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Reality TV Recaps and Analysis with a Dash of Snark and Social Science

Month: December, 2014

Survivor: San Juan del Sur Episode 13 Narrative Analysis- “Let’s Make A Move”




Survivor: San Juan del Sur was a game of Blood vs Water, and the loved ones were sitting pretty. 32 days in, a strongly unified alliance had formed on the Huyopa Tribe, consisting of dating couple Jon and Jaclyn, along with mother and daughter Missy and Baylor. The foursome were the only remaining pairs in the game, but they had key support in their fifth member, Natalie, whose journey had been very different. Her “Twinnie” Nadiya was the first castaway out, and her closest in-game ally, Jeremy, had been betrayed by the rest of the alliance. Alone, Natalie had been seeking revenge on Jon, and on Night 32, she made her boldest move yet to accomplish that goal by switching her vote to Alec, sending him to the jury. By doing so, she spared unlikely immunity threat Keith, who became the last member of his alliance standing, and an apparent sitting duck. To deflect Jon’s attention, Natalie lied, pretending that her vote against Alec had been an accidental result of miscommunication rather than a calculated move. While Jon trusted that it was an honest mistake, Jaclyn was suspicious that it may have been intentional.

Jon, Missy and Keith were the winning team in the Reward Challenge, but it came at a cost when Missy injured her ankle during the competition. Jon gave up his spot to Baylor to secure their alliance, allowing her to join Missy for a mother-daughter spa day. Fire captain Keith provided them both with laughs galore as a fish-out-of-water during the spa treatment, and got in touch with his feminine side as the massage rejuvenated him for the end of the game. Meanwhile, Natalie was sent to Exile Island, where the isolation beat her down. For strength, she refocused on her departed twin, vowing to use the angst of their separation as motivation to win it all. It paid off–Natalie beat out Jon to win the necklace at the next Immunity Challenge.

For Missy, however, the challenge was less exciting. Her ankle was only getting worse, and an examination from the medical team showed it may have been broken. A tear-struck Missy refused to quit, and the staff doctor had good news when he decided that because it was so close to the end of the game, they could simply immobilize her foot and allow her to wait it out. With her mother good to keep playing, Baylor now had to convince her to make a move and turn on her ersatz son, Jon, which Missy was reluctant to do; even though Natalie had already recruited Keith to help them split the votes in case of Jon’s Idol. At Tribal Council, a confident Jon erroneously held on to his idol, and paid the price when Missy flipped. The votes split between Jaclyn, Jon, and Keith, and in the revote, Jon became the fourteenth castaway to be ousted.

Now only five remain, with just four days remaining in the game. Who will outwit, outplay, and outlast all the others and become the Sole Survivor?



Natalie Intro

It’s Day 34 as Natalie sits on Exile Island, tears streaming down her usually focused face. Everything in the last few episodes has been leading up to her finally accomplishing the goal she’s been talking about for episodes–avenging Jeremy by ousting Jon. But when she tells the camera where her emotion is coming from, it’s not from her fallen ally, Jeremy. Her emotion comes from Nadiya, her sister, her twinnie. We’re reminded that for the first time in her life, Natalie is alone–and that she refuses to let that experience break her.

As Natalie rounds the final corner, it’s almost astonishing to think of her as an Amazing Racer, let alone as one who was so thoroughly defined by the dynamic of her team. Establishing herself as an individual has been her story ever since Nadiya’s ouster, and she’s been doing a bang-up job at it. Natalie has taken to Survivor like a duck to water. She makes big moves and challenges the system of the game; angling for prizes; giving up rewards, volunteering for Exile; even setting the ball in motion to get a player from the other tribe voted out. What truly makes all of this a mark of exceptional play is that Natalie is completely undetected. She’s never had her name written down, or even brought up as a target.

Every episode, I can’t help but ask myself “if this player won, how would I expect the narrative to portray them?” It’s a question that is always answered perfectly for Natalie. She’s always being given exactly the content she needs from the story to explain her possible victory, beginning in the second episode with her impassioned vow to go as far as possible for both herself and Nadiya. Her scene on Exile Island in “Let’s Make a Move” was critical in bringing Nadiya back to the story. Since Jeremy’s ouster, revenge on his behalf has been Natalie’s major stated motivator, setting up the dominoes for Jon’s downfall. Because of the focus on Jon, it left a lot of room for blind spots in Natalie’s game–there was a real possibility that once she achieved her vengeance, her story would hit a dead end and have nowhere left to go. We’ve now been reminded that eliminating Jon for Jeremy’s sake was just just a Pit Stop on Natalie’s larger journey. Her broader motivation is still there, and that’s a story that can carry her to the finish line.

Right now, this is Natalie’s game to lose. What could undo it for her?


Keith Intro

It’s been a long, wild ride for the Fire Captain, but despite having one of the worst senses of how to play Survivor maybe ever, he’s standing at the final five–and shockingly enough, he’s not in the worst spot! As much as Natalie’s narrative was given a major before-the-end positivity push, Keith’s was also given an eleventh-hour spit shine. Keith was kept in the game because Natalie thinks he “deserves” to be there. Baylor has an epiphany that the bumbling Dad she’s been plagued by all game is actually “kind of cool.” And in a season that has been all about subverting the initial perceptions people have surrounding gender and the roles of men and women, Keith learns that “girl stuff” can be for guys too and can actually be kind of fun! Plus, there are the numerous mentions to his status as a challenge threat (repeatedly brought up in spite of the fact he’s only won two challenges). There is a lot of care and attention to both how Natalie and Keith have been portrayed in this story. As they come into the endgame, they are the last obstacles in each others way. One of them is being built up by the narrative to throw the scent off of the other.

All season long, I’ve been reading Keith’s journey as one on a roller coaster–he has huge ups and terrible downs, and his end-fate is going to be largely contingent on which direction the roller coaster is moving when the end of the game hits. After “Let’s Make a Move,” I think it’s clear Keith is back on the upswing. What we’ve been learning about Keith is that you don’t have to be good at the “numbers and math” of the game to be successful at it. What you need first and foremost is for people to like you, and people like Keith, and it’s not only Natalie and Baylor. Josh loved getting to bond with someone from a totally different world on Exile Island. Missy didn’t want to let Keith go when it seemed like Dale might have an idol. And there’s that Wesley guy, I guess.

Keith is in a good spot socially, and for the first time, in a decent spot game-wise. Natalie learned from Reed’s mistakes, successfully coaching Keith into bluffing his way through Tribal Council. It’s a long way from the guy who stuck to the plan and got his own son booted–a move that Keith has been suspiciously distanced from, despite its badness. (This distance has also, however, kept him from commenting on his son’s ouster, which stands out in a bad way. I guess there is still time for that in the finale.) As she has groomed the “deserving” Keith to be her trained assassin, a connection has been formed between Natalie and Keith. Keith goes so far as to say that after nearly a whole game of having “nobody,” he suddenly has Natalie in his corner. I’ve felt very certain that most of the narrative threads this season are pointing towards Missy and Baylor together in finals, with either Natalie or Keith winning almost by default in the third seat. But with all of the sudden connection between Keith and Natalie, it would be in poor form for me to not acknowledge the possibility that Keith returns the favor to Natalie by helping to save her–or at least trying to do so–in the event that he wins the final immunity challenge and she becomes the target by default. Of course, if they end up in the finals together, Keith has thrown his own game away. His popularity can only  help him sweep a vote if he’s up against a duo of players that the jury is chomping at the bit to tear down to size.


Baylor Intro

The original Blood vs Water found it’s unlikely breakout character in Ciera Eastin, the daughter who had to become the mother as she outmaneuvered mom Laura Morett to grow as a player and a person. The success of her character makes it pretty clear that when production was assembling the cast for San Juan del Sur, they were likely hoping to replicate Ciera with Baylor–a young woman who would be willing to play the game with bold statement moves and take over the leadership role with her mom if need be. From early on, it became clear that Baylor would be important to watch, but it’s also become very clear that for all of their similarities, she and Ciera are very different animals.

When the pairs were being introduced by Jeff Probst on Day 0, Baylor and Missy had the most distinct introduction segment, so jam packed with imagery and important information about their dynamic that it couldn’t be ignored or brushed off as irrelevant or coincidental. The twosome were overwhelmed by howler monkeys, animals that throughout the season were explicitly linked to Jon. This is paired with Jeff’s voiceover telling us that due to Missy’s mismanagement of her marriages, Baylor often has to play the mother. In “Let’s Make a Move,” Baylor fulfills everything this scene set for her, becoming the parent to Missy and empowering her to push back against the howler monkey in the game, a representation of the men who have wronged them both. She’s betrayed Josh, she’s betrayed Jaclyn, she’s taken care of her mom–everything the narrative has hinted at Baylor doing has come to fruition. There has been a consistent and suspicious focus on Baylor all across the season, which has clued us in as viewers that we should follow her story and witness it’s profound impact on the course of the game.

But the problem for Baylor is that with all of the reason to focus on her, she has never really had to spread her wings and fly. She hasn’t taken off as an individual; and her personal narrative is much the same. We’ve been told to pay attention to her, but there hasn’t exactly been a lot worth seeing. There is no more question at this point. Baylor will likely lose this game on Day 39, lambasted by a jury who doesn’t trust her–as she’s screwed many of them out of the game–and who furthermore, doesn’t respect her–as she’ll be seen as having been carried to the end by her mother and allies. Much as Reed said, Baylor is a brat; spoiled and ungrateful to those who she’s stepped on to sit at the end.


Missy Intro

The intro segment for Missy and Baylor also was the first time we were introduced to the two of them as players who were completely interconnected–where one goes, the other follows. The success–or failure–of this duo was always going to be a matter of symbiosis. Much as Baylor carried Missy over a hurdle when it came to her “weakness” in Jon, Missy was present for much of the game as Baylor’s mother, ready and willing to carry her over obstacles by using the numerous bonds she’d created with the surrounding castaways. “Let’s Make a Move” was Missy’s time to struggle in the front and center. Her physical injury came about at the same time as her biggest moral dilemma yet, transforming from just a circumstance of the game to a metaphor for her darkest hour.

 It’s interesting to me how early in the game, Missy struck me as a potential winner–always present, always thinking, always using her maternal instincts to sink her hooks into the players around her. Her maternalism, however, has been turned on its head numerous times since that glowing start, highlighted as Missy’s greatest weapon and her greatest downfall. As a weapon, it’s allowed her to create meaningful bonds with players like Jeremy and Jon, leaving nasty scars when she’s turned and ripped them out of the game. As a downfall, it’s overtaken her whenever Baylor is threatened, challenged, or even criticized, pulling Missy’s focus from her game to her daughter. Before they oust Josh, Missy tells Baylor that you have to be a little phony in a game like Survivor, but she doesn’t seem to heed her own advice. In “Let’s Make a Move,” she effectively refuses to turn on Jon, feeling that would ruin her reputation as a trustworthy player who has stuck with her word. It’s an almost astonishing way for her to describe herself that seems woefully out of line with the reality we’ve seen. She tried to tell Keith that she was still working with him after writing his name down in case Dale pulled out an idol. She joined with Jon on what seemed to be a whim to oust her Day 1 ally, Jeremy. She told Reed to his face that she had his back in the game, rounds after voting out his boyfriend. Turning on Jon was an outcome that was well forecast, but it was far from being the first time in the game Missy has broken her word. Again, her maternal instinct is her downfall. What she tries to teach to her daughter is advice she can’t follow herself.

The symbiotic portrayal of this flawed mother-daughter duo has been steadily pointing to an ever-clearer outcome: someone is going to sit with both of them in the end and beat them. But as that outcome is only days from fruition, it begs the question: is it too obvious? Could something shake up in the endgame to split these players apart?


Jaclyn Intro

If something splits up Missy and Baylor, I’m doubtful it will be Jaclyn. But stranger things have happened on Survivor. For all I know, Keith could win the Final 5 Immunity Challenge and Natalie could decide to keep Jaclyn instead of Missy to have as many able-bodied competitors on hand to try and keep him out of the finals. I don’t think a lot of people expected Jaclyn to even make the last episode of the season; so it’s certainly possible for her to continue to defy expectations.

Jaclyn is a character who I would have never expected to exhibit the complexity and depth of story that she’s had. With the exception of the blooming romance between Amber and Rob on All-Stars, there has never really been a couple to play Survivor together–all of the couples on the original Blood vs Water never got the chance to reunite, save for John and Candice’s few short days together on Redemption Island. This has meant that in crafting Jaclyn’s narrative, they’ve really been in uncharted waters, and have had quite a balancing act to perform. Jaclyn had to at once be the spoiled Queen and an extension of her “big threat” boyfriend while simultaneously being the “voice of reason” within their duo. They’ve had to make her character both respectable and expendable at the same time. It’s all come to a head to create a surprisingly unique castaway that I’m really glad we’ve gotten to see.

Of course, this also means that of all the castaways going into the final episode, Jaclyn’s story is the one that has the most resolution, and the fewest places to go from here. She was Jon’s feminine armor, protecting him only so long as he payed her respect. She was ever the Cassandra, warning Jon when her intuition for the game detected a threat to their power position. The one threat that he never listened to her on was Baylor, who Jaclyn called out as untrustworthy as early as Episode two. By extension, this meant Missy couldn’t be trusted. Jon never listened, and he payed the price. Now, again, by extension, Jaclyn is probably doomed. If she does manage to squeak into the top 4, I just don’t see her making it into the Final 3. For what it’s worth, there is definitely a chance she can make it through at least one more round–without Jon, Jaclyn’s final piece of narrative will be a last ditch effort to prove herself without him. This is a woman who we know doesn’t give up without a fight and who is more than capable of making herself heard. The last thing she’s going to do is go down easily. She’s been a pleasant surprise all season long, and with her back up against the wall, I expect no differently. The claws are coming out, and this fight to the finish is going to be delightfully brutal.


It’s the finale, bitches! One final reward challenge, two more immunities, three finalists… and a huuuuuge fight between Jaclyn and Natalie. Stay classy, ladies. Also, Keith will probably spit, Missy’s divorces will probably be mentioned, and Jeremy will probably look grumpy from the jury. Here’s to bitter speeches!


Survivor: San Juan del Sur Episodes 11 & 12 Narrative Analysis- “Kind of Like Cream Cheese” and “Still Holdin’ On”




After 26 days in San Juan del Sur, a powerful alliance of five had emerged on the Huyopa Tribe, with Jon sitting pretty on top. Natalie had come through for him at Tribal Council, when she implored Jon to play his Hidden Immunity Idol after Keith accidentally exposed Reed as playing both sides. The result was that Keith’s son, Wes, was voted out instead, leaving Reed on the bottom, again forced to scramble for his life.

The next reward challenge gave the castaways the opportunity to expose what they really thought of each other, but the dominant alliance didn’t take the bait. They agreed to forefit the challenge to Missy, so that she could get the opportunity to enjoy a reward trip with her daughter, Baylor. As well, it gave Missy the opportunity to send Jon to Exile Island, where he found the re-hidden Immunity Idol. With Jon on Exile, it meant his girlfriend, Jaclyn, would be without him, and she felt burned when Missy picked Natalie over her to go on reward. Reed was quick to point out to Jaclyn that she could be looking at the final three, ready to cut her and Jon once they’ve outlived their usefulness–something that was not lost on Jaclyn. With nothing to lose, Reed also called out Baylor for her brattiness; stinging not only Baylor, but her mother as well. The reward gave them the opportunity to retreat from the negativity, and gave Natalie an opportunity to tell Missy about the Idol she found with Baylor. By securing the mother and daughter’s trust, Natalie believed she could make it to the finals with them, where she would win handily.

Meanwhile, Jaclyn was alone at camp with the players on the bottom, who did everything in their power to sway her favor. Alec pulled out all the stops, channeling his brother to flirt with Jaclyn. Despite her boyfriend being in the game, Jaclyn didn’t seem to mind the extra attention, given that she had felt invalidated by Jon when accused her of not playing with his best interest in mind, seemingly brushing aside the possibility of her success in the game. Jon rejoined the tribe at the next Immunity Challenge, where Keith became the first castaway to win the necklace twice.

With Jon back at camp, Jaclyn was eager to tell him her concerns regarding their current alliance; but Jon, drained from his stay in Exile, blew up at her. For Jaclyn, this was the last straw, and she gave Jon the #SilentTreatment after they had a huge fight in front of the entire Huyopa Tribe. Their lover’s spat clouded the entire camp, casting a shadow of doubt over the next vote–with the Power Couple not talking, Reed had no way of knowing if they would finally turn on Missy. Unfortunately for him, Tribal Council became Couple’s Therapy, and in a unanimous vote, Reed became the eleventh castaway out and the fourth member of the jury, leaving only seven castaways in contention for the million dollar prize.



With another ally ousted, Alec felt more alone and desperate for survival than ever before… but unbeknownst to him, his game was on the verge of being saved. Natalie was still focused on avenging her ousted ally Jeremy by knocking out Jon, and she was pulling all the stops to keep him and Jaclyn comfortable so they wouldn’t see it coming. She even went so far as to share her dinner-in-bed reward with the couple, where she found herself driven to her wits’ end by Jon’s growing arrogance. She turned to Baylor for support, and Baylor agreed to not tell her mom Missy that Jon was the next to go; knowing that Missy had become attached to Jon.  The two #SurvivorSisters would pull in outsiders Alec and Keith to make it happen, allowing Baylor to prevent her mother from making another bad choice regarding a man.

The hit was in as Alec returned from Exile Island for the Immunity Challenge, where he performed abysmally. Keith seemed like he was well on his way to a third Immunity win, but a steadier hand and pace saw Jon win his first challenge instead, dashing Natalie’s hopes of blindsiding him. Keith’s excellent performance in yet another challenge put the target squarely on his back–a target that only became bigger when Alec opened up to Baylor about his loneliness in the game, impressing her with his sensitive side. Missy proposed that her alliance split the votes, just to be safe, and Jaclyn instructed Natalie to vote with her and Jon to take out Keith. But Natalie still had her end goal of eliminating Jon in sight, and told Keith she wanted to work with him to make it happen–Keith’s prowess in challenges meant he had a much better shot of keeping immunity off of Jon’s neck. At Tribal Council, she switched her vote, and Alec was snuffed by the torch collector, became the twelfth person ousted as he joined the jury. Now only six remain… who will be the next to go, and who will be left standing in the finale?



Jon contemplates the complexities of wine while Jaclyn contemplates eating Jon

Jon contemplates the complexities of wine while Jaclyn contemplates eating Jon

Jon has had quite the journey to his position as the nominal top of the food chain in San Juan del Sur. Athletic, young, male, (white)… he ticks a lot of the boxes that seemingly make a castaway a shoe-in for the moniker of “biggest threat in the game,” yet when Jon was introduced to us at the start of the season, he was far from it. Jon was little more than Drew’s goofy friend on Hunahpu; left very obviously on the outs when Drew orchestrated his own ouster. But we always knew that Jon was more than meets the eye, because Jon himself always got the opportunity to tell us. Even when he was screwing up, he got to justify it. Jon’s lack of power made the attention paid to him suspicious. Now the story is nearing it’s completion, and with only six castaways remaining, Jon is amongst them. The power players established early on (Josh and Jeremy) have fallen. We’ve seen many a Beta-Male ride that status to a million dollar check (Africa’s Ethan and Exile Island’s Aras spring to mind). Being the Beta (for lack of a better term) meant that Jon was able to skate by unharmed while the big guns were targeted. By the end of Day 32, Jon is the King–but much as with real-life Kings in the modern world, Jon’s title is little more than symbolic. His rise to the top has been accompanied by a narrative that exposes his lack of real power, a narrative that Jon himself is unable to see.

Part of Jon’s powerlessness is owed to the fact that he’s sharing the throne. This king has a queen in Jaclyn, whom all of Jon’s moves have been filtered through ever since the story managed to bring their characters together. The edit is not subtle about portraying Jaclyn as the “queen” of San Juan del Sur. She is all but explicitly stated to be secondary in importance to Jon, despite having enough influence over him to often dictate his game moves. “Kind of Like Cream Cheese” ups the queen imagery tenfold, with the entire episode focused around Jaclyn and the attempts of the game’s peasants to woo her favor. Even the king is powerless when her wrath is unleashed.

The characterization of Jon and Jaclyn as the King and Queen only further serve to blend them into the larger story and it’s themes–namely gender and partnership. By giving them the responsibility of carrying these themes, the narrative is able to build Jon as the man who was does things “right,” explaining why he is the one to ultimately assume the throne over Josh (the leader of an all-male alliance) and Jeremy (the guy who couldn’t trust his wife to protect herself). Now, the narrative tells us that the power is going to Jon’s head, and that his swelling ego is starting to push Jaclyn out of the picture. This is a problem, because without his queen, the king is nothing.

The blow-up between Jon and Jaclyn is, on its own, fascinating to watch. The storytellers don’t explicitly paint either one as being right or wrong–we’re given the tools to see the situation from both perspectives and the agency to come to our own conclusions. But the point in the larger narrative isn’t who is right or wrong. The point is that when Jon stops treating Jaclyn with the respect and deference he’s been using thusfar, the thematic armor that’s been protecting him begins to crumble. Baylor–ever the consistently present narrator–gets to explain this firsthand, agreeing to target Jon because she sees him not as the “good guy” we’ve been shown; but rather as the personification of men and her mother’s repeated mistakes with them. She delivers this summation the episode after Jon has nearly driven Jaclyn away; after Natalie grows so tired with his illustrated snobbery that she says she’ll “literally kill herself” if he wins. Even Keith–who the editors have not shied away from telling us is far from the brightest–is able to call Jon out as transparently working the jury when he breaks down about his dying father. The sharp turn in Jon’s portrayal tells me Natalie is probably not going to be held to her one-woman suicide pact. He’s ascended to Josh and Jeremy’s position in more ways than just one. Like them, his story has now become one of a king blindly awaiting assassination. He’s become a distraction to the other players and a distraction to the viewers by virtue of his position in the story. If the hit isn’t in for him next, it’s coming.


Who doesn't love Muffins?

Who doesn’t love Muffins?

The biggest obstacle preventing the other players from ousting Jon isn’t his obvious ally Jaclyn, however–it’s an ally who is closer to him than she has any reason to be in Missy. Jaclyn may be the queen in this role play, but Missy is the maternal advisor; the true power behind the throne. It’s been her role from the first moments of this season: a shallowly-sweet older woman who plays the ersatz mother to the others, earning their trust while revealing her ruthless stage-mom side when safely able to remove her mask in the company of her daughter. Even in the confessionals, we see Missy in character, almost as if she’s unable to turn it off, or even admit to herself that there is something disingenuous, a subtle quality that strikes on as being a little off.

It’s in “Kind of Like Cream Cheese” that Jaclyn first observes this distressing duality firsthand. Missy exposes the chink in her exoskeleton when she picks Baylor and Natalie to accompany on reward–a pretty clear show-of-hand, and a questionable move when an incredibly game-fluent ally like Natalie wouldn’t have needed the pampering reserved for the queen. Jaclyn doesn’t need Reed the Trickster whispering in her ear to see the writing on the wall. Once only five remain, Missy and Baylor could easily team up with Natalie for a 3 to 2 majority. After Jaclyn and Jon get in their fight, Jaclyn’s worst fears are confirmed when Jon chooses his “mother” Missy to console him and act as his guidance, rather than coming to Jaclyn herself to reconcile their dispute face-to-face.

To Missy’s credit(?), as of current, she doesn’t seem to have any plans of turning on Jon. Baylor and Natalie knew that to oust Jon at the Final 7, they would have to recruit Alec and Keith behind Missy’s back because Missy is still showing Jon as much devotion as he’s showing to her. But at the start of the season, we were told very explicitly that in the crazy world of the Gilmore Goats, Baylor has often had to play the parent instead of the child. Missy reiterated this herself at the merge, acknowledging that while sometimes Baylor acts like a child, she also is capable of seeming beyond her years. So far, Missy has been using her game connections to guide Baylor along, but as mentioned earlier, Baylor now sees Missy developing a blind spot in Jon. As the game nears it’s conclusion, Baylor will have to become the mother once again in her and Missy’s relationship, and use her #SurvivorSister connection with Natalie to forge ahead for them both while leaving Jon in the dust.


The demonstration by a spitting master causes Natalie to feel shame as she recalls her past salivary failures

The demonstration by a spitting master causes Natalie shame as she recalls her past salivary failures

“Still Holdin’ On” was a fairly-par-course episode as a part of a pagoning (systematic elimination by one alliance of the other), as all the lead-up was for a predictable outcome of Alec’s boot. But the process of the vote getting switched from Keith to Alec did a lot for the final stretch of the story, creating a brand-new connection between two very important characters who until now had none in Keith and Natalie.

Natalie is in an excellent position. The story exposes to us that she is the most calculated and cognizant gamer in the bunch, expertly earning the trust of all her allies despite her allegiance to none of them. Her desire to play hard and make moves manifests when she seizes control by sparing Keith. On top of this, it is in the story only that we see Natalie’s skill. The other castaways all seem completely oblivious to it, and as a result, she never seems to have her name pop up. Missy and Baylor even seem content to go to the end with her. Natalie very clearly laid out this road to victory in “Kind of Like Cream Cheese”, going so far as to finally confirm that Missy and Baylor could be trounced easily for the million. The only Roadblock in her Amazing Race to the finish line has, like her statement of power, manifested in her decision to spare Keith, who had his road to victory laid out in “Still Holdin’ On.” Jeff tells us that winning challenges is a great way to build a case in front of the jury, and Keith has won two of them. One of Natalie’s reasons for keeping Keith is precisely this ability. Idols expire at the Final 5, which means keeping immunity out of Jon’s hands is crucial going into the Final 6. Keith, for as cartoonish and inept as he initially appears, can help accomplish this, and Natalie is fully aware of it and willing to draft Keith for his talents.

We know that while Natalie fins Jon annoying and disingenuous, she also has a grander motivation for seeing him out of the game in avenging Jeremy. While a powerful energizer for her in the final stages of the game, this revenge-narrative is also becoming myopic, diverting all of Natalie’s attention on to Jon and blinding her to the threat of the last man standing in Keith. Much as Natalie’s prowess is exposed only through the story, so is much of what makes Keith important to watch. Like Natalie, he has an oft-returned-to connection to Missy (the only woman he talks with and the Mom to his Dad), and the focus on his lack-of-game has only been made possible because of the honesty that surrounds us. The edit tells us that Keith doesn’t really know what’s happening, but Keith also tells us that about himself (putting trust in Reed because he doesn’t understand math). Keith hasn’t really needed to know how to play–he seems to be great at falling off the radar exactly when he needs to. As the lone single player on the swapped Coyopa, he could have been an easy first boot, giving Jonclyn time to further mull over their options, but he was bypassed completely. As his alliance vanishes, it happens again. Even the narrative itself seems to forget him just when he needs it the most; barely touching on his catastrophic blunder that cost Wes the game. In “Kind of Like Cream Cheese,” Keith spends most of the episode in hibernation, only to pop up and win immunity near the end.

Of course, the narrative’s larger purpose surrounding Keith could simply be that he is, as mentioned, the last member standing from his fallen alliance, the so-close-yet-so-far-away final jury member who comes within inches of a victory but can’t clinch that final win, ala Cagayan’s Spencer or Philippines’ Malcolm. (A big and noteworthy strike against Keith as a winner, and thusly in support of him as the last juror is that he wasn’t given the opportunity to mourn his partner, Wesley, in the Blood vs Water story). But Natalie has been distracted from winning, and could have signed her own death warrant. Keith will do what he was hired to and take out Jon, but by failing to take Keith into account, Natalie could find him making an immunity run to the end and taking her out as well.


R.I.P. Whatever the hell *this* was supposed to be

R.I.P. Whatever the hell *this* was supposed to be

Alec’s boot meant that the women’s newly-earned numerical lead over the men only increased, pulling the broader overarching theme of women outmaneuvering the men into clearer focus. This is made all the more glaring when you realize that Alec was the last man from the original Coyopa Tribe in the game. Now the Orange Tribe’s only representatives are Jaclyn and Baylor–the two surviving women who were once slated for execution, members of a tribe that couldn’t win; a tribe where women weren’t valued. If it is, in fact, Keith who will outstumble and outspit the rest to win, this could mark a conceivable (albeit personally unsatisfying) end to this long running thread–though it is absolutely possible, maybe even probable, that Natalie is still running it to the end.

Fortunately for Alec–a unquestionably secondary character of San Juan del Sur–his final episode also allowed for him to wrap up all of his own storylines and go out looking a little better than he’s looked for most of the season thusfar. When it seemed that he was poised to “beat out” Drew by taking over his spot in the story and becoming him, it made me suspect that Alec would possibly out-douche his brother by going out in an even bigger and more ridiculous blaze of glory (which didn’t seem possible!). But instead, Alec capped off his story because he beat out his brother by actually growing and being humbled as a person. The poor kid seemed positively broken in his final episode. He went from spreading his cream cheese all over Jaclyn to whimpering that he felt alone and admitting that he wished he could have a loved one like everyone else. The bizarre connection between him and Baylor was used to create the final cloud of question as to who would leave–him or Keith–by showing him finally admitting vulnerability to his sister-girlfriend in a last-ditch effort to save his own skin. Before this game started, I predicted that Alec had a sensitive side to him that would eventually be dragged out in Drew’s absence. In hindsight, I wish Drew had stayed around longer, because I think having him around would have actually been more effective in allowing Alec to express that side of himself, as he’d be more forced to individuate. Seeing that side of Alec earlier could ultimately allowed him to become a more complex and enjoyable character to watch, but I guess we’ll never know.

Oh, who am I kidding. I wouldn’t give back the Fall of Drew for anything.


Reed Faces 5Reed Faces 6 Reed Faces 2 Reed Faces 3 Reed Faces 7 We’ll miss you, Reed.


It should be off with Jon’s head, if Natalie and Baylor are going to have their way–but after injuring herself in a challenge, it could be off with Missy’s foot as an injury threatens to derail her game via medevac. Something smells like a red herring. It might just be cream cheese.

Survivor: San Juan del Sur Episode 10 Narrative Analysis- “This Is Where We Build Trust”




When Josh became the first castaway voted out of the merged Huyopa Tribe, it seemed to put his rival, Jeremy, in control of the game. But in Survivor, things are often not as they seem. After he found a Hidden Immunity Idol on Exile Island, Jon became paranoid that Jeremy knew and would try to use that knowledge against him. Jon was able to shake up the game by pushing to oust Jeremy, and it worked, completely blindsiding both Jeremy and his closest ally, Natalie. She swore to get revenge by taking out Jon, but she knew she had to bide her time. When the camp was left empty while half the tribe was on reward, she drafted Baylor to find the Hidden Immunity Idol with their clues from Exile Island, and Natalie came out successful. She and Baylor then hatched a plan to target the trailing alliance before the men could gain a majority over the women.

Jeremy’s departure also gave Josh’s boyfriend Reed a chance to pick up where Josh left off to try and salvage his game. Though Reed had joined Jon in taking out Jeremy, he was hatching a plan to take Jon. To pull it off, Reed needed to convince the majority alliance to split the votes between father-son duo Keith and Wes, as everyone knew Keith had an Idol. By convincing the alliance in power to split their majority, Reed knew he could then vote with Keith, Wes, and Alec to take out Jon. To bolster his cover, he gave up his reward to Missy, who joined Alec, Jon and his girlfriend Jaclyn on an emotionally fulfilling reward trip where the castaways delivered baseball equipment to local Nicaraguan children. The experience allowed for Jon and Jaclyn to reflect on their desire to start a family in spite of Jaclyn’s infertility.

Wes, who was Exiled, rejoined the other castaways for a grueling Immunity Challenge where Jeff Probst tested their resolve by tempting the castaways off of their perches with food rewards. The power alliance showed their hand when Jon was the first to step down, eventually leaving Natalie as the only representative from her alliance trying to keep immunity out of Reed’s hands. Even Wes, who was in danger, stepped down for a plate of chicken wings–which is, to be fair, expected of the prestigious winner of the Eating Nuggets Contest.  After three hours, Natalie realized she couldn’t win, and instead gave Jeff a list of culinary demands. She stepped down when Probst followed through, and Reed won immunity. Safe from the vote, he continued to put his plan in place, getting Alec to convince Missy and Jon that he’d work with them to split the votes.

At Tribal Council, Reed’s carefully crafted plan was shattered when Keith missed his cue to play dumb–instead, he told Reed pointedly to stick to the plan, causing Jaclyn to become suspicious and attempt to change course. Chaos proceeded to run rampant as the players tried to determine how they were really voting and who they really trusted. With the votes cast, Natalie implored Jon to play his idol, and wisely, he listened, negating the four votes against him. He wasn’t the only one, however–Keith offered his idol to Wes, but Wes refused, and Keith ended up deflecting three votes against himself as well. With only two votes against him, Wes found himself wishing he had stayed in the Immunity Challenge–he became the tenth person out of Survivor: San Juan del Sur, having been accidentally idoled out by his own dad. Eight remain… who will be the next to go?



"Wesley Nale made out with a hot wing"

“Wesley Nale made out with a hot wing”

It doesn’t say a whole lot about the broader narrative of the season, but the Uncomfortably Numb Immunity Challenge might have been one of the funniest challenges Survivor has ever had. Not that the very simple endurance challenge was particularly funny in and of itself–rather, the castaways went above and beyond the call of duty to turn it into their own personal comedy show, and the editors certainly played along. Jon nearly orgasmed from a chocolate bar; Baylor out-white-girled herself by calling her mom “Homie G;” Keith fought death via wasp; Natalie spit on herself before treating Probst like a waiter; and Reed went all the way to ham city with his dazzling dismount. The only thing missing was Alec’s weird multi-colored Spencer’s Gifts’ rosary to make him look more like Jesus when he compared himself to Jesus. Fortunately, any shortcomings were made up for by Wesley, regaling us with the tale of the Eatin’ Nuggets Contest (TM) in between snarfing of wings before asking Jeff about when he was naked on Two and a Half Men. Of course you love that show, Wes. We’ll miss you always being there to risk it for the biscuit.


It's like a *pageant*!

It’s like a *pageant*!

Reed and Josh were hyped pre-season as a pair of devoted superfans, and with his back up against the wall, Reed is definitely showing how badly he wants to stay in this game. His plan to take advantage of split votes in order to oust Jon is one that, quite frankly, I’m amazed doesn’t get brought up by players more often, and it definitely showed a savvy that many players don’t get a chance to demonstrate on-air. The fact that he was moments away from pulling it off is almost as impressive as it would have been if the move had actually worked. And it wasn’t only Reed’s strategy that was highlighted in this episode– we’re seeing more of his personality, which is  patently showy and dramatic, but in a way that is certainly nothing if not charming.

There is more to Reed’s narrative, however, than being a fun guy in a tight spot–which is something I never thought I’d be saying about a character who has been as secondary as Reed. But this isn’t just any old season. This is Blood vs Water, and that means that characters can be connected via the story in ways they never could be otherwise. For Reed, this means his story can be a direct continuation of Josh’s. He’s inherited all of Josh’s visibility, as well as his relationship with the audience as a narrator. Josh’s story now becomes Josh and Reed’s story. I don’t know that it’s enough to be Reed’s winning story, but damn it, the editors have suckered me in. I’m hoping–and thinking–that this Extra Life for the Broadway Boyfriends isn’t over just yet.

And if I can divert from the analysis for one second, I’d just like to say that as a gay man, I’m really enjoying Reed’s presence and portrayal on this season because I think he (and Josh) has been a really enjoyable character who is doing a great job of subverting the notion that gay men can’t be effeminate and strong. He may be able to spread his legs like a ballerina, but there is also no question that he could wrap his thighs around your head and pop it like a overripe melon. It wouldn’t be a bad way to go out.


I don't know what's sweeter, that ice cream or Jon

I don’t know what’s more cloyingly sweet; the ice cream or Jon

While we’re diverting from the analysis so I can get on a soapbox,  there is something else I want to talk about–something that struck me as extremely problematic in this episode. It’s something that you can certainly explain from a storytelling perspective, which I’ll get to–but that doesn’t make it okay. And that something is MRKH Syndrome.

I was extremely disappointed in the editor’s choice to have Jon explain Jaclyn’s condition to the viewers, because it took her work as an advocate and commodified it into a plot-point that was framed entirely around him. (Please note, I am not holding Jon accountable for this at all–he’s not at fault for what the editors chose to use.) We live in a culture that, while improving, still has very rigid boxes regarding the performance and meaning of sex and gender. For women, there is an incredible pressure to have children, to the point that it’s almost deified as the ultimate female rite-of-passage. Our social narrative links childbirth and womanhood intrinsically, and the shaming that surrounds infertility is often silent and easy to brush aside as not that big of a deal. For Jaclyn, infertility is a fact of her body and her experiences, and it was extremely uncomfortable that someone else was given the pulpit to express those experiences on her behalf, especially when that someone was a man, even if he’s an extremely compassionate and likeable one.

While this really, really pissed me off, I also did concede that there was a storytelling mechanism at work here.. Framing Jaclyn as relevant only insofar as how she impacts Jon is the final nail in her coffin as a potential winner–there is no way, if she walked away with the prize, that the editors would have Jon telling this story on her behalf. Instead, it allowed Jon to once again look like the ultimate golden boy (or silver monkey?), emphasizing his huge heart and the fact that his love for Jaclyn is matched with respect. This respect is illustrated because he would never be so shallow as to leave a woman because of her infertility. While I think it’s a shame that we’re being implored to applaud Jon for that, it nevertheless lines up with his portrayal as the only “good” guy in the game, especially when it comes to women.

While this should have been Jon’s most glowing episode yet, it instead took a sharp turn into Buffoonsville. Jon didn’t even last ten minutes in the Immunity Challenge (tempted off by a Snicker’s of all things), and then needed someone else to prod him into coughing up the Idol. The moment with Natalie telling him to play it could have easily been left on the cutting room floor. The fact that it wasn’t raises a lot of flags. While the story tells us up front that Keith has no idea what he’s doing; Jon’s lack of savvy for the game is revealed slowly through smaller glimpses. And not being that great of a player isn’t good for someone who has enemies gunning after him in all directions.


Third time's the charm... but is the Third Twinnie?

Third time’s the charm… but is the Third Twinnie?

One of the people gunning for Jon–and perhaps this episodes biggest breakout star, even over Keith and Reed–is none other than Natalie. She wants Jon’s head on a platter, and her long-term plan that she shared with us ties into the ever-emergent theme of Girl Power in spades. With only a few episodes remaining in the season, Jon and Jaclyn’s story is nearing its apex for certain–and if it ends with Jon’s torch going out before Jaclyn’s, then Natalie is golden.

On The Amazing Race, Natalie and Nadiya came off more like clones than siblings. They were like one person spread across two bodies. Being a twin is a part of who Natalie is, and the story has not been shy about explicitly telling us that she’ll find a new partner to serve that role if she so needs. She was separated from Nadiya, who was then the first out, forcing her to turn to Jeremy (himself also a twin). With Jeremy gone, Natalie feels just as burned as when Nadiya was ousted–and she once again has filled the twin-void in her life. While she takes her confessional time to tell us that Baylor is now her number one ally, the new “twinnie” she has in the game is her Idol–a partner that can’t backstab her or get voted out. Of course, if Natalie has to play the idol, then her Twinnie is gone, which could be a death sentence for a character who the story has told us needs a twin to survive. Jeremy’s story was done when he was out of dragons to slay. I’m hoping for Natalie’s sake that she can hold on to that thing, because this episode allowed her to shine as an individual whose proving to be the total package–a no-holds-barred Survivor player who can also deliver levity and personality as a character. She has a Kill-Bill flavored revenge narrative that is now running at full speed. I’m hoping with every fiber of my being that my analysis is on point; and that her victory is the final culmination of all this season’s narrative threads. I just hope she’s not too good to be true, because there is still someone else who I just can’t in good faith write off…


"Oops"- Keith Nale

“Oops”- Keith Nale

In light of everything, that person is Keith.

The outcome of Keith’s actions in “This is Where We Build Trust” is going to be the albatross he carries for the rest of the game, and there is no way for the story to skirt around this. Reed’s plan to blindside Jon had actually worked, and if Keith hadn’t blown their cover, he’d have been able to hold on to both his Idol and his son. Instead, Keith created an outcome that forced him to lose both in order to survive. The repeated focus on Keith’s lack of Survivor-know-how has been a major element in his story, and it seems it has all been building up to this truly catastrophic blunder.

And yet, amazingly enough, I think Keith has the room for his roller coaster to once again swing upward, especially from the perspective of the story. As a player, he has proven to everyone, in the most public setting imaginable, that he has no idea what he’s doing. Everything that made him a target–having an idol and having his partner–is now lost. If the majority alliance stays together, they’ll be going after Reed (and likely Alec) before they’ll go after Keith. And outside of the minority, there are a lot more eyes on Jon than there are on Keith. Keith fucked up, sure–but now he’s off the radar and has plenty of time to try and recover. His biggest obstacle is that he might not know how to do that, but if someone (like Missy) looks at his bad gameplay as a quality that goats are made of, Keith won’t need to know how–someone else will do the work for him.

This is the climax of Keith’s story, but that isn’t analogous to saying it’s the end. Jeff Probst implored the castaways to play in the moment; and for the moment, Keith is still here. Don’t get me wrong–his gameplay this round was abysmal, and I’ll be entirely unsurprised if he ends up as little more than a loveable goof done in by his own poor grasp of things. But I would also be entirely unsurprised if he becomes one of the most unlikely Sole Survivors to date.


Science fiction, double feature! We have back-to-back episodes, in which we see the return of the coconut chop; Reed awakening the mama bear when he calls out Baylor’s bratty ways; and a major blow-up between Jon and Jaclyn that could possibly spell the end of their game!