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

THE STORY SO FAR

*Smuff*

*Smuff*

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

"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.

THE TALENTED MR. KELLY

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.

UTER-US, NOT UTER-YOU

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.

JUST ME AND MY TWINNIE

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…

THE WORST THING IN SURVIVOR HISTORY

"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.

NEXT TIME

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!

Survivor: San Juan del Sur Episode 9 Narrative Analysis- “Getting to Crunch Time”

Apologies for the super-delayed post! Sometimes, life happens.

THE STORY SO FAR

*smuff*

*smuff*

When the castaways of Survivor: San Juan del Sur merged into the Huyopa Tribe, the two most prominent leaders in the game, Josh and Jeremy, were locked in a scramble for power between their respective alliances. On Josh’s side were the remnants of the all-male alliance he had lead on the Coyopa TribeAlec and Wes— along with Wes’ dad, Keith, and Josh’s boyfriend, Reed. Jeremy’s Angels, his alliance of women that originated on Hunahpu, was bolstered by mother-daughter duo Missy and Baylor, and Jeremy’s ersatz “twinnie,” Natalie. This left college sweethearts Jaclyn and Jon as the deciding factors, and they were courted by both alliances. Jon had reservations about Jeremy being a threat further down the road, but after the guys were disrespectful towards Jaclyn, the young lovebirds put their ball firmly in Jeremy’s court, helping his alliance to vote out Josh.

With Josh now sitting on the jury, Jeremy and his allies seemed to be holding all the power going into the next reward challenge, which once again saw the tribe split into teams. Natalie was on the winning Yellow Team, but she made a bold move to give up her place on the yacht reward to Jon as thanks for his loyalty to her alliance; prompting Jeremy to do the same for Jaclyn. In return, the couple thanked Jeremy by Exiling him to look for the idol. It was only after their reward that Jon realized a big problem with the plan–there was no idol for Jeremy to find on Exile Island because Jon already had it.

While Jeremy searched in vain for an idol that wasn’t there, Keith and Wes tried to make use of one that Keith had already had from his time on Hunahpu by figuring out who Natalie and her allies would target next. While they wanted to use the idol together, their onetime ally Reed was out for himself. When he lost immunity to Baylor, Reed pulled out all the stops to save himself without the aid of his boyfriend, and found the Hidden Immunity Idol clues and instructions in Keith’s bag. He revealed this to Jaclyn and Missy, and promised he would vote alongside them if they wanted to split the votes against Keith. Unfortunately for Reed, the other half of the vote split was going to be him!

Keith’s idol wasn’t the only one that had people paranoid and scrambling. After being unable to find the idol on Exile Island, Jeremy tried to weasel an answer out of Jon, upset that Jon hadn’t returned the trust that Jeremy and Natalie showed him. Worried that Jeremy was on to him, Jon went to everyone’s Island Mom, Missy, and asked her to turn on her Day 1 alliance to take Jeremy out before the firefighter could use Jon’s idol against him. At Tribal Council, Jon and Jaclyn’s loyalties seemed clear after they got into a heated argument with Keith and Wes over their treatment of the women, but the latter two, along with Alec, made a move to save themselves by voting against Reed. It ended up being for naught, however–everyone was #blindsided when Missy granted Jon his wish as the two of them, their respective partners, and outsider Reed banded together and sent Jeremy to the jury. Nine remain… who will be the next to go?

A CLOSER LOOK

THEY KNOW WE’RE WATCHING

*In the style of Xandir from 'Drawn Together'*: What is going oooon!?!?

*In the style of Xandir from ‘Drawn Together’*: What is going oooon!?!?

Last season in Survivor: Cagayan, I felt unbelievably certain in a number of my predictions, and they were all based on how Survivor has unfolded in the past. When Spencer was voted out, the rest of the season seemed crystal clear. Tony had been tempting fate all season with his erratic, balls-to-the-wall playstyle, and there were a thousand and one moments foreshadowing the moment when his luck would inevitably run out. Kass was playing one of the worst social games ever seen, and the editors were making damn sure we couldn’t be more excited to see her eviscerated by the jury. Woo was dumb but sweet, and he was about stumble ass-backwards into the title of Sole Survivor by unknowingly taking advantage of Kass and Tony’s weaknesses.

Except that’s not what happened. Instead, Tony took advantage of Woo, and at the same time, the editors took advantage of our expectations as viewers. It made the outcome a surprise for the first time in ages, and now that the Survivor Storytellers have done it again in San Juan del Sur, it makes me feel all the more certain that it’s extremely deliberate.

Josh and Jeremy’s rivalry was being built up in such a way that it would obviously not have lasted for long–eventually, they would have to resolve things, and one of the power players would come out over the other. I never thought Jeremy was going to win–from my vantage point, he always struck me as a distraction–but I still was operating under the assumption that with Josh gone, he would take the same role as many a consistent season-long strategy narrator. Instead, he just got taken out.

The sneak attack of his blindside from an editing perspective may not have seemed like a fitting ending to one of the main character’s storylines, but at the end, it seems that Jeremy’s story was there entirely for the purpose of creating this moment. The editors unquestionably toyed with our expectations, and that creates a sense that going forward, we could be in uncharted waters as Survivor fans. They editors are being careful to create intrigue in a show that, for as many seasons as it has, can become repetitive. The lack of certainty ahead opens up all sorts of interesting storytelling possibilities, especially if we take in to account that the Blood vs Water format also creates dynamics that have until now been unseen.

PASSING THE TORCH

My spider-senses are leading me towards Keith's bag. It's either an idol or trail mix, I'm not sure yet.

My spider-senses are leading me towards Keith’s bag. It’s either an idol or trail mix, I’m not sure yet.

One of these potential story possibilities I feel it’s important to touch on is the idea that two players can effectively share an edit and a story–what’s good for one is good for both. If as viewers, we see two characters as intrinsically intertwined, do we need to see both of them? For example, do we need to hear from Jaclyn when Jon is going to say the same things and do so with his trademark goofy charm? If the editors get us to pull for Jon, do they get us to pull for Jaclyn through sheer association?

The jury is still out, quite frankly. Again, this is just something that has the potential to be there; a blind guess in the dark based on the unorthodox presentation of the characters until this point. If someone were to benefit from this phenomenon, I don’t know that it would be Jaclyn, necessarily. The first person who comes to mind is someone who has seemed to be written out of this story within its earliest chapters. If the editors want to toy with our expectations, the most effective way to do that would be to hide the winner in the background, tucking them safely behind their partner up until their partner’s exit. If you haven’t picked it up yet, I’m talking about none other than the Amazing Spiderman himself, Reed.

I don’t think it’s a particularly likely outcome, but the moment that Josh was voted out, Reed came swinging into the foreground. Kitty has claws, and he showed he was willing to do whatever it took to keep himself in the game, including dropping his old allies like yesterday’s news and going through their belongings so he could sell them out to the new power players. When it came to Josh and Jeremy individually, I think the narrative absolutely intended for us to be pulling for Josh over Jeremy by highlighting Jeremy’s near-constant state of dissatisfaction. If Reed is playing all-out for revenge, his story wouldn’t be able to start until he was given someone to avenge.

Again, this is all conjecture, and I think it’s extremely unlikely. But we’ve seen weirder things happen this season alone. In the more likely outcome that Reed isn’t the winner, we’ve still been given reason to watch him. Characters who suffer from chronic invisibility tend to only burst out of the background when their ticket is up and it’s time for them to go–a day in the limelight to explain why this otherwise nobody is now going to be sent packing. Reed survived his breakout, which makes me believe that regardless of how it ends, his story was late to start and hasn’t wrapped up just yet.

WHAT THE FUCK, MISSY?

Licking her lips as she salivates for power

Licking her lips as she salivates for power

While Reed is just stepping on stage, there are still a large handful of players who have been present much longer who are having a much greater impact on the game and story. In case you couldn’t tell by the section header, a big one is the Godmother herself, Missy Payne, taking out hits left and right. On the NuCoyopa, we saw that Jon ran all of his decisions by Missy. In “Getting to Crunch Time,” he called on her to make a big move in his defense by turning on Jeremy, and Missy granted that wish. Jon may have come up with the idea, but Missy is the one who puts it into action. She brings the season’s running undercurrent of women empowering themselves over men to the forefront–as the obvious male power players are taken out, it’s easier to see Missy standing behind all of them.

If the editors are indeed toying with expectations and going unorthodox, this could bode well for Missy. She hasn’t exactly gotten the nicest of edits, considering that older women, especially mothers, are quick to be vilified by our broader cultural narrative when they behave in ways that are “unladlylike” or not “fitting” of a caretaker–such as being a “phony” (her own words), a cutthroat game player with little regard for others. The jury could begrudgingly respect her–but as unorthodox as the storytelling is in San Juan del Sur, I don’t think the mindsets of the players or the larger audience could at all be considered radically different. Older women behaving badly are still going to be seen as behaving badly–I don’t think Missy will be able to shake the negative perception surrounding her.

That being said, I think it’s still clear that Missy is in charge, which lines up with the idea that she and Baylor, as a unit, will be going far in the game–most likely to the end. If Missy and Baylor indeed are a pair of losing finalists, then they are also the kingmakers. Missy’s massive amount of influence effectively means that she now becomes the player to watch. The person she picks as the third finalist will be the winner. But who could that player be? Let’s examine.

THE CASE FOR DADDY DEAREST

Keith Spits

Who? *spits* Me?

Missy is the Mom and Keith is the Dad. This has been brought up time and time again. The two of them have absolutely been shown to be connected to one another–Keith himself points it out during his argument at Tribal Council with Jon and Jaclyn. When it’s brought up that Keith never interacts with the women of the tribe, he counters that he does talk with Missy. Despite that he’s said for episodes now that he’s done with Missy, he still calls her out for lying to him at the episode’s start in the aftermath of Josh’s ouster. Mom and Dad sure do fight a lot–but maybe a woman who has been divorced three times has finally had enough experience to smooth out the bumpy road ahead. With Wes and Alec as much more typical representatives of Immunity Threats (though Keith is the only one of the three to have actually won immunity thusfar), it wouldn’t be impossible for Keith to be the last man standing from his alliance–which as we’ve seen in seasons past is one of the best positions you can have in the game. Missy could decide that he’s the perfect goat for her and her daughter–a rude old man who is always lagging behind the group when it comes to strategy and understanding the game. Once their up against him, his true-to-himself, backwoods, folksy charm will give him the edge in front of the jury over the “phony” stage mom and her most-prized possession, a daughter who never had to perform.

PROS

  • He’s a highly visible character despite his miniscule impact on the game as a player. We’re often given Keith’s insight when it’s of little to-no consequence. He is the voice of the trailing alliance–if any of them are to make a comeback, it’s going to be Keith.
  • He has a lot of moments that establish his character: a well meaning, goofy old man who is likeable in spite of (perhaps even because of) some of his more outdated worldviews; and as a player who doesn’t really understand the game but never stops trying his hardest to play.
  • He is connected to Missy, a character who is reinforced time and time again by the edit as being important and in control.

CONS

  • Keith has been frequently portrayed as a highly ineffective and out-of-the loop player who couldn’t strategize his way out of a paper bag. A jury could see Keith as a benefactor of luck and not respect his journey to the end.
  • If the ultimate storyline is about female empowerment, Keith doesn’t meet the criteria–he’s not only a man; but is one of the men who has been fingered as not showing the appropriate amount of respect to women.
  • Given that Josh and Jeremy were taken out back to back, is Keith getting attention from the story a good thing?

THE CASE FOR THING 2

Trying to determine if she can trade a Hidden Immunity Idol, a lock of Alec's hair and Baylor to Jeff in exchange for an extra U-Turn

Trying to determine if she can trade a Hidden Immunity Idol, a lock of Alec’s hair and Baylor to Jeff in exchange for an extra U-Turn

When Josh was ousted, Reed stepped forward as his partner. With Val and Nadiya both out of the game in the first two tribal councils, the narrative was quick to hammer home for us that Jeremy and Natalie became partners in the absence of their actual loved ones. Jeremy is gone now. Much like Reed, this is now Natalie’s time to step forward and make a revenge-killing spree all the way to the endgame. But unlike Reed, Natalie has been in this story from the start–she was dragged into it the moment her beloved twinnie became the first casualty of the game. Natalie’s twins keep getting taken out, and she’s not the type to take it lightly. This is bad news for everyone else, because the story has shown us Natalie is here to play. Just as on The Amazing Race, she is constantly looking for opportunities to manipulate the structure of the game itself to her benefit, and she’s at her most important to the story when she’s doing so. Weeks ago, she volunteered for Exile in order to ingratiate Missy and Baylor to her. In “Getting to Crunch Time,” she surrenders her reward to Jon for the same reasons. Obviously, trading the reward didn’t work, but the outcome isn’t as important as the resume building–it’s one more example of playing for the “W” that Natalie can now bring before a jury.

PROS

  • She has a great story set up for her as the narrative moves towards the endgame, given that’s she’s lost both her sister and her closest ally; the latter of whom was a highly visible and popular character. It doesn’t hurt that her visible, popular ally was one of the biggest threats to beat her and that he’s no longer around.
  • We see her making big moves consistently–we know she is playing her ovaries off out there.
  • She is a woman in a season that has had a consistent theme of women proving themselves and not needing men. Having a breakout in the absence of her big-name male ally could give her the opportunity to see this story to fruition.
  • She is connected to Missy, a character who is reinforced time and time again by the edit as being important and in control.

CONS

  • She has been ignored pretty repeatedly in earlier episodes; often in favor of letting Jeremy do the talking for their alliance. Would the storytellers deliberately avoid showing how the winner is playing the game in favor of a different castaway?
  • There’s always a matter of getting to the end–with Jeremy taken down, does Natalie now inherit his target?

THE CASE FOR TRU WUV

He's actually feeding her by regurgitating into her mouth like a penguin with its baby

He’s actually feeding her by regurgitating into her mouth like a penguin with its baby

If you’ve been following my analyses across the season, then you’ll know I’ve had an eye on Jon from the get-go–he stood out to me as more important to keep an eye on than Josh or Jeremy from the first episode, and as the season has progressed, Jaclyn has become swept up in his narrative and become tangled in it. In a lot of ways, Jon is similar to Keith–we can routinely expect to see his perspective of the game regardless of his position in it. He’s also like Keith in that Jon isn’t always portrayed in the most flattering light when it comes to his ability as a Survivor player. He was fooled by Dale’s fake idol and is shown to be under the thumb of other players, namely Missy. His biggest blunder is hard to ignore–a lack of foresight leads to him targeting Jeremy because he himself handed Jeremy the circumstances to discover Jon’s idol on a silver platter. This damage control came right on the heels of Jeremy sacrificing reward to Jon and spending two hard days on Exile Island for it. It’s hard to take a reward, backstab the person who gave it to you, and then come out the other end looking like an upstanding citizen. Jon showed that he has a lot of worry about if he is playing the game or if he is just lying to people. With six votes remaining until Finals, there is plenty of time for the pressure of being the swing vote to make Jon crack.

PROS

  • Jon is a highly visible character, regardless of whether or not he is impacting the game. We see multiple dimensions to him as a person–he’s a dumb jock on the surface, but has hidden struggles, depths, and is more focused on the game than it immediately appears. We get a lot of moments that establish his character.
  • In addition to being a main character, Jon’s importance to the story is highlighted via his entirely unsubtle connection to an animal motif in the howler monkey. He’s the only character to have this level of symbolism attached to him, and it’s hard to brush it aside as unimportant or unintentional.
  • If the ultimate storyline is one of female empowerment, Jaclyn is one of the only women who could carry that theme to the end. She is also the only former Coyopa member who has a shot, which could fit in to a larger narrative about Hunahpu being “unworthy” of winning.
  • If the ultimate storyline is one of female empowerment, Jon is the only man who could win within that narrative structure because he treats Jaclyn as his equal in their relationship.
  • They are connected to Missy, a character who is reinforced time and time again by the edit as being important and in control. If either one is to make the end, they need Missy’s help to do it.

CONS

  • Jon is not always portrayed as the smartest player; and Jaclyn is not always portrayed as the most independent. He makes a lot of mistakes and the story doesn’t shy away from showing them. She is often ignored by the story completely.
  • They have been swing votes for nearly half the game, and have not always swung with the same side of the numbers. Either one could end the game with too much blood on their hands for the jury to stomach.
  • They are focused on as a unit. They could be seen as too symbiotic and reliant on each other for the jury’s liking. Either one could reasonably be argued as having been the other’s “plus one” instead of an autonomous castaway who was playing to win.
  • They are connected to Baylor, a character who is reinforced time and time again by the edit as being important and untrustworthy; a bad decision just waiting to rear its ugly consequences. If Jon and Jaclyn did indeed make the wrong choice by putting their eggs in Baylor and Missy’s basket, then that story should be expected to come to a head at the expense of one, if not both of them.

NEXT TIME

Call Natalie “The Bride” because she’s out for revenge, ready to mow down the opposition with a Hattori Hanzo sword, the Pussy Wagon, and, if all goes her way, a Hidden Immunity Idol. The target for her (and everyone) appears to be Dear Jon, now in hot water for all of his double dealings. Ruh roh! Fortunately for him, the game is rife with #Chaos.

Survivor: San Juan del Sur Episode 8 Narrative Analysis- “Wrinkle in the Plan”

THE STORY SO FAR

*smuff?*

*smuff?*

At the start of Survivor: San Juan Del Sur, leaders emerged on the Coyopa and Hunahpu Tribes as loved ones fought one another to avoid the vote. For Coyopa, that leader was Josh, who had all the guys on his tribe convinced he had their best interests at heart, putting him at the top of a powerful all-male alliance. Everyone on the tribe wanted to be his best friend–but Josh chose to align himself with Baylor, constantly on the outs of the losing Coyopa Tribe and reliant on Josh to pull her through some key votes. Despite the fact that he ultimately came through for her, Josh had burned Baylor’s trust when he cast a vote against her to disguise their alliance. On the Hunahpu Tribe, the leader was Jeremy, who had bolstered himself as the apparent nexus of a strong alliance of women, namely fellow “orphaned” player Natalie and Baylor’s mother, Missy. By virtue of the tribe’s dominance, these lines were seldom tested. Fast forward, and the two tribes have became one, Huyopa, and Jeremy and Josh found themselves on the same tribe battling to see whose faction would come out on top. Couple Jon and Jaclyn ended up being the deciding factor, and they committed to working with Josh to oust Jeremy–but the game came to a screeching halt when Julie quit. Tribal Council was cancelled, and Jeremy was spared, leaving his war with Josh unsettled.

Huyopa was divided into teams for their first reward challenge, with Yellow Team winning a taco feast where Wesley gorged himself to the point of discomfort despite his father Keith’s warnings. They also won the right to Exile one of the losers, giving Jon the distinction of being the first San Juan Del Sur castaway to visit Exile Island alone. The trip was worth it for him–he found a Hidden Immunity Idol that had been put into play.

Things were less cushy for Jaclyn, however, who learned the hard way that the guys in Josh’s all-male alliance had no interest in shooting strategy when Jon wasn’t around to act as her gatekeeper. In addition, she was disrespected by the guys when Alec told her and the other women he didn’t trust them to take care of the camp. This meant Jaclyn wasn’t the only of Huyopa’s women to lose her patience with the men. Both Alec and Keith got under Baylor’s skin by ordering her around, meaning that they got under Missy’s skin as well. Jon rejoined Jaclyn at the Immunity Challenge, where a memory game came to a showdown between Josh and Jeremy, with Jeremy coming out on top.

Unable to target the ringleader of the opposing alliance, Josh shifted the target to Baylor after he failed to guilt her into protecting him as he had done for her. Keith revealed this information to Missy, leading to an argument between the two in defense of their respective children that leaked into Tribal Council. Baylor received five votes, but Jaclyn had spoken up to Jon about her dissatisfaction with Josh’s all-male alliance, leading them to Jeremy’s side of the numbers. Josh was voted out, becoming the first juror and leaving his boyfriend Reed without a partner. Ten remain… who will be the next to go?

 A CLOSER LOOK

THE GILMORE GOATS

If looks could kill, Baylor would already be dead

If looks could kill, Baylor would already be dead

Goats are animals that live in together in herds, which are almost like tribes, I guess you could say. In the Huyopa Herd, Missy and Baylor are a pair to watch, which we’ve known for a while. Not only are they’re connected to one another in a way almost no other pair is, they’re connected to most of the other characters in the story–they’re like a major river that the other tributaries all flow through. And this is on top of the individual development each one has received. Baylor is highlighted time and time again as a dangerous flipper and untrustworthy player. Missy builds bridges and carries her daughter over them with fierce devotion. Rise, lather, repeat. Despite this, their story isn’t losing steam; it’s only getting clearer. This herd has a mommy and baby goat doing a lot of bleating. Someone on this tribe is likely to shepherd them to the end, where they’ll be sold at market for a million dollar check.

This episode was the one where Baylor finally fulfilled the foreshadowing built early in the season about turning on Josh when he needed her to return the favor. Her relationship with Josh was the launching point for her story as an individual, when she decided she needed to play the game for herself. This is the moment that Baylor’s been waiting for– her fate in the game has always been contingent on her ability to display personal growth as a person and a player. We’re just not seeing her moving upward at the trajectory she needs to win the game. The guys may have crossed a line and played poorly by bossing her around, but as Jeff reminded us at tribal, perception is reality to the person perceiving. There are a lot of potential jurors who perceive Baylor as not carrying her weight. There is already one juror who knows she didn’t carry her weight when it came to returning a favor. Missy finds herself in the same hot water because the mother and daughter move in tandem–when Baylor slacks, Missy enables her.

Missy starts the episode by telling us how gobsmacked she is that Julie quit. It’s important to note that of all the castaways, it’s Missy who remarks on the negative impacts of Julie’s quit; oblivious to the fact that the narrative has framed her as being responsible for it. Julie’s departure from the game received an incredible amount of focus because it seems destined to have a heavy impact on the game. This week it allowed Jeremy the extra time he needed to save himself, but going forward, I still think that one of the players who “let” Julie quit is going to pay the price for not reeling her back in. All signs point to that person being Missy, a player who could certainly use an unpopular third to join her and Baylor in the finals. Instead, someone else is going to take advantage of their relationship to Missy in what is likely to be a game winning move.

ALL ROADS LEAD TO MICHIGAN

First she took Julie's trail mix, now she took her sweatshirt

First she took Julie’s trail mix, now she took her sweatshirt

Josh and Jeremy’s clash had been building slowly and steadily for weeks, and anyone whose been watching the season consistently could have likely guessed that things would finally come to a head. However, I don’t think that most viewers would have predicted that the person who ultimately held the fate of San Juan del Sur‘s powerhouse players would have, of all people, been Jaclyn.

Given how little focus Jaclyn received while surviving on the outskirts of the original Coyopa, it can only be assumed that the storytellers didn’t want her individual story to begin until the story of her partnership with Jon could begin as well. In a season where gender has had a major thematic importance, it’s important to recall that Jaclyn’s introduction to the storyboard was via her boyfriend’s unbridled respect for her as a person. Jon is goofy, affable, and a man, so it’s not terribly surprising that the editors have given him more focus thusfar than they’ve given Jaclyn.  “Wrinkle in the Plan” was Jaclyn’s breakout to prove that once and for all, she’s not just Jon’s tagalong. Jon even says as much while on Exile Island. We’ve been told Jon and Jaclyn work as a team. When Jaclyn is shut out by the guys, we aren’t presented her “pussy whipping” Jon into following her emotional lead and turning on them. What we are shown is the guys making a damning mistake by not considering Jaclyn in the first place, and Jon following Jaclyn’s lead because they trust each other. They’re a team, after all.

I’ve speculated from the first episode that Jon could possibly be our winner, and that hasn’t changed eight episodes later. It’s hard to ignore the fact that Jon has had a lot of varied content worth watching. Jon is the one who has a spirit animal; the one who has a heart-wrenching story to tell; the one who gets confessional time just to show us how sweet of a guy he is; the one who now has a hidden immunity idol in his pocket. But as the season has unfolded, it’s also hard to ignore how many boxes Jaclyn ticks off in terms of the long-term themes. She’s part of the only pair in the game who is getting their teamwork right. She’s a woman in a story about subverting gender roles and empowering women. She’s an original Coyopa member in a narrative where Hunahpu was painted as a tribe of unworthy benefactors. If the narrative threads are telling us that our winner is going to be a woman from Coyopa who worked well with her partner, then we’ve found our winner–there’s no one else it could be.

Of course, it’s not going to be an easy road. Neither Jon nor Jaclyn is exactly a slouch in the challenges or particularly unlikeable. They’re highlighted constantly as the “power couple,” and similar foreshadowing to Baylor turning on Josh has been used to frame Baylor’s relationship with Jaclyn, leading us to question if Jonclyn chose the “right” pair to work with back on Coyopa. Team Michigan is going to be split up inevitably, but whoever outlasts the other could very easily be that third finalist who rides in Missy’s possum pouch to the prize.

ONE STEP FORWARD; TWO STEPS BACK

Here's what I think of Baylor! *spits*

Here’s what I think of Baylor! *spits*

Not all of the characters that are tied to Missy and Baylor’s story are aligned with them. If Missy has been the Mom all season, Keith has been the Dad, and the two have wielded the theme of gender like weapons in their clash with each other. Keith thinks Missy coddles her child–a stark contrast to the beatings he threatens with. They represent opposite sides of a coin. If Missy is the side we’re meant to be rooting against, that means Keith is the side we’re meant to be pulling for. I think that his mentions of “whooping” children; constant spitting; and casual homophobia and sexism are meant to endear us to him. We’re supposed to see his worldviews and actions as charmingly rustic, folksy, and almost out of his hands–he can’t help it because he’s a hick, how cute!  Keith’s role as Missy’s foil is important,  because outside of adding irreverent charming commentary, he has nothing to do in the larger story. Missy seems bound for the endgame, which means that Keith’s clash with her could be dragged out all the way until the season’s end.

The problem for Keith is that as a player of Survivor, he’s just not very good. His narrative began with him starting a few steps behind everyone else, and every time it seems like he’s managing to lie low and just wait out the storm, we get an episode like “Wrinkle in the Plan” where his poor gameplay accidentally puts him on people’s radars. On Hunahpu, he was in a safe spot until he told the tribe Jeremy had an idol, needlessly destroying their sub-alliance that Keith didn’t know existed. On Coyopa, he once again slid into safety, but now he’s riled the Mama Bear by bitching to her about how much he doesn’t like her kid. None of this means that Keith can’t win. What it means is that his narrative is a roller coaster, and it will need to be on its natural upswing going into the endgame for him to stand a chance.

THE BASH BROS.

Best Friends 5ever (becuz 5 is moar than 4 get it)

Alec has always wanted a friend who hasn’t been to jail… yet.

Keith’s counterpart in the story may be Missy, but his partner is Wes, who has found a counterpart of his own in Alec. Maybe without Drew, Alec has found a new brother in Wes. This one even comes with a Dad for him to buddy up with. It’s a good thing, because the blood vs water element is the major factor that keeps the Bash Brothers from being completely interchangeable. The episode shows us they’re both young n’ dumb, just in different ways, both informed by their respective loved ones. For Wes, it means a #TacoOverload, to which he can only say that he wishes he had the willpower to slow down… but he didn’t. “Slow and steady,” Keith reminds him. “Wins the race,” Wes finishes, clearly just to shut up dear old dad. It’s like a flashback to the Outback Steakhouse reward in Cagayan when Jeremiah laughs that they can stick a fork in him, because he’s done. Wes tells us in this scene he’s not really thinking about winning the race–not that anyone watching thought he would.

For Alec, his young dumbness is informed by his storyline of taking over as the New Drew, showcasing his brother’s same lack of self-awareness. When Keith suggests that they talk to Jaclyn, Alec brushes it off because why do they need to talk to a woman when they can talk to Jon? He tells the girls that he doesn’t trust them to watch the fire and Baylor specifically that if he could, he’d fart on her. He tells the viewers, via confessional, that he couldn’t be in a more comfortable spot. His brother didn’t realize saying that is tempting fate. Alec didn’t realize either, and now he and his new game-brother are in for a world of hurt–if Reed isn’t the next target, the Bash Brothers are soon to be split up.

YOU WIN THE BATTLES, I’LL WIN THE WAR

Bye Felicia! Isn't that what you homeostasis types say?

Bye Felicia! Isn’t that what you homeostasis types say?

The guys being on the outs mean that Jeremy has won his standoff with Josh, which could not have been more perfectly encapsulated then by having them as the last two standing for immunity. Unopposed, Jeremy’s chances are looking pretty good. We aren’t begging for the narrative to explain to us how or why Jeremy would win if he did. He’s in a great position to take advantage of Missy and Baylor’s goat status because he’s a visible leader of the alliance that Missy and Baylor are a part of.

Jeremy’s worst enemy now is the story. I’ll admit I’ve been hard on him, and it’s always because I find his narration hard to trust. Last week he told us that he was bad at challenges and that targeting him as a threat would be stupid. This week he tells us that he might go on to win them all the way to the end. Once again, he shows that while he considers the women as his allies, he doesn’t really get them as people, telling us that the rude behavior that goes on around camp is inappropriate because it’s just not how you’re supposed to treat women; not because it’s rude in and of itself. Once again, he demonstrates that he’s often right, but has arrived at his conclusion for the wrong reasons.

Not only is Jeremy made to look unreliable as a narrator and hypocritical as a character, but his story is always contingent on having something to be mad about and someone to be mad at. Now that Josh is gone, both of Jeremy’s rivals (John having filled the spot prior) are gone. Jeremy needs a new dragon to slay, or his story might finally run out of places to go. Given his earlier conflict with Keith on Hunahpu, the next episode seems like a perfect opportunity for Jeremy to figure out his next target. But taking out Keith, much like taking out John and Josh, will only be a “W” for that battle. Jeremy hasn’t yet won the war. He has a target on his back and always will.

Maybe, however, the outcome to San Juan del Sur is more obvious than I think it is. If the narrative is asking the viewers to see Keith’s behavior as charming, then it’s hard to say we’re meant to see Jeremy’s attitudes towards as hypocritical–compared to Alec, he’s Betty fucking Friedan. Maybe Jeremy is just a grumpy guy whose quick-to-complain personality is hard to not show, and it’s secondary to the fact that he’s playing the game in the front of the pack.

NEXT TIME

Josh’s departure means that all bets are off for Reed, who comes swinging out of the background and into action with a vengeance as he unearths Keith’s idol and narcs him out to the rest of the tribe. Will the Amazing Spiderman avenge Mary-Jane, or is this all smoke and mirrors to distract us from the fact that his web is about to be cut?

Survivor: San Juan del Sur Episode 7 Narrative Analysis: “Million Dollar Decision”

THE STORY SO FAR

*smuff*

*smuff*

After 16 days in the Nicaraguan Jungle, the Coyopa Tribe and the Hunahpu Tribe merged into a single tribe, #Huyopa. The new tribe consisted of four single players who had seen their loved ones voted out of the game already in Natalie, Jeremy, Julie, and Alec. The remaining eight castaways formed four pairs of loved ones: two dating couples (Jaclyn and Jon along with Josh and Reed) and two parent-child teams (Missy and Baylor as well as Keith and Wes). With the merge having been preceded by a tribe shuffle, and with so many pairs of loved ones remaining in the game, alliance lines were murky and up in the air. One thing was made very certain: after Dale used a fake idol to spook Coyopa’s dominant alliance into splitting their votes, Keith, the recipient of those split votes, wanted out of the alliance he was in with Missy.

The other alliance lines were not as clear. Missy and Jon both seemed intent on rejoining their original Hunahpu allies, led by Jeremy, with the intent of bringing their respective loved-ones along for the ride. Baylor found herself guilt ridden when it became apparent that her only ally from the original Coyopa, Josh, wouldn’t be a part of this group, and her mother had to bring down the hammer to keep her in line. When Josh realized he couldn’t rely on Baylor’s vote as long as Missy was around, he turned to Jon and Jaclyn with a proposal of an alliance that would see the couples protecting one another, giving him the chance to take out his biggest rival for control over the game in Jeremy.

The merge brought all the usual pomp and circumstance, including a merge feast. During the feast, an emotionally drained and increasingly isolated Julie hoarded the remaining trail mix in her bag, causing a #TrailMixScandal when the tribe searched her bag and ate her stash while she was away from camp. This turned Jon and Jaclyn off from working with Julie, leading them to much more seriously consider siding with Josh’s alliance. Disgusted by Julie’s behavior, the tribe as a whole froze her out.

The first individual immunity challenge came down to a loved-one duel between Wes and Keith for immunity, and the dad got revenge on his son for besting him in their Hero’s Arena duel when he won the challenge. The immunity, however, wouldn’t end up being useful. After Alec made a snide comment about Julie and the Trail Mix, a distraught Julie once again contemplated quitting. Missy tried to talk Julie off the ledge by reminding Julie that her alliance needed her, but instead Missy pushed Julie off. Julie quit the game, leaving 11 castaways remaining on the new Huyopa Tribe. Who will be the next to leave?

A CLOSER LOOK

 

I’M DATING A (SORT-OF) CELEBRITY; GET ME OUT OF HERE!

"None of them even complimented me on the innovation I showed by cutting my buff in half so I could have a tube top AND a headband!"

“None of them even complimented me on the innovation I showed by cutting my buff in half so I could have a tube top AND a headband!”

When a castaway quits the game, it always gives people a lot to talk about, because a lot of viewers see quitting as the ultimate Survivor sin. The purpose of these analyses isn’t for me to talk about what I like/dislike–it’s about analyzing, so I’ll keep my piece about quits brief. In short, I think it’s really easy to condemn quitters from the comfort of your living room. Most viewers will never come close to understanding what the deprivation and isolation of Survivor really feels like, and it’s not our place to decide what someone else’s limits and values are.

For the purposes of looking at Julie’s quit through the narrative, though, we need context. Most Survivor viewers hate quitters, and the show itself seems to hate them too. The editors don’t tend to treat quitters with kindness, with them generally having very negative portrayals–that is, if they aren’t just made completely irrelevant. Julie absolutely had a narrative she was involved in, and it seems extremely out of character for the editors to take that road when she could have just as easily been boiled down to a spoiled bimbo who couldn’t hack it. The Julie that we see is sympathetic. She may not be the best equipped for Survivor, but she wants to try her best to prove herself.

Obviously, we are shown some not-so-flattering sides of Julie. We’re definitely shown that she was at fault in hoarding the trail mix; but watching the rest of the tribe raid her bag feels almost more wrong than her taking the food in the first place. The tribe passive-aggressively badmouths  her while she’s within earshot of them–and it’s not the first time Julie has been subject to this, as it echos back to when the Hunahpu Tribe had a full-on John Rocker bash party. Alec clearly takes the cake for passive-aggression with his “this would go great with trail mix” comment, and then he proudly pats himself on the back for having “confronted” the evil food hoarding witch. When Jeremy speaks of her, it’s with derision–he is emphatic that she’s just a number. He’s ashamed to have gone out before her in the immunity challenge. When Baylor recounts the list of alliances her mother has built, Julie is notably absent from the list. When Missy makes her final plea to keep Julie in, she frames it entirely around what the alliance needs.

The narrative as to why Julie quits is clear as day: instead of getting to play with the man she loves and trusts to support her, she is isolated amongst allies who don’t care about her beyond her ability to write a name on a piece of parchment. She is outcast because she has been prejudged, both based on her partner and on her appearance. Yes, Julie has given up, but it’s emphatically showcased within the narrative that some, if not most of the blame lies on the shoulders of her allies.  Julie’s quit, in the bigger picture, reflects less on her, and more as a mistake on the part of others. It’s a fate that could have been avoided if some of the other castaways had done a better job of treating Julie like a person, and not like a pawn.

IN THE CAMPSITE OF GOOD AND EVIL

Next time on Survivor: Jeremy and Josh glare at each other across the fire for 42 minutes!

Next time on Survivor: Jeremy and Josh glare at each other across the fire for 42 minutes!

One of the players who is a mistake maker in this situation is Jeremy. Julie opens the door for him to communicate with her about her pain when she tells him that she knows what he’s going through, seeing all the pairs together and not having his own partner present. He all but blows her off and is then shocked when she quits. Even then, it’s only because he needed her as a vote. Meanwhile, Josh is carefully nurturing his individual relationships with his allies; remembering Wes’ birthday when his own father has forgotten.

All season long, Jeremy and Josh have been portrayed as rivals of sorts; the leaders in their respective original tribes. When the merge hits, they both immediately begin to target each other and rush out to rally their troops. Josh tells us in a confessional that they had the numbers on the New Hunahpu Tribe to oust Jeremy and he wishes they had the chance to do it. Jeremy is over Josh and Reed being in control and has been for a while. These two have long been the generals in this season’s war story, but the question as to which one we are meant to pull for was much more ambiguous at the start. With how they handle their troops, the question of who is the hero and who is the villain becomes pulled into perspective–and the perspective makes their respective pasts and the stories of their affiliated tribes clearer as well.

While Coyopa and Hunahpu can’t be considered indicative of where the alliance lines would eventually stand, the two tribes did have definite stories surrounding them. Coyopa were the underdogs to Hunahpu, entitled and unworthy. Josh continues to carry this underdog theme in “Million Dollar Decision.” The merge isn’t looking so hot for him–he’s lost his shot at Jeremy, who is about to be flanked with reinforcements in Missy and Jon. Baylor betrays him, even after he went out on a limb to save her. He wants to create a new alliance where players with loved ones protect one another. By the end of the episode, Jon and Jaclyn–the power couple who it all hinges on–seem to have now shifted into Josh’s court, because they want to play with the “good people.” Grumpy, dissatisfied, hypocritical Jeremy seems to be on the ropes. I don’t think we’re meant to want Jeremy to recover.

That being said, Survivor needs its villains. We might not want Jeremy to stick around, and the editors are likely counting on that if he in fact, does stick around.

JUST A COUPLE OF COUPLES

"I'm a girl, so if you vote with us you can totally borrow my uterus"

“I’m a girl, so if you vote with us you can totally borrow my uterus”

There are two sides to the Hero/Villain coin. I think that Jeremy could survive the next vote, not only because he’s being built up for us to root against him, but because there is no way Josh’s current alliance makes the endgame given how poorly built up as characters Josh’s troops are. The Hunahpu Tribe had more rice than Hick Jr, Drew the 2nd and Spiderman have editorial content. If they were Power Rangers, Josh would be the Red Ranger and the rest would just be there to give the Megazord a body. Reed gets his name dropped a lot because he’s attached to Josh, but he isn’t illustrated as having the power Josh has. Jeremy tells us they’re running things and need to be taken out, but Reed doesn’t tell us anything, period–only Josh talks to the cameras.

This is striking when compared to the other couple in the game, Jon and Jaclyn–the “power couple.” Josh holds power nominally as the head of an alliance, and takes on the job of explaining the movements of that alliance at the expense of his allies. Jon and Jaclyn are equals–sure, Jon gets more air than Jaclyn and has had a more consistent presence, but once their story as a couple picked up, Jaclyn was immediately on the scene. They weigh out decisions together. They both take turns in confessionals explaining their position as permanent, undetected swing votes to the audience. Even when she wasn’t getting confessionals, Jaclyn made it apparent via Tribal Council that she had a voice and a say in the game. We know that the Michiganers operate as a team not only because that’s how they introduced their relationship–as one of equals–but because we see it in action.

Josh’s alliance has a lot of dead air. With Julie having taken care of herself, Jonclyn’s biggest gripe with Jeremy’s side of the numbers has now vanished, and without a Tribal Council to draw firm lines, they have all the more room to swing back with Jeremy. I don’t usually like to include the “next time on Survivor!” end-of-episode teasers in the analysis (because lord knows they have more than a penchant for being misleading), but the preview for Episode 8 all but ensures this couple will continue to vacillate between the sides.

MUFFIN THE MARSUPIAL

Muffin and her closest allies; Bagel, Boston Creme, and Samosa

Muffin and her closest allies; Bagel, Boston Creme, and Samosa

This episode has a lot of visual imagery with parent animals taking care of their young. A baby howler clutches to its mother’s chest as she clamors through the trees. A bird feeds its young eagerly awaiting in the nest. And again we see the possum, making its way through the treetops while moonlighting as a schoolbus for her entire brood. Without a mama bear to use as a visual metaphor, the editors seem to have settled on the next best thing in an animal known for nurturing its young in a pouch on its body–the ultimate in parent/child closeness.

I don’t know how the narrative intends for us to feel about Missy, but that might just be because I personally don’t find fault in the things the editors seem asking us to find fault in. What I am sure of is that the editors want us to take notice of Missy. The fact that Missy is thrice divorced (in case you forgot… somehow) is something that could have been spun a million and one different ways, but rather unsurprisingly has been used thusfar to make Missy appear incompetent and ill-suited to being a parent. This seems to be the logic behind the onset of Missy and Baylor’s story, in which Baylor is credited as “the mother” in their role-reversed relationship. In “Million Dollar Decision,” Missy takes that power back. We get deeper insight as to how she plans to use Survivor for her and Baylor’s benefit, by using the opportunity to remind Baylor that sometimes, Mother knows best, no matter what she’s been wrong about before. In light of her parenting “failures,” Missy needs to be reassured that Baylor looks up to her as a parent, a guardian, and a guide–not only as a friend.

Baylor explains to us what I already had surmised for myself last episode–while she only had one alliance with Josh, her mom had plenty of allies to join Baylor in the possum-pouch.  Baylor’s entire narrative has been about her learning to assert herself. She’s been highlighted as a player who is shifty and hard to trust. For right now, she’s along for the ride on her mom’s train, but I could absolutely see Baylor’s final act of betrayal also being one of rebellion and autonomy. If she wants to win Survivor, she’ll have to make a move at some point that separates her from Missy, and I think Baylor knows that. I don’t think she’s going to necessarily pull a Ciera on us and vote Missy out, but Baylor can’t complete her independence-oriented narrative if she’s under Missy’s thumb the whole time. Missy will either be her downfall or her shot to prove herself. It’s not going to happen just yet, but the pieces are in place and the final move is ultimately up to Baylor.

KEITH WATCH

As proud as he was on the day his son was born... oh wait

As proud as he was on the day his son was born… oh wait

I always end up hitting Keith last, don’t I? (I should write another segment after this one just to avoid that.) There is a reason for that, however, and that is because Keith is like an outlying planet in this solar system, quietly orbiting at his own pace, irrelevant to the rest of the narrative but still unmistakably there. We know that Keith doesn’t have the world’s most nuanced or developed understanding of Survivor game theory, but we also know that he really doesn’t need that understanding, as he’s been doing pretty well for himself without it. He has an idol, he had enough common sense to be alarmed by Missy and Baylor using him in a vote split, and he won the first individual immunity against a field of players who, with the exception of Missy, are all a good 15+ years younger than him. Maybe they just needed to chew up airtime due to the lack of Tribal Council, but they spent a lot of time focusing on everybody congratulating him on his victory. As I’ve said before, Keith draws your attention because he always is granted the opportunity by the editors to throw his two cents in, even when his two cents are a completely different currency from the one the other castaways are using.

With Julie having quit, Keith now holds the lone piece of the Supertease that has yet to be unfurled–doing the worst thing in Survivor history. I joked last week he might accidentally idol out his own son, and I’m not entirely convinced that isn’t a possibility. Keith forgetting Wes’ birthday illustrated to us that Josh is good to his allies, but Keith did all the narrating of the scene. He clearly loves his son, but not even paternal affection can override his obliviousness. As stated earlier, Wes has no presence in the plot, and Keith is his lone tie into it. I’m kind of hopeful it happens because it would be, quite frankly, amazing to watch. Of course, given his demonstratively poor working knowledge of Survivor, the worst thing in Survivor history could also just be a massive overstatement on his part. Whatever that thing is, it will probably determine if Keith has the stealth-power to remain undetected and slide into a surprise victory.

THE MERGE BOOK ONE: JULIE POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S TRAIL MIX

Asking the hard questions on her mission to avenge her Twinnie and slay the Evil Gays

Do what, deprive us of Tribal Council?

I said I’d do one more section, didn’t I? The biggest part of “Million Dollar Decision”‘s narrative is that it isn’t done yet.  Traditionally, the pre-merge is when the storytellers set the stage for the back half of the game, building up momentum with the characters and storylines that will all come crashing to a head when everyone is one one tribe. The #Huyopa Tribe all jumped into the air at the start of the episode, and then Julie hit the pause button before everyone could hit the ground. We still don’t know where everyone will land on this new tribe, because Tribal Council hasn’t yet had the chance to force the castaways into drawing lines. This might as well be considered the first half of a two-part episode.

Given this unusual format, I’m still holding out hope for my remaining Twinnie, Natalie, who was virtually non-existent in this episode. Given that the rest of her alliance was implicated in clumsily goading their own member into spite-quitting, maybe that’s a good thing for her. Natalie has to show up next week, and I believe she will, because I still feel she could be the ultimate carrier of this season’s female empowerment undercurrent.

NEXT TIME

It’s trouble in Lover’s Paradise! Jaclyn realizes that aligning with Josh means leaving herself the lone woman on Dude Island, population Drewche: The Sequel, and she’s heavily disinterested. Jon wants to stay because they promised him a magic potion that will grow him a tail. Who will get their way in the end–that is, if they end up going the same way at all?

Survivor: San Juan Del Sur Episode 6 Narrative Analysis- “Make Some Magic Happen”

THE STORY SO FAR

*smuff*

*smuff*

Survivor: San Juan Del Sur had really been blood vs blood, with pairs of loved ones split into two separate tribes on separate trajectories, with the Hunahpu Tribe beating the Coyopa Tribe in six of the first eight challenges. But Hunahpu had a secret to their success–the tribe was burning through their rice while Coyopa was wisely rationing. Some members of the original Coyopa Tribe, like Wes and Alec, learned this firsthand when they joined Huanhpu after a tribe swap, which conveniently occurred just as Hunahpu was on their last handful of rice. Without food, Reed had once again stepped up to barter with Jeff Probst at the immunity challenge, asking if there was any sort of negotiation to be made.

Jeff came through for Hunahpu, but he was not happy with the tribe, chastising them for needing so much extra help. In interest of keeping things fair, Jeff was demanding a big invoice: all of Hunahpu’s tools and the comfort items, including the tarp, that they had won. Much of the tribe was at peace with the exchange, but Jeremy was seriously annoyed, upset to be trading the comfort items for food when another reward challenge could be waiting around the corner. He wasn’t the only one unhappy with the turn of events–Julie, one of Jeremy’s allies in the Singles Alliance, worried about how the loss of the tarp could affect her if the weather turned against them. Sure enough, a storm rolled through, and the wild weather left Julie in tears, contemplating quitting. When the storm had passed, however, Julie was still standing, choosing to remain in the game after a panicked Jeremy implored her not to quit because he needed her vote. It wasn’t only trading the tarp that was creating problems and aggravation for Jeremy. Trading tribemates had left him in a bad spot, as it brought Reed’s boyfriend Josh to Hunahpu, where their extremely close and affectionate relationship left Jeremy wary.

At Hero’s Arena, the end of Blood vs Water was signified as Reed dueled against Baylor for a barbeque reward. An emotional Reed won nourishment for his tribe, sending Baylor to Exile Island. Reed was about send Julie to join Baylor, wanting to give her a chance to show her fortitude, but Natalie spoke up and offered to go instead. She wanted to seize the opportunity to work with Baylor as so to solidify her alliance with her original Hunahpu tribemate and Baylor’s mom, Missy. Meanwhile, having won a food reward as predicted left Jeremy with all the more to huff and puff about.

The food reward ended up being to Hunahpu’s benefit, however, when they won their fifth overall immunity, sending Coyopa to yet another Tribal Council. After the swap, dating couple Jon and Jaclyn teamed up with Baylor and Missy to vote out Kelley, leaving her father Dale alone on the chopping block. Dale wasn’t going out without a fight, though. He took Chekov’s Gun off the shelf and fired it, showing Jon a pendant he had found near the well on Day 1 with the pretense of it being a Hidden Immunity Idol. Worried, Jon told his allies, and Missy suggested splitting the vote in case Dale’s threat was real. It was a plan that would potentially shift the target onto an oblivious Keith, but the target seemed to shift yet again when Dale upped the ante. Dale promised Jon that he would give Jon the idol if someone other than Dale went home, and the two hatched a plan to vote out Missy. Jon considered the deal with Jaclyn, but despite playing hard to avenge his daughter, Dale had his torch snuffed and was sent to join her in Loser’s Lodge, leaving only 12 players remaining in the game. With the merge on the horizon, who will be the next to go?

A CLOSER LOOK

MEANWHILE IN STARS HOLLOW

All seasons now available on Netflix Instant

All seasons now available on Netflix Instant

As the last episode prior to the merge, “Make Some Magic Happen” is the editor’s last chance to nail down the important narrative threads they want the viewer’s attention on as the game shifts. It’s an episode of confirmations, in a lot of ways. And when there are questions galore as to how all of the dynamics of the game will unfold during the merge, I think we’ve confirmed that we know where to look for answers: The Gilmore Girls. By which I mean Baylor and Missy, not the show. Wouldn’t that be something–a season edited specifically to parallel a mid-00s dramadey about unconventional family bonds in a small New England suburb featuring guest appearances by fast paced, witty dialogue and Survivor: Gabon’s “Sugar” Kiper?

In a game about relationships like Survivor, the blood vs water twist adds a whole extra layer of complexity to work through and/or around for the players, but it still comes down to connections and the mother/daughter duo have them in spades. On Hunahpu, Missy aligned with Jeremy on the first day. She comforted Natalie upon Nadiya’s departure, noting that the bond between identical twins rivaled the strength of her own relationship with her child. While Hunahpu had a field day making a political pinata of John, Missy offered a shoulder for Julie to cry on as she watched the love of her life go down in flames. The Hunahpu Single’s Alliance was officially mentioned on air for the first time in “Make Some Magic Happen,” and Missy, though separated via swap, has been shown to be entwined with all three of them. When the swap hit, she bounced Kelley and kept the rest of Old Hunahpu close. Missy made it clear to Dale and the rest of NuCoyopa that she doesn’t just decide rice portions–she decides everything. Nothing happens if it’s not run by Missy first. Jon and Keith come to her with everything. And because Jon runs everything through Missy, it means Jaclyn does too. While Wes has had nothing to do but collect dust since dueling his dad, the intent is clear that Keith plans to pull Wes in at the merge to join up with the two couples he’s been working with to make a third pair.

Baylor hasn’t had the same luck in crafting a beautiful position for herself, but she’s done the next best thing by scrapping through Coyopa’s early-game ladycide, biding her time until she could be swaddled up in her mother’s protective grasp. For the most part, Baylor is a a beneficiary of her relationship to Missy–an inversion of the roles we’ve been told at the outset they usually play (which in and of themselves were inverted, if that’s not too confusing). But there is one important connection Baylor has that Missy doesn’t, and that is to Josh (and Reed by extension; much in the way that Missy’s bonds to Jon and Keith earn her inroads to Jaclyn and Wes). This is no small contribution–Josh’s trust in Baylor means that she and her mother now have access to all three remaining pairs outside of their own. We’ve seen a lot of foreshadowing around the notion of Pairs vs Orphans. We’ve now been shown the characters who are the fulcrum that will determine which side will initially see success.

The other thing to keep in mind about Baylor is that while a critical eye shows Missy’s great gameplay, the narrative shows us Missy the Mom, focused 100% on her daughter’s success. Missy may be the stronger player, but Baylor is the more developed and important character. We hear from her more frequently on a wider variety of issues regarding her place in the game relative to players that aren’t her mom. There has been a lot of foreshadowing across the season as to Baylor’s larger role as a player who is self-interested at the expense of her allies. The narrative has given reason to believe that Baylor can and will betray Josh. Since the tribe swap, that narrative has expanded to include Jaclyn, who is constantly aware that she and Jon may have chosen the “wrong” couple to buddy with because Baylor has already betrayed Jaclyn’s trust before. We’ve also seen how Baylor’s gameplay relates to her personal growth as she vacillates between bratty and gritty; such as when she felt bad for losing the duel because it meant not being able to provide for Coyopa.

With Missy doing the gaming and Baylor doing the storytelling, this duo has truly become one character split in two halves, consistent with the portrayal of the idea that they are intrinsically connected to one another (as introduced in their opening segment). Baylor’s symbotic tear sensing at Tribal Council this episode was just a perfectly timed example to remind us of this fact.  Ultimately, I think the most likely way to interpret all of this is that Baylor’s narrative will be the more important one to watch, because it determines the fate of both her and her mother. I’d be willing to even go so far as to say Baylor’s narrative is directly related to the finals, to why Baylor beats or is beaten by Missy on Day 39, or why Baylor’s actions lead to them *both* being beaten by a third finalist.

CAUTION: EXILE ISLAND AHEAD!

"Make your way to Production Camp and search through Jeff's identical cargo shorts for your next clue."

“Make your way to Production Camp and search through Jeff’s identical cargo shorts for your next clue.”

That third finalist could very easily be Natalie. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating–losing Nadiya at the first vote was the best thing to happen for her game, and Natalie’s narrative has been consistent and steady ever since. We see her actively playing the game; worming her way into conversations and building crucial bonds and alliances. She shone a giant, angry spotlight on John, forcing his tribe to finally decide if they were willing to continue putting up with him. In the most recent episode, she leaps at the opportunity to be Exiled alone with Baylor, prompting Missy to shower her with thanks and accolades. Natalie makes it clear that she trusts Missy and that because of that, she has to trust Baylor as well. Exile is a great opportunity for them to work on that bond.

Natalie’s prior experience isn’t on the Island–it’s on the Race Course. The Amazing Race isn’t a social-strategy game in the way that Survivor is. In a race, you have to keep your eye on the prize, on the finish line off in the distance, and you have to push yourself to keep running until you get there. Natalie’s fellow musketeers in the Singles Alliance have shown themselves to be easily distracted–Jeremy by whatever is pissing him off at the moment; Julie by the raw emotional pummeling the game provides. With their tarp gone and rain on the Horizion, Natalie sees nothing but opportunity in Exile. She may have called her tribe a hot mess, and it’s because when compared to her, they really are one. If the larger narrative of this season does in fact make a statement about gender and points to a woman winning, then Natalie’s chances only rocket higher.

YOU’RE A MEAN ONE, MR. GRINCH

Somebody woke up on the wrong side of the lean-to

Somebody woke up on the wrong side of the lean-to

Last season, I was adamant Tony wouldn’t win. There was no way, I said, that they would set up the winner for such an obvious downfall. They wouldn’t show the ~strategic mastermind~ of Cagayan as being scattered and frantic. They wouldn’t show him getting duped by the Brains into voting out Jefra. They wouldn’t show him scrambling desperately for idols while Trish cleaned up after all of his messes.

I just want to use Tony as my caveat that I could be very wrong about Jeremy, but I’ve been questioning the reliability of his narration all season and this episode really confirmed for me that Jeremy’s perspective on the game can’t be fully trusted by the viewers. I’ve touched on this before in regards to his relationships with female characters; how he picks female allies because he trusts in strong women, but doesn’t trust his own wife to take care of herself. When Val is voted out, it’s Jeremy who sparks the Rocker witch hunt, even though the edit goes out of its way to tell us that John wasn’t responsible and had tried to keep his word. After we get an episode where Alec explains to us why he’s *not* Drew, Jeremy labels him as one-in-the-same after they finally meet. Now we have Jeremy grousing about how his tribe of “idiots” gave away all their stuff for more food when they could have just sucked it up and won some more. Confirmation bias makes Jeremy feel like he was right all along after Hunahpu wins reward–what would the tribe have done if they had kept their goods, refused the rice, and then gone on to lose?

The key scene where Jeremy loses his reliability as a narrator is when he’s grumping about Reed and Josh being so joined at the hip; saying that if Val was still in and if they were on the same tribe, nobody would even think they liked each other, because that’s what you’re “supposed” to do. I don’t buy for a second that Jeremy would be able to dissociate himself from the wife who he sobbed about Exiling on Day 1; the wife who’s elimination cause him to derail so he could attack the parties he held responsible. If Josh and Reed, who everyone knows are a couple, were acting like they weren’t a couple, it would arguably be more suspicious. I think Jeremy is a little jealous that Josh and Reed are continuing their experience of playing Survivor together, while Val has been already ousted and he doesn’t get the chance to do that with his boo. (For what it’s worth, I didn’t get any sense that Jeremy was annoyed by Josh and Reed for homophobic reasons.)

At this point, the narrative has gone out of its way numerous times to showcase that Jeremy becomes hyper-focused on specific things that bother him, to the point that he often loses perspective of the larger picture and finds his view on the game distorted. I think this could be Jeremy’s Achilles heel. Even if the foreshadowing of Baylor flipping pays off and she goes with Jeremy’s side of the numbers come the merge, I don’t know if I buy that Jeremy is going to make it to Day 39. There are simply too many opportunities for him to get tripped up and knocked down.

QUITS McGEE

R.I.P. Julie McGee  Day 1- Day 15

R.I.P. Julie McGee
“It’s just not worth it! *sob*”

The supertease at the end of the premiere episode teased a lot of potential happenings in the season–most of which were quotes taken out of context to seem dramatic. Almost everything that has been promised in that supertease has happened by now–except for the parts that heavily imply someone quits this season.

Julie’s story has been, from the very start, a story about her personal growth. When Jeff took away Hunahpu’s stuff at the start of the episode, Julie immediately gets a confessional telling us that she doesn’t anticipate handling the cold well without their tarp. Reed wants to Exile Julie so she can continue to prove how strong she is. When the storm hits, it seems like Julie isn’t very strong at all. But the next morning, she cries it out and makes her choice pretty clear–if she was going to quit, she wouldn’t be sitting on that beach giving the cameraman an interview. She’d have split by now.

In Survivor: Nicaragua, NaOnka Mixon was showed contemplating quitting in a very similar scenario to Julie, but was talked down from the edge. The entire scene felt like a red herring meant to introduce some drama and create an explanation as to why NaOnka would be the decoy boot for the episode. I never expected it to boomerang back half a season later to culminate in NaOnka actually quitting. Like with Tony and Jeremy, I don’t want to say anything for certain, because there has been precedence to a quit being foreshadowed in this fashion before.

But if we look at the narrative, Julie couldn’t be more different from NaOnka. NaOnka was a bullying power-player who caused tension at every turn with her hungry eyes on the prize and the edit never missing an opportunity to let us see the worst of her, such as her farting in a confessional. Julie on the other hand has been handled with great care and sympathy by the editors–I think the story means for us to like her, and that keeps me from fully buying her breakdown as foreshadowing for a later quit. Julie ticks a lot of boxes for the editor’s “acceptable targets”–she’s not outdoorsy, she is pretty (and owes some of her beauty to plastic surgery), and she came into the game attached to someone who was all but promised to be a negative character. If Julie was little more in this story than John Rocker’s bimbo girlfriend who quit midway through because reasons, I can’t imagine the narrative would be this invested in a story of her growth. Again, I don’t want to make certain conclusions–for all I know, she could quit next week. But I think rather than this being the end to Julie’s story, this might be the beginning. This could be her darkest hour in the game, leaving her with nowhere to go but up. I don’t know if its a winner’s story, but it’s an interesting one, and I don’t think it’s anywhere near done.

HIDDEN IMMUNITY IDLE

Don't mind me, just hanging in the background doing Southern things

Don’t mind me, just hanging in the background doing Southern things

Maybe I was too bold in my prediction that Keith wasn’t winning last week. When breaking down the narrative, you always want to keep an eye out for stuff that could have been excluded from the episode, but wasn’t. Keith had to get some airtime because he was one of the decoy boots for the episode, but he said a lot with his short little chunk of it. The tribe swap was good for Keith. It lifted him away from Jeremy, forcing Jeremy’s attentions elsewhere; and it dropped him back down in a new tribe where he was in a perfect spot, a lone vote in a sea of couples who had no focus on him. While not intentional, he’s completely thrown everyone off his scent in regards to idols because he convinced everyone else Jeremy has it. Keith has had nothing to do on Coyopa but take a nap and wait to reunite with Wes. It’s giving him some downtime to hopefully start figuring out how Survivor works. If Keith can manage to successfully float in the background like he’s been doing, I could see him landing in the finals by surprise and sweeping the votes simply because folks like him.

The biggest problem with Keith’s story is what was once the biggest problem with Josh’s story–the lack of a loved one. We haven’t heard anything of substance from Wes since he beat Keith in a duel and joined Josh in turning the game on John. Wes’ role in Keith’s story is critical when it comes to determining what Keith’s story actually is. We might be tempted to look for answers in the supertease. Besides the big quit, the one of the other major, attention grabbing moments that has not yet happened is Keith fretting that he’s done “the worst thing in Survivor history.” Does he idol out his own son by mistake? Who knows. I don’t know if the supertease is the best place to be looking for answers period. But Keith is on my radar. Jon, earlier in the season, got a lot of airtime to explain himself when it didn’t really seem to be relevant. Now that the tribes have swapped, Jon is a voice we expect to hear from given his new-found position of power. Keith now takes up the mantle of the person who suspiciously gets screentime when it doesn’t matter to the story, and that isn’t something that’s escaped my notice.

MISCHIGAN MONKEY BUSINESS

Jon's facial hair sure has grown out quickly

Jon’s facial hair sure has grown out quickly

Survivor loves its animal imagery, and has a definite precedence of using it to signify specific characters. In another clarifying moment of this episode, the editors all but confirm to us that the howler monkey represents Jon. It precedes a lot of scenes involving him, and now we see that when Jon speaks, the monkeys agree. When Baylor and Missy are introduced at the start of the season, their marooning is a stark contrast for the other pairs when they are immediately swarmed by a troop of howlers. If the monkeys are indeed being used by the editors to represent Jon, does their presence in such a standout establishing scene indicate something about Jon’s relationship to Missy and Baylor? Or is it all incidental?

Also, what was up with the sloth? Who does that represent, I wonder? Obviously not Drew, since he’s gone. Maybe his replacement, Alec the Meat Collector? Maybe it represents the season as a whole, because it’s going to turn everything upside down. Maybe we should just wait.

NEXT TIME

The merge tribe is #Huyopa. I don’t know if the hashtag is a formal part of the tribe name or not, but I sincerely am hoping it is. #SurvivorMerge #BloodVsWater #DoneWithThisEntry

Survivor: San Juan Del Sur, Episode 5 Narrative Analysis- “Blood is Blood”

THE STORY SO FAR

*smuff*

*smuff*

Billed as “Blood vs Water,” Survivor: San Juan Del Sur was proving more to be a different battle for each of the two tribes–the Hunahpu Tribe was battling starvation, while the Coyopa Tribe was battling constant failure. Things were finally starting to look up for the Coyopa Tribe when Hunahpu’s Drew threw immunity, and got himself voted out as a result… but their moment of glory would be short lived, because Coyopa as it was would shortly cease to exist.

At Hero’s Arena, Jeff Probst had the castways drop their buffs and draw for new tribes, re-distributing the castaways into even tribes with seven members each. Alec, Wes and Josh drew blue and joined Julie, Jeremy, Natalie, and Josh’s boyfriend Reed on Hunahpu. The blue tribe lost Kelley, Jon, and Missy, however, when they got paired up with their respective loved ones–Dale, Jaclyn, and Baylor–on Coyopa. Keith also moved from Hunahpu to Coyopa, but unlike the rest of his tribe, found himself the odd man out, the only player on his tribe without a loved one. Instead of his son as a partner, Keith’s only ally was the hidden immunity idol he’d unearthed earlier on Hunahpu’s beach.

Josh was elated for the chance to play alongside his beloved boyfriend, but their presence as the only pair on Hunahpu was alarming to the tribe’s de facto leader Jeremy and his closest ally, Natalie. Aware that Reed would likely flip to side with Josh and his Coyopa allies Wes and Alec, Jeremy planned to introduce a firefighting tactic called “surround and drown,” with Alec as the target. Though Jeremy felt Alec was just as bad as his ousted brother, Drew, he and Natalie realized they needed Alec to join up with them and Julie as the four “singles”–the players who no longer had partners in the game. Unfortunately, there were more pressing matters than alliance numbers on the tribe’s mind, namely their massively dwindling rice supply, which they had been burning through at record speed (perhaps contributing to their frequent domination).

On Coyopa, it was shown that maybe Missy’s cooking habits may have been to blame for Hunahpu’s rice situation as she prepared a meal for the tribe and quickly butt heads with Dale over how much rice to cook. The tension between the two parents was only elevated when Missy learned that Dale and Baylor had been on opposite alliances in the original Coyopa, and that Dale had written Baylor’s name down more than once.  Kelley was aware that her father’s stubborn attitude was putting both of them in a bad position, as it became clear that even though Keith was the easy target, the more likely scenario was that that two pairs would ultimately team up against the third.

Even with the extra rice in their bellies and a whole new combination of tribemates, Coyopa still couldn’t win immunity. But before we could see their scramble, Hunahpu begged Jeff to throw them a bone and cut a deal to renew their rice rations. Jeff made a promise that he’d come to Camp Hunahpu the next day to see what he could do, but ominously left out the details, leaving his judgment to loom over the tribe.

All that loomed for Coyopa was Tribal Council. Sure enough, Dale’s conflict with the Gilmore Girls meant that America’s Most Perfect Couple (TM), Jon and Jaclyn, would be the most popular kids on the tribe as both parent/child pairs vied for their votes. It was up to them in the end if they’d split the votes between Dale and Kelley in case of an idol; or if they would join the Wentworths in taking out Baylor for her troublemaking ways, such as targeting Dale before flipping on the women earlier in the game. When the votes came in, lone wolf Keith was safe–with three votes, Kelley became the first castaway ousted from the new Coyopa, leaving 13 remaining. Who will be the next to go?

A CLOSER LOOK

MAMA BEARS AND SCORPIONS

Missy vs Dale

Muffin vs Dale

You know its killing the editors that brown bears aren’t native to Nicaragua to give them ominous foreshadowing shots. We all know the “mama bear” trope that Missy invoked in the episode–the creature whose rage is only fully unleashed when her child is threatened. Fortunately, there are plenty of other animals to use–snakes, lizards, spiders, and most importantly, scorpions. If the “Mama Bear” is the go-to metaphor for animal parents that go above and beyond, scorpions should be at the bottom of the list. When the brood hatches, the baby scorplings will swarm atop their mothers back and remain their until they’ve grown strong enough to strike out on their own. This sounds like it would make scorpions good parents, but the problem is that they don’t really get to know their children. If a baby falls off and can’t get back on, the mother very well may devour her own child, completely oblivious to the fact she’s cannibalizing her own flesh and blood.

The image shown as Kelley cast her vote

The image shown as Kelley cast her vote

The tribe swap put all three San Juan Del Sur parents–Keith, Missy, and Dale–on a tribe together, and put the latter two their with their daughters as well. “Blood is Blood” centered around these two pairs in a season that has been all about comparisons and contrast. We see the differences in Missy and Dale not only as parents, but as players, and how there is an intersection between these two roles. Missy the Bear becomes enraged when she perceives her cub as being in danger and comes roaring to her defense. Dale the Scorpion pinches and stings at his tribemates, and his obliviousness leads to his own daughter being devoured in the end. In her scant airtime, Kelley came off as level-headed and perceptive. Pre-show, I was not the only one to erroneously predict her to outlast her father. Had their not been a tribe swap, this would have unquestionably been the case. When she ultimately has her torch snuffed, the editors don’t make it immediately clear why. The intent of the presentation seems to be to portray Kelley as an innocent in the end; a victim of her father’s poor game.

While Kelley was portrayed as doomed by her father’s inflexibility and myopic worldview; Missy didn’t come off smelling like roses just because she went to bat for Baylor. We’ve known all season long that Missy is very maternal, but until this point she’s been surviving with surrogate children on Hunahpu. Reunited with her actual child, Missy is quick to charge at Dale, who not only monitors her rice consumption, but has targeted her daughter in the past. Missy recognizes that it’s a game, and that Dale’s vendetta comes from Baylor casting the first stone, but she doesn’t care. And that, in the end, is the biggest takeaway. We know that Baylor is here for Baylor.  We can now be certain that Missy is here for Baylor as well. She is the mother who would do anything for her child–the mama bear who will let the hunters shoot her dead if it means sparing her cub.  There is no question that Missy is a major cog in Baylor’s larger story this season, and this episode solidified that theirs is a relationship worth paying attention. As to how it will resolve? That’s still up in the air.

FIRE REPRESENTS YOUR ABILITY TO COOK RICE–WHEN YOUR RICE IS GONE, SO ARE YOU

We have nothing

The tribe swap means that the narratives of the original Coyopa and Hunahpu tribes have become somewhat of a moot point, as the specific members on each of them have been shuffled. But interestingly enough, their overall narratives seem to be staying the same. Coyopa is the underdog, but more importantly, Hunahpu is the functional trainwreck. The narrative has told us that their victory streak has been in many ways, a fluke–the numerous challenge wins they’ve claimed have been in spite of their complete internal turmoil.

When the New Hunahpu Tribe arrives at their camp, we don’t look at the numbers, we don’t hear anyone’s thoughts as to who they ended up with, whether or not the swap was good or bad for them, or any of the other associated strategic implications we’d expect a swap to bring about. Instead we hear about rice, and the fact Hunahpu has none. On Coyopa, the rice was being stringently rationed. Hunahpu has burned through theirs but nobody goes out of their way to take the blame. The reasons why the rice is gone are hemmed and hawed around. The episode points to general poor management; it points to Drew the scapegoat; it points to Missy having wasteful habits. For the most part, Hunahpu just shrugs, giving a general “I dunno,” as if the only explanation is that the rice fairy dumped it in the fire.

Coyopa, on the other hand, are not only the underdogs, but now are being framed as the worthy underdogs. The mismanagement of the rice creates almost creates the impression that Hunahpu had been “cheating” at the game. They were wrought with conflict and made no effort to unify, only claiming victory because they greedily wasted their rations and because they attempted to game the system by bartering with Jeff instead of earning their goods fairly. Coyopa did things the “right” way and weren’t rewarded for it. Jeff almost seems to say as much when he agrees to ultimately barter with Hunahpu for more rations–but he tells them it will come at a steep price. Until that price is payed, it’s hard to tell where Hunahpu’s story is headed. Will the resolution be found when they pay the heavy price Jeff asks of them? Or is it longer term–are we seeing that Hunahpu has not played in a worthy way, and that therefore their members are not worthy of being winners?

MR. AND MS. HOT STUFF

The only part of the episode where Jon and Jaclyn are both in frame and not sucking face

The only part of the episode where Jon and Jaclyn are both in frame and not sucking face

Firstly, I should note that it will now officially be Mr. and Mrs. Hot-Stuff in the impending future, as Jon and Jaclyn got engaged (outside of the game) the other day, so congrats to them!

“Blood is Blood” was all about Jon. With his closest and only ally ousted from Hunahpu, he seemed to be in a bad spot, but tribe swaps are notorious for breathing new life into the sick and dying. All the life got sucked out of Kelley’s game and breathed into Jon. Now he’s got so much life to spare he might as well be a cat (but still with no tail, poor guy). Last episode I noted that Jon and Jaclyn’s relationship is extremely different when compared to a lot of the other relationships showcased on this season–it is based on a lot of healthy, mutual respect and it really appears the other castaways recognize that. Thrilled to be reunited, the Michiganers behave like Jon just gave Jaclyn his Letterman Jacket the other day as they can’t keep their hands off of each other, stealing kisses and giggling like schoolchildren. Baylor makes it clear that the tribe isn’t bothered or annoyed by their PDA (if anything, Baylor is jealous of their relationship–if she wants to have as many ex-husbands as her mom she has to get started soon!), which illustrates that the audience shouldn’t take it as annoying either–if anything, we’re meant to find it sweet how much in love they are.

More importantly from a game perspective, however, we see Jon going from having the worst ally in the game (His Royal Majesty Drew, May He Rest In Peace) to the best ally in the game (Jaclyn, whose trust is implicit), as well as the best position as the swing vote between two pairs who don’t like each other. The pieces of the Jon Misch puzzle are starting to come together–he’s in a great spot, he has been supported by the edit as a good, likeable person (even if he’s not the most game savvy), and as I said last week, is the only male whose victory could still mesh with the emerging narrative of female empowerment. Jaclyn’s engagement ring is looking pretty swanky–it’s something that a Survivor winner’s check could certainly help cover.

DREWCHEBAG RISING

Alec Transforms

Last episode, we saw that Alec was different from the older brother who he so direly wanted to usurp; but we also saw shades of their familial resemblance in his unsolicited know-it-all behavior towards Baylor. With Drew gone, Alec feels fulfilled–he finally has beaten out his brother. I incorrectly assumed that would be the end of his storyline. But Alec’s narrative is just beginning. He says he wants to surpass Drew, and with every member of his new tribe seeing him as the “Mini-Drew,” I think Alec will live up to his own expectations, but probably not in the way he expected. He’s going to surpass Drew, alright–and he’s going to do so by taking over his role in the storyline and becoming just as bad, if not worse than his brother.

All four of the orphans–Natalie, Jeremy, Julie, and Alec–ended up on Hunahpu in the aftermath of the switch up. For the former three, sticking together was a no-brainer. But Jeremy is aware that his position is precarious, and in the audience, we’re aware as well. The outcome if Hunahpu has to vote seems pretty obvious–Reed is going to flip to Josh’s side of the numbers and turn on the original Hunahpu members. Natalie points out there is no way they can salvage Reed as a number with Josh around. The orphans know their only option is to unify, and that means they need Alec, whether they like it or not. Hunahpu didn’t have to vote, so we didn’t really see if Jeremy’s tactic of “surround and drown” worked to pull Alec to their side. We heard nothing from Alec on the matter. But we did see Jeremy and Natalie both trying their hardest to get him on board, and Jeremy specifically hopes to use Alec’s ego as the main tool. Jeremy had once said he planned on dragging Drew to the end because nobody would vote for him. If Alec is “exactly like his brother,” does this mean Jeremy may have found his replacement goat? For what it’s worth, I don’t think this is likely–Jeremy strikes me as too much of a distraction and an unreliable narrator to be the winner in an endgame involving a goat like Alec. But I’m throwing the possibility out there regardless.

I don’t feel confident in saying that any of the orphan’s storylines feel complete yet. Between the narratives that each of them have individually and the emphasis on pairs vs singles, I can only assume that this group of characters is going to matter somehow in the big picture. Maybe they’re ultimately our losing alliance, the alliance that gets outnumbered and picked off come the merge. If this happens, however, then there might be room for one or two of them to slip through the cracks when the pairs finally have to turn on one another and the utility of a single vote becomes hot property.

GAY LOVE AS GOD INTENDED IT

This is a clear moral outrage! What's next, Randy Bailey making out with his dead dog!?!?!

Ew, gross! What’s next, Randy Bailey making out with his dead dog!?!?!

I’ve been saying all season that Reed’s lack of presence in Josh’s storyline was bizarre and worrying for Josh’s chances, and sure enough, this was the episode where it kicked off, given that they became the only loved ones paired together on the new Hunahpu. Sadly for Spiderman, he’s still irrelevant in the grand scheme of things–now he’s simply relevant enough to Josh’s story so as to make Josh feel once again like a believable winner possibility. How Reed will impact Josh’s game is pretty obvious–Josh has come from Coyopa with two of his closest allies. Reed was not in a good spot with the original Hunahpu. We don’t need to hear Josh explain that Reed will jump ship. Instead, we hear Josh explain how Reed’s love empowered him to come out to his family; how their love and faith are both so strong that they’re remaining abstinent until marriage. It’s a shame to know that so much of Reed’s flexibility is thusfar going to waste. Reed has no story, and I think most savvy viewers have ruled him out as a potential winner a while ago. But now Reed at the very least is a principal idea in Josh’s story, which is important for Josh. Mary-Jane was the kingpin of Coyopa. Now he might have the best seat in the entire game.

PUT A NALE IN THEIR COFFIN

Keith fishingI feel like every week I have to go out of my way to talk about Keith and Wes–I think it’s pretty clear that their narrative is not one of the central ones and that neither one is winning this game. Wes is simply too irrelevant of a character, only cropping up when he absolutely needs to. Keith is a very central character, and as of right now, is one in a great spot–and I believe we’ve got a lot to see out of him, especially as he is the only player in the game with an idol. But Keith’s larger narrative seems to be one of him finding himself in great spots but being too out of his league as a Survivor player to know how to make use of his positions. I think Keith is adorable–the more weight he loses, the bigger his eyes get and the more and more he looks like a cartoon walrus. I think he’s going to bumble his way pretty far in this season, and give us a lot of entertainment along the way. I don’t really think that he can win. But it will be fun to see him interact with the likes of Kass on the next All Stars.

More imminently, it will be fun to see the impact his idol has on the game. He’s not a target on Coyopa, but it will be interesting to see if his real deal idol crops up at all when Dale tries to save himself with a fake one.

NEXT TIME

Hunahpu goes to market with Jeff for what may be the last time ever. What will they have to trade for more rice? Their shelter? A member of the tribe? Julie’s lip plumpers? Reed’s screentime? Let’s just hope they don’t lose Alec. He’s basically a badass. Count on it.

Survivor: San Juan Del Sur Episode 4 Narrative Analysis- “We’re a Hot Mess”

THE STORY SO FAR

*smuff*

*smuff*

The “battle” in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua, has been more of a ritual slaughter each week, with the Hunahpu Tribe beating out the Coyopa Tribe in almost every single challenge. The lone exception was when Wes beat out his father Keith in Hero’s Arena, sending Keith to Exile Island as a consequence–where he was able to get a clue to the location of an idol hidden on Hunahpu’s beach. Outside of that, Coyopa was being decimated, and after a third straight Immunity Challenge loss, Baylor seemed to be the next target of Coyopa’s dominant all-male alliance. However, after a lot of provocation, social butterfly Josh flapped his wings and made a hurricane in China, blowing John out of the game and shattering the men’s alliance. Left out of the plot to blindside idol-carrier John, tribe elder Dale knew his age and poor social game put him in the worst spot, leaving him exposed to the vote if Coyopa couldn’t finally score an immunity win.

Things didn’t get any better at the next Hero’s Arena duel, where Jaclyn lost a close duel to her boyfriend, Jon, and was sent to Exile while Hunahpu walked off with blankets, pillows, and the all-important tarp. But despite their bounty, professional supermodel/shark hunter/ladykiller/Demi-God Drew was unsatisfied. After Natalie found Hunahpu’s missing flint that they had traded their fishing gear to replace, Drew tried to make a return with Jeff Probst–much to the embarrassment of his tribe. It wasn’t the first time Drew had caused eyes to roll on Hunahpu, as nearly everyone had something bad to say about his ego, laziness, and delusions of grandeur. His only friend was Jon, who sent him with Jaclyn to Exile Island. Alone with the former Miss Michigan, playboy Drew nobly decided against trying to seduce his buddy’s girlfriend, instead revealing to her that in addition to being royalty in seven countries; having superpowers; and being the most friended person in the history of MySpace; he is also a Machiavellian mastermind. His grand plan was to throw the next immunity challenge in order to weed out some of the dangerous “snakes” on Hunahpu.

Despite Drew’s absence, Camp Hunahpu was far from quiet. For starters, John’s girlfriend Julie was left to handle her unpopular boyfriend’s ouster–her entire tribe had applauded when he was voted out! Julie did her best to dissociate herself from John in order to move on. She decided to play her own game, as did Keith, who used his clues from Exile Island to try and find the Hidden Immunity Idol. Unable to locate it, he deduced that Jeremy must have already found it, and told the other members of the tribe as such. Reed immediately ratted Keith out to Jeremy, who began working to take Keith out, furious that their firefighter’s bond had been broken.

Come time for Immunity, Drew’s little brother Alec proved to be right with his prediction it would finally be Coyopa’s day when Drew followed his master plan to throw the Immunity Challenge. Forced to attend their very first Tribal Council, chaos ensued on Hunahpu. Jon tried to target Julie; arguing that in addition to being a physical weak link, Julie also no longer had a loved one, making her dangerous to players who did. When he tried to get Drew in on it, Drew wouldn’t even hear his best buddy out–the smartest player ever instead cut Jon off to demand that everyone target the person who “obviously” was the biggest threat in the game: Kelley. Citing her as an observant superfan, Drew believed Kelley was conspiring to unite the women against him, seeming to miss the fact that there were only four women to five men.

Drew also blew off Jeremy, who was still trying to target Keith, and told Natalie about his fears of a women’s alliance, seeming to forget that Natalie is a woman. He badmouthed Kelley to the others when she was standing right behind him; and tried to railroad Missy into voting his way, prompting Jon to call him an asshole. Jeremy’s Angel’s all wanted Drew out, but Jeremy was still worried about Keith. At an explosive Tribal Council, #chaos ensued as the tribe bickered, and amongst the confusion, four different castaways received votes, including Kelley, Keith, and Julie. Despite his vocal distrust of Keith, however, Jeremy ultimately joined the four women in bowling down Kingpin Drew. Now 14 are left–who will be voted out next?

A CLOSER LOOK

A TALE OF TWO BROTHERS

King Drewche Surveys His Land

His Majesty surveys his kingdom; thinks about how good he’ll look with a beard at the end of the game

Rivalry between brothers was a prominent storyline in Blood vs Water as estranged brothers Aras and Vytas Baskauskas attempted to mend their relationship. Production may have been angling to get a similar storyline with the Christy brothers, but these two were never going to quite reach Romulus and Remus level of intrigue or complexity. Regardless, I think this episode highlighted that for San Juan Del Sur, every pair has a story, no matter how big or small. Drew and Alec’s may not have been one that was going to matter a lot to the season or pan to be much more than what it was, but it took up a lion’s share of the narrative this episode and so it really can’t not be discussed.

We really didn’t know too much about Drew and Alec as a pair until this episode–and this was really the last chance for us to learn anything, because by the end of it, half of the pair would be gone. (On that note, let us have a moment of silence for His Royal Majesty, King Drewche. May his legend never die.) We knew from their introductory segment–the same one that all the pairs got–that they had a sibling rivalry in the way that pretty much all siblings tend to have and that little bro Alec wanted to finally one-up his older brother.

We’ve gotten to know Drew pretty well during the season so far–his storyline of being a self-absorbed himbo that nobody likes started with all of the subtlety of a bomb going off in the very first episode. But despite Coyopa being the struggling tribe who has had to vote multiple times (and therefore being the tribe whose internal dynamics the editors had to focus on), we didn’t really get to know a lot about Alec. Though Coyopa didn’t have a lot to do this episode because they got the night off for once, we did get a little insight into Alec; and I think it was largely for the purposes of comparing him to his brother.

Without Drew, it appears that Alec has found an ersatz sibling in Baylor (giving her yet another highlighted relationship to another castaway), as she described him as being like a little brother to her. Baylor feels like Alec bosses her around sometimes, but Alec sees it differently. “Baylor makes it seem like everything in her life has been handed to her… just like it was for Drew,” he says. We learn from Alec that he’s always been the sibling who his parents pushed–they didn’t even bother with Drew because they knew it wouldn’t amount to anything. With some of the loved one pairs, we hear nothing but glowing praise from one about the other. Alec instead corroborates everything that both Drew’s tribemates and the edit itself tells us about Drew–he’s spoiled, he’s entitled, and everybody knows it.

We see Drew’s entitlement firsthand as the episode unfolds. He unilaterally makes the decision to throw the challenge after being Exiled from the tribe; having no idea of the current temperature of the group. Once it’s been set in stone that Hunahpu must vote, Drew bulldozes over everyone to try and get his way and see Kelley sent packing. Jeremy has valid reason to be concerned about Keith when he learns Keith publicly threw him under the bus, but when Drew is unwilling to listen to Jeremy, it tells Jeremy that Drew is completely unconcerned with Jeremy’s long term survival. Why should Jeremy return the favor for Drew? Even when it comes to the one person on the tribe who doesn’t hate Drew–Jon–Drew refuses to listen, again, in spite of Jon’s extremely valid reasoning. In the last Blood vs Water, the singles teamed up to pick off the pairs come the merge. Voting out Julie would have fulfilled both Jon’s desires to reduce the number of single players in the game and would have assuaged Drew’s concerns about a potential female voting bloc, but he can’t even be bothered to entertain the suggestion. At one point, Jon literally begs Drew to “listen to him,” and because he’s not listening, Drew doesn’t even hear. Drew is so spoiled that he doesn’t even feel that he owes it to anyone else to listen to them; and is so egotistical that he believes they’ll all fall under his command in spite of it.

Shoutout to the costume department this season. Seriously, that rave rosary is ridiculous.

Shout out to the costume department this season. Seriously, that rave rosary is ridiculous.

When Baylor says that Alec likes to boss her around, we immediately see Alec defend himself in a confessional. Alec hasn’t gotten the free ride that Drew has. Alec has had to work for what he wants, and even if it’s a little presumptuous of him to take on the role of Baylor’s personal drill sergeant, we can see his intentions are good, and that he’s aware of how he comes off. He apologizes to Baylor for acting like a “dick” and assures her that it’s nothing personal. She seems to take it in stride. Alec believes having to be the brother who worked hard in the footsteps of the brother who always got his way has made him a stronger person, and its this mentality that is used to color Coyopa for this episode, leading up to their eventual Immunity win. Alec wants to impart the lesson of hard work on the tribe as a whole because he believes it will unite them, and that “David can beat Goliath.”

At the challenge, there is a focus on Jeff’s glowing commentary towards Alec’s performance, citing him as making up critical ground for Coyopa. It’s Alec who gets the last laugh when they win, with his “I knew it was our day!” being subtitled, drawing focus towards it. With so little happening at Coyopa, and with Alec’s monster of an older brother being the eventual boot, Alec and Coyopa’s edit become intertwined for the episode–his story is the tribe’s story. For once, Drew isn’t going to get his way and Alec’s hard work will pay off. It’s a clever way to paint Hunahpu’s first loss and Coyopa’s first win to tie it in with the larger theme of the season, but ultimately, I think this is where Alec’s story starts and ends. His baggage with his brother has been tied up neatly and sent away. Now is just a matter of time until the end of Alec’s game, whatever the circumstances may be that bring it about.

GIRL POWER

Natalie and Missy

Just lyin’ here, in the hammock

The most recent episode continued to reinforce what I believe the larger narrative concerning gender will be in San Juan Del Sur. The notion of women needing male protectors that was introduced in the first episode continues to be debunked, especially as the women of Hunahpu prove once and for all that they are much more focused and organized in their approach to the game than their scatterbrained male tribemates. Some viewers may not have been impressed with Natalie’s unprovoked tirade against John Rocker in the previous episode, but tonight we saw just how solidly integrated with her tribe Natalie actually is, and what a strong position she holds. She’s always around when strategy is being discussed. Both Missy and Jeremy consider her to be their closest ally. Natalie wants to capitalize on the men’s dysfunction to take Drew out and pulls it off. I think Natalie is destined to go pretty deep in the game. I think that her status as a stunt casting choice would probably lead to her getting airtime regardless. But the airtime she gets shows us a well-rounded picture of Natalie. We’re seeing both sides of the woman who scrapped so far on The Amazing Race, both the outspoken side and the strategic, game-playing side. Natalie is a main character in this story, and I’m not ready to cross her off the contender list.

Of course, it takes more than just one vote to send someone home. Missy is the first one to bring up Drew as an option for the vote, and Kelley finally got some facetime to give us her perspective on the game. It only takes a few confessionals from her to pick up that she’s definitely smart, and that as wrong as Drew might be in some respects, he might actually have had some valid points about Kelley (though I can’t help but think part of his grudge against her is based on the fact that she probably didn’t respond to his “charms). She is smart, she is observant, and she has never missed an episode of Survivor. Kelley stood out pre-show as someone who definitely seems to understand the game; and part of that understanding means realizing that high-control and winning are not the same thing. She’s in a perfect position to slip by under the radar while people gun after more obvious threats while still being smart and subtle enough to make a positive impression on a jury. But Kelley’s narrative is just starting. There is definitely precedent for female winners having low-key starts, so the question is watching where she goes from here.

Kelley and Julie

Kelley and Julie, deep in the throes of conversation about how hunky Drew is

The best part about the women’s alliance, however, is that until Drew went on his witch hunt to destroy it, it didn’t actually exist. By fighting so hard to stop it, he created a window for it to be formed. While Natalie, Missy and Kelley were already aligned with one another and Jeremy; Julie, the tribe’s fourth woman, wasn’t privy to being a member of this inner circle. But with Keith on the outs after his own sloppy gameplay (which I’ll cover later), an opening was left in the majority alliance and Julie, freed from the anchor that is John Rocker, might be in a position to fill that spot for the long haul. As I’ve said before, Julie is one of the castaways I’m watching closely as a potential winner, and I think her personal narrative is continuing to unfold as I’d expect it to if she won. Come time to play the game for herself, she was able to position herself on the right side of the vote and bump herself up in the group hierarchy. If she can continue to demonstrate her growth, she could end up surprising everyone.

MR. AND MS. AMERICAN DREAM

Jon and Jaclyn kiss

I now pronounced you monkey and wife

In all the duels thusfar, the outcome has left the participants feeling emotional. John was angry to have lost to Julie; Keith was proud to have been beaten by his son; Jeremy was crushed to be damning his wife. But Jon and Jaclyn are fine. Jon tells Jeff he’s not worried, and Jeff seems surprised, even going so far as to ask Jaclyn if Jon’s lack of concern is insulting to her. Jaclyn becomes the first contestant to openly articulate the theme of women not needing male protectors when she tells Jeff that she’d be insulted if Jon were worried, because it would be a discredit to her strength. Pre-show, I got the sense that their relationship was a very solid and healthy one; long past the honeymoon phase and based on a strong foundation of mutual respect. The fallout of their duel finally gave their relationship some focus on air and only bolstered that perception.

But this scene was about a lot more than finally establishing Jaclyn beyond her snarky streak that comes to life at Tribal Council. This scene also did a lot to continue to enhance the (very strange) narrative that Jon has been building across the season. If we look at Jeremy’s portrayal over the episodes, we see someone who is nominally in favor of strong women–he builds his alliance with them in the game, and built his life with one at home. But Jeremy was constantly concerned with “protecting” his strong wife, Val. He offers to protect Julie for John. Though Jeremy called out John Rocker for being threatened by strong women, not all of Jeremy’s actions line up with his words. John himself was obviously not the most respectful of women, considering he was embarrassed to lose to a woman. During Jon and Jaclyn’s duel, Dale taunts Jon by saying he throws like a girl, earning a disappointed glare from his daughter. Drew feared a women’s alliance targeting him because he was an “obvious” threat. And while the misgendering comments that Nadiya made towards Josh were certainly problematic for a number of reasons, Josh has informed us that being considered a “girl” is an insult to him.

If the theme of this season is the emergence of women as independent, powerful individuals with their own agency who don’t need male protection; then Jon might be the only man left who could be a possible winner within that narrative structure. He’s been the only man who has been actively shown as being genuinely respectful towards women as true equals. He doesn’t see Jaclyn as “his girl,” as Drew terms it, making it seem like she is his property, his responsibility, or little more than an extension of him. Jon is mindful of treating the women as equal competitors, and I think this will only be to his long-term benefit.

NOT A GIRL; NOT YET A WOMAN

Baylor does the dishes

Well, since the theme of this entire analysis seems to have become very focused on the role of women in this season, we might as well check in with the last of them, the one who I’ve already predicted will be amongst the most important–Baylor. Coyopa’s screentime is limited this week, but we still get to hear from the game’s youngest contestant. Josh, the strategic narrator of Coyopa/the game so far is notably absent. In her interactions with Alec, we get reinforcement on the storyline that Baylor already has being nurtured in regards to her personal growth and development as a player and a person during the game. Alec calls out Baylor for being spoiled and a bit of a brat–something that her edit thusfar hasn’t exactly shied away from. Baylor tells us she’s a little annoyed by Alec, but she’s biting her tongue. Regardless of how successful his tactics are or why he’s doing it, we can see Alec, and by extension, the entirety of the game, are pushing Baylor to go beyond what she’s accustomed to. Over time, I expect the bratty side to Baylor begin to really melt away as a competent and confident player emerges.

FIREFIGHTERS-R-US

Jeremy and Keith argue at Tribal

Sub-alliance? Like the one sitting in between us? Hogwash!

The strength of the women isn’t as effectively showcased if we’re not shown the flailing of the men by comparison. It’s a key point in the episode’s narrative–Natalie explicitly says that the women can strike by capitalizing on the men’s dysfunction. Firstly, the dysfunction of Hunahupu’s men is interesting simply from a human perspective; as our culture frequently depicts men as “drama free” while women are unable to work together because they hate each other. People who truly think guys are a free pass from drama, bickering, infighting, backstabbing, gossiping and pettiness are people I can only presume haven’t actually interacted with that many larger groups of men.

Keith has been established as someone who needs time to figure things out–he’s always a few steps behind everyone else, as evidenced by his unimpressed reaction to Jeremy’s ~crazy~ concept of a “sub-alliance” (whatever that is, right guys?!). The events in this episode really highlighted Keith’s inability to think ahead as his major roadblock in this game–as I’ve stated before, I think he’s proven very adept at being able to mesh well with others. Keith has dug himself into a huge hole, no question, and I don’t blame Jeremy for being suspicious of him. But Jeremy has demonstrated himself to be pretty myopic as well. While we know he is thinking about the long-term, he gets sidetracked easily by becoming hyper-focused on specific targets in front of him. When Val goes, his energy becomes entirely focused on enacting retribution against John. When Keith spreads rumors of him having an idol, all of his focus becomes directed towards Keith. Jeremy has been depicted as Hunahpu’s de facto leader up until this point, but in their very first Tribal Council, it’s his allies who get their way, not Jeremy.

Keith and Jeremy’s relationship to one another has been deliberately highlighted at multiple points in the season. It’s uncommon to have scenes of the tribe that wins Immunity following the Immunity Challenge, but the first episode had one for Hunahpu specifically to show Jeremy going out of his way to build inroads with Keith. Their bond as firefighters is all but circled in red for us to see, in a manner very reminiscent of Cagayan’s Sarah and Tony’s shared career as police officers. Things did not work out for Cops-R-Us. I think it’s a safe prediction to say the same will be true for these firefighters. The question is a matter of who will fire-axe the other one first. Regardless, I don’t think either one will win–the larger story for them both could very well be that critical information goes over both their heads, and that their games will go down in flames as a result.

AREN’T THERE FOURTEEN PEOPLE LEFT?

Coyopa Wins Immunity

Let’s check in with the rest of the cast, shall we?

Wes: His most important content so far has revolved around the more visible half of his pairing in his father. Wes has very little story and what he does have isn’t moving very quickly. I think that whatever happens for him will be tied to his father’s fate.

Josh and Reed: With Jaclyn and Jon’s duel and Drew’s elimination, the Broadway Boyfriends are now the only pair to not have had their relationship with one another brought to light in any capacity, which continues to be a red flag. It’s Reed who makes the decision to rat Keith out to Jeremy, and a secret scene explains to us his reasoning, but none of it makes the air.  Josh, meanwhile, joins his boyfriend in the ranks of irrelevant contestants during this episode. It’s some much needed cooldown given that he’s pulled overtime as the narrator in the first three episodes. I expect Josh’s story to resume next week, but if Reed’s doesn’t start soon, things won’t be looking good for Spiderman or Mary-Jane.

Dale: Dale gets some perfunctory screentime as the “if we lose I’m toast!” boot option, but they don’t lose, so he’s not toast. I have a feeling that he’ll get some new life in the next episode, but we’ll have to wait and see.

THE AWARD FOR ANIMAL IMAGERY GOES TO…

Possum

Possums are all the rage, especially when they come with babies. A metaphor for a parent-child pair, perhaps?

NEXT TIME

Drop your buffs, losers, we’re going shopping. For new tribes. The press release tells us that one castaway will find themselves as lone outsider on a tribe with three pairs. I think we’re going to have a lot of fun.

Survivor: San Juan Del Sur Episodes 2 & 3- Narrative Analysis

So I apologize for not getting a recap up last week! In the spirit of trying things differently, I’m going to just run with it and try to touch on both this week. I’ve also decided that I tend to get bogged down in writing really, really long, involved recaps because there is *so* much that I want to talk about, so I’m going to try and thin it out across the course of the season by doing multiple entries per week (so long as I find the time, eek!) The biggest issue I realized I had is that I love watching Survivor from both an analytical perspective and a sociological perspective, and that while they certainly intersect at times, I can’t always talk about them simultaneously *and* succinctly. Therefore, I’ll be doing the Analycaps; where we look at the narrative and characters (and San Juan Del Sur is only three episodes in and already has built quite a narrative); and a yet to be named analysis more heavily focused on the sociological perspective–for this week it will be a discussion of the socialization and portrayals of young women on the show and a question of race, Rocker, and where real life stops and the game begins.

THE STORY SO FAR

Hero's Arena

The battle of blood vs. water is on in Nicaragua! Nine pairs of castaways, each with a preexisting relationship as loved ones, found their respective duos split down the middle as they were divided into the Coyopa and Hunahpu Tribes and found themselves all facing a new twist. Every three days, loved ones from each tribe would compete head to head in duels  at Hero’s Arena to win reward for their tribe, but would risk being banished to Exile Island if they lost. In addition, the winning castaway would choose an additional member from their own tribe to join their loved one on Exile, where one of the the two would receive a clue to the whereabouts of a hidden immunity idol back at their camp.

Jeremy Collins, a firefighter, won the first duel for Hunahpu on the first day of the game, Exiling his wife, Val Collins, by default, separating her from the Coyopa Tribe at a critical early stage in the game. To join her, he sent Keith Nalewith hopes Keith could help protect Val on Exile. Jeremy’s victory would be the start of a winning streak for the Hunahpu Tribe, seeing them win the first four challenges consecutively. Jeremy’s victory at the price of Val’s potential safety resonated with his sympathetic tribemates, and Jeremy decided to use his charm and charisma to run with the sympathy, establishing an alliance with three female tribemates–Kelley Wentworth, Missy Payne, and Natalie Anderson the last of which scored a 4th place finish with her twin sister and Coyopa Tribe counterpart Nadiya Anderson on The Amazing Race 21. The twins’ past came back to haunt Nadiya after Coyopa lost their first immunity challenge and the tribe split down gender lines, with the men–Kelley’s dad Dale Wentworth, Keith’s son Wes Nale, Alec Christy, and controversial former MLB player John Rocker–targeting Nadiya for the cutthroat competitiveness she exhibited on The Amazing Race. Josh Canfield, Coyopa’s fifth male member, found himself as the swing vote because everyone seemed to trust him, especially Missy’s daughter Baylor Wilson,who broke ranks with the women when she pledged her loyalty to Josh. Baylor became the fifth vote to oust Nadiya; and Josh cast a vote against supposed ally Baylor to keep heat off their alliance.

The winning streak continued for Hunahpu when an impulsive John Rocker threw himself into a duel against his longtime girlfriend Julie McGee, only to have Julie trounce John in a duel favoring balance and finesse over brute force. The upset wasn’t the only shocker in the Arena, though-Josh’s boyfriend, Reed Kelly, attempted to barter the tribe’s beans for the flint that well meaning goofball Jon Misch had lost, a deal which host Jeff Probst was none to happy with. Julie selected Jeremy to be Exiled along with John, and when Jeremy was the lucky castaway to draw the urn with a clue, he shared the info with John  in spite of his familiarity with John’s history of public, bigoted statements. In addition, Jeremy proposed a deal–if John kept Val safe on Coyopa, Jeremy would do the same on Hunahpu. It was a deal Jeremy was banking on when Coyopa again lost immunity after in emotional challenge, as Val had failed to find the idol and had failed to create an alliance outside of Jon’s girlfriend Jaclyn Schultz. In a daring bluff to save herself and her only ally, Val spread rumors that she possessed two hidden immunity idols, prompting the men to develop a vote-splitting plan that would put votes on Val and Baylor. In a lame attempt to honor his deal with Jeremy, John told Val in private about the split vote and suggested she play her idol, while eventually finding the idol Val claimed to have thanks to the clue Jeremy had shared. Josh was made wary of John and Val’s sudden scrambling together, and at Tribal Coucil, Val and Jaclyn went on the offensive against Baylor, tipping Josh off to the fact that they were going to vote for Baylor and take advantage of the vote split to send her home. To protect his closest ally, Josh switched his vote from Baylor to Val, and Val was voted out.

Hunahpu’s streak of victories only meant they had all the time in the world for conflict to brew, and most of it was centered around Alec’s big brother, Drew Christy, who annoyed his tribemates with his ego, posturing, and lack of work ethic. Keith was sent to Exile Island for a second time when Coyopa won their first challenge thanks to Wes at Hero’s Arena, where he bonded with Wes’s ally and friend Josh, and both recieved their first clues to the idol. But Coyopa’s first victory was soured by Jeremy’s reaction to seeing his wife gone, prompting John to expose the deal he had made with Val–much to the distaste of Coyopa’s nexus, Josh. Furious with John for betraying their pact, Jeremy revealed the true nature of John’s past to his Hunahpu Tribe, much to the dismay of Julie, who found herself isolated and in a bad spot because of John’s poor gameplay. Natalie in particular took umbrage with John’s racism and homophobia, and called him out after Hunahpu’s third immunity win, telling the Coyopa Tribe to grow some balls and vote out the racist Rocker, who responded when provoked with violent threats. Forced to vote yet again, Baylor, realizing she was not safe even with Josh, tried to steer the vote in John’s direction, but was unable to find success until Josh became fed up with John’s short fuse and haphazard gameplay. With an idol in pocket, a shocked John found himself voted out, leaving Coyopa down by three and in desperate need of a comeback.

A CLOSER LOOK

Parallel Dimensions

Josh and Baylor 2

A less broad theme that is often seen in Survivor is one where multiple castaways on opposing tribes are implicitly compared and contrasted by the edit. People inhabit similar roles on opposite tribes; sometimes they mirror each other to the point that they’re almost clones, but other times the contrasts are used to effectively show two different outcomes of very similar games. Hunahpu is comparatively underdeveloped in terms of where specifically its members stand in the tribe–without ever having to test alliance lines in a vote, we have no way of assessing where people seem to stand and where they really stand. But if we can make any assumptions about Hunahpu, it’s that Jeremy, possibly the tribe’s most developed character, is the head of this dragon. The question that remains to be answered is who Jeremy’s parallel is on Coyopa.

The most obvious answer is Josh, as we are shown both him and Jeremy being the go-to-guy for a large number of people on their tribe. Both of them find their tribemates coming to them for their cues. Both of them might also not be as safe as they think. On Coyopa, Baylor has expressed that she finds Josh “sketchy” and no longer is willing to trust in him to get her through each vote. She’s now playing her own game, and as evidenced by the scene where she confronts Alec and Wes about their positions in the men’s alliance and attempts to form a new alliance between the three of them and outsider Jaclyn–Josh is not included. Josh has put his trust in Baylor, and it could be bad for him.

On Hunahpu, Jeremy seems to initially bolster his alliance with Keith, who he feels indebted to after Exiling him for the first 2 days so his wife would be protected. However, when on Exile a second time, Keith tells us Jeremy is the only thing standing in the way of his idol. This is intercut with a shot of Keith chopping a branch with a machete. Jeremy might have a core four, but his tribe is nine people, and like Josh, he doesn’t seem to realize that Keith might have it out for him.

There is another possibility to consider, however, which is Jeremy’s perception of the game informing who he believes his own parallel to be–John Rocker. When Val is gone, Jeremy publicly fingers John as Coyopa’s ringleader and blames him for Val’s departure. He makes a case to the women of Coyopa to take him out and stop letting John run the “strong women” out of the game. When he says this, Jeremy (most likely unintentionally) makes an implicit statement about his own leadership versus John’s–John tries to take out the strong women because he fears them; Jeremy works with the strong women because he respects them. The edit was very deliberate in telling us that Jeremy specifically sought out female allies. They also showed his deep love for Val and the idea that part of why he loves her is her strength. He then goes on to expose John’s racism and homophobia to his tribe, further reinforcing the idea that Jeremy sees himself as a righteous leader and John as an evil one. The problem is that John wasn’t Coyopa’s leader; and that John is gone. Jeremy may have set himself up for trouble when he told Coyopa to mix it up and take out the leader, as he might give people on his own tribe the same exact idea.

Jeremy’s actual parallel may be Josh, but as long as Jeremy sees his parallel as John, he might be in trouble. With his crusade to protect Val now over (as she’s been voted out) and his crusade to oust John also over (as he too, has been voted out), Jeremy’s established narratives seem to be running dry. Perhaps Josh and John are both parallels to Jeremy–Josh, the contrasting variant that Jeremy could have been; John the actual mirror for Jeremy’s eventual fate.

BATTLE OF THE SEXES

Coyopa Ladies

Gender quickly took a front-and-center stage in the season premiere, with a theme of gender roles recurring throughout the episode, reaching an apex when Nadiya effectively misgenders Josh by virtue of his being gay.  From here, gender as a key plot element has continued to grow and evolve. We see it expressed numerous times that men are implicitly charged with protecting women. Jeremy wants to keep Val protected, and tasks several other men (Keith; John) with doing so. Jeremy offers to protect Julie on John’s behalf. Baylor begins the game by avoiding assertiveness, trusting in Josh to look out for her best interests. John is mortified to lose to a girl (because losing to a woman is a lot more shameful than threatening to knock someone’s teeth out, right?). And to drive the point home, Coyopa and Hunahpu find their parallel narratives moving in opposite directions when it comes to gender.

On Coyopa, the men spent the first two episodes aligned against the women. The women were down and out and in no position to save themselves. Val is clearly a scrappy, no-nonsense woman who is probably very used to taking charge and moving full steam ahead in her day-to-day life. It’s one thing to have that approach as a policewoman and a mother, but another to use that approach on Survivor. She and Jaclyn don’t integrate into the tribe–rather, Val tries to bluff her way into safety with a risky lie that becomes harder and harder to believe the harder she pushes it. Her desperation shows her hand when she throws Baylor under the bus at Tribal Council. When she goes, it seems inevitable that Jaclyn or Baylor will be next.

On Hunahpu, the majority of the women are sitting in safe spots as members of Jeremy’s alliance. Natalie in particular is sitting pretty when her sister is voted out. Though the loss of Nadiya is emotionally tough for Natalie, it’s the best thing that could have happened to her. The twins were a known factor when it came to their bond–they’re the one pair who would have absolutely never voted against one another under any circumstances. Without Nadiya, the stock of Natalie’s word shoots up–there is nobody to compete for her allegiance.

The men of Hunahpu, on the other hand, are showcased as inept in a variety of ways, especially in the second episode. Jon loses the tribe’s flint and Reed does a shameful job of bargaining for a new one with Jeff. And Drew could be a show of ineptitude all on his own. His own self-perception of being a “badass” is consistently contradicted by the rest of his tribe. Julie thinks he is young and dumb. Keith would “whoop” him if Drew were his child. Natalie is baffled by his lack of concern in making himself an asset to the group. Jeremy considers dragging him to the end because nobody would vote for him to win. Reed is lucky he probably didn’t hear when Drew couldn’t differentiate him from his boyfriend.

But with the events of the last episode, being a woman on Coyopa is no longer a death sentence. The game is shifting, and the question is if the opposite shift will occur on Hunahpu–will Jeremy’s Angels take a dive as Grand King Drewche assends to his throne? If he does, you can guarantee he’ll be knocked off of it. The game may have opened with the men thinking it was their role to protect the women, but I could very easily see the story unfolding to show that the women are more than capable of handling themselves.

BAYLOR AS A PROTAGONIST

Baylor

If there is one woman in the game I’d put money on to go deep, it’s Baylor. From my vantage point it seems pretty apparent only three episodes in that Baylor is one of the main characters in this season; if not ultimately the main character (though that doesn’t necessarily mean she wins). Baylor consistently gets content, but it’s content that evolves. Her story is unfolding week to week, and she is growing as a player; which is being highlighted over the more static positions of some of the other big characters. Baylor started the game playing out her gender role with passivity; relying on Josh to be her protector. But Josh has made himself hard for her to trust. The old adage that says “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” seems to apply to Baylor in spades. After the second tribal council, Baylor vows to play for Baylor. She articulates her position in the game well. She tries to sway Wes and Alec against the other guys. Ultimately, though it is unlikely due to her pressuring alone; she gets her way. Baylor is learning on the go, she’s taking the game seriously, and we’re meant to be taking note of it.

What ultimately makes me believe Baylor could be the central character in the game is that she has two incredibly prominent and important relationships with two players in very good positions–Josh and her mother, Missy. In the season opening, all the pairs got a brief intro from Jeff to paint their relationship quickly for the audience. Our Gilmore Girls were introduced as a pair with the roles often reversed. Missy had dragged her daughter through three failed marriages; leaving Baylor to take on a motherly role as her mom’s most important emotional support system. They’re more than just mother and daughter, but best friends. In the second immunity challenge, Sumo at Sea, Missy nails Baylor hard in the mouth, splitting her lip. Seeing her daughter crying in pain sucks the wind out of Missy’s sails. Baylor scores an easy point because Missy can’t bring herself to take her daughter out.

I think it is very likely that at some point in the game–if not at a swap, then certainly at the merge–Baylor will be on a tribe with both Missy and Josh, and will eventually have to choose one or the other. She doesn’t trust Josh as far as she can throw him. She can trust her mother to die for her. Baylor will have a critical role in sending one of them home. It’s a question of which one it will be (if not both of them) and when. I think that if a pair manages to make it far in this game, that pair could very well be Baylor and Missy. I could see them being the final two.

MOM AND DAD

Mom and Dad

After the very first season of Survivor, some analysts began subscribing to a theory of the “Family Final Four”–the idea that the last group of players remaining in the final episode will present as an ersatz family. In Cagayan, Woo unknowingly explained the five potential family roles at the final five Tribal Council–Tony and Trish as the Father and Mother; Kass and Spencer as the Daughter and Son; and Woo himself as the out-of-his-element foreign exchange student.

In a season where people are literally playing against their families, it feels very appropriate to consider this methodology. We can already see on Hunahpu that the two actual parents–Missy and Keith–are showing that they can’t turn off being Mom and Dad. Both have already become emotional in regards to their children and game partners, but beyond that, they bring being Mom and Dad to their interactions with the tribe. Keith is a little stuck in his narrow scope of the world but is doing his best to acclimate and makes a surprising bond with Josh in the process. Though he’s taking his time and figuring out the game, he still shows signs of being the disciplinarian dad towards his tribemates (such as Drew and Jon). Missy plays the role of the nurturing mother with nuanced perfection. When Natalie breaks down over losing Nadiya, Missy is right there to comfort her, stroking her hair and affirming her pain. When Julie becomes emotional upon realizing her poor standing due to John’s actions, Missy comes to offer a shoulder to lean on while Natalie is grumping at camp that she doesn’t think Julie has the right to feel upset at all. Even problem-child Drew is treated with care and encouragement as Missy attempts in vain to teach him how to weave.

Both of the Hunahpu Parents are present in the narrative. For Keith, it’s a necessity–he’s been exiled twice in three episodes. For Missy, it sticks out. She isn’t the center of anything truly focal yet. She could be getting edited like Reed and Kelley as almost non-present; but the editors never let an episode go by without reminding us that she’s there. Regardless, both seem to be getting set up for longer term stories–could they be the parent figures of the endgame?

HER JOHN; OUR JON

John vs Julie

When Julie is left in tears by Jeremy’s attack on John, Natalie is perplexed as to why Julie feels she even deserves to cry. Jon tries his best to defend her. “He’s not her John,” he tells Natalie. When Natalie goes off on Rocker post-immunity, she points out that he isn’t even the powerhouse he seems promised to be. “He lost to her,” she says, gesturing to Julie, “he lost to our Jon,” she says, gesturing to Jon Misch. Two characters with the same name–Her John, and Our Jon.

Coyopa gets a plentiful share of screentime, but you’ll probably note a lot of my analysis  has been about members of Hunahpu. Coyopa right now has needed their screentime–they’re the only tribe that has had to vote and therefore the editors need to ensure the viewers understand the dynamics of the tribe. But while Hunahpu’s alliances have not yet been tested, they’re still a tribe that has a lot of its members being crafted with careful intent. While Jeremy has not been shown folding Julie or Jon into his alliance, the editors have been folding them into the narrative nevertheless, and it’s worth taking note of.

Julie was a castaway who immediately piqued my interest pre-season because of the potential for her storyline. This potential storyline has been corroborated by her edit thusfar–Julie wants to prove she is more than just big boobs and big hair; more than just a plus one to the token quasi-celebrity contestant of the season. In the second duel, she defied expectations by absolutely slaughtering her former pro-athlete boyfriend; based largely on his assumptions she could never beat him. When she realizes that John has effectively left her for dead, she feels betrayed and Missy implores her to play her own game. Now is a better time than ever.

The edit was very kind to John during his time in the game, and I think it might have been for Julie’s benefit. A lot of his more negative and unsavory commentary was cut from the show. A preview prior to the season showed more to his fight with Natalie at the third immunity challenge, where he made extremely inappropriate comments about her appearance and weight. This is in addition to calling her a slut and threatening to knock her teeth out–and that was just one moment alone. Alec called him a “virus.” Baylor called him a “dark cloud.” “I don’t want to vote out Dale,” Jaclyn tells Baylor. “I want to vote out John!” It seems evident that in casting John Rocker,  with his observable history of poor sportsmanship and closed-minded, oppressive attitudes, production would have had an easy caricature on their hands. I think it’s important to observe why they didn’t go in that direction; and I think the answer is possibly for Julie’s benefit. If John is too unsavory; it sours Julie by association (after all, nobody is forcing her to date the guy). Hunahpu’s anti-Rocker sentiment was Julie’s wake-up call; and John’s elimination will be her second chance. Julie’s story is going somewhere, and how she recovers from John’s ouster will likely tell us where.

Julie isn’t the only suspiciously focused-upon character on the blue tribe’s beach, however, as Hunahpu has a Jon of their own. And unlike Rocker, Misch is a peach. He’s #BoyfriendMaterial. Jaclyn is a lucky one. Jon is goofy and fun; sweet and smart; strong and present. We’ve seen a lot of complex glimpses into Jon’s persona through a few very limited moments. He and Jaclyn may tick the boxes for the “All-American Couple,” but Jeff warns us not to take them at face value as “perfect.” Jon’s fun loving side is constantly juxtaposed with a more serious side. In front of the tribe, he tries to talk with the howler monkeys. In his confessional, he worries about his dying father at home. Before the challenge, he blunders by losing the flint. He follows up with his detailed thought process as to how he’ll  handle the fallout by taking ownership, showing an understanding that he was in the wrong, and proving his commitment to improve in the future. He likens himself to Cagayan rice-dumper J’Tia to his tribemates, beating himself up harder than any of them can. We’ve seen a lot from Jon, and it’s not because of his important ties to any other character. He’s floating off in his own weird, little world, but the intent is clear that we’re to keep in mind his world exists.

AND THE REST; HERE ON GILLIGAN’S ISLAND

Alec and Wes

If I didn’t talk about them above, that means sadly there probably isn’t a lot worth talking about. Let’s check in briefly with our other castaways.

Wes: Episode 3 was actually really good for him, as he scored Coyopa’s first (and only so far) win; bonded with his father, and reaffirmed his alliance with Josh. I think Wes is in a really strong position in the game; but the narrative exposes that his position isn’t strong enough for us to pay notice to. I think that Wes could potentially last for a while, especially if he’s reunited with Keith, but I don’t see him doing a lot more than simple narration overall.

Alec: The Brothers Christy promised us all of the sibling rivalry of Aras and Vytas in Blood vs Water and have delivered nothing close. Alec is just one of the guys on Coyopa. He got painted as the swing vote in the third episode, but I think that was largely situational. Drew clearly isn’t winning, and I don’t think his brother is either. At best, Alec will at least get to one up Drew by outlasting him, but that’s about it–and even that’s not a sure thing.

Reed: Spiderman really hasn’t had much to show for himself except his exceptional flexibility. Reed is virtually non-existent, which from a narrative perspective not only hurts his chances of victory, but Josh’s as well. The theme of Blood vs. Water all but requires the winner to have some sort of story involving their partner. In the first Blood vs Water, even though Rachel was a non-entity, she was booted very early and immediately became a recurring theme in eventual Sole Survivor Tyson’s storyline, serving as his motivation to keep focused and win. Reed doesn’t only need to develop a story soon for his sake, but for Josh’s as well–I can’t see the winner of San Juan Del Sur having their partner written out of the show before opening night (to use Josh’s metaphor).

Jaclyn: I think Jaclyn got a lot of flack for almost spilling the beans and allowing John to play the idol, but I think editing used her answers at TC to create suspense as to whether or not John would be tipped off. John had approached Jaclyn and Baylor with a decoy plan to target Dale, hoping to ensure votes didn’t come his way. As far as John knew, Jaclyn believed that to be the plan of attack, so when she said she thinks that the alliance lines might be shifting and that a guy might have gone home, it probably didn’t register as ominous to John in the slightest–he thought she was talking about Dale. But with that brief defense out of the way, there really isn’t a lot going for Jaclyn–she’s been at the bottom of her tribe for three episodes now and still hasn’t had a single confessional. We only hear her talk at Tribal.

Dale: I think Dale had a high-focus premiere because he was one of the boot options in that episode. He’s faded into the background more and more with each passing week, outside of being perhaps the most over-enthusiastic cheerleader a tribe has ever had in this game. The re-configuring of the dominant Coyopa alliance does not include Dale. He’s now the physical weak link on a tribe that has shown an aptitude for losing. If and when Coyopa attends their next Tribal Council, he’s a sitting duck. I think his game is going to run short–the only question is how his faux-idol trinket from the first episode could potentially divert attention away from him.

Kelley: I’m not ready to write off Dale’s daughter as a potential winner because she could very well be the recipient of the “Natalie White Sole Survivor Scholarship for Pretty Young Ladies.” There is plenty of precedent for female winners being underutilized or ignored by the editing in the first stretch of episodes. Kelley received a very positive spin in the second episode for her challenge-winning performance in “Sumo at Sea,” where she bested Jaclyn in a rematch that she had initially lost on her birthday of all days; and brought her father to his knees, conflicted with fatherly pride and competitive aggravation. We know she was the first person Jeremy approached to align with, and that she seems to be in a solid spot because of that. She needs a breakout soon–a moment, however fleeting–where she can directly express for herself her position and plans in some shape or form. If we don’t get it, we might as well just start calling her Purple Kelley.

NEXT TIME

All signs point to Hunahpu finally going to Tribal Council. It’s about damn time.

Survivor: San Juan Del Sur Episode 1 Narrative Analysis- “Suck It Up And Survive”

PREVIOUSLY ON SURVIVOR!

Eighteen Americans were abandoned in the Philippines, where they were split based on three very defining characteristics–tits, ass, or both brains, beauty, and brawn, and the result was a season that was so explosive you couldn’t even extinguish it by dumping rice on it. We got a slew of unique, fresh characters in the process, and they really helped rocket Survivor: Cagayan into the stratosphere of beloved Survivor seasons–a feat that is rare for the show’s more recent outings. Now the show has returned to Nicaragua for Survivor: San Juan Del Sur- Blood vs Water, with 18 castaways who have an awful lot to live up to.

Last season was my first season ever attempting to blog/recap a show, and I came to realize that the major blow-by-blow; while enjoyable to write; wasn’t really the best kind of recap to read. If you’re reading this recap, you probably watched the episode (and if you didn’t, you can watch it here) and want to go beyond just “what happened” and get into the meat of what matters–our story, our characters, and our game. I’m going to be getting a little experimental with how I go about this recap, so hopefully it works out for the best!

HUNAHPU

(Back) From left to right; Jon Misch, Keith Nale, Jeremy Collins, Drew Christy; (Front) Kelley Wentworth, Natalie Anderson, Julie McGee, Missy Payne, Reed Kelly

(Back) From left to right; Jon Misch, Keith Nale, Jeremy Collins, Drew Christy; (Front) Kelley Wentworth, Natalie Anderson, Julie McGee, Missy Payne, Reed Kelly

The Hunahpu Tribe won both of their challenges in this episode; the tribal immunity challenge and the individual reward duel, which ended up being between Boston Firefighter Jeremy and his wife, police officer Val. Because they were the very first pair of loved ones to be subjected to the Big Twist Of The Season ™, they both got a lot of face time. But because Hunahpu did not have to vote, that means their tribe got less development overall–the dynamics for what is happening in terms of alliances on the tribe are less relevant because they are yet to be impactful in regards to the outcome of the game.

Jeremy Collins, 36, MA- Firefighter; Hunahpu Tribe

Jeremy Collins, 36, MA- Firefighter; Hunahpu Tribe

I think the duel between Jeremy and Val proved to both of the married parents that the reality of Blood vs Water was going to be much more emotionally difficult to handle than either had expected. In the pre-show materials and on Day 0, we saw a lot of good-natured bickering between the two. Their relationship didn’t seem unhealthy because of the bickering; just a natural consequence of two strong personalities being in a relationship. They both talked a lot about how they don’t need the other in order to survive in the game and how if anything, they’re looking forward to beating out one another to prove who is better.

But the second Jeremy beats Val in the duel and she has to be exiled before even meeting her tribe, he’s brought to tears. When you’re watching Blood vs Water at home as a viewer; it’s probably very easy to look at someone you care about and think “It’s just a game, I could vote them out.” For a lot of people, our earliest formative experiences in playing games are with our loved ones. I’ve gone balls to the wall in many a game of Clue with family and friends, and never once considered that the consequences of how I played the game could have any sort of impact on my relationship with them. It’s all in good fun.

But a game of Clue will last a few hours at the most. A game of Survivor lasts for 39 days and involves an unbelievable level of deprivation as a major component of it. Though Hunahpu escaped tribal council, Jeremy was still blindsided–by his own emotions. Jeremy’s tribe is very supportive of him–most of them express a sense of realization that it could have been any of them in that situation, and that come the next duel; one of them will be in that situation. And ultimately, the emotional distress aside, the opening of the game played to his advantage for the time being.

Hi, remember us? Probably not, we were pretty minor characters

Hi, remember us? Probably not, we were pretty minor characters

We’ve seen numerous instances in the past of female castaways conspiring, in some shape or form, to use flirtation and their “feminine wiles” (whatever the heck *those* are) to manipulate their male tribemates–a strategy that has shown a wide birth of successes and failures. I think that because of our society’s patriarchal structure and the way we conceptualize gender broad scale, women, especially conventionally attractive ones, may have unconsciously been taught that working their way into a man’s good graces is the only way for them to succeed. By comparison, we seldom see men making a point of effectively seducing their way through the women of the tribe to get what they want out of the game.

Jeremy breaks this stereotype almost instantly, quickly rebounding from his emotional distress to align with Kelley, Natalie, and Missy. He states explicitly that he thinks he can charm the women; but the jury is out as to how successful his plan will be long term. He’s shown speaking with each woman separately; creating the impression that he is wheeling and dealing Russell Hantz ™ style, making a deal with anyone who will listen. And sure enough, everyone seems to be on board. Natalie says that given the absence of her twin sister, Nadiya, she’s going to need a replacement “twinnie” on the Hunahpu Tribe, and she has a good feeling about Jeremy–primarily because he was unafraid to show his emotions and be vulnerable. Missy opines about how her multiple divorces have taught her she needs to be better at trusting her gut instinct, and her gut is saying good things about Jeremy.

Despite this, I don’t think Jeremy is in a duplicitous spot, because we don’t see him making promises that conflict. He speaks with Kelley first and the deal goes down almost like a business transaction–quick and to the point, much as I expected from Kelley based on what we know about her. She got little-to-no screentime beyond this, but it’s only episode one. When Jeremy approaches Natalie, he tells her that he’s already spoken to Kelley, and asks for Natalie’s feelings on working with Kelly as well as with him. Jeremy doesn’t appear to be trying to snow everyone within minutes of arrival–he appears to be building a solid, united alliance. If everyone involved in the alliance is told upfront what is going on and who is involved, then the trust gluing the group together will be stronger.

Natalie and Nadiya attempt to make fire on Day 0

Natalie and Nadiya attempt to make fire on Day 0

Natalie, for her part, doesn’t get a whole lot of screentime either; but I think it’s likely we’ll see a lot of Natalie next week. Her “Twinnie” Nadiya became the first boot of the game (which we’ll get to more in Coyopa’s segment); and it is all but confirmed that Natalie is going to be on a Kill Bill-style revenge mission. The Anderson girls have both stated that they think their relationship as identical twins givens them “thicker blood” than any of the other pairs. They are a constant in one another’s life and have an exceptionally close bond. They were the one pair who in the pre-show material never once even considered the notion of *not* working together if given the opportunity, and there is no question in my mind that Natalie will take Nadiya’s ouster well.

Ironically, for as much as the twins rely on each other, I think that one of them getting voted out early was the best thing that could happen for the other. The one person in the game Natalie would have unquestionable, visible, undying loyalty to is no longer in the game. She has become the first contestant to be made a free agent by virtue of losing their loved one; and that makes her a hot property that Jeremy should be glad to have scooped up.

But Jeremy’s alliance is not him and all the women–Julie was notably excluded from his Day 1 alliance building. Rather, the fifth number he pursues is fellow firefighter Keith.

Keith and Val on ExileAs part of winning the first duel, Jeremy did not only send his wife to Exile by default; but was also given the responsibility of choosing one member of his own tribe, Hunahpu, to join her. Despite admitting that he and his son Wes failed to make fire on Day 0 after losing their striker and breaking their flint; Keith still ended up as Jeremy’s choice to serve as Val’s “protector” on Exile Island.

Thematically, this season is already making itself about gender roles and dynamics; particularly with the iteration of the idea that men are responsible for the protection of women. It’s a rather archaic notion and it’s frequency in the episode definitely struck me as problematic. I don’t think that Jeremy feels a sense of duty to protect his wife just because he’s a man and she’s a woman. Rather, he feels a sense of responsibility as a person to protect another person who he cares about. Val never once comes off as a woman who absolutely *needs* a man to protect her, but regardless, the theme is definitely being set, and I’m already looking for hints as to how it will impact the larger story (and thusly, the game) further down the road.

Keith, for his part, takes it as well as he can, and proves to be an absolute riot. Outside of Jeremy, he was Hunahpu’s most visible castaway this episode, and he served up a lot of laughter and positive energy in the time he spent on screen. When Val informs Keith that her husband is a firefighter, Keith is elated to learn that there is already a common connection he shares with this couple who, on the surface, seem to have nothing in common. Sure enough, when he finally returns to Hunahpu Beach and joins the tribe properly, Jeremy is quick to approach him to join the alliance. Jeremy knows that by putting Keith on Exile, he took him out of the tribe in the most critical, formative parts of the game when people are getting to create their first impressions and relationships, and feels that he owes Keith something for placing that burden on him.

Because we see less of Hunahpu in this episode, we can only base our predictions going forward based on what we’ve been given. If it is indeed the truth that Jeremy, Kelley, Natalie, Missy and Keith have formed an alliance, that puts the other four members of the tribe–Julie, Reed, Jon M. and Drew on the outs.

Drew the shelter builder

Drew in particular seems to have been destined for a position on the outside no matter what. The impression we, as viewers, are supposed to leave with is clear–Drew is a prick. He quickly designates himself the shelter builder (in all fairness to him, we don’t see anyone else stepping up to the task save for Jon) and proceeds to rustle feathers by doing so. The rest of the tribe seems unconvinced by the fruits of his labors; and Julie likens him to her abrasive, Alpha-male boyfriend, John R. Despite all of this, Drew proved a major physical asset during the immunity challenge, so it seems likely he’ll stick around out of sheer usefulness, but it seems highly doubtful he’s going to be able to charm his tribe with his fratty antics. The group already, for the most part, appears to be over him.

Jon, on the other hand, is the person outside of the core alliance who comes off looking the best. He’s a self-admitted “goofball” who is tickled by just about everything. He jokes that the rusty nails they’ve been given to aid them in their shelter building are like “Christmas morning” and seems raptured by the real break-out character this season–the howler monkeys. He tries his best to communicate with them. “I wish I had a tail,” he laments.

howler monkey

Survivor’s editors are no strangers to using animal imagery thematically–think back to every secretive discussion of a blindside that is prefaced with a shot of circling sharks or a spider devouring it’s prey. The howlers are used numerous times in the episode, and the way they are used and discussed by the castaways seems to correlate with the theme of gender hierarchies and the role of the dominant male protector. Despite the tribe interpreting Jon and the monkey’s hooting back and forth as flirting; howler monkeys use their deep, booming howls for much broader forms of communication than simply finding a mate. Predominately, male howlers will howl at certain points in the day to let nearby troops know that his troop is present; and that trespassers had better beware. I worked at a local zoo for eight years between 2004 and 2012, and the male howler monkey there would reliably begin his eerie hooting in response to the lawnmower or weedwhacker going off, likely perceiving it as the warning call of a potential invader.

Anyway, now that I’ve gone all Cindy Hall with that tangent, the point I’m making is that we should watch the monkeys for clues this season. And we should be watching Jon as well.

"I wish I had a tail."

“I wish I had a tail.”

Jon’s girlfriend Jaclyn barely registers as existing during the episode; and Jon wouldn’t either if it weren’t for a few key moments. As Jeff introduces the nine pairs at the episode’s start; they allude to the perception that they’re a “perfect” couple being made untrue by yet-to-be-revealed depths. One of those layers is exposed after Jon talks with the monkeys, in a confessional where he reveals that coming to play Survivor meant leaving his father, who is suffering from terminal brain cancer. Jon knows that the amount of time he has left with his father is limited, and he seems to be conflicted as to whether or not coming to the game was the right thing to do. The scene stands out starkly–Jon relates to none of the other storylines set in motion this episode, so this information is included specifically for the purpose of informing the viewers about Jon and imploring us to form a positive opinion on him. The question, of course, is why. Are we being set up to like Jon because he goes deep in the game? Or are we being given the backstory to explain what could ultimately be his rationale for pulling himself from the game at a later date? The jury’s still out; but I had Jon pegged to do well and the way he was portrayed did nothing to diminish that assumption.

As for the rest of the tribe, I don’t feel I’ve gotten to see enough out of them to make any real guesses as to what their larger stories are in this season. Julie seems to be observant, and she doesn’t seem to have been picked on by the others for being out of her element, so only time will tell as to how she does. We know very little about Reed beyond the fact that he’s a major fan and is excited to be in the game. He himself says in a secret scene that he thinks his biggest weakness will be not coming out too strong because he is such a big fan and is so excited to prove himself. If the numbers stay as they appear, Reed indeed could find himself with a target on his back. For his boyfriend, however, the story seems entirely different.

 COYOPA

From left to right: Wes Nale, Dale Wentworth, Josh Canfield, Baylor Wilson, Jaclyn Schultz, Val Collins, Alec Christy, Nadiya Anderson, John Rocker

From left to right: Wes Nale, Dale Wentworth, Josh Canfield, Baylor Wilson, Jaclyn Schultz, Val Collins, Alec Christy, Nadiya Anderson, John Rocker

oh shit monkeysOn Day 0, Missy tries to ignite a fire, when her daughter Baylor is distracted by a loud noise–the cries of (what else) but howler monkeys. The troop has circled around the Gilmore Girls, who seem terrified (though the likelihood of being attacked by a howler monkey is pretty slim). As the first of the two-woman pairs to be introduced to us, the scene immediately sets them up as being out of their element, huddled together as the monkeys circle ominously around them. The monkey invasion is definitely out of Baylor’s comfort zone–immediately, the editing takes another point to illustrate the theme of women needing a man to protect them.

For Baylor, that protector comes in the form of Reed’s boyfriend, Josh, who, if pressed to give a name, I would call the breakout character of this episode. Baylor isn’t the only one who is gravitating towards Josh–everyone is. And Josh is more than happy to take that role. Despite an allergic reaction to the material Coyopa has used to construct their shelter almost blinding the guy; it doesn’t seem to ever be held against him. Not even notorious bigot John R. has any unkind words for the guy (that we see on air, at least). Josh knows he is the nexus of the tribe, and that after losing immunity, the burden of who leaves rests squarely on his shoulders. Josh knows this firmly and is happy with it–being the person that everyone is coming to was exactly what he wanted to happen, and it’s a great spot to be in. When you are the one doing all of the approaching, you risk having your tribemates see you talking to everyone, and it can immediately make you look squirrely and hard to trust. But if everyone is coming to you, then your hands are clean. And Josh knows the proper way to handle the propositions being made to him–agree to absolutely everything and decide what to do when the time comes.

Josh Canfield, 32, NY- Broadway Perfomer

Josh Canfield, 32, NY- Broadway Perfomer

If Josh is at the top, then Val is terrified she is at the bottom. She’s returning from Exile facing a tribe that has had two days to bond without her, and she’s worried she could be in danger, prompting her to immediately rally the other women–Jaclyn, Nadiya, and Baylor–in an attempt to align and save herself. The target is Dale, the tribe’s eldest member who seems to have outlived his usefulness, and Nadiya is confident that they can rope Josh as their necessary fifth–because she considers him to be one of the girls. (Surprisingly, John Rocker does not make the most offensive statement of the premiere).

Dale, meanwhile, has his scope set on Nadiya. “She’s a known factor,” he says, referring to her two-time stint on The Amazing Race. Dale proposes to the other men in the tribe–Wes, John R., and Alec— that they backstab Nadiya before she can backstab them. Dale’s grasp on the meaning of “backstab” seems to be a little flimsy, and his perception of Nadiya as a backstabber is derived from the Twinnies infamous use of the Double U-Turn in Amazing Race 21.

Abbie and Ryan are hit by the U-Turn twist in "The Amazing Race"

Abbie and Ryan are hit by the U-Turn twist in “The Amazing Race”

For those unfamiliar with The Amazing Race and it’s mechanisms, the U-Turn is a mechanic that will pop up approximately two to three times a season on pre-determined legs of the race. The U-Turn always follows a race task called the Detour; where the teams are given two options of tasks to complete in order to receive their next clue and move forward in the race. When a U-Turn appears on a leg, all teams are required to check in at the U-Turn mat, regardless of whether or not they’ll choose to use it, before continuing the race. When a team arrives, if they choose to do so, they may U-Turn another team, meaning if their chosen team is behind them, they will be U-Turned upon arrival at the mat and must backtrack to complete both detour options before they can continue per usual. Once a team has decided to use the U-Turn, no other team can. It’s a huge penalty to be sacked with an extra task and a lot of risk is involved with choosing to use the U-Turn–you have no way of knowing for certain who is ahead or behind of you, and each team can only use the U-Turn once, meaning it is possible to waste it by playing it on a team that’s ahead. In addition, being quick to use the U-Turn is a sure-fire way to make enemies of the other teams, which can be dangerous in a race where good relationships can sometimes grant you access to useful information. To keep the U-Turn from being an instant death-blow to the team hit by it, it was amended as time progressed, eventually becoming the Double U-Turn–meaning that two teams could each U-Turn another team, allowing for the first team to be hit with the U-Turn to potentially save themselves by slapping another team with the same penalty.

Due to a bizarre set of circumstances that aren’t worth getting into, ultra-competitive frontrunner team, dating couple Abbie and Ryan, had been knocked to the back of the pack with permanently trailing husbands Brent and Josh. The two couples were verifiably hours behind Natalie and Nadiya, who were joined in the front-half by Chippendales performers Jaymes and James and dating couple Trey and Lexi; with the three teams having formed a very tight threesome who sought to the ones who would compete in the final leg. The twins devised a plan for their alliance to take advantage of the huge time delay to ensure that the bigger threats/their mortal enemies, Abbie and Ryan, would be ousted at the end of the leg, as opposed to the consistently poor-performing Brent and Josh. The idea was that whichever of the three teams was in the lead would use the U-Turn on Abbie and Ryan, and that the second team in the alliance to arrive would burn the second slot by U-Turning the team ahead of them. This meant that when Abbie and Ryan arrived, they would be unable to save themselves by using the second U-Turn on Brent and Josh. The plan worked without a hitch, and the twins didn’t even have to do it themselves–they took the Fast Forward and skipped straight to the pit stop, leaving their allies to do the U-Turning.

You might be asking yourself why I went through that (perhaps needlessly) long and thorough explanation of the Twinnies Double U-Turn gabmit; and it’s mostly just so that we can all be on the same page and that non-Race watchers can have context for the move that had Dale so freaked out. The way Dale articulated what happened wasn’t exactly accurate–to me, the word “backstabbed” implies that the Twins reneged on an agreement that they had with another team, which wasn’t the case at all. If anything, Nadiya and Natalie proved their loyalty to the teams they said they’d be loyal to.

But Farmer Dale has a point nevertheless–Nadiya had been seen as willing to conjure strategies and play cutthroat, and with only three days in the game and impressions still forming, it was a good of a reason as any to target someone.

Dale making fire

If anyone needed to be coming up with a good reason to get rid of someone, it was Dale. He is quick to realize that he’s a good 25 years older than most of his tribemates, and, as I predicted, feels that he’ll be unable to integrate well. Though Dale managed to make a good impression by breaking his glasses to start fire for Coyopa, the whole fire-making scene served as a meta-illustration of how I think Dale will fare in the game. He is shown as being a successful survivalist, but he’s off on his own trying to make fire with his glasses while the rest of the tribe bonds together over the mutual effort of rubbing two sticks together. Once the women have agreed to unite, they have to determine which of the men is expendable, and Dale is the easy choice. Beyond his age putting a target on his back (as often happens to castaways in the early game), Dale’s lack of social game doesn’t really make him a lynchpin in anybody’s plans to the point that he’s worth keeping around. “What’s the old guy’s name again?” Nadiya asks Baylor at one point. “Dale,” Baylor replies. “I’m just going to call him Dad,” laughs Nadiya. It illustrates just how Dale hasn’t been making much of an impression on the tribe–but it also illustrates a lack of awareness on Nadiya’s part.

*smuff*

*smuff*

Nadiya doesn’t only have trouble remembering Dale’s name, but she has trouble perceiving Josh’s gender. After the men make their pitch to Josh for ousting Nadiya, Nadiya makes her pitch to Josh for ousting Dale. She tells Josh that she’s pretty sure Natalie is trying to work with Josh’s “boo” Reed on Hunahpu, and that therefore it only makes sense for them to stick together on Coyopa. She then tells Josh that she considers him to be “one of the girls,” and it’s a comment that strikes a huge nerve with Josh; and probably with the majority of the gay men in the audience.

To be fair to Nadiya, I think her ignorant comments about gay men being “girls” (which she makes numerous times after the initial statement) are used as a sort of obvious, tangible reason that the viewers can see for Josh ultimately allowing her to leave. I’m positive that in reality, there was a lot more to how the decision was made. As a gay man myself, I have definitely had encounters with straight women who are quick to assume you are besties 4 lyfe immediately upon realizing that you’re gay, but I’d be straight lying if I said I called them out on it every time. Sometimes, it’s just not worth the effort. Sometimes, I’ll like the person enough otherwise to just put up with it. And sometimes, you let it slide because it’s not worth calling out and putting yourself at odds with the other person. I can’t see ignorant comments alone, at least not this early on, as being the primary factor for decision making.

To clarify, Josh is not a girl, but Nadiya brings up a point that I made in my own pre-show analysis during tribal council. Regardless of how Josh perceives his own gender, other people very frequently see gay men as “two-spirited,” to appropriate a term from broader Native American culture. That is to say, gay men are often seen as being men and women simultaneously; bigendered individuals who have the superpower to infiltrate gender specific spaces for both men and women. It’s impossible to say if Josh’s queerness is a primary element in why he seems to be best friends with literally everyone on Coyopa, but the reality is that no matter the reason, everybody likes the guy and wants him on their side. As of right now, it’s good to be Josh.

Well, except for the whole "excruciatingly painful eye inflammation" part

Well, except for the whole “excruciatingly painful eye inflammation” part

As the swing vote, Josh was handed control of the game on a silver platter, but if you’ll notice, I said he “allowed” Nadiya to leave, not that he voted Nadiya out. The vote ends up being 5-3-1: Five for Nadiya, three for Dale, and one for Baylor–from Josh.

Josh and Baylor

Josh’s vote is interesting, because much as with everyone else on Coyopa, Baylor considers Josh to be her BFF and number 1 ally. When Josh asks Baylor how she’s planning to vote, and she tells him that it doesn’t matter, she just wants to be voting alongside him. I can only assume next week’s episode will fill in the blanks; but it appears that despite throwing away his vote on who appears to be his closest ally, Josh definitely decided to go against Nadiya, and much as Nadiya had her Amazing Race allies do her dirty work, Josh got Baylor to do his, with Baylor casting the needed fifth Nadiya vote . By throwing his vote away, he remains uncommitted to anyone; that is, if anyone even figures out that he cast the rogue vote. While we can only speculate without knowing Josh’s exact reasoning, I would guess that he and Baylor are still planning to work together moving forward.

And for her part, Baylor didn’t come off like a puppet–she was consistently present throughout the episode and definitely seemed aware of the bigger picture. She’s not making the loudest entrance, but she’s definitely on the board, and I’m going to be watching closely to see what she does further on.

Wes and John

I also wouldn’t say that just because Nadiya left that the Coyopa Men are now an unbreakable alliance. Dale, as mentioned earlier, doesn’t seem to know how to bond with his tribe, but finds himself in the men’s alliance by default by virtue of being a man. Beyond that, there is also trouble brewing in bro-paradise, namely between Wes and John R. Wes and his father are both big sports fans who immediately recognize John. Keith thinks that Rocker was an ass then and is probably an ass now. Wes seems a little starstruck and wants to buddy up to fellow Southerner John. He tries to earn John’s trust (?) when he makes a bold move, being the first to question John’s identity and let John know that someone has John Rocker figured out. John doesn’t like that Wes is privy to this information and immediately begins considering how he can get rid of Wes before the info leaks. Fortunately for John, I don’t think that his being a former pro-baseball player is going to be what does him in this game. I think it’s the fact that as much as he claims he’s not a bigot, he probably is one, and that as the deprivation further takes its toll on him, he’ll be less and less able to keep his true colors under wraps. Once his temper comes out, it’s going to be a lot more difficult for him to find security on the tribe. A John Rocker meltdown is exactly what some of the more precariously perched members of Coyopa–such as Val and Dale–could use, so hopefully it comes soon.

Fake Idol

The other thing that could help either Dale or Val would be finding the hidden immunity idol at Coyopa’s camp. Val received the first clue to it on Exile Island, but hasn’t had much of an opportunity to find it. It’s very possible that she never will–perhaps a vital component to getting the idol is the decorative knick-knack tethered to the handle of the well cover, which Dale noticed and procured for himself. The item isn’t an idol–per the rules of Survivor, an idol will always have some sort of accompanying note denoting it as such–but Dale thinks it could be useful, so he’ll hold onto it. Chekov’s gun is cocked and ready to fire, everyone–could we be seeing a Bob Crowley-esque idol fakeout in the works?

FINAL THOUGHTS

There was a lot to cover in the 60-minute-plus-30-minutes-of-commercials premiere, and I am probably going to go back and re-edit this over, but whatever, it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want. As the opening of the season, the premiere episode always has a big job to do in setting the stage and introducing the elements to our story that are going to play out further down the road. We’ve had some big characters introduced, but there is still plenty of time for other people to be in the mix. Rather than a teaser for next week’s episode, we were granted a super-trailer for the rest of the season, and like many a super trailer, it promises a lot of excitement and absolutely no context. For now, all we can do is wait and watch the monkeys. I have a strong feeling about those monkeys.

Survivor: San Juan Del Sur Pre-Show Cast Assessment

San Juan Del Sur

Everyone and their mother is doing it, so I guess I’m doing it too! Survivor: San Juan Del Sur- Blood vs. Water, which will be the 29th season, begins on the 24th, and I’m awaiting with baited breath.

For the uninformed, the structure of this season was clearly influenced by the upswing in quality during the previous two seasons, Blood vs. Water and Cagayan, bringing the show out of what most fans consider to be the Survivor dark age. The 27th season, titled only Blood vs. Water, brought back ten previous castaways competing on one tribe, while the other tribe consisted of their loved ones from home for each; be it a blood relative or significant other. The returning players brought some really excellent new characters into the show, and we got to see plotlines that Survivor would have never been able to have beforehand as a result of the castaways coming in as strangers. The stakes were different for the players when they would arrive at a challenge to see that their partner in the game had been voted out. We saw Candice Cody and Marissa Peterson publicly drag Brad Culpepper through the dirt; brothers Aras and Vytas Baskauskas attempt to work out their differences; and Ciera Eastin vote her own mother out of the game. The season was followed by Cagayan, the first season since One World to feature an entire cast of new players, and the season was met with near-universal praise. So as production headed back to Nicaragua for season 29, they decided to combine the two elements that seemed to be lifting the show from its death bed: a full cast of newbies and the utilization of the Blood vs. Water twist.

Much like the first Blood vs. Water, the pairs are going to be starting the game on opposite tribes, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Gone is Redemption Island (thankfully), and Exile Island is back (yay!) but with some new changes. In San Juan Del Sur, the intended Redemption Island Arena will instead be used as a space where loved ones from opposite tribes will duel against each other to win reward, with the loser being sent to Exile along with another castaway of their winning loved one’s choosing.

Another big difference is that while Blood vs Water had a 20-person cast, San Juan Del Sur only features 18. Sisters So and Doo Kim were pulled from the game at the last minute when a currently unspecified medical condition rendered Doo unable to participate, and therefore took her sister out as well. (Fortunately for So, there is a lot of speculation production has made up the misfortune by putting her on the currently-filming Season 30.) This means that there will be more men than women this season, putting 5 men and 4 women on each of the two tribes–Coyopa in orange and Hunahpu in blue.

And lastly… the cast is all newbies! Which I’ve already said, but whatevs, it’s my blog and I’ll repeat if I want to. The first Blood vs. Water was a chance for us to meet the people who were attached to characters we already knew, giving us a better sense of them both. We got to meet Tyson’s shockingly normal girlfriend; Aras’s brother whom with he shared a rocky relationship; and Laura Morrett’s daughter, a teen mom who Laura had talked about numerous times on Samoa. We also got to see some people who had glimpsed Survivor before, such as Rupert’s wife Laura who he infamously almost ingested during the All-Stars family visit; and Tina Wesson’s daughter Katie, who had appeared during Australia as a dweeby pre-teen with braces. The exciting thing about doing Blood vs. Water with all new players is that we don’t know them yet (at least not as Survivor players, but we’ll get to that), and we don’t know how their relationships will manifest; or how they’ll play with one another. This group of castaways have had the experience of watching Blood vs. Water and it’s clear they’ve all wrestled with how they’ll approach the game–is their goal to keep their pair together, or are they out for the title and willing to take out their own loved one like Ciera did to Laura? Regardless of how they choose to play, one of the eighteen is going to be the 29th Sole Survivor, so let’s meet them and start figuring out who it could be.

 

Jaclyn Schultz & Jon Misch

College Sweethearts
25, Las Vegas, NV- Media Buyer/ 26, Waterford, MI- Financial AdvisorJaclyn and Jon

With pairs on Survivor, it’s hard not to draw parallels to the most famous of two-person team Reality Shows, The Amazing Race. TAR is notorious for casting same-sex teams that share a lot of commonalities so that it is easy to refer to them in shorthand–Season 16’s Jet and Cord were “The Cowboys”; Season 14’s Jaime and Cara were “The Redheads”; Season 10’s Dustin and Kandice were “The Beauty Queens,” and so on. For male-female pairs, however, there is a little more ability to craft individuality for each teammate–it’s pretty self explanatory when “Vanessa and Ralph” pop up on the screen as to which one is Vanessa and which one is Ralph.

I bring all of this up because my first impression of Jaclyn and Jon is that they feel very generic and cut from a cloth that is used on every season of The Amazing Race. You might have a team of married circus clowns; a proud interracial couple; or a pair of dating pro-wrestlers; but no matter what, you will have at least one team that ticks the obligatory box for the “All-American” (read: white) young, pretty, “average” couple. Jaclyn and Jon seem like they’re that pair for San Juan Del Sur. Of course, they have a little backstory–everyone does, after all–and theirs is primarily about their Barbie n’ Ken relationship that blossomed during college at Michigan State University, where Jon played football and Jaclyn won the title of Miss Michigan. The last time college football in Michigan crossed paths with Survivor was in Guatemala and it created one of the funniest storylines we could ever have hoped for when Central Michigan football alum turned NFL quarterback Gary Hogeboom crafted a lie about being Gary Hawkins, landscaper, to avoid the potential target of being a former-pro athlete. This was all rendered moot because fellow castaway Danni Boatwright was a sports radio host and football mega-fan who recognized him instantly. But enough about that, because that’s not really relevant to Jon and Jaclyn. Despite their status as the token pretty, successful, young white couple, not all is perfect in the land of Barbie n’ Ken. Jaclyn has a medical condition that renders her unable to concieve, and the duo would love to use the winnings to help with the pricey process of surrogacy or adoption.

The biggest difference between Survivor and The Amazing Race is that even though they’ve been cast as a pair,” Jaclyn and Jon are going to start this game apart, and I think they’ll stand out much more individually then they do as a team. They both seem to be very charismatic and easy for others to like, as well as having good heads on their shoulders in regards to the game. They seem very confident in their relationship with one another and appear to be long past the “Honeymoon Phase.” This means they’re less concerned with constantly demonstrating their relationship than couples who haven’t been together as long, which works to their advantage, as neither will be upset with the other if they have to vote them out to advance their game. They seem to have a great understanding of the reality that Survivor is an unpredictable game where pre-fabricated strategies are often doomed to failure, and therefore they can’t rely on each other as certain allies.

Given that Jon is funny and personable along with being an accomplished athlete, I think it’s hard to imagine a scenario where he doesn’t make the merge at the very least. I imagine that he’ll be adept at integrating himself into an alliance and that his ability to help his tribe in challenges will keep his name off the chopping block early. Jaclyn is in a very similar spot. She seems to be a little more sarcastic than Jon, but that’s a quality that very often can be endearing, especially when it comes from a pretty blonde woman. Like her boyfriend, I think she has the skills to play socially, and she seems to be in great shape as well. Granted, sometimes women are targeted as physical weak links simply because of the perception that women aren’t physically as capable as the men, but I don’t see Jaclyn being the biggest fish to fry in that regard–like Jon, I think she’s pretty safe for the merge.

In the end, being the “boring” couple sets them in a good position for Survivor, a game where it’s often not the strongest, smartest, or most loveable who succeed–it’s the people who fall in the middle that everyone seems to forget about until it’s too late. They might not be the most invigorating casting choice CBS could make as far as being stand-out personalities, but I think both have the potential to be strong players.

 

Nadiya Anderson & Natalie Anderson

Twin Sisters
Both 28, Edgewater, NJ- Crossfit Trainers

Nadiya and Natalie

Aaaaaaand speaking of The Amazing Race we have our first Race-to-Survivor crossover in the form of the love-them-or-hate-them “Twinnies” from Seasons 21 and 24. Sure, we’ve had castaways turn racers–Boston Rob and Amber did it twice post Survivor: All Stars; Ethan Zohn and Jenna Morasca were regrettably one of the first teams out on The Amazing Race 19; and Keith Tollefson and Whitney Duncan, the miserably annoying couple from South Pacific will make their race debut on the upcoming 25th season.

Being the first racers-turned-castaways isn’t the only claim to fame for the Anderson Twins, however–they are also the first South Asian contestants to ever appear on Survivor, and being a cheerleader for more diverse casting, it makes me thrilled that two of my favorite reality contestants get that honor. Though they were born in America, their family returned to Sri Lanka for most of their childhood, before hopping back stateside in their teens. Given their heritage, they both feel more than at home in the equatorial tropics, and their ability to handle the elements could be one of their biggest advantages going into this game.

However, as for how they’ll do in Survivor, it’s very hard to say. The Amazing Race saw Natalie and Nadiya functioning as a high energy team that combined were a force to be reckoned with, and that seems to be the case for them in their day-to-day lives as well. In most media depictions of identical twins, we’ll see one of two tropes: the twins who are polar opposites; or the twins who are so similar they’re effectively one person. Natalie and Nadiya are very much crafted in the latter mold–they went to the same college; continue to live in the same home; and have the same job.  Their humor, energy, and strength as a duo made them a great team to watch on The Amazing Race, but we in the audience have never really gotten to meet Natalie and Nadiya as individuals–something I’m very much looking forward to seeing. It’s clear that they spend very little time apart from each other, so I would imagine that they also are looking forward to seeing how they’ll function when separated. Unsurprisingly, this is a pair who have no designs on voting each other out–they want to do everything in their power to stick it out together until Day 39.

As stated earlier, the Twins are fierce competitors, and I can see them both excelling in the challenges and out-muscling most of the other women in the game. This is something that could play to their advantage to start; along with fact that they are bubbly girls with big senses of humor and a knack for making friends, as well as a knack for thinking strategically. This was all revealed on The Amazing Race 21, where the girls executed one of the most unprecedented and brilliant strategic maneuvers to ever be pulled off on The Amazing Race. Having used their outgoing personalities to rally an alliance of BFFs with two other teams, they orchestrated a plot to burn through the Double U-Turn (a mechanic that allows two teams to each handicap a team behind them) in order to prevent their trailing rivals, dating couple Abbie and Ryan, from utilizing the U-Turn to save themselves. The twins got first place on that leg; their allies did the dirty work for them; and Abbie and Ryan were sent home. The Amazing Race is played very differently from Survivor, so it’s very impressive to see a team successfully use social strategy to advance themselves.

However, to do the same thing in Survivor means they’ll have hurdles to overcome, the first of which is their recognition. Any castaways who also watch The Amazing Race will likely recognize them, and others might want them out because they feel it’s unfair for them to get a third shot at a million dollars. Also, because the twins have been seen in action as a unit, their tribemates could see them as threats, and seek to get one of them out before they have the opportunity to link up at the merge or a swap.

The other potential hurdle in their way is that the twins are divisive–while many viewers (like myself) found them to be some of TAR’s best casting ever, others hated them with a passion. Some people found their high energy to be irritating rather than endearing; and their strategizing as dirty rather than clever. Beyond the U-Turn Gambit, the Twinnies also ruffled audience feathers when one of the other dropped their money and the twins found it and kept it for themselves. If they have tribemates who recognize them and didn’t like them, that could be enough to send them home.

All in all, I’m thrilled for more Natalie and Nadiya, but they feel impossible to predict right now. It’s tough to tell how they’ll perform as individual contestants and whether or not their tribemates will take to them.

John Rocker & Julie McGee

Dating
39, Atlanta, GA- Former MLB Player/34, Atlanta, GA- Tanning Salon Owner

 John and Julie
But wait, there’s more! Natalie and Nadiya aren’t the only faces that the public may have seen before they stepped foot on the island. Also joining us this season is former MLB pitcher John Rocker, who played on multiple teams between 1993 and 2002. Unfortunately for John–and the rest of the world–he isn’t exactly a recognizable name due to athletic talents. Rather, he’s recognized for being seen pretty unequivocally as one of the hugest douches, well… ever. Period. The most prominent example of how awful of a person John is comes from a 1999 Sports Illustrated interview where he expressed his rather choice opinions about New York City and it’s inhabitants:

“It’s the most hectic, nerve wracking city. Imagine having to take the 7 Train to the ballpark looking like you’re riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing… The biggest thing I don’t like about New York are the foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anyone speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there. How the hell did they get in this country?”

Like, I don’t think I even need to comment further. Though the interview is perhaps the most offensive dribble a human could hope to spew forth, it’s not the only time John has proven what a ~virtuous~ guy he is. He also made headlines when shouted derogatory slurs at gay patrons in a Texas restaurant, and when he referred to black teammate Randall Simon as a “fat monkey.” His most recent endeavor is promoting the sale of T-Shirts that say “Speak English.”

John is not the first former pro-athlete to be on Survivor–obviously, given that I mentioned Gary when talking about Jon–nor is he the first former pro-athlete to be on a Blood vs Water style season, as the original saw One World’s Monica Culpepper compete with her ex-NFL player husband, Brad Culpepper. Brad came to play hard and play obnoxiously and created quite a stir as an early-game villain who learned the hard way that when you put your neck out and try to seize control, someone will be more than happy to lop your head off. To his credit, John doesn’t seem to have many illusions that he’ll do well in the game. Maybe he’s defeated himself before he’s even started. Maybe he’s worried his past in pro sports will put a target on him, as Gary Not-Hogeboom did. Or maybe he’s aware that he’s such a dick nobody will keep him around–least of all his non-white and queer competitors.

When asked in  a pre-show interview who in their pair will do better, John pointed to his girlfriend, Julie, and Julie pointed to herself. Julie seems quite high-maintenance, given her career choice and style of self-presentation. Other castaways were already taking note of her in their pre-show interviews, pointing out how ill-equipped she seemed for the island. Julie seems to be cut from a cloth Survivor never tires of–a prissy, self-proclaimed girly-girly who has never been camping in her life and lists dirt and bugs amongst her worst fears, along with premature aging and body fat.

However, I’ve got my eye on Julie. If she can cope with being out of her element physically, then I firmly believe she has the potential to do some real damage in the game. She comes off as very smart, cutthroat, and willing to be manipulative. She also is in a really great position to fly under the radar, as she might be written off as little more than a +1 for the season’s Token Celebrity Contestant ™, as well as for her ultra-femme demeanor. Of course, these same factors could also be reasons for the tribe to kick her off if they feel she doesn’t bring anything to the table. And of course, given that she’s dating a such a douche, one can only wonder what it says about her own beliefs and personality. Still, from what we’ve seen so far, Julie is coming into the game with a pretty decent hand–it’s now all up to how she plays her cards.

Josh Canfield & Reed Kelly

Dating
32, New York, NY- Performer/31, New York, NY- Aeralist

Josh and Reed

Might as well round out the “you may recognize them from…” contestants with boyfriends Josh Canfield and Reed Kelly, who are both theater performers in New York City. Of the two, Reed has been the one to nab the more “high profile” role, having portrayed the costumed Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark.

The original Blood vs. Water also featured a same-sex couple–One World’s Colton Cumbie and his fiance, the late Caleb Bankston. For most gay people, this was probably not the gay relationship they wanted to see featured, due to the appalling bigotry and bullying Colton displayed during One World. Josh and Reed fall on the other end of the spectrum–as opposed to being Colton-esque Mean Girls, the pair compare themselves to Survivor: Philippines runner-up Lisa Whelchel, as like Lisa, they are both devout Christians. This is almost certain to be an interesting dynamic, as contestants with strong religious beliefs have very often struggled to reconcile them with the cutthroat nature of Survivor, and have overcome those struggles with varying degrees of success. For Josh and Reed’s part, they don’t seem to be worried about reconciling Jesus Christ with Jeff Probst. Despite their Broadway careers putting the stink of stunt casting on them, the boys are avid Survivor fans and are seem firm in their understanding that deception and double-crossing in Survivor is just a part of the game, not a reflection of their everyday lives. Of course, the main intrigue seems to lie in the fact that they’re gay Christians (I know, shockingly enough, the two aren’t mutually exclusive), and it’s something that could be bound to cause tension for both of them if confronted by fellow Christian castaways with more conservative social standings.

If we look past these stigmas, however, we can see two men who have skillsets that could bode really well for them. Being a professional Broadway dancer is not easy by any stretch of the imagination and pretty much ensures that these guys are in ridiculous shape (seriously, check out Reed’s instagram for proof). Reed in particular is an aerialist, which gives him specific experience with some really demanding physical rigors and acrobatics. If either is voted out early, it won’t be because they weren’t able to contribute in challenges.

The biggest obstacle both Josh and Reed face is the stigma surrounding homosexuality in Survivor, and I don’t mean that in a “they could get voted out by homophobes” way. I don’t think that there are many castaways (with the obvious exception of John) who would vote someone out just because they don’t like gay people. Rather, I think that being a gay man can be perceived by other castaways as a dangerous advantage. In the post-Russell Hantz world, players are more aware than ever of the importance that social skill has in the game, and gay men have become the poster children for being a social butterflies. Just look at what happened to Brice last season! Josh and Reed will likely be seen as bigger threats than other social players because of a societal undercurrent that paints gay men as existing in a space between genders. Other castaways could see them as the most likely to make strong inroads with both the men and the women, and the fear of being outfoxed by the Gay Best Friend could lead either Josh or Reed right off the island.

As of right now, I think both Josh and Reed have strong potential to go far, but they definitely feel a little more like an Amazing Race team due to the huge number of similarities they share. This makes it hard to determine which of the two could stick it out longer.

 

Dale Wentworth & Kelley Wentworth

Father & Daughter
55, Ephrata, WA- Farmer/28, Seattle, WA- Marketing Manager

Dale and Kelley

The original Blood vs. Water featured two parent/child pairs, both of which were returning female players and their daughters, so I’m very excited that San Juan Del Sur will have some different parent/child combinations. Much as with twins being portrayed as either opposite or identical, parent/child teams are often portrayed in the same way. While not a “rebel” in the traditional sense, Kelley is very much a rebel in how her adult life has formed when contrasted with her upbringing. While pairs like Reed and Josh or Natalie and Nadiya are still tough to get a read on as individuals, Dale and Kelley are night and day–something that has the potential to help them as a pair.

Dale is the old dog that can’t be taught new tricks, but at least he seems aware of the fact. He’s lived in the small town of Ephrata his entire life and has never moved farther than across the way to another farm. He is the prototypical example of a person who is constantly told “you should try out for Survivor” because of his aptitude as an outdoorsman and his tireless work ethic. The work ethic in particular is something he has been very diligent about imparting on Kelley, who truly seems to love and respect her father, though she is by no means blinded by admiration for him. She believes that while he brings the survival skills, she’s going to be responsible for the social strategy.

Dale agrees with his daughter that the social aspect of the game will be his weakness–and I agree with both of them. “I’m not here to make friends, I came here to make money” Dale says in an interview. “The way you get ahead in life, more than anything, hard work will get you farther than anything else… if you rely on looks, eventually, you don’t have looks. If you rely on friends, eventually you run out of friends. Hard work gets you through almost anything in life.” First of all, running out of friends or losing your looks is by no means a guarantee. Secondly, if you think you are on Survivor to win and not make friends, you probably don’t understand the game very well. It’s nigh impossible to win Survivor without making friends. In fact, I’d say Survivor is generally won by making friends. All the hard work around camp in the world won’t keep a torch lit if the members of the tribe who are making friendships and alliances band together and leave you on the outs. I have no doubts he’ll be the first one to get confrontational with a tribemate who he doesn’t feel is working hard enough. I don’t think Dale is mean or malicious, but he has his view of the world and he’s sticking to it. On the farm it’s a worldview that’s perfectly fine; but on Survivor all it does is compromise the flexibility that is so vital to success.

Dale’s shortcomings, however, put Kelley in a great spot. She grew up on the farm under Dale’s tutelage, learning firsthand the importance of hard work and tough labor; yet lives her adult life as a metropolitan woman in a big city, working with a diverse team of people on a daily basis. She has a much better grasp on what is really greasing the wheels during the game, and will undoubtedly do a much better job than her father when it comes to building good relationships and securing herself a safe spot round after round. She and her father are another of the pairs that is very willing to see Survivor as a game and vote against each other if need be–something I think bodes well for Kelley, because she doesn’t need her father in the game as much as he needs her. I’ve got my eye on the farmer’s daughter–she seems like someone who could succeed in many different Survivor seasons, with or without daddy dearest.

Wes Nale & Keith Nale

Son & Father
23, Shreveport, LA- Firefighter/53, Shreveport, LA- Fire Captain

Wes and KeithSan Juan Del Sur will also debut the first father and son pair for Blood vs Water, also ticking off the “loveable redneck” box for this season. Whereas Dale and Kelley are very different from one another, Wes is very much a chip off the old block. These two are just your “regular” ol’ huntin’, fishin’, outdoorsin’ types of bayou boys, complete with Louisiana accents so heavy you could use them to thicken your gumbo. As has been true for many a country boy in seasons past, their extensive outdoors experience will likely help them make it through the first few rounds of gameplay, simply because they’ll help keep their tribes from dying.

However, as also seen in seasons past, having a lot of survival related experience can easily work against a castaway who doesn’t know how to parlay that knowledge well. Both father and son own up to being extremely competitive, especially with each other, and it is often the most competitive personality types who struggle with acquiescing control and laying low when needed. Wes in particular seems to be a little young n’ dumb–his father is quick to state that Wes thinks he’s got the whole world figured out, but still has a lot to learn. The kid’s a cute guy with a charming accent and a lot of bravado, so it could be very likely that he’ll charm himself into the good graces of some of his tribemates. At the same time, there is also a definite possibility of him being a loose cannon–someone who doesn’t take well to being told what to do or not getting to call the shots. While he’s pretty obviously been cast as an ersatz J.T. Thomas, I think he’s a little too frat-boy to pull off a game like J.T.’s. It’s an inverse of the other father/child pair–whereas I think Kelley stands a better shot than her father; I think Keith is a much more realistic threat than his son.

Keith and his Wes are a lot alike. Keith seems to be high in youthful enthusiasm and low on inhibitions. As exhibited when I discussed Dale, I think many “older” castaways are disadvantaged in this game, and not solely because their age leads to the perception they can’t contribute physically in the same way as the younger tribemates. Older castaways have much more life experience and much more time spent as an adult, living independently, which often makes them less receptive to criticism or being given “orders,” especially from someone who they consider to be lesser than them. Keith certainly could fall due to this, but he seems very self-assured and confident with who he is–something that Wes hasn’t quite figured out yet. Of the castaways who have a significant background in outdoors survival, Keith is the one who seems like he’ll be the best with the social-strategic game as well. If anything, I’d guess his Achilles heel would be his competitiveness, as sometimes that can blind players to what is really happening. It’s a trait he shares with Wes, and that makes the dynamic of their relationship interesting, as I think they might actively want to try and vote each other off–but it’s all in good fun. Just another friendly family competition for the Nale Family.

Val Collins & Jeremy Collins

Married Parents
35, Foxboro, MA- Police Officer/36, Foxboro, MA- Firefighter

Val and Jeremy

The whole “married cop and firefighter” thing feels very Amazing Race (Team 911, anyone?), and for all we know Jeremy could join Wes and Keith in the creation of Firefighters R Us…but it also means we can probably expect them to be pretty fit and compete well in challenges. From what they’ve revealed in interviews, it sounds like they prepared in a way that very few castaways-to-be do. Rather than focusing solely on learning how to make a fire or build a shelter, they’ve been rationing their food so that the sudden lack of nourishment doesn’t hit them as hard. They’ve been practicing for endurance challenges of all kinds, honing their ability to keep their balance or remain in uncomfortable positions for long periods of time. It’s an approach to the game that I immediately appreciated, because it shows that they’re examining the finer details of the game’s reality that viewers often don’t grasp sitting at home.

Because they both work in high-stress public defense jobs, I think it’s fair to assume both of the Collins’ can function well under pressure. Last season, Tony proved that just because someone is frenetic and erratic doesn’t mean they’re doomed to derail, and I think his experience as a police officer and having to trust his instincts helped with that a lot. I could see those same instincts helping Val or Jeremy as well. Val believes that being a police officer has made her good at reading people and showing them empathy when they need it to “talk them off of ledges.” In Cagayan, Trish had to do a lot of this, and her ability to do it so well made her one of the most dangerous players in the game. Val is also aware that she doesn’t exactly look like what most people think of a cop as looking like, and knows this can be a tool to help her remain undetected. Of course, a number of people have already brought up who she does look like–Cirie–and the superficial similarities could lead people to fear Val more than she gives reason for them to.

Jeremy, with all those muscles, stands out more obviously as a potential threat–for him, I think his biggest advantage is running on “Island Time,” in his own words. (Between that statement and his accent, I would guess Jeremy is originally from somewhere in the Caribbean, but it hasn’t been stated officially where. Hopefully John Rocker can deal with him being an immigrant.) Being a little more laid back means that Jeremy will have more opportunity to keep himself out of drama and to observe the game going on around him–again, a recurring theme with this couple seems to be that they’re good with observation.

Val and Jeremy also feel very Amazing Race because of their dynamic as a couple–a textbook example of opposites attract. They can’t even make it through their pre-game interview without a little bickering, but it’s easy to see that it’s all in good spirits, and they seem aware the bickering works for them because it’s how they balance out each others personalities and work to achieve goals as a couple. The tough part about this is that it might mean neither one is functioning to their fullest potential when they’re starting on separate tribes. Furthermore, they both want to win at all costs, even if it means voting out each other. Jeremy himself says that Val winning would still be a “failure” to him because he didn’t win. If that competitiveness blinds him from relying on his wife when he most needs to, it could be fatal.

I’m rooting for this team–they’ve got great personalities and could do really well in this game, but I would also be entirely unsurprised to see them become early targets.

Baylor Wilson & Missy Payne

Daughter & Mother
20, Nashville, TN- Student/47, Dallas, TX- Cheerleading Gym Owner

Baylor and Missy

The third parent/child pair this season are single mom Missy and daughter Baylor, or as I like to call them, “The Gilmore Girls.” Together they’ve weathered the trials of tribulations of Missy pouring her blood, sweat and tears into making her business a success, as well as three failed marriages on Missy’s part. They absolutely seem like the type of mother/daughter who describe themselves as each other’s best friends, and in many ways, they behave more like friends around each other than a parent and child, swapping jibes at each other and giggling all the while. The fact that Baylor has been her mother’s support system for her entire life is  just one of the facets of their relationship that has me very intrigued to see how San Juan Del Sur plays out for them.

Another of the aspects of their relationship that immediately caught me was how they’re viewing the game. Most of the other pairs seem to have either firmly decided they’ll never turn on each other or alternatively that they’re totally at peace with voting their partner out to better their chances. Missy and Baylor don’t seem to be on the same page when it comes to this–Missy won’t ever even consider voting her daughter out, and while Baylor’s ideal plan would involve sticking with her mom the whole way, she is willing to knock Missy out if need be. They’re the only duo on this season that, as of right now, seem to have that dynamic going, and I think that it could easily be one of many factors that would lead to Missy struggling in the game.

Over the last few seasons, a new staple character archetype has emerged in Survivor. No longer are older women simply early boot fodder; rather, there now always appears to be at least one older female contestant who wants to play a logical, cutthroat, strategic game, but finds her emotions complicating things; be it that being cutthroat is so much harder than she anticipated and the emotional toll of hurting people is just too much; or that she is too reactionary and egotistical to really see the game rationally at all. While Kass was a unique twist on this archetype, I can’t help but feel that Missy is going to take us right back to the Lisa/Dawn/Monica character. If history shows us anything, this means Missy could make it to finals–but by the same token, it also means she’s not going to win.  Missy strikes me as someone who is not nearly as confident and self-assured as she thinks she is, and the toll the game will take on her emotionally will, at some point, probably ruin her chances.

Baylor, on the other hand, will probably have a little more fight than her mom. The Rory Gilmore in this relationship, it’s apparent that she’s used to sometimes reversing roles and being the parent for her mother. She’s the youngest player in the cast, but I think she’s tougher than she immediately appears to be. She might come off a little strong, but that same high energy and bubbliness could be a critical tool in helping her flirt her way into the protection of a male tribemate who is oblivious enough to fall for it–Wes comes to mind. Life may not have always been easy for The Gilmore Girls, but being forced to start growing up a little early could be a blessing in disguise, as I believe it will help Baylor succeed in the game, especially if others make the mistake of underestimating her due to her age.

Of course, she could also just annoy everybody and be swiftly kicked to the curb.

Drew Christy & Alec Christy

Brothers
25, Winter Park, FL- Model/22, Winter Park, FL- Student

Drew and Alec

Another more recent Survivor go-to character is The Fabio–after the goofy, loveable surfer seemingly stumbled ass-backwards into a million dollars on Survivor: Nicaragua, it seems like casting has been on a mission to make sure that every season has a floppy-haired beach bum who may or may not be smarter than he appears. With the Christy brothers, we get two for the price of one!  Too bad one would be more than enough and that Drew seems like a total douche.

The boys sound like they grew up fairly privileged, having a lot of leisure time to spend doing beach stuff, partying, and generally not taking anything very seriously. Beyond their love of anything beach related, they’re also both athletes–Drew in football, Alec in lacrosse–and are both very competitive, especially with each other, as brothers are often want to be. In fact, at first glance, they appear all but interchangeable, more like an Amazing Race team than a pair of individuals competing on Survivor.

However, San Juan Del Sur could potentially illustrate how their paths have been slowly and steadily diverting from one another. Drew’s football talents landed him a scholarship Georgia Southern University–which he promptly quit when he was scouted by a modeling agent, and took the offer because it’s way easier to party all the time when you’re a hunky model than a college student. Alec seems to have always been trailing in his brother’s shadow, and I can’t help but suspect that some of the carbon-copied appearance between them results from Alec’s attempts to one-up his older brother. Unlike Drew, Alec is right at the precipice of his college graduation, and he takes a great pride in that, given his historical tendencies of being a slacker. When Alec brings this up, Drew seems visibly peeved.

Drew and Alec’s competitive nature when it comes to one another seems to be driving their strategies going into the game–they’ll work together if it’s mutually beneficial, but they want to compete as individuals, not as a team, and though neither one has said it aloud, I think they actively want to try and vote each other out. As I said, upon first glance, they appear interchangeable, but the more you see them, the more they are differentiated by their big brother/little brother dynamic. Drew comes across as extremely cocky and accustomed to not having to work hard in order to get his way–in his mind, the world is his to grab by the horns, and everyone else is just along for the ride. Alec seems to be emulating his brother in part because he feels like he has to, because he doesn’t know any other way of being, and is only recently trying to figure out what his own strengths and goals really are. I think deep down, Alec is really hoping to prove something about himself and take Drew’s ego down a few notches by beating him out in this game. When the show begins and we get to see them separated from each other, I have a strong suspicion that we’ll see a more sensitive, nuanced part of Alec emerge, and I think that could work in his favor. Drew is not going to win this game, but I’m not at all ready to cross Alec off the list.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaand… Scene! There we have it–our 18 Castaways for Survivor: San Juan Del Sur. Overall, I was hoping for a bunch with a little more diversity and some teams with relationships that were a little more unique, but with the show not even having started yet, it’s far too early to really tell what story this cast is going to tell. Whatever it is, they’re telling it at an extremely unique place in Survivor history, coming off the heels of one of the best received seasons the show has seen in a long time, armed with a twist with the potential to weave storylines like we’ve never seen before on this show.