Survivor: Worlds Apart Episode 1 Narrative Analysis- “This is Survivor Warfare”

by Julian

THE STORY SO FAR

In the jungles of Nicaragua, 18 Americans arrived in three jeeps for the 30th season of Survivor, divided into tribes based on occupation and life perspective. Right off the bat, Jeff Probst threw a curveball at the players, asking each tribe to select two of its castaways to make an important decision for their tribe. Unbeknownst to any of them, that decision would see those two castaways choosing to play with either honor or deceit. Choosing honor meant a large bag of beans for the tribe; while deceit would yield a miniscule bag of beans along with a clue to the hidden immunity idol. The ramifications of this choice would prove to have a profound impact; alongside the labels assigned to each group.

The Escameca Tribe were assigned the label of “Blue Collar,” the ones who follow the rules, consisting of hard working manual laborers like state trooper Kelly Remington and postal service mechanic Dan Foley, who as the oldest member of the tribe, was selected to be the decision maker. He was joined by oil driller Mike Holloway, who immediately formed a bond with Dan as they decided to play honorably and pick the extra beans. Mike and Dan weren’t the only blue collars to buddy up, however. General contractor Rodney Lavoie used tattoos to make a connection with hairstylist and single mom Lindsey Cascaddan when he shared the story behind a tattoo commemorating his dead sister. Rodney had ulterior motives, however, believing that he could manipulate the women of the tribe with his sad story. His goal was to form an alliance with the women of the tribe and serve as their leader. His plan seemed to fall into place when Dan put himself on the outs, condescending to Lindsey and rodeo cowgirl Sierra Thomas over the construction of the tribe shelter. Dan’s only friend was the high-energy Mike, the one person nobody on the tribe seemed to have any issue with.

Escameca was not the only tribe to navigate conflict, however. The Nagarote Tribe was assigned the label of “No Collar,” the free spirits whose careers and life goals are dictated by passion and a penchant for breaking the rules, such as aspiring public defender Hali Ford and hearing advocate Nina Poersch. The laid-back No Collars seemed content to treat their campsite like a hippie commune, with sailing instructor Jenn Brown expertly handling the decision she had to make with viral video star Will Sims by turning it into a tribe choice and choosing to play honestly. Jenn’s positive energy appealed to many of her tribemates, especially Coach Wade coconut vendor Vince Sly, who proposed that the two align. Jenn was quick to take him up on his offer, but soon realized Vince may have been thinking with his other head. When jewelry designer Malcolm Freberg Joe Anglim started fire for the tribe, after having already stepped up to lead construction for the shelter, it was clear Vince was jealous. The last straw for the distributor of the portable spiritual oasis was when he believed Jenn was crushing on Joe, crushing his spirits. He confronted Jenn in a heart-to-heart-to-armpit conversation, where Jenn realized that she would have to put in overtime to manage Vince’s expectations.

At the first challenge of the game, Joe brought Nagarote to victory when he quickly completed the puzzle, and though Escameca had trailed the entire challenge,  the “White Collar” Masaya Tribe fell behind on the puzzle, and instead found themselves the first tribe to attend Tribal Council.

Unlike the other two tribes, the corporate, power-minded Masayans chose deceit over honor, with marketing director Joaquin Souberbielle and retail buyer So Kim forming a fast alliance as they chose the clue to the idol. To cover their tracks, So peddled a lie that she and Joaquin chose the “neutral” option. Nobody else seemed to believe them, and corporate vice president Carolyn Rivera was positive that they’d come into a clue for the idol, and confirmed her suspicions when she followed So and found the idol for herself. The idol wasn’t Carolyn’s only protection–she was approached by Yahoo product manager Shirin Oskooi, who was quick to form an alliance between the two of them and media consultant Max Dawson.

In the challenge, So earned the tribe a commanding lead by tearing through the knots in the first portion of the challenge, but Shirin blew it when she failed to grasp the puzzle quickly enough. Despite Shirin’s failure making her an easy target, So commended her for stepping up, and wanted to target the tribe’s eldest member, Carolyn, instead. The vote became a question of challenge strength versus trust, however, and it was ex-CAA assistant Tyler Fredrickson who became the swing vote. To curry his favor, Carolyn revealed to him that she had found the idol, but instead, Tyler began wondering if it made Carolyn a threat. At Tribal Council, everything was dumped out on the table, as So and Joaquin were confronted for their “neutral” lie and every alliance in the group was outed. After a tense round of discussion, self-proclaimed “devil” So was exorcized, and she became the first castaway voted out of Survivor: Worlds Apart. Seventeen remain… who will be the next to go?

A CLOSER LOOK

LEGION OF  SUPERFANS

"Oh my gosh, please tell us *more* about kale, Max, it's soooo interesting!"

“Oh my gosh, please tell us *more* about kale, Max, it’s soooo interesting!”

The cast of Worlds Apart was picked before they were divided into their “collar” themed tribes, so there is some clear stretching of definitions involved in placing the members of the tribes. Regardless, it seems evident from the get go that the collar label is about much more than profession–as Jeff said, it’s about an approach to life. It’s from this perspective that we can see the importance this division will have, as it not only impacts how the players begin to see themselves, but how the story begins to frame the players. After all, in real America, there are hundreds of thousands of White Collar workers who arrive at work only to slave away in a cubicle as little more than a cog in a machine. These people are not the power hungry control freaks that Jeff posits the White Collars as being. When Jeff divides and explains the tribes, he’s doing his job for the story, not for the game. He’s telling us who we’re meant to root for, and who we’re meant to root against. This now creates a problem, as the editors have to use different means to create heroes on a tribe that defaults to being villains.

We got a much deeper look into the dynamics of Masaya than the other two tribes, likely because they were the tribe that had to vote this episode, and with that came a pretty clear stratification of alliances. Right off the bat, Shirin rounds up Carolyn and Max to form a tight threesome (it’s so tight that on Day 3 Max is already waxing poetic about how they’ve been together since Day 1!). At the episode’s end, we see that this alliance has been successful–it’s most visible and vocal member, Carolyn, has been spared, and her target, So (much drama!), has been eliminated.  This alliance is interesting, because their unification goes beyond the simple fact that we’re told upfront they’re together. We are shown a common thread of super-fandom that binds this group even further. All three make numerous comments and references to the fact that they are big fans and have learned a lot as “students of the game,” so to speak. Shirin says that Survivor has been a dream of hers since she was 16, and uses her knowledge as a fan to dismantle So and Joaquin’s lie by pointing out that production would never give the players a neutral option when they could instead walk them into a trap.  Max is highlighted as the professor who taught a class on Survivor, and he wisely stays out of the leadership fracas by citing the fact that it never works out. His advice is proven right by the story–Joaquin and So, who step up, take a quick fall because of it.

Of this trio, however, it’s Carolyn who becomes the most visible and important character. Like the others, she uses her Superfan Powers to her advantage, sniffing out Soaquin’s lie and capitalizing on it to hunt down the idol for herself. But beyond just being a superfan like her allies, Carolyn actively seeks to buck the label of a White Collar villain, instead espousing the positive qualities that being White Collar brings. She rejects the notion that she doesn’t work hard or have a free spirit, and brings her enthusiasm for the game forward with full force. When the gun is turned on her at Tribal Council, she comes out swinging in defense. Because Carolyn was so important to the events of the premiere (she found an idol and was also in the mix to be eliminated), it’s hard to know if her storyline is circumstantial or part of a bigger picture. Only time can tell, but regardless, she’s grabbed our attention.

These scenes of shared superfandom aren’t only used to illustrate that this trio is playing hard, but it reminds us in the audience that they’re playing like us. These aren’t the hot girls recruited from the pageant circuit who wouldn’t know Wigglesworth from Wentworth. They’re the same people who are sitting in your living room, yelling at the TV when someone does something stupid. Despite the fact that they’re the “evil” White Collars, they are also Just Like You (TM), and that, amongst other things, makes them the heroes of the tribe.

THE DEMON AND THE DOUCHEBAG

This screencap was taken right before they slaughtered a cameraman in ritual blood sacrifice

This screencap was taken right before they slaughtered a cameraman in ritual blood sacrifice

We’re also informed that Carolyn and Friends are the heroes because, well, they’re not So and Joaquin. So’s very first confessional has her describing herself as “the devil”–words she later uses to describe Joaquin when he pushes hard for them to deceive instead of pick the honest route. Joaquin in particular exemplifies almost every negative stereotype of the White Collar to a T, to almost cartoonish perfection. “Fast money, loose women, lots of champagne,” he laughs in his very first confessional, where he also professes a desire to always be “the guy in charge.” He comes across as over-eager to play the scheming, backstabbing baddie that the White Collars have been promised to be. Joaquin’s understanding of Survivor comes across as being very surface-level when compared to the others, especially as he becomes the one to drop the number one thing you shouldn’t ever say on a reality show if you actually want to win in “I’m not here to make friends.” To him, it almost appears that the more evil you can be, the better a job you’re doing at playing the game. Truthfully, I don’t know that he could approach the game any other way. He doesn’t seem to realize that Survivor is a game that’s all about making friends.

Of course, the end result of this is that Joaquin has put himself on the outs, his only ally sent packing. This isn’t to say he can’t survive, however. If Masaya takes to losing yet again, the dominant alliance could crumble in a desperate attempt to preserve their strongest competitors. Even if he’s able to squeak through, however, we’ve already learned everything we need to know about Joaquin–he’s a douche, and he’s not going to win this game.

UNSUNG HEROES?

Maybe they'd get something done with Work Hard Play Hard Zoe on their tribe

Maybe they’d get something done with Work Hard Play Hard Zoe on their tribe

The final tactic that the editors use to establish the “good” and “evil” factions of Masaya is by calling to the other collars for assistance. Designated Douchebag Joaquin doesn’t seem to care that nobody on the tribe can make a fire, saying that in real life, the White Collar Way would be to hire a Blue Collar to start the fire for you. Tyler is more perceptive, saying that if Masaya wants to succeed, they’ll need to find their Blue Collar work ethic and make it happen. This is because if the White Collars are the villains, the Blue Collars are the heroes. They represent the elusive “real person.” They’re the tribe that your mother or father would be on. They’re the people in your neighborhood. They aren’t high falutin’, self-important cogs in a corporate hive-mind of elitism like the “evil” White Collars–they’re Just Like You (TM). “We built the heart of America!” Dan gushes. “Blood, sweat and tears; callouses on our hands; sore at the end of the day… but with a smile on our face knowing that we accomplished a good days work.”

Additionally, Jeff says that if the White Collars are the rule-makers, and No Collars are the rule-breakers, then Blue Collars are the rule-followers. It’s the least flattering label to be slapped with in that regard, and it immediately creates stakes for the Blue Collars–this game is the chance for the castaways of Escameca to make a statement on behalf Blue Collar underdogs everywhere. This is their chance to stop following the rules, to decide their own fates and not be pushed around by the metaphorical man. Lindsey even says point blank that the winner of the game is on their tribe.

But there is a disconnect with this tribe, for as much as we’re explicitly told to root for them, the number one rule of good storytelling is to show, not tell. When it comes to what we actually see the Escameca Tribe doing, we’re not left with a whole lot to pull for. While Dan suckers us in initially with proclamations of superfandom and his Blue Collar shalingua soliloquy, he turns this perception on its head with piss-poor gameplay as he berates and condescends to his tribemates when he disagrees with them. When they justifiably become irate, he flips the script completely, refusing to add any input whatsoever. The behavior is childish and petulant. It’s not how we’ve come to expect a hero to play. Yet, while Dan is pretty unambiguously in the wrong, however, we aren’t given much reason to sympathize with the tribemates he’s mistreating. When he goes off, Lindsey and Sierra laugh in his face, and Sierra even talks about Dan as if he’s not there. Dan’s outburst only deepens the disconnect between him and the younger women: when he and Mike come clean about the deceit-or-honor twist, Sierra notably doesn’t believe them, even though they’re telling the truth.

The women’s dissatisfaction with Dan plays right into the hands of Boston Rod, the most obvious villain of the tribe–though it’s important to know that unlike Joaquin, Rodney is portrayed as the best kind of villain you can be on Survivor. He (rather misogynistically) tells us that he wants to form an alliance of women because he believes women are desperate to be controlled by a man, and reveals his plan to do so by emotionally manipulating them with his secret, sensitive side. We see him do just that by disclosing the story of his sister’s death to Lindsey. It’s not Rodney’s first lie in the game. When the tribes are first divided, he tells us that he relishes the Blue Collar label, because it gives him a smokescreen to work with. He hopes it will keep the other players from seeing his hustle. By the end of the episode, the Escameca women all appear at their wits end with Dan. They’re more than happy to laugh along with Rodney when he suggests that “Harry Potter’s Grandpa” is the first to go. The end result is that for a tribe of heroes, we aren’t really left with anyone to pull for; with a grumpy (if well meaning) old man on one side and a group of mean girls and their manipulative mastermind of a leader on the other.

MAGIC MIKE

Moments after this screencap was taken, Mike died from being poisoned by So and Joaquin as part of a ritual sacrifice

Moments after this screencap was taken, Mike died from being poisoned by So and Joaquin as part of a ritual sacrifice

If there is any redemption for the Blue Collar hero, it’s Mike, the castaway who perhaps most exemplifies the notion of what it means to be Blue Collar. The oil driller has a very complex and flattering portrait painted of him by the storytellers, and it’s all but circled in bright red, telling us to keep our eyes on the show. Mike has a lot of highlights–Dan calls him the “glue” that holds the tribe together; Lindsey enthusiastically cheers him on as he brings the tribe back from the brink to steal immunity from Masaya. He tells us that in his line of work, you get dirty–but if you’re not willing to get your hands dirty, you don’t get to win.

The most important scene for Mike is when he finds a scorpion and decides to eat it and take his protein where he can get it. The end result is that he ralphs it up, but it’s all in good fun; a learning experience. Perhaps if the scene was accompanied by other members of the tribe talking about how Mike is stupid and impulsive, he’d come off looking stupid and impulsive. The accompaniment that we get, however, is Mike telling us that eating the scorpion is a metaphor for how he’s going to play Survivor. “…If I see an opportunity in front of me, I’m going to grab it. I’m going to run as fast as I can, clench on as hard as I can, and ride that bull for as long as I can. I saw that scorpion, I seized the opportunity–and I payed the consequence!”

Not only does Mike entertain, but he lays out a path and a story for himself in the future. We now know that he is an opportunist and a risk taker who is willing to play hard and swing for the fences, even if it ends with him striking out. It rings true to the rhetoric that Jeff Probst has been slinging about the show in the last few seasons as he does his job to shape the outcome of a game over which he has no control: “You don’t win Survivor without making big moves.” It’s only the first episode, so Mike hasn’t had a lot of opportunity to make moves, but the story wants us to be assured that it’s going to happen.  Maybe history will repeat itself, and Mike will do little more than screw himself over further. Or maybe he’ll luck out the next time, and be rewarded for his willingness to take risks. While the outcome is uncertain, the story’s intentions for Mike–that we’ll be hoping for the latter–is pretty clear cut.

THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT JENN

That "something" is her pungent odor

That “something” is her pungent odor

Let’s be blunt for a second about gross reality: Survivor can get very sexist, very quickly. The editors of this show either don’t respect women as much as men, or don’t believe that the audience respects women as much as men. They don’t like to show women when they don’t have to. They often don’t seem to view as inherently interesting when compared to men.

This is pertinent because the Nagarote Tribe has on it two castaways who are very clear attempts on behalf of casting to re-create some of Survivor’s most iconic male castaways in recent years; with Vince as NuCoach and Joe as an Ersatz Malcolm. Yet it’s Jenn who is chosen as tribe’s most visible and vocal character; the narrator whose lens we view the tribe through. Any time we get to see the world of the game predominately from one character’s perspective, its worth taking note of, because this is how the story tells us that this person’s perspective matters. But the fact that it comes from a woman makes it stand out even more. Much as with Mike, Jenn has been circled in red. She’s even been given a Spirit Animal in the vein of Jon Misch and his howler monkey in San Juan del Sur (for mischievous Jenn, it’s instead the raccoon).

There is a lot to like about Jenn’s perspective, and it goes beyond the fact that she’s naturally funny and engaging as a speaker. Much of Nagarote’s screentime was used to establish just what exactly the “No Collar” life is about, and Jenn does a great job of it. Hali tells us she’s “for the greater good,” and Will tells us it’s about not taking life too seriously, but these statements and mindsets don’t get too thoroughly fleshed out. And sure, none of the No Collars are nearly as eccentric as Vince, but his bizarreness only serves to paint a shallow picture. Jenn is thinking the long game from the get-go–she deftly handles the initial twist by turning it into a tribe decision, noting wisely that discord early on helps nobody and that it kills the vibe of community that Nagarote is building it’s foundations upon. As much as Jenn abhors being told what to do–it’s the first thing we learn about her–she understands that Survivor is a game of people pleasing. This is made perhaps the most evident in how Jenn deals with the one-sided rivalry that forms between Vince and Joe.

COACH AND MALCOLM

"Stop wearing feathers in your hair. Don't tell your stories--people don't believe your stories. They mock you."

“Stop wearing feathers in your hair. Don’t tell your stories–people don’t believe your stories. They mock you.”

In an interview, Jeff Probst once said that most of the players in any given Survivor cast are nowhere near as self-aware as they think they are, and that it’s one of the key ingredients for the show’s success because the people who aren’t self-aware are incapable of realizing it. The character archetype established by Coach Wade in Tocantins is perhaps the most clear-cut example of this thinking, and as this seasons Coach-Lite, a lack of self-awareness is a trait Vince has in spades. We learn Vince is deeply insecure, but is unaware of how much he’s showing his hand. From Vince’s perspective, he’s doing a bang up job at hiding how insecure and sensitive he really is–he’s totally snowed himself, after all. To outsiders, it appears that all of Vince’s eccentricity is affect. He uses it as a security blanket and it reads loud and clear.

This lack of awareness, more than anything else, is what really puts Vince at odds with Joe, as Vince is threatened by Joe’s much more natural confidence. Joe seems aware that many of his own No Collar trappings are illusory, almost as if by design. Joe tells us he wants to be underestimated.  Joe knows he is smart, competitive, athletic, and charming. Joe knows that he could stand a very good shot at winning the game no matter who he’s up against in the finals, and that because of that, it will be very, very tempting for everyone else to vote him out. Joe knows he is the new Malcolm, but wants for people to think he’s the new Woo. Vince thinks he’s the new Malcolm and wants people to think he’s the new Malcolm. Jenn’s perceived rejection stings Vince because it’s more than just a pretty girl saying no–it’s someone who is failing to validate his narrative.

For Jenn’s part, I think the story tells us that she’s handling Vince as best as she can, but for as disconnected as he is to reality, he’s clued in enough to not buy what Jenn is selling. Fortunately for Jenn, this is a chink in her armor she can likely overcome–if Vince begins to feel cheated or played and tries to sell her down the river in retribution, he’s almost unquestionably already ensured that nobody will take his concerns seriously.

Also, Vince is a creep.

THE PROFESSOR AND MARY-ANN

I just love Lindsey's face tattoo and wanted a shot with it included

I just love Lindsey’s face tattoo and wanted a shot with it included

It’s only Episode One, so there’s obviously a lot to cover, and not everybody could be center stage. I want to take this moment to briefly touch base on a few of the less major characters who stuck out to me nevertheless. Lindsey is obviously one of them–she didn’t get a lot of screentime, but compared to the other women of her tribe, we were oversaturated with her. Lindsey’s very obviously alternative appearance would, at a distance, peg her as a No Collar, and a hairdresser isn’t exactly the job that springs to mind when you hear “Blue Collar.” Maybe the brief moments we got to learn about her life as a mentally-tough single mom were simply meant to show us why she’s Blue Collar as opposed to No Collar. Personally, I feel that there’s a little more to it than that. The storytellers have very quietly moved Lindsey’s piece onto the board, but she hasn’t come into play quite yet. I think Lindsey is going to have a job to do somewhere in this narrative, but we don’t yet have the resources to figure out what that job is quite yet. I’m hoping it’s a good one–it’s far too often on this show that the “alt” looking women are one-dimensional loose cannons, and I would love to see Lindsey buck that trend.

The other character who I took notice of was Tyler, who actually *did* have a fairly major role to play in the story as Masaya’s swing vote. Despite this status, he was very subdued, and I don’t think that’s an accident on either the his behalf or that of the story. Tyler is smart, and Tyler is athletic. Tyler could be very, very dangerous if people catch on, and I think that while Joe is a character who wants to hide in the background, Tyler is someone who is much more capable of actually doing it. He’s holding his cards very close to his chest–but I’d be entirely unsurprised if he was holding a winning hand the entire time. Of course, he could also just not matter that much to the story. Only time will tell.

NEXT TIME

"It's just... not worth it! *sob*"

“It’s just… not worth it! *sob*”

Nagarote’s hippie vibes are thrown off when Nina feels alienated and clashes with the tribe. Meanwhile, Masaya votes off all their clothes, and Max’s naked body leads to sadly expected “ew gross” posturing on behalf of Joaquin and Tyler, who have apparently never seen a penis before. They have that in common with the posters of the Survivor Facebook Page, apparently.

ONE MORE THING!

The Worlds Apart cast is one that is very excited about this season and involved in the fandom. I know there is a strong possibility that at least one of the cast members is reading this right now… and if so, hi! Thank you all so much for taking part in a show that means the world to me and a lot of other fans. In that process you put yourselves in a position to be judged and scrutinized based on heavily edited versions of yourselves, and that can’t be easy. It takes a lot of guts, and I have nothing but respect for everyone who goes for it.

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