Survivor: San Juan Del Sur, Episode 5 Narrative Analysis- “Blood is Blood”
THE STORY SO FAR
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
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 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
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
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.
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
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
I 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.
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.