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Month: November, 2014

Survivor: San Juan del Sur Episode 9 Narrative Analysis- “Getting to Crunch Time”

Apologies for the super-delayed post! Sometimes, life happens.

THE STORY SO FAR

*smuff*

*smuff*

When the castaways of Survivor: San Juan del Sur merged into the Huyopa Tribe, the two most prominent leaders in the game, Josh and Jeremy, were locked in a scramble for power between their respective alliances. On Josh’s side were the remnants of the all-male alliance he had lead on the Coyopa TribeAlec and Wes— along with Wes’ dad, Keith, and Josh’s boyfriend, Reed. Jeremy’s Angels, his alliance of women that originated on Hunahpu, was bolstered by mother-daughter duo Missy and Baylor, and Jeremy’s ersatz “twinnie,” Natalie. This left college sweethearts Jaclyn and Jon as the deciding factors, and they were courted by both alliances. Jon had reservations about Jeremy being a threat further down the road, but after the guys were disrespectful towards Jaclyn, the young lovebirds put their ball firmly in Jeremy’s court, helping his alliance to vote out Josh.

With Josh now sitting on the jury, Jeremy and his allies seemed to be holding all the power going into the next reward challenge, which once again saw the tribe split into teams. Natalie was on the winning Yellow Team, but she made a bold move to give up her place on the yacht reward to Jon as thanks for his loyalty to her alliance; prompting Jeremy to do the same for Jaclyn. In return, the couple thanked Jeremy by Exiling him to look for the idol. It was only after their reward that Jon realized a big problem with the plan–there was no idol for Jeremy to find on Exile Island because Jon already had it.

While Jeremy searched in vain for an idol that wasn’t there, Keith and Wes tried to make use of one that Keith had already had from his time on Hunahpu by figuring out who Natalie and her allies would target next. While they wanted to use the idol together, their onetime ally Reed was out for himself. When he lost immunity to Baylor, Reed pulled out all the stops to save himself without the aid of his boyfriend, and found the Hidden Immunity Idol clues and instructions in Keith’s bag. He revealed this to Jaclyn and Missy, and promised he would vote alongside them if they wanted to split the votes against Keith. Unfortunately for Reed, the other half of the vote split was going to be him!

Keith’s idol wasn’t the only one that had people paranoid and scrambling. After being unable to find the idol on Exile Island, Jeremy tried to weasel an answer out of Jon, upset that Jon hadn’t returned the trust that Jeremy and Natalie showed him. Worried that Jeremy was on to him, Jon went to everyone’s Island Mom, Missy, and asked her to turn on her Day 1 alliance to take Jeremy out before the firefighter could use Jon’s idol against him. At Tribal Council, Jon and Jaclyn’s loyalties seemed clear after they got into a heated argument with Keith and Wes over their treatment of the women, but the latter two, along with Alec, made a move to save themselves by voting against Reed. It ended up being for naught, however–everyone was #blindsided when Missy granted Jon his wish as the two of them, their respective partners, and outsider Reed banded together and sent Jeremy to the jury. Nine remain… who will be the next to go?

A CLOSER LOOK

THEY KNOW WE’RE WATCHING

*In the style of Xandir from 'Drawn Together'*: What is going oooon!?!?

*In the style of Xandir from ‘Drawn Together’*: What is going oooon!?!?

Last season in Survivor: Cagayan, I felt unbelievably certain in a number of my predictions, and they were all based on how Survivor has unfolded in the past. When Spencer was voted out, the rest of the season seemed crystal clear. Tony had been tempting fate all season with his erratic, balls-to-the-wall playstyle, and there were a thousand and one moments foreshadowing the moment when his luck would inevitably run out. Kass was playing one of the worst social games ever seen, and the editors were making damn sure we couldn’t be more excited to see her eviscerated by the jury. Woo was dumb but sweet, and he was about stumble ass-backwards into the title of Sole Survivor by unknowingly taking advantage of Kass and Tony’s weaknesses.

Except that’s not what happened. Instead, Tony took advantage of Woo, and at the same time, the editors took advantage of our expectations as viewers. It made the outcome a surprise for the first time in ages, and now that the Survivor Storytellers have done it again in San Juan del Sur, it makes me feel all the more certain that it’s extremely deliberate.

Josh and Jeremy’s rivalry was being built up in such a way that it would obviously not have lasted for long–eventually, they would have to resolve things, and one of the power players would come out over the other. I never thought Jeremy was going to win–from my vantage point, he always struck me as a distraction–but I still was operating under the assumption that with Josh gone, he would take the same role as many a consistent season-long strategy narrator. Instead, he just got taken out.

The sneak attack of his blindside from an editing perspective may not have seemed like a fitting ending to one of the main character’s storylines, but at the end, it seems that Jeremy’s story was there entirely for the purpose of creating this moment. The editors unquestionably toyed with our expectations, and that creates a sense that going forward, we could be in uncharted waters as Survivor fans. They editors are being careful to create intrigue in a show that, for as many seasons as it has, can become repetitive. The lack of certainty ahead opens up all sorts of interesting storytelling possibilities, especially if we take in to account that the Blood vs Water format also creates dynamics that have until now been unseen.

PASSING THE TORCH

My spider-senses are leading me towards Keith's bag. It's either an idol or trail mix, I'm not sure yet.

My spider-senses are leading me towards Keith’s bag. It’s either an idol or trail mix, I’m not sure yet.

One of these potential story possibilities I feel it’s important to touch on is the idea that two players can effectively share an edit and a story–what’s good for one is good for both. If as viewers, we see two characters as intrinsically intertwined, do we need to see both of them? For example, do we need to hear from Jaclyn when Jon is going to say the same things and do so with his trademark goofy charm? If the editors get us to pull for Jon, do they get us to pull for Jaclyn through sheer association?

The jury is still out, quite frankly. Again, this is just something that has the potential to be there; a blind guess in the dark based on the unorthodox presentation of the characters until this point. If someone were to benefit from this phenomenon, I don’t know that it would be Jaclyn, necessarily. The first person who comes to mind is someone who has seemed to be written out of this story within its earliest chapters. If the editors want to toy with our expectations, the most effective way to do that would be to hide the winner in the background, tucking them safely behind their partner up until their partner’s exit. If you haven’t picked it up yet, I’m talking about none other than the Amazing Spiderman himself, Reed.

I don’t think it’s a particularly likely outcome, but the moment that Josh was voted out, Reed came swinging into the foreground. Kitty has claws, and he showed he was willing to do whatever it took to keep himself in the game, including dropping his old allies like yesterday’s news and going through their belongings so he could sell them out to the new power players. When it came to Josh and Jeremy individually, I think the narrative absolutely intended for us to be pulling for Josh over Jeremy by highlighting Jeremy’s near-constant state of dissatisfaction. If Reed is playing all-out for revenge, his story wouldn’t be able to start until he was given someone to avenge.

Again, this is all conjecture, and I think it’s extremely unlikely. But we’ve seen weirder things happen this season alone. In the more likely outcome that Reed isn’t the winner, we’ve still been given reason to watch him. Characters who suffer from chronic invisibility tend to only burst out of the background when their ticket is up and it’s time for them to go–a day in the limelight to explain why this otherwise nobody is now going to be sent packing. Reed survived his breakout, which makes me believe that regardless of how it ends, his story was late to start and hasn’t wrapped up just yet.

WHAT THE FUCK, MISSY?

Licking her lips as she salivates for power

Licking her lips as she salivates for power

While Reed is just stepping on stage, there are still a large handful of players who have been present much longer who are having a much greater impact on the game and story. In case you couldn’t tell by the section header, a big one is the Godmother herself, Missy Payne, taking out hits left and right. On the NuCoyopa, we saw that Jon ran all of his decisions by Missy. In “Getting to Crunch Time,” he called on her to make a big move in his defense by turning on Jeremy, and Missy granted that wish. Jon may have come up with the idea, but Missy is the one who puts it into action. She brings the season’s running undercurrent of women empowering themselves over men to the forefront–as the obvious male power players are taken out, it’s easier to see Missy standing behind all of them.

If the editors are indeed toying with expectations and going unorthodox, this could bode well for Missy. She hasn’t exactly gotten the nicest of edits, considering that older women, especially mothers, are quick to be vilified by our broader cultural narrative when they behave in ways that are “unladlylike” or not “fitting” of a caretaker–such as being a “phony” (her own words), a cutthroat game player with little regard for others. The jury could begrudgingly respect her–but as unorthodox as the storytelling is in San Juan del Sur, I don’t think the mindsets of the players or the larger audience could at all be considered radically different. Older women behaving badly are still going to be seen as behaving badly–I don’t think Missy will be able to shake the negative perception surrounding her.

That being said, I think it’s still clear that Missy is in charge, which lines up with the idea that she and Baylor, as a unit, will be going far in the game–most likely to the end. If Missy and Baylor indeed are a pair of losing finalists, then they are also the kingmakers. Missy’s massive amount of influence effectively means that she now becomes the player to watch. The person she picks as the third finalist will be the winner. But who could that player be? Let’s examine.

THE CASE FOR DADDY DEAREST

Keith Spits

Who? *spits* Me?

Missy is the Mom and Keith is the Dad. This has been brought up time and time again. The two of them have absolutely been shown to be connected to one another–Keith himself points it out during his argument at Tribal Council with Jon and Jaclyn. When it’s brought up that Keith never interacts with the women of the tribe, he counters that he does talk with Missy. Despite that he’s said for episodes now that he’s done with Missy, he still calls her out for lying to him at the episode’s start in the aftermath of Josh’s ouster. Mom and Dad sure do fight a lot–but maybe a woman who has been divorced three times has finally had enough experience to smooth out the bumpy road ahead. With Wes and Alec as much more typical representatives of Immunity Threats (though Keith is the only one of the three to have actually won immunity thusfar), it wouldn’t be impossible for Keith to be the last man standing from his alliance–which as we’ve seen in seasons past is one of the best positions you can have in the game. Missy could decide that he’s the perfect goat for her and her daughter–a rude old man who is always lagging behind the group when it comes to strategy and understanding the game. Once their up against him, his true-to-himself, backwoods, folksy charm will give him the edge in front of the jury over the “phony” stage mom and her most-prized possession, a daughter who never had to perform.

PROS

  • He’s a highly visible character despite his miniscule impact on the game as a player. We’re often given Keith’s insight when it’s of little to-no consequence. He is the voice of the trailing alliance–if any of them are to make a comeback, it’s going to be Keith.
  • He has a lot of moments that establish his character: a well meaning, goofy old man who is likeable in spite of (perhaps even because of) some of his more outdated worldviews; and as a player who doesn’t really understand the game but never stops trying his hardest to play.
  • He is connected to Missy, a character who is reinforced time and time again by the edit as being important and in control.

CONS

  • Keith has been frequently portrayed as a highly ineffective and out-of-the loop player who couldn’t strategize his way out of a paper bag. A jury could see Keith as a benefactor of luck and not respect his journey to the end.
  • If the ultimate storyline is about female empowerment, Keith doesn’t meet the criteria–he’s not only a man; but is one of the men who has been fingered as not showing the appropriate amount of respect to women.
  • Given that Josh and Jeremy were taken out back to back, is Keith getting attention from the story a good thing?

THE CASE FOR THING 2

Trying to determine if she can trade a Hidden Immunity Idol, a lock of Alec's hair and Baylor to Jeff in exchange for an extra U-Turn

Trying to determine if she can trade a Hidden Immunity Idol, a lock of Alec’s hair and Baylor to Jeff in exchange for an extra U-Turn

When Josh was ousted, Reed stepped forward as his partner. With Val and Nadiya both out of the game in the first two tribal councils, the narrative was quick to hammer home for us that Jeremy and Natalie became partners in the absence of their actual loved ones. Jeremy is gone now. Much like Reed, this is now Natalie’s time to step forward and make a revenge-killing spree all the way to the endgame. But unlike Reed, Natalie has been in this story from the start–she was dragged into it the moment her beloved twinnie became the first casualty of the game. Natalie’s twins keep getting taken out, and she’s not the type to take it lightly. This is bad news for everyone else, because the story has shown us Natalie is here to play. Just as on The Amazing Race, she is constantly looking for opportunities to manipulate the structure of the game itself to her benefit, and she’s at her most important to the story when she’s doing so. Weeks ago, she volunteered for Exile in order to ingratiate Missy and Baylor to her. In “Getting to Crunch Time,” she surrenders her reward to Jon for the same reasons. Obviously, trading the reward didn’t work, but the outcome isn’t as important as the resume building–it’s one more example of playing for the “W” that Natalie can now bring before a jury.

PROS

  • She has a great story set up for her as the narrative moves towards the endgame, given that’s she’s lost both her sister and her closest ally; the latter of whom was a highly visible and popular character. It doesn’t hurt that her visible, popular ally was one of the biggest threats to beat her and that he’s no longer around.
  • We see her making big moves consistently–we know she is playing her ovaries off out there.
  • She is a woman in a season that has had a consistent theme of women proving themselves and not needing men. Having a breakout in the absence of her big-name male ally could give her the opportunity to see this story to fruition.
  • She is connected to Missy, a character who is reinforced time and time again by the edit as being important and in control.

CONS

  • She has been ignored pretty repeatedly in earlier episodes; often in favor of letting Jeremy do the talking for their alliance. Would the storytellers deliberately avoid showing how the winner is playing the game in favor of a different castaway?
  • There’s always a matter of getting to the end–with Jeremy taken down, does Natalie now inherit his target?

THE CASE FOR TRU WUV

He's actually feeding her by regurgitating into her mouth like a penguin with its baby

He’s actually feeding her by regurgitating into her mouth like a penguin with its baby

If you’ve been following my analyses across the season, then you’ll know I’ve had an eye on Jon from the get-go–he stood out to me as more important to keep an eye on than Josh or Jeremy from the first episode, and as the season has progressed, Jaclyn has become swept up in his narrative and become tangled in it. In a lot of ways, Jon is similar to Keith–we can routinely expect to see his perspective of the game regardless of his position in it. He’s also like Keith in that Jon isn’t always portrayed in the most flattering light when it comes to his ability as a Survivor player. He was fooled by Dale’s fake idol and is shown to be under the thumb of other players, namely Missy. His biggest blunder is hard to ignore–a lack of foresight leads to him targeting Jeremy because he himself handed Jeremy the circumstances to discover Jon’s idol on a silver platter. This damage control came right on the heels of Jeremy sacrificing reward to Jon and spending two hard days on Exile Island for it. It’s hard to take a reward, backstab the person who gave it to you, and then come out the other end looking like an upstanding citizen. Jon showed that he has a lot of worry about if he is playing the game or if he is just lying to people. With six votes remaining until Finals, there is plenty of time for the pressure of being the swing vote to make Jon crack.

PROS

  • Jon is a highly visible character, regardless of whether or not he is impacting the game. We see multiple dimensions to him as a person–he’s a dumb jock on the surface, but has hidden struggles, depths, and is more focused on the game than it immediately appears. We get a lot of moments that establish his character.
  • In addition to being a main character, Jon’s importance to the story is highlighted via his entirely unsubtle connection to an animal motif in the howler monkey. He’s the only character to have this level of symbolism attached to him, and it’s hard to brush it aside as unimportant or unintentional.
  • If the ultimate storyline is one of female empowerment, Jaclyn is one of the only women who could carry that theme to the end. She is also the only former Coyopa member who has a shot, which could fit in to a larger narrative about Hunahpu being “unworthy” of winning.
  • If the ultimate storyline is one of female empowerment, Jon is the only man who could win within that narrative structure because he treats Jaclyn as his equal in their relationship.
  • They are connected to Missy, a character who is reinforced time and time again by the edit as being important and in control. If either one is to make the end, they need Missy’s help to do it.

CONS

  • Jon is not always portrayed as the smartest player; and Jaclyn is not always portrayed as the most independent. He makes a lot of mistakes and the story doesn’t shy away from showing them. She is often ignored by the story completely.
  • They have been swing votes for nearly half the game, and have not always swung with the same side of the numbers. Either one could end the game with too much blood on their hands for the jury to stomach.
  • They are focused on as a unit. They could be seen as too symbiotic and reliant on each other for the jury’s liking. Either one could reasonably be argued as having been the other’s “plus one” instead of an autonomous castaway who was playing to win.
  • They are connected to Baylor, a character who is reinforced time and time again by the edit as being important and untrustworthy; a bad decision just waiting to rear its ugly consequences. If Jon and Jaclyn did indeed make the wrong choice by putting their eggs in Baylor and Missy’s basket, then that story should be expected to come to a head at the expense of one, if not both of them.

NEXT TIME

Call Natalie “The Bride” because she’s out for revenge, ready to mow down the opposition with a Hattori Hanzo sword, the Pussy Wagon, and, if all goes her way, a Hidden Immunity Idol. The target for her (and everyone) appears to be Dear Jon, now in hot water for all of his double dealings. Ruh roh! Fortunately for him, the game is rife with #Chaos.

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Survivor: San Juan del Sur Episode 8 Narrative Analysis- “Wrinkle in the Plan”

THE STORY SO FAR

*smuff?*

*smuff?*

At the start of Survivor: San Juan Del Sur, leaders emerged on the Coyopa and Hunahpu Tribes as loved ones fought one another to avoid the vote. For Coyopa, that leader was Josh, who had all the guys on his tribe convinced he had their best interests at heart, putting him at the top of a powerful all-male alliance. Everyone on the tribe wanted to be his best friend–but Josh chose to align himself with Baylor, constantly on the outs of the losing Coyopa Tribe and reliant on Josh to pull her through some key votes. Despite the fact that he ultimately came through for her, Josh had burned Baylor’s trust when he cast a vote against her to disguise their alliance. On the Hunahpu Tribe, the leader was Jeremy, who had bolstered himself as the apparent nexus of a strong alliance of women, namely fellow “orphaned” player Natalie and Baylor’s mother, Missy. By virtue of the tribe’s dominance, these lines were seldom tested. Fast forward, and the two tribes have became one, Huyopa, and Jeremy and Josh found themselves on the same tribe battling to see whose faction would come out on top. Couple Jon and Jaclyn ended up being the deciding factor, and they committed to working with Josh to oust Jeremy–but the game came to a screeching halt when Julie quit. Tribal Council was cancelled, and Jeremy was spared, leaving his war with Josh unsettled.

Huyopa was divided into teams for their first reward challenge, with Yellow Team winning a taco feast where Wesley gorged himself to the point of discomfort despite his father Keith’s warnings. They also won the right to Exile one of the losers, giving Jon the distinction of being the first San Juan Del Sur castaway to visit Exile Island alone. The trip was worth it for him–he found a Hidden Immunity Idol that had been put into play.

Things were less cushy for Jaclyn, however, who learned the hard way that the guys in Josh’s all-male alliance had no interest in shooting strategy when Jon wasn’t around to act as her gatekeeper. In addition, she was disrespected by the guys when Alec told her and the other women he didn’t trust them to take care of the camp. This meant Jaclyn wasn’t the only of Huyopa’s women to lose her patience with the men. Both Alec and Keith got under Baylor’s skin by ordering her around, meaning that they got under Missy’s skin as well. Jon rejoined Jaclyn at the Immunity Challenge, where a memory game came to a showdown between Josh and Jeremy, with Jeremy coming out on top.

Unable to target the ringleader of the opposing alliance, Josh shifted the target to Baylor after he failed to guilt her into protecting him as he had done for her. Keith revealed this information to Missy, leading to an argument between the two in defense of their respective children that leaked into Tribal Council. Baylor received five votes, but Jaclyn had spoken up to Jon about her dissatisfaction with Josh’s all-male alliance, leading them to Jeremy’s side of the numbers. Josh was voted out, becoming the first juror and leaving his boyfriend Reed without a partner. Ten remain… who will be the next to go?

 A CLOSER LOOK

THE GILMORE GOATS

If looks could kill, Baylor would already be dead

If looks could kill, Baylor would already be dead

Goats are animals that live in together in herds, which are almost like tribes, I guess you could say. In the Huyopa Herd, Missy and Baylor are a pair to watch, which we’ve known for a while. Not only are they’re connected to one another in a way almost no other pair is, they’re connected to most of the other characters in the story–they’re like a major river that the other tributaries all flow through. And this is on top of the individual development each one has received. Baylor is highlighted time and time again as a dangerous flipper and untrustworthy player. Missy builds bridges and carries her daughter over them with fierce devotion. Rise, lather, repeat. Despite this, their story isn’t losing steam; it’s only getting clearer. This herd has a mommy and baby goat doing a lot of bleating. Someone on this tribe is likely to shepherd them to the end, where they’ll be sold at market for a million dollar check.

This episode was the one where Baylor finally fulfilled the foreshadowing built early in the season about turning on Josh when he needed her to return the favor. Her relationship with Josh was the launching point for her story as an individual, when she decided she needed to play the game for herself. This is the moment that Baylor’s been waiting for– her fate in the game has always been contingent on her ability to display personal growth as a person and a player. We’re just not seeing her moving upward at the trajectory she needs to win the game. The guys may have crossed a line and played poorly by bossing her around, but as Jeff reminded us at tribal, perception is reality to the person perceiving. There are a lot of potential jurors who perceive Baylor as not carrying her weight. There is already one juror who knows she didn’t carry her weight when it came to returning a favor. Missy finds herself in the same hot water because the mother and daughter move in tandem–when Baylor slacks, Missy enables her.

Missy starts the episode by telling us how gobsmacked she is that Julie quit. It’s important to note that of all the castaways, it’s Missy who remarks on the negative impacts of Julie’s quit; oblivious to the fact that the narrative has framed her as being responsible for it. Julie’s departure from the game received an incredible amount of focus because it seems destined to have a heavy impact on the game. This week it allowed Jeremy the extra time he needed to save himself, but going forward, I still think that one of the players who “let” Julie quit is going to pay the price for not reeling her back in. All signs point to that person being Missy, a player who could certainly use an unpopular third to join her and Baylor in the finals. Instead, someone else is going to take advantage of their relationship to Missy in what is likely to be a game winning move.

ALL ROADS LEAD TO MICHIGAN

First she took Julie's trail mix, now she took her sweatshirt

First she took Julie’s trail mix, now she took her sweatshirt

Josh and Jeremy’s clash had been building slowly and steadily for weeks, and anyone whose been watching the season consistently could have likely guessed that things would finally come to a head. However, I don’t think that most viewers would have predicted that the person who ultimately held the fate of San Juan del Sur‘s powerhouse players would have, of all people, been Jaclyn.

Given how little focus Jaclyn received while surviving on the outskirts of the original Coyopa, it can only be assumed that the storytellers didn’t want her individual story to begin until the story of her partnership with Jon could begin as well. In a season where gender has had a major thematic importance, it’s important to recall that Jaclyn’s introduction to the storyboard was via her boyfriend’s unbridled respect for her as a person. Jon is goofy, affable, and a man, so it’s not terribly surprising that the editors have given him more focus thusfar than they’ve given Jaclyn.  “Wrinkle in the Plan” was Jaclyn’s breakout to prove that once and for all, she’s not just Jon’s tagalong. Jon even says as much while on Exile Island. We’ve been told Jon and Jaclyn work as a team. When Jaclyn is shut out by the guys, we aren’t presented her “pussy whipping” Jon into following her emotional lead and turning on them. What we are shown is the guys making a damning mistake by not considering Jaclyn in the first place, and Jon following Jaclyn’s lead because they trust each other. They’re a team, after all.

I’ve speculated from the first episode that Jon could possibly be our winner, and that hasn’t changed eight episodes later. It’s hard to ignore the fact that Jon has had a lot of varied content worth watching. Jon is the one who has a spirit animal; the one who has a heart-wrenching story to tell; the one who gets confessional time just to show us how sweet of a guy he is; the one who now has a hidden immunity idol in his pocket. But as the season has unfolded, it’s also hard to ignore how many boxes Jaclyn ticks off in terms of the long-term themes. She’s part of the only pair in the game who is getting their teamwork right. She’s a woman in a story about subverting gender roles and empowering women. She’s an original Coyopa member in a narrative where Hunahpu was painted as a tribe of unworthy benefactors. If the narrative threads are telling us that our winner is going to be a woman from Coyopa who worked well with her partner, then we’ve found our winner–there’s no one else it could be.

Of course, it’s not going to be an easy road. Neither Jon nor Jaclyn is exactly a slouch in the challenges or particularly unlikeable. They’re highlighted constantly as the “power couple,” and similar foreshadowing to Baylor turning on Josh has been used to frame Baylor’s relationship with Jaclyn, leading us to question if Jonclyn chose the “right” pair to work with back on Coyopa. Team Michigan is going to be split up inevitably, but whoever outlasts the other could very easily be that third finalist who rides in Missy’s possum pouch to the prize.

ONE STEP FORWARD; TWO STEPS BACK

Here's what I think of Baylor! *spits*

Here’s what I think of Baylor! *spits*

Not all of the characters that are tied to Missy and Baylor’s story are aligned with them. If Missy has been the Mom all season, Keith has been the Dad, and the two have wielded the theme of gender like weapons in their clash with each other. Keith thinks Missy coddles her child–a stark contrast to the beatings he threatens with. They represent opposite sides of a coin. If Missy is the side we’re meant to be rooting against, that means Keith is the side we’re meant to be pulling for. I think that his mentions of “whooping” children; constant spitting; and casual homophobia and sexism are meant to endear us to him. We’re supposed to see his worldviews and actions as charmingly rustic, folksy, and almost out of his hands–he can’t help it because he’s a hick, how cute!  Keith’s role as Missy’s foil is important,  because outside of adding irreverent charming commentary, he has nothing to do in the larger story. Missy seems bound for the endgame, which means that Keith’s clash with her could be dragged out all the way until the season’s end.

The problem for Keith is that as a player of Survivor, he’s just not very good. His narrative began with him starting a few steps behind everyone else, and every time it seems like he’s managing to lie low and just wait out the storm, we get an episode like “Wrinkle in the Plan” where his poor gameplay accidentally puts him on people’s radars. On Hunahpu, he was in a safe spot until he told the tribe Jeremy had an idol, needlessly destroying their sub-alliance that Keith didn’t know existed. On Coyopa, he once again slid into safety, but now he’s riled the Mama Bear by bitching to her about how much he doesn’t like her kid. None of this means that Keith can’t win. What it means is that his narrative is a roller coaster, and it will need to be on its natural upswing going into the endgame for him to stand a chance.

THE BASH BROS.

Best Friends 5ever (becuz 5 is moar than 4 get it)

Alec has always wanted a friend who hasn’t been to jail… yet.

Keith’s counterpart in the story may be Missy, but his partner is Wes, who has found a counterpart of his own in Alec. Maybe without Drew, Alec has found a new brother in Wes. This one even comes with a Dad for him to buddy up with. It’s a good thing, because the blood vs water element is the major factor that keeps the Bash Brothers from being completely interchangeable. The episode shows us they’re both young n’ dumb, just in different ways, both informed by their respective loved ones. For Wes, it means a #TacoOverload, to which he can only say that he wishes he had the willpower to slow down… but he didn’t. “Slow and steady,” Keith reminds him. “Wins the race,” Wes finishes, clearly just to shut up dear old dad. It’s like a flashback to the Outback Steakhouse reward in Cagayan when Jeremiah laughs that they can stick a fork in him, because he’s done. Wes tells us in this scene he’s not really thinking about winning the race–not that anyone watching thought he would.

For Alec, his young dumbness is informed by his storyline of taking over as the New Drew, showcasing his brother’s same lack of self-awareness. When Keith suggests that they talk to Jaclyn, Alec brushes it off because why do they need to talk to a woman when they can talk to Jon? He tells the girls that he doesn’t trust them to watch the fire and Baylor specifically that if he could, he’d fart on her. He tells the viewers, via confessional, that he couldn’t be in a more comfortable spot. His brother didn’t realize saying that is tempting fate. Alec didn’t realize either, and now he and his new game-brother are in for a world of hurt–if Reed isn’t the next target, the Bash Brothers are soon to be split up.

YOU WIN THE BATTLES, I’LL WIN THE WAR

Bye Felicia! Isn't that what you homeostasis types say?

Bye Felicia! Isn’t that what you homeostasis types say?

The guys being on the outs mean that Jeremy has won his standoff with Josh, which could not have been more perfectly encapsulated then by having them as the last two standing for immunity. Unopposed, Jeremy’s chances are looking pretty good. We aren’t begging for the narrative to explain to us how or why Jeremy would win if he did. He’s in a great position to take advantage of Missy and Baylor’s goat status because he’s a visible leader of the alliance that Missy and Baylor are a part of.

Jeremy’s worst enemy now is the story. I’ll admit I’ve been hard on him, and it’s always because I find his narration hard to trust. Last week he told us that he was bad at challenges and that targeting him as a threat would be stupid. This week he tells us that he might go on to win them all the way to the end. Once again, he shows that while he considers the women as his allies, he doesn’t really get them as people, telling us that the rude behavior that goes on around camp is inappropriate because it’s just not how you’re supposed to treat women; not because it’s rude in and of itself. Once again, he demonstrates that he’s often right, but has arrived at his conclusion for the wrong reasons.

Not only is Jeremy made to look unreliable as a narrator and hypocritical as a character, but his story is always contingent on having something to be mad about and someone to be mad at. Now that Josh is gone, both of Jeremy’s rivals (John having filled the spot prior) are gone. Jeremy needs a new dragon to slay, or his story might finally run out of places to go. Given his earlier conflict with Keith on Hunahpu, the next episode seems like a perfect opportunity for Jeremy to figure out his next target. But taking out Keith, much like taking out John and Josh, will only be a “W” for that battle. Jeremy hasn’t yet won the war. He has a target on his back and always will.

Maybe, however, the outcome to San Juan del Sur is more obvious than I think it is. If the narrative is asking the viewers to see Keith’s behavior as charming, then it’s hard to say we’re meant to see Jeremy’s attitudes towards as hypocritical–compared to Alec, he’s Betty fucking Friedan. Maybe Jeremy is just a grumpy guy whose quick-to-complain personality is hard to not show, and it’s secondary to the fact that he’s playing the game in the front of the pack.

NEXT TIME

Josh’s departure means that all bets are off for Reed, who comes swinging out of the background and into action with a vengeance as he unearths Keith’s idol and narcs him out to the rest of the tribe. Will the Amazing Spiderman avenge Mary-Jane, or is this all smoke and mirrors to distract us from the fact that his web is about to be cut?

Survivor: San Juan del Sur Episode 7 Narrative Analysis: “Million Dollar Decision”

THE STORY SO FAR

*smuff*

*smuff*

After 16 days in the Nicaraguan Jungle, the Coyopa Tribe and the Hunahpu Tribe merged into a single tribe, #Huyopa. The new tribe consisted of four single players who had seen their loved ones voted out of the game already in Natalie, Jeremy, Julie, and Alec. The remaining eight castaways formed four pairs of loved ones: two dating couples (Jaclyn and Jon along with Josh and Reed) and two parent-child teams (Missy and Baylor as well as Keith and Wes). With the merge having been preceded by a tribe shuffle, and with so many pairs of loved ones remaining in the game, alliance lines were murky and up in the air. One thing was made very certain: after Dale used a fake idol to spook Coyopa’s dominant alliance into splitting their votes, Keith, the recipient of those split votes, wanted out of the alliance he was in with Missy.

The other alliance lines were not as clear. Missy and Jon both seemed intent on rejoining their original Hunahpu allies, led by Jeremy, with the intent of bringing their respective loved-ones along for the ride. Baylor found herself guilt ridden when it became apparent that her only ally from the original Coyopa, Josh, wouldn’t be a part of this group, and her mother had to bring down the hammer to keep her in line. When Josh realized he couldn’t rely on Baylor’s vote as long as Missy was around, he turned to Jon and Jaclyn with a proposal of an alliance that would see the couples protecting one another, giving him the chance to take out his biggest rival for control over the game in Jeremy.

The merge brought all the usual pomp and circumstance, including a merge feast. During the feast, an emotionally drained and increasingly isolated Julie hoarded the remaining trail mix in her bag, causing a #TrailMixScandal when the tribe searched her bag and ate her stash while she was away from camp. This turned Jon and Jaclyn off from working with Julie, leading them to much more seriously consider siding with Josh’s alliance. Disgusted by Julie’s behavior, the tribe as a whole froze her out.

The first individual immunity challenge came down to a loved-one duel between Wes and Keith for immunity, and the dad got revenge on his son for besting him in their Hero’s Arena duel when he won the challenge. The immunity, however, wouldn’t end up being useful. After Alec made a snide comment about Julie and the Trail Mix, a distraught Julie once again contemplated quitting. Missy tried to talk Julie off the ledge by reminding Julie that her alliance needed her, but instead Missy pushed Julie off. Julie quit the game, leaving 11 castaways remaining on the new Huyopa Tribe. Who will be the next to leave?

A CLOSER LOOK

 

I’M DATING A (SORT-OF) CELEBRITY; GET ME OUT OF HERE!

"None of them even complimented me on the innovation I showed by cutting my buff in half so I could have a tube top AND a headband!"

“None of them even complimented me on the innovation I showed by cutting my buff in half so I could have a tube top AND a headband!”

When a castaway quits the game, it always gives people a lot to talk about, because a lot of viewers see quitting as the ultimate Survivor sin. The purpose of these analyses isn’t for me to talk about what I like/dislike–it’s about analyzing, so I’ll keep my piece about quits brief. In short, I think it’s really easy to condemn quitters from the comfort of your living room. Most viewers will never come close to understanding what the deprivation and isolation of Survivor really feels like, and it’s not our place to decide what someone else’s limits and values are.

For the purposes of looking at Julie’s quit through the narrative, though, we need context. Most Survivor viewers hate quitters, and the show itself seems to hate them too. The editors don’t tend to treat quitters with kindness, with them generally having very negative portrayals–that is, if they aren’t just made completely irrelevant. Julie absolutely had a narrative she was involved in, and it seems extremely out of character for the editors to take that road when she could have just as easily been boiled down to a spoiled bimbo who couldn’t hack it. The Julie that we see is sympathetic. She may not be the best equipped for Survivor, but she wants to try her best to prove herself.

Obviously, we are shown some not-so-flattering sides of Julie. We’re definitely shown that she was at fault in hoarding the trail mix; but watching the rest of the tribe raid her bag feels almost more wrong than her taking the food in the first place. The tribe passive-aggressively badmouths  her while she’s within earshot of them–and it’s not the first time Julie has been subject to this, as it echos back to when the Hunahpu Tribe had a full-on John Rocker bash party. Alec clearly takes the cake for passive-aggression with his “this would go great with trail mix” comment, and then he proudly pats himself on the back for having “confronted” the evil food hoarding witch. When Jeremy speaks of her, it’s with derision–he is emphatic that she’s just a number. He’s ashamed to have gone out before her in the immunity challenge. When Baylor recounts the list of alliances her mother has built, Julie is notably absent from the list. When Missy makes her final plea to keep Julie in, she frames it entirely around what the alliance needs.

The narrative as to why Julie quits is clear as day: instead of getting to play with the man she loves and trusts to support her, she is isolated amongst allies who don’t care about her beyond her ability to write a name on a piece of parchment. She is outcast because she has been prejudged, both based on her partner and on her appearance. Yes, Julie has given up, but it’s emphatically showcased within the narrative that some, if not most of the blame lies on the shoulders of her allies.  Julie’s quit, in the bigger picture, reflects less on her, and more as a mistake on the part of others. It’s a fate that could have been avoided if some of the other castaways had done a better job of treating Julie like a person, and not like a pawn.

IN THE CAMPSITE OF GOOD AND EVIL

Next time on Survivor: Jeremy and Josh glare at each other across the fire for 42 minutes!

Next time on Survivor: Jeremy and Josh glare at each other across the fire for 42 minutes!

One of the players who is a mistake maker in this situation is Jeremy. Julie opens the door for him to communicate with her about her pain when she tells him that she knows what he’s going through, seeing all the pairs together and not having his own partner present. He all but blows her off and is then shocked when she quits. Even then, it’s only because he needed her as a vote. Meanwhile, Josh is carefully nurturing his individual relationships with his allies; remembering Wes’ birthday when his own father has forgotten.

All season long, Jeremy and Josh have been portrayed as rivals of sorts; the leaders in their respective original tribes. When the merge hits, they both immediately begin to target each other and rush out to rally their troops. Josh tells us in a confessional that they had the numbers on the New Hunahpu Tribe to oust Jeremy and he wishes they had the chance to do it. Jeremy is over Josh and Reed being in control and has been for a while. These two have long been the generals in this season’s war story, but the question as to which one we are meant to pull for was much more ambiguous at the start. With how they handle their troops, the question of who is the hero and who is the villain becomes pulled into perspective–and the perspective makes their respective pasts and the stories of their affiliated tribes clearer as well.

While Coyopa and Hunahpu can’t be considered indicative of where the alliance lines would eventually stand, the two tribes did have definite stories surrounding them. Coyopa were the underdogs to Hunahpu, entitled and unworthy. Josh continues to carry this underdog theme in “Million Dollar Decision.” The merge isn’t looking so hot for him–he’s lost his shot at Jeremy, who is about to be flanked with reinforcements in Missy and Jon. Baylor betrays him, even after he went out on a limb to save her. He wants to create a new alliance where players with loved ones protect one another. By the end of the episode, Jon and Jaclyn–the power couple who it all hinges on–seem to have now shifted into Josh’s court, because they want to play with the “good people.” Grumpy, dissatisfied, hypocritical Jeremy seems to be on the ropes. I don’t think we’re meant to want Jeremy to recover.

That being said, Survivor needs its villains. We might not want Jeremy to stick around, and the editors are likely counting on that if he in fact, does stick around.

JUST A COUPLE OF COUPLES

"I'm a girl, so if you vote with us you can totally borrow my uterus"

“I’m a girl, so if you vote with us you can totally borrow my uterus”

There are two sides to the Hero/Villain coin. I think that Jeremy could survive the next vote, not only because he’s being built up for us to root against him, but because there is no way Josh’s current alliance makes the endgame given how poorly built up as characters Josh’s troops are. The Hunahpu Tribe had more rice than Hick Jr, Drew the 2nd and Spiderman have editorial content. If they were Power Rangers, Josh would be the Red Ranger and the rest would just be there to give the Megazord a body. Reed gets his name dropped a lot because he’s attached to Josh, but he isn’t illustrated as having the power Josh has. Jeremy tells us they’re running things and need to be taken out, but Reed doesn’t tell us anything, period–only Josh talks to the cameras.

This is striking when compared to the other couple in the game, Jon and Jaclyn–the “power couple.” Josh holds power nominally as the head of an alliance, and takes on the job of explaining the movements of that alliance at the expense of his allies. Jon and Jaclyn are equals–sure, Jon gets more air than Jaclyn and has had a more consistent presence, but once their story as a couple picked up, Jaclyn was immediately on the scene. They weigh out decisions together. They both take turns in confessionals explaining their position as permanent, undetected swing votes to the audience. Even when she wasn’t getting confessionals, Jaclyn made it apparent via Tribal Council that she had a voice and a say in the game. We know that the Michiganers operate as a team not only because that’s how they introduced their relationship–as one of equals–but because we see it in action.

Josh’s alliance has a lot of dead air. With Julie having taken care of herself, Jonclyn’s biggest gripe with Jeremy’s side of the numbers has now vanished, and without a Tribal Council to draw firm lines, they have all the more room to swing back with Jeremy. I don’t usually like to include the “next time on Survivor!” end-of-episode teasers in the analysis (because lord knows they have more than a penchant for being misleading), but the preview for Episode 8 all but ensures this couple will continue to vacillate between the sides.

MUFFIN THE MARSUPIAL

Muffin and her closest allies; Bagel, Boston Creme, and Samosa

Muffin and her closest allies; Bagel, Boston Creme, and Samosa

This episode has a lot of visual imagery with parent animals taking care of their young. A baby howler clutches to its mother’s chest as she clamors through the trees. A bird feeds its young eagerly awaiting in the nest. And again we see the possum, making its way through the treetops while moonlighting as a schoolbus for her entire brood. Without a mama bear to use as a visual metaphor, the editors seem to have settled on the next best thing in an animal known for nurturing its young in a pouch on its body–the ultimate in parent/child closeness.

I don’t know how the narrative intends for us to feel about Missy, but that might just be because I personally don’t find fault in the things the editors seem asking us to find fault in. What I am sure of is that the editors want us to take notice of Missy. The fact that Missy is thrice divorced (in case you forgot… somehow) is something that could have been spun a million and one different ways, but rather unsurprisingly has been used thusfar to make Missy appear incompetent and ill-suited to being a parent. This seems to be the logic behind the onset of Missy and Baylor’s story, in which Baylor is credited as “the mother” in their role-reversed relationship. In “Million Dollar Decision,” Missy takes that power back. We get deeper insight as to how she plans to use Survivor for her and Baylor’s benefit, by using the opportunity to remind Baylor that sometimes, Mother knows best, no matter what she’s been wrong about before. In light of her parenting “failures,” Missy needs to be reassured that Baylor looks up to her as a parent, a guardian, and a guide–not only as a friend.

Baylor explains to us what I already had surmised for myself last episode–while she only had one alliance with Josh, her mom had plenty of allies to join Baylor in the possum-pouch.  Baylor’s entire narrative has been about her learning to assert herself. She’s been highlighted as a player who is shifty and hard to trust. For right now, she’s along for the ride on her mom’s train, but I could absolutely see Baylor’s final act of betrayal also being one of rebellion and autonomy. If she wants to win Survivor, she’ll have to make a move at some point that separates her from Missy, and I think Baylor knows that. I don’t think she’s going to necessarily pull a Ciera on us and vote Missy out, but Baylor can’t complete her independence-oriented narrative if she’s under Missy’s thumb the whole time. Missy will either be her downfall or her shot to prove herself. It’s not going to happen just yet, but the pieces are in place and the final move is ultimately up to Baylor.

KEITH WATCH

As proud as he was on the day his son was born... oh wait

As proud as he was on the day his son was born… oh wait

I always end up hitting Keith last, don’t I? (I should write another segment after this one just to avoid that.) There is a reason for that, however, and that is because Keith is like an outlying planet in this solar system, quietly orbiting at his own pace, irrelevant to the rest of the narrative but still unmistakably there. We know that Keith doesn’t have the world’s most nuanced or developed understanding of Survivor game theory, but we also know that he really doesn’t need that understanding, as he’s been doing pretty well for himself without it. He has an idol, he had enough common sense to be alarmed by Missy and Baylor using him in a vote split, and he won the first individual immunity against a field of players who, with the exception of Missy, are all a good 15+ years younger than him. Maybe they just needed to chew up airtime due to the lack of Tribal Council, but they spent a lot of time focusing on everybody congratulating him on his victory. As I’ve said before, Keith draws your attention because he always is granted the opportunity by the editors to throw his two cents in, even when his two cents are a completely different currency from the one the other castaways are using.

With Julie having quit, Keith now holds the lone piece of the Supertease that has yet to be unfurled–doing the worst thing in Survivor history. I joked last week he might accidentally idol out his own son, and I’m not entirely convinced that isn’t a possibility. Keith forgetting Wes’ birthday illustrated to us that Josh is good to his allies, but Keith did all the narrating of the scene. He clearly loves his son, but not even paternal affection can override his obliviousness. As stated earlier, Wes has no presence in the plot, and Keith is his lone tie into it. I’m kind of hopeful it happens because it would be, quite frankly, amazing to watch. Of course, given his demonstratively poor working knowledge of Survivor, the worst thing in Survivor history could also just be a massive overstatement on his part. Whatever that thing is, it will probably determine if Keith has the stealth-power to remain undetected and slide into a surprise victory.

THE MERGE BOOK ONE: JULIE POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S TRAIL MIX

Asking the hard questions on her mission to avenge her Twinnie and slay the Evil Gays

Do what, deprive us of Tribal Council?

I said I’d do one more section, didn’t I? The biggest part of “Million Dollar Decision”‘s narrative is that it isn’t done yet.  Traditionally, the pre-merge is when the storytellers set the stage for the back half of the game, building up momentum with the characters and storylines that will all come crashing to a head when everyone is one one tribe. The #Huyopa Tribe all jumped into the air at the start of the episode, and then Julie hit the pause button before everyone could hit the ground. We still don’t know where everyone will land on this new tribe, because Tribal Council hasn’t yet had the chance to force the castaways into drawing lines. This might as well be considered the first half of a two-part episode.

Given this unusual format, I’m still holding out hope for my remaining Twinnie, Natalie, who was virtually non-existent in this episode. Given that the rest of her alliance was implicated in clumsily goading their own member into spite-quitting, maybe that’s a good thing for her. Natalie has to show up next week, and I believe she will, because I still feel she could be the ultimate carrier of this season’s female empowerment undercurrent.

NEXT TIME

It’s trouble in Lover’s Paradise! Jaclyn realizes that aligning with Josh means leaving herself the lone woman on Dude Island, population Drewche: The Sequel, and she’s heavily disinterested. Jon wants to stay because they promised him a magic potion that will grow him a tail. Who will get their way in the end–that is, if they end up going the same way at all?