This episode aptly demonstrated the problem with having a small number of good players sprinkled into a group of poor and/or non-players: clearly, one of the good players was going home this time, unless someone else quit or was medevaced, or one of them found an idol. And Josh's departure absolutely leaves the season poorer by subtraction, because what are we left with? We have the other key strategist (Jeremy), now with the numbers, surrounded by a couple of hidden social gamers (Missy, Natalie), and a herd of goats. Literally, a herd: most of the remaining players could easily be the inconsequential/annoying person dragged to the end for an easy win on almost any other season (at least: Baylor, Alec, Wes, Jaclyn, and probably Missy and Keith). While this menagerie is great news for Jeremy, since he could win against almost any of the remaining players, it's bad news for the audience, because the remainder of the season now looks fairly predictable.
Congrats, Jeremy. So long, Josh.
Speaking of goats, could Missy be playing us all?
The lightning speed with which Missy reacted to Keith's criticism of Baylor's lack of work ethic gave the impression (as Missy herself has copped to in confessionals) that her primary concern, above and beyond winning a million dollars herself, is watching out for Baylor. But given that the number of contestants remaining who would conceivably vote for Baylor to win the million can be counted on one muffin-shaped finger, we've begun to wonder: Is Missy fooling all of us, even in confessional, and actually trying to drag Baylor to the end as a goat? If so, it's kind of an interesting play, even though it's likely to backfire, just as Parvati's too-close ties to Russell Hantz did in Heroes vs. Villains. Would a parent actually have that kind of social awareness about their child? Eh, probably not. But it seemed cool for a second.
The fundamental flaw of blood vs. water
In its first iteration, the BvsW concept was pitched as a battle in which contestants had to choose between playing a cutthroat, individual strategic game, or playing emotionally, due to the presence of a loved one. That balance, it appears, was maintained by having half the cast be seasoned Survivor veterans, including a couple of former winners (three, if you count Hayden). They still played strategically, but the emotional anguish of watching loved ones leave, or the crutch of having them still around, complicated that formula. Here, however, almost everyone has given in to emotion. Missy responds like a threatened cat the second anyone so much as looks askance at Baylor. Baylor feels no compulsion to do much of anything, since her mom will protect her. Jon and Jaclyn collectively decide that long-range planning is "stupid," not when there are people around who were being rude a day or two ago. Wes and Keith feel free to release their bodily gasses and fluids whenever and wherever they see fit, because... well, okay, that's less emotion than obliviousness. The point is, the strategic game seems at best a third-tier consideration, after "Who's annoying me right now?" and "Who's annoying my loved one?" It's like The Real World, minus the booze and indiscriminate coupling. Which means, yes: It's even less interesting to watch than The Real World. Well done.
And this problem is highly unlikely to be fixed until the couples are split apart, which, unfortunately, will take at least three of the remaining five episodes. Going into the merge, it seemed like an interesting inversion of the Blood vs. Water results for there to be a post-merge majority of pairs. In practice, however, it's not. None of these pairs will ever be split between alliances, which means any attempted strategic move, instead of skillfully maneuvering among shifting combinations of single players, now has to steer around the slow-moving barges of these couples. The current dominant alliance will probably stick together for one or two more votes, taking out Reed, then may eventually split up the Wes/Keith pair by targeting Wes, and then maybe Alec. And then, finally we'll have two episodes in which to break up the last two couples. Or not, as the case will probably be. Sigh.
Laziness vs. boorishness (with bonus stat corner)
The framing of this episode implied that yes, Baylor doesn't do much, but the "guys" (mostly Alec, but also Wes and Keith) were disgusting chauvinists, so they deserved what they received (meaning Baylor is the victim, and, whoops... well, Josh actually got what was coming to Alec, but... close enough). But really, both sides are wrong here. Baylor has done almost nothing this season, except hoover up votes at Tribal. She's not good in challenges. She doesn't work in camp. She tried briefly to engineer Rocker's ouster, but was rebuffed, and since then, has simply lazed about, taking orders from either Josh or Missy. She's no Ciera, and Ciera's gameplay was pretty overrated. And it's not just Keith calling Baylor out on her laziness, several booted players have mentioned it (to be fair, all were booted by Baylor): Val, Rocker, Dale, and Kelley. Even Julie didn't care for her. Julie!
But all the same, Keith's approach of barking orders at Baylor, then threatening her with multiple "whoopings" after she whines about following them, is not the correct response. Not in real life, and certainly not on Survivor. Especially when Missy has made it abundantly clear that any criticism of Baylor, justified or otherwise, will incite her maternal wrath. Keith may have a point, but he went about it all wrong. And clearly, Alec and Wes's sneering dismissiveness is just the worst. So everyone is wrong.
[Stats time!] The proper remedy, of course, is to vote Baylor out. The problem is, this has now been tried five times, and each time, it has failed (thanks a lot, Ep. 2 Josh). With 14 votes against, Baylor is within easy striking distance of both the all-time record for votes received without being voted out (17, Phillip Sheppard, Redemption Island) and the all-time (single season) record for votes received, period (19, Laura Morett, who was voted out twice in Blood vs. Water). Which is exciting in a Survivor History kind of way, but is also indicative of this season's general level of failure.
Stupid, stupid choices
Speaking of which, what was Josh's alliance even thinking in targeting Baylor? If she's that useless, the smart move is to keep her around as a goat, and if she's taking voting orders from Missy, cut off the head of the snake, not the rattling tail! Furthermore, Baylor went to Exile Island (with Natalie) right before the merge, and could potentially have an idol, whereas Missy has never been exiled. As far as we can tell, nobody in Josh's alliance even considered that possibility, since they made no secret of which way they were voting at Tribal Council. Yes, Keith gets along with Missy, and hates Baylor, but so what? Missy is a much more formidable social/strategic threat than Baylor, and why should Keith get to call the shots? To be fair, probably the real holdout there was Jon, whose Missy-gifted extra helpings of rice are really paying off in the challenges.
What's in store for the accidental power couple?
Jon and Jaclyn's run as the swing voters, as Jon freely admitted at Tribal Council, is confounding, especially since (again, as Jon openly explained) they've been passively thrust into this position after being approached by other alliances, rather than actively selling their votes to control their own fates. Could this be coming to an end, though? At the next Tribal Council, there will be two groups of four, with the Jon & Jaclyn pair (possibly) in the middle. Yes, their votes are still important, but the majority no longer needs both of them, only one. Rather than letting themselves be at J&J's mercy, couldn't both alliances set aside their differences for one vote, and remove one of the Js? (Short answer: Maybe in a better season, but not with this lot.)
One complicating factor is Jon's idol: He would have to be blindsided. Really, though, that should not be all that difficult. Another complicating factor is Jon's supertease quote: "Someone's got the idol, and we're gonna burn it!" This seems to cue up nicely alongside the preview footage of Reed rooting through Keith's bag and finding the idol clue, triggering wholescale in-camp paranoia. This could actually be an interesting step forward in gameplay for Jon, if he leads an idol-purging crusade while actually holding one himself. But alas, this is also the guy who was worried about playing deceitfully in the last episode, so in all likelihood, they'll probably end up targeting someone who hasn't even gone to Exile Island yet (Missy, Alec, Wes, Reed), Jon will play his idol without receiving a vote, and it will all end up being a whole lot of nothing. But there's still a sliver of hope, we guess. A sliver.
San Juan del Sur Episode 8 recaps and commentary
Exit interviews - Josh Canfield
Podcasts - Episode 8