While I might not like it in some regards—namely because it makes predicting anything very difficult unless your name is Andy Baker—I applaud CBS for throwing normal editing out the window. Just looking at the last three, even four, boots, and I’m left in shock there wasn’t more to be told in those stories. So… props?
Thank God We Have Another Asian American to Root for This Season…
Oh, wait. We don’t. Classic Survivor. Alas, James showed more promise than I thought he would initially in this season’s sea of veteran fans, and, much like Steph and Brendan, I’m none too pleased to see his torch snuffed. James’s role this season was that of a scholar or sage. In literature, this is someone whose actions are dominated by the logical choice, weighing the pros and cons of various options and choosing solely a logical path with less regard for emotional responses. This shone both when he seemed totally fine with receiving votes after a lackluster challenge performance early on, and when he capitalized on OG Naviti dissent to take out Morgan. Even here, James’s plea to Angela was a logical one: you won’t be on the bottom with me, and besides, we need strength. So caught up, was he, in these logical reasonings, he was unable to notice the blindside cooking under his nose. Ugh. After watching Steph go last week, this one stings.
Three Tribe Swaps
When They Work, They’re Awesome, But…
…when they don’t work, Pagonging aplenty continues. Look, when Survivor introduced this twist in Cambodia, I was all about it. It made sense number-wise and it was immensely jarring to veteran players. What’s even better, simply because Tasha and Savage were in the minority, or because Wigles and Spencer were in a minority, didn’t mean they automatically went home! Either through the grace that is Abi-Maria or through Monica proving she didn’t belong on that season in the first place, majorities were overthrown, allowing those who should have had no chance to flourish to (and through, in the cases of Spencer and Tasha) the Merge.
Obviously, this is not what happened here.
If not for Chris and Dom hating each other (which, barring the first episode, is entirely based on confessionals, not necessarily interactions between the two), it’s entire possible we could be sitting at six straight boots of OG Malolo while Laurel, Donathan, Jenna, and Michael fight to last one more boot and make the Merge (Libby, of course, going home instead of Morgan). To production’s credit, after losing someone like Steph right after a Brendan-type, they tried to mix it up with a swap, giving the decimated OG Malolo a chance to have the numbers at some camp.
As it turned out, however, this backfired beautifully. Instead of having Michael and Jenna being in trouble whilst James, Laurel, Donathan, and Libby all sit in relatively pretty positions, now all of them, simply looking at the OG-tribal numbers, are screwed yet again. Yes, Jenna and Laurel probably won’t have to see another Tribal until the Merge, and even if they do, Chris seems primed to crash and burn, but the point still stands, this couldn’t have really gone any worse for Malolo or what I’d assume production was trying to accomplish. Unlike in MvGX, in which all three tribes booted someone from the supposed majority, Ghost Island seems intent on ridding the minority’s troops as quickly as possible. Speaking of MvGX…
Millennials vs Gen-X… vs Ghost Island
First, and let me be very clear here, I don’t think these two seasons are alike. In fact, the point I’d like to make here is simply that Ghost Island seems to be stacking up to be an antithesis to MvGX. Putting aside the three tribe differences I made above, similar twists are in play with the Legacy Advantage. Unlike MvGX, however, in which it switched hands only once, it’s technically bounced between three people already, and it’s only Day 17. What’s more, and I cannot stress this enough, the players who are getting long-term edits are dropping like flies—and again, it’s only Day 17. Jacob, Morgan, Brendan, Steph, and now James all had varying levels of personal content and longevity to their edits, suggesting, if nothing else, most if not all of them made the Merge. Jacob was the “Super Fan,” Morgan the loud gal who’d probably misplay an advantage, Brendan the likeable hero, Steph the single mother, and James the genuinely nice guy who was shown capable of making big moves. So, of the first six boots, five of them looked poised to at least be relevant. Let’s compare that to MvGX’s first six…
I honestly forgot Rachel’s name. I think a case could be made for Mari getting a lot of content for a second boot, but compared to Jacob… she’s severely lacking. Paul, while getting screen time, never had an edit that suggested anything but a short-term villain arc. Lucy abruptly appeared in episode four and was equally abruptly taken from us. CeCe has amazingly little content for the number of Tribals she went to and the number of times her name was written down. Figgy, at least, had some heft to her edit, but even hers was entirely predicated on her relationship with Taylor. Obviously, Michaela went next, but I firmly believe her edit was the only big one to be given to us pre-Merge that didn’t pan out—sadly so. This left us with personalities like Jay, Ken, Zeke, Hannah, David, and of course Adam to carry us into the Merge. Hell, even Taylor, Michelle, Chris, and Jess had periodic flickers of importance pre-Merge (I really thought Michelle was going to be around for a while after Mari’s boot)! Even if you just take the first six names I mentioned, that’s a good bunch of characters. Sunday, Will, and Bret were the only real non-factors going into the Merge.
Going back to Ghost Island. With James gone, who are our Jays? Who are the Kens and Davids and Adams we’re supposed to be rooting for, the one who’ve gotten constant, meaningful content? I can think of three obvious ones, one on the cusp, and two that seem poised for deep runs, even if their content hasn’t been as constant as the other four.
The Obvious Three
Please Take “Obvious” Lightly Given Editing this Season
Kicking it off, we have my man Donathan, and yes, I still like his chances to win. Has anyone out there gotten more content than him? I don’t think so, and while he might just become David from MvGX, after he survived that first Tribal, any Survivor fan had to have been reasonably sure about one thing: he was going to find some way to make the Merge.
Next, we have Kellyn. Yes, a lot of her personal content came while she was at Ghost Island, she’s been constantly shown as a milder Bradley insofar as she’s had a hand in making decisions around camp without being pompous about it. It could be argued that she’s only getting the screen time since she’s gone to so many Tribals recently, but so has Desiree, and I think this is the first time I remember her playing any substantial role in an episode thus far.
Finally, in this category, we have Michael. Much like Kellyn, a lot of his facetime is likely attributed to him going to so many Tribals, but we’ve seen personal looks into his drive to play and his want to be there. Although Steph is gone, Michael’s tenacity reminds me a lot of her, and I think a lot of casuals are drawn to him as well.
These three, I have to think, are the outright favorites to make the Merge and who we know some stuff about. Six episodes in, and these seem to be the people (who are left) that editing wants us to root for. Next, the man on the cusp…
Would He Look Worse if Not Next to Chris?
The tagline is a valid question, I think. Nearly all of his content has revolved around his relationship with and against Chris, and as Chris is obviously the one we’re not meant to like (especially after how oblivious he was to his own actions this week), Dom looks better comparatively. While there’s no doubt in my mind he makes the Merge at this point, I, personally, don’t find his edit as rootable as the three aforementioned ones, despite constant facetime and some personal content.
The Dark Horses
Up-and-Comers on the Horizon
Don’t worry, dearest readers, I wasn’t going to forget Wendell or Laurel. Both of them have much more “slower burn” edits, if you will. They’ve gotten enough confessionals, substantive and strategic while being likable, to remind us they’re there. Obviously, it would seem, both are going to make the Merge at this rate, and while it is possible one or both go out soon thereafter, I think it’s far more likely they evolve into stars this season. Given the others who are likely slated to make the Merge, I really hope they do.
The Other Eight
Not Necessarily All Duds
Look, I’m not saying other people this season haven’t been relevant. Chris, Bradley, Sea Bass, Jenna, and even Desiree have had their moments in the sun. While Chris and Bradley duke it out to see who is the least tolerable (it’s Bradley; Chris’s hubris is priceless and he actually emotes even if Bradley over exaggerates well) and Seb is there as comic relief, Jenna and Desiree have had moments of personal content shoe-horned into episodes in which they might be the ones going home. These moments, in my mind, are more meant to spread doubt as to who’s getting booted, not indicative of those red-herrings lasting. Then, of course, we have Angela and Chelsea, and while Angela got to speak this week, let’s be honest, neither of them are winning… we hope. In short, are that many people really rooting for any of these eight at the top of their lists? I don’t think so.
Going back to my original MvGX point, I just don’t see as many likable-edited characters making the Merge. Although Wendell and Laurel could become big players, right now, I don’t feel like I know them well enough to root for them like I am Michael, Donathan, or Kellyn. I’m not sure yet if waiting to edit them post-Merge is a problem or not in the long-run, but it is honestly bumming me a lot so far this season that a bunch of people the show has had us invest time in getting to know are getting early boots. It’s cool that I’ll remember this pre-Merge cast more than most, but if it leaves a fallow post-Merge playing field, I’m not sure it was worth the cost.
A Closing Thought, Dearest Readers
Going back to a man I was rooting for fanatically, I think he made an excellent point, one I can’t remember hearing in past seasons: the starting tribes, more often than not in Survivor’s history, are random. They’re not predicated on any similarities between cast members, and while I get sticking with your OG tribe for a bit post a swap makes sense, I feel like we haven’t seen this level of patriotism toward one’s starting Tribe since South Pacific. (I know a lot of people talked about “Bayon Strong” in Cambodia, but cross-tribal deals were made left, right, and center so Savage can suck it). Maybe the reason we haven’t seen this is because the last time there were just two tribes of all newbies with no “twist” as to starting tribes (such as age in MvGX), we were in South Pacific. In this way, perhaps the three-tribe formula, though wearing out its welcome, forces players to make cross-tribal relationships rather than fanatically sticking with one’s original, arbitrary group.
Regardless, the commitment to these original groups is interesting to me, especially after a season in which we’ve now seen two swaps. Usually, you’d think, after things getting shaken up that much, people would be more willing to say, “Screw it,” and work with others on the other starting tribe. Guess that logic, much like James’s this week, is unfortunately wrong.
Okay, my friends, that’s another post in the books. Before I get to predicting a boot, and almost surely getting it wrong again, I’d like to mention there’s a chance I’ll be taking a brief hiatus from writing next week. I’m taking a trip out to the east coast to tour some law schools, and while I’m sure I’ll make time to watch the episode, writing about it after seeing 3 schools in 4 days and then going into my normal work week on the weekend seems like it might be a lot. I know, my scarce number of readers are all slightly crushed…
Anyhoo, I’m getting off the Bradley boot train. Part of me thinks he still will get votes next week as Naviti seems set up to be the last tribe to see a Tribal pre-Merge, but in the end, I think Andy was right when he was predicting who’d get burned after the swap. James was first, so, unfortunately, Libby looks next to follow. Wow. Jenna’s going to probably make the Merge. That’s astounding.
Cheers, and happy Opening Day to all of you baseball fans.
Dan Otsuki has been watching Survivor religiously since season two, and is a recent graduate of the University of Puget Sound, where he double majored in English and Religious Studies. He's also applied to play on the show every time he's been able to do so.
Follow him on twitter: @DanOtsuki