Survivor: Worlds Apart Episode 7 Narrative Analysis- “The Line Will Be Drawn Tonight”
THE STORY SO FAR
On Day 17 of Survivor: Worlds Apart, the Nagarote and Escameca Tribes merged, and though the swap had shuffled the players, the original tribal boundaries were still on everyone’s mind. Mike was elated to show his patriotism when he named the Merica Tribe, but was even more excited to be reunited with his closest ally, Kelly. With the support of Sierra, Dan, and Rodney, the Blue Collars were still 5 strong, compared to No Collars, who had only 4 when Joe rejoined Jenn, Hali, and Will. The White Collars were left at 3: a secret alliance of Carolyn (who had an idol) and Tyler (the only person who Carolyn told), as well as outsider Shirin–who was notably unamused by the new tribe name.
Though tribal lines seemed intact on the surface, as the Merica Tribe built their new campsite, it became apparent that the reality was not so simple. Rodney was still upset with Mike and the other Blue Collars for leaving him out of the loop and cutting off his budding bromance with Joaquin. He put pressure on both Carolyn and Will to join the Blue Collar alliance for the time being, promising that down the road, they could work with him and Kelly to take the other Blue Collars out. Carolyn was intrigued by the prospect of a Final 4 deal, while Will knew he was on the bottom of the No Collar tribe, and considered making a move as well. Despite being mad at Mike, Rodney agreed with the Blue Collar leader that Joe was a huge threat, and needed to go.
With the target squarely on his back, Joe put up an impressive show to save himself when he beat out Carolyn and a bee-stung Jenn in a rainy endurance challenge to win the first individual immunity. With Joe immune, the Blue Collars shifted their target to Jenn, hoping to break up another strong pair by separating her from Hali–but unable to fully trust Will, Mike told him Hali was the target instead. The two girls were able to secure Shirin’s loyalty, but knew, just as the Blue Collars did, that Tyler and Carolyn were the swing votes.
At Tribal Council, all of Merica seemed confident that whether with a knife, ice pick or chainsaw, a line was going to be drawn through the tribe–and that it was going to be a bloody one. While the White Collars were singled out as swing votes, Shirin made a point to show she wasn’t a swing vote, but loyal to the No Collars. The same couldn’t be said for Will, who flipped and voted for Hali as he had been instructed to. His vote didn’t matter, however, as Carolyn and Tyler ultimately sided with Mike and the Blue Collars to throw 7 votes Jenn’s way. It would have been enough to send Jenn home, but she wisely played the idol she’d kept concealed from everyone but Hali, and the blowback saw Kelly become the 7th castaway voted out of Survivor: Worlds Apart. Now eleven remain… who will be the next to go?
A CLOSER LOOK
GOD BLESS ‘MERICA
Merica is one of the more controversial tribe names we’ve seen as of late, and the story does its best to acknowledge this unorthodox choice and move on without making any declarations about its appropriateness. I don’t think it’s worth pouring over how we, the viewers, are meant to think of it–it is purely a bizarre choice that we’re given the resources to make our own decision on. If you find yourself choked up at the national anthem or praying at the Church of the Constitution, you may be inclined to see the name as a fun spirited show of patriotism, as Mike and Hali do. If you wish Middle America could stop living up to all the worst American stereotypes that have Europeans bristling at the mention of Americans, you may be more inclined to see the name as Shirin did. The story doesn’t really support or condemn either position.
The most relevant piece of the story we can get from Shirin’s anti-Merica monologue is that the Blue Collars are as alien and unappealing to her as she has been to most of the other castaways. She ultimately tells us that not only does she not fit in with the Blue Collars, but that despite their fractures, they’re still clearly unified, and she doesn’t want to risk giving them the numbers. Conventional wisdom would echo Carolyn’s sentiments when she targeted Max episodes ago–take off the head. Shirin and the No Collars talk it over, and opt instead to rip out the heart.
As I noted last week, Kelly was cast in the role of “Mom” on the hit family sitcom Escameca! We knew that Kelly was tough and even-keeled, smartly removing herself from the dramatics of her tribe. We knew that Mike saw her as his unquestionable number one. When the merge hits, we see that Rodney trusts her as well, pulling her in on his plan to eventually shift the numbers against Mike. Sierra, mostly absent from this episode, has one of her only lines when she tells Kelly she loves her as Kelly takes her torch to Jeff. Even White Collar Carolyn is shown to have bonded with Kelly while on NuNagarote, indicating that the tight relationship between the two older women was a factor for Carolyn siding with the Blue Collars.
But beyond the fact that everyone loved Kelly, we knew from Kelly herself that she loved Blue Collar just as much in return. Staying Blue Collar strong was a no-brainer as far as she was concerned. Not only was Blue Collar the home to her closest ally, Mike, but she expressed that being away from them “depressed” her and that she couldn’t wait to get away from her new tribe. Surviving on Nagarote was little more than undercover work to her; more akin to infiltrating a group of ignoble criminals than it was an opportunity to meet and work with new and different people.
At the end of the episode, we see the logic of the No Collars quite clearly–Kelly was indeed the heart of the tribe, and I believe that just as they predicted, removing Kelly could be the final blow that causes the eternally unstable Blue Collars to finally fracture.
The piece of the Blue Collar puzzle that we’ve had it reiterated is the least secure is Rodney. It’s been emphasized from the get-go that Blue Collar is where Rodney and Mike’s similarities begin and end. Rodney thinks it’s “putrid” that after his devoutly religious, proudly Texan tribe leader blindsided Joaquin, he now has to be said leader’s “bitch.” Rodney wants Blue Collar to pay–Mike in particular. He puts this plan into action immediately after the tribes merge, going after Will and Carolyn to lay the groundwork for a plan to dismantle the Blue Collars down the road. But down the road may not come with someone as volatile as Rodney. Kelly’s ouster only loosens Rodney’s connections to Blue Collar further. Now, rather than in the “fourth quarter,” Rodney might take his shot sooner. Regardless, he will go after Mike at some point. I don’t know if a player who has been portrayed as so stupid will actually pull it off, but damn it, Rodney’s going to try.
SMARTER THAN I LOOK
I wanted to give Dan the benefit of the doubt at the start of the season. I thought that maybe, despite the fact that he was annoying his tribe at first, he could turn it around somehow. The Blue Collars, as a tribe, seemed like such obvious general audience proxies, and out of all of them, Dan best exemplified the “real people” that the users of the Official Survivor Facebook Page demand more of every season. The story would have loved if the old, fat guy could be the guy who proved everyone wrong. Dan himself is still confident that he’ll do it.
Dan’s major scene in “The Line Will Be Drawn Tonight” has him getting stung by a jellyfish and being corrected by Jenn on how to cope with it (hot water, rather than the urban legend of urine). After Jenn sets him straight, Dan proceeds to hijack her knowledge and presents it as his own. He doesn’t want to miss an opportunity to prove himself to the others. He wants them to see that he’s smarter than he looks.
This scene was very disconnected from everything else in the episode, almost feeling inserted solely to remind us what Dan is all about, in case we’ve forgotten him. It’s not surprising when we think back to his introduction as a character, who proclaims that he will be remembered. Whenever we check in with Dan, we keep circling around the same points. He is desperate for attention, desperate to be a legend, and insistent that he’s a far more capable player than he appears to be. We’ve been reminded of these things one too many times for them to be coincidental. I’m starting to strongly consider that Dan goes far–maybe even to the Final 3. If he does make it, it’s likely as a goat, where be slaughtered. But who knows? Maybe he’ll remind the jury yet again that he’s smarter than he looks, and reveal that he was playing a goat all along, knowing it would grant him safe passage to the end. Either way, I think Dan is going to get his wish of being remembered, and he’ll do it either by finally proving everyone else wrong, or by suffering a fall for the ages in his pursuit to do so.
Dan’s not the only token older fat guy who could be making a deep run, however. Until this episode, I’ve had a lot of trouble deciphering what the story was doing with Will, a character who’s edit has felt very situational. Now that he’s flipped on the No Collars, his story becomes a lot more cohesive and clear.
The introduction to the character of Will showcases his humor and easygoing nature, and his personality, at first, helps us see his value in spite of his lack of physical prowess. Will himself never seems bothered by his own inability to perform in challenges, which has been hawked on and hammered home week after week, because Will seemed to have a game plan. After all, he said that everyone else on his tribe was playing checkers while he was playing chess. But that gameplan kicked off with throwing away a shot at power when he turned on Vince due to paranoia and hearsay. Now he’s jumped from the bottom of one alliance–an alliance he seemed to have committed to after they proved to him that he’s a part of the family–to the bottom of another, an alliance that didn’t even trust him enough to let him in on the real target. Will is a good guy; but he’s completely out of his depth in every way when it comes to Survivor. The clarity we get is that Will is the one stuck playing checkers on the chessboard. And on a board that has winning personalities such as Rodney and Dan, Will becomes another great candidate for a sharper player to pull along to the end.
BUSINESS AS USUAL
And he’s back! One of the sharper players in the game has always been Tyler, who finally gets an episode to really show what he’s capable of as a strategist when he’s put in a power position. The force that he exhibits isn’t really surprising. He’s always had nuggets of insight that show he’s observant and thoughtful when it comes to the game, and perhaps more importantly than that, as far as the narrative is concerned, is that he’s a White Collar. Survivor is business, and Tyler makes sure that the other castaways know he’s approaching it as such. His conversations with both Mike and Hali cut clear past any bullshit. He knows both sides need him, and that they’ll say whatever they can to sway him. He knows the Blue Collars have already burned him, while he doesn’t know the No Collars at all.
Perhaps most importantly, Tyler knows that pairs are targets, especially in this particular narrative, and Carolyn knows this as well. The story has done a great job of downplaying their alliance, despite the fact that it happened in the very first episode when Carolyn told Tyler about the idol. This week, we learn that the story has been in many ways mirroring their gameplay, intentionally disguising their relationship. From the conversations the competing alliances have with them, it seems to be working. No Collar wants Tyler to bring over whoever he thinks he can pull, showing that they don’t know for certain that person is Carolyn. Rodney makes no attempts to include Tyler in his plans, showing he doesn’t realize how vital Tyler is to Carolyn.
I think that Tyler and Carolyn’s ability to continue flying under the radar will be largely dependent on the choice they made to side with the Blue Collars, and how they handle the way that Jenn’s idol blew up the platform they were swinging to. Carolyn showed her toughness in the Immunity Challenge, Tyler has been showing his intellect all season long, and they have an idol on top of it all. I think that these two can recover for the short term, most certainly.
But playing an all-business game is a double edged sword, because business doesn’t make for a compelling story. While playing a smart, hidden game shows us Tyler’s aptitude as a player, it’s also left him largely absent as a character. Carolyn herself said the merge is like “Day One all over again,” and it’s on this Day One that Tyler’s story truly begins. It means there is a lot more incentive to watch what he does going forward, but with so many other characters who’ve been telling their stories for weeks, it’s doubtful Tyler can make a huge impact on the endgame.
THE BOMB SQUAD
Carolyn, on the other hand, has been much more involved in the narrative, and this week we see the threads of her story continue as Shirin commits herself to the No Collars. Throughout the episode, the castaways all fret about the White Collars as swing votes, but Shirin is very pointed in dismantling that perception at Tribal Council. When she declares she’s not a swing vote, it signals two things. One is that she’s heard Carolyn loud and clear, and that Shirin has nothing to do with the other original Masayas. The other is that Shirin isn’t leveraging her position. Rather, she’s chosen an alliance–the No Collars–and she’s going to stand by them. When it turns out that she’s the only one to do so, the window for Shirin to advance her own story about finally learning to fit in opens a little wider. Hali and Jenn agree that they need to put up with Shirin for the time being, but I have a feeling that over time, now that they’re stuck with her, they’re going to learn to actually like her. After all, it’s been apparent for a while that Shirin was more No Collar than White Collar. Ultimately, for this bonding to happen, well… none of the involved parties can go anywhere any time soon.
It would be so easy for the Blue Collars and friends to simply regroup and resume weeding out the Hippie Love Commune. In the game, there don’t seem to be any real obstacles to prevent it. But the story is a different case, because the players in that alliance are heavily armored by the plot. Shirin, as discussed last week, cannot be allowed to leave the story until she’s completed her personal evolution.
Even more important is Jenn, who has been a major character from the start, and is a character who still has a lot of game to play. Jenn told us that her idol would “screw up the game,” and Jeff likened it to a bomb going off after she used it. It wouldn’t fit with what we’ve seen for Jenn to simply save herself flashily and then immediately go home when she’s unprotected. I don’t buy it for a second. Jenn promised she would make a big wave happen, and her best friend, Hali, promised us that the No Collar Surf Sisters know how to ride the waves of the game better than anyone else.
On top of all that, in a season where a lot of attention has been drawn to pairs and the importance of splitting them up, Jenn’s idol has stopped the other players from severing the most clear-cut pair in the entire game in her and Hali. I think that there is a very real possibility that the girls could ride the wave together to the very end. If Mike Holloway can’t stop them, one of the Surf Sisters–be it out in front snarkmaster Jenn or the loveable and extremely bizarre Hali–will win this game.
(And I mean, really now–Hali is weird. Beyond any editorial importance to her confessionals, I think production just likes using them because she’s so surprisingly strange. For a show that usually casts young, attractive women in the blandest light possible, they’re really letting her freak flag fly. And her freak flag just so happens to also be a ‘merican flag.)
Jenn’s idol means that the Blue Collars are forced to realized there’s an unclaimed talisman somewhere on their beach, and everyone is scrambling to get to it first. In the meantime, Rodney scrambles to turn the tides against Mike.