Survivor: San Juan del Sur Episode 7 Narrative Analysis: “Million Dollar Decision”
THE STORY SO FAR
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!
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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?