No preamble this week – just jumping right in:
1) Join me, loyal readers, and ignore the edit.
Josh had a winner’s edit. And then Jeremy. And then Jon.
Keith might have a winner’s edit. But wait, maybe it’s Natalie.
Truth is, no one has a clear winner’s edit; everyone’s story contains doubt:
** Jaclyn was acting just as entitled as Jon a couple of episodes ago, she has been depicted as strategically overmatched, and we’ve been told she hasn’t earned the respect of the other players.
** Baylor has been accused of being a brat, more than one person has given her grief for not helping around camp, and much of her storyline has been about taking a back seat while her mom drives.
** Missy has been depicted as a rabid mama bear (behavior that doesn’t cast her in the most positive light), we saw her fail miserably with Julie, and a smart player like Natalie sees her as an ideal F3 opponent.
** Keith… there are too many negatives to count… from the spitting, to the farting/belching conversation… to “Stick to the plan”… to just about every bit of clueless gameplay… his edit has not been kind.
** And even Natalie has some negatives to her narrative: for a Twinnie, she was marginalized early in the season (other than her verbal altercation with Rocker), and, more damning, was all but invisible in the merge episode. Indeed, her story didn’t really start until the last few episodes.
Which is a long-winded way of saying this: No matter who wins on Wednesday, there will be elements of his or her edit that make us wonder why we saw it.
2) If we can’t focus on the edit, what the heck are we supposed to do, Baker? Just sit there and watch? If that’s the case, why bother reading the Dozen?
Good question! I mean, it’s not like my analysis has been even remotely accurate: I’ve been wrong about A TON this season. I thought the Twinnies would crash and burn and that Jon would win. I thought Rocker would be a complete ass and that Val had potential. I even went so far as to praise Missy’s social game, and to suggest at one point that Julie might be this season’s Monica Culpepper.
If, despite the previous paragraph, you’re willing to go on one last speculative journey with me, I ask only one thing of you: Ignore the edit. The producers have separated the season into several mini-stories, and along the way, intentionally misled us, hiding, rather than highlighting, the player who wins. Wednesday’s finale will be a culmination, not a coronation.
In lieu of the edit, then, I ask you to look at these castaways not as characters in a story, but as people playing a game. Let’s make this a shared exercise in empathy, shall we? Rather than thinking about what WE would do if we were in this Final 5, let’s focus on what THEY – with their thoughts and feelings and alliances and affinities and hopes and fears – would do with only two more eliminations to go.
3) First, a quick note about Jon
I really enjoy listening to RHAP exit interviews, and Jon’s conversation with Rob C. was no exception: more than anything, Jon confirmed that he’s just a really nice guy.
And truth be told, that was his downfall: the things that make him good at life – being honest, open, and trusting – made him bad at the game.
In Survivor, nice guys don’t always finish last… but they very rarely finish first.
I’m now going to look at each of the remaining five players – in reverse “power rankings” order – but instead of seeing them as narrative constructs built by editors and producers who are shaping a story, I’m going to do my best to perceive them as people.
Despite my overly harsh summation of her game last week, Jaclyn seems like a genuinely pleasant person; honestly, I think Team JJ is one of those couples that after you’ve met them, your teeth hurt, because they’re both so damn sweet.
The dynamic that Jaclyn has with Jon – where she is agreeable and deferential in social settings and much stronger willed when they’re alone – probably works well in the real world, but I think it has hurt her standing in the game: we’ve been led to believe that the players on the jury see her as a coattail rider. (Here, I think the edit matches up with what we can infer from the footage.)
I think the other players genuinely like Jaclyn (on some level, I’m sure they’re probably all sick of one another at this point, but with the end only a few days away, they’ll be shifting into a mildly maudlin, prematurely nostalgic phase of thinking, feeling, and interacting)… but they’re also going to fear her story. Get her in front of a jury talking about her condition and what she and Jon plan to do with the money, and anything could happen. Which is why they’ll turn on her.
Jaclyn will feel betrayed, of course, and – given Jon’s exit interview confession that the Final 5 deal involved one of each existing tandem being in the Final 3 (along with Natalie) – she has reason to. That’s not necessarily why she’ll end up on the jury, though; that has more to do with how Jon will vote. To explain: If Jaclyn is in the Final 3, Jon votes for Jaclyn, so two votes are lost. If they’re both on the jury, however, they’re going to have to vote for SOMEONE.
Ah, but I get ahead of myself. In the end, it comes down to this: the other players see Jaclyn as a contradiction. She should be easy to beat at the Final Tribal Council, since most of the members of the jury presumably see her as a pawn in Jon’s game (although that could change depending on how the Ponderosa debates go), but she also inherits Jon’s arguments (since they worked as a pair) and can make an emotional, selfishly selfless appeal about where the money would go.
If Missy has any say in this, though – and she wants to keep up the “I’m playing the game the honorable way” pretense – she might insist that Jaclyn remain in the game, even if Keith wins the Final 5 Immunity Challenge (so that Jaclyn can help Natalie and Baylor defeat Keith at Final 4). And that would require Missy to sacrifice her game. Given that the Final 5 deal involved players doing precisely that, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Missy “quit” (and quite possibly use her ankle injury as an excuse).
I’m sure that Baylor isn’t as lazy, attitudinal, or bratty as we’ve seen. I bet she’s kept the banter light, avoided anything resembling confrontation (other than with Alec, but that was flirt fighting), and maybe even sung a few songs around the campfire (think she regaled her fellow castaways with an island rendition of “Sticky Situation”?). That said, Missy was the one building bridges; I don’t get the sense that Baylor’s been bonding with anyone other than the people she wants to.
Even so, Baylor probably feels that she’s earned her spot in the Final 5, and has a reasonable argument against Natalie: While her Survivor sister had it easy over in Hunahpu, Baylor had to fight for her life over in Coyopa (she will undoubtedly downplay Josh’s role in that success story), and once they joined forces, Baylor was an equal partner, but one with significantly less blood on her hands. She’ll probably also mention that she’s the youngest one out there, which should count for something…
I have a feeling that the jury won’t see Baylor as she sees herself, however. Josh knows that he saved her… and the jury will likely believe Natalie’s version of the endgame strategy story… which doesn’t leave Baylor much of an argument.
I haven’t been watching many secret scenes this season… just wasn’t captivated enough by the cast to dedicate the time. Probably unwise, given how much interpersonal intel one can gather from the additional footage. Note to self: Watch them this spring, given how good Season 30 is rumored to be.
Anyway, based on a fellow fan’s recommendation, I DID watch Jon’s “Day After” video, and was struck by his faith-based conversation with Missy. Couple that with what Missy was saying to Baylor about not wanting to break her word, and I think we’ve now got a fuller picture of Missy: She sees herself as an honorable, trustworthy, and deserving player. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a potential finalist attempting to play the “I’m a nice person” card, and it won’t be the last… but in modern Survivor, it rarely works (and then, only when up against someone the jury cannot abide).
I have to admit, I find Missy to be an interesting contradiction: she connects really well with the people she pulls close (Jon, first and foremost), but alienates others with empty empathy (Julie… Jaclyn, I bet… several members of the jury). No doubt, she played the mother role to the hilt all season long, and even that was both genuine and manufactured. She seems to be the master of convenient compassion.
Here’s what I’m wondering at this point: If the Final 5 deal with Jon, Jaclyn, Natalie and Baylor was as Jon described it, then Baylor was willing to step down at F5 or F4 so that Missy could be in the Final 3. That suggests that they believed Missy had the better chance in front of the jury. Having seemingly betrayed Jon at this point – and being hobbled by her injury – I wonder if Missy might consider joining the jury, where she could work to convince everyone to vote for Baylor (her pitch: they’d really be voting for Missy). If she could pull in Jon and Jaclyn, she’d only need another vote or two…
One other note before I move on: A lot of people are assuming that Missy and Baylor, realizing what a jury threat Natalie is, will turn on the Twinnie at F4. That, to me, is the very definition of trying to impose our strategic will on people who aren’t wired that way: every ruthlessly selfish move in the last several episodes has been orchestrated by Natalie. Baylor was her willing accomplice, but Missy simply isn’t that cold-blooded. She will want to take Natalie to the end – with Baylor as their third – and then argue that whomever the jury chooses, she wins, because they’re both daughters to her at this point (and she’ll believe it). She’ll say it was an accomplishment, getting to the end with her daughter – no one in the first Blood vs. Water pulled that off! – and she did it while injured. To Missy, that’s a winning argument (even if it’s unlikely that the jury would agree).
Keith is an interesting case: on the one hand, he plays the “gregarious and oblivious gold ole boy” role to perfection… and yet, I think he’s more aware than he’s letting on. (Not much, mind you – I think he’s Survivor’s first Chauncey Gardner character – but still, not quite as bumbling as the edit would have us believe.)
I think he knows that he’s a jury threat: when he looks over at the meat that Probst has been collecting, he has to realize that if the boys club decides to vote for one of its own, he takes down the title.
I also think he’s pretty sure that he needs to win two immunities to stay in the game (even if that might not be true – more on that in a minute).
I’m sure he trusts Natalie at this point – what other choice does he have? – but at the same time he doesn’t have faith that Natalie will be able to keep him around until the end, or even if she’d want to. And the thing is, Keith has been in “just get me three more days” mode for so long now that if his run came to an abrupt end, and Natalie was instrumental in his departure, I don’t think there would be any hard feelings.
When I ignore the edit – because that’s what we’re doing here! – I don’t see Keith getting to the end, nor winning if he gets there (unless he’s up against Missy and Baylor – and even then, the jury will struggle). I want to be wrong about that – I’d love to see Keith pleading his case to the jury – but this “challenge beast” business has been blown entirely out of proportion: he’s won some carnival games, sure, and been a solid contributor in group challenges. Final 4 immunity is almost always something far more difficult, though, endurance combined with a puzzle… and my money’s on Natalie in that sort of challenge.
If Jaclyn’s still in the game at Final 4, though, it will be interesting to see who they vote out, Keith or Jaclyn…
Natalie is in the most enviable position of all: I think the jury sees her as the best player left in the game – by a considerable margin – but is NOT seen that way by the other four castaways she’s up against.
Missy and Baylor see Natalie as a loyal ally, someone they can trust, but also as someone with a lot of blood on her hands, which makes her someone they feel they can beat at FTC. Jaclyn, too, will regard Natalie as the person who violated the Final 5 agreement, and believe – because this fits her sense of justice and fairness – that Natalie won’t get much sympathy from the jury (particularly if three people on it – she, Jon, and either Baylor or Missy – were part of that pact).
And let’s not forget that Natalie has an idol.
She’s got a clear shot to the Final 4… and at that point, I think everyone will want to take her to the Final 3, even though they shouldn’t. Baylor, Missy, and Keith LIKE Natalie. Trust her. Believe her.
That’s the difference between seeing these castaways as players and as people. They’ve shown us time and time again that they’re not – as Jon said on a recent podcast – students of the game. They’re not going to think strategically; that’s simply not who they are.
PLAYERS would want Natalie on the jury.
But these PEOPLE are going to let her sit in front of it.
And now, a few random observations…
9) We’ve got to see at least one more puzzle this season, right?
For those of you who don’t think the Survivor producers make alterations to the challenges while the season is going on, how do you explain the relative dearth of puzzles – a Survivor challenge staple – this season?
Here’s something I wrote in the comment section of my column “Flipping the Script,” posted after the first episode:
… remember that Survivor is an adaptive game: the producers change things on the fly depending on how the season is going. Dalton Ross reported that the puzzle at the end of the first immunity challenge took TWO HOURS... so I'm guessing that Kirhoffer et al. immediately went into "make the puzzles easier" mode (or, less likely but still possible, removed some puzzles altogether).
What puzzles we have seen have been relegated to Reward Challenges and/or pretty simple, and they’ve been conspicuously absent in the post-merge Immunity Challenges. And it makes sense: as a group, this cast is TERRIBLE at them. The ongoing struggle continued this past week, when Natalie, Jaclyn, and Baylor couldn’t piece together what appeared to be a pretty simple puzzle (it had words!)…
I can’t imagine that we won’t have a puzzle at the end of the F5 or, more likely, the F4 challenge… but I bet it’s pretty simple and straightforward.
10) Survivor Commandment #72: Look for the expected reactions
When Keith fell out of the F6 Immunity Challenge, Jaclyn reacted… but no one else did.
In that moment, Jaclyn should have known that Jon was the target. If Keith was going home, EVERYONE should have been happy when his clay cylinder pyramid fell to the ground. Instead, Missy and Baylor kept watching Jon.
Had Jaclyn known her Survivor strategy and history – and been playing with controlled paranoia – she would have known that Jon needed to use his idol.
11) An important question: Who is the jury foreperson?
Every season, someone on the jury ends up guiding the debates and deliberations… and in the process, by being Mayor of Ponderosa, that player has a massive impact on who wins the game.
Usually, the Foreperson ISN’T one of the first players to join the jury; by the time Final Tribal Council rolls around, early jurors have been out of the game for weeks.
I think things will be different this season, though: the more recent boots don’t have the gravitas that the position requires.
Alec and Wes? Nope and nope.
Jon? I doubt it. Too goofy, too nice.
Reed? Possible, but I’m not sure the other players see him this way.
That leaves Josh and Jeremy… and I do think they’re the ones who are taking the leadership role at Ponderosa.
And that deduction leads me to my next question:
Who would those two pick to win?
(See #13 for my answer to that question.)
12) Probst Probe: Jeff needs to work on his “Play your damn idol” Tribal Council hints
First, Rocker completely ignores Probst’s repeated entreaties to play his idol…
… and then Jon won’t listen when Probst says:
“If you wanted to make a big move, this would be a great night to do it.”
Translated: Hey, Jon, you sound WAY too comfortable – you’re discussing your Final Tribal Council speech to the jury! And now Jaclyn is saying that you’re safe! GAAAAAA! I know you’ve got an idol in your bag – this is the night when Natalie is going to take you out! Don’t you want to use it! C’mon, brother! Dig deep!”
Lesson learned: You can lead a jock to idols but you can’t make him think.
13) Prediction time: And the winner is…
Once again, ignore the edit.
We’re going to get a version of the Final 5 deal that Jon, Jaclyn, Missy, Baylor and Natalie made.
Keith is the target at F5. If he wins immunity, though, either Missy or Baylor has to go (because the F5 deal involved one member from each tandem sitting in front of the jury). Baylor was willing to drop out when the deal was first made, but with Missy’s injury, and the need for three players to battle Keith for immunity at F4, I think Missy leaves.
(The producers may try and edit it as a blindside, but Missy will be essentially be quitting.)
If Keith loses the F4 Immunity Challenge, he joins the jury…
If Keith wins it, though, I think Jaclyn goes… Baylor and Natalie are too tight, and I think Jaclyn will understand.
Either way, Natalie is in the Final 3.
Which means she wins.
That’s it for this edition of The Baker’s Dozen – if you’d like to keep the conversation going, leave a comment below!
Andy Baker is a long-time, but definitely not long-winded, Survivor blogger.
Follow Andy on twitter: @SurvivorGenius