In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (one of my favorite books of all time), Douglas Adams solved the “How do aliens understand one another?” question with characteristic humor: insert a babel fish – yellow and leech-like – in your ear, and it will do the translating for you. I’ve long wished that the babel fish was a real thing, if only so I could understand such phrases as “sicky sicky, gnar gnar.”
Unsurprisingly, given how the early internet adored Douglas Adams, one of the first online translators was called Babel Fish. Although it has long since been surpassed by Google Translate, Babel Fish was, at the time, miraculous: Type in some text in a foreign language, click “Translate,” and there, in an instant, was a not-entirely-accurate-but-good-enough version in English. I’m sure that more than a few students, in dire need of a technological assist, passed high school Spanish with the help of Babel Fish (although I wasn’t one of them, either because I would never do something so unethical, or, more likely, because I’m a Gen-Xer and the internet arrived too late to save me).
So what does this have to do with Survivor? Captain Obvious to the rescue: the season-long Survivor story isn’t shaped for the SuperFan; it’s crafted for the casuals. We Survivor obsessives have a tendency to overanalyze what the producers give us; the purpose of any given scene, though, is usually far less complex than we’d like to think. This is especially true with regards to confessionals; SuperFans count them, debate them, feed them into edgic algorithms to seek their significance, while for casuals, they’re simply a narrative device that shapes their expectations.
With that in mind, here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to take what some of the players said directly to the field producers, feed it to the babel fish, and have that little yellow leech translate it from “Confessionals” to “Casuals”. And just why would I do that? Because what the producers are trying to tell the casuals is what the story is really all about.
1) "People that write down Figgy’s name go home." – Figgy
Translation: “I’m sure you hate me now that I’m talking about myself in the third person. That’s what the producers want! Do me a favor: Close your eyes and imagine me saying everything in a thick Brazilian accent. Who do I remind you of? Abi-Maria! That’s why they put me out here, to be feisty – that’s even one of the adjectives I picked to describe myself in my cast bio. And just like Abi-Maria, I’m going to be the player you love to hate, the castaway you want to leave week after week, only I somehow find a way to stick around. Adam and Michaela can talk all they want about how much they hate me – eventually, after they write my name down, they’re going home and I’ll still be here. And it’s not like my edit totally sucks – I was the only one shown at the summit really trying to gather intel on the other tribe. The good news is that I’m not going to win the game – I’m Parvati 1.0 – but Figgy says that Figgy is going to be on this island a lot longer than you want Figgy to be.”
2) "Or maybe even Adam and Zeke can make a move using me. I want them to use me. Use me!” – Hannah
Translation: “I’m totally going to be a pawn in a plan put together by one or both of these guys. Hooray! I’m going to get used! I think I’m going to have to wait until after the swap or merge, though. If they were going to use me to take out the Triforce in the next episode or two, I probably would have said something more specific about wanting to take out Jay, Figgy, or Taylor. By the way, I know I’m going to take a lot of flak for not leaving Zeke alone when he asked me to, but what I SHOULD be getting raked over the coals for is leaving the majority alliance right after Tribal Council to try and go patch things up with the guys they think should be the next two targets. They already don’t trust me after flipping and taking so long to vote that we got a Probst peek-a-boo – now they REALLY don’t trust me. But it’s okay! I’m going to get used! Professor Dawson will be so proud of me!”
3) "Now I’m going to have play from the bottom. It’s going to take a lot of work to get back into a position of power. But I wouldn’t count me out – I think I can get back up to the top again." – Adam
Translation: “That’s my winner quote, right? Of course it is! And then on reunion night we’ll get a winner’s montage full of me yelling in all of my confessionals! Now, all you beautiful people in production need to do is send me for Tree Mail tomorrow, and kindly plant the idol somewhere along the way, maybe in something conspicuous, like a huge shell with a paint sworl on it! Wait – what? You did that? And I missed it? CRAP! That means I’m NOT going to get back up to the top! But given this inspirational quote of mine, someone on the bottom WILL find the idol, and that person will get into a position of power! Has to be Zeke, right? And as we know from Hannah’s confessional, she’s willing to be used, so Zeke will use her, and they’ll make some noise after the swap! So I guess that’s good! You sure you can’t let me get Tree Mail again over the next few days so that I can grab the idol? No? You like Zeke more? Sigh! Is it the mustache? It is pretty fantastic, I’m not going to lie! On a related note, what is it with me not having any facial hair after a week and a half? Heck, even David has a beard! I think I’ll yell about that in my Final Words confessional when I’m voted off next week!”
4) "But me, being a SuperFan, I want to be a part of this twist. Why not work with people from the other side if they’re going to help you advance in this game? – Will
Translation: “I’m going to try and work with some of the old folks that I met during the Summit, and Michelle – who got the rattle snake maraca sound while I watched her play with her hair on Day 1 – is going to stab me in the back. Because Survivor producers like nothing better than showing just how stupid SuperFans are. Which is how they’ll rationalize recruiting oblivious people to be on the Fans tribe in Season 36.”
5) "An old attorney once said to me you have to look at the opposition with clear eyes and a cold heart. And that’s how I’m trying to view this game. So my strategy is to keep my mouth shut and get information." – Chris
Translation: “Keep my mouth shut? Check. Get information? Nope. In fact, when Figgy and Taylor were getting information out of David and CeCe, where was I? That’s right, sitting by myself on a log by the water while Paul walked right past me to go for a swim. I’m a beast in challenges, and I’m gonna make the merge, but I’m not going to stand a chance when the strategic maneuvering shifts into another gear.”
6) "I got to have a very, very important 30-second conversation with Taylor, and I mean it, come a swap, if it’s three Millennials and two Gen-X, I’m getting rid of that other Gen-X." – David
Translation: “Hey there, casuals! There’s going to be a swap! And I’m going to end up on a tribe with three Millennials and two Gen-Xers! And whoever that Gen-Xer is – maybe Bret, since he’s been largely invisible – I’m gonna betray him! Isn’t being the Cochran-esque journey character awesome?”
7) "The thing about talking to Taylor is that I felt I had a ray of hope that has really been, other than finding the idol, really been missing for me this entire game." – David
Translation: “Hey there, casuals, it’s me again! I totally forgot to mention that when I flip, it’ll be with Taylor, so he’s making the merge, too. I’m totally going to help the Triforce! So it’ll be my fault that Figgy sticks around. Sorry about that!”
8) "So the Millennials know me as Ken doll, they think of me as the pretty boy and all the things that come along with that, but I have the strength of body and the strength of mind to make it far in this game." – Ken
Translation: “You totally want me to make it far in this game. Heck, in some ways, they’re giving me the golden boy coronation edit. I do what I say I’m going to do 90% of the time, I’m the most humblest, and as you’ve seen in the full-body fishing shots, unlike a Ken doll, I do in fact have a penis. But here’s the thing: They’re building Figgy up to be the player you want to leave but doesn’t… and nature and poetry and language require balance… so there has to be a character that you want to stay but ends up going home. That’s me. This is going to be a season of frustrated expectations, where players we prefer drop one after another after another. Heck, I’ll probably get blindsided when David refuses to play his idol to save me. But it’s okay, I’ll listen to vinyl at Ponderosa, and parlay my glowing Survivor edit into a spot on Fans vs. Favorites 3.”
9) "I’ve committed myself to Chris and Paul and Bret and Sunday and Lucy who are my best bet moving forward to Day 36. And Day 36 I will then get to read the Legacy Advantage that I found and then utilize that to my advantage." – Jessica
Translation: “I’m thinking WAAAAAAAY too much about Day 36. So much so, in fact, that I thought the guys would outnumber the women in a six person alliance with three men and three women in it. By taking out Paul, I’ve triggered mayhem with two more boots to go before a swap, and shattered the loyalty which might carry us through that turbulence and allow us to converge at the merge. This confessional is ironic, dear casuals, because the solid six WAS my best bet to move forward to Day 36. By turning on that alliance, I’ve pretty much guaranteed I won’t get there, and now the only question is who I’m going to will the Legacy Advantage to. I know, maybe the reason they showed me talking with Ken last week is that HE gets the advantage from me! Why not – he’s hot! Anyway, there’s another irony in play here: Just when my eyes clear up, probably soon after the swap, I’ll finally be able to see clearly… and yet won’t see the blindside coming.”
10) "Strategically the Millennial tribe is moving forward and it’s really great – for me. Ha! Me and Figs are pretty good at the moment. My girl’s here, she’s happy, and this couldn’t be a better position to be in, really". – Taylor
Translation: “Hey, did you notice I got two pretty pointless confessionals this episode, in which I talk about Figgy and me? I’m sure you think that what I’m saying here is proof that I’m getting Survivor’s signature “overconfidence edit,” but take a listen. That ain’t dodo music, bro! Every time I’m on screen, I’m smiling, I’m laughing, and the music is light-hearted. After the merge, everyone’s gonna want Figgy gone because they hate her, and they’re going to want to get Jay outta here because it turns out he’s better at this game than anyone thought he’d be, and they’re all gonna forget about me! Clutch! David is totally going to work with me and betray his tribe and the next thing you know, I’m in the endgame and I go on a sweet little immunity challenge run and Taylz becomes the new Fabio! Sweet, right? When I get that fat check in December, I’m gonna snowboard and chill with my boy Jay and my bae Figgy!”
11) "Figgy sucks at Survivor. You can’t make an obvious pair that is strong, good-looking, talented in the challenges and not be a threat in this game. And so, if Figgy goes home, there would be a shift and that’s what I need to happen in order to have some semblance of power here." – Adam
Translation: “I’m telling you right now, Figgy is NOT the Sole Survivor! You can’t have both me and Michaela both saying that she sucks and she ends up winning! But pay attention to that “if” that I used in there! If Figgy goes home, there will be a power shift! But if she doesn’t, then she – and Taylor, the other strong, good-looking, talented threat – are going to be major post-merge factors! Amazing how everyone blames Figgy for the showmance, don’t you think? The edit is pretty much giving Taylor a free pass! Wonder what that means?”
12) "Adam gives me different things to think about. Even though I’m in the majority, I still don’t like Figgy. She’s sneaky and I do not trust her. But, I’m not making any decisions right now, I’m just watching and thinking and my gut will tell me something when the time comes." – Michaela
Translation: “Adam’s right, Figgy and Taylor need to be broken up. But why do I need Adam to do it? If we take Figgy out now, Adam gets all the credit – if I take her out after the merge, I get to put that on MY endgame resume. Plus, if we take out Figgy now, and then we swap, Figgy, Jay, Will and Michelle will have no reason to stick with the Millennials. My gut will eventually tell me to backstab Figgy, but my gut can wait. And in the meantime, we can get this dangerous guy named Adam out of the game.”
13) Gen X, they said no. If they were our parents, they would have said yes, but we’re already beating them, so they don’t want to make us stronger… that makes sense. – Michaela
Translation: “Focusing on me being positive after the Gen-Xers denied us fishing gear accomplishes many things: One, it makes me seem smart, reasonable, and likable, which is important, since there was an attitudinal edge to most of my previous confessionals. Two, I now seem like someone who can and will work with the Gen-Xers after a swap or merge. Three, the Triforce avoided looking like a bunch of entitled brats, because you just know they gave confessionals calling the Gen-Xers idiots for not giving us the fishing gear. Anyway, I know Ken is getting all of the press right now, but these last two confessionals of mine feel like I’m an endgamer, don’t they? I might even have a seat at the Final Tribal Council. And you know what? I might even win.”
That’s it for this edition of The Baker’s Dozen – if you’d like to keep the conversation going, leave a comment below!