Editor’s Note: While writing the Baker’s Dozen over the weekend, Andy was notified by his wife – who as of this blog posting is four days overdue to give birth to their daughter – that she was starting to feel contractions. As a result, this column is far briefer, and less antagonistic, than most. And there was much rejoicing.
1) This week’s Dozen is all about observations, inferences, and assertions.
Rather than piling onto Drew, who gave the producers precisely what they wanted (he was cast to fail and, to no one’s surprise, did so spectacularly)…
… I’m going to focus on something far more important to the season: Who, four weeks into Survivor: San Juan del Sur, has suddenly emerged from Rocker’s steroidal shadow?
More importantly, given what we learned this week, which of the fourteen remaining castaways are going to shape the endgame? The editors gave us a lot of clues to work with – confessionals are the key – but how are we to read these tea leaves? Fear not, loyal readers: When wildly speculative analysis is what you need, I’m your man.
PLAYERS SEEMINGLY DESTINED TO BECOME POST-MERGE FACTORS
** During the Hunahpu scramble (which should be the name of a really awkward dance), Natalie was shown as part of the deliberations for both the men and the women. This could be because she’s socially adept and strategically situated, but it’s far more likely that the other players simply don’t see her as a threat. Just as in the first Blood vs. Water, the orphans are seemingly viewed as socio-politically neutered; one would think that lessons would have been learned from BvW1 (surely that was one of the DVDs that casting gave to these people, right?), but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Perhaps there’s an underlying psychological reason for this – a misguided admixture of empathy, sympathy, and pity – but even if that’s the case, anyone who has a partner in the game should be looking to take out at least one entire tandem before the numbers are even at the merge. Anyway, back to Natalie: she was depicted as the architect of Drew’s ouster, which is highly suggestive that she’s going to be strategically instrumental in the post-merge game. Many castaways could have been given credit for the “blindside,” but the Twinnie was shown as the power behind the plan (even though Jeremy is the one who, way back in Episode 1, supposedly put that alliance in place). I still don’t think she’ll win – she’s too abrasive for that – but she’s around for the long haul.
** And that massive paragraph leads me to this side note: I wonder if one of the reasons – maybe the main reason – why CBS and SEG aren’t excited about this season is that it’s going to follow the same footprint as the first Blood vs. Water, and the orphans are going to gang up on the tandems after the merge (robbing Probst of the relationship-driven drama he covets).
** On a related note: I wouldn’t be surprised if the players who have been orphaned the longest – Natalie, Jeremy, Julie – become the post-merge power triumvirate. The reason: They’ve had longer to bond over their vulnerability and pain. They might well end up as a mirror image of the Blood vs. Water 1 Final 3 alliance, with Natalie as Gervase (trash-talking side-kick), Julie as Monica (wealthy, well-preserved older woman who lacks empathy), and Jeremy as Tyson (strategically savvy mastermind).
** She’s been getting strategy-based confessionals for several weeks now, even when she doesn’t really deserve them (she was given a lot of credit for the Rocker elimination, but Josh was the primary mover in that plan).
** As we head towards a brief swap (two eliminations, most likely) and the merge, the editors need to set up the stories that will unfold over the second half of the season. In an episode that was all about the dysfunction over at Hunahpu, what the editors chose to show us back at the Coyopa camp, then, was both important and revealing: they weren’t going to showcase castaways who won’t be around for very long. Which is a long-winded preamble to this: The only reason we saw the misogynistic bickering between Alec and Baylor (which, given what I’ve seen from the high schoolers I’ve been around in boarding school, might well be their warped version of flirtation) is because that relationship is going to be important, post-merge.
** Indeed, if we combine that potential narrative with what we’ve seen of the Baylor/Josh alliance, I have to wonder if Baylor might find herself in a spot where she has to choose between Josh and Alec. Given what we’ve seen thus far, it feels like Baylor is going to blindside Josh, and I’m guessing that Alec will be the pawn she uses.
** At risk of sounding repetitive, there’s no reason to show Alec’s dynamic with Baylor unless they’re going to be in a post-merge alliance together. Indeed, he may well be the deciding vote in the brewing battle between Josh and Baylor. Given the family predilection for delusional overconfidence, Alec will likely let that power position go to his head, and find himself eliminated soon thereafter, the moment he isn’t wearing the immunity necklace.
** The devil and the divine are in the details: Probst praised Alec for his immunity challenge performance (“THAT is how you do it!”), but really, Alec made up all of a few seconds on Natalie. Perhaps this was just typical Probstian challenge overstatement, but maybe, just maybe, the complimentary commentary was left in the episode as verbal foreshadowing of post-merge challenge dominance.
** Jon got a TON of screen-time this episode. Some of it had to do with his competing in the Exile Island reward challenge, and some of it was due to Hunahpu heading to Tribal Council, but even accounting for those two factors, Jon was all over this episode. Feels a lot like Jon is going to be important to how this season plays out.
** Jon was shown articulating an important Blood vs. Water strategy: tandems need to make sure they hit the merge with the numbers, or they’re going to be targeted. It’s a dangerous plan to share – the orphans won’t like it, and some of the people he tells will eventually become orphans themselves – but he’s being shown as far more strategic than many people suspected (me included). The editors could have made it seem like Jon wanted to vote out Julie for the other reasons he mentions (she doesn’t help around camp, she’s a challenge liability, and as an outsider she’s an easy vote), but they didn’t… so why show Jon as strategic if you don’t have to? One reason: He’s going to be a factor after the merge.
** On a related note: I think we’re headed for a carbon-copy of Blood vs. Water 1, with tandems and orphans tied 6-6 at the merge… and, like BvW1, I think the orphans are going to win.
** Random tangent: Is it just me, or is Jon being paired, visually, with the howler monkeys? The Survivor editors love using animal symbolism – and Jon has made the link all but irresistible (he hooted at them in the premiere, and in the first immunity challenge, he moved like one). I’m not sure what it means for his story, but I do know this: the editors don’t waste animal symbolism on players who get gunned down early.
** We got to hear Jon tell Jaclyn that he loves her… but we didn’t get to hear her say it back (even though she probably did – I mean, she HAD to, right?). Probst insinuated in an interview that Jon and Jaclyn will explore their relationship this season, which means they’re going to have to come together, after the swap or after the merge (or both). I’m probably reading too much into a small moment, but the fact that we heard Jon tell Jaclyn he loves her will loom large when these two are post-merge targets. I’m guessing he’ll last longer than she does – which is why the editors are making us more invested in his emotional story.
** Speaking of Jon’s emotional journey, we still haven’t had a follow-up to Jon’s confessional about his father’s brain tumor. I’m guessing that’s a slow-burn story for the season. And it may well be part of his Final Tribal Council speech to the jury.
** We got to see Jon call out Drew for being a “jackass.” Sure, this moment was probably included because Drew’s closest ally was ripping his gameplay, but it also helped distance Jon from Drew, which is important to the development of his character. It also put Jon in the enviable position of voicing the opinion of the viewer – that’s the sort of moment you save for players you want your audience to root for.
** I’ll end with a HUGE one: If Drew is to be believed, he, Jon, Jeremy, and Natalie all agreed to throw the immunity challenge this week. The edit, however, made it look like it was all Drew. The producers are clearly protecting Jon (and the other two) from being associated with a strategically asinine game move, and the only reason to do that (other than to make Drew’s comeuppance that much sweeter) is to keep viewers thinking positively about players who will be around during the endgame.
** Her story is linked to Jon’s: they’re both going to make the merge, they’re going to explore their relationship, and she’s going to be taken out when the orphans go after the last tandems standing.
** She’s been so darn invisible, though, that she’s still a quitter candidate.
** She was ALL OVER this episode. There’s an obvious reason for that: she was Drew’s target, so the editors had to build her up at least a little bit. But it went beyond that: she’s become the editor’s go-to “facial expression” reaction shot (as I mentioned in my pre-season column, Kelley’s face has a lot of negativity to it). I can’t help but wonder if she’s going to win this season’s “Eliza Orlins Over-Expressive Jurist Award.”
** Yes, he misplayed the “Jeremy has an idol” situation by speaking to several people. But I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt here: I think he knows that he’s on the outside of Jeremy’s alliance. Indeed, after spending a week and a half together, I bet the members of Hunahpu are aware that Jeremy’s allegiance is to the women, and Keith – in his strategically naïve way – was trying to undercut his tribe’s power player.
** Side note: Keith’s predicament is more proof that every Survivor player should be looking for his or her One True Person. The reason that Keith talks to the group is that he doesn’t have a confidante in his tribe. And that’s a difficult – and lonely – way to play this game.
** Keith has an idol; more importantly, he has a story. The editors have invested in his character. It’s highly doubtful that we would have seen as much of Keith – confessional quips notwithstanding – if he was leaving before the merge.
NOT LONG FOR THE GAME
** Wes DISAPPEARED this episode – which means he’s doomed.
** There was an extremely telling moment from this past episode that sealed Wes’s fate for me: As Alec and Baylor were fight-flirting, Wes – looking hangdog – was behind them, dragging a tree branch. He looked like an extra in a poorly-scripted “stranded on an island” rom-com starring a surfer and a cheerleader. If Wes was even remotely a factor this season, we would have at least seen him react to Alec and Baylor’s brutal banter.
** All hope isn’t lost for Dale: the episode teaser set him up as the Coyopa target if they had gone to Tribal. Given that they won the immunity challenge, Dale will be painted as the biggest beneficiary of the tribe swap this week. But his overall edit doesn’t belong to a player who defies the odds, avoids execution, and makes a deep run…
** … because, despite the positive moments he’s gotten (such as offering to get water after the throw-in immunity challenge), we keep seeing Dale taunting the opposition during competitions – and constantly putting his head in his hands.
** And yet, there’s the fake immunity idol to deal with. Surely, they can’t completely abandon that plot point, can they? I wonder if he’s going to try to use it after an unfavorable swap – and fail. Seems likely.
** He is the Iago to Jeremy’s Othello: when Keith threw Jeremy under the bus for possibly having the idol, it was Reed who immediately went to Jeremy and told him. I’m guessing that this is PRECISELY the role that Reed wanted to play coming into the game: let someone else be the leader, but still be calling the shots (by sowing the seeds of discord – something Drew says Reed was doing over the first nine days). The problem is that Reed is the INVISIBLE Iago – if he was truly instrumental to the season, his machinations would be showcased in confessionals just as Josh’s are over at Coyopa.
** One question that needs to be answered: Did Reed vote for Keith because he thought that this was Jeremy’s plan – or was he trying to hide his allegiance to Jeremy (because Reed, unlike Keith, knows what a sub-alliance is and would eagerly embrace one)?
** The fact that we didn’t get a sense for Reed’s role in the tribe during the Hunahpu scramble (the dance, I’ve decided, involves napping, talking about voting people out right in front of them, and staring at people’s assets) means that we don’t need to view him as a strategic player, which in turns means that he doesn’t matter to the post-merge game. He and Josh are going to be this season’s Baskauskas brothers: Reed, and quite possibly Josh, is going to be taken out next week or the week after, as the other players begin to see the two of them as a massive threat.
12) The Muddled Middle
Missy: People keep talking in front of her, which is a sign that she’s connected to everyone… but it also means they don’t see her as a real player. She didn’t get much screen-time this week, other than to be the one Drew tells (to her face!) that he doesn’t trust her (Jon has another good moment in that scene, trying to get Drew to shut up). Anyway, it feels like Missy is largely unimportant, but could be around for a while.
Julie: She’s been outed as not helpful around camp and not good in challenges – and we’ve seen ample evidence that she’s not connected with anyone on Hunahpu. But with a swap this week and a merge only a couple of eliminations away, Julie’s in a good spot to be ignored as the other players focus on taking out the tandems. And once the orphans take over, she’s going to be insulated from antagonism (she’ll be viewed as a non-threat), and the next thing you know, she could be sitting at the Final Tribal Council (but with no way to win… just like Monica Culpepper).
Josh: He was understandably not in the forefront this week with Coyopa out of the Tribal Council crosshairs. But as Baylor rises in narrative prominence, Josh’s spot in the game is in increasing jeopardy. I love how hard Josh is playing the game, but it’s starting to feel like he loses a power struggle shortly after the merge.
Jeremy: His edit is all over the place right now…
First, the positive: he, like Jon, was protected from being linked to throwing the challenge… he was also spared the indignity of being shown looking, vainly, for the idol… he was wise enough to know to not force his “take out Keith” agenda… and he proved to the women of Hunahpu that he is loyal to the alliance he put together during the first three days.
And now, the negative: He agreed to throw the challenge despite not having locked down the target (you never throw a challenge unless people are unified)… He wasn’t able to find the idol, despite having the same four clues (dig, well, north, 7 paces) that Rocker did… once he decided/realized that Drew was the target, he needed to pull Keith close, bury the hatchet, and educate his fellow fireman about sub-alliances rather than call him out at Tribal Council (especially with a swap and a merge coming – he’ll need every ally he can get)… and he alerted all of the women on his tribe that he would have been open to a secret sub-alliance with Keith, in the process giving them all the ammunition they need to turn him into a target after the merge.
13) Prediction time: The Swap
As if guessing who’s going isn’t hard enough, now I’m in a position where I have no idea who is on what tribe…
So all I’m left with is the edit.
Looking at my “Not Long for the Game” list, I’ve got three candidates: Reed, Wes, and Dale.
Were I to be looking for a first post-swap boot, I’d go after:
Someone with a partner still in the game… but that’s all three.
Someone whose partner is as strong or stronger than them… that’s Reed and Dale.
And someone who is a challenge liability (because I don’t want to go to Tribal)…
… and that’s Dale.
(Here’s hoping that there’s some fake idol drama!)
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