Poor Kelley. Done in by a tribe largely devoid of longtime Survivor fans (except her dad), in which all but Jaclyn and Keith had pre-existing personal beefs with either Kelley or Dale. It was a tribe overcome with emotion - the giddy thrill of three pairs of loved ones finally reuniting, arguments about rice, non-stop smooching by Jon and Jaclyn - that it's not surprising that very little thought seemed to go into booting Kelley. (Exacerbated, of course, by the edit requiring some modicum of suspense, so the reasons for targeting Kelley were largely hidden... although they did find time to trump up Baylor as a decoy target.) Perhaps the worst part of Kelley's boot is that it robbed us of a player other contestants had talked about as a strategic threat, without ever giving us a chance to see that contestant play strategically. Emotions reigned, fandom took the walk of shame.
In some ways, Kelley's boot made sense: She had close ties to Jeremy and Natalie on Hunahpu; she was seen as a strategic threat (at least by Drew, who is basically a badass); and as revealed in her exit interviews, she had floated the idea of booting Jon while at Hunahpu, and Missy had reported this threat directly to Jon. In a lot of other ways, however, it made no sense. New Coyopa was already spectacularly woeful in the immunity challenge, and they just voted off their second-most athletic person. While Hunahpu can sit Julie next time out, and have five fit young dudes and Natalie competing, Coyopa will be fielding a team including Missy, Dale, and Keith. Sigh. At least they'll be eating well. But the main problem for Kelley was that she really had no chance. She had Jon and Missy already against her, cemented further by Baylor's antipathy for Dale. That's four (counting Jaclyn) and that's enough.
Really, the only way Kelley and Dale might have broken the insurmountable power of a double-duo four-person alliance in a six-person tribe (well, okay, technically Keith is also there) was with an idol. In a fantasy world, Keith might have panicked about his outsider position, and tried to parlay his idol into some kind of power play with Kelley and Dale. But that would be suicidal, especially since Keith felt safe with Missy, so there would be absolutely no reason for him to waste his idol to become the #3 person in a now evenly matched battle of two 3-person alliances. There was, however, another option (probably): The clue Jaclyn read at Exile Island in the previous episode was similar to the one Val had in the premiere, suggesting Rocker's unused idol had been re-hidden. At Coyopa camp. Where Kelley and Dale now found themselves outnumbered. It's a good thing nobody mentioned it, and that there was no Exile Island trip this episode. Whew!
"I'm afraid I prematurely shot my wad on what was supposed to be a dry run if you will, so I'm afraid I have something of a mess on my hands"
What if... they switched tribes, it worked out that the new tribes near-perfectly represented the theme, as if production had planned it that way, yet the results were spectacularly underwhelming? That pretty much describes this episode.
The tribe swap created a surprising contrast between the two recombinant tribes: new Coyopa was filled with pairs of loved ones, while new Hunahpu had a majority of members (Jeremy, Natalie, Julie, and Alec) whose loved ones had already been voted off. As the producers saw this happening, they must have been overjoyed. A random swap actually created a Blood tribe and a Water tribe, tribes that are even correctly color coded (if blood is orange, and yes, it would have been better if NuCoyopa had all three parent/child duos, but work with us here). Unfortunately, the contrast didn't work out to be all that interesting in practice. Once the excitement of couples reuniting wore off, it became clear the swap had also made the tribes hopelessly mismatched, borne out by the tremendously lopsided challenge result. And since the one tribe likely to be heading to Tribal Council is an aggregate of obvious couples playing as couples, their next two boots seem pretty predictable. Not only that, but the swap has likely robbed the second half of the season of some its power.
One of the high points of the original Blood vs. Water merge was that some pairs were finally reunited (the Baskauskas brothers, Laura and Ciera), forcing each to make a tough decision: stick with my alliance, or re-join my loved one? Here, the only non-reunited loved one pair left is Keith and Wes, who are probably the least likely to give production the emotional payoff they were hoping for from that decision. They may also be the most likely to stick with their current situations, especially since Keith has an idol. So this may well be the final shuffle: the decisions have already been made, and the merge, whenever it comes, is unlikely to drastically strain any alliances.
Not only that, but the dominant alliance of couples on Coyopa is made up mostly of non-strategists, and all signs point to that tribe continuing to shed members until the merge, so even if they're not outnumbered, they'll almost certainly be outmaneuvered. If you're wondering why Jeremy seems to be getting a coronation edit, there you go.
Jeremy vs. Josh
While the new Coyopa tribe may now be lacking in Survivor awareness, all the fans (except poor Dale) are now on new Hunahpu, and the editors seem to be hinting very strongly that a showdown is looming between the two leading pre-merge strategists, Jeremy and Josh. Jeremy is quietly forming a Tyson-esque alliance of singles, with Natalie already locked in, and Alec considering his options (between naps). Josh, meanwhile, seems distracted by the presence of Reed, not to mention the absence of food, but still has close ties to Wes, and maybe Alec, and eventually Baylor. Unfortunately, thanks to a grossly imbalanced tribe swap, the fireworks of this highly anticipated battle for dominance remain unlit for now. And frankly, it's difficult to imagine any scenario in which Hunahpu could possibly lose a challenge to Coyopa any time soon, so we may be left patiently waiting for Coyopa to eat itself until we hit the merge.
But if by chance an opportunity does arise (whether it be the merge or some extreme Probst demand in exchange for rice), who can be expected to emerge triumphant? We have to reach this point eventually, since after all, Survivor has only one winner. Ideally, Jeremy and Josh would join forces, and just run the game together for the rest of the way. Or at least battle it out until the end, or at least final seven. But based on the editors' treatment of the two in this episode, the end may be closer than we assume. Jeremy had that great "Fireman starting fire" quote back in the premiere, and here, he kept that fire going, staying focused (with Natalie) on trying to recruit the newly single Alec to their alliance. Jeremy also explained the firefighting "surround and drown" technique... in this same episode as Josh was shown getting inundated at the beach, overwhelmed by an unexpected wave. That wave, like Winter, is coming.
Jon's plan: A post-mortem
Last week, we offered praise for Jon's (quickly abandoned) quest to keep the pairs strong by voting out the single players. This week, the switch showed why that would have been a good idea: Josh & Reed, the sole pair on new Hunahpu, are now at risk, outnumbered by singles. The switch also, ironically, prevented Jon from finally carrying out his plan. The just-swapped new Coyopa was flush with pairs with whom to execute his strategy, yes. But it was exclusively contained people whose loved ones were still playing, so Jon had no choice but to break up a couple. Maybe next episode he can finally revisit his plan, unless Dale tricks him with a fake idol, or something. Oh well, at least he has Jaclyn to keep him warm, to keep him company.
On Baylor's bizarre, inverted dominance
Is Baylor supposed to be this season's villain? Ever since the first episode, she's been saying and doing things that run counter to the storyline the show has presented. When Coyopa arrived in camp, she scoffed at Dale's attempt to use his glasses to make fire; seconds later, Dale was successful. In the next episode, she said she couldn't trust Josh, while Josh's confessionals and later actions revealed he was sincerely counting on Baylor's loyalty. She fought openly with Val, who until that point was a fan favorite. She tried to take out Rocker, and was rebuffed by Wes and Alec, who promptly turned around and did exactly that as soon as Josh suggested it. She's been the center of much conflict and controversy, and has almost exclusively been shown as wrong about things. Furthermore, she's come out of it far from unscathed: As we noted in this week's boxscore, she's been picking up votes at Tribal at a breathtaking pace. And yet, five episodes in, here she now sits, comfortably ensconced in a dominant alliance with her mom as her vote shield/attack bear.
Not surprisingly, the path to Kelley's ouster also led, inaccurately, through Baylor. Much of the Missy-Dale enmity was instigated by Baylor's claim that Dale had been targeting her "since the beginning." While it's clear she and Dale were not buddies, even that claim is off. Dale targeted Nadiya in the premiere, not Baylor, although Baylor did lobby the women to vote against Dale. True, Dale then sought retribution by voting against Baylor in the subsequent two episodes, but one of those votes was simply a case of his being out of the loop on the Rocker boot. So what are we to make of Baylor? On the one hand, she's now in a great spot. On the other, she's hardly been playing flawless Survivor, and her relative success has often occurred through the actions of others (Josh saving her at the tie vote, Missy taking up the fight against Dale, and so on). Clearly, Baylor is unlikely to be this season's winner. In fact, to this point, her performance is an almost note-for-note cover of Ciera's in the pre-merge episodes of Blood vs. Water. Ineffectual, frequently targeted, but at least trying to play the game. Is all this editing attention just to make Baylor's inevitable vote against her own mom that much more powerful? We're not really sure how we're supposed to be interpreting it.
San Juan del Sur Episode 5 recaps and commentary
Exit interviews - Kelley Wentworth
Podcasts - Episode 5