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