THE STORY SO FAR
Survivor: San Juan Del Sur had really been blood vs blood, with pairs of loved ones split into two separate tribes on separate trajectories, with the Hunahpu Tribe beating the Coyopa Tribe in six of the first eight challenges. But Hunahpu had a secret to their success–the tribe was burning through their rice while Coyopa was wisely rationing. Some members of the original Coyopa Tribe, like Wes and Alec, learned this firsthand when they joined Huanhpu after a tribe swap, which conveniently occurred just as Hunahpu was on their last handful of rice. Without food, Reed had once again stepped up to barter with Jeff Probst at the immunity challenge, asking if there was any sort of negotiation to be made.
Jeff came through for Hunahpu, but he was not happy with the tribe, chastising them for needing so much extra help. In interest of keeping things fair, Jeff was demanding a big invoice: all of Hunahpu’s tools and the comfort items, including the tarp, that they had won. Much of the tribe was at peace with the exchange, but Jeremy was seriously annoyed, upset to be trading the comfort items for food when another reward challenge could be waiting around the corner. He wasn’t the only one unhappy with the turn of events–Julie, one of Jeremy’s allies in the Singles Alliance, worried about how the loss of the tarp could affect her if the weather turned against them. Sure enough, a storm rolled through, and the wild weather left Julie in tears, contemplating quitting. When the storm had passed, however, Julie was still standing, choosing to remain in the game after a panicked Jeremy implored her not to quit because he needed her vote. It wasn’t only trading the tarp that was creating problems and aggravation for Jeremy. Trading tribemates had left him in a bad spot, as it brought Reed’s boyfriend Josh to Hunahpu, where their extremely close and affectionate relationship left Jeremy wary.
At Hero’s Arena, the end of Blood vs Water was signified as Reed dueled against Baylor for a barbeque reward. An emotional Reed won nourishment for his tribe, sending Baylor to Exile Island. Reed was about send Julie to join Baylor, wanting to give her a chance to show her fortitude, but Natalie spoke up and offered to go instead. She wanted to seize the opportunity to work with Baylor as so to solidify her alliance with her original Hunahpu tribemate and Baylor’s mom, Missy. Meanwhile, having won a food reward as predicted left Jeremy with all the more to huff and puff about.
The food reward ended up being to Hunahpu’s benefit, however, when they won their fifth overall immunity, sending Coyopa to yet another Tribal Council. After the swap, dating couple Jon and Jaclyn teamed up with Baylor and Missy to vote out Kelley, leaving her father Dale alone on the chopping block. Dale wasn’t going out without a fight, though. He took Chekov’s Gun off the shelf and fired it, showing Jon a pendant he had found near the well on Day 1 with the pretense of it being a Hidden Immunity Idol. Worried, Jon told his allies, and Missy suggested splitting the vote in case Dale’s threat was real. It was a plan that would potentially shift the target onto an oblivious Keith, but the target seemed to shift yet again when Dale upped the ante. Dale promised Jon that he would give Jon the idol if someone other than Dale went home, and the two hatched a plan to vote out Missy. Jon considered the deal with Jaclyn, but despite playing hard to avenge his daughter, Dale had his torch snuffed and was sent to join her in Loser’s Lodge, leaving only 12 players remaining in the game. With the merge on the horizon, who will be the next to go?
A CLOSER LOOK
MEANWHILE IN STARS HOLLOW
As the last episode prior to the merge, “Make Some Magic Happen” is the editor’s last chance to nail down the important narrative threads they want the viewer’s attention on as the game shifts. It’s an episode of confirmations, in a lot of ways. And when there are questions galore as to how all of the dynamics of the game will unfold during the merge, I think we’ve confirmed that we know where to look for answers: The Gilmore Girls. By which I mean Baylor and Missy, not the show. Wouldn’t that be something–a season edited specifically to parallel a mid-00s dramadey about unconventional family bonds in a small New England suburb featuring guest appearances by fast paced, witty dialogue and Survivor: Gabon’s “Sugar” Kiper?
In a game about relationships like Survivor, the blood vs water twist adds a whole extra layer of complexity to work through and/or around for the players, but it still comes down to connections and the mother/daughter duo have them in spades. On Hunahpu, Missy aligned with Jeremy on the first day. She comforted Natalie upon Nadiya’s departure, noting that the bond between identical twins rivaled the strength of her own relationship with her child. While Hunahpu had a field day making a political pinata of John, Missy offered a shoulder for Julie to cry on as she watched the love of her life go down in flames. The Hunahpu Single’s Alliance was officially mentioned on air for the first time in “Make Some Magic Happen,” and Missy, though separated via swap, has been shown to be entwined with all three of them. When the swap hit, she bounced Kelley and kept the rest of Old Hunahpu close. Missy made it clear to Dale and the rest of NuCoyopa that she doesn’t just decide rice portions–she decides everything. Nothing happens if it’s not run by Missy first. Jon and Keith come to her with everything. And because Jon runs everything through Missy, it means Jaclyn does too. While Wes has had nothing to do but collect dust since dueling his dad, the intent is clear that Keith plans to pull Wes in at the merge to join up with the two couples he’s been working with to make a third pair.
Baylor hasn’t had the same luck in crafting a beautiful position for herself, but she’s done the next best thing by scrapping through Coyopa’s early-game ladycide, biding her time until she could be swaddled up in her mother’s protective grasp. For the most part, Baylor is a a beneficiary of her relationship to Missy–an inversion of the roles we’ve been told at the outset they usually play (which in and of themselves were inverted, if that’s not too confusing). But there is one important connection Baylor has that Missy doesn’t, and that is to Josh (and Reed by extension; much in the way that Missy’s bonds to Jon and Keith earn her inroads to Jaclyn and Wes). This is no small contribution–Josh’s trust in Baylor means that she and her mother now have access to all three remaining pairs outside of their own. We’ve seen a lot of foreshadowing around the notion of Pairs vs Orphans. We’ve now been shown the characters who are the fulcrum that will determine which side will initially see success.
The other thing to keep in mind about Baylor is that while a critical eye shows Missy’s great gameplay, the narrative shows us Missy the Mom, focused 100% on her daughter’s success. Missy may be the stronger player, but Baylor is the more developed and important character. We hear from her more frequently on a wider variety of issues regarding her place in the game relative to players that aren’t her mom. There has been a lot of foreshadowing across the season as to Baylor’s larger role as a player who is self-interested at the expense of her allies. The narrative has given reason to believe that Baylor can and will betray Josh. Since the tribe swap, that narrative has expanded to include Jaclyn, who is constantly aware that she and Jon may have chosen the “wrong” couple to buddy with because Baylor has already betrayed Jaclyn’s trust before. We’ve also seen how Baylor’s gameplay relates to her personal growth as she vacillates between bratty and gritty; such as when she felt bad for losing the duel because it meant not being able to provide for Coyopa.
With Missy doing the gaming and Baylor doing the storytelling, this duo has truly become one character split in two halves, consistent with the portrayal of the idea that they are intrinsically connected to one another (as introduced in their opening segment). Baylor’s symbotic tear sensing at Tribal Council this episode was just a perfectly timed example to remind us of this fact. Ultimately, I think the most likely way to interpret all of this is that Baylor’s narrative will be the more important one to watch, because it determines the fate of both her and her mother. I’d be willing to even go so far as to say Baylor’s narrative is directly related to the finals, to why Baylor beats or is beaten by Missy on Day 39, or why Baylor’s actions lead to them *both* being beaten by a third finalist.
CAUTION: EXILE ISLAND AHEAD!
That third finalist could very easily be Natalie. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating–losing Nadiya at the first vote was the best thing to happen for her game, and Natalie’s narrative has been consistent and steady ever since. We see her actively playing the game; worming her way into conversations and building crucial bonds and alliances. She shone a giant, angry spotlight on John, forcing his tribe to finally decide if they were willing to continue putting up with him. In the most recent episode, she leaps at the opportunity to be Exiled alone with Baylor, prompting Missy to shower her with thanks and accolades. Natalie makes it clear that she trusts Missy and that because of that, she has to trust Baylor as well. Exile is a great opportunity for them to work on that bond.
Natalie’s prior experience isn’t on the Island–it’s on the Race Course. The Amazing Race isn’t a social-strategy game in the way that Survivor is. In a race, you have to keep your eye on the prize, on the finish line off in the distance, and you have to push yourself to keep running until you get there. Natalie’s fellow musketeers in the Singles Alliance have shown themselves to be easily distracted–Jeremy by whatever is pissing him off at the moment; Julie by the raw emotional pummeling the game provides. With their tarp gone and rain on the Horizion, Natalie sees nothing but opportunity in Exile. She may have called her tribe a hot mess, and it’s because when compared to her, they really are one. If the larger narrative of this season does in fact make a statement about gender and points to a woman winning, then Natalie’s chances only rocket higher.
YOU’RE A MEAN ONE, MR. GRINCH
Last season, I was adamant Tony wouldn’t win. There was no way, I said, that they would set up the winner for such an obvious downfall. They wouldn’t show the ~strategic mastermind~ of Cagayan as being scattered and frantic. They wouldn’t show him getting duped by the Brains into voting out Jefra. They wouldn’t show him scrambling desperately for idols while Trish cleaned up after all of his messes.
I just want to use Tony as my caveat that I could be very wrong about Jeremy, but I’ve been questioning the reliability of his narration all season and this episode really confirmed for me that Jeremy’s perspective on the game can’t be fully trusted by the viewers. I’ve touched on this before in regards to his relationships with female characters; how he picks female allies because he trusts in strong women, but doesn’t trust his own wife to take care of herself. When Val is voted out, it’s Jeremy who sparks the Rocker witch hunt, even though the edit goes out of its way to tell us that John wasn’t responsible and had tried to keep his word. After we get an episode where Alec explains to us why he’s *not* Drew, Jeremy labels him as one-in-the-same after they finally meet. Now we have Jeremy grousing about how his tribe of “idiots” gave away all their stuff for more food when they could have just sucked it up and won some more. Confirmation bias makes Jeremy feel like he was right all along after Hunahpu wins reward–what would the tribe have done if they had kept their goods, refused the rice, and then gone on to lose?
The key scene where Jeremy loses his reliability as a narrator is when he’s grumping about Reed and Josh being so joined at the hip; saying that if Val was still in and if they were on the same tribe, nobody would even think they liked each other, because that’s what you’re “supposed” to do. I don’t buy for a second that Jeremy would be able to dissociate himself from the wife who he sobbed about Exiling on Day 1; the wife who’s elimination cause him to derail so he could attack the parties he held responsible. If Josh and Reed, who everyone knows are a couple, were acting like they weren’t a couple, it would arguably be more suspicious. I think Jeremy is a little jealous that Josh and Reed are continuing their experience of playing Survivor together, while Val has been already ousted and he doesn’t get the chance to do that with his boo. (For what it’s worth, I didn’t get any sense that Jeremy was annoyed by Josh and Reed for homophobic reasons.)
At this point, the narrative has gone out of its way numerous times to showcase that Jeremy becomes hyper-focused on specific things that bother him, to the point that he often loses perspective of the larger picture and finds his view on the game distorted. I think this could be Jeremy’s Achilles heel. Even if the foreshadowing of Baylor flipping pays off and she goes with Jeremy’s side of the numbers come the merge, I don’t know if I buy that Jeremy is going to make it to Day 39. There are simply too many opportunities for him to get tripped up and knocked down.
The supertease at the end of the premiere episode teased a lot of potential happenings in the season–most of which were quotes taken out of context to seem dramatic. Almost everything that has been promised in that supertease has happened by now–except for the parts that heavily imply someone quits this season.
Julie’s story has been, from the very start, a story about her personal growth. When Jeff took away Hunahpu’s stuff at the start of the episode, Julie immediately gets a confessional telling us that she doesn’t anticipate handling the cold well without their tarp. Reed wants to Exile Julie so she can continue to prove how strong she is. When the storm hits, it seems like Julie isn’t very strong at all. But the next morning, she cries it out and makes her choice pretty clear–if she was going to quit, she wouldn’t be sitting on that beach giving the cameraman an interview. She’d have split by now.
In Survivor: Nicaragua, NaOnka Mixon was showed contemplating quitting in a very similar scenario to Julie, but was talked down from the edge. The entire scene felt like a red herring meant to introduce some drama and create an explanation as to why NaOnka would be the decoy boot for the episode. I never expected it to boomerang back half a season later to culminate in NaOnka actually quitting. Like with Tony and Jeremy, I don’t want to say anything for certain, because there has been precedence to a quit being foreshadowed in this fashion before.
But if we look at the narrative, Julie couldn’t be more different from NaOnka. NaOnka was a bullying power-player who caused tension at every turn with her hungry eyes on the prize and the edit never missing an opportunity to let us see the worst of her, such as her farting in a confessional. Julie on the other hand has been handled with great care and sympathy by the editors–I think the story means for us to like her, and that keeps me from fully buying her breakdown as foreshadowing for a later quit. Julie ticks a lot of boxes for the editor’s “acceptable targets”–she’s not outdoorsy, she is pretty (and owes some of her beauty to plastic surgery), and she came into the game attached to someone who was all but promised to be a negative character. If Julie was little more in this story than John Rocker’s bimbo girlfriend who quit midway through because reasons, I can’t imagine the narrative would be this invested in a story of her growth. Again, I don’t want to make certain conclusions–for all I know, she could quit next week. But I think rather than this being the end to Julie’s story, this might be the beginning. This could be her darkest hour in the game, leaving her with nowhere to go but up. I don’t know if its a winner’s story, but it’s an interesting one, and I don’t think it’s anywhere near done.
HIDDEN IMMUNITY IDLE
Maybe I was too bold in my prediction that Keith wasn’t winning last week. When breaking down the narrative, you always want to keep an eye out for stuff that could have been excluded from the episode, but wasn’t. Keith had to get some airtime because he was one of the decoy boots for the episode, but he said a lot with his short little chunk of it. The tribe swap was good for Keith. It lifted him away from Jeremy, forcing Jeremy’s attentions elsewhere; and it dropped him back down in a new tribe where he was in a perfect spot, a lone vote in a sea of couples who had no focus on him. While not intentional, he’s completely thrown everyone off his scent in regards to idols because he convinced everyone else Jeremy has it. Keith has had nothing to do on Coyopa but take a nap and wait to reunite with Wes. It’s giving him some downtime to hopefully start figuring out how Survivor works. If Keith can manage to successfully float in the background like he’s been doing, I could see him landing in the finals by surprise and sweeping the votes simply because folks like him.
The biggest problem with Keith’s story is what was once the biggest problem with Josh’s story–the lack of a loved one. We haven’t heard anything of substance from Wes since he beat Keith in a duel and joined Josh in turning the game on John. Wes’ role in Keith’s story is critical when it comes to determining what Keith’s story actually is. We might be tempted to look for answers in the supertease. Besides the big quit, the one of the other major, attention grabbing moments that has not yet happened is Keith fretting that he’s done “the worst thing in Survivor history.” Does he idol out his own son by mistake? Who knows. I don’t know if the supertease is the best place to be looking for answers period. But Keith is on my radar. Jon, earlier in the season, got a lot of airtime to explain himself when it didn’t really seem to be relevant. Now that the tribes have swapped, Jon is a voice we expect to hear from given his new-found position of power. Keith now takes up the mantle of the person who suspiciously gets screentime when it doesn’t matter to the story, and that isn’t something that’s escaped my notice.
MISCHIGAN MONKEY BUSINESS
Survivor loves its animal imagery, and has a definite precedence of using it to signify specific characters. In another clarifying moment of this episode, the editors all but confirm to us that the howler monkey represents Jon. It precedes a lot of scenes involving him, and now we see that when Jon speaks, the monkeys agree. When Baylor and Missy are introduced at the start of the season, their marooning is a stark contrast for the other pairs when they are immediately swarmed by a troop of howlers. If the monkeys are indeed being used by the editors to represent Jon, does their presence in such a standout establishing scene indicate something about Jon’s relationship to Missy and Baylor? Or is it all incidental?
Also, what was up with the sloth? Who does that represent, I wonder? Obviously not Drew, since he’s gone. Maybe his replacement, Alec the Meat Collector? Maybe it represents the season as a whole, because it’s going to turn everything upside down. Maybe we should just wait.
The merge tribe is #Huyopa. I don’t know if the hashtag is a formal part of the tribe name or not, but I sincerely am hoping it is. #SurvivorMerge #BloodVsWater #DoneWithThisEntry