This was a fun episode overall, but most of its entertainment came at the expense of enjoyable, or even comprehendable, gameplay. In fact, the strategy was so horrendous, it was hard to believe this was not an episode from the first season, before most players realized that alliances are, in fact, a pretty neat idea.
Oh, Drew. Just as we were warming to your pointy-haired bossiness, your Ron Donaldian grip on the reins of Hunahpu, you're gone; a victim of your own kingpinheadedness. And while we love a lurid spectacle as much as the next person, we actually found ourselves feeling unfulfilled by Drew's self-immolation. Is this really the best we can wish for with this cast? Cagayan had numerous humorous moments (#ninjastealthmode), but there the levity served, as it should, as a complement to solid gameplay by the likes of Tony, Tasha, Spencer, and LJ. Here, in contrast, we're just getting facepalm after facepalm.
Yes, it's somewhat amusing that Rocker didn't play his idol, or that Alec bickers with Baylor to teach her some lesson that only he understands, or that Drew tells his alliance to target someone while they're standing five feet behind him. But Survivor can do better than this. If we wanted to watch nonstop young, dumb people doing young, dumb things, we'd watch The Real World. Okay, maybe not that dumb, but at least Big Brother. Aim higher, Survivor.
Because it feels like Survivor almost crossed a line here. We get that Survivor prides itself on casting extreme Type A personalities who can't stomach not being the leader, and considers it a home run if that person is also a comical imbecile that no sane person would ever take seriously, let alone take orders from. But that's where the problem lies: It's a lot more fun to watch a leader fall if they actually were leading in the first place. The pre-merge Tribal Councils of Survivor seasons past are littered with the extinguished torches of self-appointed leaders whose followers eventually threw them out (Roger in Amazon, for example, or Brad Culpepper in the first Blood vs. Water). Yet the joy of a coup doesn't seem as fulfilling, or earned, when the deposed leader never actually had any followers. It feels false, possibly scripted, or at least hammed up. A leader making poor decisions, but actually having them go through, then getting voted out as their followers wise up, rise up, and throw off their shackles? That's strategy, that's drama. Someone saying they're the leader, doing everything as backwardly as possible, achieving nothing, then falling on their face as half their tribe stumbles around in utter tactical anarchy? That's comedy. As a one-off, it's fun. But it's also fluff
Frustratingly, based on Drew's exit interview with Rob Cesternino, there was a lot more going on here than was shown. As was mentioned during Tribal Council, Drew really was plotting things with Jon. Drew didn't actually single-handedly throw the challenge, he planned it beforehand with Jon, Jeremy and Natalie. Playing Drew up as a delusional buffoon was an efficient shortcut to the post-IC craziness, and the scattered, haphazard vote. But that efficiency also shortchanged the drama, in playing everything for laughs. This was not the dullard Survivor was looking for. A slightly more balanced, nuanced presentation would've been preferable. But, you know, there's limited space. How could we have lived without seeing Baylor and Alec bickering over the treemail, or people arguing endlessly about who has idols?
In defense of throwing
Certain people (we're looking at you, Eliza) are impassioned advocates of never throwing challenges. These people are wrong. Ethan and Kim threw a post-switch challenge in Africa specifically so they could boot Silas, the leader of the opposing Samburu tribe's dominant alliance. Ethan and Kim used that advantage post-merge to go all the way to the final two. Throwing challenges is clearly not always detrimental. There are times at which they make great strategic sense, in fact.
This, however, was clearly not one of those times. Ethan and Kim had a clear objective: Get rid of an enemy before they could become a post-merge threat. Here, Drew was... trying to do that? (Maybe? Sort of?) But Ethan and Kim had at least discussed the plan beforehand with each other, and had enough faith in their alliance that they were sure they had the votes to take Silas out, once the challenge was lost. Drew, on the other hand, went forward with this plan without getting a chance to re-confirm it with anyone, because he was on Exile Island. Furthermore, he massively overestimated his alliance's receptiveness to his plan to target Kelley, which resulted in a grand total of exactly zero additional votes against Kelley by his tribemates. Maybe doing this seconds after returning from Exile wasn't the best idea? Or maybe he should have considered getting a read for his tribe's strategic leanings before throwing the challenge? Of course, to do that, he probably would have had to listen to someone else talking for a minute or two, and you know how tiresome that can get. Just thinking about it makes us sleepy. Yawn.
Sidenote: Obviously it didn't fit the narrative, but we really wish the editors had shown us (secret scene?) the massive, crushing blow that must have befallen Coyopa if/when Jaclyn informed them that they won because Drew threw the challenge. Then again, maybe she forgot.
Jon's Plan: Not bad, but too good for Hunahpu
Hunahpu wasn't all idol paranoia and imaginary gender wars this week. Jon's argument that the pairs should stick together--and ensure a post-merge majority by targeting the people whose loved ones have already been voted out--was a clever move, and one that his Hunahpu colleagues (except Jeremy and Natalie) should really have embraced. Now, to be fair, Jon seemed closest to Drew, and there was probably little incentive for someone like Missy or Kelley to attach herself to the outside of a Jon/Jaclyn-Drew/Alec core. But even so, Hunahpu was uniquely situated to put this into action, because whenever Coyopa went to Tribal, they had no choice but to break up pairs. Hunahpu had a clear choice here, and they chose poorly, or at least the people with partners remaining did. They could have made it a 6-2 supermajority of paired: unpaired people by booting Julie. Instead, the numbers are now almost even: five pairs left; four solo players. With likely only two boots left until the merge.
These people all (theoretically) watched the first Blood vs. Water. They should know that the biggest obstacle to reaching the end with your loved one--something almost everyone playing has professed to want--is a counter-alliance of people whose loved ones are already gone. That latter is a natural, emotion-laden alliance to form, and one that's far more efficient at playing Survivor. And since Jeremy and Natalie are already in an alliance, it seems highly likely it could happen again. With a swap looming in the next episode, who knows if the paired players will have this kind of opportunity again before the merge hits?
Missed opportunity - Jeremy
For a guy who was in considerable danger from Jon's surprisingly logical plan, it's hard to know what to make of Jeremy's lack of an idol. Even in the most fantastical scenario, in which Keith actually found the idol last episode, immediately after returning from Exile (note: it seems much more likely it really did happen as presented in the show, while Drew was exiled), Jeremy had at least two full days to use the same clue John Rocker used to march straight to Coyopa's idol and pocket it. What was Jeremy doing in all that time, apart from complaining about Rocker? Not looking for an idol, apparently. Luckily for Jeremy, it looks like there's another idol at Coyopa, since this week's idol clue was back to the original one Val had in Episode 1. If the swap puts Jeremy in Coyopa camp next week, maybe he'll still have a chance to recover from this oversight. Or maybe he can just continue fuming that Keith thought he had one, an idea which is patently ridiculous, because he never even looked for it, despite practically having a map and GPS coordinates for its location. (Note: Unless, as with everything else, Jeremy really did look for the idol, but the editors elected not to show it.)
Where the switch leads us
The title of the next episode, "Blood is Blood," leaves little doubt as to what the prime decisions will be for everyone in the post-switch environment: stick with your alliance, or go with your loved one. The press photos show a lot of the post-switch tribe assignments, and presumably by the time the previews start airing, all will be revealed. It seems difficult to believe anyone would intentionally ditch the one person they trust to stick with several people they only slightly do, unless the numbers dictate it. Same as before. This time around, will anyone be able to Vytas their way to safety when stuck in an unfavorable swapped tribe? We can hope, but based on this episode, don't hold your breath.
San Juan del Sur Episode 4 recaps and commentary
Exit interviews - Drew Christy
Podcasts - Episode 4