Survivor: San Juan Del Sur Episode 4 Narrative Analysis- “We’re a Hot Mess”
THE STORY SO FAR
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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?
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…
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.