Jeff Pitman's Survivor: San Juan del Sur recaps

The Reed wedding


The Reed wedding - thank you, editors

The final vote reveal, like Jeremy's boot itself (more or less), was falsely constructed to initially look like a grudge match between Reed and Keith. But when the first vote for Jeremy, and then a flood of additional ones, came up, it was a jaw-droppingly shocking turn of events. This parallel construction in both the vote reveal and episode itself, in which two competing decoy narratives eventually collapsed to surround and drown the all-but-crowned winner favorite, was a masterpiece of editing mischief. Maybe not the Red Wedding, but at least the Reed Wedding.


This exceptional editorial obfuscation succeeded because it played against their previously established patterns. Reed and Keith were given most of the episode's opening focus, as they stewed about the results of Josh's boot (which shocked Keith, as his seemingly dominant alliance crumbled, and further affected Reed, due to his loved one's exit). This is the traditional spot where the episode's boot target is introduced. Both were featured throughout the episode, during the reward sequence, then especially after Reed's rooted through Keith's bag and found his idol instructions. From there, the focus on competing paranoia about Jon's and Keith's idols led to Tribal Council discussion of Reed and Keith, followed by solely showing people writing down Reed's or Keith's names in the voting booth (two of each, for added emphasis). All in all, it looked like an open-and-shut case that one of those two would depart.


And yet, there were also hints that all was not well for Jeremy, including his solo showcase on Exile Island (the only person yet shown there at night), and Jon's discussion with Missy about whether Jeremy should be the target. But these ran against Jeremy's season-long exposition as a Good Survivor Player, from his "fireman making fire" scene in the premiere, to almost all the Hunahpu and post-merge strategic scenes involving him. In short, we were convinced he was going to win this thing, and when his sole disernible rival was sent to Ponderosa last episode, it seemed he was just biding time until his inevitable coronation. Then this happened. And now everything lies in shambles, and we no idea where this season is headed.


Editors: 1; jaded, overconfident fans: 0. Well played.




The Reed Wedding - You stupid editors!

As great as that one moment was, WE NOW HAVE A SEASON WHERE NOBODY SEEMS TO KNOW WHAT THEY'RE DOING. Josh and Jeremy provided 95% (plus) of the strategic narration in the first nine episodes. They weren't perfect, but they had plans they were executing, and in each confessional, their knowledge of and respect for the game was on full display. Now, with five episodes still to air, we're left with... Keith ("Someone went through my stuff! Maybe other people have other values") and Jon ("I don't care what implications [kissing Jaclyn, post-switch] has, I'm just pumped!") telling us what's going on? Or in the preview for next episode, Alec?


While it's tempting to blame this on a subpar cast (because, let's face it, several of them are), it isn't entirely a problem with the casting. But it is definitely a problem with the storytelling the show has done to this point. We have nine players left, and for more than half of them (Wes, Alec, Jaclyn, Natalie, Reed), we've barely seen anything of them, except in the context of how they are related to their loved one (or to Josh or Jeremy). Natalie has been playing a solid game thus far, but has been buried by the editors, showing up almost exclusively to talk either with or about Jeremy. Missy, likewise, has connections to almost everyone, and seemed the key to this particular boot being carried out... but we really only see her if there's something going on with Baylor. Wes and Reed are both longtime fans, but you wouldn't have known that from watching the first eight episodes.


Missy and Jon Jon


Did Reed's rummaging trigger the Jeremy boot?

Perhaps because of the effort to hide the boot, we weren't really privy to much of the thought process behind the J&J/M&B alliance's decision to target Jeremy instead of Wes, Keith, or Alec. Looking back at previous episodes, however, Reed's finding the idol instructions in Keith's backpack did settle what had been one of the few early Hunahpu storylines, which was left hanging in dispute - Keith's and Jeremy's competing claims that the other had found Hunahpu's idol, shortly before Keith actually did. Verifying that Keith actually did have that idol (and thus probably not Jeremy), combined with Jon (and after he told her, Missy) knowing for sure that Jeremy did not have the post-merge Exile Island idol, may have provided enough certainty to hoist Jeremy up onto the chopping block. Furthermore, knowing for sure that Keith did have an idol provided extra incentive not to target Keith (and if they were smart, probably also Wes).


So in that sense, Reed did not only exactly what he needed to do to save himself, his bag handling mission was also a key factor in taking out Jeremy. Kudos to Reed for, however indirectly, exacting vengeance for Josh's boot.


Puppetmaster Jon


Has Jon been playing us this whole time?

We asked this last week about Missy, thinking that maybe, just maybe, she's aware nobody (except her, obviously) particularly likes Baylor, and is therefore planning to bring Baylor to the end as a goat. After considering it, that seems... unlikely. But this episode brings us another person who may be playing a more complicated game than we gave them credit for: Jon. We'd previously overlooked Jon as a threat (mostly based on a poor to invisible edit in the first few episodes), yet Jon now seems to be running the show. Why is it so difficult to recognize Jon Misch as a capable strategic player?


Perhaps the main problem is that he seems to be actively ignoring long-term strategy in favor of short-term tactics. It's as he said this week: He's going on instinct. He seems to stumble upon good ideas or successful plays without really trying. As we mentioned before: when Hunahpu went to their first Tribal Council, Jon made a compelling case that the couples needed to target the single players (even though nobody listened at the time). Perhaps that's partly editing's fault: We weren't really shown his thought process in confessionals that led him to that plan. It was just blurted out, Drew talked over him as he tried to explain it, then it was history. Maybe it was not highlighted more because it didn't come to pass? Who knows. Here, his stated reason for getting rid of Jeremy (at least as he explained it to Missy) was to avoid Jeremy telling everyone else that he (Jon) had the idol. The result was a major shift in game power, but if that was the actual reason he did it, it seems... ludicrous? Especially since Natalie made very clear at Tribal Council that she also suspected Jon had an idol. And booting Jeremy all but confirmed that.


If Jon really is not winging it, not making it up as he goes, the editors have been less than kind in their portrayal of him. They seem to highlight every goofy thing he says, whether it's his Ep2 squats, or his opening "How do I go about talking to people now?" question to Missy and Jaclyn at the start of this episode. Or admitting at Tribal Council that he and Jaclyn are surprised to have so much power, because people just keep coming up to them and begging them for support. Despite that, he does drop references to past seasons (Kat's "dateable" quote), or mentions things he's learned from watching. The point is, it appears he's playing up his naivete publicly, but may actually have a more solid foundation in Survivor than you'd think. Sort of a midwestern, football player Fabio who's actually watched a season or two here or there, if you will. And if he actually is, good for him. And if he really is just winging it... uh... so far so good?


Either way, he does have a burgeoning Survivor resumé: he got both Josh Canfield and Jeremy Collins out of this season. (Cue Homer Simpson: "You idiot! They were the most talented ones!")




A place to cherish challenges

With multiple longtime fans (Jill, Malcolm, Jeremy, etc.) having talked about practicing common Survivor challenge staples before heading out to play, it was cool to see John Kirhoffer (and Myles Nye) try to thwart this advantage by completely upending how an otherwise common task is performed. Building a house of cards is a nice equalizer challenge, but it's fairly dull to watch, and has been done so many times (the last just two seasons ago as a Blood vs. Water duel) that it generates little audience interest. Forcing the contestants to build a three-layer tower using only their feet, however, was a stroke of genius. Sure, maybe we didn't really need to see everyone's feet in HD, but still, how else are you going to come up with a challenge Baylor can win? Plus it did allow that shot above, right, where a (partially hidden) Jeremy appears about to get booted by a giant foot.


Natalie and Jon


Who the hell is going to win this now?

The merge has claimed the two central characters of the first 2/3 of the season. Really, we have no idea. Your guess is as good as ours:


  • There's almost no way Missy wins now. While Jon actively betrayed Jeremy, Missy passively did it, which will earn her zero respect. She was talked into burning a Day 1 alliance at Final 10. This already generated a "WTF, Missy?" response from Natalie at Tribal, and will undoubtedly earn future scorn from Jeremy. She has otherwise been playing a decent game, though, so she could theoretically still pull it off against Baylor and one other extreme goat (Alec?), but that's about it.


  • Baylor probably can't win, either, unless she's in a final two (not final three) with Missy. And even then, highly unlikely. None of the departed contestants seem to like her much, and Keith & Wes don't, either. Only Natalie and Missy seem to have any interest in her.


  • Not Alec, not Wes. Nope. No presence in the edit, except when doing things that piss others off.'


  • Reed? Also no. Even when he shows Keith's idol instructions to Missy, Baylor, and Jaclyn, they couch the discovery in "yeah, but he's just scrambling." He's done a great job of keeping himself alive, but he doesn't seem to have any solid ties to anyone now, especially after angering Keith and inciting him and the rest of Josh's old alliance to vote Reed. Furthermore, while it was nice to see him playing this episode, Reed's been ignored for most of the season, so he should have close to no chance of winning.


  • Jaclyn? Probably not. Again, Jaclyn has also been invisible for most of the season, except as Jon's sounding board, or when she exposed the ugliness of Wes & Alec's attitude towards the women, which the edit presented as Jon and Jaclyn's reason for flipping on Josh. Jaclyn did make a good move at Tribal Council, by jumping in to cast suspicion on Keith/Wes when Natalie and Jeremy were strongly hinting Jon/Jaclyn were hiding an idol. Even so, it's hard to see Jaclyn coming out of nowhere to win this. (Then again, Jeremy's boot came out of nowhere, right?)


  • So it's down to Keith and Jon and Natalie. And Jon seems to be in danger. As does Keith. As does Natalie. Sigh. They're probably the next three boots.


Eh, it's probably Jon triumphing over Baylor and Missy in the final three. The mother-daughter duo was scared by the howler monkeys in the premiere. Since that would suggest no further power shifts, however, let's hope it's something more interesting.


San Juan del Sur Episode 9 recaps and commentary

  • Dalton Ross at "Flip-flop and you don't stop"
  • Dalton Ross & Jeff Probst at Q&A
  • Andy Dehnart at "A Survivor surprise in the form of a baffling vote"
  • Stephen Fishbach at "A Shocking Twist Turns the Season Upside Down"
  • [Ep.8] Sarah Freeman at RobHasAWebsite: "Individual Games: "
  • [Ep.8] Andy Baker at The Baker's Dozen: "Brain Dump"


Exit interviews - Jeremy Collins

  • Gordon Holmes at "Jeremy: 'Missy Doesn't Make Good Decisions With Men'"
  • Rob Cesternino at RHAP: "Exit Interview with the Latest Player Voted off San Juan del Sur - 11/20/14"
  • Josh Wigler at "Eastbound and Surround and Drown: Jeremy Collins On His Big Survivor Blindside"


Podcasts - Episode 9