraction to the other players and a distraction to the viewers by virtue of his position in the story. If the hit isn’t in for him next, it’s coming.

MOMMY DEAREST

Who doesn't love Muffins?

Who doesn’t love Muffins?

The biggest obstacle preventing the other players from ousting Jon isn’t his obvious ally Jaclyn, however–it’s an ally who is closer to him than she has any reason to be in Missy. Jaclyn may be the queen in this role play, but Missy is the maternal advisor; the true power behind the throne. It’s been her role from the first moments of this season: a shallowly-sweet older woman who plays the ersatz mother to the others, earning their trust while revealing her ruthless stage-mom side when safely able to remove her mask in the company of her daughter. Even in the confessionals, we see Missy in character, almost as if she’s unable to turn it off, or even admit to herself that there is something disingenuous, a subtle quality that strikes on as being a little off.

It’s in “Kind of Like Cream Cheese” that Jaclyn first observes this distressing duality firsthand. Missy exposes the chink in her exoskeleton when she picks Baylor and Natalie to accompany on reward–a pretty clear show-of-hand, and a questionable move when an incredibly game-fluent ally like Natalie wouldn’t have needed the pampering reserved for the queen. Jaclyn doesn’t need Reed the Trickster whispering in her ear to see the writing on the wall. Once only five remain, Missy and Baylor could easily team up with Natalie for a 3 to 2 majority. After Jaclyn and Jon get in their fight, Jaclyn’s worst fears are confirmed when Jon chooses his “mother” Missy to console him and act as his guidance, rather than coming to Jaclyn herself to reconcile their dispute face-to-face.

To Missy’s credit(?), as of current, she doesn’t seem to have any plans of turning on Jon. Baylor and Natalie knew that to oust Jon at the Final 7, they would have to recruit Alec and Keith behind Missy’s back because Missy is still showing Jon as much devotion as he’s showing to her. But at the start of the season, we were told very explicitly that in the crazy world of the Gilmore Goats, Baylor has often had to play the parent instead of the child. Missy reiterated this herself at the merge, acknowledging that while sometimes Baylor acts like a child, she also is capable of seeming beyond her years. So far, Missy has been using her game connections to guide Baylor along, but as mentioned earlier, Baylor now sees Missy developing a blind spot in Jon. As the game nears it’s conclusion, Baylor will have to become the mother once again in her and Missy’s relationship, and use her #SurvivorSister connection with Natalie to forge ahead for them both while leaving Jon in the dust.

SPITTING COBRAS

The demonstration by a spitting master causes Natalie to feel shame as she recalls her past salivary failures

The demonstration by a spitting master causes Natalie shame as she recalls her past salivary failures

“Still Holdin’ On” was a fairly-par-course episode as a part of a pagoning (systematic elimination by one alliance of the other), as all the lead-up was for a predictable outcome of Alec’s boot. But the process of the vote getting switched from Keith to Alec did a lot for the final stretch of the story, creating a brand-new connection between two very important characters who until now had none in Keith and Natalie.

Natalie is in an excellent position. The story exposes to us that she is the most calculated and cognizant gamer in the bunch, expertly earning the trust of all her allies despite her allegiance to none of them. Her desire to play hard and make moves manifests when she seizes control by sparing Keith. On top of this, it is in the story only that we see Natalie’s skill. The other castaways all seem completely oblivious to it, and as a result, she never seems to have her name pop up. Missy and Baylor even seem content to go to the end with her. Natalie very clearly laid out this road to victory in “Kind of Like Cream Cheese”, going so far as to finally confirm that Missy and Baylor could be trounced easily for the million. The only Roadblock in her Amazing Race to the finish line has, like her statement of power, manifested in her decision to spare Keith, who had his road to victory laid out in “Still Holdin’ On.” Jeff tells us that winning challenges is a great way to build a case in front of the jury, and Keith has won two of them. One of Natalie’s reasons for keeping Keith is precisely this ability. Idols expire at the Final 5, which means keeping immunity out of Jon’s hands is crucial going into the Final 6. Keith, for as cartoonish and inept as he initially appears, can help accomplish this, and Natalie is fully aware of it and willing to draft Keith for his talents.

We know that while Natalie fins Jon annoying and disingenuous, she also has a grander motivation for seeing him out of the game in avenging Jeremy. While a powerful energizer for her in the final stages of the game, this revenge-narrative is also becoming myopic, diverting all of Natalie’s attention on to Jon and blinding her to the threat of the last man standing in Keith. Much as Natalie’s prowess is exposed only through the story, so is much of what makes Keith important to watch. Like Natalie, he has an oft-returned-to connection to Missy (the only woman he talks with and the Mom to his Dad), and the focus on his lack-of-game has only been made possible because of the honesty that surrounds us. The edit tells us that Keith doesn’t really know what’s happening, but Keith also tells us that about himself (putting trust in Reed because he doesn’t understand math). Keith hasn’t really needed to know how to play–he seems to be great at falling off the radar exactly when he needs to. As the lone single player on the swapped Coyopa, he could have been an easy first boot, giving Jonclyn time to further mull over their options, but he was bypassed completely. As his alliance vanishes, it happens again. Even the narrative itself seems to forget him just when he needs it the most; barely touching on his catastrophic blunder that cost Wes the game. In “Kind of Like Cream Cheese,” Keith spends most of the episode in hibernation, only to pop up and win immunity near the end.

Of course, the narrative’s larger purpose surrounding Keith could simply be that he is, as mentioned, the last member standing from his fallen alliance, the so-close-yet-so-far-away final jury member who comes within inches of a victory but can’t clinch that final win, ala Cagayan’s Spencer or Philippines’ Malcolm. (A big and noteworthy strike against Keith as a winner, and thusly in support of him as the last juror is that he wasn’t given the opportunity to mourn his partner, Wesley, in the Blood vs Water story). But Natalie has been distracted from winning, and could have signed her own death warrant. Keith will do what he was hired to and take out Jon, but by failing to take Keith into account, Natalie could find him making an immunity run to the end and taking her out as well.

MEAT YOUR MAKER

R.I.P. Whatever the hell *this* was supposed to be

R.I.P. Whatever the hell *this* was supposed to be

Alec’s boot meant that the women’s newly-earned numerical lead over the men only increased, pulling the broader overarching theme of women outmaneuvering the men into clearer focus. This is made all the more glaring when you realize that Alec was the last man from the original Coyopa Tribe in the game. Now the Orange Tribe’s only representatives are Jaclyn and Baylor–the two surviving women who were once slated for execution, members of a tribe that couldn’t win; a tribe where women weren’t valued. If it is, in fact, Keith who will outstumble and outspit the rest to win, this could mark a conceivable (albeit personally unsatisfying) end to this long running thread–though it is absolutely possible, maybe even probable, that Natalie is still running it to the end.

Fortunately for Alec–a unquestionably secondary character of San Juan del Sur–his final episode also allowed for him to wrap up all of his own storylines and go out looking a little better than he’s looked for most of the season thusfar. When it seemed that he was poised to “beat out” Drew by taking over his spot in the story and becoming him, it made me suspect that Alec would possibly out-douche his brother by going out in an even bigger and more ridiculous blaze of glory (which didn’t seem possible!). But instead, Alec capped off his story because he beat out his brother by actually growing and being humbled as a person. The poor kid seemed positively broken in his final episode. He went from spreading his cream cheese all over Jaclyn to whimpering that he felt alone and admitting that he wished he could have a loved one like everyone else. The bizarre connection between him and Baylor was used to create the final cloud of question as to who would leave–him or Keith–by showing him finally admitting vulnerability to his sister-girlfriend in a last-ditch effort to save his own skin. Before this game started, I predicted that Alec had a sensitive side to him that would eventually be dragged out in Drew’s absence. In hindsight, I wish Drew had stayed around longer, because I think having him around would have actually been more effective in allowing Alec to express that side of himself, as he’d be more forced to individuate. Seeing that side of Alec earlier could ultimately allowed him to become a more complex and enjoyable character to watch, but I guess we’ll never know.

Oh, who am I kidding. I wouldn’t give back the Fall of Drew for anything.

EXIT STAGE LEFT

Reed Faces 5Reed Faces 6 Reed Faces 2 Reed Faces 3 Reed Faces 7 We’ll miss you, Reed.

NEXT TIME

It should be off with Jon’s head, if Natalie and Baylor are going to have their way–but after injuring herself in a challenge, it could be off with Missy’s foot as an injury threatens to derail her game via medevac. Something smells like a red herring. It might just be cream cheese.