Another week, another compressed writing schedule. As I type these words, Anna Claire is right next to me, dozing away the morning, much like post-merge Morgan (only more beautiful). Thankfully, she cries a lot less than Dawn.
(Oh, dear lord, am I going to keep comparing A.C. to Survivor players?! Best I quit doing that. Like Osten, Colton, and Julie!)
This week, I’ve decided to follow the Buzzfeed blueprint and offer up some click bait headlines… so onward to my Irrational Assertions!
1) Julie’s Quit was Fantastic!
The truth is, Julie had quit long before she quit. There are a lot of different ways that players check out on Survivor – self-ostracizing, refusing to help around camp, volunteering to sit during challenges – and Julie was doing all of them for a week and a half of game time. And then she added “hoarding food” for good measure. She was all but begging for the rest of the castaways to vote her out.
They weren’t going to do it, though. She was going to be dragged to the end – with no chance to win. So she took matters into her own hands.
Let me ask you: Could you handle three weeks of food and sleep deprivation with people who neither like nor respect you? Would you do it, even if you didn’t need the money? What’s the incentive to stay (especially when you’d get an invisible – or harsh – edit for your troubles)?
In the end, Julie’s departure from the game was as understandable as it was predictable.
The real reason that Julie’s quit is fantastic, though, is that casting – and the producers – got what they deserved.
Julie wasn’t just a recruit – she was a recruit’s recruit. The only reason she was on Survivor was SEG’s asinine fascination with John Rocker. Probst admitted that they thought Julie didn’t have the intestinal fortitude for the game, and yet put her on anyway. (Helps explain why he went all Jeff Probst Show on the beach.) Yes, Probst attempted to own his culpability in his recent interviews, but when you recruit a quitter and cast a quitter and get a quitter, no number of mea culpas exonerates you from a horrible casting decision.
Here’s how something like this happens: Casting maintains lists of former professional athletes and C-list celebrities who are willing to play the game (agents and managers reach out to the casting agents and vice versa). The names are kicked around, and somewhere along the line, Lynne Spillman (head of Survivor casting) and/or Probst decided that the stunt casting selections should have a story – and suddenly, John Rocker was on the short list. For some reason, he wasn’t the right fit for other recent seasons (he lost out to Cliff Robinson for inclusion on the Brawn tribe, I imagine), but when Blood vs. Water 2 was in the planning stages, and casting got a look at Julie, I’m sure everyone involved desperately wanted him on the show. Controversial, opinionated, still-jacked ex-athlete AND the woman who loves him has a surgically enhanced bikini-ready body? Probably the easiest call that Probst and Spillman had to make.
My hope – and the reason why I think Julie throwing in the towel is utterly brilliant – is that everyone involved with Survivor will take a hard look at their recruiting practices and starts casting people who understand, and care about, the game.
Given what I’ve heard about production and casting’s reaction to San Juan del Sur, this has happened already. Season 30 was altering its cast with two weeks to go before the game began, and that has everything to do with how uninformed and ill-equipped the current castaways have been. So it would appear that there’s a silver lining to all this awfulness.
So, Julie, thank you for quitting. It might have contributed to Survivor getting better in the seasons ahead. And that’s a good and great and wonderful thing.
2) Survivor: San Juan del Sur is a Top-5 Season
For one reason and one reason only: Because it has made Probst reconsider his casting proclivities.
The cast of Season 30 will be smarter and savvier than we’re used to seeing on modern Survivor. Fewer characters, more players. As a result, the game will be much, much better.
Let me amend that: the game is always brilliant. But you need great minds to make the most of it. This season doesn’t have them, but BECAUSE of this season, next season WILL.
3) Production Intentionally Saved Jeremy This Week
There was no reason to cancel Tribal Council last Wednesday: the immunity challenge had been run and Julie’s quit wasn’t going to alter the vote.
Here’s what happened: Production knew that Julie was going to quit and they sussed out that that Jeremy or Josh was going home (the idea that Probst doesn’t know what’s going on back in camp is laughable); this gave them both motive and opportunity to intervene. And so they did.
I’m sure a lot of you are thinking, “Well, thank god!” I hear you – the show is infinitely better with Josh and Jeremy in it – but I see this situation differently. I can’t excoriate the show for producorial manipulation and then pull my punches when that manipulation helps the players I prefer.
Perhaps they’re just delaying the inevitable, and both Josh and Jeremy will be leaving before the endgame. But I doubt it. This won’t be the last time that Jeremy and/or Josh get the breaks. I’ve been saying this for years: the best way for a castaway to make sure he or she sticks around is to be the player that production wants to help. And the show has never needed strategists such as Josh and Jeremy more than it does right now… which means production is going to help them.
If Josh ends up going home before Jeremy, though, he should be genuinely pissed off: he was going to win the battle of wills last week, Jeremy was going home, and Josh would have been in a great position to call the shots the rest of the way. Instead, from the looks of it, the wheels might fly off of his alliance this week (thanks to the misogyny and idiocy of Alec and maybe Wes). Which means that the production team – in its haste to salvage the season – may well have unfairly undermined Josh’s ability to win the game. (Talk about a million-dollar decision.)
4) The Winner of San Juan del Sur will be the best Sole Survivor EVER
Probst has referred to this season as “unorthodox.”
(That sort of rules out Josh and Jeremy as winners, right?)
If you haven’t read Jeff Pitman’s exploration of Keith as a possible winner – unsurprisingly, I agree with every word he says – do yourself a favor and head over there right now. As always, I’ll wait.
Anyway, here’s why this season’s champ – assuming that he or she is as WTF as I’ve been saying since the start – is so potentially awesome:
Sophie, Kim, Denise, Cochran, Tyson, Tony.
That’s the list of winners that followed Fabio’s win in Nicaragua (I pretend that Redemption Island doesn’t exist). Those are some great players right there; whatever their faults (and Kim doesn’t have any), all of them knew what they were doing. And I can’t help but assume that casting found them – and put them on – in part as a response to the foolishness of Fabio’s win.
If the winner of San Juan del Sur is so “unorthodox” that casting and production will work overtime to give us players with awareness and intelligence in the seasons to come, then he or she is, I would argue, legitimately great.
So thank you in advance, unorthodox winner of San Juan del Sur! Yes, you won a million dollars, but you’ve done far more than that: you’ve given us hope. May your victory usher in a new era of Survivor, one that gives us as many brilliant winners as Fabio’s did.
5) Missy is the Worst Player of the Season
Even worse than Drew.
Yes, her social game has put her in a position of power.
Yes, she’s poised for a deep run in the game.
Yes, she’s on no one’s radar right now.
But she’s FAKE. She lacks empathy (the most important skill in all of Survivor). And that is going to burn her.
If you want evidence, look no further than how she mishandled the Julie situation: right when she needed to connect, when she needed to make it all about Julie, she made it all about her.
She was transparent.
To use her own word, she was phony.
Right when she needed to make Julie feel like a person – a friend – she made her feel like a number.
Players can only hide who they really are for a short time; eventually, their real personalities emerge.
And editors will only hide who these people really are until the narrative demands that we know.
At long last, we’ve met the real Missy, the one the other players have been aware of for a long time now.
And that Missy is terrible at Survivor.
Call her Mama Hantz.
There’s no way she’s winning this game.
6) Keith is going to “Reverse Ciera” Wesley… and Win the Game!
Hard to believe… but it fits the edit.
Keith’s entire storyline this season has been about not being ready to cede his position of power to Wes. Indeed, the editors keep giving us confessionals that reinforce this narrative thread. It helps, of course, that Keith outlasted Wes in the first individual immunity challenge and nearly out-dueled his son in Heroes Arena.
Wes, meanwhile, has been utterly invisible, which means he’s leaving sooner rather than later.
The argument could be made that the relationship between Keith and Wes would have been showcased more if Keith votes out his son on the path to victory. Truth be told, this gives me pause, too. There is a counterargument, however: Keith and Wes have not yet been on the same tribe… and they’re both kind of boring (strategically speaking; Keith is a killer character).
I’m guessing that we’ll see a spike in Wes visibility in the next episode or three – and that Keith’s “worst thing you can do in Survivor” from the SuperTease is voting out your loved one. Remember, Keith doesn’t know the show – so all he’s aware of is what casting and the producers have told him, and what he saw on the DVDs he was given. To someone who has never heard the term “sub-alliance,” voting out a family member on a Blood vs. Water season IS the worst thing you can do on Survivor.
Keith has an idol… he’s unthreatening… there are alliances to bust and couples to crack. There’s no way the bull’s-eye is on his back until the endgame. And even then, who would see him as a threat to win?
But in a Final 3 of Keith-Baylor-Jon… might Keith take down the title? Jon would appear to have the edge, given that he and Jaclyn want to spend the money on a surrogate. But flipping between alliances earns a lot of enemies, which means that Keith may win simply because he’s got the least amount of blood on his hands.
7) Jon is the Most Powerful Player in the Game
I was tempted to say Jaclyn, but two things keep me from uttering anything quite THAT bold and ludicrous: first, she appears to be following Jon’s lead (such as it is), and second, her invisible edit suggests that whatever power she has will soon be gone.
Now, I realize there’s a big difference between power that someone builds by himself, and the power which is the end result of happenstance and circumstance; Jon has a lot of the latter, and precious little of the former.
But given who remains in the game – and the dynamics of a Blood vs. Water season – being innocuous and pliant works in Jon’s favor.
The players who have been targeted thus far – Jeremy, Josh, Missy – will continue to get votes until they’re out. So, too, will the individual immunity threats, particularly those on the outside alliance (Reed, Wes, Alec). If even four of these people go before anyone takes a hard look at Jon and Jaclyn, we’re at Final 7, and all Barbie and Ken need to do is convince any two players (Missy/Baylor? Natalie/Jeremy?) to join forces with them and at least one of the two can stamp a ticket to the Final 3.
In the end, Jon and Jaclyn will emerge from this chaos as controllable votes who will last longer than many of the people who attempt to use them.
Jaclyn leaves first – her limited camera time demands it – but Jon is getting an endgame edit.
Which means that if Keith doesn’t win this season, Jon will.
(And had you told me preseason that I would write that sentence, I would have slotted you somewhere between Brandon and Phillip on the Survivor Sanity Scale.)
8) The Most Aggressive Player in the Game? Alec!
And by that I mean passive aggressive.
Obliquely calling out Julie for the trail mix transgression rather than speaking to her openly and directly was exceedingly inept social gameplay.
It’s this same “little bro” attitude that’s going to get him booted from the game (when he, like Julie, COULD have made it all the way to the end as a goat).
He will be constitutionally unable to keep the plan to blindside Jeremy a secret. Oh, he isn’t going to tell anyone, necessarily (I wouldn’t rule it out, but it doesn’t fit the passive aggressive M.O.), but he’s going to expose the power shift with his increasingly brazen, attitudinal behavior.
Jeremy (and Natalie) will soon realize that this behavior means that Alec believes he’s in the majority, and the only way that happened is if Jon and Jaclyn have flipped.
Won’t be long before Jeremy’s rhetoric – and Alec’s rudeness – bring Team JJ back into the fold.
9) Probst Probe: Gotta Listen When He Repeats Himself
Probst keeps talking about the Million Dollars.
Julie’s departure, according to Probst, was a Million Dollar Quit.
At Tribal Council, Probst said that Missy being willing to sacrifice her own game to protect or avenge Baylor could cost her a Million Dollars.
Even Jon and Jaclyn are getting into the game, suggesting that potentially joining the Tandem Alliance was a Million Dollar Decision.
I think it’s pretty clear at this point, with all of these references included in the edit, that the players involved in, or saved by, these Million Dollar Machinations, are going to be critical to the endgame.
Saved by Julie’s quit? Jeremy.
Saved by Missy’s sacrifice? Baylor.
Saved by Jon and Jaclyn? Whoever is in the alliance they pick this Wednesday (most likely, the Orphans).
The players directly involved in these scenarios won’t necessarily win the Million Dollars, but they will be around to decide who does.
Jeremy will be at the heart of all of the strategy (until his status as “biggest threat in the game” gets him targeted once the orphans turn on each other).
Baylor could conceivably be a target around Final 5, and when it looks like she and her mom can’t secure the swing vote, Missy will ask the others to vote her out so that Baylor can stay.
And Team JJ – one of them, anyway – may have won the Million Dollars by making the right choice… or they may have lost it because they went back on their Million Dollar Decision.
My point, after all of that rambling? Probst and Survivor don’t keep repeating themselves unless it’s important. Someone directly involved – or impacted – by what happened in the merge episode is going to win the Million Dollars.
(On a related note, the idea that Probst doesn’t know who won until the night of the reunion – that’s laughable, too. Maybe – MAYBE – when he was just the host. But now that he’s the Executive Producer? No way.)
10) Probst Probe II: He Gives Away Who Wins!
One other comment Probst made about the possible winner of this “unorthodox” season? That he or she would have to be “adaptable.” In Survivor speak, that often means shifting alliances. So, who does that descriptor fit?
** Baylor (pre-merge, turning on the women and going with the guys… and now, betraying Josh)
** Team JJ (being the Fulcrum Tandem for the past two votes)
** Keith (abandoning his pact with Missy because of the vote splitting plan)
Is it any wonder, then, that I keep coming back to Jon and Keith as potential winners?
(I just can’t see Baylor getting the votes at this point – none of the castaways appear to like her – but I’m sure there are a lot of viewers who think she can Jenna her way to the title.)
11) Fortunes rising: Jeremy
He’s going to be around a lot longer than he should have been – and he has production to thank for it.
Production isn’t going anywhere, which means neither is Jeremy.
(As unfair as it is for him to remain in the game, however, I am glad he’s there: he knows what he’s doing.)
12) Fortunes falling: Natalie
This past episode, Reed and Jaclyn returned from Editorial Exile Island – they both got confessionals! – and sent Natalie out there with Wes (who has been there all season long).
When you’re invisible in the merge episode, you’re almost always doomed to a nondescript mid-merge exit.
This is what happens when you cast a bunch of players who don’t know what they’re doing: They take out everybody who does.
(I’m aware that this creates a paradox: players who don’t know what they’re doing end up doing precisely what they should do and take out the obvious threats: the players who know what they’re doing. By virtue of doing what they should be doing and taking out the threats, though, the players who don’t know what they’re doing prove that they are, in fact, players who know what they’re doing, because they’re doing what they should be doing. Okay, my head hurts.)
13) Prediction time: The Tables are Turned
Now that we’re past the Greatest Quit in Survivor History, here’s how I see this week playing out:
Alec acts like a misogynistic jerk when the power goes to his head. His attitude triggers a domino effect:
** Jaclyn no longer wants to be in an alliance with him.
** Jeremy realizes this and recruits her and Jon back to the Orphans Tribe.
** Josh once again finds himself on the chopping block.
** Josh either goes home or earns a stay of execution by winning individual immunity.
** Players with invisible edits start dropping like flies.
** And we end up with a boot order that looks something like this:
At this point, Jeremy is identified as a threat, and the two remaining tandems bond together to take him – and Natalie – out.
Missy was willing to turn on Jeremy because she thought she had Keith in her back pocket. Thanks to those two votes in the Dale boot, Missy is wrong. Once it’s clear that Jon and Jaclyn have locked down the swing vote (Keith), the only way for Missy to buy Baylor a few more days in the game is to ask everyone to vote her out.
Baylor and Keith realize they have to break up Jon and Jaclyn at this point, and force a 2-2 tie… and Baylor beats Jaclyn.
What a crazy boot order that would be… but it’s supported by the edit, don’t you think?
Anyway, I’m going to say that Josh wins immunity and Reed goes home… for three reasons:
** The season-long story suggests that the post-merge game is a battle between Jeremy and Josh…
** Because post-merge Survivor is infinitely better with multiple strategists in the mix, I'd prefer to see Josh last longer.
** … and, most importantly, I think production wants Josh to stick around, so anything that they’re willing to do for Jeremy, they’re willing to do for Josh (up to and including a song-and-dance immunity challenge). My wife’s theory? They help Josh find an idol. Sounds about right.
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