Some Guy Has Spoken

Reality TV Recaps and Analysis with a Dash of Snark and Social Science

Month: September, 2014

Survivor: San Juan Del Sur Episode 1 Narrative Analysis- “Suck It Up And Survive”

PREVIOUSLY ON SURVIVOR!

Eighteen Americans were abandoned in the Philippines, where they were split based on three very defining characteristics–tits, ass, or both brains, beauty, and brawn, and the result was a season that was so explosive you couldn’t even extinguish it by dumping rice on it. We got a slew of unique, fresh characters in the process, and they really helped rocket Survivor: Cagayan into the stratosphere of beloved Survivor seasons–a feat that is rare for the show’s more recent outings. Now the show has returned to Nicaragua for Survivor: San Juan Del Sur- Blood vs Water, with 18 castaways who have an awful lot to live up to.

Last season was my first season ever attempting to blog/recap a show, and I came to realize that the major blow-by-blow; while enjoyable to write; wasn’t really the best kind of recap to read. If you’re reading this recap, you probably watched the episode (and if you didn’t, you can watch it here) and want to go beyond just “what happened” and get into the meat of what matters–our story, our characters, and our game. I’m going to be getting a little experimental with how I go about this recap, so hopefully it works out for the best!

HUNAHPU

(Back) From left to right; Jon Misch, Keith Nale, Jeremy Collins, Drew Christy; (Front) Kelley Wentworth, Natalie Anderson, Julie McGee, Missy Payne, Reed Kelly

(Back) From left to right; Jon Misch, Keith Nale, Jeremy Collins, Drew Christy; (Front) Kelley Wentworth, Natalie Anderson, Julie McGee, Missy Payne, Reed Kelly

The Hunahpu Tribe won both of their challenges in this episode; the tribal immunity challenge and the individual reward duel, which ended up being between Boston Firefighter Jeremy and his wife, police officer Val. Because they were the very first pair of loved ones to be subjected to the Big Twist Of The Season ™, they both got a lot of face time. But because Hunahpu did not have to vote, that means their tribe got less development overall–the dynamics for what is happening in terms of alliances on the tribe are less relevant because they are yet to be impactful in regards to the outcome of the game.

Jeremy Collins, 36, MA- Firefighter; Hunahpu Tribe

Jeremy Collins, 36, MA- Firefighter; Hunahpu Tribe

I think the duel between Jeremy and Val proved to both of the married parents that the reality of Blood vs Water was going to be much more emotionally difficult to handle than either had expected. In the pre-show materials and on Day 0, we saw a lot of good-natured bickering between the two. Their relationship didn’t seem unhealthy because of the bickering; just a natural consequence of two strong personalities being in a relationship. They both talked a lot about how they don’t need the other in order to survive in the game and how if anything, they’re looking forward to beating out one another to prove who is better.

But the second Jeremy beats Val in the duel and she has to be exiled before even meeting her tribe, he’s brought to tears. When you’re watching Blood vs Water at home as a viewer; it’s probably very easy to look at someone you care about and think “It’s just a game, I could vote them out.” For a lot of people, our earliest formative experiences in playing games are with our loved ones. I’ve gone balls to the wall in many a game of Clue with family and friends, and never once considered that the consequences of how I played the game could have any sort of impact on my relationship with them. It’s all in good fun.

But a game of Clue will last a few hours at the most. A game of Survivor lasts for 39 days and involves an unbelievable level of deprivation as a major component of it. Though Hunahpu escaped tribal council, Jeremy was still blindsided–by his own emotions. Jeremy’s tribe is very supportive of him–most of them express a sense of realization that it could have been any of them in that situation, and that come the next duel; one of them will be in that situation. And ultimately, the emotional distress aside, the opening of the game played to his advantage for the time being.

Hi, remember us? Probably not, we were pretty minor characters

Hi, remember us? Probably not, we were pretty minor characters

We’ve seen numerous instances in the past of female castaways conspiring, in some shape or form, to use flirtation and their “feminine wiles” (whatever the heck *those* are) to manipulate their male tribemates–a strategy that has shown a wide birth of successes and failures. I think that because of our society’s patriarchal structure and the way we conceptualize gender broad scale, women, especially conventionally attractive ones, may have unconsciously been taught that working their way into a man’s good graces is the only way for them to succeed. By comparison, we seldom see men making a point of effectively seducing their way through the women of the tribe to get what they want out of the game.

Jeremy breaks this stereotype almost instantly, quickly rebounding from his emotional distress to align with Kelley, Natalie, and Missy. He states explicitly that he thinks he can charm the women; but the jury is out as to how successful his plan will be long term. He’s shown speaking with each woman separately; creating the impression that he is wheeling and dealing Russell Hantz ™ style, making a deal with anyone who will listen. And sure enough, everyone seems to be on board. Natalie says that given the absence of her twin sister, Nadiya, she’s going to need a replacement “twinnie” on the Hunahpu Tribe, and she has a good feeling about Jeremy–primarily because he was unafraid to show his emotions and be vulnerable. Missy opines about how her multiple divorces have taught her she needs to be better at trusting her gut instinct, and her gut is saying good things about Jeremy.

Despite this, I don’t think Jeremy is in a duplicitous spot, because we don’t see him making promises that conflict. He speaks with Kelley first and the deal goes down almost like a business transaction–quick and to the point, much as I expected from Kelley based on what we know about her. She got little-to-no screentime beyond this, but it’s only episode one. When Jeremy approaches Natalie, he tells her that he’s already spoken to Kelley, and asks for Natalie’s feelings on working with Kelly as well as with him. Jeremy doesn’t appear to be trying to snow everyone within minutes of arrival–he appears to be building a solid, united alliance. If everyone involved in the alliance is told upfront what is going on and who is involved, then the trust gluing the group together will be stronger.

Natalie and Nadiya attempt to make fire on Day 0

Natalie and Nadiya attempt to make fire on Day 0

Natalie, for her part, doesn’t get a whole lot of screentime either; but I think it’s likely we’ll see a lot of Natalie next week. Her “Twinnie” Nadiya became the first boot of the game (which we’ll get to more in Coyopa’s segment); and it is all but confirmed that Natalie is going to be on a Kill Bill-style revenge mission. The Anderson girls have both stated that they think their relationship as identical twins givens them “thicker blood” than any of the other pairs. They are a constant in one another’s life and have an exceptionally close bond. They were the one pair who in the pre-show material never once even considered the notion of *not* working together if given the opportunity, and there is no question in my mind that Natalie will take Nadiya’s ouster well.

Ironically, for as much as the twins rely on each other, I think that one of them getting voted out early was the best thing that could happen for the other. The one person in the game Natalie would have unquestionable, visible, undying loyalty to is no longer in the game. She has become the first contestant to be made a free agent by virtue of losing their loved one; and that makes her a hot property that Jeremy should be glad to have scooped up.

But Jeremy’s alliance is not him and all the women–Julie was notably excluded from his Day 1 alliance building. Rather, the fifth number he pursues is fellow firefighter Keith.

Keith and Val on ExileAs part of winning the first duel, Jeremy did not only send his wife to Exile by default; but was also given the responsibility of choosing one member of his own tribe, Hunahpu, to join her. Despite admitting that he and his son Wes failed to make fire on Day 0 after losing their striker and breaking their flint; Keith still ended up as Jeremy’s choice to serve as Val’s “protector” on Exile Island.

Thematically, this season is already making itself about gender roles and dynamics; particularly with the iteration of the idea that men are responsible for the protection of women. It’s a rather archaic notion and it’s frequency in the episode definitely struck me as problematic. I don’t think that Jeremy feels a sense of duty to protect his wife just because he’s a man and she’s a woman. Rather, he feels a sense of responsibility as a person to protect another person who he cares about. Val never once comes off as a woman who absolutely *needs* a man to protect her, but regardless, the theme is definitely being set, and I’m already looking for hints as to how it will impact the larger story (and thusly, the game) further down the road.

Keith, for his part, takes it as well as he can, and proves to be an absolute riot. Outside of Jeremy, he was Hunahpu’s most visible castaway this episode, and he served up a lot of laughter and positive energy in the time he spent on screen. When Val informs Keith that her husband is a firefighter, Keith is elated to learn that there is already a common connection he shares with this couple who, on the surface, seem to have nothing in common. Sure enough, when he finally returns to Hunahpu Beach and joins the tribe properly, Jeremy is quick to approach him to join the alliance. Jeremy knows that by putting Keith on Exile, he took him out of the tribe in the most critical, formative parts of the game when people are getting to create their first impressions and relationships, and feels that he owes Keith something for placing that burden on him.

Because we see less of Hunahpu in this episode, we can only base our predictions going forward based on what we’ve been given. If it is indeed the truth that Jeremy, Kelley, Natalie, Missy and Keith have formed an alliance, that puts the other four members of the tribe–Julie, Reed, Jon M. and Drew on the outs.

Drew the shelter builder

Drew in particular seems to have been destined for a position on the outside no matter what. The impression we, as viewers, are supposed to leave with is clear–Drew is a prick. He quickly designates himself the shelter builder (in all fairness to him, we don’t see anyone else stepping up to the task save for Jon) and proceeds to rustle feathers by doing so. The rest of the tribe seems unconvinced by the fruits of his labors; and Julie likens him to her abrasive, Alpha-male boyfriend, John R. Despite all of this, Drew proved a major physical asset during the immunity challenge, so it seems likely he’ll stick around out of sheer usefulness, but it seems highly doubtful he’s going to be able to charm his tribe with his fratty antics. The group already, for the most part, appears to be over him.

Jon, on the other hand, is the person outside of the core alliance who comes off looking the best. He’s a self-admitted “goofball” who is tickled by just about everything. He jokes that the rusty nails they’ve been given to aid them in their shelter building are like “Christmas morning” and seems raptured by the real break-out character this season–the howler monkeys. He tries his best to communicate with them. “I wish I had a tail,” he laments.

howler monkey

Survivor’s editors are no strangers to using animal imagery thematically–think back to every secretive discussion of a blindside that is prefaced with a shot of circling sharks or a spider devouring it’s prey. The howlers are used numerous times in the episode, and the way they are used and discussed by the castaways seems to correlate with the theme of gender hierarchies and the role of the dominant male protector. Despite the tribe interpreting Jon and the monkey’s hooting back and forth as flirting; howler monkeys use their deep, booming howls for much broader forms of communication than simply finding a mate. Predominately, male howlers will howl at certain points in the day to let nearby troops know that his troop is present; and that trespassers had better beware. I worked at a local zoo for eight years between 2004 and 2012, and the male howler monkey there would reliably begin his eerie hooting in response to the lawnmower or weedwhacker going off, likely perceiving it as the warning call of a potential invader.

Anyway, now that I’ve gone all Cindy Hall with that tangent, the point I’m making is that we should watch the monkeys for clues this season. And we should be watching Jon as well.

"I wish I had a tail."

“I wish I had a tail.”

Jon’s girlfriend Jaclyn barely registers as existing during the episode; and Jon wouldn’t either if it weren’t for a few key moments. As Jeff introduces the nine pairs at the episode’s start; they allude to the perception that they’re a “perfect” couple being made untrue by yet-to-be-revealed depths. One of those layers is exposed after Jon talks with the monkeys, in a confessional where he reveals that coming to play Survivor meant leaving his father, who is suffering from terminal brain cancer. Jon knows that the amount of time he has left with his father is limited, and he seems to be conflicted as to whether or not coming to the game was the right thing to do. The scene stands out starkly–Jon relates to none of the other storylines set in motion this episode, so this information is included specifically for the purpose of informing the viewers about Jon and imploring us to form a positive opinion on him. The question, of course, is why. Are we being set up to like Jon because he goes deep in the game? Or are we being given the backstory to explain what could ultimately be his rationale for pulling himself from the game at a later date? The jury’s still out; but I had Jon pegged to do well and the way he was portrayed did nothing to diminish that assumption.

As for the rest of the tribe, I don’t feel I’ve gotten to see enough out of them to make any real guesses as to what their larger stories are in this season. Julie seems to be observant, and she doesn’t seem to have been picked on by the others for being out of her element, so only time will tell as to how she does. We know very little about Reed beyond the fact that he’s a major fan and is excited to be in the game. He himself says in a secret scene that he thinks his biggest weakness will be not coming out too strong because he is such a big fan and is so excited to prove himself. If the numbers stay as they appear, Reed indeed could find himself with a target on his back. For his boyfriend, however, the story seems entirely different.

 COYOPA

From left to right: Wes Nale, Dale Wentworth, Josh Canfield, Baylor Wilson, Jaclyn Schultz, Val Collins, Alec Christy, Nadiya Anderson, John Rocker

From left to right: Wes Nale, Dale Wentworth, Josh Canfield, Baylor Wilson, Jaclyn Schultz, Val Collins, Alec Christy, Nadiya Anderson, John Rocker

oh shit monkeysOn Day 0, Missy tries to ignite a fire, when her daughter Baylor is distracted by a loud noise–the cries of (what else) but howler monkeys. The troop has circled around the Gilmore Girls, who seem terrified (though the likelihood of being attacked by a howler monkey is pretty slim). As the first of the two-woman pairs to be introduced to us, the scene immediately sets them up as being out of their element, huddled together as the monkeys circle ominously around them. The monkey invasion is definitely out of Baylor’s comfort zone–immediately, the editing takes another point to illustrate the theme of women needing a man to protect them.

For Baylor, that protector comes in the form of Reed’s boyfriend, Josh, who, if pressed to give a name, I would call the breakout character of this episode. Baylor isn’t the only one who is gravitating towards Josh–everyone is. And Josh is more than happy to take that role. Despite an allergic reaction to the material Coyopa has used to construct their shelter almost blinding the guy; it doesn’t seem to ever be held against him. Not even notorious bigot John R. has any unkind words for the guy (that we see on air, at least). Josh knows he is the nexus of the tribe, and that after losing immunity, the burden of who leaves rests squarely on his shoulders. Josh knows this firmly and is happy with it–being the person that everyone is coming to was exactly what he wanted to happen, and it’s a great spot to be in. When you are the one doing all of the approaching, you risk having your tribemates see you talking to everyone, and it can immediately make you look squirrely and hard to trust. But if everyone is coming to you, then your hands are clean. And Josh knows the proper way to handle the propositions being made to him–agree to absolutely everything and decide what to do when the time comes.

Josh Canfield, 32, NY- Broadway Perfomer

Josh Canfield, 32, NY- Broadway Perfomer

If Josh is at the top, then Val is terrified she is at the bottom. She’s returning from Exile facing a tribe that has had two days to bond without her, and she’s worried she could be in danger, prompting her to immediately rally the other women–Jaclyn, Nadiya, and Baylor–in an attempt to align and save herself. The target is Dale, the tribe’s eldest member who seems to have outlived his usefulness, and Nadiya is confident that they can rope Josh as their necessary fifth–because she considers him to be one of the girls. (Surprisingly, John Rocker does not make the most offensive statement of the premiere).

Dale, meanwhile, has his scope set on Nadiya. “She’s a known factor,” he says, referring to her two-time stint on The Amazing Race. Dale proposes to the other men in the tribe–Wes, John R., and Alec— that they backstab Nadiya before she can backstab them. Dale’s grasp on the meaning of “backstab” seems to be a little flimsy, and his perception of Nadiya as a backstabber is derived from the Twinnies infamous use of the Double U-Turn in Amazing Race 21.

Abbie and Ryan are hit by the U-Turn twist in "The Amazing Race"

Abbie and Ryan are hit by the U-Turn twist in “The Amazing Race”

For those unfamiliar with The Amazing Race and it’s mechanisms, the U-Turn is a mechanic that will pop up approximately two to three times a season on pre-determined legs of the race. The U-Turn always follows a race task called the Detour; where the teams are given two options of tasks to complete in order to receive their next clue and move forward in the race. When a U-Turn appears on a leg, all teams are required to check in at the U-Turn mat, regardless of whether or not they’ll choose to use it, before continuing the race. When a team arrives, if they choose to do so, they may U-Turn another team, meaning if their chosen team is behind them, they will be U-Turned upon arrival at the mat and must backtrack to complete both detour options before they can continue per usual. Once a team has decided to use the U-Turn, no other team can. It’s a huge penalty to be sacked with an extra task and a lot of risk is involved with choosing to use the U-Turn–you have no way of knowing for certain who is ahead or behind of you, and each team can only use the U-Turn once, meaning it is possible to waste it by playing it on a team that’s ahead. In addition, being quick to use the U-Turn is a sure-fire way to make enemies of the other teams, which can be dangerous in a race where good relationships can sometimes grant you access to useful information. To keep the U-Turn from being an instant death-blow to the team hit by it, it was amended as time progressed, eventually becoming the Double U-Turn–meaning that two teams could each U-Turn another team, allowing for the first team to be hit with the U-Turn to potentially save themselves by slapping another team with the same penalty.

Due to a bizarre set of circumstances that aren’t worth getting into, ultra-competitive frontrunner team, dating couple Abbie and Ryan, had been knocked to the back of the pack with permanently trailing husbands Brent and Josh. The two couples were verifiably hours behind Natalie and Nadiya, who were joined in the front-half by Chippendales performers Jaymes and James and dating couple Trey and Lexi; with the three teams having formed a very tight threesome who sought to the ones who would compete in the final leg. The twins devised a plan for their alliance to take advantage of the huge time delay to ensure that the bigger threats/their mortal enemies, Abbie and Ryan, would be ousted at the end of the leg, as opposed to the consistently poor-performing Brent and Josh. The idea was that whichever of the three teams was in the lead would use the U-Turn on Abbie and Ryan, and that the second team in the alliance to arrive would burn the second slot by U-Turning the team ahead of them. This meant that when Abbie and Ryan arrived, they would be unable to save themselves by using the second U-Turn on Brent and Josh. The plan worked without a hitch, and the twins didn’t even have to do it themselves–they took the Fast Forward and skipped straight to the pit stop, leaving their allies to do the U-Turning.

You might be asking yourself why I went through that (perhaps needlessly) long and thorough explanation of the Twinnies Double U-Turn gabmit; and it’s mostly just so that we can all be on the same page and that non-Race watchers can have context for the move that had Dale so freaked out. The way Dale articulated what happened wasn’t exactly accurate–to me, the word “backstabbed” implies that the Twins reneged on an agreement that they had with another team, which wasn’t the case at all. If anything, Nadiya and Natalie proved their loyalty to the teams they said they’d be loyal to.

But Farmer Dale has a point nevertheless–Nadiya had been seen as willing to conjure strategies and play cutthroat, and with only three days in the game and impressions still forming, it was a good of a reason as any to target someone.

Dale making fire

If anyone needed to be coming up with a good reason to get rid of someone, it was Dale. He is quick to realize that he’s a good 25 years older than most of his tribemates, and, as I predicted, feels that he’ll be unable to integrate well. Though Dale managed to make a good impression by breaking his glasses to start fire for Coyopa, the whole fire-making scene served as a meta-illustration of how I think Dale will fare in the game. He is shown as being a successful survivalist, but he’s off on his own trying to make fire with his glasses while the rest of the tribe bonds together over the mutual effort of rubbing two sticks together. Once the women have agreed to unite, they have to determine which of the men is expendable, and Dale is the easy choice. Beyond his age putting a target on his back (as often happens to castaways in the early game), Dale’s lack of social game doesn’t really make him a lynchpin in anybody’s plans to the point that he’s worth keeping around. “What’s the old guy’s name again?” Nadiya asks Baylor at one point. “Dale,” Baylor replies. “I’m just going to call him Dad,” laughs Nadiya. It illustrates just how Dale hasn’t been making much of an impression on the tribe–but it also illustrates a lack of awareness on Nadiya’s part.

*smuff*

*smuff*

Nadiya doesn’t only have trouble remembering Dale’s name, but she has trouble perceiving Josh’s gender. After the men make their pitch to Josh for ousting Nadiya, Nadiya makes her pitch to Josh for ousting Dale. She tells Josh that she’s pretty sure Natalie is trying to work with Josh’s “boo” Reed on Hunahpu, and that therefore it only makes sense for them to stick together on Coyopa. She then tells Josh that she considers him to be “one of the girls,” and it’s a comment that strikes a huge nerve with Josh; and probably with the majority of the gay men in the audience.

To be fair to Nadiya, I think her ignorant comments about gay men being “girls” (which she makes numerous times after the initial statement) are used as a sort of obvious, tangible reason that the viewers can see for Josh ultimately allowing her to leave. I’m positive that in reality, there was a lot more to how the decision was made. As a gay man myself, I have definitely had encounters with straight women who are quick to assume you are besties 4 lyfe immediately upon realizing that you’re gay, but I’d be straight lying if I said I called them out on it every time. Sometimes, it’s just not worth the effort. Sometimes, I’ll like the person enough otherwise to just put up with it. And sometimes, you let it slide because it’s not worth calling out and putting yourself at odds with the other person. I can’t see ignorant comments alone, at least not this early on, as being the primary factor for decision making.

To clarify, Josh is not a girl, but Nadiya brings up a point that I made in my own pre-show analysis during tribal council. Regardless of how Josh perceives his own gender, other people very frequently see gay men as “two-spirited,” to appropriate a term from broader Native American culture. That is to say, gay men are often seen as being men and women simultaneously; bigendered individuals who have the superpower to infiltrate gender specific spaces for both men and women. It’s impossible to say if Josh’s queerness is a primary element in why he seems to be best friends with literally everyone on Coyopa, but the reality is that no matter the reason, everybody likes the guy and wants him on their side. As of right now, it’s good to be Josh.

Well, except for the whole "excruciatingly painful eye inflammation" part

Well, except for the whole “excruciatingly painful eye inflammation” part

As the swing vote, Josh was handed control of the game on a silver platter, but if you’ll notice, I said he “allowed” Nadiya to leave, not that he voted Nadiya out. The vote ends up being 5-3-1: Five for Nadiya, three for Dale, and one for Baylor–from Josh.

Josh and Baylor

Josh’s vote is interesting, because much as with everyone else on Coyopa, Baylor considers Josh to be her BFF and number 1 ally. When Josh asks Baylor how she’s planning to vote, and she tells him that it doesn’t matter, she just wants to be voting alongside him. I can only assume next week’s episode will fill in the blanks; but it appears that despite throwing away his vote on who appears to be his closest ally, Josh definitely decided to go against Nadiya, and much as Nadiya had her Amazing Race allies do her dirty work, Josh got Baylor to do his, with Baylor casting the needed fifth Nadiya vote . By throwing his vote away, he remains uncommitted to anyone; that is, if anyone even figures out that he cast the rogue vote. While we can only speculate without knowing Josh’s exact reasoning, I would guess that he and Baylor are still planning to work together moving forward.

And for her part, Baylor didn’t come off like a puppet–she was consistently present throughout the episode and definitely seemed aware of the bigger picture. She’s not making the loudest entrance, but she’s definitely on the board, and I’m going to be watching closely to see what she does further on.

Wes and John

I also wouldn’t say that just because Nadiya left that the Coyopa Men are now an unbreakable alliance. Dale, as mentioned earlier, doesn’t seem to know how to bond with his tribe, but finds himself in the men’s alliance by default by virtue of being a man. Beyond that, there is also trouble brewing in bro-paradise, namely between Wes and John R. Wes and his father are both big sports fans who immediately recognize John. Keith thinks that Rocker was an ass then and is probably an ass now. Wes seems a little starstruck and wants to buddy up to fellow Southerner John. He tries to earn John’s trust (?) when he makes a bold move, being the first to question John’s identity and let John know that someone has John Rocker figured out. John doesn’t like that Wes is privy to this information and immediately begins considering how he can get rid of Wes before the info leaks. Fortunately for John, I don’t think that his being a former pro-baseball player is going to be what does him in this game. I think it’s the fact that as much as he claims he’s not a bigot, he probably is one, and that as the deprivation further takes its toll on him, he’ll be less and less able to keep his true colors under wraps. Once his temper comes out, it’s going to be a lot more difficult for him to find security on the tribe. A John Rocker meltdown is exactly what some of the more precariously perched members of Coyopa–such as Val and Dale–could use, so hopefully it comes soon.

Fake Idol

The other thing that could help either Dale or Val would be finding the hidden immunity idol at Coyopa’s camp. Val received the first clue to it on Exile Island, but hasn’t had much of an opportunity to find it. It’s very possible that she never will–perhaps a vital component to getting the idol is the decorative knick-knack tethered to the handle of the well cover, which Dale noticed and procured for himself. The item isn’t an idol–per the rules of Survivor, an idol will always have some sort of accompanying note denoting it as such–but Dale thinks it could be useful, so he’ll hold onto it. Chekov’s gun is cocked and ready to fire, everyone–could we be seeing a Bob Crowley-esque idol fakeout in the works?

FINAL THOUGHTS

There was a lot to cover in the 60-minute-plus-30-minutes-of-commercials premiere, and I am probably going to go back and re-edit this over, but whatever, it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want. As the opening of the season, the premiere episode always has a big job to do in setting the stage and introducing the elements to our story that are going to play out further down the road. We’ve had some big characters introduced, but there is still plenty of time for other people to be in the mix. Rather than a teaser for next week’s episode, we were granted a super-trailer for the rest of the season, and like many a super trailer, it promises a lot of excitement and absolutely no context. For now, all we can do is wait and watch the monkeys. I have a strong feeling about those monkeys.

Survivor: San Juan Del Sur Pre-Show Cast Assessment

San Juan Del Sur

Everyone and their mother is doing it, so I guess I’m doing it too! Survivor: San Juan Del Sur- Blood vs. Water, which will be the 29th season, begins on the 24th, and I’m awaiting with baited breath.

For the uninformed, the structure of this season was clearly influenced by the upswing in quality during the previous two seasons, Blood vs. Water and Cagayan, bringing the show out of what most fans consider to be the Survivor dark age. The 27th season, titled only Blood vs. Water, brought back ten previous castaways competing on one tribe, while the other tribe consisted of their loved ones from home for each; be it a blood relative or significant other. The returning players brought some really excellent new characters into the show, and we got to see plotlines that Survivor would have never been able to have beforehand as a result of the castaways coming in as strangers. The stakes were different for the players when they would arrive at a challenge to see that their partner in the game had been voted out. We saw Candice Cody and Marissa Peterson publicly drag Brad Culpepper through the dirt; brothers Aras and Vytas Baskauskas attempt to work out their differences; and Ciera Eastin vote her own mother out of the game. The season was followed by Cagayan, the first season since One World to feature an entire cast of new players, and the season was met with near-universal praise. So as production headed back to Nicaragua for season 29, they decided to combine the two elements that seemed to be lifting the show from its death bed: a full cast of newbies and the utilization of the Blood vs. Water twist.

Much like the first Blood vs. Water, the pairs are going to be starting the game on opposite tribes, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Gone is Redemption Island (thankfully), and Exile Island is back (yay!) but with some new changes. In San Juan Del Sur, the intended Redemption Island Arena will instead be used as a space where loved ones from opposite tribes will duel against each other to win reward, with the loser being sent to Exile along with another castaway of their winning loved one’s choosing.

Another big difference is that while Blood vs Water had a 20-person cast, San Juan Del Sur only features 18. Sisters So and Doo Kim were pulled from the game at the last minute when a currently unspecified medical condition rendered Doo unable to participate, and therefore took her sister out as well. (Fortunately for So, there is a lot of speculation production has made up the misfortune by putting her on the currently-filming Season 30.) This means that there will be more men than women this season, putting 5 men and 4 women on each of the two tribes–Coyopa in orange and Hunahpu in blue.

And lastly… the cast is all newbies! Which I’ve already said, but whatevs, it’s my blog and I’ll repeat if I want to. The first Blood vs. Water was a chance for us to meet the people who were attached to characters we already knew, giving us a better sense of them both. We got to meet Tyson’s shockingly normal girlfriend; Aras’s brother whom with he shared a rocky relationship; and Laura Morrett’s daughter, a teen mom who Laura had talked about numerous times on Samoa. We also got to see some people who had glimpsed Survivor before, such as Rupert’s wife Laura who he infamously almost ingested during the All-Stars family visit; and Tina Wesson’s daughter Katie, who had appeared during Australia as a dweeby pre-teen with braces. The exciting thing about doing Blood vs. Water with all new players is that we don’t know them yet (at least not as Survivor players, but we’ll get to that), and we don’t know how their relationships will manifest; or how they’ll play with one another. This group of castaways have had the experience of watching Blood vs. Water and it’s clear they’ve all wrestled with how they’ll approach the game–is their goal to keep their pair together, or are they out for the title and willing to take out their own loved one like Ciera did to Laura? Regardless of how they choose to play, one of the eighteen is going to be the 29th Sole Survivor, so let’s meet them and start figuring out who it could be.

 

Jaclyn Schultz & Jon Misch

College Sweethearts
25, Las Vegas, NV- Media Buyer/ 26, Waterford, MI- Financial AdvisorJaclyn and Jon

With pairs on Survivor, it’s hard not to draw parallels to the most famous of two-person team Reality Shows, The Amazing Race. TAR is notorious for casting same-sex teams that share a lot of commonalities so that it is easy to refer to them in shorthand–Season 16’s Jet and Cord were “The Cowboys”; Season 14’s Jaime and Cara were “The Redheads”; Season 10’s Dustin and Kandice were “The Beauty Queens,” and so on. For male-female pairs, however, there is a little more ability to craft individuality for each teammate–it’s pretty self explanatory when “Vanessa and Ralph” pop up on the screen as to which one is Vanessa and which one is Ralph.

I bring all of this up because my first impression of Jaclyn and Jon is that they feel very generic and cut from a cloth that is used on every season of The Amazing Race. You might have a team of married circus clowns; a proud interracial couple; or a pair of dating pro-wrestlers; but no matter what, you will have at least one team that ticks the obligatory box for the “All-American” (read: white) young, pretty, “average” couple. Jaclyn and Jon seem like they’re that pair for San Juan Del Sur. Of course, they have a little backstory–everyone does, after all–and theirs is primarily about their Barbie n’ Ken relationship that blossomed during college at Michigan State University, where Jon played football and Jaclyn won the title of Miss Michigan. The last time college football in Michigan crossed paths with Survivor was in Guatemala and it created one of the funniest storylines we could ever have hoped for when Central Michigan football alum turned NFL quarterback Gary Hogeboom crafted a lie about being Gary Hawkins, landscaper, to avoid the potential target of being a former-pro athlete. This was all rendered moot because fellow castaway Danni Boatwright was a sports radio host and football mega-fan who recognized him instantly. But enough about that, because that’s not really relevant to Jon and Jaclyn. Despite their status as the token pretty, successful, young white couple, not all is perfect in the land of Barbie n’ Ken. Jaclyn has a medical condition that renders her unable to concieve, and the duo would love to use the winnings to help with the pricey process of surrogacy or adoption.

The biggest difference between Survivor and The Amazing Race is that even though they’ve been cast as a pair,” Jaclyn and Jon are going to start this game apart, and I think they’ll stand out much more individually then they do as a team. They both seem to be very charismatic and easy for others to like, as well as having good heads on their shoulders in regards to the game. They seem very confident in their relationship with one another and appear to be long past the “Honeymoon Phase.” This means they’re less concerned with constantly demonstrating their relationship than couples who haven’t been together as long, which works to their advantage, as neither will be upset with the other if they have to vote them out to advance their game. They seem to have a great understanding of the reality that Survivor is an unpredictable game where pre-fabricated strategies are often doomed to failure, and therefore they can’t rely on each other as certain allies.

Given that Jon is funny and personable along with being an accomplished athlete, I think it’s hard to imagine a scenario where he doesn’t make the merge at the very least. I imagine that he’ll be adept at integrating himself into an alliance and that his ability to help his tribe in challenges will keep his name off the chopping block early. Jaclyn is in a very similar spot. She seems to be a little more sarcastic than Jon, but that’s a quality that very often can be endearing, especially when it comes from a pretty blonde woman. Like her boyfriend, I think she has the skills to play socially, and she seems to be in great shape as well. Granted, sometimes women are targeted as physical weak links simply because of the perception that women aren’t physically as capable as the men, but I don’t see Jaclyn being the biggest fish to fry in that regard–like Jon, I think she’s pretty safe for the merge.

In the end, being the “boring” couple sets them in a good position for Survivor, a game where it’s often not the strongest, smartest, or most loveable who succeed–it’s the people who fall in the middle that everyone seems to forget about until it’s too late. They might not be the most invigorating casting choice CBS could make as far as being stand-out personalities, but I think both have the potential to be strong players.

 

Nadiya Anderson & Natalie Anderson

Twin Sisters
Both 28, Edgewater, NJ- Crossfit Trainers

Nadiya and Natalie

Aaaaaaand speaking of The Amazing Race we have our first Race-to-Survivor crossover in the form of the love-them-or-hate-them “Twinnies” from Seasons 21 and 24. Sure, we’ve had castaways turn racers–Boston Rob and Amber did it twice post Survivor: All Stars; Ethan Zohn and Jenna Morasca were regrettably one of the first teams out on The Amazing Race 19; and Keith Tollefson and Whitney Duncan, the miserably annoying couple from South Pacific will make their race debut on the upcoming 25th season.

Being the first racers-turned-castaways isn’t the only claim to fame for the Anderson Twins, however–they are also the first South Asian contestants to ever appear on Survivor, and being a cheerleader for more diverse casting, it makes me thrilled that two of my favorite reality contestants get that honor. Though they were born in America, their family returned to Sri Lanka for most of their childhood, before hopping back stateside in their teens. Given their heritage, they both feel more than at home in the equatorial tropics, and their ability to handle the elements could be one of their biggest advantages going into this game.

However, as for how they’ll do in Survivor, it’s very hard to say. The Amazing Race saw Natalie and Nadiya functioning as a high energy team that combined were a force to be reckoned with, and that seems to be the case for them in their day-to-day lives as well. In most media depictions of identical twins, we’ll see one of two tropes: the twins who are polar opposites; or the twins who are so similar they’re effectively one person. Natalie and Nadiya are very much crafted in the latter mold–they went to the same college; continue to live in the same home; and have the same job.  Their humor, energy, and strength as a duo made them a great team to watch on The Amazing Race, but we in the audience have never really gotten to meet Natalie and Nadiya as individuals–something I’m very much looking forward to seeing. It’s clear that they spend very little time apart from each other, so I would imagine that they also are looking forward to seeing how they’ll function when separated. Unsurprisingly, this is a pair who have no designs on voting each other out–they want to do everything in their power to stick it out together until Day 39.

As stated earlier, the Twins are fierce competitors, and I can see them both excelling in the challenges and out-muscling most of the other women in the game. This is something that could play to their advantage to start; along with fact that they are bubbly girls with big senses of humor and a knack for making friends, as well as a knack for thinking strategically. This was all revealed on The Amazing Race 21, where the girls executed one of the most unprecedented and brilliant strategic maneuvers to ever be pulled off on The Amazing Race. Having used their outgoing personalities to rally an alliance of BFFs with two other teams, they orchestrated a plot to burn through the Double U-Turn (a mechanic that allows two teams to each handicap a team behind them) in order to prevent their trailing rivals, dating couple Abbie and Ryan, from utilizing the U-Turn to save themselves. The twins got first place on that leg; their allies did the dirty work for them; and Abbie and Ryan were sent home. The Amazing Race is played very differently from Survivor, so it’s very impressive to see a team successfully use social strategy to advance themselves.

However, to do the same thing in Survivor means they’ll have hurdles to overcome, the first of which is their recognition. Any castaways who also watch The Amazing Race will likely recognize them, and others might want them out because they feel it’s unfair for them to get a third shot at a million dollars. Also, because the twins have been seen in action as a unit, their tribemates could see them as threats, and seek to get one of them out before they have the opportunity to link up at the merge or a swap.

The other potential hurdle in their way is that the twins are divisive–while many viewers (like myself) found them to be some of TAR’s best casting ever, others hated them with a passion. Some people found their high energy to be irritating rather than endearing; and their strategizing as dirty rather than clever. Beyond the U-Turn Gambit, the Twinnies also ruffled audience feathers when one of the other dropped their money and the twins found it and kept it for themselves. If they have tribemates who recognize them and didn’t like them, that could be enough to send them home.

All in all, I’m thrilled for more Natalie and Nadiya, but they feel impossible to predict right now. It’s tough to tell how they’ll perform as individual contestants and whether or not their tribemates will take to them.

John Rocker & Julie McGee

Dating
39, Atlanta, GA- Former MLB Player/34, Atlanta, GA- Tanning Salon Owner

 John and Julie
But wait, there’s more! Natalie and Nadiya aren’t the only faces that the public may have seen before they stepped foot on the island. Also joining us this season is former MLB pitcher John Rocker, who played on multiple teams between 1993 and 2002. Unfortunately for John–and the rest of the world–he isn’t exactly a recognizable name due to athletic talents. Rather, he’s recognized for being seen pretty unequivocally as one of the hugest douches, well… ever. Period. The most prominent example of how awful of a person John is comes from a 1999 Sports Illustrated interview where he expressed his rather choice opinions about New York City and it’s inhabitants:

“It’s the most hectic, nerve wracking city. Imagine having to take the 7 Train to the ballpark looking like you’re riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing… The biggest thing I don’t like about New York are the foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anyone speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there. How the hell did they get in this country?”

Like, I don’t think I even need to comment further. Though the interview is perhaps the most offensive dribble a human could hope to spew forth, it’s not the only time John has proven what a ~virtuous~ guy he is. He also made headlines when shouted derogatory slurs at gay patrons in a Texas restaurant, and when he referred to black teammate Randall Simon as a “fat monkey.” His most recent endeavor is promoting the sale of T-Shirts that say “Speak English.”

John is not the first former pro-athlete to be on Survivor–obviously, given that I mentioned Gary when talking about Jon–nor is he the first former pro-athlete to be on a Blood vs Water style season, as the original saw One World’s Monica Culpepper compete with her ex-NFL player husband, Brad Culpepper. Brad came to play hard and play obnoxiously and created quite a stir as an early-game villain who learned the hard way that when you put your neck out and try to seize control, someone will be more than happy to lop your head off. To his credit, John doesn’t seem to have many illusions that he’ll do well in the game. Maybe he’s defeated himself before he’s even started. Maybe he’s worried his past in pro sports will put a target on him, as Gary Not-Hogeboom did. Or maybe he’s aware that he’s such a dick nobody will keep him around–least of all his non-white and queer competitors.

When asked in  a pre-show interview who in their pair will do better, John pointed to his girlfriend, Julie, and Julie pointed to herself. Julie seems quite high-maintenance, given her career choice and style of self-presentation. Other castaways were already taking note of her in their pre-show interviews, pointing out how ill-equipped she seemed for the island. Julie seems to be cut from a cloth Survivor never tires of–a prissy, self-proclaimed girly-girly who has never been camping in her life and lists dirt and bugs amongst her worst fears, along with premature aging and body fat.

However, I’ve got my eye on Julie. If she can cope with being out of her element physically, then I firmly believe she has the potential to do some real damage in the game. She comes off as very smart, cutthroat, and willing to be manipulative. She also is in a really great position to fly under the radar, as she might be written off as little more than a +1 for the season’s Token Celebrity Contestant ™, as well as for her ultra-femme demeanor. Of course, these same factors could also be reasons for the tribe to kick her off if they feel she doesn’t bring anything to the table. And of course, given that she’s dating a such a douche, one can only wonder what it says about her own beliefs and personality. Still, from what we’ve seen so far, Julie is coming into the game with a pretty decent hand–it’s now all up to how she plays her cards.

Josh Canfield & Reed Kelly

Dating
32, New York, NY- Performer/31, New York, NY- Aeralist

Josh and Reed

Might as well round out the “you may recognize them from…” contestants with boyfriends Josh Canfield and Reed Kelly, who are both theater performers in New York City. Of the two, Reed has been the one to nab the more “high profile” role, having portrayed the costumed Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark.

The original Blood vs. Water also featured a same-sex couple–One World’s Colton Cumbie and his fiance, the late Caleb Bankston. For most gay people, this was probably not the gay relationship they wanted to see featured, due to the appalling bigotry and bullying Colton displayed during One World. Josh and Reed fall on the other end of the spectrum–as opposed to being Colton-esque Mean Girls, the pair compare themselves to Survivor: Philippines runner-up Lisa Whelchel, as like Lisa, they are both devout Christians. This is almost certain to be an interesting dynamic, as contestants with strong religious beliefs have very often struggled to reconcile them with the cutthroat nature of Survivor, and have overcome those struggles with varying degrees of success. For Josh and Reed’s part, they don’t seem to be worried about reconciling Jesus Christ with Jeff Probst. Despite their Broadway careers putting the stink of stunt casting on them, the boys are avid Survivor fans and are seem firm in their understanding that deception and double-crossing in Survivor is just a part of the game, not a reflection of their everyday lives. Of course, the main intrigue seems to lie in the fact that they’re gay Christians (I know, shockingly enough, the two aren’t mutually exclusive), and it’s something that could be bound to cause tension for both of them if confronted by fellow Christian castaways with more conservative social standings.

If we look past these stigmas, however, we can see two men who have skillsets that could bode really well for them. Being a professional Broadway dancer is not easy by any stretch of the imagination and pretty much ensures that these guys are in ridiculous shape (seriously, check out Reed’s instagram for proof). Reed in particular is an aerialist, which gives him specific experience with some really demanding physical rigors and acrobatics. If either is voted out early, it won’t be because they weren’t able to contribute in challenges.

The biggest obstacle both Josh and Reed face is the stigma surrounding homosexuality in Survivor, and I don’t mean that in a “they could get voted out by homophobes” way. I don’t think that there are many castaways (with the obvious exception of John) who would vote someone out just because they don’t like gay people. Rather, I think that being a gay man can be perceived by other castaways as a dangerous advantage. In the post-Russell Hantz world, players are more aware than ever of the importance that social skill has in the game, and gay men have become the poster children for being a social butterflies. Just look at what happened to Brice last season! Josh and Reed will likely be seen as bigger threats than other social players because of a societal undercurrent that paints gay men as existing in a space between genders. Other castaways could see them as the most likely to make strong inroads with both the men and the women, and the fear of being outfoxed by the Gay Best Friend could lead either Josh or Reed right off the island.

As of right now, I think both Josh and Reed have strong potential to go far, but they definitely feel a little more like an Amazing Race team due to the huge number of similarities they share. This makes it hard to determine which of the two could stick it out longer.

 

Dale Wentworth & Kelley Wentworth

Father & Daughter
55, Ephrata, WA- Farmer/28, Seattle, WA- Marketing Manager

Dale and Kelley

The original Blood vs. Water featured two parent/child pairs, both of which were returning female players and their daughters, so I’m very excited that San Juan Del Sur will have some different parent/child combinations. Much as with twins being portrayed as either opposite or identical, parent/child teams are often portrayed in the same way. While not a “rebel” in the traditional sense, Kelley is very much a rebel in how her adult life has formed when contrasted with her upbringing. While pairs like Reed and Josh or Natalie and Nadiya are still tough to get a read on as individuals, Dale and Kelley are night and day–something that has the potential to help them as a pair.

Dale is the old dog that can’t be taught new tricks, but at least he seems aware of the fact. He’s lived in the small town of Ephrata his entire life and has never moved farther than across the way to another farm. He is the prototypical example of a person who is constantly told “you should try out for Survivor” because of his aptitude as an outdoorsman and his tireless work ethic. The work ethic in particular is something he has been very diligent about imparting on Kelley, who truly seems to love and respect her father, though she is by no means blinded by admiration for him. She believes that while he brings the survival skills, she’s going to be responsible for the social strategy.

Dale agrees with his daughter that the social aspect of the game will be his weakness–and I agree with both of them. “I’m not here to make friends, I came here to make money” Dale says in an interview. “The way you get ahead in life, more than anything, hard work will get you farther than anything else… if you rely on looks, eventually, you don’t have looks. If you rely on friends, eventually you run out of friends. Hard work gets you through almost anything in life.” First of all, running out of friends or losing your looks is by no means a guarantee. Secondly, if you think you are on Survivor to win and not make friends, you probably don’t understand the game very well. It’s nigh impossible to win Survivor without making friends. In fact, I’d say Survivor is generally won by making friends. All the hard work around camp in the world won’t keep a torch lit if the members of the tribe who are making friendships and alliances band together and leave you on the outs. I have no doubts he’ll be the first one to get confrontational with a tribemate who he doesn’t feel is working hard enough. I don’t think Dale is mean or malicious, but he has his view of the world and he’s sticking to it. On the farm it’s a worldview that’s perfectly fine; but on Survivor all it does is compromise the flexibility that is so vital to success.

Dale’s shortcomings, however, put Kelley in a great spot. She grew up on the farm under Dale’s tutelage, learning firsthand the importance of hard work and tough labor; yet lives her adult life as a metropolitan woman in a big city, working with a diverse team of people on a daily basis. She has a much better grasp on what is really greasing the wheels during the game, and will undoubtedly do a much better job than her father when it comes to building good relationships and securing herself a safe spot round after round. She and her father are another of the pairs that is very willing to see Survivor as a game and vote against each other if need be–something I think bodes well for Kelley, because she doesn’t need her father in the game as much as he needs her. I’ve got my eye on the farmer’s daughter–she seems like someone who could succeed in many different Survivor seasons, with or without daddy dearest.

Wes Nale & Keith Nale

Son & Father
23, Shreveport, LA- Firefighter/53, Shreveport, LA- Fire Captain

Wes and KeithSan Juan Del Sur will also debut the first father and son pair for Blood vs Water, also ticking off the “loveable redneck” box for this season. Whereas Dale and Kelley are very different from one another, Wes is very much a chip off the old block. These two are just your “regular” ol’ huntin’, fishin’, outdoorsin’ types of bayou boys, complete with Louisiana accents so heavy you could use them to thicken your gumbo. As has been true for many a country boy in seasons past, their extensive outdoors experience will likely help them make it through the first few rounds of gameplay, simply because they’ll help keep their tribes from dying.

However, as also seen in seasons past, having a lot of survival related experience can easily work against a castaway who doesn’t know how to parlay that knowledge well. Both father and son own up to being extremely competitive, especially with each other, and it is often the most competitive personality types who struggle with acquiescing control and laying low when needed. Wes in particular seems to be a little young n’ dumb–his father is quick to state that Wes thinks he’s got the whole world figured out, but still has a lot to learn. The kid’s a cute guy with a charming accent and a lot of bravado, so it could be very likely that he’ll charm himself into the good graces of some of his tribemates. At the same time, there is also a definite possibility of him being a loose cannon–someone who doesn’t take well to being told what to do or not getting to call the shots. While he’s pretty obviously been cast as an ersatz J.T. Thomas, I think he’s a little too frat-boy to pull off a game like J.T.’s. It’s an inverse of the other father/child pair–whereas I think Kelley stands a better shot than her father; I think Keith is a much more realistic threat than his son.

Keith and his Wes are a lot alike. Keith seems to be high in youthful enthusiasm and low on inhibitions. As exhibited when I discussed Dale, I think many “older” castaways are disadvantaged in this game, and not solely because their age leads to the perception they can’t contribute physically in the same way as the younger tribemates. Older castaways have much more life experience and much more time spent as an adult, living independently, which often makes them less receptive to criticism or being given “orders,” especially from someone who they consider to be lesser than them. Keith certainly could fall due to this, but he seems very self-assured and confident with who he is–something that Wes hasn’t quite figured out yet. Of the castaways who have a significant background in outdoors survival, Keith is the one who seems like he’ll be the best with the social-strategic game as well. If anything, I’d guess his Achilles heel would be his competitiveness, as sometimes that can blind players to what is really happening. It’s a trait he shares with Wes, and that makes the dynamic of their relationship interesting, as I think they might actively want to try and vote each other off–but it’s all in good fun. Just another friendly family competition for the Nale Family.

Val Collins & Jeremy Collins

Married Parents
35, Foxboro, MA- Police Officer/36, Foxboro, MA- Firefighter

Val and Jeremy

The whole “married cop and firefighter” thing feels very Amazing Race (Team 911, anyone?), and for all we know Jeremy could join Wes and Keith in the creation of Firefighters R Us…but it also means we can probably expect them to be pretty fit and compete well in challenges. From what they’ve revealed in interviews, it sounds like they prepared in a way that very few castaways-to-be do. Rather than focusing solely on learning how to make a fire or build a shelter, they’ve been rationing their food so that the sudden lack of nourishment doesn’t hit them as hard. They’ve been practicing for endurance challenges of all kinds, honing their ability to keep their balance or remain in uncomfortable positions for long periods of time. It’s an approach to the game that I immediately appreciated, because it shows that they’re examining the finer details of the game’s reality that viewers often don’t grasp sitting at home.

Because they both work in high-stress public defense jobs, I think it’s fair to assume both of the Collins’ can function well under pressure. Last season, Tony proved that just because someone is frenetic and erratic doesn’t mean they’re doomed to derail, and I think his experience as a police officer and having to trust his instincts helped with that a lot. I could see those same instincts helping Val or Jeremy as well. Val believes that being a police officer has made her good at reading people and showing them empathy when they need it to “talk them off of ledges.” In Cagayan, Trish had to do a lot of this, and her ability to do it so well made her one of the most dangerous players in the game. Val is also aware that she doesn’t exactly look like what most people think of a cop as looking like, and knows this can be a tool to help her remain undetected. Of course, a number of people have already brought up who she does look like–Cirie–and the superficial similarities could lead people to fear Val more than she gives reason for them to.

Jeremy, with all those muscles, stands out more obviously as a potential threat–for him, I think his biggest advantage is running on “Island Time,” in his own words. (Between that statement and his accent, I would guess Jeremy is originally from somewhere in the Caribbean, but it hasn’t been stated officially where. Hopefully John Rocker can deal with him being an immigrant.) Being a little more laid back means that Jeremy will have more opportunity to keep himself out of drama and to observe the game going on around him–again, a recurring theme with this couple seems to be that they’re good with observation.

Val and Jeremy also feel very Amazing Race because of their dynamic as a couple–a textbook example of opposites attract. They can’t even make it through their pre-game interview without a little bickering, but it’s easy to see that it’s all in good spirits, and they seem aware the bickering works for them because it’s how they balance out each others personalities and work to achieve goals as a couple. The tough part about this is that it might mean neither one is functioning to their fullest potential when they’re starting on separate tribes. Furthermore, they both want to win at all costs, even if it means voting out each other. Jeremy himself says that Val winning would still be a “failure” to him because he didn’t win. If that competitiveness blinds him from relying on his wife when he most needs to, it could be fatal.

I’m rooting for this team–they’ve got great personalities and could do really well in this game, but I would also be entirely unsurprised to see them become early targets.

Baylor Wilson & Missy Payne

Daughter & Mother
20, Nashville, TN- Student/47, Dallas, TX- Cheerleading Gym Owner

Baylor and Missy

The third parent/child pair this season are single mom Missy and daughter Baylor, or as I like to call them, “The Gilmore Girls.” Together they’ve weathered the trials of tribulations of Missy pouring her blood, sweat and tears into making her business a success, as well as three failed marriages on Missy’s part. They absolutely seem like the type of mother/daughter who describe themselves as each other’s best friends, and in many ways, they behave more like friends around each other than a parent and child, swapping jibes at each other and giggling all the while. The fact that Baylor has been her mother’s support system for her entire life is  just one of the facets of their relationship that has me very intrigued to see how San Juan Del Sur plays out for them.

Another of the aspects of their relationship that immediately caught me was how they’re viewing the game. Most of the other pairs seem to have either firmly decided they’ll never turn on each other or alternatively that they’re totally at peace with voting their partner out to better their chances. Missy and Baylor don’t seem to be on the same page when it comes to this–Missy won’t ever even consider voting her daughter out, and while Baylor’s ideal plan would involve sticking with her mom the whole way, she is willing to knock Missy out if need be. They’re the only duo on this season that, as of right now, seem to have that dynamic going, and I think that it could easily be one of many factors that would lead to Missy struggling in the game.

Over the last few seasons, a new staple character archetype has emerged in Survivor. No longer are older women simply early boot fodder; rather, there now always appears to be at least one older female contestant who wants to play a logical, cutthroat, strategic game, but finds her emotions complicating things; be it that being cutthroat is so much harder than she anticipated and the emotional toll of hurting people is just too much; or that she is too reactionary and egotistical to really see the game rationally at all. While Kass was a unique twist on this archetype, I can’t help but feel that Missy is going to take us right back to the Lisa/Dawn/Monica character. If history shows us anything, this means Missy could make it to finals–but by the same token, it also means she’s not going to win.  Missy strikes me as someone who is not nearly as confident and self-assured as she thinks she is, and the toll the game will take on her emotionally will, at some point, probably ruin her chances.

Baylor, on the other hand, will probably have a little more fight than her mom. The Rory Gilmore in this relationship, it’s apparent that she’s used to sometimes reversing roles and being the parent for her mother. She’s the youngest player in the cast, but I think she’s tougher than she immediately appears to be. She might come off a little strong, but that same high energy and bubbliness could be a critical tool in helping her flirt her way into the protection of a male tribemate who is oblivious enough to fall for it–Wes comes to mind. Life may not have always been easy for The Gilmore Girls, but being forced to start growing up a little early could be a blessing in disguise, as I believe it will help Baylor succeed in the game, especially if others make the mistake of underestimating her due to her age.

Of course, she could also just annoy everybody and be swiftly kicked to the curb.

Drew Christy & Alec Christy

Brothers
25, Winter Park, FL- Model/22, Winter Park, FL- Student

Drew and Alec

Another more recent Survivor go-to character is The Fabio–after the goofy, loveable surfer seemingly stumbled ass-backwards into a million dollars on Survivor: Nicaragua, it seems like casting has been on a mission to make sure that every season has a floppy-haired beach bum who may or may not be smarter than he appears. With the Christy brothers, we get two for the price of one!  Too bad one would be more than enough and that Drew seems like a total douche.

The boys sound like they grew up fairly privileged, having a lot of leisure time to spend doing beach stuff, partying, and generally not taking anything very seriously. Beyond their love of anything beach related, they’re also both athletes–Drew in football, Alec in lacrosse–and are both very competitive, especially with each other, as brothers are often want to be. In fact, at first glance, they appear all but interchangeable, more like an Amazing Race team than a pair of individuals competing on Survivor.

However, San Juan Del Sur could potentially illustrate how their paths have been slowly and steadily diverting from one another. Drew’s football talents landed him a scholarship Georgia Southern University–which he promptly quit when he was scouted by a modeling agent, and took the offer because it’s way easier to party all the time when you’re a hunky model than a college student. Alec seems to have always been trailing in his brother’s shadow, and I can’t help but suspect that some of the carbon-copied appearance between them results from Alec’s attempts to one-up his older brother. Unlike Drew, Alec is right at the precipice of his college graduation, and he takes a great pride in that, given his historical tendencies of being a slacker. When Alec brings this up, Drew seems visibly peeved.

Drew and Alec’s competitive nature when it comes to one another seems to be driving their strategies going into the game–they’ll work together if it’s mutually beneficial, but they want to compete as individuals, not as a team, and though neither one has said it aloud, I think they actively want to try and vote each other out. As I said, upon first glance, they appear interchangeable, but the more you see them, the more they are differentiated by their big brother/little brother dynamic. Drew comes across as extremely cocky and accustomed to not having to work hard in order to get his way–in his mind, the world is his to grab by the horns, and everyone else is just along for the ride. Alec seems to be emulating his brother in part because he feels like he has to, because he doesn’t know any other way of being, and is only recently trying to figure out what his own strengths and goals really are. I think deep down, Alec is really hoping to prove something about himself and take Drew’s ego down a few notches by beating him out in this game. When the show begins and we get to see them separated from each other, I have a strong suspicion that we’ll see a more sensitive, nuanced part of Alec emerge, and I think that could work in his favor. Drew is not going to win this game, but I’m not at all ready to cross Alec off the list.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaand… Scene! There we have it–our 18 Castaways for Survivor: San Juan Del Sur. Overall, I was hoping for a bunch with a little more diversity and some teams with relationships that were a little more unique, but with the show not even having started yet, it’s far too early to really tell what story this cast is going to tell. Whatever it is, they’re telling it at an extremely unique place in Survivor history, coming off the heels of one of the best received seasons the show has seen in a long time, armed with a twist with the potential to weave storylines like we’ve never seen before on this show.