Survivor: San Juan del Sur Episode 8 Narrative Analysis- “Wrinkle in the Plan”
THE STORY SO FAR
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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?