Some Guy Has Spoken

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

Month: October, 2014

Survivor: San Juan Del Sur Episode 6 Narrative Analysis- “Make Some Magic Happen”

THE STORY SO FAR

*smuff*

*smuff*

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

All seasons now available on Netflix Instant

All seasons now available on Netflix Instant

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!

"Make your way to Production Camp and search through Jeff's identical cargo shorts for your next clue."

“Make your way to Production Camp and search through Jeff’s identical cargo shorts for your next clue.”

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

Somebody woke up on the wrong side of the lean-to

Somebody woke up on the wrong side of the lean-to

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.

QUITS McGEE

R.I.P. Julie McGee  Day 1- Day 15

R.I.P. Julie McGee
“It’s just not worth it! *sob*”

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

Don't mind me, just hanging in the background doing Southern things

Don’t mind me, just hanging in the background doing Southern things

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

Jon's facial hair sure has grown out quickly

Jon’s facial hair sure has grown out quickly

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.

NEXT TIME

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

Survivor: San Juan Del Sur, Episode 5 Narrative Analysis- “Blood is Blood”

THE STORY SO FAR

*smuff*

*smuff*

Billed as “Blood vs Water,” Survivor: San Juan Del Sur was proving more to be a different battle for each of the two tribes–the Hunahpu Tribe was battling starvation, while the Coyopa Tribe was battling constant failure. Things were finally starting to look up for the Coyopa Tribe when Hunahpu’s Drew threw immunity, and got himself voted out as a result… but their moment of glory would be short lived, because Coyopa as it was would shortly cease to exist.

At Hero’s Arena, Jeff Probst had the castways drop their buffs and draw for new tribes, re-distributing the castaways into even tribes with seven members each. Alec, Wes and Josh drew blue and joined Julie, Jeremy, Natalie, and Josh’s boyfriend Reed on Hunahpu. The blue tribe lost Kelley, Jon, and Missy, however, when they got paired up with their respective loved ones–Dale, Jaclyn, and Baylor–on Coyopa. Keith also moved from Hunahpu to Coyopa, but unlike the rest of his tribe, found himself the odd man out, the only player on his tribe without a loved one. Instead of his son as a partner, Keith’s only ally was the hidden immunity idol he’d unearthed earlier on Hunahpu’s beach.

Josh was elated for the chance to play alongside his beloved boyfriend, but their presence as the only pair on Hunahpu was alarming to the tribe’s de facto leader Jeremy and his closest ally, Natalie. Aware that Reed would likely flip to side with Josh and his Coyopa allies Wes and Alec, Jeremy planned to introduce a firefighting tactic called “surround and drown,” with Alec as the target. Though Jeremy felt Alec was just as bad as his ousted brother, Drew, he and Natalie realized they needed Alec to join up with them and Julie as the four “singles”–the players who no longer had partners in the game. Unfortunately, there were more pressing matters than alliance numbers on the tribe’s mind, namely their massively dwindling rice supply, which they had been burning through at record speed (perhaps contributing to their frequent domination).

On Coyopa, it was shown that maybe Missy’s cooking habits may have been to blame for Hunahpu’s rice situation as she prepared a meal for the tribe and quickly butt heads with Dale over how much rice to cook. The tension between the two parents was only elevated when Missy learned that Dale and Baylor had been on opposite alliances in the original Coyopa, and that Dale had written Baylor’s name down more than once.  Kelley was aware that her father’s stubborn attitude was putting both of them in a bad position, as it became clear that even though Keith was the easy target, the more likely scenario was that that two pairs would ultimately team up against the third.

Even with the extra rice in their bellies and a whole new combination of tribemates, Coyopa still couldn’t win immunity. But before we could see their scramble, Hunahpu begged Jeff to throw them a bone and cut a deal to renew their rice rations. Jeff made a promise that he’d come to Camp Hunahpu the next day to see what he could do, but ominously left out the details, leaving his judgment to loom over the tribe.

All that loomed for Coyopa was Tribal Council. Sure enough, Dale’s conflict with the Gilmore Girls meant that America’s Most Perfect Couple (TM), Jon and Jaclyn, would be the most popular kids on the tribe as both parent/child pairs vied for their votes. It was up to them in the end if they’d split the votes between Dale and Kelley in case of an idol; or if they would join the Wentworths in taking out Baylor for her troublemaking ways, such as targeting Dale before flipping on the women earlier in the game. When the votes came in, lone wolf Keith was safe–with three votes, Kelley became the first castaway ousted from the new Coyopa, leaving 13 remaining. Who will be the next to go?

A CLOSER LOOK

MAMA BEARS AND SCORPIONS

Missy vs Dale

Muffin vs Dale

You know its killing the editors that brown bears aren’t native to Nicaragua to give them ominous foreshadowing shots. We all know the “mama bear” trope that Missy invoked in the episode–the creature whose rage is only fully unleashed when her child is threatened. Fortunately, there are plenty of other animals to use–snakes, lizards, spiders, and most importantly, scorpions. If the “Mama Bear” is the go-to metaphor for animal parents that go above and beyond, scorpions should be at the bottom of the list. When the brood hatches, the baby scorplings will swarm atop their mothers back and remain their until they’ve grown strong enough to strike out on their own. This sounds like it would make scorpions good parents, but the problem is that they don’t really get to know their children. If a baby falls off and can’t get back on, the mother very well may devour her own child, completely oblivious to the fact she’s cannibalizing her own flesh and blood.

The image shown as Kelley cast her vote

The image shown as Kelley cast her vote

The tribe swap put all three San Juan Del Sur parents–Keith, Missy, and Dale–on a tribe together, and put the latter two their with their daughters as well. “Blood is Blood” centered around these two pairs in a season that has been all about comparisons and contrast. We see the differences in Missy and Dale not only as parents, but as players, and how there is an intersection between these two roles. Missy the Bear becomes enraged when she perceives her cub as being in danger and comes roaring to her defense. Dale the Scorpion pinches and stings at his tribemates, and his obliviousness leads to his own daughter being devoured in the end. In her scant airtime, Kelley came off as level-headed and perceptive. Pre-show, I was not the only one to erroneously predict her to outlast her father. Had their not been a tribe swap, this would have unquestionably been the case. When she ultimately has her torch snuffed, the editors don’t make it immediately clear why. The intent of the presentation seems to be to portray Kelley as an innocent in the end; a victim of her father’s poor game.

While Kelley was portrayed as doomed by her father’s inflexibility and myopic worldview; Missy didn’t come off smelling like roses just because she went to bat for Baylor. We’ve known all season long that Missy is very maternal, but until this point she’s been surviving with surrogate children on Hunahpu. Reunited with her actual child, Missy is quick to charge at Dale, who not only monitors her rice consumption, but has targeted her daughter in the past. Missy recognizes that it’s a game, and that Dale’s vendetta comes from Baylor casting the first stone, but she doesn’t care. And that, in the end, is the biggest takeaway. We know that Baylor is here for Baylor.  We can now be certain that Missy is here for Baylor as well. She is the mother who would do anything for her child–the mama bear who will let the hunters shoot her dead if it means sparing her cub.  There is no question that Missy is a major cog in Baylor’s larger story this season, and this episode solidified that theirs is a relationship worth paying attention. As to how it will resolve? That’s still up in the air.

FIRE REPRESENTS YOUR ABILITY TO COOK RICE–WHEN YOUR RICE IS GONE, SO ARE YOU

We have nothing

The tribe swap means that the narratives of the original Coyopa and Hunahpu tribes have become somewhat of a moot point, as the specific members on each of them have been shuffled. But interestingly enough, their overall narratives seem to be staying the same. Coyopa is the underdog, but more importantly, Hunahpu is the functional trainwreck. The narrative has told us that their victory streak has been in many ways, a fluke–the numerous challenge wins they’ve claimed have been in spite of their complete internal turmoil.

When the New Hunahpu Tribe arrives at their camp, we don’t look at the numbers, we don’t hear anyone’s thoughts as to who they ended up with, whether or not the swap was good or bad for them, or any of the other associated strategic implications we’d expect a swap to bring about. Instead we hear about rice, and the fact Hunahpu has none. On Coyopa, the rice was being stringently rationed. Hunahpu has burned through theirs but nobody goes out of their way to take the blame. The reasons why the rice is gone are hemmed and hawed around. The episode points to general poor management; it points to Drew the scapegoat; it points to Missy having wasteful habits. For the most part, Hunahpu just shrugs, giving a general “I dunno,” as if the only explanation is that the rice fairy dumped it in the fire.

Coyopa, on the other hand, are not only the underdogs, but now are being framed as the worthy underdogs. The mismanagement of the rice creates almost creates the impression that Hunahpu had been “cheating” at the game. They were wrought with conflict and made no effort to unify, only claiming victory because they greedily wasted their rations and because they attempted to game the system by bartering with Jeff instead of earning their goods fairly. Coyopa did things the “right” way and weren’t rewarded for it. Jeff almost seems to say as much when he agrees to ultimately barter with Hunahpu for more rations–but he tells them it will come at a steep price. Until that price is payed, it’s hard to tell where Hunahpu’s story is headed. Will the resolution be found when they pay the heavy price Jeff asks of them? Or is it longer term–are we seeing that Hunahpu has not played in a worthy way, and that therefore their members are not worthy of being winners?

MR. AND MS. HOT STUFF

The only part of the episode where Jon and Jaclyn are both in frame and not sucking face

The only part of the episode where Jon and Jaclyn are both in frame and not sucking face

Firstly, I should note that it will now officially be Mr. and Mrs. Hot-Stuff in the impending future, as Jon and Jaclyn got engaged (outside of the game) the other day, so congrats to them!

“Blood is Blood” was all about Jon. With his closest and only ally ousted from Hunahpu, he seemed to be in a bad spot, but tribe swaps are notorious for breathing new life into the sick and dying. All the life got sucked out of Kelley’s game and breathed into Jon. Now he’s got so much life to spare he might as well be a cat (but still with no tail, poor guy). Last episode I noted that Jon and Jaclyn’s relationship is extremely different when compared to a lot of the other relationships showcased on this season–it is based on a lot of healthy, mutual respect and it really appears the other castaways recognize that. Thrilled to be reunited, the Michiganers behave like Jon just gave Jaclyn his Letterman Jacket the other day as they can’t keep their hands off of each other, stealing kisses and giggling like schoolchildren. Baylor makes it clear that the tribe isn’t bothered or annoyed by their PDA (if anything, Baylor is jealous of their relationship–if she wants to have as many ex-husbands as her mom she has to get started soon!), which illustrates that the audience shouldn’t take it as annoying either–if anything, we’re meant to find it sweet how much in love they are.

More importantly from a game perspective, however, we see Jon going from having the worst ally in the game (His Royal Majesty Drew, May He Rest In Peace) to the best ally in the game (Jaclyn, whose trust is implicit), as well as the best position as the swing vote between two pairs who don’t like each other. The pieces of the Jon Misch puzzle are starting to come together–he’s in a great spot, he has been supported by the edit as a good, likeable person (even if he’s not the most game savvy), and as I said last week, is the only male whose victory could still mesh with the emerging narrative of female empowerment. Jaclyn’s engagement ring is looking pretty swanky–it’s something that a Survivor winner’s check could certainly help cover.

DREWCHEBAG RISING

Alec Transforms

Last episode, we saw that Alec was different from the older brother who he so direly wanted to usurp; but we also saw shades of their familial resemblance in his unsolicited know-it-all behavior towards Baylor. With Drew gone, Alec feels fulfilled–he finally has beaten out his brother. I incorrectly assumed that would be the end of his storyline. But Alec’s narrative is just beginning. He says he wants to surpass Drew, and with every member of his new tribe seeing him as the “Mini-Drew,” I think Alec will live up to his own expectations, but probably not in the way he expected. He’s going to surpass Drew, alright–and he’s going to do so by taking over his role in the storyline and becoming just as bad, if not worse than his brother.

All four of the orphans–Natalie, Jeremy, Julie, and Alec–ended up on Hunahpu in the aftermath of the switch up. For the former three, sticking together was a no-brainer. But Jeremy is aware that his position is precarious, and in the audience, we’re aware as well. The outcome if Hunahpu has to vote seems pretty obvious–Reed is going to flip to Josh’s side of the numbers and turn on the original Hunahpu members. Natalie points out there is no way they can salvage Reed as a number with Josh around. The orphans know their only option is to unify, and that means they need Alec, whether they like it or not. Hunahpu didn’t have to vote, so we didn’t really see if Jeremy’s tactic of “surround and drown” worked to pull Alec to their side. We heard nothing from Alec on the matter. But we did see Jeremy and Natalie both trying their hardest to get him on board, and Jeremy specifically hopes to use Alec’s ego as the main tool. Jeremy had once said he planned on dragging Drew to the end because nobody would vote for him. If Alec is “exactly like his brother,” does this mean Jeremy may have found his replacement goat? For what it’s worth, I don’t think this is likely–Jeremy strikes me as too much of a distraction and an unreliable narrator to be the winner in an endgame involving a goat like Alec. But I’m throwing the possibility out there regardless.

I don’t feel confident in saying that any of the orphan’s storylines feel complete yet. Between the narratives that each of them have individually and the emphasis on pairs vs singles, I can only assume that this group of characters is going to matter somehow in the big picture. Maybe they’re ultimately our losing alliance, the alliance that gets outnumbered and picked off come the merge. If this happens, however, then there might be room for one or two of them to slip through the cracks when the pairs finally have to turn on one another and the utility of a single vote becomes hot property.

GAY LOVE AS GOD INTENDED IT

This is a clear moral outrage! What's next, Randy Bailey making out with his dead dog!?!?!

Ew, gross! What’s next, Randy Bailey making out with his dead dog!?!?!

I’ve been saying all season that Reed’s lack of presence in Josh’s storyline was bizarre and worrying for Josh’s chances, and sure enough, this was the episode where it kicked off, given that they became the only loved ones paired together on the new Hunahpu. Sadly for Spiderman, he’s still irrelevant in the grand scheme of things–now he’s simply relevant enough to Josh’s story so as to make Josh feel once again like a believable winner possibility. How Reed will impact Josh’s game is pretty obvious–Josh has come from Coyopa with two of his closest allies. Reed was not in a good spot with the original Hunahpu. We don’t need to hear Josh explain that Reed will jump ship. Instead, we hear Josh explain how Reed’s love empowered him to come out to his family; how their love and faith are both so strong that they’re remaining abstinent until marriage. It’s a shame to know that so much of Reed’s flexibility is thusfar going to waste. Reed has no story, and I think most savvy viewers have ruled him out as a potential winner a while ago. But now Reed at the very least is a principal idea in Josh’s story, which is important for Josh. Mary-Jane was the kingpin of Coyopa. Now he might have the best seat in the entire game.

PUT A NALE IN THEIR COFFIN

Keith fishingI feel like every week I have to go out of my way to talk about Keith and Wes–I think it’s pretty clear that their narrative is not one of the central ones and that neither one is winning this game. Wes is simply too irrelevant of a character, only cropping up when he absolutely needs to. Keith is a very central character, and as of right now, is one in a great spot–and I believe we’ve got a lot to see out of him, especially as he is the only player in the game with an idol. But Keith’s larger narrative seems to be one of him finding himself in great spots but being too out of his league as a Survivor player to know how to make use of his positions. I think Keith is adorable–the more weight he loses, the bigger his eyes get and the more and more he looks like a cartoon walrus. I think he’s going to bumble his way pretty far in this season, and give us a lot of entertainment along the way. I don’t really think that he can win. But it will be fun to see him interact with the likes of Kass on the next All Stars.

More imminently, it will be fun to see the impact his idol has on the game. He’s not a target on Coyopa, but it will be interesting to see if his real deal idol crops up at all when Dale tries to save himself with a fake one.

NEXT TIME

Hunahpu goes to market with Jeff for what may be the last time ever. What will they have to trade for more rice? Their shelter? A member of the tribe? Julie’s lip plumpers? Reed’s screentime? Let’s just hope they don’t lose Alec. He’s basically a badass. Count on it.

Survivor: San Juan Del Sur Episode 4 Narrative Analysis- “We’re a Hot Mess”

THE STORY SO FAR

*smuff*

*smuff*

The “battle” in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua, has been more of a ritual slaughter each week, with the Hunahpu Tribe beating out the Coyopa Tribe in almost every single challenge. The lone exception was when Wes beat out his father Keith in Hero’s Arena, sending Keith to Exile Island as a consequence–where he was able to get a clue to the location of an idol hidden on Hunahpu’s beach. Outside of that, Coyopa was being decimated, and after a third straight Immunity Challenge loss, Baylor seemed to be the next target of Coyopa’s dominant all-male alliance. However, after a lot of provocation, social butterfly Josh flapped his wings and made a hurricane in China, blowing John out of the game and shattering the men’s alliance. Left out of the plot to blindside idol-carrier John, tribe elder Dale knew his age and poor social game put him in the worst spot, leaving him exposed to the vote if Coyopa couldn’t finally score an immunity win.

Things didn’t get any better at the next Hero’s Arena duel, where Jaclyn lost a close duel to her boyfriend, Jon, and was sent to Exile while Hunahpu walked off with blankets, pillows, and the all-important tarp. But despite their bounty, professional supermodel/shark hunter/ladykiller/Demi-God Drew was unsatisfied. After Natalie found Hunahpu’s missing flint that they had traded their fishing gear to replace, Drew tried to make a return with Jeff Probst–much to the embarrassment of his tribe. It wasn’t the first time Drew had caused eyes to roll on Hunahpu, as nearly everyone had something bad to say about his ego, laziness, and delusions of grandeur. His only friend was Jon, who sent him with Jaclyn to Exile Island. Alone with the former Miss Michigan, playboy Drew nobly decided against trying to seduce his buddy’s girlfriend, instead revealing to her that in addition to being royalty in seven countries; having superpowers; and being the most friended person in the history of MySpace; he is also a Machiavellian mastermind. His grand plan was to throw the next immunity challenge in order to weed out some of the dangerous “snakes” on Hunahpu.

Despite Drew’s absence, Camp Hunahpu was far from quiet. For starters, John’s girlfriend Julie was left to handle her unpopular boyfriend’s ouster–her entire tribe had applauded when he was voted out! Julie did her best to dissociate herself from John in order to move on. She decided to play her own game, as did Keith, who used his clues from Exile Island to try and find the Hidden Immunity Idol. Unable to locate it, he deduced that Jeremy must have already found it, and told the other members of the tribe as such. Reed immediately ratted Keith out to Jeremy, who began working to take Keith out, furious that their firefighter’s bond had been broken.

Come time for Immunity, Drew’s little brother Alec proved to be right with his prediction it would finally be Coyopa’s day when Drew followed his master plan to throw the Immunity Challenge. Forced to attend their very first Tribal Council, chaos ensued on Hunahpu. Jon tried to target Julie; arguing that in addition to being a physical weak link, Julie also no longer had a loved one, making her dangerous to players who did. When he tried to get Drew in on it, Drew wouldn’t even hear his best buddy out–the smartest player ever instead cut Jon off to demand that everyone target the person who “obviously” was the biggest threat in the game: Kelley. Citing her as an observant superfan, Drew believed Kelley was conspiring to unite the women against him, seeming to miss the fact that there were only four women to five men.

Drew also blew off Jeremy, who was still trying to target Keith, and told Natalie about his fears of a women’s alliance, seeming to forget that Natalie is a woman. He badmouthed Kelley to the others when she was standing right behind him; and tried to railroad Missy into voting his way, prompting Jon to call him an asshole. Jeremy’s Angel’s all wanted Drew out, but Jeremy was still worried about Keith. At an explosive Tribal Council, #chaos ensued as the tribe bickered, and amongst the confusion, four different castaways received votes, including Kelley, Keith, and Julie. Despite his vocal distrust of Keith, however, Jeremy ultimately joined the four women in bowling down Kingpin Drew. Now 14 are left–who will be voted out next?

A CLOSER LOOK

A TALE OF TWO BROTHERS

King Drewche Surveys His Land

His Majesty surveys his kingdom; thinks about how good he’ll look with a beard at the end of the game

Rivalry between brothers was a prominent storyline in Blood vs Water as estranged brothers Aras and Vytas Baskauskas attempted to mend their relationship. Production may have been angling to get a similar storyline with the Christy brothers, but these two were never going to quite reach Romulus and Remus level of intrigue or complexity. Regardless, I think this episode highlighted that for San Juan Del Sur, every pair has a story, no matter how big or small. Drew and Alec’s may not have been one that was going to matter a lot to the season or pan to be much more than what it was, but it took up a lion’s share of the narrative this episode and so it really can’t not be discussed.

We really didn’t know too much about Drew and Alec as a pair until this episode–and this was really the last chance for us to learn anything, because by the end of it, half of the pair would be gone. (On that note, let us have a moment of silence for His Royal Majesty, King Drewche. May his legend never die.) We knew from their introductory segment–the same one that all the pairs got–that they had a sibling rivalry in the way that pretty much all siblings tend to have and that little bro Alec wanted to finally one-up his older brother.

We’ve gotten to know Drew pretty well during the season so far–his storyline of being a self-absorbed himbo that nobody likes started with all of the subtlety of a bomb going off in the very first episode. But despite Coyopa being the struggling tribe who has had to vote multiple times (and therefore being the tribe whose internal dynamics the editors had to focus on), we didn’t really get to know a lot about Alec. Though Coyopa didn’t have a lot to do this episode because they got the night off for once, we did get a little insight into Alec; and I think it was largely for the purposes of comparing him to his brother.

Without Drew, it appears that Alec has found an ersatz sibling in Baylor (giving her yet another highlighted relationship to another castaway), as she described him as being like a little brother to her. Baylor feels like Alec bosses her around sometimes, but Alec sees it differently. “Baylor makes it seem like everything in her life has been handed to her… just like it was for Drew,” he says. We learn from Alec that he’s always been the sibling who his parents pushed–they didn’t even bother with Drew because they knew it wouldn’t amount to anything. With some of the loved one pairs, we hear nothing but glowing praise from one about the other. Alec instead corroborates everything that both Drew’s tribemates and the edit itself tells us about Drew–he’s spoiled, he’s entitled, and everybody knows it.

We see Drew’s entitlement firsthand as the episode unfolds. He unilaterally makes the decision to throw the challenge after being Exiled from the tribe; having no idea of the current temperature of the group. Once it’s been set in stone that Hunahpu must vote, Drew bulldozes over everyone to try and get his way and see Kelley sent packing. Jeremy has valid reason to be concerned about Keith when he learns Keith publicly threw him under the bus, but when Drew is unwilling to listen to Jeremy, it tells Jeremy that Drew is completely unconcerned with Jeremy’s long term survival. Why should Jeremy return the favor for Drew? Even when it comes to the one person on the tribe who doesn’t hate Drew–Jon–Drew refuses to listen, again, in spite of Jon’s extremely valid reasoning. In the last Blood vs Water, the singles teamed up to pick off the pairs come the merge. Voting out Julie would have fulfilled both Jon’s desires to reduce the number of single players in the game and would have assuaged Drew’s concerns about a potential female voting bloc, but he can’t even be bothered to entertain the suggestion. At one point, Jon literally begs Drew to “listen to him,” and because he’s not listening, Drew doesn’t even hear. Drew is so spoiled that he doesn’t even feel that he owes it to anyone else to listen to them; and is so egotistical that he believes they’ll all fall under his command in spite of it.

Shoutout to the costume department this season. Seriously, that rave rosary is ridiculous.

Shout out to the costume department this season. Seriously, that rave rosary is ridiculous.

When Baylor says that Alec likes to boss her around, we immediately see Alec defend himself in a confessional. Alec hasn’t gotten the free ride that Drew has. Alec has had to work for what he wants, and even if it’s a little presumptuous of him to take on the role of Baylor’s personal drill sergeant, we can see his intentions are good, and that he’s aware of how he comes off. He apologizes to Baylor for acting like a “dick” and assures her that it’s nothing personal. She seems to take it in stride. Alec believes having to be the brother who worked hard in the footsteps of the brother who always got his way has made him a stronger person, and its this mentality that is used to color Coyopa for this episode, leading up to their eventual Immunity win. Alec wants to impart the lesson of hard work on the tribe as a whole because he believes it will unite them, and that “David can beat Goliath.”

At the challenge, there is a focus on Jeff’s glowing commentary towards Alec’s performance, citing him as making up critical ground for Coyopa. It’s Alec who gets the last laugh when they win, with his “I knew it was our day!” being subtitled, drawing focus towards it. With so little happening at Coyopa, and with Alec’s monster of an older brother being the eventual boot, Alec and Coyopa’s edit become intertwined for the episode–his story is the tribe’s story. For once, Drew isn’t going to get his way and Alec’s hard work will pay off. It’s a clever way to paint Hunahpu’s first loss and Coyopa’s first win to tie it in with the larger theme of the season, but ultimately, I think this is where Alec’s story starts and ends. His baggage with his brother has been tied up neatly and sent away. Now is just a matter of time until the end of Alec’s game, whatever the circumstances may be that bring it about.

GIRL POWER

Natalie and Missy

Just lyin’ here, in the hammock

The most recent episode continued to reinforce what I believe the larger narrative concerning gender will be in San Juan Del Sur. The notion of women needing male protectors that was introduced in the first episode continues to be debunked, especially as the women of Hunahpu prove once and for all that they are much more focused and organized in their approach to the game than their scatterbrained male tribemates. Some viewers may not have been impressed with Natalie’s unprovoked tirade against John Rocker in the previous episode, but tonight we saw just how solidly integrated with her tribe Natalie actually is, and what a strong position she holds. She’s always around when strategy is being discussed. Both Missy and Jeremy consider her to be their closest ally. Natalie wants to capitalize on the men’s dysfunction to take Drew out and pulls it off. I think Natalie is destined to go pretty deep in the game. I think that her status as a stunt casting choice would probably lead to her getting airtime regardless. But the airtime she gets shows us a well-rounded picture of Natalie. We’re seeing both sides of the woman who scrapped so far on The Amazing Race, both the outspoken side and the strategic, game-playing side. Natalie is a main character in this story, and I’m not ready to cross her off the contender list.

Of course, it takes more than just one vote to send someone home. Missy is the first one to bring up Drew as an option for the vote, and Kelley finally got some facetime to give us her perspective on the game. It only takes a few confessionals from her to pick up that she’s definitely smart, and that as wrong as Drew might be in some respects, he might actually have had some valid points about Kelley (though I can’t help but think part of his grudge against her is based on the fact that she probably didn’t respond to his “charms). She is smart, she is observant, and she has never missed an episode of Survivor. Kelley stood out pre-show as someone who definitely seems to understand the game; and part of that understanding means realizing that high-control and winning are not the same thing. She’s in a perfect position to slip by under the radar while people gun after more obvious threats while still being smart and subtle enough to make a positive impression on a jury. But Kelley’s narrative is just starting. There is definitely precedent for female winners having low-key starts, so the question is watching where she goes from here.

Kelley and Julie

Kelley and Julie, deep in the throes of conversation about how hunky Drew is

The best part about the women’s alliance, however, is that until Drew went on his witch hunt to destroy it, it didn’t actually exist. By fighting so hard to stop it, he created a window for it to be formed. While Natalie, Missy and Kelley were already aligned with one another and Jeremy; Julie, the tribe’s fourth woman, wasn’t privy to being a member of this inner circle. But with Keith on the outs after his own sloppy gameplay (which I’ll cover later), an opening was left in the majority alliance and Julie, freed from the anchor that is John Rocker, might be in a position to fill that spot for the long haul. As I’ve said before, Julie is one of the castaways I’m watching closely as a potential winner, and I think her personal narrative is continuing to unfold as I’d expect it to if she won. Come time to play the game for herself, she was able to position herself on the right side of the vote and bump herself up in the group hierarchy. If she can continue to demonstrate her growth, she could end up surprising everyone.

MR. AND MS. AMERICAN DREAM

Jon and Jaclyn kiss

I now pronounced you monkey and wife

In all the duels thusfar, the outcome has left the participants feeling emotional. John was angry to have lost to Julie; Keith was proud to have been beaten by his son; Jeremy was crushed to be damning his wife. But Jon and Jaclyn are fine. Jon tells Jeff he’s not worried, and Jeff seems surprised, even going so far as to ask Jaclyn if Jon’s lack of concern is insulting to her. Jaclyn becomes the first contestant to openly articulate the theme of women not needing male protectors when she tells Jeff that she’d be insulted if Jon were worried, because it would be a discredit to her strength. Pre-show, I got the sense that their relationship was a very solid and healthy one; long past the honeymoon phase and based on a strong foundation of mutual respect. The fallout of their duel finally gave their relationship some focus on air and only bolstered that perception.

But this scene was about a lot more than finally establishing Jaclyn beyond her snarky streak that comes to life at Tribal Council. This scene also did a lot to continue to enhance the (very strange) narrative that Jon has been building across the season. If we look at Jeremy’s portrayal over the episodes, we see someone who is nominally in favor of strong women–he builds his alliance with them in the game, and built his life with one at home. But Jeremy was constantly concerned with “protecting” his strong wife, Val. He offers to protect Julie for John. Though Jeremy called out John Rocker for being threatened by strong women, not all of Jeremy’s actions line up with his words. John himself was obviously not the most respectful of women, considering he was embarrassed to lose to a woman. During Jon and Jaclyn’s duel, Dale taunts Jon by saying he throws like a girl, earning a disappointed glare from his daughter. Drew feared a women’s alliance targeting him because he was an “obvious” threat. And while the misgendering comments that Nadiya made towards Josh were certainly problematic for a number of reasons, Josh has informed us that being considered a “girl” is an insult to him.

If the theme of this season is the emergence of women as independent, powerful individuals with their own agency who don’t need male protection; then Jon might be the only man left who could be a possible winner within that narrative structure. He’s been the only man who has been actively shown as being genuinely respectful towards women as true equals. He doesn’t see Jaclyn as “his girl,” as Drew terms it, making it seem like she is his property, his responsibility, or little more than an extension of him. Jon is mindful of treating the women as equal competitors, and I think this will only be to his long-term benefit.

NOT A GIRL; NOT YET A WOMAN

Baylor does the dishes

Well, since the theme of this entire analysis seems to have become very focused on the role of women in this season, we might as well check in with the last of them, the one who I’ve already predicted will be amongst the most important–Baylor. Coyopa’s screentime is limited this week, but we still get to hear from the game’s youngest contestant. Josh, the strategic narrator of Coyopa/the game so far is notably absent. In her interactions with Alec, we get reinforcement on the storyline that Baylor already has being nurtured in regards to her personal growth and development as a player and a person during the game. Alec calls out Baylor for being spoiled and a bit of a brat–something that her edit thusfar hasn’t exactly shied away from. Baylor tells us she’s a little annoyed by Alec, but she’s biting her tongue. Regardless of how successful his tactics are or why he’s doing it, we can see Alec, and by extension, the entirety of the game, are pushing Baylor to go beyond what she’s accustomed to. Over time, I expect the bratty side to Baylor begin to really melt away as a competent and confident player emerges.

FIREFIGHTERS-R-US

Jeremy and Keith argue at Tribal

Sub-alliance? Like the one sitting in between us? Hogwash!

The strength of the women isn’t as effectively showcased if we’re not shown the flailing of the men by comparison. It’s a key point in the episode’s narrative–Natalie explicitly says that the women can strike by capitalizing on the men’s dysfunction. Firstly, the dysfunction of Hunahupu’s men is interesting simply from a human perspective; as our culture frequently depicts men as “drama free” while women are unable to work together because they hate each other. People who truly think guys are a free pass from drama, bickering, infighting, backstabbing, gossiping and pettiness are people I can only presume haven’t actually interacted with that many larger groups of men.

Keith has been established as someone who needs time to figure things out–he’s always a few steps behind everyone else, as evidenced by his unimpressed reaction to Jeremy’s ~crazy~ concept of a “sub-alliance” (whatever that is, right guys?!). The events in this episode really highlighted Keith’s inability to think ahead as his major roadblock in this game–as I’ve stated before, I think he’s proven very adept at being able to mesh well with others. Keith has dug himself into a huge hole, no question, and I don’t blame Jeremy for being suspicious of him. But Jeremy has demonstrated himself to be pretty myopic as well. While we know he is thinking about the long-term, he gets sidetracked easily by becoming hyper-focused on specific targets in front of him. When Val goes, his energy becomes entirely focused on enacting retribution against John. When Keith spreads rumors of him having an idol, all of his focus becomes directed towards Keith. Jeremy has been depicted as Hunahpu’s de facto leader up until this point, but in their very first Tribal Council, it’s his allies who get their way, not Jeremy.

Keith and Jeremy’s relationship to one another has been deliberately highlighted at multiple points in the season. It’s uncommon to have scenes of the tribe that wins Immunity following the Immunity Challenge, but the first episode had one for Hunahpu specifically to show Jeremy going out of his way to build inroads with Keith. Their bond as firefighters is all but circled in red for us to see, in a manner very reminiscent of Cagayan’s Sarah and Tony’s shared career as police officers. Things did not work out for Cops-R-Us. I think it’s a safe prediction to say the same will be true for these firefighters. The question is a matter of who will fire-axe the other one first. Regardless, I don’t think either one will win–the larger story for them both could very well be that critical information goes over both their heads, and that their games will go down in flames as a result.

AREN’T THERE FOURTEEN PEOPLE LEFT?

Coyopa Wins Immunity

Let’s check in with the rest of the cast, shall we?

Wes: His most important content so far has revolved around the more visible half of his pairing in his father. Wes has very little story and what he does have isn’t moving very quickly. I think that whatever happens for him will be tied to his father’s fate.

Josh and Reed: With Jaclyn and Jon’s duel and Drew’s elimination, the Broadway Boyfriends are now the only pair to not have had their relationship with one another brought to light in any capacity, which continues to be a red flag. It’s Reed who makes the decision to rat Keith out to Jeremy, and a secret scene explains to us his reasoning, but none of it makes the air.  Josh, meanwhile, joins his boyfriend in the ranks of irrelevant contestants during this episode. It’s some much needed cooldown given that he’s pulled overtime as the narrator in the first three episodes. I expect Josh’s story to resume next week, but if Reed’s doesn’t start soon, things won’t be looking good for Spiderman or Mary-Jane.

Dale: Dale gets some perfunctory screentime as the “if we lose I’m toast!” boot option, but they don’t lose, so he’s not toast. I have a feeling that he’ll get some new life in the next episode, but we’ll have to wait and see.

THE AWARD FOR ANIMAL IMAGERY GOES TO…

Possum

Possums are all the rage, especially when they come with babies. A metaphor for a parent-child pair, perhaps?

NEXT TIME

Drop your buffs, losers, we’re going shopping. For new tribes. The press release tells us that one castaway will find themselves as lone outsider on a tribe with three pairs. I think we’re going to have a lot of fun.

Survivor: San Juan Del Sur Episodes 2 & 3- Narrative Analysis

So I apologize for not getting a recap up last week! In the spirit of trying things differently, I’m going to just run with it and try to touch on both this week. I’ve also decided that I tend to get bogged down in writing really, really long, involved recaps because there is *so* much that I want to talk about, so I’m going to try and thin it out across the course of the season by doing multiple entries per week (so long as I find the time, eek!) The biggest issue I realized I had is that I love watching Survivor from both an analytical perspective and a sociological perspective, and that while they certainly intersect at times, I can’t always talk about them simultaneously *and* succinctly. Therefore, I’ll be doing the Analycaps; where we look at the narrative and characters (and San Juan Del Sur is only three episodes in and already has built quite a narrative); and a yet to be named analysis more heavily focused on the sociological perspective–for this week it will be a discussion of the socialization and portrayals of young women on the show and a question of race, Rocker, and where real life stops and the game begins.

THE STORY SO FAR

Hero's Arena

The battle of blood vs. water is on in Nicaragua! Nine pairs of castaways, each with a preexisting relationship as loved ones, found their respective duos split down the middle as they were divided into the Coyopa and Hunahpu Tribes and found themselves all facing a new twist. Every three days, loved ones from each tribe would compete head to head in duels  at Hero’s Arena to win reward for their tribe, but would risk being banished to Exile Island if they lost. In addition, the winning castaway would choose an additional member from their own tribe to join their loved one on Exile, where one of the the two would receive a clue to the whereabouts of a hidden immunity idol back at their camp.

Jeremy Collins, a firefighter, won the first duel for Hunahpu on the first day of the game, Exiling his wife, Val Collins, by default, separating her from the Coyopa Tribe at a critical early stage in the game. To join her, he sent Keith Nalewith hopes Keith could help protect Val on Exile. Jeremy’s victory would be the start of a winning streak for the Hunahpu Tribe, seeing them win the first four challenges consecutively. Jeremy’s victory at the price of Val’s potential safety resonated with his sympathetic tribemates, and Jeremy decided to use his charm and charisma to run with the sympathy, establishing an alliance with three female tribemates–Kelley Wentworth, Missy Payne, and Natalie Anderson the last of which scored a 4th place finish with her twin sister and Coyopa Tribe counterpart Nadiya Anderson on The Amazing Race 21. The twins’ past came back to haunt Nadiya after Coyopa lost their first immunity challenge and the tribe split down gender lines, with the men–Kelley’s dad Dale Wentworth, Keith’s son Wes Nale, Alec Christy, and controversial former MLB player John Rocker–targeting Nadiya for the cutthroat competitiveness she exhibited on The Amazing Race. Josh Canfield, Coyopa’s fifth male member, found himself as the swing vote because everyone seemed to trust him, especially Missy’s daughter Baylor Wilson,who broke ranks with the women when she pledged her loyalty to Josh. Baylor became the fifth vote to oust Nadiya; and Josh cast a vote against supposed ally Baylor to keep heat off their alliance.

The winning streak continued for Hunahpu when an impulsive John Rocker threw himself into a duel against his longtime girlfriend Julie McGee, only to have Julie trounce John in a duel favoring balance and finesse over brute force. The upset wasn’t the only shocker in the Arena, though-Josh’s boyfriend, Reed Kelly, attempted to barter the tribe’s beans for the flint that well meaning goofball Jon Misch had lost, a deal which host Jeff Probst was none to happy with. Julie selected Jeremy to be Exiled along with John, and when Jeremy was the lucky castaway to draw the urn with a clue, he shared the info with John  in spite of his familiarity with John’s history of public, bigoted statements. In addition, Jeremy proposed a deal–if John kept Val safe on Coyopa, Jeremy would do the same on Hunahpu. It was a deal Jeremy was banking on when Coyopa again lost immunity after in emotional challenge, as Val had failed to find the idol and had failed to create an alliance outside of Jon’s girlfriend Jaclyn Schultz. In a daring bluff to save herself and her only ally, Val spread rumors that she possessed two hidden immunity idols, prompting the men to develop a vote-splitting plan that would put votes on Val and Baylor. In a lame attempt to honor his deal with Jeremy, John told Val in private about the split vote and suggested she play her idol, while eventually finding the idol Val claimed to have thanks to the clue Jeremy had shared. Josh was made wary of John and Val’s sudden scrambling together, and at Tribal Coucil, Val and Jaclyn went on the offensive against Baylor, tipping Josh off to the fact that they were going to vote for Baylor and take advantage of the vote split to send her home. To protect his closest ally, Josh switched his vote from Baylor to Val, and Val was voted out.

Hunahpu’s streak of victories only meant they had all the time in the world for conflict to brew, and most of it was centered around Alec’s big brother, Drew Christy, who annoyed his tribemates with his ego, posturing, and lack of work ethic. Keith was sent to Exile Island for a second time when Coyopa won their first challenge thanks to Wes at Hero’s Arena, where he bonded with Wes’s ally and friend Josh, and both recieved their first clues to the idol. But Coyopa’s first victory was soured by Jeremy’s reaction to seeing his wife gone, prompting John to expose the deal he had made with Val–much to the distaste of Coyopa’s nexus, Josh. Furious with John for betraying their pact, Jeremy revealed the true nature of John’s past to his Hunahpu Tribe, much to the dismay of Julie, who found herself isolated and in a bad spot because of John’s poor gameplay. Natalie in particular took umbrage with John’s racism and homophobia, and called him out after Hunahpu’s third immunity win, telling the Coyopa Tribe to grow some balls and vote out the racist Rocker, who responded when provoked with violent threats. Forced to vote yet again, Baylor, realizing she was not safe even with Josh, tried to steer the vote in John’s direction, but was unable to find success until Josh became fed up with John’s short fuse and haphazard gameplay. With an idol in pocket, a shocked John found himself voted out, leaving Coyopa down by three and in desperate need of a comeback.

A CLOSER LOOK

Parallel Dimensions

Josh and Baylor 2

A less broad theme that is often seen in Survivor is one where multiple castaways on opposing tribes are implicitly compared and contrasted by the edit. People inhabit similar roles on opposite tribes; sometimes they mirror each other to the point that they’re almost clones, but other times the contrasts are used to effectively show two different outcomes of very similar games. Hunahpu is comparatively underdeveloped in terms of where specifically its members stand in the tribe–without ever having to test alliance lines in a vote, we have no way of assessing where people seem to stand and where they really stand. But if we can make any assumptions about Hunahpu, it’s that Jeremy, possibly the tribe’s most developed character, is the head of this dragon. The question that remains to be answered is who Jeremy’s parallel is on Coyopa.

The most obvious answer is Josh, as we are shown both him and Jeremy being the go-to-guy for a large number of people on their tribe. Both of them find their tribemates coming to them for their cues. Both of them might also not be as safe as they think. On Coyopa, Baylor has expressed that she finds Josh “sketchy” and no longer is willing to trust in him to get her through each vote. She’s now playing her own game, and as evidenced by the scene where she confronts Alec and Wes about their positions in the men’s alliance and attempts to form a new alliance between the three of them and outsider Jaclyn–Josh is not included. Josh has put his trust in Baylor, and it could be bad for him.

On Hunahpu, Jeremy seems to initially bolster his alliance with Keith, who he feels indebted to after Exiling him for the first 2 days so his wife would be protected. However, when on Exile a second time, Keith tells us Jeremy is the only thing standing in the way of his idol. This is intercut with a shot of Keith chopping a branch with a machete. Jeremy might have a core four, but his tribe is nine people, and like Josh, he doesn’t seem to realize that Keith might have it out for him.

There is another possibility to consider, however, which is Jeremy’s perception of the game informing who he believes his own parallel to be–John Rocker. When Val is gone, Jeremy publicly fingers John as Coyopa’s ringleader and blames him for Val’s departure. He makes a case to the women of Coyopa to take him out and stop letting John run the “strong women” out of the game. When he says this, Jeremy (most likely unintentionally) makes an implicit statement about his own leadership versus John’s–John tries to take out the strong women because he fears them; Jeremy works with the strong women because he respects them. The edit was very deliberate in telling us that Jeremy specifically sought out female allies. They also showed his deep love for Val and the idea that part of why he loves her is her strength. He then goes on to expose John’s racism and homophobia to his tribe, further reinforcing the idea that Jeremy sees himself as a righteous leader and John as an evil one. The problem is that John wasn’t Coyopa’s leader; and that John is gone. Jeremy may have set himself up for trouble when he told Coyopa to mix it up and take out the leader, as he might give people on his own tribe the same exact idea.

Jeremy’s actual parallel may be Josh, but as long as Jeremy sees his parallel as John, he might be in trouble. With his crusade to protect Val now over (as she’s been voted out) and his crusade to oust John also over (as he too, has been voted out), Jeremy’s established narratives seem to be running dry. Perhaps Josh and John are both parallels to Jeremy–Josh, the contrasting variant that Jeremy could have been; John the actual mirror for Jeremy’s eventual fate.

BATTLE OF THE SEXES

Coyopa Ladies

Gender quickly took a front-and-center stage in the season premiere, with a theme of gender roles recurring throughout the episode, reaching an apex when Nadiya effectively misgenders Josh by virtue of his being gay.  From here, gender as a key plot element has continued to grow and evolve. We see it expressed numerous times that men are implicitly charged with protecting women. Jeremy wants to keep Val protected, and tasks several other men (Keith; John) with doing so. Jeremy offers to protect Julie on John’s behalf. Baylor begins the game by avoiding assertiveness, trusting in Josh to look out for her best interests. John is mortified to lose to a girl (because losing to a woman is a lot more shameful than threatening to knock someone’s teeth out, right?). And to drive the point home, Coyopa and Hunahpu find their parallel narratives moving in opposite directions when it comes to gender.

On Coyopa, the men spent the first two episodes aligned against the women. The women were down and out and in no position to save themselves. Val is clearly a scrappy, no-nonsense woman who is probably very used to taking charge and moving full steam ahead in her day-to-day life. It’s one thing to have that approach as a policewoman and a mother, but another to use that approach on Survivor. She and Jaclyn don’t integrate into the tribe–rather, Val tries to bluff her way into safety with a risky lie that becomes harder and harder to believe the harder she pushes it. Her desperation shows her hand when she throws Baylor under the bus at Tribal Council. When she goes, it seems inevitable that Jaclyn or Baylor will be next.

On Hunahpu, the majority of the women are sitting in safe spots as members of Jeremy’s alliance. Natalie in particular is sitting pretty when her sister is voted out. Though the loss of Nadiya is emotionally tough for Natalie, it’s the best thing that could have happened to her. The twins were a known factor when it came to their bond–they’re the one pair who would have absolutely never voted against one another under any circumstances. Without Nadiya, the stock of Natalie’s word shoots up–there is nobody to compete for her allegiance.

The men of Hunahpu, on the other hand, are showcased as inept in a variety of ways, especially in the second episode. Jon loses the tribe’s flint and Reed does a shameful job of bargaining for a new one with Jeff. And Drew could be a show of ineptitude all on his own. His own self-perception of being a “badass” is consistently contradicted by the rest of his tribe. Julie thinks he is young and dumb. Keith would “whoop” him if Drew were his child. Natalie is baffled by his lack of concern in making himself an asset to the group. Jeremy considers dragging him to the end because nobody would vote for him to win. Reed is lucky he probably didn’t hear when Drew couldn’t differentiate him from his boyfriend.

But with the events of the last episode, being a woman on Coyopa is no longer a death sentence. The game is shifting, and the question is if the opposite shift will occur on Hunahpu–will Jeremy’s Angels take a dive as Grand King Drewche assends to his throne? If he does, you can guarantee he’ll be knocked off of it. The game may have opened with the men thinking it was their role to protect the women, but I could very easily see the story unfolding to show that the women are more than capable of handling themselves.

BAYLOR AS A PROTAGONIST

Baylor

If there is one woman in the game I’d put money on to go deep, it’s Baylor. From my vantage point it seems pretty apparent only three episodes in that Baylor is one of the main characters in this season; if not ultimately the main character (though that doesn’t necessarily mean she wins). Baylor consistently gets content, but it’s content that evolves. Her story is unfolding week to week, and she is growing as a player; which is being highlighted over the more static positions of some of the other big characters. Baylor started the game playing out her gender role with passivity; relying on Josh to be her protector. But Josh has made himself hard for her to trust. The old adage that says “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” seems to apply to Baylor in spades. After the second tribal council, Baylor vows to play for Baylor. She articulates her position in the game well. She tries to sway Wes and Alec against the other guys. Ultimately, though it is unlikely due to her pressuring alone; she gets her way. Baylor is learning on the go, she’s taking the game seriously, and we’re meant to be taking note of it.

What ultimately makes me believe Baylor could be the central character in the game is that she has two incredibly prominent and important relationships with two players in very good positions–Josh and her mother, Missy. In the season opening, all the pairs got a brief intro from Jeff to paint their relationship quickly for the audience. Our Gilmore Girls were introduced as a pair with the roles often reversed. Missy had dragged her daughter through three failed marriages; leaving Baylor to take on a motherly role as her mom’s most important emotional support system. They’re more than just mother and daughter, but best friends. In the second immunity challenge, Sumo at Sea, Missy nails Baylor hard in the mouth, splitting her lip. Seeing her daughter crying in pain sucks the wind out of Missy’s sails. Baylor scores an easy point because Missy can’t bring herself to take her daughter out.

I think it is very likely that at some point in the game–if not at a swap, then certainly at the merge–Baylor will be on a tribe with both Missy and Josh, and will eventually have to choose one or the other. She doesn’t trust Josh as far as she can throw him. She can trust her mother to die for her. Baylor will have a critical role in sending one of them home. It’s a question of which one it will be (if not both of them) and when. I think that if a pair manages to make it far in this game, that pair could very well be Baylor and Missy. I could see them being the final two.

MOM AND DAD

Mom and Dad

After the very first season of Survivor, some analysts began subscribing to a theory of the “Family Final Four”–the idea that the last group of players remaining in the final episode will present as an ersatz family. In Cagayan, Woo unknowingly explained the five potential family roles at the final five Tribal Council–Tony and Trish as the Father and Mother; Kass and Spencer as the Daughter and Son; and Woo himself as the out-of-his-element foreign exchange student.

In a season where people are literally playing against their families, it feels very appropriate to consider this methodology. We can already see on Hunahpu that the two actual parents–Missy and Keith–are showing that they can’t turn off being Mom and Dad. Both have already become emotional in regards to their children and game partners, but beyond that, they bring being Mom and Dad to their interactions with the tribe. Keith is a little stuck in his narrow scope of the world but is doing his best to acclimate and makes a surprising bond with Josh in the process. Though he’s taking his time and figuring out the game, he still shows signs of being the disciplinarian dad towards his tribemates (such as Drew and Jon). Missy plays the role of the nurturing mother with nuanced perfection. When Natalie breaks down over losing Nadiya, Missy is right there to comfort her, stroking her hair and affirming her pain. When Julie becomes emotional upon realizing her poor standing due to John’s actions, Missy comes to offer a shoulder to lean on while Natalie is grumping at camp that she doesn’t think Julie has the right to feel upset at all. Even problem-child Drew is treated with care and encouragement as Missy attempts in vain to teach him how to weave.

Both of the Hunahpu Parents are present in the narrative. For Keith, it’s a necessity–he’s been exiled twice in three episodes. For Missy, it sticks out. She isn’t the center of anything truly focal yet. She could be getting edited like Reed and Kelley as almost non-present; but the editors never let an episode go by without reminding us that she’s there. Regardless, both seem to be getting set up for longer term stories–could they be the parent figures of the endgame?

HER JOHN; OUR JON

John vs Julie

When Julie is left in tears by Jeremy’s attack on John, Natalie is perplexed as to why Julie feels she even deserves to cry. Jon tries his best to defend her. “He’s not her John,” he tells Natalie. When Natalie goes off on Rocker post-immunity, she points out that he isn’t even the powerhouse he seems promised to be. “He lost to her,” she says, gesturing to Julie, “he lost to our Jon,” she says, gesturing to Jon Misch. Two characters with the same name–Her John, and Our Jon.

Coyopa gets a plentiful share of screentime, but you’ll probably note a lot of my analysis  has been about members of Hunahpu. Coyopa right now has needed their screentime–they’re the only tribe that has had to vote and therefore the editors need to ensure the viewers understand the dynamics of the tribe. But while Hunahpu’s alliances have not yet been tested, they’re still a tribe that has a lot of its members being crafted with careful intent. While Jeremy has not been shown folding Julie or Jon into his alliance, the editors have been folding them into the narrative nevertheless, and it’s worth taking note of.

Julie was a castaway who immediately piqued my interest pre-season because of the potential for her storyline. This potential storyline has been corroborated by her edit thusfar–Julie wants to prove she is more than just big boobs and big hair; more than just a plus one to the token quasi-celebrity contestant of the season. In the second duel, she defied expectations by absolutely slaughtering her former pro-athlete boyfriend; based largely on his assumptions she could never beat him. When she realizes that John has effectively left her for dead, she feels betrayed and Missy implores her to play her own game. Now is a better time than ever.

The edit was very kind to John during his time in the game, and I think it might have been for Julie’s benefit. A lot of his more negative and unsavory commentary was cut from the show. A preview prior to the season showed more to his fight with Natalie at the third immunity challenge, where he made extremely inappropriate comments about her appearance and weight. This is in addition to calling her a slut and threatening to knock her teeth out–and that was just one moment alone. Alec called him a “virus.” Baylor called him a “dark cloud.” “I don’t want to vote out Dale,” Jaclyn tells Baylor. “I want to vote out John!” It seems evident that in casting John Rocker,  with his observable history of poor sportsmanship and closed-minded, oppressive attitudes, production would have had an easy caricature on their hands. I think it’s important to observe why they didn’t go in that direction; and I think the answer is possibly for Julie’s benefit. If John is too unsavory; it sours Julie by association (after all, nobody is forcing her to date the guy). Hunahpu’s anti-Rocker sentiment was Julie’s wake-up call; and John’s elimination will be her second chance. Julie’s story is going somewhere, and how she recovers from John’s ouster will likely tell us where.

Julie isn’t the only suspiciously focused-upon character on the blue tribe’s beach, however, as Hunahpu has a Jon of their own. And unlike Rocker, Misch is a peach. He’s #BoyfriendMaterial. Jaclyn is a lucky one. Jon is goofy and fun; sweet and smart; strong and present. We’ve seen a lot of complex glimpses into Jon’s persona through a few very limited moments. He and Jaclyn may tick the boxes for the “All-American Couple,” but Jeff warns us not to take them at face value as “perfect.” Jon’s fun loving side is constantly juxtaposed with a more serious side. In front of the tribe, he tries to talk with the howler monkeys. In his confessional, he worries about his dying father at home. Before the challenge, he blunders by losing the flint. He follows up with his detailed thought process as to how he’ll  handle the fallout by taking ownership, showing an understanding that he was in the wrong, and proving his commitment to improve in the future. He likens himself to Cagayan rice-dumper J’Tia to his tribemates, beating himself up harder than any of them can. We’ve seen a lot from Jon, and it’s not because of his important ties to any other character. He’s floating off in his own weird, little world, but the intent is clear that we’re to keep in mind his world exists.

AND THE REST; HERE ON GILLIGAN’S ISLAND

Alec and Wes

If I didn’t talk about them above, that means sadly there probably isn’t a lot worth talking about. Let’s check in briefly with our other castaways.

Wes: Episode 3 was actually really good for him, as he scored Coyopa’s first (and only so far) win; bonded with his father, and reaffirmed his alliance with Josh. I think Wes is in a really strong position in the game; but the narrative exposes that his position isn’t strong enough for us to pay notice to. I think that Wes could potentially last for a while, especially if he’s reunited with Keith, but I don’t see him doing a lot more than simple narration overall.

Alec: The Brothers Christy promised us all of the sibling rivalry of Aras and Vytas in Blood vs Water and have delivered nothing close. Alec is just one of the guys on Coyopa. He got painted as the swing vote in the third episode, but I think that was largely situational. Drew clearly isn’t winning, and I don’t think his brother is either. At best, Alec will at least get to one up Drew by outlasting him, but that’s about it–and even that’s not a sure thing.

Reed: Spiderman really hasn’t had much to show for himself except his exceptional flexibility. Reed is virtually non-existent, which from a narrative perspective not only hurts his chances of victory, but Josh’s as well. The theme of Blood vs. Water all but requires the winner to have some sort of story involving their partner. In the first Blood vs Water, even though Rachel was a non-entity, she was booted very early and immediately became a recurring theme in eventual Sole Survivor Tyson’s storyline, serving as his motivation to keep focused and win. Reed doesn’t only need to develop a story soon for his sake, but for Josh’s as well–I can’t see the winner of San Juan Del Sur having their partner written out of the show before opening night (to use Josh’s metaphor).

Jaclyn: I think Jaclyn got a lot of flack for almost spilling the beans and allowing John to play the idol, but I think editing used her answers at TC to create suspense as to whether or not John would be tipped off. John had approached Jaclyn and Baylor with a decoy plan to target Dale, hoping to ensure votes didn’t come his way. As far as John knew, Jaclyn believed that to be the plan of attack, so when she said she thinks that the alliance lines might be shifting and that a guy might have gone home, it probably didn’t register as ominous to John in the slightest–he thought she was talking about Dale. But with that brief defense out of the way, there really isn’t a lot going for Jaclyn–she’s been at the bottom of her tribe for three episodes now and still hasn’t had a single confessional. We only hear her talk at Tribal.

Dale: I think Dale had a high-focus premiere because he was one of the boot options in that episode. He’s faded into the background more and more with each passing week, outside of being perhaps the most over-enthusiastic cheerleader a tribe has ever had in this game. The re-configuring of the dominant Coyopa alliance does not include Dale. He’s now the physical weak link on a tribe that has shown an aptitude for losing. If and when Coyopa attends their next Tribal Council, he’s a sitting duck. I think his game is going to run short–the only question is how his faux-idol trinket from the first episode could potentially divert attention away from him.

Kelley: I’m not ready to write off Dale’s daughter as a potential winner because she could very well be the recipient of the “Natalie White Sole Survivor Scholarship for Pretty Young Ladies.” There is plenty of precedent for female winners being underutilized or ignored by the editing in the first stretch of episodes. Kelley received a very positive spin in the second episode for her challenge-winning performance in “Sumo at Sea,” where she bested Jaclyn in a rematch that she had initially lost on her birthday of all days; and brought her father to his knees, conflicted with fatherly pride and competitive aggravation. We know she was the first person Jeremy approached to align with, and that she seems to be in a solid spot because of that. She needs a breakout soon–a moment, however fleeting–where she can directly express for herself her position and plans in some shape or form. If we don’t get it, we might as well just start calling her Purple Kelley.

NEXT TIME

All signs point to Hunahpu finally going to Tribal Council. It’s about damn time.