Survivor: Worlds Apart Episode 8 Narrative Analysis- “Keep It Real”
THE STORY SO FAR
It took no time at all for the game of Worlds Apart to kick into high gear once the Escameca Tribe and Nagarote Tribe merged into the Merica Tribe. At Merica’s first Tribal Council, the alliance of No Collars was saved when Jenn played the Nagarote Idol and took Kelly out of the game. Though Jenn was thoroughly amused by her play, the Blue Collars were less than enthused. Rodney in particular was furious with the results, and complained to Will that the outcome could have been avoided if the alliance wasn’t hampered by Mike’s leadership. The twosome confirmed their plan to eventually flip on the Blue Collar alliance with the assistance of Carolyn and Tyler.
When the castaways competed for their first individual reward, Joe once again impressed everyone with his extreme challenge prowess when he won the challenge. Given the opportunity for a zipline adventure, Joe wisely chose to share the reward with the swing votes–Will, Carolyn, and Tyler. When Jeff told Joe he could pick one more, Joe picked Superfan Shirin, knowing how much she’d appreciate the experience. Appreciate it she did, though Shirin wasn’t enthused about having to be with her former ally Carolyn. Joe appreciated the experience too–he found a clue to the hidden immunity idol, but was unable to procure it from the soda bottle it was hidden in without Tyler seeing.
The next day, Joe had no choice but to share his idol clue with Tyler, but the two men didn’t realize they were being tailed by Mike. Wanting to keep himself out of the line of fire, Tyler spilled the beans to Mike, and after days of searching, Mike ultimately was rewarded when he found the Escameca Idol with tears in his eyes. To keep the target on Joe, Mike made a big show of Joe having the idol. Later, Shirin approached Dan to ask him his thoughts on the idol paranoia sweeping camp, only for Dan to rip into Shirin for being a “superfan who can’t do basic math.” Despite Dan’s bullying tirade, Shirin stayed strong.
When it came time to solve puzzles for immunity, Dan put on a sad showing when he solved it incorrectly–twice. Joe, on the other hand, put on a much more impressive performance, winning his third straight individual challenge and once again saving himself from the Blue Collars. Unable to target Joe, much of the Blue Collar alliance wanted to get rid of Shirin, who they saw as an annoyance, but Mike was wary that Shirin could have the Masaya Idol, and convinced his alliance that the wisest move was to splinter the No Collars by taking out Hali. Not all of the Blue Collars were on board, however. Sierra commiserated with Shirin over Dan’s poor treatment of them both, and her continued ire towards the Blue Collar men left her tempted to jump ship when the No Collars proposed an women’s alliance. With Sierra desperate to flip, Tyler was once again left in the swing vote position, given the power to weaken either the Blue Collars or No Collars.
At Tribal Council, Dan and Shirin once again butted heads when Shirin blasted Dan’s assertion that “flippers never win;” and Hali gave a rousing speech about the importance of flipping as evidenced by the American Colonists opting to flip on the British Empire during the American Revolution. Sadly, the inspired speech would be Hali’s last. The alliance lines held fast, and Hali became the eighth castaway voted out of Survivor: Worlds Apart and the first member of the jury. Ten remain… who will be the next to go?
A CLOSER LOOK
DANGLING THE CARROT
Amongst us Survivor fans who analyze the editing of this show, you’ll see a lot of talk about manipulation. Because that’s what the editing is, at the end of the day–manipulation. As much as the editors are storytellers, they are also puppeteers. The story’s job is to, well, convey what happened. The show’s job is to entertain us, and part of that entertainment comes by getting us emotionally invested in the outcome.
People have been comparing Jenn and Hali to Survivor: Amazon’s Jenna and Heidi since the start of the season because of the obvious surface level similarities. But as characters, they are much more similar Greg and Colleen from Survivor: Borneo, the beloved sweethearts of the ill-fated MTV Beach House Tribe. Being the antithesis of the “evil” Tagi Tribe that Richard Hatch led, they content to play the game by their whims–they were more concerned with having fun. And Colleen, in particular, was America’s sweetheart. Her ouster was the day a dream died.
I had been trying to figure out Hali’s place in the story all season, and it was only upon her elimination that I realized it–she was there simply to be liked. Her quirks made her endearing. Her spirit made her easy to root for. She focused frequently on what it means to be No Collar, especially as someone whose career track in law seemed to be the polar opposite of the No Collar way. She was, in many ways, a modern-day Colleen. She was the summation of an beautiful ideal, a concept in the skin of a character. She was the greater good, and that makes losing her sting hard. The framing of the episode makes that sting burn long after.
“Keep it Real” leaned hard on the worst of Dan Foley, a character whose foundation is a complete lack of awareness as to how he is perceived. At the start, we think that the guy might be getting a raw deal, but as we get to know him, we see him constantly contradict himself and put his foot in his mouth. After all of his heinous hijinks, his scene with Shirin is a last straw. The entire scene, from the music ques to the way Dan delivers the lines, just drip with sickness. It’s not just obnoxious, it’s angering and sad. It’s watching a grown man who sees himself as so superior to everyone else acting like a playground bully. Like a child. The entire episode ran as a much darker take on the Drew Christy or Roger Sexton experiences. We saw every reason people would want Dan gone, and every reason why Dan would be gone. This was his humiliation conga. because as Hali told us, if you come at women with misogyny, you don’t get to win the game. It’s a much more certain statement than “Flippers Never Win.” (Or “Ouwijat, Oblaltay, Owlstr” for that matter).
And at the last minute, with only the most minor relevance to the episode, Hali’s on the jury and Dan is still in the game. The editors accomplished their job. They played expectations like a fiddle and manipulated the audience so people would gasp at the big reveal. We don’t receive the payoff that would turn the joke against Dan. Instead, he is validated and human sunshine walks off the island.
Going forward, the story cannot allow for Dan to get the last laugh. The narrative falls apart if he doesn’t get the final kick in his conga. We’ve had the carrot dangled in front of us. The storytellers will make sure by the end, we get a big bite.
THE OTHER REINDEER
A key part of the bite we’re going to get unquestionably involves Shirin. Her exact mechanisms are unclear right now. As she said to Dan, maybe we don’t understand her game. What we do understand about Shirin, however, is that she’s often a little misunderstood. And she’s definitely a Survivor nerd. If Dan is the playground bully in their exchange, Shirin is the nerd getting beaten up for her lunch money. And who doesn’t love a “Revenge of the Nerds” storyline?
Shirin has been presented as annoying, but ultimately harmless, and as having hidden depths beneath her eccentricities. As she becomes more sympathetic and her lack of power in the game becomes further emphasized, her numerous detractors start to look less and less reasonable with their contempt. This is dangerous for those detractors, such as Rodney and Dan (who both, in a show of some grossly ethnocentric behavior, showed a refusal to learn her “wacky” foreigner’s name) and Carolyn, who has hated her from the get-go, despite Shirin’s earnest attempts to befriend her on the first day. They should all be worried because as long as Shirin is fulfilling her mission of personal growth, the story will protect her with a cocoon. That cocoon will armor her from incoming hits, and if she gains enough traction, will allow her to rip through the game like a wrecking ball.
The momentum Shirin’s story really needs would be a be, well, a “reverse bomb” moment. She’s like a mutant in the X-Men, an outsider whose incredible mutant powers are out of control. The moment she can contain the storm cloud that is her manic fandom, she will wield a very powerful weapon. I think that whether or not anyone else realizes it at the moment, Shirin is carrying the power to change the game.
Of all the castaways, one in particular should be praying for something to change the game, and that’s Joe. The reason? Nobody is more dangerous than Joe. He performs exceptionally in challenges, and if being able to continuously win them doesn’t command respect on its own, everybody loves the guy. He’s this season’s Survivor Jesus, down to the glorious flowing locks. Joe is the type of person who not only could beat anyone in the endgame, but he’s the kind of person who, if left unattended, could win his way there when it’s least convenient.
The even bigger problem for Joe is that for someone who is in such danger for being so amazing, he’s also amazingly inconsequential to this story. Come on–the guy is basically a reborn Malcolm. If he made it deep, he would unquestionably be the main character of the season–sorry Mike! Instead, Joe is more of an idea than a real character in this story, in a similar way as Cliff was to Tony in Cagayan. We hear a lot about Joe, but nowhere near as often do we hear from him. Ultimately, Joe is a device in someone else’s plot, not the star of his own story. And that means that the moment immunity is no longer around his pretty neck, everyone else is going to lunge at his exposed throat and tear his pretty head clean off, dreamy tresses and all.
BIRDS OF PREY
Joe is aware of this, and in one of the most unique scenes we’ve had in a long time, we see him in hard at work to fix his situation as he jockeys for power in the form of the Idol. The problem in his way is that as he’s struggling for his piece of power, Tyler and Mike are pulling for it at the same time. What makes the strategizing between the three of them compelling is the pace. It’s a game of high speed chess, and that means each of the involved parties has precious little time to respond to their opponents mood.
Tyler seems to come out of the gate strong here. Like an owl, Tyler has hovered silently over this game, doing little more than observing carefully and waiting for an opportunity to strike. That opportunity comes when Joe chokes on his opportunity to secretively procure the clue at the reward feast. He’s exited to scold Joe and put the pressure on the golden boy. Tyler can see the options unraveling in front of him.
But when Tyler swoops in, Mike then mobs him like a vulture, overpowering him and stealing his kill. Much of Tyler’s abilities as a keen observer come from his careful nature, befitting of a White Collar. Averse to risk, Mike doesn’t even have to open his mouth for Tyler to preemptively give up the goods. Mike’s ambush leaves Tyler with no time to think around the situation, and not wanting to appear as a double agent, he coughs up the goods.
It’s the Blue Collar work ethic that pays off for Mike in the end. It’s not just that he squeezes the idol clue out of Tyler with little more than good timing; or that he finds the idol after being reduced to a sobbing mess in his quest for it. It’s that he was resourceful enough to spy on the other guys in the first place. It’s that he convincingly pins the idol on Joe in such a believable and public way that Joe is forced to go along with the charade, adding another red ring to the target he bears. It’s that when his alliance wants Shirin and Mike wants Hali, he soothes the herd and redirects them. It’s the that the emblem of Escameca is a vulture. The vulture emblazoned on the idol makes it a very fitting adornment for a man who embodies the success of the vulture’s opportunism.
Unfortunately for Mike, he isn’t the only player watching and waiting for opportunities. Rodney, for example, has a great idea of what he’s going to do when he gets the opportunity, and that’s fuck Mike. (No, not like that. Rodney only has eyes for Joaquin.) This is the second episode in a row now that Rodney has articulated his endgame plan: once the opposing alliance has been disposed of, he’ll ditch the Blue Collars and knock them off one by one, starting with the bane of his existence, Mike. Rodney has been butting heads with Mike from the get go. We know a million and one different reasons that Rodney cannot stand the guy, but worse than going to church on Sundays and buying a house in Texas is that Mike took down beloved Joaquin instead of Joe. Not only is Joaquin no longer there, but Joe still is, and he’s causing everyone problems.
I don’t think there is a chance in hell Rodney succeeds with his exact plan. The members of his blended counter-alliance are not exactly complex, focal characters. An endgame of Rodney, Carolyn, Tyler and Will would have a lot of dead air, and no real discernible winner. Least of all would it be Rodney. Much like Dan, he’s a hypocrite who insists he’s playing “calm, cool and collective,” yet is completely unable to restrain his emotions. Not to mention the major strike of his early season display of sexism.
By the same token, however, Mike isn’t totally safe, because for all of his success and awareness, he doesn’t seem to realize what a threat Rodney poses to his game. If Mike catches on, the joke will be on Rodney, as Mike can take Dan and Sierra to join with whatever remains of the No Collar forces and turn the game back at Rodney. It would be a perfect moment for Shirin to enact masterful revenge on Carolyn and blindside her, idol and all. However, if Mike remains oblivious, it could instead be him leaving with an idol in his pocket, though he wouldn’t be going out without leaving a big mark behind.
In a story where the Blue Collars had a shoe-in to play the heroes, only Mike has stepped up to the job and lived up to the name. His astonishing work ethic has been revisited time and time again as the core of his character. Importantly, it pops up when he finds the idol, a discovery which Mike attributes to hard work, claiming that in Survivor, those who work hard reap the benefits. This sequence is the zenith of the story going out of its way to lavish Mike in glittering, golden praise. The story could be rolling out the red carpet that leads to his victory. Unlike Shirin’s transformative cocoon, that red carpet makes poor plot armor. Mike is at the top of the mountain, which means Rodney could snipe him down from it. But if Rodney does that, he’ll have killed the Blue Collar hero. He’ll have killed the Blue Collar family. He’ll have absolutely, unquestionably killed any chance he had at being the winner of the game, and of all the players in this game, the story will hold him accountable more than any of the others.
People fall during a challenge. Why, you’ll think it’s Merica’s Funniest Home Videos! More importantly, it seems without her Soul Sister, Jenn isn’t really vibing with the whole Survivor thing, so she considers throwing in the towel. Guaranteed–the preview’s focus on it ensures it won’t actually happen.