Is Missy the most social-game-only player ever? After being all but buried by the editors in the previous episode, Missy seemed to seize the reins of power in this one. True, Missy did not get along well with Dale and Kelley, but she has existing alliances with Jeremy, Natalie (apparently), Keith, Jon & Jaclyn, and of course, Baylor. She comforted Natalie after Hunahpu learned of Nadiya's boot. She comforted Julie after Jeremy yelled at Rocker. She hands anyone within an arm's reach as much rice as they can possibly swallow. While she's at times been prickly (such as at the Tribal Council where Kelley was booted), she seems to have an outstanding social game. And that seemed to allow her to dictate how this episode's vote went down.
Yet her performance in the challenges has been... Sandra-esque. She more or less stood back and watched during the first IC. She either took a dive or was easily bested by Baylor in "Sumo At Sea." She didn't score while shooting baskets. True, she was adequate when retrieving the easiest ring in the challenge Drew threw, but was also part of Coyopa's muddy first post-switch debacle. And then there was this week's IC, where while Hunahpu's Josh and Reed sprinted through the puzzle by taking turns putting up flag pieces, Missy stayed firmly rooted to the puzzle table, forcing Jon to put up every piece himself. Then take them down. Then put them up again. Not surprisingly, Coyopa lost. With the merge looming, it'll be interesting to see how she performs in individual challenges. But she appears poised to set new standards in purely non-physical gameplay. If she can suppress her Mama Bear instincts following perceived transgressions against Baylor, she might have a decent chance to ride that gameplay to the end.
San Jeff del Survivor
In the end, the Steep Invoice for Hunahpu's rice was an additional four minutes of Jeff Probst screen time. His life is fine, but it just got four minutes finer! Saint Jeff came in and punished the evil New Hunahpus for their gluttony, by forcing them to watch him drag their comfort items down the beach, or at least out of camera range. It was appropriate, because even though almost half the tribe (3/7, the recently swapped Josh, Wes, and Alec) had nothing to do with it, and the person most responsible for the supersized portions was now on the other tribe, someone had to pay. Probst's most frequent, most righteously indignant justification seemed to be that Hunahpu was too dominant in the challenges. Never mind that New Hunahpu won the last IC despite, in Josh's own words, "running on fumes." Or that Hunahpu threw the previous one. Or that Coyopa had the edge in the first IC until they got to the puzzle. Those other two challenges (each of which Hunahpu won by one-point margins, at least as shown on TV) are surely the gigantic sample size that supports Probst's conclusion.
In the end, this entire sequence is endemic of what is wrong with this season. It's not what everyone was been talking about, variants of "These contestants have it too easy!" or "Probst should have taken more!" (Actually, no: Andy Dehnart got this exactly right.) No, the problem is that Probst has inserted himself more and more directly into the action and direction of the season, with little to no payoff. Instead of quietly giving each tribe more rice back at their camps after the swap, as Michael Snow revealed (in his RHAP voicemail segment) happened in Caramoan, Probst felt the need to lecture Hunahpu twice: last episode after the immunity challenge, and this episode during his Great Rice Trade. The justification for it was at best flimsy, and it took time away from seeing people actually playing the game. Do we really believe Natalie never asked Baylor why Coyopa voted out Kelley? Or, for that matter, who was responsible for voting out Nadiya?
Please, please, please let the duels be done with the merge
It sounded like Probst was hinting at this pre-season, but please, for the love of everything, let it happen. This week's Reward Challenge (the blindfolded obstacle/puzzle) was about as exciting and interesting a duel as we're ever likely to see, but even so, the post-swap duel format was absolutely lifeless, because all the loved one pairs were already reunited on the swapped tribes (except Wes and Keith). There was almost no emotional impact to the in-arena reveal that Kelley had been voted out, since Dale was well aware of it. (And what minimal impact there was, the editors completely destroyed by failing to follow up with Natalie or Julie, who seemed somewhat surprised.)
Furthermore, the duels have not outgrown their awkward, forced emotional moments, wrung out of the contestants during the mini The Jeff Probst Show post-duel interrogations. Yes, Reed cried when he won, but he did that because of the stress of the challenge, not because Probst was helping him explore his feelings. Yes, Baylor cried after she lost. But that was partly because Probst goaded her into it. This sequence has produced maybe one natural, touching moment (with Wes and Keith) in five tries. Everything else could just as well have taken place at a regular, team-based reward challenge. Which we desperately hope we'll be seeing exclusively from here on out.
Great moments in Keith's Survivor gameplay
He tried to make fire on Day Zero and failed. He tried to fish this episode, and failed. He did, however, succeed in taking a nap immediately after his tribe failed at the IC (or so we presume). He avoided, as always, any on-screen discussion about who's getting voted against at Tribal Council. Although he did stand forlornly in the distance as Missy talked about splitting the vote and putting votes on him, in case Dale played an idol.
There he is, America: The winner of the Sprint Fan Favorite/ Player of the Season award for Survivor: San Juan del Sur, Keith Nale! (We mock, but you know he'd win easily, if it still existed.)
Where the merge may lead us
The merge is coming! The merge is coming! As mentioned last week, the only loved one reunion we'll be seeing is Keith-Wes, and they never cry, to the eternal disappointment of Jeff Probst. But we will finally be putting the horrific memory of the Coyopa tribe to rest, and have a potentially interesting battle for overall post-merge dominance looming.
We have four sets of intact pairs: Wes/Keith, Jon/Jaclyn, Josh/Reed, and Missy/Baylor. With three pairs already united by the swap, it seems fairly likely they'll all stay together. Alec seems to be pretty tightly aligned with Wes, although editing has at least laid the groundwork for him to join up with Jeremy and Natalie (we'll assume that Julie actually follows through on quitting at some point). Natalie was shown this episode wanting (herself and Jeremy) to join up with Missy and Baylor post-merge. Jeremy was already in an alliance with Missy. So a Jeremy/Natalie-Missy/Baylor grouping seems likely. Even if Missy did spearhead voting out Jeremy's other ally, Kelley.
On the other side, Josh has been with Wes since Day 1, they seemed to be working closely together on the Rocker boot, and Wes has already sent Josh to bond with Keith on Exile. The only wrinkle to a Josh/Reed-Wes/Keith group is that Keith seems close to Missy (at least according to Dale's exit interviews), and Jeremy seems to have bonded a bit with Wes, post-swap. But the editing's emphasis on a Jeremy-Keith feud probably trumps both those connections. Also, Missy and Baylor voted against Keith last episode, apparently without warning him ahead of time, which might be enough to convince Keith to cut his ties to Missy.
Alec could side with either group, but at this point, his single vote is far less powerful than Jon & Jaclyn's two. That leaves, as Jon admitted in his unfortunately mis-edited confessional from the last episode (in which he was wearing a merge buff), Jon and Jaclyn "in the middle again." Given that Jon and Jaclyn expended so much effort building their alliance with Missy and Baylor, prospects look fairly grim for the second set of pairs. That's borne out by a re-examination of the season teaser at the end of Ep1, where it's clear Josh's "we will fight to the end" confessional was made not in the orange (or "yellow") Coyopa buff it was colorized to resemble, but in a merge buff (see above). The wave is coming.
San Juan del Sur Episode 6 recaps and commentary
Exit interviews - Dale Wentworth
Podcasts - Episode 6