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
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 Tribe— Alec 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
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
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?
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
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.
- 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.
- 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
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.
- 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.
- 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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.