Survivor: San Juan del Sur Episode 10 Narrative Analysis- “This Is Where We Build Trust”
THE STORY SO FAR
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?
A CLOSER LOOK
LIVE FROM NICARAGUA, IT’S WEDNESDAY NIGHT
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.
THE TALENTED MR. KELLY
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.
UTER-US, NOT UTER-YOU
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.
JUST ME AND MY 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…
THE WORST THING IN SURVIVOR HISTORY
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!